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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guidance through visions, and other means: Some examples from the Bible

A number of Bible characters had a vision, or similar miraculous communication, from God. Sometimes, it was for the purpose of guidance. Sometimes, it was to receive a message from God for someone else. David was called to repent, in one case. In another case, David was told that God didn't want him to do something that he thought God would have wanted.

Some of the instances of special guidance are these:
Abraham: Genesis 15:1 After these things Yahweh’s word came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
18 In that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I have given this land to your offspring, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates: 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Abraham had previously been told to go to what became the land of Israel to live, leaving his ancestral home.)

Jacob: Genesis 28:10 Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 He dreamed. Behold, a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13 Behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give the land whereon you lie to you and to your offspring.

In Genesis 40, Joseph apparently interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker on the spot. In Genesis 41, Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt, had dreams that he could not interpret. God showed Joseph their meaning. Apparently God gave Joseph wisdom to understand these dreams on the spot, too, while he was talking with Pharaoh.

In Exodus 3, Moses saw a burning bush, which didn't burn up, and talked with God. His visitation was such that he not only heard from God, but he even questioned God's judgment.

There were various manifestations of God, to Moses, and to the entire congregation, during the Exodus from Egypt.

In Joshua 2, Rahab didn't have a special vision, but she was guided by knowledge of recent events:  Before they had lain down, she came up to them on the roof. She said to the men, “I know that Yahweh has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how Yahweh dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites, who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and to Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 As soon as we had heard it, our hearts melted, and there wasn’t any more spirit in any man, because of you: for Yahweh your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath. 12 Now therefore, please swear to me by Yahweh, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a true sign; 13 and that you will save alive my father, my mother, my brothers, and my sisters, and all that they have, and will deliver our lives from death.” It is interesting that almost no one else took the same sort of action, even though what God had done for the Israelites was common knowledge. (The Gibeonites did act wisely, and deceived the Israelites, and Joshua, their leader, into making a peace treaty with them, in Joshua 9.)

In Judges 7, a Midianite man, in an army which was gathered for the purpose of attacking Israel, had a dream, which, he said, meant that the Midianites would be defeated by Gideon. Gideon, who was listening outside the man's tent, was encouraged by the dream.  

Samson's mother was visited by an angel, who instructed them to raise Samson as a Nazirite. (The angel spoke to Samson's father, too.)

God apparently spoke to Ruth through Naomi, the mother of her dead husband, and she became a follower of God.

Samuel 1 Samuel 3:10 Yahweh came, and stood, and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak; for your servant hears.” There is no indication that Samuel's call to be a spokesman for God was fully revealed to him at that time -- he was a boy then -- but perhaps it was, and, for sure, God revealed Himself, and what was going to happen to Eli's family, to Samuel at that time.

David, being rebuked: 2 Samuel 12:Nathan said to David, “You are the man. This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that would have been too little, I would have added to you many more such things. Why have you despised Yahweh’s word, to do that which is evil in his sight? You have struck Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. 10 Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken Uriah the Hittite’s wife to be your wife.’
11 “This is what Yahweh says: ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did this secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.’ ”
13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against Yahweh.” The Bible doesn't indicate how Nathan knew about these matters, but God must have told him, in some way.

In 1 Kings 3, God appeared to Solomon in a dream, and, in the dream, Solomon asked for wisdom, above all. God granted his wish.
David, being told that he was not to build the temple: 1 Chronicles 17:That same night, the word of God came to Nathan, saying, “Go and tell David my servant, ‘Yahweh says, “You shall not build me a house to dwell in; for I have not lived in a house since the day that I brought up Israel to this day, but have gone from tent to tent, and from one tent to another. In all places in which I have walked with all Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to be shepherd of my people, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ ” ’ 

Esther, who had become the queen of her country in exile, was given a task because of her position. The very existence of the Jews was threatened. Her relative, Mordecai, sent her this message: Esther 4:11b “Don’t think to yourself that you will escape in the king’s house any more than all the Jews. 14 For if you remain silent now, then relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows if you haven’t come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Even though the assignment came through a relative (God is not mentioned in the book of Esther) it was what God wanted her to do.
Prophets sometimes had dreams, or visions. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah had a vision of the glory of God. In Jeremiah 24, Jeremiah had a vision of two baskets of figs. Ezekiel had some remarkable visions.

Like Joseph, Daniel interpreted the dream of a powerful ruler, but, unlike Joseph, he did so after time for reflection and prayer, apparently joined by his three friends: Daniel 2:17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: 18 that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his companions would not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.
Daniel interpreted other dreams. He also had visions, perhaps about end times, or the future of Israel. In Daniel 10, Daniel had a vision, or dream, that he couldn't interpret. A man, apparently an angel, told him the meaning.

In Luke 1, the angel, Gabriel, appeared to Zechariah, a priest, in the Temple. Zechariah was told that he and his wife, who had supposed that they would die childless, would have a son, John -- they were called to be his parents. Zechariah doubted the angel, and was punished by being unable to speak until the boy was born.

And Gabriel had another message, in the same chapter: 26 Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 Having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!”
29 But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’ 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.”
34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. 36 Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing spoken by God is impossible.”
38 Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”
Although Mary had a logical question, she accepted the answer, and the task, that of being mother to the Son of God.

Joseph, who was to be Mary's husband, received guidance in a dream: Matthew 1:20 But when he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take to yourself Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She shall give birth to a son. You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins.” 

The wise men were given guidance in a dream: Matthew 2:12 Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country another way.

Joseph, also in Matthew 2, was told, in a dream, to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. He was also told to come back to Israel, after a stay in Egypt.

In Matthew 4, Jesus personally called some of his first followers.

In Matthew 9:9, Jesus called Matthew from his tax collection business.
In Acts 9, Christ, himself, visited Paul while he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the church. Soon after, Ananias had a vision, directing him to go to Paul and heal him of the blindness that had stricken him when Christ appeared to him. Both Paul and Ananias talked back, with Ananias, like Moses, suggesting that God was giving him poor guidance. (He wasn't, of course!)

In Acts 9, Dorcas/Tabitha did good works, providing for the needy. We don't know how she was called, but perhaps, just seeing the need, and that she could fill it, was her call.
In Acts 10, Peter had a vision, which directed him to go to speak to Cornelius, a Gentile, and those who were gathered there to hear what Peter had to say.

Paul had a significant vision, in Acts 16, directing his missionary party to go to Macedonia.

The entire book of Revelation seems to be a recounting of a visionary experience of John.

Thanks for reading. God is able to guide us, and He suits that guidance (including reproof) in ways appropriate to our background and personality.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sunspots 518

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Christianity: Relevant posts "3 Big Myths About Calling." Hint: a calling is not your job.
Relevant also warns that gluttony, one of the classic seven deadly sins, is, if anything, more pervasive now than ever. Have you ever heard a sermon against gluttony?
The Barna Research group on what "Millennials" really want in a church facility. Surprise - by 2 to 1, they preferred "quiet" to "loud."

Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength has been doing some spiritual self-examination. Have you been in these situations?

National Public Radio has posted maps, showing how the frequency of risk factors for cancer vary from state to state. (exercising, obesity, smoking, diet)

National Public Radio reports that leisure activity, such as doing electronic games on your information appliance, jigsaw puzzles, reading the newspaper, listening to music, all reduce stress. Good.

Politics: FiveThirtyEight, the statistical site, tells us where each state in the US gets its money. (Sales taxes, property taxes, corporate taxes, and other categories.)
Science: I had never heard of sea pigs. Now I have, and I've seen photos and brief videos, thanks to Wired.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton, 19

Thus ends, in unavoidable inadequacy, the attempt to utter the unutterable things. These are my ultimate attitudes towards life; the soils for the seeds of doctrine. These in some dark way I thought before I could write, and felt before I could think: that we may proceed more easily afterwards, I will roughly recapitulate them now. I felt in my bones; first, that this world does not explain itself. It may be a miracle with a supernatural explanation; it may be a conjuring trick, with a natural explanation. But the explanation of the conjuring trick, if it is to satisfy me, will have to be better than the natural explanations I have heard. The thing is magic, true or false. Second, I came to feel as if magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have some one to mean it. There was something personal in the world, as in a work of art; whatever it meant it meant violently. Third, I thought this purpose beautiful in its old design, in spite of its defects, such as dragons. Fourth, that the proper form of thanks to it is some form of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them. We owed, also, an obedience to whatever made us. And last, and strangest, there had come into my mind a vague and vast impression that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here.  Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books

I recently re-read the five Chronicles of Prydain, by the late Lloyd Alexander. The books, in order, are The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron (which was a Newbery Honor book), The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King (which won the 1969 Newbery medal). If you are interested in plot details, the previous links are to the Wikipedia articles for each book. The series is loosely based on Welsh mythology, but, at its core, it is a coming-of-age story.

There are some real characters in the books, which are easily distinguishable by their voices. Fflewdur Fflam, a minor king who prefers to travel as a bard, but has never met all the requirements for being one, has a harp with strings that break whenever he exaggerates. He exaggerates a lot. He also says "A Fflam is always ... (ready, brave, loyal, etc.)" on all sorts of occasions. Gurgi, a strange creature, perhaps something like Sasquatch, or an intelligent ape, or a very hairy human, uses rhyme most of the time (sneakings and peekings, crunchings and munchings, etc.) The Princess Eilonwy talks a lot -- she rattles on and on. Taran, the central character, is an Assistant Pig-Keeper, and of only one pig, and Eilonwy keeps reminding him of that, in a friendly way. Other characters remind him of that as an insult.

There are many other characters, not so prominent, but also clearly drawn. There is Dallben, who is over 300 years old, and "meditates" (sleeps) a lot. But he is an enchanter, with real powers. One of his powers is to interpret the oracles of the pig, Hen Wen, who points to sticks with symbols when she is predicting the future. There's Doli, a dwarf, and one of the Fair Folk -- fairies -- who hates turning invisible, because it makes his ears hurt, and is good-hearted but consistently grouchy. There are Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch, the three fates, or three norns, of the story. They have considerable magical powers, have lived forever, or at least for a long time, but don't help anyone very much. There is Gwydion, the brave and selfless warrior champion of the aged high king, Math.

There's plenty of maturing, on Taran's part. As I said, this is a coming-of-age series. Taran starts the books as a kid who longs to be a hero, like Gwydion. But he decides that being an Assistant Pig-Keeper, and of good character, is not such a bad thing. He also learns to appreciate the work of craftspeople, in particular a potter, a weaver, and a smith, as much as he honors swordsmanship.

There is a lot of conflict between good and evil, and it's clear who is good, and evil, although there are a couple of bad characters who redeem themselves. The worst character, Arawn Death-Lord, doesn't really appear in person, although his influence lasts throughout the books.

The setting is typical sword and sorcery material -- before the introduction of gunpowder and the internal combustion engine.

Our local library classifies these books as "J," juvenile. They are suitable for such readers, but, if you have never read this series, it's a good read, no matter what your age. There's no bad language, except for Fflewdur's frequent "Great Belin" -- whatever that means. There's no sex, although Taran does decide that he wants to marry Eilonwy, and she makes a similar decision. There is some violence, and some characters die.

Thanks for reading this post.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why educated people should know something about science

An acquaintance of mine, a frequent blogger, is Dean of a Seminary, for a Christian university. He posts on lots of different topics. But he rather surprised me, a couple of days ago, by defending the teaching of science and math in a university curriculum. This was a preemptive strike at those who say (sometimes loudly and frequently) "Why should we have to learn this? We'll never use it."

It shouldn't have surprised me, because Professor Schenck, I happen to know, began his college career as a chemistry major at the school where I taught until my retirement. He was called to the ministry while in college, and changed majors.

So why should science and math be included in a college curriculum, even for music, art, and English majors? Here's what he said, with some brief commentary by me:

1. Knowledge in science and math is based on evidence. Scientists and mathematicians are not supposed to claim to have discovered something without giving good evidence for what they are claiming. Unfortunately, some people seem to think that "Because I said so," or "Because that is what I want to believe," is good enough. It shouldn't be a way of establishing "truth."

2. "This may sound mean, but one of the most important functions of math and science in a curriculum is to confront us with how stupid we are. In America, everyone thinks their opinion is as valuable as anyone else's." - To me, this is a re-statement of point 1.

3. Studying science and math help us understand how the world works.

Schenck went on to say that he understood that Christian colleges need to be very careful in dealing with certain matters, by which he meant origins, and Young-Earth Creationism. Some of their constituents, including donors, Board members, students, and some faculty, may believe that YEC is the only valid Christian belief, and stop giving, enrolling, or teaching, if a faculty member of a Christian college is bold enough to claim that there may be alternatives.

Here are two additional reasons for studying science and math in college. They are mostly expansions of point 3:
4. Educated people should have some idea of how dependent on the natural world we are, and also that we need to take care of it. In fact, we have a God-given duty to do so. We are absolutely dependent on photosynthesis, radiation from the sun, the properties of water, Hydrogen, Carbon and Oxygen, and a lot of other things.

5. Educated people should have some idea of how large the universe is, how old it appears to be, and how small cells, molecules and atoms are. They should also have some idea of the diversity of life, and the variety of materials that the universe is made of, and the many types of objects found in the universe.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sunspots 517

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity: A blogger from Relevant warns Christians against being known for what they are against -- and there's a lot of that going around.
Why a Christianity Today blogger likes the mainstream media.

Another article on Relevant has an annotated list of things that many Christians think the Bible says, but it doesn't, such as "cleanliness is next to godliness."

And Relevant also has a post on the value (and extreme rarity) of silence in the Christian life.

Politics: FiveThirtyEight, the statistical site, says that Rand Paul, Republican Presidential candidate, will have serious problems winning the nomination.
Sports: FiveThirtyEight also says that Kentucky men's basketball coach, John Calipari, lost because he used the wrong strategy at the end of his team's Final Four match with Wisconsin, on April 4th. (Kentucky had not lost a game all season, up to that point.)
FiveThirtyEight also posted on the amazing efficiency of the Connecticut women's basketball team, compared to all other women's college basketball teams -- no wonder they won. (This was posted before the Huskies beat Notre Dame on April 7th.)

Image source (public domain

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton, 18

I have remarked that the materialist, like the madman, is in prison; in the prison of one thought. These people seemed to think it singularly inspiring to keep on saying that the prison was very large. The size of this scientific universe gave one no novelty, no relief. The cosmos went on for ever, but not in its wildest constellation could there be anything really interesting; anything, for instance, such as forgiveness or free will. The grandeur or infinity of the secret of its cosmos added nothing to it. It was like telling a prisoner in Reading gaol that he would be glad to hear that the gaol now covered half the county. The warder would have nothing to show the man except more and more long corridors of stone lit by ghastly lights and empty of all that is human. So these expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that is divine. In fairyland there had been a real law; a law that could be broken, for the definition of a law is something that can be broken. But the machinery of this cosmic prison was something that could not be broken; for we ourselves were only a part of its machinery. We were either unable to do things or we were destined to do them.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here.  Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Too much criticism, too little creation

Relevant has a fine essay on the topic of the title of this post.

Yes, in almost any area of human endeavor, such as politics, sports, business, TV programming, films, literature, music, food preparation, gardening, teaching, and, unfortunately, Christian doctrine, it's easy to find a critic. In fact, you usually don't have to look. They'll jump out of the woodwork.

That's not the way it should be. We need more creativity, in lots of areas, such as, for example, water use. We do need occasional, honest, loving criticism. We don't need self-serving, non-stop, prejudiced criticism.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Chesterton as a Saint?

As you may have noticed, I have been posting excerpts from Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton, on Sundays, for a few months -- God willing, there will be a post tomorrow. One of my brothers brought an article to my attention. The article, from The Atlantic, which is well worth reading, for what it says about Chesterton, who was an important Christian thinker, and led an interesting life, says that there is a move afoot to make Chesterton a Saint in the Catholic church.

Thanks for reading. Read Chesterton. I thank my brother.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

What ISIS Really Wants

The Atlantic has published a long, but readable analysis, on "What ISIS Really Wants." The bottom line: the West, including, apparently, most of our political and military leaders, has not taken ISIS seriously enough. They believe what they are saying. For example, with the establishment of a Caliphate, it becomes the duty of Muslims who agree with the interpretation of the Koran accepted by ISIS to come to the place where the Caliph resides. For another example, they believe that there is a sacred duty to take slaves.

Scary reading.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Sunspots 516

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity: (and politics, unfortunately) Never mind homosexual couples who want to marry. Patheos suggests 10 other situations where a Christian baker should refuse to participate in wedding arrangements.
A blogger at Relevant asks: "since when was worship about making me feel good?"

National Public Radio tells us some things I'm not sure I wanted to know about Easter.

Health: According to the History Channel, researchers have discovered that a 10th century remedy is effective in treating MRSA.
The New York Times says that women in the U.S. are getting too much medication, and it's not good for them, or for the rest of us.
Science: A video, about two minutes long, of rays (the large fish with "wings") jumping out of the water. One of the most amazing videos I've ever seen.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

On the importance of water (again)

I have posted, before, on the importance of water. See here, for one such post.

I'm not the only person to think about this, of course. See here for a recent essay on the importance of water to life, from the BioLogos forum.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Easter poster

sun between clouds resurrection 
He is risen! It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the resurrection.

The photo was taken out of the window of an airplane, flying somewhere between Dulles International Airport, near Washington, DC, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The sun was visible, or nearly so, between two cloud layers.

Thanks for looking!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Excerpts from Orthodoxy, by Gilbert K. Chesterton, 17

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising.
A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grow-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg.

Orthodoxy, first published in 1908, by G. K. Chesterton, is in the public domain, and available from Project Gutenberg. The previous post in this series is here.  Thanks for reading! Read Chesterton.