Are you watching the Middle East?

Just a quick hit today.

Are you watching the Middle East? With ISIS filling the news, it almost seems a stupid question, but not really. If anything, the more something fills our screens, the more we can begin to tune it out.

But have no doubts: Eventually the entire world will be focused on that area of the world. And not that ISIS is a small thing–hardly so–but there is so much more going on over there than that. For biblical prophecy to be fulfilled in the Middle East a great deal of change and reorganizing is required, and that is exactly what we see happening.

For instance, here’s part of a dispatch from the Middle East channel of Foreign Policy Magazine that I received today. Really grabbed my attention:

U.S. Claims Egypt and UAE Launched Airstrikes in Libya

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates launched secret airstrikes against Islamist militias in Libya twice over the past week according to senior U.S. officials, without consulting the United States. The officials said the UAE supplied warplanes, pilots, and refueling planes while Egypt provided bases from which the strikes were launched. Egypt has denied involvement and the UAE has not commented. The United States is concerned external involvement in Libya could escalate violence. Officials said Qatar has already been supplying weapons to Islamist militias. According to the United States, strikes targeted Islamist-held positions in Tripoli on August 18 and early Saturday. Nonetheless, Libya Dawn, an alliance of militias including Islamist groups and militias from Misrata seized Tripoli’s international airport on Saturday from rival Zintani militias. Following the move, the General National Congress, the Libyan parliament that was replaced in an election in June, reconvened and installed an Islamist-backed prime minister. On Monday, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, and Britain issued a joint statement denouncing outside interference and calling on all parties to accept a cease-fire and participate in the democratic process.

(And, FWIW: Foreign Policy Magazine isn’t one of those fly-by-night operations, by the way, that I see used by some for “news” these days (replace “news” with “agenda-driven/loose-minded interpretations of facts with pretend ‘facts’ thrown in”). Not saying it’s perfect, but when it comes to news sources, most folks could be a bit more discerning in their choices from what I can tell.)

The King of the South will come together. And to make that omelet will require a lot of broken eggs. If you don’t see some serious omelet-making in the Middle East right now, you aren’t even in the kitchen.

I think I saw a book somewhere once that explains a lot about what the Bible says about this sort of stuff in prophecy… Hmmmm… Where was that? In my local library? No, that wasn’t it. At Barnes & (Ig-)Noble? No, no — that wasn’t it, either…

Oh yeah! Free booklet–BAM!

Booklet - Middle East in Prophecy

Click and read! And, as Jesus Christ tells us to do: watch! And He doesn’t just mean the news–let’s watch ourselves. Watching as something comes to pass that God declared would come to pass does nothing for us if it does not stir us to seek that God all the more.

Image of Earth from NASA's Terra satellite

News Reporting Fail: The National Science Foundation Survey

The National Science Foundation has published the results of a survey it conducts from time to time as an “assessment” of Americans’ scientific knowledge. However, some of the sloppy reporting of the results confuses belief with knowledge.

For instance, ABC News online article completely twists the results. In one paragraph, they report:

“Only 39 percent answered correctly with ‘true’ when asked if ‘The universe began with a huge explosion,’ while only 48 percent knew that ‘Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,’ according to the statement.”

The statement that “only 48 percent knew that” human beings have developed from other animals grabbed my attention. It implies ignorance of a fact, when the statistic probably says no such thing.

The lazy ABC News article can’t take all the blame, as they are “reporting” on a press release about the survey which makes the same mistake:

“For example, only 74 percent of those queried knew that the Earth revolved around the sun, while fewer than half (48 percent) knew that human beings developed from earlier species of animals.”

For people dedicated to science, they are woefully ignorant at interpreting the results of what should be a simple survey. If they can get such a no-brainer wrong, how can they be trusted with interpreting more complicated results?

I say all of this because, if the survey is conducted in the same manner it apparently was back in 2004, what it did was ask if the following statement was true or false: “Human beings as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” Stating “False” on this statement is apparently being interpreted by many to imply that they are not familiar with popular theories of evolution–as if it is a given that anyone taught the “fact” of human “evolution” would agree with that statement.

However, there are many, well-educated, scientifically literate individuals who are very familiar with the neo-Darwinian synthesis of evolution theory who simply disagree that the statement is true. The survey did not measure ignorance about a fact. It measured doubt about an assertion.

Some reporting did get it right. For instance, the Independent Business Times wrote more accurately:

“The questionnaire also found that less than half (48%) of Americans believe that human beings evolved from an earlier species, while 39% said they believe that the universe began with a huge explosion.”

Also, United Press International reported:

“On two controversial questions, whether the universe began with a large explosion and whether humans are descended from other species, fewer than half in the United States said those are true.”

Actually, kudos to the UPI for the next statement, which–unlike the lazy ABC News “effort”–reflects some actual work performed to help their readers understand the facts they were trying to present (you know, reporting). For instance, the quote above was followed by this:

“The Atlantic said those percentages go up by a significant amount when the questions are rephrased to ask if the big-bang theory and evolution are scientifically accepted.”

Get that? Those surveyed understood that evolution is widely accepted in the scientific community, they simply don’t feel the matter has been proven to them sufficiently. The question measured belief, not knowledge.

(An aside: Some of you out there may think that the only conceivable way one would fail to conclude that humans evolved into their current form from other decidedly non-human species would be if the non-believer is scientifically ignorant, so the interpretations of the results are correct in all these reports. You are free to conclude that. You are also free to tape a rolled up newspaper to your head and declare yourself a unicorn. But don’t confuse the things you are free to declare with reality. Dawkins’ “ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked” comment reveals more about Dawkins’ arrogance and boorishness than it does about those who reasonably doubt the standard evolutionary dogma. Moving on…)

Actually, the UPI did much better. Rather than allow their small news item to be yet another “Americans sure are stupid, amiright?” article, it goes further:

“Generally, U.S. residents showed a knowledge of science comparable to those of other countries with high levels of education, including Japan, the European Union and South Korea, the NSF said. In fact, they did better than EU residents on the question about whether Earth moves around the sun.”

So, more people in the European Union stated they believed that the sun goes around the earth than Americans, and the Americans apparently did not do significantly better or worse than Japan, South Korea, or the EU.

Consequently, the article is almost “dog bites man” news–that is, not really news at all.

But that really isn’t true. There really is a story. The fact that one-quarter of the people surveyed didn’t seem to understand that the earth moves around the sun instead of vice versa is really spooky–let alone that apparently our international brothers and sisters faired about the same. (Of course, given the move by some European leaders to make the EU the center of all life in Europe, it is perhaps not surprising that they thought the EU at the center of the solar system, itself.) (Yes, that is supposed to be a funny political joke.) (Yes, I am aware that it isn’t that funny.)

But it is a shame that there wasn’t more real reporting and that what reporting there was–the UPI report being a notable exception–was so lazy and poorly done. Then again, the survey is more likely than not simply a public means for the National Science Foundation to feel important about itself, so, for them, perhaps it is “mission accomplished.”

[UPDATE: A little more from the articles… The IBT article stated, “Almost 90% of respondents said they believe that the benefits of science outweigh any dangers…” You have got to be kidding me. I don’t know which is worse, the confusion of the response or the inanity of the question. Maybe some context can make more sense of this point. Are the alternatives simply “science” versus “no science”? If so, then it’s a little like saying, “The benefits of food outweigh the benefits of no food.” But if the statement is meant to say something significant, then a blanket consideration is not possible unless the practice of science, by itself, is a virtue, which would make the need to evaluate some research from an ethical perspective meaningless. But tell me that some of the experiments done on children during the Holocaust were all OK because it was in the name of “science.” I’m pro-science, but goofy statements like that reflect a lack of sophistication that the science community–like the NSF which presses this dumb survey–normally accuse others of. It highlights the effort as more propaganda than anything. And, for the record, I have a hard time calling the Big Bang an “explosion” and I’ve heard a number of scientists say that they don’t like calling the Big Bang an “explosion.” When space-time, itself, is expanding, “explosion” just doesn’t really cut the mustard. So, yes, I find that question irritating, too.]

2013 in review

Wow — 2013 has flown by like nobody’s business! I cannot recall ever feeling like a year went by so fast as I feel this year.

For my own sake, I thought I would put together a few thoughts about the Roman year that is now passing. It has been a crazy 365 days, though it hasn’t necessarily been an unpredictable craziness…

The United States continues to broadcast its incompetence. As explained by a WSJ opinion piece today, the new president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, has “out-leadershipped” virtually every U.S. leader over the last year by actually making his country work and work better, addressing actual problems. Meanwhile, we keep applying new band aids on top of old band aids and our symptoms are beginning to multiply. “Dysfunctional” hardly seems like a sufficient word for what we have seen in our government over the course of 2013 (certainly a far cry from my fantasy Obama acceptance speech). Our debt continues to be nauseating, our military frustrated, our credibility in the world fatally compromised, and our morality continuing down the toilet.

On that last point, as Yahoo! News noted (hat tip to SW!) 2013 was, according to the so-called Human Rights Campaign, the “gayest year in gay history.” What we have witnessed in terms of cultural collapse and moral change in 2013 has been breathtaking in its speed. But, as I have tried to say before, the changes we see in the state of “marriage” are not the problem as much as they are the symptom. If marriage had remained a sacred and honored institution and if sexual activity had continued to be seen as something belonging within the domain of marriage, none of this would be happening. Admittedly, it is a symptom that the disease is in its final stages, but it is merely a symptom. We’ve only gotten to these final stages here in 2013 because all previous symptoms were willfully ignored.

(That said, the signs of our cultural rot in the U.S.A. are too many for me to even want to list here, as I would love to move on. Let me only add here in parentheses that it would be wonderful if 2014 involved no news items that contained the word “twerk.” That would be great.)

On the world scene, the changes and challenges have also been breathtaking. The Eurozone survived the predictions of many that it would crumble. The Middle East, Egypt and Syria in particular, continues to be scrambled up in a manner that will eventually enable a King of the South. Not to ignore other countries in the area: In 2013, Iraq experienced its deadliest year since 2008 and Iran got a big, wet, kiss on the lips by the U.S. and its buddies. The world continues to become configured in a manner consistent with the picture the Bible paints of the End Times.

And stepping into that world scene is a pope like none that world has seen for quite some time. Taking on the name “Francis I” which suggests that he is of a mind to reform, he has begun to do that — attempting to reform both the Roman Catholic Church’s image and its institutions. In addressing its image, many homosexuals and abortionists were encouraged by his comments that such topics dominate too much of the RCC’s dialogues and that it should focus on other things. What he did not say, of course, is that the positions and doctrines of the RCC were actually going to be changed in such matters — something that those who actually pay attention were sure to notice. Still, by focusing on projecting an image of humility and outgoing concern for the impoverished and the unheard, Pope Francis is creating the sort of picture that better matches the RCC’s talk and is reforming its image in a way that few could have imagined before 2013. The news speaks of record numbers of young, intelligent, educated women choosing the “calling” of the nunnery, and even many atheists are singing his praises, with one woman tweeting, “I’m an atheist, but the more I hear about Pope Francis, the more I like him.” Her opinion is not an isolated one, and I have read of many atheists considering giving the RCC another chance at winning their hearts–perhaps loosening the grip that Richard Dawkins, et al., have had on their minds.

Whether or not he is the last one and whether or not his honeymoon with the world continues unabated in 2014, the pope that the RCC received in 2013 is a game changer. It was a remarkable event of the past year with ramifications that will continue to be felt for much longer.

Concerning the Work of God, 2013 was an incredible year, with some of the most dramatic changes I have seen since I have had the privilege to be a part of it in this way! The Tomorrow’s World studio has been transformed, we’ve grown from a one-camera operation to three (including a jib), our graphics and planning for each program are being taken to a new level, the magazine underwent a powerful redesign, and our online presence has exploded through social networks at an almost frightening rate. The new TW Short videos are being viewed by tens and even hundreds of thousands of people at a time and are bringing thousands of additional people to our booklets and materials. Individuals all across the northern hemisphere are hearing the Tomorrow’s World program being broadcast in Russian for the first time. Dr. Roderick Meredith’s live Tomorrow’s World presentations online rocked, and, in my personal experience, the number of people who responded to the local TW presentations were greater than I had ever seen. And all of this (and so much more) just represents 2013! It doesn’t include any of the many things on the horizon just waiting for the trigger to be pulled. As far as I am concerned, this really is perhaps the most exciting time to be a part of the Work of God that I have ever experienced, in which it seems so blatantly obvious to those with eyes to see that His own hands are at work in the Church’s efforts.

Concerning those related to COGdom but outside the borders of God’s Work, if you will, in 2013 the rumormongers continued rumormongering, the self-appointed grew in number (as they always do), and the weird fantasies continued to multiply. Someone claimed to see in the Bible that Mr. Meredith would die this past year. And while it isn’t exactly the boldest prediction in the world that a man in his mid-80s would die, it, of course, flopped. Weird stories and predictions about the Church and its leaders crafted by various heretics and apostle-wannabes that were provably complete delusional fantasies did not pan out, as usual. Some folks here and there on the Internet finally acted on personal ambitions and self-delusions they have held for years. The earth kept spinning. The moon continued to orbit the earth. Boasters kept boasting. Accusers kept accusing. In those ways, 2013 was just another day in the office, as it has been for 2000 years. 🙂

Personally, it was a joy to serve my congregations in 2013. We grew, with a number of additions from those who have seen the telecast, received our literature, responded to the local presentations, and impressed with friends and loved ones who are in the Church. Frankly, I’ve never been involved in so many baptism counselings simultaneously, and it looks as though our Passover halls will happily be a bit more crowded! Growth aside, it is a privilege to get to serve so many wonderful people in this area, and I appreciate so much their patience with me. My family and I are so happy to make our home here.

Speaking of home, 2013 was quite a year on the home front! It was the first full year that my wonderful father- and mother-in-law have loved here, which has been such a blessing. It also was the year when I officially became shorter than 50% of my children, making me the third shortest person in a house filled with eight people. I lost 20 lbs. (Huzzah!) But have gained almost half of that back. (Booooo…) My wife and I had the humbling opportunity to travel to Europe, which was life-changing in a number of ways. Boy #1 continues to excel at fencing (the kind with masks and foils, not paint and wood), while Boy #2 has taken up Tae Kwon Do. Boy #3 is almost as tall as me, even though he is only 12-years-old, and Boy #4 has, here at the end of the year, gotten a pair of glasses that officially make him look smarter than me. 🙂 My Beautiful Wife began trying to sell some of her beautiful quilts (Etsy store: “Jeanine’s Quilted Things”). We painted our house. My work on Wally 4.0 proceeded apace, though not as “apace” as I would like (I still think it’s in beta). I converted to the Apple Ecosystem — in fact, I even got a MacBook Air to replace my old PC laptop (which I am surprised I haven’t blogged about, given how I’ve gone on about earlier matters), making me virtually 100% Apple-powered (though still rooting for Surface to do well).

More could be said, to be sure, but this Roman year of 2013 is ending with quite a bit having happened and with much promise of more to come in 2014.

In particular, this past year for me and my family was another opportunity to know that God has blessed us, that Jesus Christ rules in the Church and in our family, and that all our answers are found there in Him. All we have and know is worth having and knowing only because He grants that we have and know it, and all we do not have or know is not our concern as long as we are continually open and yielding to the One who, in His good time and for His good purposes, should one day grant that we have or know it. And until that day, having Him is sufficient. I think I saw that a little more clearly in 2013.

Perhaps the best thing about 2013 (even better than being 99% done with 2012 Maya-related silliness!) is knowing that Jesus’ return and His Kingdom is another solar revolution closer than it was this time last year. And whether I am alive when He comes back to earth or whether He determines in His wisdom that my end should come earlier than that, that is — beyond a doubt — a very good thing. (Does Martha Stewart have that phrase copyrighted? I hope not.)

World’s Largest Volcano — and it’s an Aggie!

TamuMassifI missed this News & Prophecy update (subscribe to receive free weekly prophecy updates here) about the super-massive volcano that has been discovered close to Japan: Tamu Massif — as large as the state of Arizona! That’s even bigger than the one under Yellowstone, which is quite a monster all by itself.

I was going to make a joke about “Tamu” in the name standing for my alma mater, Texas A&M University, until I discovered that it isn’t a joke: The “Tamu” really does stand for my alma mater! It was apparently named that by Dr. William Sager, a professor with the Texas A&M College of Geosciences.

Though I don’t see any news of the volcano causing trouble these days and it is apparently in active, I wonder just how many of these powerful beasts there are around the world and what role some of them might play in the earthquakes and other geological activity we see in the Scriptures playing a role in the end times (e.g., Luke 21:11, Rev. 6:14, et al.)

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The Boy Scouts and America’s growing rebellion against God

Well, how sad. In a move that makes no “carnal” or moral sense, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has decided to change its position and allow homosexual scouts but not homosexual leaders. If this is news to you, you can read about it here: “Boy Scouts vote to lift ban on [homosexual] youth” (or, frankly, you can read about it just about anywhere; the media seems to be having a party).

Looking purely from an argumentative standpoint, morality aside, the decision seems inept. It is not a compromise that will satisfy those behind the homosexual agenda in the matter. It is only a half-measure, and, as many have already made clear, they will not stop until the whole measure is in place: where distinctions between homosexual and heterosexual identifications play no role at all in Scout matters and homosexuals are allowed as leaders, as well. So the decision won’t end the social pressure. Nor will it change the legal standing of the group in any positive way. Actually it may make things worse, since one of the arguments, as I understand it, that the BSA made to maintain its policies against homosexual participants was that the policy reflected the position of the majority of those who sponsor Scouting, which would include many nominally Christian churches. The positions of those sponsors has not changed appreciably, so the BSA seems to be undercutting one of its own defenses. If the will of its sponsors makes no difference concerning who can be a scout, then why would it make a difference concerning who can be a leader? Again, there is no argumentative sense here.

That it makes no moral sense should be immediately obvious, but perhaps it isn’t so straightforward. The nature of homosexuality has not changed. A scout’s oath to “keep myself… morally straight” has not changed. The public’s opinion of homosexuality is certainly changing, however, so perhaps that’s where it makes sense. Perhaps the BSA has officially agreed that morality is relative and that our standards are completely defined by our society’s current fads and fascinations. If that’s the case, then other parts of the oath, such as “do[ing] my best to do my duty to God” is up for grabs, as well, I suppose.

Regardless, the bid to make it only a matter of accepting homosexual scouts but not homosexual adult leaders is doomed by this call. If one can be “morally straight” and a homosexual before becoming 18-years-old, what makes homosexuality at age 18 and after somehow no longer “morally straight”? If the definition is driven by public sentiment before 18, why is it suddenly an objective absolute after 18? Does a homosexual who has achieved the honored level of Eagle Scout, a recognition that a person is worthy of Scouting’s greatest honor, who turns 18 suddenly have to turn in all of his scouting ties and affiliations and leave the organization, because his age has made him suddenly dishonorable? One who has received the highest honor that Scouting can bestow on a person, representing in many ways the pinnacle of leadership, would be prevented from serving as a leader in the very organization that so recognized him? That doesn’t seem to make sense. I wouldn’t expect that to stand.

The comments I see being made by some BSA decision makers in this is that it will allow them to “serve more kids.” That would seem terribly short-sighted, not to mention rationally incoherent. If it’s a matter of numbers, they would be able to “serve more kids” if they opened up to girls, also. If they are thinking of dropping morality as an issue that they may open the doors wider, then they could, perhaps, “serve more kids” by taking in unrepentantly immoral youth of all sorts. The problem is that they are not simply increasing the numbers they serve in this way; rather, they are fundamentally transforming what it means to say they are “serving” them, at all.

Perhaps I will be surprised. Perhaps they will open the doors to youths who believe they are homosexuals and then be consistently on message that homosexuality is still immoral, and those scouts will be under positive pressure to change, as would any other scout engaged in behavior that is seen as violating their oath. I don’t see any evidence of that, but it is the only way I can imagine such a decision being made that is in any way conceivably consistent with logic and reason.

Well, that and then the possibility that the BSA now does feel that homosexuality is not immoral and that this was the biggest change that they thought they could enact without completely losing all support. Then the goal would be to purposefully undercut their previous arguments so as to have the other changes seem to be “forced” on them so that the end result is that homosexuality is no longer an issue in any way at all. That would be some cold calculating, but not impossible to imagine.

Anyway, my point is that when Mr. Meredith talks about the “falling away” or “rebellion” against God talked about in 2 Thess. 2:3, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away [or ‘rebellion’, ‘defection’, ‘revolt’, ‘turning away from a previous standing’] comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,” we are seeing that happen around us.

His insight that this refers to something huge is not only sound biblically and in the proper use of the Greek language, but we see it reflected in the world around us. The Boy Scouts–a shining light to many who, for years, saw them as an example of an organization willing to stand for what was right no matter cost in public perception–provide yet another example.

Yes, it is true that in the end times many true Christians will turn from the faith–whether to the world’s counterfeit Christianity or to other alternatives. That is a given. Paul says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).  As self-declared apostles, self-deluded prophets, and self-appointed teachers multiply, we see this happening at a seemingly increasing pace.

And, yes, it is true that outside the Church there is a vast deficit of the truth. For those whom God has not yet called, they simply do not have those precious truths God reveals only to those He is working with at this time–His Church. Actually being a Christian is more than being called a Christian. We’re hated for it, but we recognize that the “Christ” believed on by the vast majority of what is called “Christianity” is a “counterfeit Christ” — as Paul said, “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4) and not the Jesus of the Bible.

But this does not mean that the rest of the world does not have any “truth” to fall away from or rebel against, at least not according to the Bible. Quite the contrary, consider how God speaks through the apostle of the Gentiles: “…for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness…” (Romans 2:14-15). Not that they had the fullness of God’s revelation, but, rather, that there are some things God has placed inherently within us concerning certain elements of morality. There is nothing in the human heart that inclines it to know that the seventh day is holy to God and should be kept holy. Yet, there is something that says, for instance, that parents are to be respected. And, frankly, that homosexuality is not right.

There is a reason that some moral principles are common even within heathen cultures. It’s the reason that those whom Paul describes as groping for God in their ignorance (Acts 17:27) do have some basic, simple principles of God’s Way inherent in their natures–not all of it by far, to be sure, as the entirety is only available through his revelation and the engagement of His Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14)–such that they are still accountable for their actions when they know they’ve done wrong, if not to the same degree as someone who has not only the basic, natural sense of right and wrong but also the revealed knowledge (Luke 12:47-48).

Yet, what we see around us today is an active casting aside of even those things God, in His mercy, made natural within mankind. Patriarchy-based leadership, the Godly structure of the family which has been most natural to civilization, has been on the outs for some time. We see the willingness of society to butcher its unborn children, the natural inclinations and maternal instinct God has placed within mankind, taking a prideful place as more than a right but, incredibly, a “moral” stand. The list could go on and on. But the BSA decision represents another chapter–or at the least a turn of the page in the same chapter–in this increasing rebellion against even the natural truths God has placed within His creation. Homosexual behavior is immoral. And the pride in those who would actively remove that conviction from our societies–both here and abroad–is revealing. It is the pride one sees in the revolutionary, standing against the establishment with “right” on his side. But the revolution is against God, and the “establishment” is the natural order He designed and a sense of which He imparted as a gift of creation.

God’s pattern with peoples and civilizations before intervention in the past often has been not to bring punishment until the sin reaches its fullness. Biblically, this is seen in multiple examples. Consider God’s comment concerning the Amorites in Genesis 15:16, that He would not bring Israel into the land until after some time had passed, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Does that mean that the Amorites were a people to whom God had revealed His truth, like He has to His Church, and that he was waiting for them to fall away from that divine revelation? Of course not. They were already a people removed from the standards of God in their behavior and understanding, but God says they had further to fall away from those standards before He planned to intervene. Frankly, we see the same in God’s ultimate dealings with Israel, in which He gave them so much time to change, but eventually time was up.

We see it with Jonah’s being sent to Nineveh.  Were the people of Ninevah a called people of God in the sense that they had His laws, were keeping His Sabbaths and Holy Days, and were abiding by His commandments? I see no evidence whatsoever that they were. They were not set apart in the same way Israel was, nor were they given God’s laws like Israel was (cf. Deut. 4:7-8). And did they return to the entirety of God’s law after Jonah’s preaching and prophesying–the entirety of a law which was not fully revealed to them? No, they surely did not. But they did respond in the ways they understood to respond? Yes. Did they repent of at least those things their natures told them were wrong? Yes (Jonah 3:7-9). But more importantly, did God recognize the difference for His purposes at that time? Yes, He did, and he delayed their destruction (Jonah 3:10). Not having the fullness of God’s revealed truth did not prevent them from, as a civilization, having fallen even further from those inherent standards of right and wrong God has allowed to exist in all human beings, nor did it mean that God did not care if they were falling further from those standards or seeking to return to them. Clearly, He did.

The pattern of waiting until “transgressors have reached their fullness” (Dan. 8:23) is a biblical theme, describing the actions of the God of the Bible. And these very biblical ideas–that iniquity may be present without yet being complete, that transgression may not have yet reached its fullness, and that a people without the full revelation of the law can still be held accountable for rebelling against the part they do naturally know and then even shown some mercy for returning to that part–mean that it is possible for those who live in a fallen state with regard to the truth to fall further away, and that those who live in a state of general rebellion can still rebel to greater extent. The idea that one who is in a state of being apart from the fullness of the truth cannot fall away or rebel in a more climactic sense simply has no biblical basis at all.

There are many examples and relevant passages one could review. I will use only one more before I begin to beat the dead horse too excessively… Consider what Paul says of the Gentiles in Romans 1:18-32. It is correctly taken axiomatically that the Gentiles he speaks of, such as in the Greco-Roman world, did not have the special revelation of God concerning all of His beautiful law and understanding, yet he stresses that they had at least that which could be naturally known, from the world around them (v.20) to their own natural design (v.28), and that–even without the fullness of the spiritual revelation–God held them accountable for their rebellion and their falling away from what they did know, explaining that they were choosing not to retain God in their minds (v.28), even if that understanding would have been limited, and that for this rebellion they were deserving of death (v.32).

Anyone who claims that it is impossible for those who don’t have the full truth of God to fall further away from God or to rebel to an even deeper extent simply haven’t read enough of their Bibles. (And I would have been such an “anyone” in the far enough past, but thankfully the Bible’s a hard book to resist!) And those who think God doesn’t notice when organizations like the Boy Scouts make the sorts of decisions like they have recently and doesn’t consider it a worsening of their state and a further distancing themselves from God also don’t seem to know their Bible.

In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul describes the End Time state of affairs:

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”

In the verses afterwards, he describes the impact of this attitude on the Church, specifically, including its reflection in events of his time. But it would be dangerously foolish to think that because he addresses that description in the context of its impact on and within the Church that he is not speaking of a condition that will be true for the whole world, in general. Who would think that?

And we see this state coming into shape in our world right before our very eyes.

However incompletely and imperfectly, to the extent they understood it the Boy Scouts sought to reflect a “love of God” in their organization, and enshrined that love in their oath. Their desire to impart moral goodness to boys and young men had a semblance of godliness. But in embracing something unholy, they step closer to being despisers of good, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, and to denying any power or authority in the form of godliness they seek to maintain. If we don’t see in the Boy Scouts’ decision yet another step toward the world described by 2 Timothy 3, then we aren’t looking.

As Paul says, from such people turn away.

Our prayers are with those in Oklahoma

The scenes showing on the news of the tornado in Oklahoma are just heart breaking. As a child growing up in Texas, I only experienced one tornado while I was at school, and it was nothing like these poor little ones have gone through.

We got a commentary up on and on the Oklahoma tornado, and my hats are off to our editorial, legal, and internet folks for working so fast to get it out today. My apologies for taking so long to write it. I did not find out about the tornado until late last night (actually early this morning) and was in a bit of a “news-free bubble” before that. On finding out, it was hard to go to sleep. What a horrible world this is. It is not the world our Father would have it to be, which was part of the theme from the resulting commentary. The commentary can be found here: “This Is Not Our Father’s World.” But rather than reproduce it here (though, please do read it), I thought I would add some additional thoughts.

Although the logical “problem of evil” is generally considered by those in philosophical circles to be an ultimately unsustainable argument against God’s existence with many paths available for resolving the problem (among them, importantly, the one God reveals to be true!) and the ends of theodicy (sounds like a book by Homer, doesn’t it?) have generally been successfully achieved, it doesn’t diminish the emotional problem of evil… It may be fairly easy to understand, intellectually, how such things can happen, it is still hard to grasp emotionally. And part of me wonders if that should always be a struggle. Perhaps it should take us to our edges, which is where struggles take place, as long as it doesn’t take us beyond them. Perhaps that reflects a dissatisfaction with the way things are and is a reflection of our desire that it be otherwise. I’m not sure, and I will have to think about that a bit more.

Regardless, I personally believe that God feels–in a real way–the same way we do, only more so. The apparently machine-like pseudo-consciences of those like the Westboro Baptist crowd are a mockery of how God feels about suffering and His sense of justice, and I can’t but imagine that the “hands off” policy His plan requires of Him during this time is so much harder for Him than we can grasp, even as His knowledge that it is necessary is more sure than ours. By “harder” I mean more painful to go through, not harder to accomplish, and I don’t think that is a contradiction, even if it seems so at first. (I’m open to being shown where I’ve messed up, by the way.) While we reel at the pictures and the video footage, God was so much more acutely and intimately aware of the suffering. He heard every cry–indeed, every fleeting, scared, panicked thought–of every victim, and every anguished sob from a devastated parent is known to him in its incomprehensibly staggering fullness. I truly can’t imagine that He does not want to bring His kingdom and end this madness infinitely more than we do, let alone the passionate desire He must have to raise those lost back to life and to see them once again in their family’s arms in a world where no such things will ever happen again.

Knowing that there will be more of these things–only more so–as pointed out by prophecy, it should truly make us sigh and cry. It is my understand that no Living Church of God members were harmed in this outbreak, for which I am so thankful, though we know that will not always be the case, and it is there but for the grace of God that we go, ourselves. The next one could come right down my own street, and that could be me pulling my children out of the rubble. The thought is almost too much to bear. I pray that I could have the presence of character and walk with God that Job must have had even before his trials such that when those trials did come he could respond in the way he did:

Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22)

While I would know this to be true in my head, how hard it would be to be a parent in Oklahoma and have that come truly from my heart as it did for Job. To be honest, I don’t know if I am there yet in my walk with God, though, should he choose my family for such a trial, I pray that I would be. And, of course, I know Philippians 4:13 is mercifully true.

Sorry for being a bit rambly (“A bit?” you ask…), but I just wanted to post a few thoughts and to highlight the new commentary. In addition, while I don’t normally talk about other Church of God organizations, let me add just one more thing. I don’t know what other organizations may have congregations out there, but I do know that one, in particular, certainly does–namely PCG, the headquarters of which is, I believe, in part of the affected area. I don’t know if any of the few of you who happen to quietly read this blog outside of my own congregations are in PCG, but if you are and if there is anyway in which any of our members can help, please let us know. I know many of the LCG folks in that area, and I believe any of them would be more than willing to do what is necessary to help you and ensure you are safe and out of harm’s way without pressing you with questions or disrespecting your desire to maintain your distance otherwise. I’m not trying to sound magnanimous, because I believe that if any of us were in a similar spot you, too, would reach out. I’ve known just a few people who went to your organization, but all of them were friends and good people. In particular, those brethren in my congregations who have come to us from your organization are some of the most wonderful people I know. I have come to care for them deeply, and they reflect very well on you. Regardless, we’re praying for you and for everyone impacted by these tragic events.

May God bring His kingdom quickly that such events are never experienced again. Again, my apologies for rambling a bit, and I return you to your regularly scheduled surfing.

Salafism on the rise

Tunisia in North Africa (via Wikipedia)
Tunisia in North Africa (via Wikipedia)

I’m still working to make up time and tasks after being gone for the (uplifting!) COE meetings last week, but this bit of news caught my eye. included in their daily Middle East briefing an excerpt from The Cairo Review of Global Affairs article “Salafism’s March through North Africa” including this excerpt from the excerpt:

“‘This is not the Tunisia we know,’ the head of a respected Tunisian think tank told me as thousands of Salafists marched through the heart of Tunis’s old Medina, steps from one of its most exclusive restaurants, one that serves premium French wine under the watchful eye of a stern sommelier.

“But the city was Tunis, and the protestors were Tunisians. One of the Arab world’s most progressive societies, with one of the most active civil society environments in the entire Arab world, and a notable history of gender equality and secularism, is clearly witnessing the rise of an assertive socio-political force that defines itself exclusively under a strict religious frame of reference. The scale of these marches -and various other forms of assertiveness-and the frequency with which they take place indicate that this trend is far from marginal or dismissible.

“In Egypt’s last parliamentary election, Salafist parties won about a quarter of the votes. Amid the polarization that the country is currently witnessing, several Salafist voices and parties are increasingly influential in the political sphere. And the rise of Salafism is also taking place in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Sudan, and in other Arab countries.”

The reconfiguration of the Middle East continues. And for those who understand the difference between Salafism and Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam, Iran does not look in any way as if it will be the King of the South, regardless of what some self-appointed prophets have said. (For a quick wiki-primer, you can check out Sunni Islam, Shia Islam, Shia-Sunni relations, and Salafi movement.) Admittedly, the understanding of prophecy drives the understanding of news, and not the other way around (something another self-appointed prophet has occasional trouble with), and it is always possible God could accomplish something different with the Sunni-Shiite divide, but ignoring it makes no sense at all.

I continue to think that the results of the so-called “Arab Spring” shouldn’t be taken for granted to go one way or the other. But the growing influence of Salafism in Tunisia is noteworthy. The article referenced above goes on to discuss the fact that more affluent Arabs and those of younger generations may pose a cultural hurdle to those who wish to spread more radical and strict religious worldviews, which makes sense. When the King of the South does come on the scene, his rise will likely (IMHO) involve a combination of taking advantage of the sentiment of the times and a certain savvy crafting of that sentiment, channeling–slightly or strongly, as needed–the forces at play in the Arab world such that even if they are not completely unified in direction, the resulting net direction is empowering.

Regardless, the report highlights the great volatility of Arab and Middle East culture these days, and in that volatility many will find opportunity.

Great summary of the decline in U.S. military strength

I know it’s odd for me to post twice in one day, and I wouldn’t want to divert anyone from the theological musings in “Married Bachelors and Instant Character” but this comment I read in an WSJ opinion piece really struck me as a fantastic summary of the current state of the American military:

“History and the present tell us unambiguously that we require vast reserves of strength used judiciously, sparingly when possible, overwhelmingly when appropriate, precisely, quickly, and efficiently. Now we have vanishing and insufficient strength used injudiciously, promiscuously, slowly, and ineffectively.”

The commentary, published yesterday, was “Benghazi’s Portent and the Decline of U.S. Military Strength” by Mark Helprin, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. You can click on the link, but it is behind a paywall, so unless you have a subscription or can view a free preview, you may not be able to read the whole thing. It’s a good read, though, and Halprin’s comments about what America is doing to its military strength are insightful.

“Francis I, Malachy and Malachi” — also, why “Francis”?

whitesmoke (crop)Tomorrow’s World is out with a commentary, hot on the heels of the white smoke:

With the election of Francis I of Argentina as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, questions abound. Will he liberalize his church, perhaps relaxing the celibacy requirement for priests and seeking a greater Vatican role in the political life of Europe and beyond? Will he be the final pontiff before Christ’s return? Was his election in fact predicted by a medieval monk?

Click here to read the rest: “Francis I, Malachy and Malachi”

It is worth noting that Francis of Assisi claimed to see a vision while praying at the San Damiano cross in which (as it is supposed) Jesus told him, “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you can see, is falling into ruin.” Or, as others have stated it more concisely, “Francis, rebuild my church,” or even, “Francis, clean my church.”

Supposedly Francis of Assisi took that to mean he was to repair their church building there at San Damiano but then came to believe that he was, instead, to reform the church on the whole, as an institution.

[BTW: Hat tip to Mr. Rand Millich on that observation!]

Did Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio choose the name “Francis I”–a completely new papal name–because he sees his purpose as rebuilding (or cleaning) the Catholic Church in the face of its recent scandals of sexual misbehavior and back-stabbing politics? It all bears watching, to be sure. At 76 years of age, it is hard to know if this will be the last pope and, thus, the False Prophet of Scripture. I’ve heard that as a cardinal, Begoglio was a very humble man. It bears watching what he will do in the weeks and months ahead. (And, of note, he is not an antipope, having being chosen canonically. Those who say the last pope must be an antipope have no sure statement of Scripture to firmly back them up whatsoever.)

Meanwhile, I am sure heathen Malachy-addicts are busy heathenly scouring the heathen so-called “Prophecy of St Malachy”–likely a late 16th century forgery–to see if they can shoehorn poor Francis I in like they have so many others, desperate to make it work, or, else, making academic-sounding excuses why he doesn’t have to fit. Let them do so all they like. Heathen is as heathen does.

Again, check out the commentary: “Francis I, Malachy and Malachi”. I will take Malachi over Malachy, any day! And kudos to the Tomorrow’s World team for so fast on the draw!