Wednesday, July 30, 2008

End of July round up

Well, July came and went. In some ways it went by pretty fast, but the five days when my Air Conditioning was out didn't go too fast. (Remember, I live in central Texas)

Late last month, the Supreme Court finally got around to issuing a landmark opinion in a straightforward guns vs gungrabber case. They, in a 5-4 decision decided that the word people means people. Only took them about 99 days.

There was a swift reaction in Georgia and many other places, actually it is obvious they anticipated the ruling in several of those places, and they immediately began allowing people their 2nd amendment rights. Just goes to show that, in addition to having legitimacy, we have to fight to maintain our freedom.

I published two pieces this month, one on Grace vs The Law that I wrote over the past couple months, and one on recent history of the Bible, I wrote a few years ago, but never really published. I got a few lively questions from a friend on Grace vs The Law, and I must remember to thank him for the feedback.

I have begun a series on representative government, by asking if anyone knows which party they would belong to if they really had a choice and who represents them in our government. So far, no one has raised a question or an answer to that.

In my monthly Heroes and Slimeballs section, for the first time, the hero is post humus. For the non military out there, it means he was killed in the process of becoming a hero. I usually point out civilians (non police) who make us safer in our day to day life for this item, so while it does require courage (there must be some risk, and the action must be by choice) to get my attention, the hero doesn't usually pay with his life. But from time to time they do, making them all the more heroic.

My next energy forecast should be out within a couple days, and while the price of gas should drop off another 10 cents or so, I am looking at $5.70, give or take some next spring.

I am thinking of making several of these reoccurring items into regular monthly items, but I don't know if I am up to that. Promising to do something, even monthly is a big thing for me.
Maybe. We shall see.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Of Heroes and Slimeballs

I missed my monthly "Heroes and Slimeballs" installment last month. Guess I am not yet a professional writer.

As a reminder of what this is all about, see my January Article.

Or just remember this: "For evil to triumph, it only requires that good men should do nothing." - Edmund Burke

For this month's Heroes:
The guys who jumped on the man who was shooting up a church with a shotgun.

"John Bohstedt tackled the shooter. Immediately two others were on top of him."

Three heroes in less than one minute. It matters not that I seriously don't agree with what that Church teaches, my only regret is that at least one of them, John Bohstedt, died defending his Church.

Note to LESTER PHINNEY, should he find his way here. Good observation.

Slimeball award: I am going to take the easy way out this month. Since I really don't have time to narrow this down to which ever ones are the worst of the bunch, I will simply say Mortgage Servicing Companies in general.

These are generally the companies who you send your mortgage payments to, and who will process the paperwork if you default. They are also the ones who will reap more of a profit if you are late on payments, and still more profit if you default or get foreclosed on. In a few instances, they may even run the "mortgage rescue" companies, organizations proposing to help people who are behind in their mortgage payments, but many just take the money sent to them, and then tell their "clients" (victims) to declare bankruptcy or to walk away.

Hat tip to Credit Slips, especially at the following links:
They sometimes get involved in some brazen, illegal, behavior, as seen here.

Runner up. The producers and programmers who insist on draconian protection of their "work," and add copy protection to news sites, preventing fair use. Attempting to cut and paste from some of the links above gets a pop up warning about copyright. Sad.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

How can we know

I get asked, from time to time, how we can know that what we have in the Bible in our hands today is the same as what was written hundreds and hundreds of years ago. (I also get asked why I believe that what is in the Bible is what God intended to be in it, but that is a different matter) This is a short essay I wrote as a summary of what I have learned while studying the history of the scriptures. As with any writing, I gained a great deal of precision while writing it. I originally wrote this in 2004, and have updated it every year or two, mostly to improve the grammar.

It is still in a greatly simplified form.

I have tried to keep it to less than
three printed pages. There are
about half dozen notes at the end.

The Jews have had responsibility for assembling and keeping the Old Testament scriptures intact ever since they were written. The first five books were written around 2000 BC, the rest of them were passed down verbally until the time of the prophets[1] - when they were put into written form - while the Jews were in exile. Before this time, many of them were written in one form or another - but at the time of the prophets (and by the prophets), they were assembled and the whole was created. The elders and leaders were taken as captives to Babylon about this time and many of the peasants either went to Egypt, or were scattered. Some families[5] of them were not found until around 1970, in eastern Africa.

The Jews took the responsibility of keeping the scriptures seriously - to the extent that any error at all would result in doing an entire page over from beginning to end. But were they successful in keeping them intact? Here is some of the evidence that the scriptures are still intact.

The scattering of the Jews - and later, the scattering of the Christians - has become instrumental in keeping the purity of the scriptures. Ever since about 400 years BC, a few spiritual leaders of the Jews from every known region they occupied have met about every 100 years and compared their copies. This has prevented errors from creeping into the text - as an error found in one region's copies would be obvious to the representatives from other regions. In addition, some copies of he scriptures were lost to the world for many hundreds of years - and were found later. These also show that the scriptures have been kept faithfully.

Christians have done a similar job with the New Testament. Like the Jews, repeated persecutions caused them to scatter from west of Egypt to east of Persia and North of Bavaria (Southern Germany) in the first couple hundred years AD. Again, the spiritual leaders from these scattered regions met from time to time (sometimes with hundreds of years lapse in between) and one of the activities they engaged in at these meetings was to compare their copies of the Scriptures and their thoughts on interpretations of those Scriptures. Any changes to one set of Scriptures would show up as different from copies brought from other parts of the world.

While transcription has been precise, and fairly easy to prove (each one is simply an exact replica of all others), translation from the original languages to another has been a lot messier. While the original words never change - the languages we translate into are in continuous flux, and to a lesser extent the meaning of the original words is sometimes disputed.

Be advised, the King James Version is not the end all of accuracy. While great pains were taken to ensure its accuracy ( about 90 people worked on it for something like 15 years) they could not be any more accurate than the material they had to work with and, as they were all Englishmen, the particular world view they held. There are certain feature of it that are invaluable in studying, and no scholar of the Bible should be without a copy of the King James Version.

Also, the Roman Catholic Bible is not considered in this essay, since I do not study from it and it includes the apocrypic[2] writings, which are not considered by many Christian scholars to be sacred text. Most Bible scholars read these writings after studying the rest of the Bible, but most don't teach from them.

There are many different translations of the Bible into English, not because the Bible has changed but, because English has changed. In most translations the fight is over which words are best to use, to convey the original meaning. For instance, one passage in the New Testament says that Jesus will send us a councilor. There is some debate as to whether to translate the word as comforter, helper, advocate, or teacher, because the original word has a shade of meaning that encompasses some traits of each of those things. The King James translates it comforter. (Some translations, however, ARE considered inaccurate [3])

After the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, the New American Standard Bible (NASB - published and refined from 1952 to 1995) and the New International Version (NIV - first published in1974 and refined in 1984) were created (And the Revised Standard Edition - for the Brit's).

The differences of substance due to our improved knowledge, from earlier translations, is less than 1%, but they are substantially easier for today's reader. The NASB is considered THE standard for exacting translation. The NIV has had some controversy. The original (1974) seems to have been released prematurely - and became the subject of much venom. (Christians take accuracy seriously.) The later releases largely corrected the deficiencies (some differences from the King James and the NASB exist for readability), but many Christians have been slow to forgive.

[1] Time of the Prophets refers to an era around 400 to 800 BC, when many prophets rose up to witness to the people of Israel that they were going astray and that they would be driven into exile from the Promised Land.

[2] The apocrypha is a set of writings, added to the scriptures by the Roman Church in the 1500's. Some of them were present at the time of the Prophets, but were not included - the prophets didn't consider them cannon. Also, there is no record of Jesus quoting from any of them. When the New Testament was assembled in the 3rd (or was it the 4th?) century they were not included, primarily because Jesus did not quote from any of them, and secondarily because the Jews did not consider them cannon. (The word cannon means measure - it is the standard by which all things are measured)

[3] A few good and a few bad translations are named in the FAQ on the Electronic Bible web site E Bible dot Org - maintained by Micheal Paul Johnson. My own standard for accuracy is slightly more conservative than his, but we are in general agreement.

[4] Much of the information in this article can be
found in Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Dictionary.
Any errors are entirely my fault.

[5] Most of those found were evacuated to Israel shortly before a local war. It was determined they were indeed Jews, through DNA testing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Represenative Govmnt, evolving thoughts

So, the presidential races are pretty well settled. If you live in one of about 20 states, like Texas, you don't have to worry about who to vote for, for president. We will go republican, several others will too, even if McCain stumbles or steers left, he will get our electoral votes.

So then, what is a voter to do?

Two things. Do you have a favorite third party?
There is a short (29 questions) quiz to see how your views stack up against the parties.
Matchmaker Quiz

Local elections. Do you know who your real representative is? If you can find yourself on a map, you should know who your representative is. Giant first step. Simply download the PDF of your state and find your county on the map. Now you know what district you are in.

More to come later.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Grace, The Law, and Works

Salvation, in a nutshell.
A New Testament Perspective

Salvation occurs when a person realizes that they are a sinner, and no matter how hard they try they will never achieve the righteousness needed to please God. In fact they, as a sinner, are repulsive to God. But God, in His infinite love, gave His only begotten Son to pay the price to redeem us, and His righteousness is imparted to us for salvation. It means turning away from the worldly idea that we can be "good enough" to earn our way to heaven and instead having faith that the grace of God is sufficient, if we will trust in Him. After that, and only after that, we should, out of gratitude for what He has already done for us, seek to follow Him. Following Him means Loving God, Loving one another, and spreading the good news of Salvation through Jesus, to others.

"I do not set aside
the grace of God:
for if righteousness
comes through the law,
then Christ died in vain"
(Galatians 2:21)

Grace, The Law, and Works:
A short study on the New Covenant,
why The Law does not apply to Christians, and why that does not give them a free pass, or fire escape, to Heaven.

Disclaimer: I am an Evangelical (aka "Born Again") Christian who has been studying the Bible seriously for only a few years. I am not a Jew (except in the "grafted in" sense of the title). I also have more than a few disputes with other evangelicals about their interpretation of how Christians are supposed to conduct their affairs. I am in no way a conformist, but have listened to many pastors and scholars on this subject. After much analysis, I must set down my own viewpoint in writing.

First, a few definitions.

  • Church: As in the Bible, this does not refer to a building. It refers to a group of Believers,
    or it can refer to All Believers everywhere. I will occasionally use church without
    capitalizing it to refer to the building. When used properly, it will be capitalized.
  • Grace: Often stated as God's Riches At Christ's Expense, the word means to be given
    something as a gift, wholly undeserved, and without any debt owed in return.
    Grace differs from Mercy in that Grace is getting something you don't deserve
    and Mercy is escaping something you do deserve.
  • Love: Not a feeling, as the world knows it, but a call to action. Love is acting in a manner
    beneficial to the object of that love, and placing their benefit ahead of the one showing love.
    (Most good, Old English dictionaries will list this, but usually mixed in with lots
    of newer, touchy freely, definitions)
  • The Law: This usually refers to the Mosaic Law, or all of the legal requirements found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. It sometimes includes Noaic Law (there is a dispute as to whether this even exists) or Rabinical Law, that which was developed as a result of the Priests studying the Mosaic Law.
  • Scriptures : 1. For this document, or any other of my writings only, (when others use the word "scripture" it may mean something somewhat different) When not capitalized, I am referring to any writings from around the time of Christ or before that carry weight in the Protestant Christian Churches (whether mainstream Protestant, Lutheran, or Methodist or sectarian, like the Baptists, Puritans, or Assembly of God.)
  • Scriptures: 2. When capitalized, it refers to either the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) or the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), or both. And I will always try to point out which. Temple For this discussion, will mean any place where Jews meet to worship or learn. (Synagogue)
  • Works: These are all of the actions taken by a person, whether related to God, or to other persons.

Bible Translations used in this article:
ASB American Standard Bible (1901)
KJV King James Authorized Version (1611)
NASB New American Standard Bible (1971 or 1995)
(Found at
NIV New International Version (1984)
NKJV New King James Version (1982)

1. There is (and has been, for many years) a struggle going on between different viewpoints in various Christian (and Messianic Jewish) Churches. The main thrust of this struggle is to define what must a Christian do or not do. Are we bound by The Law or, through the freedom of Grace, do we live outside the control of The Law? Related to this, if salvation is not by works, why is there so much emphasis on works in so much of the scriptures.

2. Part of the confusion comes from the language the Bible uses to describe our situation. It talks about sin, and about liberty. About keeping His commands, and about being dead to The Law. About being circumcised of the heart, and being wary of those who call themselves circumcised. How are we then to know? We must read carefully, and we must understand the context. As such, I will excerpt verses and some small quotes, but I implore the reader to go and study the context of each of these excerpts and quotes. I will also, on occasion refer to more than one English translation of a verse, since English is a fluid language where many words don't mean what they did in centuries past, and also, in some cases there may be trouble getting the correct flavor of meaning as translated from the Greek. In many instances I will provide my view of the context, but that doesn't lessen my desire for the reader to go there themselves to study on their own. (In fact, much of my other writings have been trying to get others to study the Scriptures, because a Christian with even just 1000 hours of study behind them is almost impossible to be mislead by others.)

3. In studying the New Testament, a couple of the first things we come to are John the Baptist and the Sermon On the Mount. John the Baptist tells the Pharisees "produce fruit" and Jesus, in the the opening paragraphs to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:17-20) tells people "one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law" and "except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." How then is anyone supposed to get to Heaven?

4. Grace, of course. And Grace is the stumbling block
laid before many religious leaders, both then, and now.

5. Now we come to this thing about the Sermon on the Mount in a different light. Since NO ONE can live up to the standard demanded of us, and Grace is the only way to Heaven, what is the overall point of the entire sermon. Jesus is simply showing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the standard cannot be met. In the process of that sermon, however, I will note one statement: "I came fulfil" (5:17ASB), we will come back to it later.

6. Next we must consider what Jesus to His disciples at various times and in various parables. For instance, in Matt 9:12 (and 12:7) He says "But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (NASB) and in Matt 16:5-12 He warns them about the teachings of the Pharisees. In addition, on the subject of the Temple Tax (Tithing), He asks Peter "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" Thereby showing Peter that they, as Sons of the King, will no longer be bound to paying "the Tithe" to the Temple (don't think this gets you out of giving to your Church, I will get to that later).

7. Here we must note in Matthew 18:3 that He says we must become like children, in John 14:18 says "I will not leave you as orphans" and in Luke 11 (NASB) He teaches them to pray: "Father, hallowed be Your name" and later in the same chapter warns: "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering." (NASB)

8. We should also know that, although God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, some things do change, in how we relate to God. Many try to explain this through the doctrines of Dispensationalism and others through Covenant Theology, but I will leave that for another day. For the time being, I will simply point out that some things do change, and give a small example: Luke 22:35-36 (NASB) And He said to them, "When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?" They said, "No, nothing." And He said to them, "But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one."

9. Shortly after the above discussions Jesus shows that he is to finish what is written about Him. In Luke 11:37 "that which refers to Me has its fulfillment" and John 19:30, as He died on the Cross, He said "It is finished." (this is what I told you we would come back to at the end of paragraph 5) I believe this refers to what is referred to in Hebrews 8:13, that He made the Old Covenant of The Law obsolete.

10. So then, what was Jesus referring to when He said: "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father" ?

11. Well, if we read the New Testament we can see that He gave His disciples some new commandments. Some are easy to spot: "Love one another" (John 13:34). Be on guard against greed (Luke 12:15). Pray always, and don't be discouraged (Luke 18:1). Watch, that no one deceives you (Matt 24:4). There are many others.

12. Further, we might consider the Apostle Paul's teachings. Most of Paul's letters were written to Churches, therefore they are named for the Churches he wrote them to. Some are to encourage the Church (the Church in Philippi is a shining example of this) but most of them are to correct doctrinal errors which were either creeping in (or being smuggled in by Judaisers), or to chasten them to get back on track (Corinthians). Three of them were written to Pastors Timothy and Titus, for direction as to how a Church is to be run.

13. In Galatians 2:11 - 3:18 Paul discusses The Law and Grace. Note that Peter is said to "live like a Gentile" when "those who were of the circumcision" were not around. Paul said that Peter was "not straightforward about the truth of the gospel" and he was compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews. And further tells the Galatians to consider if they are saved by faith, how do they think they can be kept saved by works of The Law? (paraphrased). And yet further, Paul tells them if they are going to live by The Law, they must live by ALL of The Law - which, of course, we know is impossible.

14. Again, in Ephesians, Paul visits this issue. Beginning with my favorite verses, Eph 2:8-9 "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast" (don't worry, we will get to verse 10 shortly). He really gets explicit in verse 15 with "having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances." Also check out Collossians 2:11-23, 1 Timothy 1:9 and Matthew 15:11.

15. What of works?

16. Does this mean works are worthless? Not so. Indeed, we "are created for" good works, as it says in Ephesians 2:10 (I told you we would get back to that one) we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." This mean not only are we to do good works, but that is what we were created for. In addition, we can see that God Himself prepared these good works that we should do them. He knew we would be there, and He arranged the opportunities for us to do the good works.

17. One of the most famous so called contradictions in the Bible is James telling us to show our faith through our works. But we can see how these fit together if we go back to John 13:34, where Jesus says: "Love one another" and if you look at the definition of Love supplied at the beginning of this essay, you will see that is something you do. It is a work.

18. Several times in the New Testament (Matt 7:15-16, 7:20, 8:8, Luke 12:35, 13:8, John 15:10) Jesus talks about fruit. And not only Jesus, but Paul and some of the others talk about "The Fruit of the Spirit." What can this "fruit" be, except works, and the results of works?

19. What are these fruit, and what should be the result? James (1:27) tells us that true religion is to look after widows and orphans. In James 2:15-16, the author asks what profit are pious words if you are not generous towards your brothers and sisters (in Christ) with food and clothing. In Corinthians 13, Paul says all other gifts are worthless without love ("charity" in the old english). In Acts and Timothy, we are instructed to care for each other and widows. (In Timothy it also is very direct about children taking care of their widowed mothers - and it should be mentioned that the term widow means to be deprived, not just through death of a spouse).

20. We can often and easily become confused, if we do not study (and not merely read) the scriptures. For instance, Malachi says to bring in the tithe (tenth) into the storehouse. But look at who it is written to. Not to Christians, but to the Israelites. And then, not even to individuals, but to the nation as a whole (See chapter 1 verse 1). And which storehouse? The nation of Israel had storehouses for the priests and temples, and the nation was to care for their priests and temples (or synagogues) with their tithes. In the New Testament, the "Church" is the body of believers. But we are told in 1 Corinthians 9 (especially verses 13 and 14) to support those who teach (or preach) the Gospel. While the old Law of the Tithe is gone, a new commandment to support those who teach has taken its place. No set amount is given, but we are to give generously out of a spirit of Joy.

21. How then are we to discern the truth? We must read the Scriptures, but read them with care for the context. We must study them to discern their meaning. Look again at 1 Corinthians 9, but this time at verses 7 - 12. Paul shows that we should be aware of the "meaning behind the meaning." There is no magic to this, but it is the result of the Spirit revealing Truth to us through a continued effort to study the Scriptures.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Swift reaction in Georgia

Is this swift reaction? No, actually I think it anticipated the decision from the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the director of the FBI takes a decidedly un-American stand.

From various articles:

Effective today, the Georgia House Bill 89 becomes law and allows Georgia residents with firearm licenses permission to bring concealed weapons onto public transportation, in parks and recreational areas and into restaurants that serve alcohol.

Most employees with a valid concealed weapons license are now allowed to keep a gun in their locked vehicles while at work — regardless of whether employers ban weapons on the property. Exceptions include schools, governmental buildings, courthouses, correctional facilities, airports and other businesses considered "high security."

The Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008 was immediately challenged after Gov. Charlie Crist signed the bill into law in April. The Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail Federation filed a joint lawsuit claiming the law violates the rights of business owners.

ATLANTA (AP) Starting Tuesday, Georgians with gun permits will be able to bring their firearms in restaurants that serve alcohol, aboard public transportation and in state parks.

The gun measure is of one of more than 100 new laws set to take effect on the July 1 start of the fiscal year. Critics and supporters alike say it's the largest expansion of gun rights in Georgia in decades.

Meanwhile, the director of the FBI is not happy with the Supreme Court's recent handgun ruling.

Robert Mueller says he tends to believe that "weapons harm people, He says communities will now have to decide their own licensing programs. Mueller was speaking at a convention of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators in Hartford, Connecticut. He says with his grandchildren going to college, he hopes "those campuses will be weapons-free."

What is he, shilling for HCI, or in league with Al-Qaeda and China? Of course, he, like many who don't want us to be able to defend ourselves, carries his own gun, and has his own personal protection. Many others who don't want you to be able to defend yourself even have armed body guards, as well as their own guns. They just don't want normal people to have the same rights as them and their elitest friends.