What is this blog about, anyway?

I've been trying to untangle some of the 'big picture' things in life.

I also wanted to find out by experience whether the Bible is sufficient to generate faith.

One of the ways I started on my recent journey of re-discovery of Christianity was by reading the Bible, starting at Genesis, and trying to have no pre-conceived notions of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and other big questions. Would I discover anything new? Would I be able to get more insight into Big Questions? I did make some discoveries that were new to me, and wanted to record these somewhere. Hence this blog.

For the record, I found that the Bible is sufficient to generate faith - but only if you read it with no pre-conceived notions.

I welcome comments and insights from others.


Monday, February 20, 2017

The End of Days and the Mark of the Beast - what is it, and why?

At the End of Days, there will be a situation where people are required by some power other than God to be marked on the right hand and forehead in order to buy or sell. See the verse below:

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Revelation 13: 16-17

We don't yet know what form this mark will take (a tattoo? an implanted radio-frequency ID tag?). But to understand a little better the events leading up to this, let's read a little of the preceding context of the chapter:

Then I saw another beast that rose out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and it makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound had been healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of all; and by the signs that it is allowed to perform on behalf of the beast, it deceives the inhabitants of earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that had been wounded by the sword and yet lived; and it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast so that the image of the beast could even speak and cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.

Revelation 13: 11-15

One thing is abundantly clear: Christians must not allow themselves to fall into the temptation to receive this mark:

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus. 

Revelation 14: 9-12

What is the nature of the beast? The second beast mentioned in Revelation 13: 11-15 might be an earthly power (e.g. a specific leader, nation, or corporation) or it might be a demonic power. I personally feel that it will be an earthly power influenced by demonic forces. Whatever the case, this entity obviously has gotten control of some technology that causes effects like ability to create a meteor shower, for example. Its display of technological mastery is designed to deceive those living on Earth at the time - indeed, it appears that many might actually worship this entity. 

For the first time I posed the question to myself: "What might lead up to the requirement of the mark of the beast on the hand or forehead?" I have previously written about this Bible passage here, but my main focus previously was on the events themselves and how (as opposed to why) this is happening. Today I'd like to think about the why.

For a start, the odd thing to me seemed to be that everyone on Earth will be expected to have this mark (although Christians should certainly refuse to have it). The verse didn't say "The people of a major country of earth" or "Most of the people" or anything like that. It said everyone would need the mark to buy or sell. Given that a level of technological mastery is indicated already (by performing signs and wonders), I think it is safe to assume that the mark will be something that is machine-readable as opposed to something purely for the human eye: for example, a bar code, an implanted RFID, or some other technology that does not yet exist. 

This would indicate that the payment system in those times will be something that is (or can be) purely electronic, with no cash alternative at that time. Does this mean that actual cold hard cash will simply be outdated by then? Or will the currency of those times be purely electronic and not tied to an actual hard cash value (e.g. something similar to cryptocurrency?) In any case, it seems that payments will be tied to an individual and that mark. I'm also wondering whether it could be due to products that require delivery to a specific person (e.g. a person orders an item, and the delivery process finds that individual personally, not just their address. The delivery robot checks the mark to make sure it has the right person).  Whatever the case is, it's made very clear in the chapter of Revelation that Christians must not give in to the temptation to get this mark. (See Revelation 14: 9-12 above). This means Christians will have a very, very hard time at the End of Days. 

Given that the level of technological mastery is one which deceives humans, I'm also wondering if humanity first passes through a period where much technology is destroyed (whether accidentally or on purpose, or as a side-effect of war). Any new technology that has been developed will seem rather wondrous to such inhabitants of the earth. Alternatively, if there is no period where technology is destroyed, then it may be that the inhabitants are simply awed by whatever new technologies are developed and feel powerless to oppose the entity known as the second beast (again: it could be a leader, nation or corporation). It's alternatively possible that this entity is actually of alien origin. This could explain the ability to deceive the inhabitants with its technological mastery.

Backing up to the first beast, the one that preceded the second beast, it seems the second beast has control over the earth only because of the first beast. See:

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast. They worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.  Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. It was given authority over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered.

Let anyone who has an ear listen:

If you are to be taken captive,
into captivity you go;
if you kill with the sword,
with the sword you must be killed.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

Revelation 13: 1-10

This part about the first beast indicates that it is something new which arises. It may be a new earthly power (whether a nation or a dictator), or it could be a new visual manifestation of a malicious spiritual entity, or it could be of alien origin. Whatever it is, it is certainly against God and is supported by Satan. Some have speculated that it is a group of nations. In any case, it is of paramount importance that we not worship it, no matter how great the material compulsion to do so. We must be watchful of this. The fact that so many people are deceived by the beasts means that we must take extra care to watch for these signs; that we watch even for the precursors of these signs.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Why we as Christians should care about the environment

In the Bible it makes it clear that Adam and the human race were created to be the caretakers of the earth.

Would God be happy with the mountains of trash on the planet? 

Obviously, some trash is always going to be created no matter how conscientious the human race is going to be about the environment. 

But when people do not make any effort to even consider the environment (either in the things they create or in the things they purchase), we wind up producing more trash or more emissions than we need to. I don't think that is being a very good caretaker.

I'm not intending this to be a politically-slanted topic at all. I dislike politics myself and can't bring myself to identify with any type of political party. I'm talking purely from a Biblical perspective, I feel like we as humans have not done a great job at being caretakers of the planet.

What is even more puzzling to me is that there are many individuals who are Christian but who readily admit they don't really care about the environment or about recycling. The reason I find it puzzling (aside from the issue of our God-mandated role as caretakers) is that many of these individuals that I know personally would never dream of throwing away trash in their backyard until they had a mountain of trash there. Many of those people are actually pro-cleanliness themselves. Yet paradoxically, they don't seem to think they have a role in taking care of the planet.

I suppose that many think that the problem is too big: anything they do couldn't possibly make a difference. If people really believed that, no-one would ever vote in an election. Yet ultimately we can all make a difference, in an election or in helping the environment. And even if no-one is joining you in your efforts to help the environment, at least you can have the pleasure of knowing that you are doing what God asked you to do, regardless of what everyone else is doing.

I myself am hardly a great example. I know I need to do more too. I do some little things, like making sure I put recyclable items in to be recycled and not into the trash. I only purchase toilet tissue made of recycled paper. And I use eco-friendly cleaning products in my housework. Of course, the downside is that these things cost extra money, so I can quite agree that it's not realistic to expect everyone to spend extra on that when their budget may be already stretched just providing the basics of life. 

But also, it's frustrating when items that damage the planet are more readily and cheaply available than their eco-friendly alternatives. It says a lot about our view of God when our own laws don't mandate any consideration to the environment, or very little. We should be looking to what God wants, even if the law of the land doesn't mandate it.

If we are to be caretakers of the planet, we need to show ourselves responsible. Like the parable of the talents, if we expect to be involved in God's plans, we need to show that we are trustworthy with what we have been given:

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Matthew 25: 21

To be put in charge of many things, we need to follow God's ideas faithfully, not our own ideas.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

An open letter to atheist parents of young children

Even if you are not concerned about your own soul, what about your children's? Did you know that there is a huge battle going on, over your child's soul? I know that to you, it seems literally unbelievable.

But if you will, just for a second, pose the (admittedly scary) question "What if?"

Just because you don't believe in something doesn't mean it's not real. Imagine us trying to explain the existence of the atom to someone from the Middle Ages. We can understand why that person simply won't believe it, but the atom was still 100% real in the Middle Ages - regardless of whether the people of that time could a) detect it or b) believe in it.

Let's switch over a little. Have you ever watched the movie "The Matrix"? It is set in what seems to be a very real world, but in fact turns out to be a virtual world surrounded by an external, real, world.

Right now, the Earth, planets, galaxies and everything in it are like the inner world of The Matrix. Outside that is a more real, more solid world that is the spiritual world, where there is a huge ongoing battle over your souls.

Why are you and your children's souls being fought over, and why not your bodies, you may ask? It's because the soul lives forever; the body doesn't.  The soul is part of the spiritual dimension that is more real and solid than than this dimension, but that is difficult to detect. A little like atoms in this world - they're the absolute foundational building blocks of this world, but even so, they're hard to detect with our physical instruments. Even today, they can be detected more by inference than directly, and even then only by specialized scientific tools. Likewise, the spiritual dimension is difficult to detect, although it is just as real.

You might be wondering: if the spiritual dimension exists so solidly, why is it so hard to "move" in the spiritual dimension? (By "move" I mean do anything on a spiritual level from within this inner world). To paraphrase the reply in The Matrix when Neo asks why his arms and legs don't work easily in the real outer world dimension: "You've never used them before." It's true spiritually too - if you've not prayed or read the Bible or tried to truly seek God, you've never really tried to move in that dimension.

The reason this is so important is that it is now, in this world, that you need to know God and Jesus. If you arrive to them at the day of judgement and they do not already know you, it will truly be the worst thing that could happen to you. It would be beyond ghastly. I would not want that for you or your child. Find out why it's important to know God in this world now, and why he doesn't just kill Satan to abolish evil and temptation.

In response to the "What if?" question, why not just try? Pray. Ask God to reveal Himself to you. Do it with sincerity. He will undoubtedly not just materialize out of thin air and say "Hey, here I am!" (find out here why he doesn't reveal himself easily) but he will give you a sign, although it might be in a different way than you first expect. Read the Bible too, without pre-conceived notions (the latter is hard for any of us to do, even those of us who are already Christian).

It is natural to be hesitant and to have some fear (of ridicule by others, of the vastness of the consequences relating to the fate of your soul, and so on). But if you let those concerns stop you from thinking about God and praying, then you have fallen neatly into the trap of the enemy (Satan) who wants exactly that to happen. Fear and pride are Satan's strongest weapons. But God is stronger, and under whose influence would you like to be - God's, or Satan's? Because one of these will have some influence on you, even if you think not. Those who believe in God do not do so out of a sense of duty or a sense of obligation, but out of the conviction that it is really the truth: that there is a world out there that is eternal and is more significant than ours. And if that is so, how great the stakes must be.

Even if you are not worried for yourself, think of your child. There is infinitely more at stake than what you think. And you literally have nothing to lose: you are not in any danger of spiritual attack on you by Satan. Why? because by not believing, you could not possibly be placed in any greater spiritual danger than you already are.

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