Methods of the Watch Tower

Today the Jehovah Witness stopped by the book store were I am attending. A very nice couple that I know and who work with the Testigo de Jehovah in Santa Rosita.

They asked me very little, read a verse from somewhere from the old Testament that I couldn’t follow, and then gave me an English tract of theirs. They asked if I would be willing to take it and read it -I said I would take it and look through it, though I didn’t promise to read it. They know that our doctrines differ.

Not being very educated on the Testigos (The Jehovah Witnesses), I didn’t try to argue with them. Especially not in Spanish. In taking the track and looking through it, perhaps I have acted dangerously -but I was curious to see what sorts of ‘arguments’ their pamphlet makes. I’m glad I did now -for above all things I feel I understand these people better, and it makes me very sad for them.

Their arguments are well laid, but in such a way as to be compelling. Like an advertisement. I have often been glad of a study in High School in Language Arts about ‘advertisement’ and the methods used, for it has allowed me to understand what I read much better.

It is not my intention to debunk the statements of the Jehovah Witnesses, but to reveal what I believe are discrepancies.

Continue reading Methods of the Watch Tower

The Chocolate Bunnies Are Melting…

A rather different Easter message to all my brothers and sisters in Christ!

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Part 1) Becoming Who You Were Born To Be (this has to do with you)

 

My heart is full. Not because it is Easter. Not because of who I am. But because God is at work in my life, changing me, disciplining me, and ever so patiently teaching me more of Himself and His will for me! My heart is full and rejoicing, because I know that God is not making me into the people I admire most: Joseph; David; Jim Elliot; Pablo Yoder; Nate Saint; Dad. Rather, God is making me into someone different. He is making me into N. Yoder –called by God for a special purpose. A purpose I am being built and Continue reading The Chocolate Bunnies Are Melting…

The Foolishness of Riches

3366720659_b746789dfd*this was originally a topic I shared recently with the local church here in Guatemala. The study blessed me –especially as I thought of the insignificance of life here in comparison to a life eternal. It was also challenging as I think about moving home to the United States and the materialistic traps that are there. This write up is an expanded and edited form of my topic notes and outline –and thus will read a bit choppy. You will have to make effort to look up the scripture references underlined. As an experiment, I tried using English notes to teach a Spanish message and found it much easier to keep my train of thought moving along smoothly. It also helped by pushing me to talk ‘from the top of my head’ about my train of thought instead of getting stuck on the words of my notes.

Luke 16:19-31

This is the story of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had everything he wanted. Every day he would dress himself in fine clothes and eat a splendid banquet. He had everything that he needed. But the poor man was sick and sat at the gate of the rich man hoping to eat even just the scraps from the rich man’s table.

Then they both died. The poor man went to a place of comfort and peace. But the rich man went to a place of torment.

This is a sad story –and I use it as my introduction ask a question. Why did the rich man go to a place of torment? What is interesting about this story is that they are really two rich men in this story. We have the ‘rich man’ that is mentioned –but we also have Abraham, who also was a very rich man in his time. If both men were very rich –why did one go to a place of torment and the other to a place of comfort?

Mark 10:23-25

It is hard for those who trust in riches to enter into the Kingdom of God. It is like a camel trying to go through the eye of a needle!

Why is it that it is so hard for someone with wealth to enter the Kingdom of God? Is it sin to be rich? If men such as Abraham, Job, and David were blessed with riches –what can be wrong with them?

If we explore the Bible we find various problems with riches.

I. The Problems of Riches

A. Riches are a problem because they absorb interest and occupy our time

1. When we have lots of money and lots of possession, we have to spend time thinking about how to use it –how to earn more with it –and how to protect it. It absorbs a lot of our energy.

2. Riches do not satisfy. The more we have, the more we want. (Ecclesiastes 5.10)

B. Riches are a problem because they are deceitful

1. While explaining the meaning of a parable, Jesus mentioned that riches are deceitful. (Mark 4.19)

2. Riches promise much, but in the end don’t offer much in return

a. Possessions rust and can be destroyed and robbers steal them ( Matthew 6.19)

b. Riches cannot buy any type of salvation (Psalms 49:6-9)

c. Riches deceive us into thinking that we don’t need God (Luke 12:19)

C. Riches are a problem because they cultivate pride

1. The children of Israel had a problem with pride because of their possessions (Deuteronomy 8.11-17)

2. This pride led to the destruction and captivity of Israel.

3. When we are proud about our riches we forget to seek God (Psalms 10.4)

D. Riches are a problem because they makes us selfish

1. This was likely the problem with the rich man in the story of the Rich man and Lazarus. He was in a position to help the poor man Lazarus –but he was selfish and ignored him.

Luke 12:16-21

In reading this parable we can see these problems coming out in this man’s life…

– His riches absorbed his interest and time (17,18)

– We see that he was deceived into thinking he needed no one else and that he was proud (19)

– He wanted to store all his grain. He was selfish. We read nothing of him wishing to give some to the poor.

II. What can we learn so that we don’t fall in the same trap as these men ?

A. We Must Learn That Love of Possessions is Folly

1. Why should we seek to make ourselves rich if it causes so many problems?

2. It is folly because our lives do not consist of riches (Luke 12:15)

3. It is folly because the love of riches is idolatry (Ephesians 5.5)

4. It is not wrong to be rich –but it is wrong to desire to become rich.

a. Those who Desire riches fall into temptation (1 Timothy 6.9)

b. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and causes men to lose their faith and causes many sorrows (1 Timothy 6.10)

B. We Must Learn Contentment

1. Someone who has real riches is someone who knows God and is content (1 Timothy 6.6)

2. We can cultivate contentment in our lives by having the right perspective(1 Timothy 6.7-8)

1. We can cultivate contentment by remember that we arrived in the world with nothing and we will leave with nothing.

2. We can cultivate contentment by remembering that we need only two things to be content a) food b) clothing

III. Putting Our Lives in Perspective

Let us think of perspective. For an illustration let’s take the universe. We can’t really comprehend how large the universe actually is –but we know the universe is around us and that it exists.

Nothing in the universe travels faster than the speed of light. Light travels 299,792 kilometers per second. Even so, it takes light 8.3 minutes to arrive at the earth. This means that the sun is roughly

149,000 kilometers away from the earth.

But the next closest star is much, much farther away. Let’s imagine that we could travel at the speed of light. This is impossible –if anyone traveled this speed it would cause a lot of problems and he would be dead. But, imagining that we are traveling at the speed of light, it would take roughly four and a half years to arrive at the next closest star! This star is more or less:

40,653,234,201,600 kilometers from us.

To travel that distance we would need to travel from the earth to the sun and back 136,000 times.

The earth is in a galaxy and we are on the edge of one side. If we could travel at the speed of light, it would take 81,500 years to reach the opposite side of our very own galaxy.

We can see much, much farther than this with our eyes. The farthest object that we can see with our eyes without any help is very, very far away. If we were to travel to this point, it would take us

2,540,000 years

With telescopes and other tools, we can even farther. If we could travel to the farthest point that we know exists in space, if we traveled at the speed of light –we would have to travel

15,000,000,000 years

Now, let us return our thoughts to perspective. Eternal life. Eternal life does not end in 15,000,000,000 years. To travel to the farthest edges of space, I would have to live

150,000,000 life times of 100 years each.

Eternity is much bigger than that. Much bigger.

The Bible tells us in Mark 8.35 that to gain the real life of eternity, we must lose our lives here on earth

Mark 8.35

This means that we must give up our lives to the control and direction of Christ here on earth. We must choose to lose the pleasures and riches of this world to follow Christ. But when we think in perspective about eternal life and our lives now –it seems foolish that we should even think of holding on to the world. Can’t we give just 1 of our 150 million lives to Christ?

We must also realize that everyone will exist in eternity. I hope that each one of you will be with God for eternity. But likely, some of you will be spending eternity in a place of torment. This tiny life of ours is a life of choice. We can choose eternity with God or we can choose eternal separation from God with no hope of a future.

Luke 12:20,21

Those possessions that fooled this rich man into thinking that he was something, were the same riches that fooled the rich man in the story of Lazarus –and they are the same riches that try to fool us today. Riches on this earth have little value –and, in fact, are very dangerous. Our riches exist in heaven.

Ephesians 3.8

Christ is the provider of true riches. Do you have those unsearchable riches of Christ?

The Compass of Love

Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”” John 6:67,68

There are times when all of us –or I at least- feel worthless and unworthy. It isn’t true that we are worthless if we are under God’s authority. However, it is true that we are unworthy. For some reason we forget this until the moment that the feeling of uselessness comes upon us. Then we begin questioning God. Does he really love me? Does he really want me? Has he really called me? And because our apparent worthlessness we suddenly appear to ourselves as highly unworthy.

I find myself in the situation of Christ’s disciples here. God does not move from us –we move ourselves away from God. But if I move away from God –where am I heading? What direction? What goal?

“Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life!”

There is no heading so strong as a direction towards God. There is no goal more worthy than friendship with Christ. There is no calling so powerful, nor desire as pure as the calling and desire to serve the One who is the Epitome of Love – the one who has the words of eternal life.

So how can I navigate towards this goal? Yes, I can find eternal life by believing that Jesus Christ died for my sins and has the power to wash away those sins. But believing is only the first step in the journey of a life time.

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

Each one of us holds a compass within ourselves –just like the one Captain Jack Sparrow carried. A compass that points in the direction of what we love most in life. When the Love of God is the magnetic north of our spiritual compass the needle will point towards Him, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. And when others see our compass, they too are pointed towards God –always. But if for a moment our love wavers, the needle will spin uncertainly and those people will catch only a confusing glimpse that points towards…nothing.

I will love God with all my heart. What does this choice mean to me? The heart is the centerpiece of our desires. Something so closely knit with our mind and soul that we find it difficult to discern the finest details. My heart is impassioned with want, and deceitful above all things. I am to love God with all my heart –therefore God must be the utmost desire of my life. Above cars. Above education. Above ice cream and fried chicken. Not that the other desires are wrong –but they need order and levels of importance. This they will find if our foremost desire is God.

I will love God with all my soul. What does this choice mean to me? My soul is my spiritual being. The mysterious something that science cannot explain. The ‘I AM’ of my person. My soul must depend on God for its nourishment and life source. Cars, education, and ice cream are not wrong, but feeding my soul on the temporary junk food of the world will weaken and harm it severely. We must only feed our soul the nourishment of God, and never allow our soul to feed upon the world. The world’s junk food is not food at all and should be for external use only –not for our spiritual nutrition.

I will love God with all my mind. What does this choice mean to me? My mind is my processor. Single, dual, or quad core –it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how we go about processing life and decisions. We must have a mind that chooses to do what is right when our heart tempts us to do what is wrong. Our mind is the place of self-discipline and our storehouse of faith. We remember that chairs hold us when we sit on them. We remember that we trust the person whom we call friend. We remember that God was good to the Israelites, and that God has been good to us. When I love God with all my heart, I will remember and choose with my mind according to what I believe.

There’s another, but it’s not found in Matthew 22. This last one springs forth from all the former:

I will love God with all my strength. What does this choice mean to me? I’m not a very strong man, but my body is a place of strength. I lift pencils. I hammer nails. When I love God with all my strength, I will do the things my mind has disciplined itself to do with whatever strength it takes to get the job done. This doesn’t mean I brush my teeth so vigorously that my teeth fall out and I crumble to the ground in fatigue. It does mean that I brush my teeth thoroughly with whatever strength is necessary to complete the task. And what about ‘all’ my strength? This simply means that none of my physical strength should be used because I love something else. This doesn’t mean we can’t eat doughnuts or ice cream, or play basketball. As long as our Spiritual needle points without wavering towards God, these are pleasures that are given by God for us to enjoy. But when we love these pleasures –when our heart begins to desire them foremost –when our mind gives in to our heart –when our soul seeks nourishment from these things…then these pleasures become sin, and ‘all’ our strength suddenly becomes ‘a bit’ of our strength.

Just as the God of the universe is formed as a trinity, each part having its special function –so we too are built of a trinity of special functions:

Our heart for desire: Desire for God;

Our mind for discipline: Obedience to God;

Our soul for dependence.: Dependence on God.

When these are set in order, things will work in order and our compass will point to God.

A Tiny Hero

 

She sits there and watches as the white giants come crashing into her world. Terrified she cries forth the anguish of her heart, unwilling to part the two eggs she sits on. For these two tiny lives she has bent her every thought. Through wind and rain she has sacrificed her comfort for the lives of her offspring. As I approached she finally flew –but as I silently stood just inches from her nest she approached once more –and finally landed there oh so close. I admire her bravery –what an example!

 

IMG_1553

What Makes The Good Authors Better Than The Bad Ones?

Somewhat of a Speal.

Before we begin here I want to make it clear that I’m not referring to morals when I talk about good/bad authors. Dan Brown who wrote The DaVinci Code wrote a nasty book. Despite that, he’s an exceptional author (I’ve read most of the book except the places that went beyond reason). Tom Clancy is another highly acclaimed author for his books on war and mystery with accurate and vivid details –but his stuff does not depict high morals in any fashion. John Grisham writes novels about lawyers and cases and does a superb job at describing people and their motives –and yet many of his books contain strong language and often lurid scenes. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a trilogy that is perhaps the world’s most acclaimed epic but used magic, fantasy, and mystical forces within them.

High quality writing is not decided by morals, though morals in writing can hurt the story. Loose morals can (and probably should) deter Christians. But it is also fit to remember that extremely tight morals (I’m speaking about novels published by ultra-conservative publishers) can completely destroy quality writing. No names will be mentioned.

Let me also explain that I am not a educated English professor and nor have I studied the great details of writing and authoring to great degree. But I’ve always enjoyed writing and I’ve always read quite a lot and I can generally see a difference between good authors, beginners, and just plain ugly writing. Nevertheless, I am only opinionated on this matter. Also, just because I can see the difference, doesn’t mean that I can perform as a ‘good author’. I’ve tried at various times to succeed in writing a skilful story, but with little success.

Writing is like weaving. One of the most important things I see in good authors is their ability to write simply while weaving together a complex story. Weaving a design into a rug takes time and effort and detail, and when it is finished it will not take effort to discern it apart from the rest of the weave. One of the obvious mistakes I see in beginning authors is their great efforts to throw detail into the story, thinking that detail alone will make their story worthwhile. But when one tries to weave a pattern into a cloth, you can’t simply throw in some purple here and some red there and expect it to come out! When I read bad writing I come away feeling as if the author was using makeup in the story to make it look more interesting  than the real story, but instead it makes me feel sick in the stomach (or laugh hysterically). When I read good writing the details make sense and I begin to see an accurate picture.

For example, one book I recently read was written about Zebedee and his sons and their interaction with Jesus (The Crosses at Zarin; Mosley). The general thrust of the book was fine, but the writing was horrendous. Listen to this choice sample from the book:

Two finer specimens [James and John] of manhood were not to be found in all the land. Years of manipulating sails, dragging nets, and casting the shabaketh had developed and coordinated the muscles of their bodies until their slightest movement was a thing of silken grace…”

My friends, my dear friends! Okay, the first sentence isn’t horrible. The first part of the second sentence is better. But the last part of that second sentence goes down rapidly and ends like a turtle sprinting past a Ford Cobra. Moving with silken grace should not describe men. I’m not even sure it should describe women. The only sentence I can cull up using something like ‘silken grace’ is one with an assassin:

The shadows were  thick along the sea shore where the assassin now lurked. A fisherman lay some distance off, snoring soundly on the sand, sleeping off the effects of a ‘happy evening’. The assassin smirked behind his shroud. This would be too easy. Pulling a dark knife from within his cloak, he began his final approach –a shadow of silken grace that barred the first gray light from the eastern sky.

Now, I had some trouble getting that in there, but it works far better here than describing James and John.  The author should have written something like this:

Two finer built men were not to be found in all the land. Years of manipulating sails, dragging nets, and casting the shabaketh had honed their bodies until they moved with an ease and grace that clearly gave tell to their hours on the sea.”

In my opinion, this escapes the absurd and enters a reality that actually makes sense.

Simplicity and details that make sense will go a long way when it comes to writing. I think the mistake of most beginning authors is that they try too hard to sound like good authors by throwing in details, adjectives, adverbs, etc. Simplicity will serve you just fine until your story begins to grip you and you can begin to write with true passion –at which point you will be writing with your own style that’ll sound much better (being original) than if you sound like a Montgomery mimic.

Finally, let’s look at one of the great authors of the last age, J.R.R. Tolkien.

J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favorite authors of all time. The first book of his that I read was the The Hobbit which he originally intended as a children’s story. As a result this story is simple and a bit humorous and silly and bit absurd as fairy-tails tend to be. But since it is meant to be this way, this sort of thing actually adds to the story.

With The Lord of the Rings (based from the same setting as The Hobbit) J.R.R. Tolkien aimed towards an audience of adults –and this can be immediately noted. But The Fellowship of the Ring (being the first book) is still written clearly and fairly simply and sets a tremendous base for the next two books. The Two Towers and The Return of the King become more and more infused with ‘passion’ (as I’d call it) as the book begins to reach a climax. And finally there is the huge battle of Minis Tirith where Sauron’s (the Dark Lord) army is defeating the men of Gondor when suddenly over the hill rides the entire Rohirem army (nation of horsemen). At this point the story reaches a climax and J.R.R. Tolkien waxes very near to becoming poetic, but one is so caught up in the action at this point he doesn’t even realize that the reading has become ‘difficult’. Then just as even the Rohirem are becoming pushed back, Aragorn (the returned King) arrives by ship with the armies of the dead (men who had long ago broken their vow to protect the king of Gondor and thus could not escape to the lands of peace). The next climax is reached when the Aragorn rides to the gates of Mordor with those who have chosen to follow him (to almost certain death). There they are hugely outnumbered by the forces of Sauron and there only cause is to give Frodo more time to destroy the ring. Just as all is about lost the ring is finally destroyed and Tolkien is once again rises to the challenge:

A brief vision he had [Sam Gamgee on Mt. Doom] of swirling cloud, and in the midst of it towers and battlements, tall as hills, founded upon a mighty mountain-throne above immeasurable pits; great courts and dungeons, eyeless prisons sheer as cliffs, and gaping gates of steel and adamant: and then all passed. Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land. And then at last over the miles between there came a rumble, rising to a deafening crash and roar; the earth shook, the plain heaved and cracked, and Orodruin reeled.

From the Battle of Mt. Doom, The Return of the King; J.R.R. Tolkien

These are powerful descriptions, and they’re more difficult to digest. But J.R.R. Tolkien mastered this stumbling block and led the way to it by building a powerful foundation using simplicity and descriptions that captivate the imagination and lead the mind with ease.

What can I do to right better? First, I should never try to mimic (at least as a beginner), for that will hurt and hinder your own passion for the writing. Focus on using simple descriptions that are easily captured by the mind. You don’t have to use entirely new wording to be original. And finally, allow yourself to be captured by what you write so that your writing in itself with naturally pull you forwards.

It’s all easier said than done, my friends…