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Faith Anchored

Sep 28, 2013   //   by wendy   //   Omega Letter Articles  //  No Comments

Bob Cornuke began as a police investigator in Costa Mesa, California, but in between swat-team missions his career took an unexpected turn.  Now Bob uses the investigative skills learned from the FBI to verify the locations of biblical events.  His method is kind of novel one.  He actually uses his Bible.

Exhibit A:  The story of Paul the prisoner, in a shipwreck.

Acts 26 ends with Paul’s trial before Agrippa, which ended with him being sent to stand before Caesar in Rome. Chapter 27 picks up with Luke’s record of their voyage:

“And when it was decided that we should sail to Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to one named Julius, a centurion of the Augustan Regiment. So, entering a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea.”  (Acts 27:1-2) NKJV

A few days later they were transferred to an Alexandrian ship, but the weather was less than optimal for sailing and the ship  made little progress; we are told in verse 9 that,

“much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over.”

(The fast being the Day of Atonement, a festival that dictates a fast instead of a feast) which had occurred on October 5 of that year.)  So fall was upon them, and sailing was getting more dangerous by the day as winter approached.  Nonetheless, the ships’ owner insisted that they sail on and try to winter on Crete.

Seemed like a good idea.  And in fact, they were almost there when “a tempestuous head wind arose” and they found themselves “exceedingly tempest-tossed”.  Day after day followed with no relief from the storm.  Then the food ran out, and still no sign of an end. They abandoned hope.

But Hope hadn’t abandoned them.

That night an angel of God appeared to Paul and told him that, although the ship would run aground, its inhabitants would survive.

On the fourteenth night that’s exactly what happened. As they drew near land, the seasoned sailors, realizing the risk of breaking up on the rocks, cut four anchors loose and threw over the cargo.  Then,

“When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible. And they let go the anchors. . .

(anchors additional to the four already cut loose, these closer to shore)

and left them in the sea, But striking a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground;” (Acts 27:39-41)

A detailed and fairly lengthy story, but one with a happy ending. Luke gives us the finale:

“And so it was that they all escaped safely to land.” (vs 44)

Bob Cornuke turned to this story on a return flight from Ethiopia, after surviving a frightening near-shipwreck due to a nasty freak storm on Lake Tana.  Reading the familiar story once more, it occurred to him to wonder if those anchors could still be there.

And whether he could find them.

Crazy, he told himself crazy.  There are 130 million miles of sea floor!  But he realized he had a head start:

“I had in my possession a treasure map – the Bible. A document I had long ago learned should allow me to pinpoint the exact location.”

So he looked at the passage a little closer.

What the passage revealed was that the storm was a “Euroclydon”, the Mediterranean version of a nor’easter.  A vicious storm.  So vicious that cables were run between planks to hold the ship together, and everything that could be thrown overboard  (even the ship’s rigging) was tossed (vs 17-19) But finally they started to hear waves crashing on rocks (acts 27:7), which meant they were nearing land.  That prompted the seamen to throw off the anchors to avoid breaking up on the rocks. (Anchors which at the time were about 12 feet long and made of wood, with the exception of a lead crossbar.)  By morning they had gotten closer to shore, and they dropped at least two more anchors.

And those anchors, at least the lead crossbow, would survive those centuries in the deep.

But where? According to Luke, Malta.  But Malta has 85 miles of coastline!

Luckily, Luke recorded that they saw a bay with a beach (vs 39).  Which, since nearly all of  Malta’s coastline is cliff,  narrows it down.  And this bay also faced an isthmus of sorts– a place that divided the sea into two. (i.e., the place where two seas meet.)

One place, and one place only, seemed to match perfectly.  St.Thomas Bay, on the east end of the island.  A bay which faces the Munxar Reef, a mile and half of limestone which cuts the bay in two.  And with the help of Malta’s version of the coast guard and their sophisticated computer-assisted ability to simulate the effects of storms on ship movements it was determined that Paul’s boat, in that particular kind of storm, would be likely to end up on Munxar Reef.

As with most Biblical events, there is a traditional site already established for Paul’s landing on Malta, on the northern coast and known as St, Paul’s Bay.  But like most traditional sites for Biblical events, it was identified as the landing spot hundreds and hundreds of years after the event occurred.  St. Paul’s Bay was declared the landing spot of Paul’s party 1200 years after Paul’s lifetime. But Bob’s own research, using the most sophisticated equipment and the most knowledgeable consultants he could find, seemed to suggest a landing point at the Munxar Reef.   So that’s where he decided to start.

His plan was to just dive down and try to find them.  But incredibly, he found he’d been beaten to it!  Maltese spear fisherman, with makeshift scuba gear, had discovered the lead remnants of four ancient anchors in front of an underwater cave at the outer end of the Munxar Reef about thirty years before.  As personal possession of antiquities is illegal in Malta, it took a while (and liaison with the Maltese government for amnesty) to bring the relics to light, but three of those lead anchor braces were finally examined (one had already been melted down).  And the resident Maltese expert on Roman antiquities confirmed them to be representative of those used at the time of Paul’s shipwreck in Malta.

So Bob didn’t really get to find the anchors.  But for Bob, seeing God’s word made sure was enough.

It was only later that  Bob realized that the passage described other anchors being tossed overboard, anchors that should have been closer to shore.  While making plans for their recovery, Bob was contacted by another fisherman who related finding two similar anchors, about 300 feet from shore in shallow water. (Anchors he eventually confessed to selling.)

So all of Paul’s anchors, it would seem, were found.  And right where the Biblical account seemed to have predicted.

Bob’s celebration, however,  was short-lived. Let’s just say the “experts” were not kind. “Amateur” was about the kindest thing they had to say.

Their objections?

1) If the landing was on the east end,

“the sea captains would  have been familiar with Malta and therefore recognized the land, as the eastern shoreline of Malta was the landmark they looked for to head north.”

Really? The kind of storm described could well have altered the landscape significantly. (I was in the Outer Banks two days before a hurricane cut Ocracoke Island literally into two.)  And the extended period of being “tempest tossed” could well have made them the captains expect to be somewhere other than they were.

2) There are other places on Malta where the phrase “where two seas meet” would apply.

Really? Get back to us when someone finds 2000-year old anchors there.

And this is my favorite:

3) Bob Cornuke didn’t do thorough research (in context, meaning that  he doesn’t review  all the prior scholarly works in his mass-market book about his discoveries.) Some of those scholars, to quote an extensive “exposé” of Bob’s;

“. . .discoveries on Malta, do not believe Paul was even shipwrecked on the island of Malta!”

Really. Now we see.  Those kind of scholars.  The kind that think the Bible is mythology. That the Bible is a slap-dash record of putative events laid down by misguided or confused or flat-out lying scribes.  The kind that don’t believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

Enough said.

Are the lead remnants of 2000 year old Roman anchors found offshore by Maltese fishermen really the anchors cut loose by Paul’s crew?  I don’t know.  And neither does anybody else.  And Bob’s more than happy to admit that.

What I do know is that when you take the Bible at its word you’re already light-years ahead of all the world’s experts who trust their own wisdom.  And when you identify four anchors in deep water, and two more in shallow water, right along a limestone isthmus where “two seas meet”, and the path of a storm-tossed, riggingless boat that could have dropped them is verified by maritime experts, and those anchors, moreover, are confirmed as Roman anchors (to quote the Monkees), “I’m a believer.”

What’s that Sunday School song? The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me?

Out of the mouths of babes…

“Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies For they are ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation.” (Psalm 119:98)

Mystery Lady

Aug 7, 2013   //   by wendy   //   Omega Letter Articles  //  No Comments

Most Bible scholars know that when Jesus (or Paul) used the word “mystery”, they  weren’t talking Agatha Christie.  The word had a slightly different meaning then.  They were, however, talking about a woman of sorts, one we all know very well.  Yep.  We have met the mystery and it is us.

The word mystery, when Jesus and Paul used it, meant something that was about to be revealed that had been previously hidden.

Actually, the Greek word translated “mystery” literally means to keep your mouth shut.  So it is pretty interesting that when Jesus began His public ministry (with the Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, the Bible specifically records that Jesus “opened His mouth”.  In addition, with that, mysteries– things not revealed in the Old Testament– began to be revealed.

Mysterious Door How many mysteries were there?  There are ten verses in the New Testament in which the respective mysteries are discussed.  Two of them deal with sin—specifically, with the final irrevocable rejection of God despite the overwhelming evidence of His power and authority during the tribulation.  (The mystery of Babylon: Revelation 17:1-18, and the mystery of lawlessness: II Thessalonians 2:1-12) One more in Revelation reveals that the point at which the mysteries have come to completion.

The other seven define the mystery of God’s kingdom. (The one built without human hands: Daniel 9).

1) The mystery revealed to those who follow Christ:  “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.”

2) The mystery of the church in the stars and seven lampstands: “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20 NJKV)

3) The mystery of the body of Christ : “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery … which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.”  (Ephesians 3:1-6)

4) The Mystery of the indwelling Messiah: “I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:24-29)

5) The Mystery of the Bride of Christ: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”  (Ephesians 5:22-23)

6) The Mystery of Israel’s Hardening: “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Romans 9:1)

7) The Mystery of the Rapture: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (I Corinthians 15:50)

So, to summarize: The mystery described is one only understood by the disciples– the body of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  That body of believers constitutes the Bride of Christ, chosen after Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, a Bride destined to be snatched up when her Groom returns.

In other words, the Church.

Though the Church age was not explicitly revealed in the Old Testament, there are hints.  Daniel described the 70 weeks decreed for the Jews as broken into two parts, with a definite but non-explained space between the first 483 years and the last seven years.  Amos, also vaguely alludes to a time after David’s tent was destroyed by God, but before God “raises up the tent of David, which has fallen down.” (Amos 9:9-11)

We also see the this mysterious gap in the feasts of Israel (which, by the way, are called “rehearsals” in the Hebrew language in Leviticus 23: The rehearsal in question is the festival of Shavuot– the holiday in the middle of the summer, smack dab between the three spring festivals (which were a shadow of Jesus first coming (Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the feast of first fruits) and the three fall festivals, that foreshadow the Second Coming. (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Feast of Tabernacles).

Shavuot, in which God commands that leavened bread be baked and waved together with the unleavened before the alter.  Shavuot, which in Greek just happens to be Pentecost, the day on which the Church was born.

Jew and Gentile together.  A foreshadowing of the Church.

As the Church, we await that final prophesied transportation of the Church described in I Corinthians 15.

The Rapture.

Intriguingly, there is one place in the Old Testament that we just might see the Rapture:

“Come, my people, enter your chambers, And shut your doors behind you; Hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, Until the indignation is past.” (Isaiah 26:20)

Is this a Rapture verse?

Some say no, because the Church is unrevealed in the Old Testament.  True Dat.  Not revealed.  But there are hints.

And I think this is one of them.  First of all, God beckons His people to come “until the indignation is past”– indignation meaning wrath, abhorrence, or anger.  His people are to come in order to be hidden away from wrath.

And He specifically beckons “His people” to come.

To quote Him, God says “come, my people”.  And Paul graciously defines “my people” for us (quoting Hosea):

“As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.”

These people, “my people” (before David’s fallen tent is rebuilt), is the Church.  And they are beloved.

And this is where it gets interesting.

When God tells “my people”  to come and hide themselves till the indignation is past, the word translated hide is the Hebrew word Chavah, from the root word Chavab.

The root word Chavab, translated to hide, comes from a root word that means to love fervently or cherish. This kind of brings to mind the bridal chamber, the Old Testament version of the honeymoon.

The time set aside for the bride to hide herself away with her groom.

It’s the only conceivable context in which loving and being hidden away come together.

From an eschatological perspective, the seven year period, after the Rapture, and before (as described in Psalm 45) the Groom girds His sword on this thigh to go out and put the nations under His feet.

And we’ll be there.

Maybe we can get the Dixie Cups to do a remake: Going to the Bunker.

Nah. Just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Dry Bones Revisited

Aug 7, 2013   //   by wendy   //   Omega Letter Articles  //  No Comments

Dr. Ronald Glaser was an up and coming researcher thirty years ago (when I worked under him at the Ohio State University).  Dr. Janice Kiecolt was too. They met; they married… a match made in Buckeye heaven. But also a match that ultimately confirmed a heavenly inspiration from Proverbs.

The two scientists, as they found their hearts and lives intertwining, wanted to integrate their work lives as well.  They wanted to find a way to collaborate professionally.

But, Columbus (Ohio), we had a problem.  Glaser was an immunologist, at the time working specifically on viral immunology. (As, later, would I), Kiecolt was a clinical psychologist.  Dead end.

Not so fast.  Other researchers, particularly David Felten at nearby Indiana University, managed to actually visualize, through some high-tech microscopic techniques, immune system cells.  What he saw, incredibly enough, was nerve cells actually interacting with immune cells.  In 1981, Felt, with a couple other scientists doing similar research, released a book entitled Psychoneuroimmunology.

That book, in turn birthed a completely new branch of medical science.

Psychoneuroimmunology: a science specifically focused on how the nervous system and the immune system might influence each other.

That new science, psychoneuroimmunology, just happened to be the exact convergence or the lovebird’s separate disciplines Psychology and immunology.  It seemed, no doubt, that their prayers had been answered.  However, the field was still in its infancy.  Not much was really known about how those two systems interacted.

It was known at that point that intense physical stress like prolonged sleep deprivation, weakened the immune system.  So the Glasers decided to find out whether everyday kinds of stress, like those associated with work or school, also affected the immune system.

The next step?  Come up with a specific research plan.  And that’s more difficult than you might think.

How could they simulate everyday stress in a laboratory setting?  How much stress would be enough?  Would that much scare away possible test subjects?  How could they make sure the subjects complied with the planned laboratory tests?

To test stress, they had to figure out a way to recreate job stress.  The stress had to be enough to potentially cause immune effects, but not so much that it would scare away subjects. In addition, they had to figure out a way to make sure that the test subjects complied with the necessary blood tests.

Eventually, they had a great idea.  Their idea produced a research project whose results were reported worldwide.  A project that formed a foundation for thirty more years of research in how stress influences your body.

The idea?  (I would have liked to have been there for their “Eureka!” moment.)

Use medical students.  Medical students after vacation (i.e., nonstressed) and medical students after their exams. (i.e. uberstressed).

It was perfect.  What is more stressful than medical school exams?  However, it was normal stress (The students had to take their exams anyway), and they were an otherwise captive audience.

So, a relatively simple experiment by modern standards, it was quickly done.  The Glasers drew the medical student’s blood (fresh off of spring break), and looked at the levels of a bunch of immune system cells and chemicals.  They repeated the whole thing a couple months later, drawing blood from each student as they left their set of final exams.

The results, when published, were the immunology “shot heard round the world”.

In short, the immune systems of the medical students’ immune systems, after the stress of their final exams, were dramatically impaired.   Post exam, the MD wannabes had significantly lower numbers of helper T cells, suppressor T cells, and cytotoxic T cells.)

T-cells (simplistically) are responsible for fighting off viruses and tumors, B cells (simplistically) are responsible for fighting off bacterial infections, and natural killer cells (simplistically) are kind of the body’s special forces, a group of cells that can carry out quick-reponse, covert attacks.)

Together, T-cells, B cells, and Natural Killer cells make up pretty much the biological equivalent of our Army, Navy Air Force, and Marines.  They comprise most of our immunological armed forces.

The point I’m getting to is (very leisurely, I admit) is that all these cells of the immune system are produced in the bone marrow.

Bone marrow is what fills the central cavity of your long bones.  My medical textbook tells me to think of the bone marrow as a wet sponge.  When you fill out a form asking for a sample of bone marrow, it refers to marrow as the “wet tissue” of the bone.

It’s called wet tissue because the wetness serves as a stark contrast to the hard, and inherently therefore dry, bone.

Which leads us finally to,

“A merry heart does good, like medicine,[a] But a broken spirit dries the bones.”  (Proverbs 17:22)

That verse speaks scientific truth.

Glaser and wife (Janice Kiecolt-Glaser) spent the next thirty years fleshing out those early findings, and what they found was that life’s disappointments (and the broken spirit that those things bring) have consistent effects, similar to those first results in medical students.  Widows, caregivers for sick or dying spouses, those in bad marriages, abused children, victims of divorce, the unemployed, victims of natural disasters (and so on) consistently have similar immunological effects.

A broken spirit shuts down production of necessary components of the immune system; those immune components are produced in the “wet tissue” of the bones.

A broken heart dries up the production of all those components in the wet tissue of the bone marrow.  A broken spirit dries up the bones.

Just like God said.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.  Later in the New Testament God reassures that He is close to the brokenhearted and He saves those whose spirits have been crushed.

And He ultimately heals all of our diseases.

In the meantime, we get these little snippets of science, revealed from the God who created us.  Just another whisper of His power (Job 26:14)

DNA and the Aaronic Priesthood

Oct 15, 2011   //   by wendy   //   Omega Letter Articles  //  No Comments

 

Anoint them just as you anointed their father, so they may serve me as priests. Their anointing will be to a priesthood that will continue for all generations to come.”     Exodus 40:15 DNA and tradition

 

According to the book of Exodus, God himself established the priestly line of Israel by naming Aaron – the older brother of Moses—to the position of high priest and designating that only Aaron’s direct descendants would thereafter be eligible to serve in the same capacity.  (Best estimate is that Aaron founded the company of Hebrew priests—called Kohenim– about 3400 years ago.  This tradition was meticulously adhered to up until 70 AD, when both the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed by the Romans under Titus and the surviving Jewish population scattered throughout the world.   Since then, tribal distinctions have been largely lost, although some families (many named Cohen, meaning priest) have maintained a family tradition of being Kohenim. It is estimated, based on surveys of Jewish graveyards,  that approximately 5% of Jewish males in the world today are eligible, as direct descendants of Aaron, to be descendants of Aaron and therefor eligible to be part of the priesthood when the temple sacrifice resumes.  

Dr. Karl Skorecki is one of them. Physician and research professor at the University of Toronto in the mid 1990s, he was familiar with the then fledgling discipline of genetic anthropology. It wasn’t really on his mind, however, when he took his seat at synagogue on one fateful Saturday morning.  An Ashkenazi Jew of European background, he watched as another “Kohenim” was selected to do the Torah reading. That man, a Moroccan Cohen of the Sephardic lineage (Jews who fled Israel in 70 AD through northern Africa landing eventually in Spain) had the coloring and features of the Mediterranean, and Skorecki’s mind began to ponder the irony of that observation. By Torah Law the Cohenim was restricted to direct descendants of Aaron, but the man called up looked nothing like him.  How could they both be direct descendants of the same man?   At that point a thought occurred to him: this could be tested!  If men who  claimed to be descended from Aaron actually were direct descendants of the same man, they should share a common set of Y-chromosome markers (a set of markers being known as a haplotype) and that set of markers would be the one that had belonged to Aaron, the first high priest.  It might be possible to find and identify those markers!

The first study gathered DNA samples from 188 Jewish males from Israel, England and North America, hoping to find a clear difference between the Y-chromosome markers in men who believed themselves to be Kohanim and in Jews who did not claim that distinction.  Their first attempt hit paydirt:  a particular marker called YAP (Y-Chromosome Alu Polymorphism), a 300 base pair insertion into the standard DNA sequence. Only 1.5% of the men self-identified as Kohanim had this marker, a frequency that was ten times higher in lay Jews. 

A second study expanded the number of Y-chromosome markers analyzed and hit upon six that together demonstrated the greatest distinction between Kohanim and lay Jews. Now called the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CHM), this group of markers was found in 97/106 of the Kohenim studied, with a random probability of less than 0.001%. The  CHM was also found at equal frequency in Jews of both European and North African ancestry, indicating that it was in place before the communities separated about 1000 BC.  It was also found, using other genetic markers to calculate the approximate time at which the common ancestor of the contemporary Kohenim lived, that the original owner of the Cohen Modal Haplotype lived about 106 generations ago, placing the original possessor of the haplotype at about 33-3400 years ago, the approximate time period in which Aaron would have lived.

What this means is that we can say with pretty much confidence that the CMH is the genetic signature carried by Aaron himself! What it does not mean is that everyone who carries it is a direct descendant of Aaron. (Aaron’s brother Moses, for example, would have had the same Y-chromosome, as would all of his descendants.) Studies done to date have found the CMH to be fairly sensitive (those who believe themselves to be Kohanim are nearly always shown to have the haplotype) but not specific (those who have the haplotype are not always Kohanim).  As further markers are identified, however, it is likely that the CMH will continue to be refined and a haplotype eventually defined that will be both sensitive and specific. This would pave the way for an genetic test that could possibly have the ability to confirm  eligibility to serve in the Temple,  whose reconstruction is eagerly anticipated. 

The bottom line? God said of the Aaronic priesthoold that “It shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of everlasting priesthood.” Num.18:19 The priesthood of Aaron, 2000 years after all records were lost, is still traceable in the blood of his descendants. It is an everlasting covenant with a God who is a promise-keeping God!

The Purpose-Driven Sheep

Oct 14, 2011   //   by wendy   //   Omega Letter Articles  //  No Comments

Have you read Psalm 100 lately? It’s a great psalm and an exuberant expression of praise and worship! In fact, it’s worth reading again:

 

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness.

Come before him, singing with joy.  Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.  We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving:  go into his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good.   His unfailing love continues forever,

and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

What a great and awesome God we serve!

But did you really read it? Did you catch the sobering message hidden behind the bright phrasing? This psalm tells us that we are the sheep of His pasture and commands us to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. What’s the problem? A sheep coming into the Temple has only one calling. They’re entering the Temple gates to be sacrificed.  Sheep were only brought into the Temple for that one purpose, entering the Temple Mount area through the Tadi gate on the north wall and crossing both  the Outer Court and Women’s Court before reaching the Priest’s Court where the  sacrifice was finally offered.  Yet we are commanded to enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. This seeming contradiction is repeated in Romans. Paul urges his readers to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices” in a spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1) How can we do this willingly, even eagerly, with thanksgiving and  songs of praise? 

For one thing, we have to check our English luggage at the door. Webster defines sacrifice as something lost, destroyed or surrendered.  The Hebrew term for sacrifice, however, Korban, means to approach, or come near, and is used exclusively in Scripture within the context of a man’s relationship to God.  Christ’s sacrifice as the Lamb of God was the only means through which we could come near to God, and our worship of God through yielding to him—a sacrifice of our own thoughts or desires– is our spiritual act of worship.  And through this act we lose nothing of value, but gain all the riches and promises of Christ.

And there’s our motivation! We can enter His gates—even as a sacrifice– with genuine joy and praise,  because by this we draw closer to Him.  Paul drives the point home in Romans, saying that when we offer our bodies and lives as a sacrifice in worship, God can transform us by renewing our minds—showing us “how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” (Romans 12:2) As we come to know God (the God of grace, mercy, and perfect, pleasant will) intimately, seeing his sovereign faithfulness in our lives, then we can really offer up our lives with joy.  And then–and only then–is  one day in his courts is truly better than thousands elsewhere. (Psalm 84:1)  Even as a sheep!

Let There Be Light!

Oct 13, 2011   //   by wendy   //   Omega Letter Articles  //  1 Comment

 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. Genesis 1:4

 

The Bible clearly states that it is divinely inspired.  (II Timothy 3:16 says that all scripture is God-breathed, II Peter 1:21 gives us a little more detail; it says that men spoke God’s words as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.)  The bible also clearly says that nature is also a message from God:

The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their

voice is not heard. Psalm 19:1-3

What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that mean are without excuse.

 Romans 1:19-21
So where do we get this idea that there is a vast gulf between science and the scriptures?  The answer not a surprise: from a very vocal group of scientists and/or atheists with both an agenda and the ear of the popular media.

The truth, however, is that science actually overwhelmingly supports the accuracy of scripture, often in almost spooky detail!  My favorite insight came to me in the Arizona desert on a family vacation.  The kids were watching Spongebob on the overhead video;  I was reading a book on physics .  The moment, which involved Genesis 1:4, sent chills up my spine at the time, and it still does.

The creation account in Genesis has obviously suffered much at the hands of critics, becoming the primary battlefield for a more fundamental war between the children of light and the children of darkness. A mere 31 verses, it has been mocked by  “men of reason” for centuries.

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible is a great example. ( You can find this atheistic Bible commentary at skepticsannotatedbible.com)  The entry for Genesis 1:4 in The Skeptic’s Bible says this: “God creates light and separates light from darkness, and day from night, on the first day. Yet he didn’t make the light producing objects (the sun and the stars) until the fourth day.” 

Actually the commentator is betraying both an ignorance of both the Bible as well as the thoughts of modern science.  Current physics proclaims proudly that light came into being before any of the stars. And what the Bible says in this passage is actually astoundingly in line with what scientists now believe!

According to modern science, the universe began with an incredibly dense and hot infusion of energy. (The fact that they now know the universe had a beginning that science can’t explain drove many physicists into churches for an answer, but that’s a subject for another column.) Within this small bundle of energy, photons (small bundles of light) were being produced but were trapped within the seething dark energy plasma . The mixture cooled, and eventually subatomic particles (liked quarks) were formed, but that was still not matter. The mixture continued to cool, eventually reaching the (still unfathomably hot) temperature of 3000° K. Scientists call this the point of “decoupling”, and here’s why: at that temperature,  the energy of the subatomic particles had decreased enough to form atoms.  At 3000° K, the subatomic particles spontaneously formed atoms,  releasing the trapped photons, which, being light, then fled away at the speed of light. (If you have forgotten this constant, they were traveling at  a mere 186,000 miles per second. )

Did you catch that? Scientists call this the point of decoupling because light “decoupled” from the dark matter.   In an instant, in other words (familiar ones), light literally separated from darkness!  That biblical statement  is not mythology, but a scientific statement, thousands of years old, which modern science has just caught up with!

The bottom line is that if, as the bible clearly asserts, science and the scriptures are both messages from God, they cannot contradict. And when each is honestly approached, they never will.  Francis Bacon, the founder of the scientific method, himself understood this, saying “ A little science estranges a man from God; a lot of science brings him back.” Maimonides,  a famous Jewish theologian in medieval Spain, may have said it even better: “ Science is the surest path to knowing God.”

               

Beelzebub in a Beaker

Oct 12, 2011   //   by wendy   //   Omega Letter Articles  //  No Comments

 

Genesis 6:4, arguably one of the most controversial verses in the Bible,  has tantalized and mystified readers for millennia:  The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. The straightforward interpretation, and the one viewed rabbinically as the grammatically correct interpretation, is that before the flood, fallen angels were involved in sexual relationships with human women, and that these unions produced a race of giants, superhuman beings  who were the basis for heroic figures in ancient legends. (There is support elsewhere in scripture for this position, but that is the topic of another article.)

Interestingly enough, the mythology of ancient cultures worldwide does describe hybrid offspring of gods and human women. Zeus was believed to have fathered 30 hybrid offspring, including Hercules; Poseidon had numerous half-human sons  as well. The Titans and the Gigantes, two races of giant beings in Greek mythology, were reputed to be the product of a union between “heaven” and  “earth” and were often depicted with serpent tails.  Sumerian, Egyptian, Celtic, and Mesoamerican mythologies are also replete with larger-than-life hybrid figures.  And although legends may be easy to dismiss, historical  reports of numerous discoveries worldwide of ancient human skeletons with heights  of 15 feet or more are a little less so.

As a molecular biologist,  the burning question for me with regards to the Nephilim has always been the genetics involved. If a straightforward interpretation of Genesis 6:4 is correct, what, specifically went on with the DNA?  What would the Nephilim’s chromosomes have looked like?

Incredibly, as science inches ever closer to a comprehensive understanding of life on a molecular level, recent research hints that the Nephilim may have been real. Ongoing research into male infertility by Toshiaki Noce at the Mitsubishi Kagaku Institute of Life Sciences in Tokyo has succeeding in producing sperm from embryonic stem cells. The scientists isolated stem cells from mice, followed them through the first steps of differentiation, and harvested those stem cells who had been turned, by chemical signals,  into progenitors for reproductive cells. These cells were then further induced to become sperm.  One major hurdle for the researchers was that the stem cells, which carry the standard two sets of chromosomes and are therefore “diploid”,  were required to halve their chromosomes through a type of cell division called meiosis. Nurturing the cells in a bath of relevant chemical signals achieved meiosis, but another problem arose. Although now appropriately “haploid”,  the immature sperm were incapable of naturally maturing on their own and needed assistance from  helpers called Serotoli cells. For that, the immature sperm ( up till then residents of the petri dish)  had to be implanted into the testicular tissue of a male mouse.

Mature sperm were successfully obtained through this method, but the big question was whether the artificially created sperm could achieve fertilization, and furthermore, if the resulting embryos would develop normally. (Animal cloning often results in defective animals due to the inability of the cloning process to duplicate the programming of cell development, called “imprinting”,  through artificial techniques.) “There is always a possibility that the imprints would not be normal” observes Azim Surani of Cambridge University.

This research has intriguing implications for a student of scripture. While we can only speculate on what physiological processes may have produced the superhumans described in Genesis 6, we do know that normal humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, and a fallen spirit being would presumably have none. Procreation of a spirit being with a human woman would, then, necessarily involve an laboratory manipulation of the chromosome number with the creation, somehow, of artificial sperm. Which just happens to be the identical accomplishments of the aforementioned research.

Parallel research by Karim Nayernia of Newcastle University in the UK has, in fact, already resulted in successful production of live offspring.  Nayernia did not implant the precursor sperm into testicular tissue (which would ostensibly have allowed normal fertilization) but instead injected the precursor sperm  directly into a mouse egg. Offspring produced by this technique, however, were short-lived, and– in a fascinating echo of Scripture– often freakishly large supermice! Current researchers are hopeful that implanting precursor sperm into the mouse’s testicular tissue will provide the developmental signals that were obviously lacking, although further research is on hold pending approval by a bioethics committee.

The fact that research so far (which fertilized an egg using artificially constructed, artificially haploid sperm) created giant offspring can only be viewed as subtle, yet amazing, confirmation of one of the most ostensibly implausible verses in Scripture, with further ramifications as endtime events continue to unfold in our generation. Daniel 2:43 speaks of a mysterious “they” who will, in the times represented by the legs of iron and clay (widely understood to be a reconstructed Roman Empire),  “mingle themselves with the seed of men.”  It is interesting that researchers found that, for success in producing functional sperm, the artificial version had to be implanted in testicular tissue—a very literal mingling of the artificial seed with the human equivalent. Will further research by Noce, Kayernia, and their colleagues create healthy mice who retain their larger-than-life statures?  Only time will tell.

The more important question might be:  Could the Nephilim arise again?  Many scholars think so, based on Jesus’ prophetic statement comparing the last days to the days of the Nephilim: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.” Luke 17:26 Will they mingle their (nonhuman, if not actually synthetic) “seed” with the seed of human men?  We’ll have to wait for an answer to that one. But I sure would like to get my hands on one of those giant ancient skeletons.

Divine Deliveries

Oct 11, 2011   //   by wendy   //   Omega Letter Articles  //  No Comments

Jews have a long history in Ethiopia.  The Kebra Negast, an ancient account of Ethiopian history, claims Ethiopian royalty descended from Solomon’s relationship with the queen of Sheba through a son Menelik.  Haile Selassie, the last Ethiopian King (deposed in 1974), claimed this ancestry as well. (His official title in office included the phrase “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah.) Traditional accounts also bring Jews to Ethiopia as refugees from the Exodus, the Babylonian captivity, and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD..

Judaism definitely existed in Ethiopia from the time of Christ. Numerous Hebrew and Aramaic words appear in the ancient language of Ethiopia, and Ethiopian Christianity , uniquely, retains eighth day circumcision, dietary restrictions, Saturday worship, and a focus on the Ark of the Covenant.  Their history in Ethiopia may go much further. When first “discovered” by Scottish explorer James Bruce, the Ethiopian Jews had no knowledge of the Talmud, Purim, or Hannukkah, all later additions to Hebraic tradition and which point to a very early arrival in Ethiopia.   In medieval times there were more than five hundred Falasha villages around Lake Tana. They ruled the Ethiopian highlands.  But then their fortunes changed.

The rise of Christianity in Ethiopia brought increasing persecution to the Ethiopian Jewry.  Emperor Yeshaq in the 1400s ruled that only Christians could own land, earning the Jews the pejorative name “Falasha”, meaning homeless.  Constant attacks from surrounding tribes decimated the population. By the late 20th century, most Beta-Israel Jews lived in poverty as second-class citizens and under rampant anti-semitism.

The ongoing famine and chaos that accompanied the 1974 revolution deepened the Falasha’s plight.  Jewish activists in Israel and the US secured an airstrip in the Sudan with the objective of bringing the Falasha (who called themselves Beta Israel) home, and between 1977 and 1984 thousands of Ethiopian Jews made an  arduous  200- mile trek to the airstrip. (It is estimated that nearly as many died trying to get there.)  But actual flights were difficult to achieve, and as the population at the airstrip grew (creating a refugee camp with little sanitation or food supplies), hopes for rescue dwindled. 

Operation Moses , a covert evacuation and a cooperative effort between the Israeli Defense Forces, the CIA, and Sudanese security forces,  was launched November 21, 1984 under extreme secrecy.  (Sudan feared the ire of its Muslim neighbors.) By January 5, 1985, some 8,000 lucky Jews had been airlifted directly to Israel. It ended abruptly on the same day. Prime Minister Shimon Peres held a press conference in which he both confirmed the airlift but declared it secret;  Sudan abolished the airlift only moments after his speech ended.

The trek to the Sudanese airstrip had been arduous and it was largely the younger males who had attempted the journey; hoping to facilitate the later arrival of their families.  The abrupt termination of Operation Moses left thousands of families split apart, with many underage children sent ahead leaving families in Africa. Diplomatic attempts to reunite families failed, and political tension continued to rise.

In Ethiopia, Mengistu (the head of the Communist Military junta that had ruled Ethiopia since deposing Selassie)  had plunged the country into civil war.  The plight of Beta Israel continued to deteriorate. As a counter-revolutionary party approached Addis Ababa, from all sides, ethnic cleansing of the Ethiopian Jews seemed inevitable. Furious diplomatic efforts by the George HW Bush’s White House, Israeli advocates for Ethiopian Jews, and the Israel Defense force finally secured permission for an airlift out of Addis Ababa. Again under great secrecy, preparations were made. Special permission was obtained to make the Sabbath flights, and at 10 am on May 24, 1991, Operation Solomon began.

Thirty-four hours later, forty-one total aircraft had been loaded and landed again in Israel, depositing 14,310 new Israel citizens on Israeli soil. (Many planes had the seats stripped out to allow for maximum human loads.) The Beta Israel were home.

But here’s where it gets really interesting.  This thirty-four hours in history fulfilled a lot of prophecy. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west  I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’.  Isaiah 43:5-6  It required a fair amount of pressure from the US and Israel, including concessions on the part of both nations (as well as a considerable sum of money)  to encourage Ethiopia to let the Falasha go. They had to be persuaded to “give them up”!

See, I will … gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return. Jeremiah 31:8  They will come with weeping;  they will pray as I bring them back. Jeremiah 31:8-9  The Beta Israel had had a tradition that they would return to Israel on “wings of eagles” (Exodus 19:4) and viewed these airlifts as definitive confirmation of that prophecy. An IDF video of the event, viewable at http://www.sfej.org/operationsolomon/default.htm, shows the jubilant immigrants weeping, praying and singing as they return. Israeli photos of the event show young Israeli soldiers carrying lame and blind immigrants off of the planes.

But I saved the best for last.  Remember that I said that 14,310 new Israeli citizens stepped off those planes?  (14302 definitely qualifies as a great throng.) Only 14,302 were loaded!   Eight babies were born in the air!  Jeremiah 31:8  astoundingly predicts that the regathering of some women would be short enough to be fulfilled while in labor! 

The regathering of the scattered house of David is fulfilling prophecy in every corner of the world, and we will continue to explore this topic in future weeks. But the story of Beta Israel is my favorite. Someone needs to make a movie. (Steven Spielberg? Are you out there?)

So Much for the Fountain of Youth

Oct 10, 2011   //   by wendy   //   Omega Letter Articles  //  No Comments

 

Despite the fact that the new Renovaré Bible describes the book of Genesis as mythology, cultures all over the world share similar histories. The bible as well as several separate traditions record ten antediluvian kings; more than 500 separate cultures have similar traditions of a worldwide flood; numerous separate accounts exists of the events at the tower of Babel.

The traditions of many cultures also claim longevity for their patriarchs.  The long life spans that the Bible records before the flood (as long as the 969 years recorded for Methuselah), however,  are widely ridiculed by skeptics and other higher scholars today. ( The atheistic commentary found in The Skeptics Annotated Bible (skepticsannotatedBible.com) labels them “absurd”.)  Interestingly, however,  a man named Arthur Custance applied common statistical analysis to the problem. Using the life spans recorded in the Hebrew text, he calculated the correlation between the declines in both the onset of fertility and the age at death, assuming that if a genuine biological change was occurring the two should decline at a similar rate. Using the names of Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan,  Mahalalel,  Jared, and Methuselah, (Enoch, Lamech, and Noah were excluded on the basis of being exceptions to the normal preflood life expectancy), he calculated statistical measure of correlation called an  r- value; the r-value of the Biblical data ended up to be 0.96.  An r-value of 0.96 (rarely achieved in this kind of statistical analysis) means that the data available are 96% identical to those that would ideally be expected if the tested theory is correct  —lending solid credibility to the Genesis account. Both  antediluvian lifespans and the subsequent post-flood decrease in longevity were statistically shown by Custance to be actual biological phenomenon recorded by a historian, rather than (as the Renovare Bible would have us believe,  a folk tale made up by a primitive imagination.  

But what made the life spans of human beings start to drop? The Bible gives us one clue. Right before the flood, because of the wickedness in his creation, God decided to put a ceiling on human life spans: Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

Interestingly enough,  to this day the oldest persons in the world hover right around that mark. The Psalms also record that our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Psalm 90:10; in populations with adequate health care, the average life expectancy consistently falls within that range.

As a molecular biologist, however, I can’t keep from wondering about the biological mechanisms that God uses to effect his works in his creation, and as it happens, life span has a strong genetic component. The DNA inside your cells, most of the time, floats around inside the nucleus like a ball of yarn unwound.  Every so often, however, the cell divides, and in preparation for division the DNA bundles itself up into the 46 chromosomes that each human cell contains.  When the DNA bundles up into chromosomes, at the end of each chromosome are repeating sequences of DNA called telomeres. (You can kind of envision this cap on the chromosome like the cap on your shoestrings.)  These telomere “caps” protect the DNA, but they have very one additional, and very interesting function.  Every time the cell divides a little bit of the cap is shaved off. Over time and repeated rounds of cell division, that little protective cap ends up doubling as a tiny lit fuse.  When the cap is totally removed (and the fuse reaches the chromosome itself), it initiates a pre-appointed cell death called apoptosis. The cell, at a point pre-determined by its telomere size, commits suicide.

This biological countdown, a pre-programmed limit to human life, is called intrinsic senescence and is hard-wired into our physiology.  Job, a man thought to have lived shortly after the flood, eerily records an understanding of the physiological change that God had apparently wrought by the events surrounding the flood (possibly involving a huge increase in ultraviolet light exposure with a decrease in water vapor in the atmosphere) in humankind:

Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed. Job 14:5

 

Man (as well as every other species) does have a maximum biological lifespan, built into his DNA at the molecular level,  just as the Bible predicted 4000 years ago, and 3900 years before anybody ever saw a chromosome or a telomere in a microscope!

Ignorance is Bliss

Oct 9, 2011   //   by wendy   //   Omega Letter Articles  //  No Comments

 

Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD,  “ That I will send a famine on the land,  not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD… They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, But shall not find it. Amos 8:11-12

You have to wonder, at this point in history, how this verse could possibly come true. We live in the information age, with its daily onslaught of communication: internet, television, radio; newspapers, magazines, books; ipads, ipods, iphones. (The number of text messages sent exceeds the total population of the planet every day.)

And the Bible’s holding its own. It’s the best-selling book in history (6 trillion copies sold), in hundreds of different languages. Countless Christian websites, newspapers, magazines, radio and TV channels, DVDs, and CDs declare the word of God. Got an iphone?  Open some fortune cookies and you’ll get scriptures!

How could things change so drastically?

Wait a minute. Amos didn’t say that there would be a lack of God’s word,  just a lack of hearing. 

A recent poll by the Barna Group (an organization that does research on issues of faith) had some disturbing findings.  When American church-going individuals were asked, most rated themselves above average in living a Christian life.  (So far so good.) When asked about their knowledge of the Scriptures, however, not so much. Half couldn’t locate the Christmas story in the Bible; nearly half didn’t know that Matthew was an apostle.

Their confusion didn’t end with trivia. Sixty percent of those questioned didn’t think the Holy Spirit was real, 80% didn’t believe in Satan. Nearly half thought Jesus sinned, and more than half (73%) thought being good would get you into heaven.

The mostly widely recognized verse among those polled was “God helps those who help themselves”, from the book of Benjamin.  As in Franklin. ( That proverb isn’t in the Bible and it contradicts scriptural principles.) Disturbingly, 90% of this same group said their faith was an significant influence on their lives.

There’s a name for this problem: zeal without knowledge. And it’s not something God commends. (Psalm 19:2, Romans 10:1).

Amos predicted this development! You can probably predict where it leads. What would the church look like if its members are crazy for God but ignorant of what the scriptures teach?  What would their faith be based upon, if not the word of God?  (What the culture admires? Whatever makes its members feel good? )

Been to a Christian bookstore lately? (Most are now owned by secular companies.) You’ve seen what this church looks like. Christian trinkets outnumber books by a long shot, because that’s what sells. Fiction and Self-Help occupies way more space than Bibles and Bible Studies. The author of a The Shack (a huge hit), doesn’t believe in hell, and the book clearly negates Christ’s work on the cross. It sold 10 million copies.

Been to church lately?  Pastors with evangelical origins now deny the accuracy of the scriptures (from Genesis on) as well as the fundamentals of the gospel. According to these “emergent church” pastors, we can’t say that Jesus died for our sins (too barbaric), that he is the only remedy for sin (too exclusive), or that anybody will go to hell (too judgmental). 

What do our leaders believe? Hard to say. A 2010 study by Tufts University interviewed pastors willing to admit (without revealing identities) their lack of faith. Wes (Methodist) views his job as a means to an end– specifically, fostering liberal values in his congregation. Rick (United Church of Christ) was among a wave of men who enrolled in seminary to avoid the draft, but stayed because he saw an opportunity to promote social justice. He views himself as a therapist who helps rid people of the guilt that exposure to traditional Christianity produced. Darryl (Presbyterian) denies heaven, hell, Jesus’ divinity, blood atonement, and the virgin birth, but calls himself a Jesus follower. Jack (Southern Baptist) said that for him, Christianity is just a “bunch of bunk.” All said that most of their colleagues held the same views.

How do they function in their pastoral roles?  Adam (Church of Christ),  said he sees it as play-acting, putting on the role of a believer and performing. Rick said that as long as he uses religious language– mentioning God and Jesus and the Bible a lot–he can say anything and his Biblically illiterate membership will interpret it as truth.   

Why don’t they just get out? Most liked the comfortable and flexible lifestyle. Some were a little more blunt: “I’m doing it now because financially I don’t have a choice… how would I continue to make my house payment?” (Jack). 

Please understand that my point is not to cast suspicion on my pastor or yours. My point is that we have to realize that we are ( as Jesus said) sheep among wolves and thus must be as wise as serpents. We must see that we can no longer pick up something at a Christian bookstore and necessarily expect to read truth; we can’t sit blithely in the pew and necessarily expect to hear it. We seemingly are approaching the days of Amos, where people hungry for the word of God will lack a place to hear it.

Jesus promised us, repeatedly, that there would be men like Rick, Wes, and Jack in our pulpits and on our bookshelves. We have to be Bereans (Acts 17:11): examining all things and holding fast to what is good (I Thess 5:21. (And all the more as we see the day approaching.)

Martin Luther said “Where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel”.  It’s our job to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Eph 6:16)  How? By following Jesus’ example. By being ready, at every volley, to answer the devil’s lies the way Jesus did: “It is written…..

Smell a crook? Check the book.

Maranatha!

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