Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pope Scoring Points

Pope Benny's sticking to his guns when it comes to gender roles.

Despite serious disagreements (on other matters), theologically, I can appreciate his boldness.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

WHAT'S IN A NAME? (Dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses, Pt. 1)

Occasionally, the Mrs. and I get that knock at the door.  

Barring one recent visit with some Mormon "elders," we're usually greeted by Jehovah's Witnesses handing out Watchtower literature, and spreading the message of their organization.  I imagine most people respond with a "no thanks" and promptly close the door.  Myself - this is one instance where I have no qualms about going the extra mile.  The pump's already primed, you know?  They're obviously hungry for spiritual truth... you just have to plant some doubt concerning their current (false) beliefs, give them the Truth, then pray for God to do the rest.  I mean - not to be flippant, but - that's more-or-less what we do with everyone on some level.  Right?

Current case in point:  I had a discussion yesterday with a Jehovah's Witness (JW) which covered the topic of God's "name."  That's a pretty important topic to JW's... after all, they call themselves by that name, right?  Well... not exactly; but I digress.

The "name" of the LORD is revealed to Moses in Exodus 3, when Moses asked the Lord His name for when he spoke to the Israelites.  This was a special, supremely revered name.  This was the special name of the One True God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In fact, the command, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain" (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11), specifically refers to this name.

So what is this name?  Depending on era and dialect, it looks something like the following (sorry if this offends anyone!):

The top name is written in Paleo-Hebrew (3,000-year-old Hebrew), the second in Aramaic (old Semitic language adopted under Medo-Persian empire), the bottom in Modern Hebrew (in use for the last 2,000+ years).  It's spelled (goin' with modern Hebrew, read right to left) yod-he-waw-he; so the best English transliteration would be YHWH.

One popular form of the name is Jehovah.  This was formulated by taking the vowels from the Hebrew word for 'lord' (adonai) and imposing them upon the Modern Hebrew Name; since Hebrew was originally written without 'vowels,' and no one is completely certain how "YHWH" was originally pronounced (though many scholars suggest 'Yahweh').  

JW's, interestingly, don't dispute this origin of "Jehovah," but still insist upon it's strict usage by English-speakers.  As if it's a marker of true spirituality:  using God's correct Name.  

While speaking with my JW visitor yesterday, we read a great deal from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society publication, What Does the Bible Really Teach?, which he used to facilitate the discussion.  On page 195, the third paragraph reads:

How important is God's name?  Consider the model prayer that Jesus Christ gave.  It begins this way:  "Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified." (Matthew 6:9)  Later, Jesus prayed to God:  "Father, glorify your name."  In response, God spoke from heaven, saying: "I both glorified it and will glorify it again." (John 12:28)  Clearly, God's name is of the utmost importance.  Why, then, have some translators left this name out of their translations of the Bible and replaced it with titles?

On page 196:

In replacing God's name with titles, Bible translators make a serious mistake.  They make God seem remote and impersonal, whereas the Bible urges humans to cultivate "intimacy with Jehovah." (Psalm 25:14)

Interesting points, to say the least.

With their position in mind, do you notice anything about the scriptures they quote on page 195 above?  How about the fact that JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF is honoring His Father's Name, and yet doesn't use it at all.  Not in the "model prayer" (Matthew 6), nor in the prayer before the crowd in which He was 'answered' from heaven (John 12).  The Watchtower is using these verses to prove their 'point,' and yet "Jehovah" is not used therein.

In fact, God's "Name" (in any translation of YHWH) is not used in the ENTIRE New Testament.  The reason isn't because modern translators "left this name out of their translations of the Bible and replaced it with titles."  The reason is because translators from the 3rd to the 1st century BCE left it out.

The New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek.  When you read a portion of the New Testament which quotes the Old Testament (or Tanakh), it's quoting from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures.  Guess how many times the name "Jehovah" appears in the Septuagint?


And yet no New Testament writer had a problem quoting from the Septuagint, which substituted the word 'LORD' (Greek: kurios) for God's special covenant name, YHWH.  It was understood that YHWH was being referenced, which took nothing away from the message of the apostles.  

Furthermore, the name "YHWH" is not found anywhere else in New Testament Greek manuscripts.  Greek-speaking Jews (certainly) and Christians (most likely) wouldn't have used the name.  No apostles used the Name, at least in writing:  Not Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, Jude - none of them.  Doesn't exist in the New Testament.

Yet, JW's have the audacity to put into print a statement like, "In replacing God's name with titles, Bible translators make a serious mistake."  Were the Septuagint scholars making a mistake?  The apostles?  We only have God's word concerning His Son's life, death, resurrection and subsequent ministry through His apostles - because of His apostles.  

Would the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society have the consistency and courage to say of the apostles that "They make God seem remote and impersonal"??  They certainly didn't use "Jehovah" (or even YHWH) in any of their writings!  

This is just one, somewhat minor inconsistency within JW theology.  It just happened to be one I dealt with very very recently, and found rather incredible.

The 'good news' is, I can offer this visitor from the Kingdom Hall something much better than what he can offer me.  If JW's are truly concerned with cultivating intimacy with Jehovah, then they must become His sons, through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  This happens only through faith, and faith alone in Christ Jesus: God in the flesh.

This intimacy - true intimacy - isn't created by "using the correct name."  This intimacy is created because of a new birth: rebirth into the family of God.  See, I know my earthly father's name.  I'm very familiar with it, and I even know how to pronounce it correctly.  Nevertheless, because the of 'intimacy' of being his son, I don't call him by his name.  I call him something much more special, much more intimate.  I call him "dad."

Because of the what Christ accomplished in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension - I can call God the Father my Father.  And what's more intimate than that?

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Deficit vs. The Wealthy

After reading a few recent "news" articles, I began thinking about our deficit.  It's pretty bad, you know.  Up to $455 billion right now (now = November 2008).  Lots of people have lots of different ways they'd like to deal with it.  You know what they say about opinions...

Some folks - including the recent President-Elect, Barack Obama - believe the answer (or at least most of the answer) lies in increasing taxes on the "wealthy."  That's certainly one option.  One I gave some thought to this morning.

I'm confident that debates on taxes in this country will continue as long as the country itself does.  Nevertheless, I decided to crunch some numbers I hadn't seen crunched in any major news outlets (CNN, FOX, MSNBC, USAToday, etc.).  

How much money was collected by the government in federal taxes just last year (2007)?  Lots.  Well over 2-and-a-half $trillion$, in fact.  So, I guess the idea (held by some) is to increase taxes on the 'wealthy' to up that gigantic number a bit, so we can start making a dent in our budget deficit.

So I start wondering how much, exactly, these super-wealthy yuppies are paying into that 2.5 trillion amount.  Turns out that the wealthiest 1% (that's not a typo:  that's the number ONE, and a percentage symbol)... the wealthiest 1% of tax payers in the U.S. paid 36.9% of all federal tax collected in 2007.  That's a fact (click the link to check me on it).  

Do you know how much 36.9% of 2-and-a-half TRILLION is??  Again:  lots.  So much, in fact, that it's OVER DOUBLE the amount of our $455 billion-dollar deficit.

This is what the numbers actually look like:

2007 Total Federal Tax Collected:                $2,674,007,818,000 (See?  Over 2.5 trillion)

Wealthiest 1%:                                                  Paid 36.9% of total (i.e., $986,708,884,842)

2008 US Budget Deficit (as of November):  $455,000,000,000

As anyone with a 3rd grade education could see, the "wealthiest 1%" of taxpayers actually gave this country more than double what our current budget deficit is.  The solution then - as suggested by some - is to increase taxes on this tiny minority of taxpayers who already pay nearly two-fifths of what the government receives, per annum.  That's 1% of taxpayers (not 'all citizens,' taxpayers) paying 36.9% of all taxes received by the federal government.  

After seeing this, I have to sort of wonder aloud:  is the problem really that the wealthy aren't "paying their share," or is it that the federal government couldn't successfully manage a lemonade stand?  When 46% of the taxes collected from just 1% of all taxpayers could completely eliminate the budget deficit - why are we even talking about raising taxes??  

Why not have the (super bloated) government tighten its belt just a bit, and learn to effectively manage the trillions of dollars it already receives from us?  (Before okaying a tax increase on those who shoulder the majority of the burden.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A wise king winnows the wicked, And drives the {threshing} wheel over them. 
                                                                                           -Proverbs 20:26

Loyalty and truth preserve the king, And he upholds his throne by righteousness. 
                                                                                               -Proverbs 20:28

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Brit Sums It Up

Found this quote from Melanie Phillips on The Spectator UK:

You have to pinch yourself – a Marxisant radical who all his life has been mentored by, sat at the feet of, worshipped with, befriended, endorsed the philosophy of, funded and been in turn funded, politically promoted and supported by a nexus comprising black power anti-white racists, Jew-haters, revolutionary Marxists, unrepentant former terrorists and Chicago mobsters, is on the verge of becoming President of the United States. And apparently it’s considered impolite to say so.

Yeah.  That's pretty much it in a nutshell.  

Monday, October 6, 2008

Syrian Churches Holding Their Own in Northern Iraq

An NPR article by Peter Kenyon:
A new phenomenon is spreading through the Christian towns and villages of northern Iraq: Christian security forces, organized through their local churches, are manning checkpoints and working with the Iraqi police.

Christians are usually doormats in this part of the world, so this was quite a refreshing read.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Exalted Void

Let me be right up front with you:  astronomy is one of my 'weak suits.'

That being said, I got a good laugh out of Clara Moskowitz' recent Space.com article, Do We Live in a Giant Cosmic Bubble?  It's a well-written piece, so this has nothing to do with Ms. Moskowitz, per se.  The article more-or-less gives an alternative view to the typical understanding of 'space' and the whole dark matter/dark energy debacle.  Some scientists are now postulating:
Earth may be trapped in an abnormal bubble of space-time that is particularly void of matter. Scientists say this condition could account for the apparent acceleration of the universe's expansion, for which dark energy currently is the leading explanation.
The humor hits towards the end of the article.  Apparently, the biggest initial objection to this theory is that it means the earth is special.  Moskowitz writes that the void theory:

... negates a principle that has reigned in astronomy for more than 450 years: namely, that our place in the universe isn't special. When Nicholas Copernicus argued that it made much more sense for the Earth to be revolving around the sun than vice versa, it revolutionized science. Since then, most theories have to pass the Copernican test. If they require our planet to be unique, or our position to be exalted, the ideas often seem unlikely.  [emphasis mine]

I couldn't make this stuff up.  I wish I could.  It's a challenge to "science" for any view to postulate that the earth is unique.  I'm sorry... that's just hilarious.  Is earth not unique?  Does empirical evidence not support this?  Isn't earth still the only known planet with life on it?  Not just life - but intelligent life?  Isn't earth the only known planet able to support life as we know it?  Don't we have an abundance of H2O in liquid form here?  Is that not special?

Anyway, I don't mean to rant.  When I read statements like:
"This idea that we live in a void would really be a statement that we live in a special place," Clifton told SPACE.com. "The regular cosmological model is based on the idea that where we live is a typical place in the universe. This would be a contradiction to the Copernican principle."

... I just have to laugh.

Monday, September 15, 2008

No "i" in Team...

One of my live ninjas - the Ox - has written a pretty good piece over at Assembly Quest entitled, Apostasy, Then and Now.  I suggest checking it out.

Much of it focuses on Daniel 9, and its application to the contemporary church (especially 'Brethren').  While understanding that Daniel was writing under a(n obedience-based) Law Covenant - as a member of that covenant nation - and plenty of "disenfranchised assembly guy" stuff not withstanding, he still makes some awesome (and honest) points.

My favorite part follows (reprinted without permission):

Daniel 9 is well worth examining, but I want to point out what is to me the most outstanding feature: Daniel was personally guilty of none of the things he confessed. Daniel himself had not committed the idolatries and immoralities he confessed; he had been only a boy when taken from Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and had an impeccable track record when in Babylon. Further, he was decidedly separated from the rest of Israel while in Babylon. But despite his personal blamelessness in the sins he confesses, he insists on saying "we".

I find this striking, because my experience in "brethren" has been precisely that they see themselves as somehow blameless in the current state of things, because they "walk in separation".  But Daniel---one of only a couple men of whom the Scripture recordsnot one sin---falls to his knees and says "we".

This is the great failure of "brethren" in my mind: that having seen the deplorable state of the Church, they have refused to humble themselves and confess it as "we". They've been quick to separate from sin they see, even if it means separating from other Christians; one would think that might mean they understand the seriousness of sin. But they have refused to acknowledge that we are all One Body, what one member does, all feel. Their fine-tuned rules of fellowship and separation have sprung from an admirable sense of wanting to avoid evil: but they have failed to see the big picture; we are in this together.

N.T. Wright Interview

Trevin Wax, in November of last year, actually sat down with the Bishop of Durham for a lengthy interview, largely revolving around New Perspectives on Paul theology.  I'm just now sitting down to read the interview at length, and found it very well done.

I must confess to a certain obsession with NPP.  I certainly admire the desire to place all of Holy Writ in its historical context.  Even if that means going against the status quo:  since many in evangelical Christendom often see the Bible as though it were written in a vacuum, and dropped from the sky (a somewhat pagan notion, in my opinion:  see the statue of Artemis in Acts 19).  If we're going to champion an "historical/grammatical hermeneutic," we need to be consistent.  And I can honestly say I've learned much from my study of NPP (both pro and con).

That being said, I have serious reservations about NPP, especially in regards to the doctrines of Justification, Eternal Security, and Imputation.  One need exercise great discernment when opening up such material.

Nonetheless, I believe this interview with Tom Wright - aside from further revealing his winsome, likable character - allows the man to condense things in an easily digestible way for the casual reader.  If your exposure to NPP is limited, this would probably be a good place to start.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Entrance to Xibalba Found!

Of course, to get there, you have to travel a long path filled with obstacles. Including "rivers filled with scorpions, blood and pus." Yummyyyyyyyyyyyy.

Archaeological dig in Mexico; found it at MSNBC.

A wee bit morbid, I know, but I'm always interested in learning about the spirituality of ancient peoples; especially comparing and contrasting them to the Faith.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mosab Hassan Yousef gets my vote for Bravest Man of the Year

He's 30.

He was born in the West Bank.

His dad is Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a big-to-do in Hamas (yes, the Hamas).

Mosab Hassan Yousef is now a Christian, speaking out against Islam.

FoxNews has a rather lengthy, but incredibly insightful interview with the man, who has a 'unique' perspective on religion, to say the least. I found it a very inspiring read.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Brief Quote from M. Luther

The Gospel brings donations. It pleads for open hands to take what is being offered. The Law has nothing to give. It demands, and its demands are impossible.


Luther, Martin. Translated by Theodore Graebner. "Galatians Three." Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. Blue Letter Bible. 27 June 2005. 17 Nov 2007. <http://blueletterbible.org/Comm/martin_luther/Gal/Gal003.html>.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Personal Responsibility: Off the Hook Again

If you made a top 10 list of the saddest aspects of contemporary American culture, surely somewhere on that list would be the abandonment of personal responsibility. Somehow, we’ve begun breeding generations of people who – once they bring calamity upon themselves – want to blame everything and everyone but themselves. And if not that, there seem to be plenty of people who will re-direct blame for them.

It’s a typical rant coming from anyone right-of-center, to be sure; but I’m not trying to be innovative, here… just lamenting.

This facet of our culture came to mind upon reading Ceci Connolly’s recent Washington Post article, AIDS Among Latinos on Rise. In it, she reports on the alarming rise of HIV/AIDS cases within the Latino community here in United States. Do yourself a favor and read it.

One thing I found even sadder than the fact that people mentioned in the article had this horrendous disease, was the fact that each of them contracted HIV in ways that were 100% preventable. It may not have been convenient for them, but definitely preventable.

For instance, the article mentions a man from Mexico who came to America; though, “the freedoms he sought in California quickly became his undoing.” He “sought refuge in San Diego's gay bars and bathhouses. There, he discovered friendly American men and crystal methamphetamine.”

Is that where we are, now? We need to promote awareness concerning the contraction of AIDS via drug use and bathhouses? Aside from the fact that – according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – around half of the 1 million (+/-) Americans with AIDS are men who received the disease through “sexual contact” with other men: we really need warnings that drug use, promiscuous sex, and bathhouse visitation will put you at greater risk for contracting HIV? Not to sound to callous or dismissive, but – to whom is this a new concept?

The problem is only compounded when excuses are given for their “at-risk” behavior, as if they were all helpless victims in the matter. The same Mexican man mentioned above said of his Meth use, “I had no idea meth was so addictive… It takes away your inhibitions. I started associating with people I wouldn't normally.” Of course he did! That’s one of the well-known side effects of drug abuse: a lowering of inhibitions.

Further excuse is offered, based on comments by San Francisco State University AIDS expert,

Rafael Diaz (director of the Cesar E. Chavez Institute and author of numerous books on

homosexuality and AIDS within the Latino community):

“Many are "objectified" by white men who view them as exotic. They play subservient roles to partners with citizenship or money. The "triple oppressive experiences of poverty, racism and homophobia" lead many to risky behavior, Diaz said. "People are looking for respite and relief from a sense of isolation, economic deprivation and low self-esteem. Sometimes sex is the place where men find that."”

So what are we to glean from this? That if you’re poor, discriminated against, or lonely, it’s acceptable to engage in unscrupulous – or at least, imprudent – behavior, even if that behavior puts you at greater risk for disease?

What? If I cut a mackerel in two, strap one half to my back, then go swimming through shark-infested waters – should a sympathy case be made on my behalf when a shark attacks me? Of course not… but that’s exactly what is exemplified by this article, I’m sorry to report. Those who brought calamity upon themselves are made out to be victims, instead of responsible culprits.

My wife and I have gay/lesbian friends for whom we care very deeply. We even have a gay friend who lived in San Francisco for years and frequented bathhouses! If this friend of ours were to turn up HIV positive, we would be absolutely heartbroken for him. We would be heartbroken for his pain, and the pain his family and friends would have to endure. But at the same time, there couldn’t be much sympathy concerning how he contracted the disease, because it would be by his doing.

A young girl who gets raped and contracts HIV from her rapist – that’s a victim. A child who’s sexually assaulted by someone with HIV – that’s a victim.

A drug-addict having promiscuous sex in a bathhouse? I’m not sure how that qualifies as a victim; no matter what their sense of “isolation, economic deprivation and low self-esteem.”

God help these poor souls, struggling with such a horrible disease. And God help us all in taking responsibility for our own actions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

4th Century Greek, Anyone?

(Oh yes)


BERLIN - More than 1,600 years after it was written in Greek, one of the oldest copies of the Bible will become globally accessible online for the first time this week.

This is the manuscript body from which we get the NASB translation. It's the oldest complete New Testament extant. Check out www.codex-sinaiticus.net to keep up with its progress.

I know you're stoked.

First Things First

Here's the news:

The God who made this earth, and everything originally found in it - since He's Master of it all - doesn't actually dwell inside anything man-made; no temples, church buildings, trinkets, medallions, books, nothing. Nor is He directly aided by human effort (as if He needed our help, since He’s the One who gives all people life, and puts air in the lungs of every living creature).

This same God [as crazy as this sounds] created one man, and every ethnic group on the face of the earth descends from this one man. The times and places they live were decided by this God, with the desire that they would seek Him, and find Him (though He isn’t too far away from any of us). After all, in Him we have life, movement, and existence; just like many people have written before, “we are His Children.”

And since we’re the progeny of God, we certainly shouldn’t believe that His Divine Nature shares anything in common (substance-wise) with any idol or statue some artist created (even if it were made from gold or silver or even diamonds).

So, God has sort of turned a blind eye towards all of our insane beliefs for quite some time [instead of just sweeping us from the earth for denying Who He is], but now tells us that everyone – everywhere – needs a massive paradigm shift concerning Him.

This is rather urgent, because God has marked a day on the calendar when He is going to judge the world (in His perfect righteousness) through a Man He’s chosen. He’s proven that this will be the case, because this “Man” was tortured to death, and yet was raised from the dead.

Who was this Man? Technically, it’s “who IS this Man,” because – like I wrote before – He came back from the dead. His name was Y’shua, but most English-speakers call Him Jesus. He is the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God, and Lord over all creation. But more directly to our point here – this Jesus died for our sins (re: all that insane stuff mentioned before about denying Who God really is), which was predicted to happen hundreds and hundreds (and thousands) of years before it actually took place, in the Hebrew scriptures.

See, this Jesus is the only Son to come from God (as in, He shares the same Divine Substance as His Father). But God loves us insane humans so much that He sacrificed His Son Jesus, so that anyone amongst us who looks to Him in faith can forgo this coming judgment (mentioned above), and receive eternal life.

That’s the basic message. What you do with it is between you and God. But you will talk with Him about it one day…

… sooner or later…

Sunday, July 20, 2008