Will That Be Check, Cash or Retinal Scan?

An important idea to keep in mind when considering conundrums of future events is this:  God does not give prophecy so you and I can adjust our bank accounts or buy or sell stock for better returns, nor does He provide it so we can get a cabin in the mountains and hide away with stashes of disinfected water and canned goods while the rest of the world collapses in on itself.

Jesus laid out why He tells us things before they occur in John 14:29: I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”  Though He says this in specific reference to His death and resurrection, the principle is applicable to all prophecy of future events.  He knew the disciples to whom he was speaking would not understand until the events he was foretelling unfolded.

In the same way, we are not given warnings about the end times so we can buffer our investments, live easy lives, and avoid trouble while the rest of the world rots.  Rather He tells us so that we will realize He is still in control when the rest of the world is shivering in fear.  In the 21st century, what will make Christians distinct from the rest of the culture is not what they do or don’t do or shouldn’t do. What will make them distinct, make them stand out, is that they won’t be afraid.” (Marilyn Elliott)

Thief in the Night.jpgDoes anyone else remember the old movies of the 1970s about the Second Coming of Jesus?  The Thief in the Night comes to mind, minted in 1972 when many special effects were still in their infancy.  The “UNITE” trucks rounded up people to take a mark on their hands or foreheads to be able to buy or sell anything, and anyone who refused to take said mark would be executed as an anti-government anarchist.  In one scene an old codger was asked where he wanted his mark and he responded something like, “Put it right there on my forehead so everyone can see I believe in the government.”

When I was a child, the idea of a world government seemed laughable and a union of European countries under one flag was actually laughed at by my Social Studies teacher in junior high school.  The melodramatic pictures presented in those early films seemed silly and so unlikely that I doubt very many were convinced of the possibilities portrayed unless one was already a believer in a literal view of the end times in the Bible.

THE Antichrist will not be some demonic figure with an evil glare of fiery eyes and flames coming from his fingers, ala Star Wars.  There have been many ‘antichrists’ in the world all through history and many are here now (1 John 2;18-19).  However, one is coming who will be a world figure that will lead much of the world into the Great Tribulation.  He will not advocate a dramatic change in the way things are done, but rather seem to provide the best answers to the world’s problems of immigration and emigration, to financial markets and debt, to crime and punishment, to international relationships.  He will be THE answer man who seems to have everything under good control, and his modus operandi will be to bring cooperation to what have been insurmountable peace obstacles, particularly in the Middle East.

One of the ways he will effect change is in the way we do business, which will seem like the logical way to do things.  The “mark of the beast” will be required to be able to buy or sell (Revelation 13:16-17), and anyone without it will be in great difficulty.  Again, in modern history, the idea of a “mark” was something absurd to most Westerners as though the vast majority would resist any kind of tattoo.  Now it is difficult to find a sales clerk without one . . . and one begins to wonder.

But we will not need to get a visible tattoo if the Wall Street Journal is anything but financially savvy.  Monday’s paper on September 24, 2018, presented a piece on “Changing Credit-Card Tech” that is chilling for anyone who takes seriously Bible prophecy.  The subtitle is “As companies update how they verify identities, Europe offers a glimpse of the future.”  The full article is at the end of this blog.

Mark of the Beast 2.jpgBiometrics are coming to a retailer near you soon!  In all likelihood, some of us already use biometric identification for purchases or at least, to open our phones.  So it makes me wonder what exactly is the Mark of the Beast?  “This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” (Revelation 13:18)

It probably is not a birthmark at the crown of someone’s head as in the Damien horror films.  It probably has little to do with markings on kilos of cocaine coming out of South America or with the barcodes that appear on all our products.  The issue of the Mark of the Beast is not the product, regardless of the conspiracies one can read about on the internet.  The Mark of the Beast is to identify the buyer or seller as cooperating with the system established by the “king who exalts himself.” (Daniel 11:36-39)

What better way to identify anyone but with a biometric that is unreproducible in another body?  No password nor PIN to forget; no card or key or passcode to lose.  Your id is YOU.

I wonder what this bodes for children and grandkids just entering the world stage.  How will they be paying?

I Wish We’d All Been Ready by Larry Norman

By Mischa Frankl-Duval
Sept. 23, 2018 10:06 p.m. ET
Mark of the BeastCredit-card companies, banks and vendors are changing how they verify consumers’ identities. Passwords and PINs could become less important. Biometric analysis could become the norm.

The proving ground for the latest in payment technology is Europe, where a new law could encourage greater use of biometrics in a bid to reduce burgeoning payment fraud.

Starting September 2019 in the European Union, a large portion of online payments greater than €30 (currently about $35) will require multifactor authentication. Consumers will need to use two of three things to verify transactions: something they know, like a password; something they have, like a digital device, perhaps a USB token, that identifies them; or something they are: biometric data. (bold italics added)

Proofs based on physical characteristics, like fingerprints and faces, are slowly becoming more common. This legislation will likely cause them to surge.

Most consumers using biometrics will likely do so on their phones, many of which already have technology that payment-service providers will use to verify payments—such as Apple Inc.’s Touch ID fingerprint sensors or Face ID facial-recognition software on its iPhones.

Making the payment process frictionless could determine which providers prosper—and which languish.

“We’re helping the industry move toward biometrics as a preferred method,” says Mark Nelsen, senior vice president at Visa Inc. “Customers are getting more comfortable with those solutions, and they’re our preferred method, too.”

Another company hoping to profit from the change is Veridium, a New York-based biometrics firm.

“We’ve built our company around trying not to change the way you interact with technology too radically,” says Chief Executive James Stickland. “You could plug in Touch ID or Face ID, and that’s great because people are used to it.”

Veridium also provides an authentication technology it calls 4F that turns smartphones, even older models, into fingerprint scanners.

Ease of use will be paramount to companies in the payment-services and biometrics sector. Vendors and payment-services providers “have to meet requirements on the fraud side and provide a good user experience,” says Frances Zelazny, chief marketing officer at BioCatch, a firm based in Boston. “If they can’t manage their fraud, they’ll go away,” Ms. Zelazny says. “And if they can’t manage their user experience, they’ll go away” because consumers won’t use them.

Behind the scenes, BioCatch and other biometrics companies are working on technology called behavioral biometrics. That technology allows vendors and payment providers to analyze users’ actions and habits to determine whether a transaction should be considered valid. Criteria include whether the transaction is in line with a user’s usual spending pattern, made from a familiar location, or aimed at someone who often receives payments from that user.

“With touch-screen devices, we have a lot of sensors, so we’re able to infer how you swipe, the pressure you put on the screen, how much of your finger you’d leave on the button as you pause before the next one,” says Dr. Neil Costigan, CEO of BehavioSec, a behavioral biometrics firm. “Not so much what you’re doing as how you’re doing it.”

Though behavioral biometrics can’t be used as one of the three proofs mandated by the EU regulation, the EU guidelines say that payments of €30 to €500 will be exempt from multifactor authentication if they are judged to be sufficiently safe—a determination that behavioral biometrics can help to make. Smoother, more secure verification processes minimize false alarms when cards are declined, thus reducing abandoned purchases.

Still, biometric solutions face barriers to adoption. Veridium’s Mr. Stickland says: “People’s education is probably the most immature element of utilization. The end user has to be more aware.”

“What concerns us is consumer awareness,” says Visa’s Mr. Nelsen. “We know the consumer has no idea really what this regulation means.” And, he adds, “with hundreds of millions of customers making online payments, and millions of merchants receiving them, older technologies won’t disappear overnight.”

Meanwhile, even if customers do take to biometrics, a full rollout of the technology may take some time.

“Part of the challenge has been lethargy. We’ve seen that with chip and PIN in the U.S.,” says Mr. Stickland, referring to the card industry’s ponderous transition away from requiring signature-based payments.

As a result, he says, the move away from plastic cards—and toward mobile-based authentication—is “probably a 10-year journey, not a two-year journey. But I think plastic will be gone altogether in 10 years.”

Passwords, too, will be around for quite some time. Mr. Nelsen says that biometrics systems already in place still use passwords as backups for authentication.

“The only way to get rid of passwords is to have a number of biometrics, so if one fails, you can use another one,” he says. “We’ll start to see more biometrics used to verify identity…. You’ll walk up to the counter, use face recognition to initiate the payment, and that’s it.”

Mr. Frankl-Duval is a Wall Street Journal reporter in London. This appeared in the September 24, 2018, print edition as ‘Changing Credit-Card Tech.’

Forgive Me – Umm, Excuse Me, One More Time

I want to discuss forgiveness one more time ( . . this will come up again, count on it, and probably more than seven times!).

Recall that on September 9, 2018, I noted that we do not need forgiveness if we have an excuse.  The thought is not original with me, but I cannot locate where I read this; please forgive . . . or rather, excuse me! 😉).  But it seems rational to me.

Suppose some older guy with out-of state-plates is obviously looking for an address in front of our car.  The ‘foreigner’ may irritate us and make us miss the next green light, but as there was no intent involved, the irritation is bearable.

Contrast that with a local hot rod who tries to stop us from reaching the light by swerving into our lane or blocking half a lane when he plans to turn out of our way.  Our anger can boil over in such cases even if we reach the light in time to smoothly drive through.  It is the intent that makes the difference.

Torah.orgRabbi Morechai Dixler of Answers in Genesis says there are three Hebrew words for categories of actions.  (Don’t be impressed, subscribe to the Lifeline blog at Project Genesis at https://torah.org/, and you can get a plethora of information as well as thoughtful replies to email.)  So Rabbi Dixler explained to me the three categories are “oness – unavoidable actions, shogeg – careless actions, and mazid – deliberate malicious actions.”  The rabbi says that “oness” of course does not need forgiveness, which makes sense.  If an action is unavoidable it is hardly a fault that can be blamed on the actor.

He goes on to say “shogeg” and “mazid” do require forgiveness.  Even careless actions call for forgiveness because the offender should have been more careful.  Thus mistakes are more easily forgiven, or excused, but still require forgiveness if the offended party is to be at peace in his mind.

It still boils down to either excuses for mistakes or forgiveness for actions for which there is no excuse.  But this is a pretty big distinction.  Like Billy Joel sang, “you’re only human, you’re supposed to make mistakes.”  Not exactly the best theology, as we were created for perfection in the Garden of Eden, but the parents messed up and every parent thereafter has done the same and we are going to do the same.  It’s in our DNA.

Target.jpgAll of us have sinned in the “fallen short of the mark” category (Romans 3:23), the excusable that having tried, we still cannot get it right on our own.  Such offenses still require forgiveness from God and understanding from our associates that we are all the same in this.  We are only human, and even if we are not ‘supposed’ to make mistakes, the fact is that we will.  We will fail to listen when someone needs us.  We will miss the turn and wind up in a fender-bender.  We will not understand when we should, and the offenses will mount up, even those for which we have an equal mountain of excuses.

More significantly though, we will all sin (or should I say have already sinned?) in the “mazid” category, the deliberate actions that offend.  There is not a human alive that has not also done that which is inexcusable.  We may distinguish degrees of sinfulness, e.g. murder seems to be the most heinous to 21st century minds, whereas only coveting or only lying seem smaller and less offensive.  But the lack of excuse makes any violation of the Big Ten just as severe (James 2:10-11).

However, God’s action to forgive us, even when we have done the inexcusable, is His mercy to us!  Beyond that His grace gives us eternal life and other blessings, as mercy is not getting what we do deserve, and grace is getting something we do not deserve.

We are called in this same way to forgive the inexcusable in those who offend us.  It takes deliberate action even when we do not feel “forgiving.”  You see, God never commands us to feel anything.  He only commands actions that can be obeyed, and our feelings are as fickle as sunshine in Kentucky.  They change with whichever way the wind is blowing or whatever stimulus happens to be poking us.  A gentle jab from a lover can make us swoon; the same jab from an adversary can send us into rage

When He says to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), it really does not matter how we feel about the enemy.  We are to act lovingly toward them.  And when He says we are to forgive each other (Matthew 6:12-14; Colossians 3:13), there is no caveat about feeling forgiving.  We are simply to do it.

An interesting word study is to simply read through all the Scripture references that mention “forgive.”  There are only 85 in the KJV, but 109 show up in the ESV, and 136 in the Amplified Bible.  It is an easy thing to do with https://www.biblegateway.com/.  Just enter it in the search window with your favorite translation and see what God and His people say about forgiving.

So there is really no excuse for not knowing what the Bible teaches about forgiving, only forgiveness for our ignorance.  😉


Time heals all wounds . . . NOT!

Please forgive my use of an old idiom in the title, the “NOT.”   Then again, I have an excuse, so I prefer your understanding to forgiveness.  Recall last week I noted that when we have excuses, we only need understanding, not forgiveness.  Forgiveness only functions when the offender is without excuse, which is the main reason it is so very hard to forgive.  Besides, “time heals all wounds,” right?  We’ve heard this mantra for generations and it even shows up as a “word” in Merriam-Webster and in Dictionary.com!

Sophocles.jpgMost attribute “Time heals all wounds” to Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde: “As tyme him hurt, a tyme doth him cure.”  But such imprecise quotations should take us back to Sophocles, the ancient Greek playwright (495-406 B.C.), who said, “Time eases all things” in Oedipus, the King.  However, as illustrated in the play, this proved false.  Time could not heal the problems in that family!  Even the deaths of the parents and Oedipus’ blinding did not heal the wounds, but only solved the problems in the nation.  The personal injuries followed . . . rather, chased . . . the individuals to their graves.

In the same way time will not heal the wounds in your family, or in your former friendships, or in your job, or in any relationship where you have been deeply injured.  Time does not have the power to heal.  Rather, we may forget some offenses over time, but if reminded of them, we will find the pain and the hurt of the offense is still there, even after 60 years or more!  Like peeling a scab off an old scar, fresh blood will flow again, and we will find the wound is still there.  In some cases, reminders of the impairment will keep it continually fresh even over years passing as if we were constantly picking at the scab, rehearsing every detail of the wrongdoing and sometimes even worsening the offense as we embellish with added “memories” of what happened.

This is reflected in reverse in the Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13: “[Love] keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (13:5-6)  Think of this in contrast to the man who says, “I remember the twelve years ago like it was yesterday.  She had on those red shoes she used to wear.  It was a Saturday morning and was raining.  The neighbor was mowing his lawn in the rain when she knocked at the door, and she said …”  Love does not keep these records.  “Regret cannot change your past; worry cannot change your future.  Only forgiveness can change your past; only trust can change your future.” (Steve Elliott)

But, you may say, what about someone who keeps on offending!?  Must I forgive him/her continually?  Well, yes and no.  If an offender is genuinely repentant of their fault, we are called on by Jesus to continually forgive (Matthew 18:21-22).  The key here is the repentance.

Repentance means a turning away from a former way of doing things.  An alcoholic may repent of his drinking many times, but still fall prey to his weakness and lapse into a drinking binge.  He genuinely repents each time but can only succeed with significant outside help and guidance, e.g. AA or some other program that offers forgiveness as well as assistance to avoid the temptations.

John The BaptistHowever, there are times a prophetic caution should be given such as John the Baptist gave to his hearers when he was attracting big crowds: He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.’” (Luke 3:7-8)  Not exactly what one would expect from today’s seeker-friendly sermons, but led by the Holy Spirit, John addressed the “penitents’” problems.  They were looking for an easy fix that did not involve a real heart change!

James, the brother of Jesus, also understood this.  In his short letter to the dispersed Jews who had fled the persecution in Jerusalem, he repeatedly advised on his theme, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17)  A wise man once said, “We are saved by faith alone, but not faith that is alone!” (Dr. Ronald Wright)

So how do we know when a penitent is genuine?  How can we be sure when we forgive we will not get burned . . . again?  Unless the Holy Spirit reveals this to us, we cannot know.  We must proceed on the basis of our understanding and the love God puts in our hearts, sometimes a love intended to be wounded.  Just as Jesus knew He came to go to the cross, there may be people in your life who you must let crucify you.  As painful as that may be, there will be a joy set in front of you that will help you endure (Hebrews 12:2) and continue to forgive as our Lord prayed from his execution stance, “Father, forgive them because they do not realize what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

However, forgiveness, when it comes from your heart, is transformational!  First you will be transformed by your choice to forgive.  You will find the prisoner of your anger or bitterness was never the offender at all.  You were the one bound in the prison of your own acrimony.  Then, free from the bitterness, you will find your forgiveness may be transformational in the life of the offender you forgive, just as Jesus’ forgiveness has transformed you.  Of course, the power of your forgiveness to transform another is entirely dependent on his/her willingness to be forgiven.

As strange as it may seem in a discussion of forgiveness, there are those who will refuse forgiveness.  Either they will take offense at thinking that you think they need your forgiveness, or they will be too full of pride to admit that they know their need, unwilling to be humble and accept your forgiveness.

As strange as this may seem in such an academic exercise, in the “real world” experience of forgiving and being forgiven there are hard choices to make and some may prefer to wait and hope that time will heal the wounds.  Sadly, it will not.  As C.S.Lewis noted in The Great Divorce, All that are in hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

So if you are offended, forgive.  Time will not heal the wound.  Forgiveness will.


Do I Have to Forgive . . . AGAIN!?

ForgivenessForgiveness, again?  How many times should I write about forgiveness?  Well, an apostle asked a similar question to Jesus: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?  Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)  So how many times should I write about it?  Well, how many times do we (meaning “I) need to be reminded of it!?

Forgiveness is a lot easier to talk or write about when the offender is me.  I want to be forgiven.  It is another story when I am the offended party.  Then it seems a lot harder to address this topic.  Like C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive . . . And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.”

You see, forgiveness is much easier in the abstract of asking God to forgive our sins, when in reality we do not think we have that much of which to be forgiven.  We have many excuses to show we were not really so bad, and that God is actually pretty lucky to have someone so nice on His team, so humble that we even ask for forgiveness when we do not really need it.

But that is not really the issue of forgiveness.  When we have an excuse, we only need understanding, not forgiveness.  To forgive is to first suffer an offense and then stop blaming the offender even though he really is at fault.  Let’s look at the dictionary definitions:
• to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
• to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
• to grant pardon to (a person).
• to cease to feel resentment against (e.g. to forgive one’s enemies).
• to cancel an indebtedness or liability of (e.g. to forgive the interest owed on a loan).

To understand the potential offenses God may forgive if we ask Him to do so we just need to look at the Big Ten.  Not the athletes, but the Laws.  (Here we use the Hebrew list; as Matthew Sleeth pointed out, “They owned the real estate first.”)
I. Do not worship any other gods but Yahweh.
II. Do not make carved images to which you bow down and worship.The Ten Commandments Hebrew.jpg
III. Do not misuse Yahweh’s name.
IV. Honor the Sabbath by keeping a special day each week for spiritual development.
V. Make your parents proud of you.
VI. Do not murder (not the same word as “kill,” but that’s for another blog).
VII. Do not commit adultery.
VIII. Do not take what does not belong to you.
IX. Do not lie.
X. Do not crave a thing or person that belongs to someone else.

A lawyer once told me all the laws in all the books in all the world are simply a reflection of our inability to keep these basics.  And we do not just kind of stumble into disobedience of these laws like slipping on a threshold going into a room.  There is no excuse for breaking any of these, but all the volumes of all the law books all over the world reveal simply our attempts to make excuses.  “I did not really lie; it just depends on what your definition of “is” is.”

MoneyA man gave another a loan of several hundred dollars to be repaid in small increments over several months.  The first month the lender received a check in the mail.  The second check came in the third month, and thereafter nothing.  Going to a wise counselor, it was suggested he write a letter telling the debtor he was forgiven in Jesus’ name.  He and the counselor thought maybe the debtor would feel so guilty he would repay the rest.

But as the lender thought about it, he realized he could not accept payment even if the man offered now.  He reported to us as his friends that after he wrote the forgiveness letter the Holy Spirit convicted him that he really had not yet forgiven the debt, and was lying in the letter if he accepted the payment!  When the offer of repayment came up, which the lender had expected, he humbly told the debtor he would not accept the payments.  The debt had been forgiven!  Look back at the definitions of ‘forgive,’ and see if this was not true.

However, what we need to understand is that forgiveness is not only for the benefit of the offender who seems to need it.  Our debtor no longer owed the debt, true enough.  But our lender was under great stress about ‘his’ money until he grasped that he really could forgive the debt.  Once he came to understand the full nature of his forgiveness of the debt, he was the one set free.  He was no longer concerned with getting ‘his’ money back, because it was not ‘his’ anymore.

So let’s not make excuses.  Let’s ask for forgiveness.  Better yet, offer it when it is needed because the offender has no excuse.  Jesus made it clear that our acceptance of His forgiveness was contingent on our understanding of the nature of forgiveness which is only demonstrated when we forgive.  He even made it a caveat in His model prayer: “And forgive us our debts, in the same way that we have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

Please forgive me when we visit this topic again next week. 😉

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” C.S.Lewis