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Saturday, March 31, 2012

An Atheist converted, in answer to prayer

MR. MOODY'S FAITH, IN PRAYER. A REMARKABLE ANSWER. Mr. Moody, on his return from England, while conducting a prayer-meeting in Northfield, Mass., gave this illustration of the power of prayer to subdue the most unlikely cases of sin and unbelief: "There is not a heart so hard that God cannot touch it. While in Edinburgh, a man was pointed out to me by a friend who said, 'Moody, that man is chairman of the Edinburgh infidel club.' So I went and sat down beside him, and said, 'Well, my friend, I am glad to see you at this meeting. Are you not concerned about your welfare?' He said that he did not believe in a hereafter. I said, 'Well, you just get down on your knees and let me pray for you.' "'I don't believe in prayer.' "I tried unsuccessfully to get the man down on his knees, and finally knelt down beside him and prayed for him. Well, he made a good deal of sport over it, and I met him again many times in Edinburgh after that. A year ago last month, while in the north of Scotland, I met the man again. Placing my hand on his shoulder, I asked, 'Hasn't God answered the prayer?' "He replied, 'There is no God. I am just the same as I always have been. If you believe in a God, and in answer to prayer, do as I told you. Try your hand on me.' "'Well,' I said, 'God's time will come; there are a great many praying for you; and I have faith to believe you are going to be blessed.' "Six months ago I was in Liverpool; and there I got a letter from the leading barrister of Edinburgh, telling me that my friend, the infidel, had come to Christ, and that of his club of thirty men seventeen had followed his example. "How it happened he could not say, but whereas he was once blind, now he could see. God has answered the prayer. 'I didn't know how it was to be answered,' said Mr. Moody, 'but I believedit would be and it was done. What we want to do is to come boldly to God.'"

Moody was D. L. Moody. In those days, atheists were often referred to as infidels, apparently even by themselves.

Quotation from Various (2004). The Wonders of Prayer A Record of Well Authenticated and Wonderful Answers to Prayer (Kindle Locations 3862-3875). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition. Revised by D. W. Whittle, F. H. Revell, 1885. Also available from here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dragonquest, DragonKnight and Dragonfire by Donita K. Paul

I previously posted about Dragonspell, a sword and sorcery book of faith fiction, by Donita K. Paul.

I'll start this post on the remaining books in the series, which are DragonQuest, DragonKnight and DragonFire, by adding evidence that the books, although they do not mention Christ or Yahweh by those names, are definitely Christian. (They are Paladin and Wulder, in these books. Paladin is a living, embodied person. Wulder is a supreme being, who is prayed to.) On page 33 of DragonFire, Paladin is stated to be 2,000 years old. On pages 240-241 of DragonQuest, a communal act of worship is described, and called worship. Also, on page 241, Dar, one of the main characters in the books, says, ". . . We come in the name of Paladin. . ."

I'll next say that I have difficulty, as a reader, in understanding some of Paul's sub-creation. I indicated some of that difficulty in my first post. In this one, I'll say that two of the characters are something called "meech dragons," as distinguished from minor dragons, major dragons, and fire dragons. I can visualize those last three types of dragons. But I can't decide whether meech dragons even look like dragons. They wear clothing, at least some times, they speak, and, in other ways, they seem to be pretty much human. I also have trouble distinguishing, in my mind, between some of the seven high species, or, as Paul calls them, races. I can't even remember whether Kale and Bardon, the two main characters, are o'rant or marione. (Actually, Bardon is supposed to be a hybrid, perhaps of these two species, or maybe from one of them with an emerlindian, or perhaps something else. But he keeps his hybrid status secret.)

Paul, like other writers of sword and sorcery fantasy, owes a debt to Tolkien. One significant difference with Tolkien is that Tolkien's orcs, and other evil creatures, were thoroughly evil, without any apparent inclination to even choose to do good. Paul has one bisonbeck who chooses the side of good, and the ropmas seem to be more simple-minded than they are evil. (See my previous post for my reaction to Paul's naming skills.) However, Paul is like Tolkien, in that her seven "high races" can choose to do evil, or at least to stop doing good.

Another interesting aspect of the books is that Paladin becomes sick, because of the apathy of the high races. They have largely stopped acknowledging Wulder, and being friendly to each other. He recovers, at least partly, as the faith of the people of Amara is revived.

Bardon, a male, becomes a second protagonist in these three books, along with Kale, who was the protagonist in the first one. One interesting aspect of Bardon's thought life is his adherence to Wulder's Principles, which, apparently, are taught as a sort of catechism.

Here's some evidence that the books were written with a Christian world-view, if any is needed:
"The odd thing, my dear," said her father, "is that once one has ceased trying to protect self, one finds self in a very comfortable position."
"Where?" asked Kale.
"In Wulder's care." (p. 219 of DragonFire.)

The main attraction of the books was the plot and the characters, not the theology. Besides, if you go to a novel for definitive guidance on theology, you will get what you deserve. They are stories!

DragonQuest was published in 2005 by WaterBrook Press, a Division of Random House, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. DragonKnight was published in 2006, and DragonFire in 2007, by the same publisher.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sunspots 359

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

Sports: The Boston Globe muses about Tim Tebow's move to the New York Jets, as relates to his faith, and, a little, to football.

The Arts: Albrecht Dürer, who created the widely used "Praying Hands," had some definite ideas on how letters should be shaped.

Politics: (sort of) National Public Radio reports on a US Supreme Court hearing on whether a baby conceived after the death of its father is eligible for survivor's Social Security benefits. In this case, the Obama administration argued for state's rights. (The transcript of oral arguments, including questions by Supreme Court members, is here.)

Image source (public domain)

Monday, March 26, 2012

That Hideous Strength, by C. S. Lewis

The last moments before damnation are not often so dramatic. Often the man knows with perfect clarity that some still possible action of his own will could yet save him. But he cannot make this knowledge real to himself. Some tiny habitual sensuality, some resentment too trivial to waste on a blue-bottle, the indulgence of some fatal lethargy, seems to him at that moment more important than the choice between total joy and total destruction. C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups. (New York: Collier, 1962) p. 353.

That Hideous Strength is the third book in the Space Trilogy, by Lewis. As that book has its own Wikipedia article, I won't say a lot about the plot. I will say that the book can be read on its own, even though it is the third in a series, without missing much. It is set in England, in the mid-1940s.

In the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis set forth a theme that comes into play somewhat in the second, Perelandra. That theme is that there are people who believe that it is the duty and privilege of humans to take full control of this planet, and to spread humanity to as many other planets as possible. That theme is part of Hideous Strength, too. In Silent Planet, Lewis makes that notion seem ridiculous in two ways. First, there are three species of intelligent, rational beings on Mars, where the novel is set. Not only are they intelligent and rational, but they are good. Sin is not known there. Why should humans have any right to remove such organisms? (Not only are there beings roughly equal to humans, but there are also higher beings, eldils, one for each planet.) Second, Weston, an obviously evil character makes a speech, advocating spreading humanity, to non-humans. Elwin Ransom, the main character, a human, who has learned Martian speech, translates. In translation, Weston's views seem laughable. Lewis didn't preach, or not too much. Silent Planet is readable, and has been, and continues to be enjoyed, for a number of reasons, including the imaginary three species. Earth is called the Silent Planet, and is so because its eldil is evil. This, of course, refers to Satan, the "prince of the powers of the air."

Hideous Strength preaches a little more, but, again, is readable. The main evil idea that it combats is that there is no objective truth. The book shows us a college where most of the faculty believe that, but also shows us an evil organization that puts it into practice, and shows us that that college faculty has not thought that philosophy through to see what would and must come of it. The names of the two main members of the evil organization are significant: Wither and Frost. (So is Ransom's name.) The human part of the evil organization, (apparently Satan himself is the real leader, although the members don't recognize this) and many of its members, are eventually brought to a final end by Ransom and some companions, who have supernatural help from the eldila of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury. The idea of taking over earth completely, eventually stamping out all other life, or at least bringing it under control, is also part of the evil shown. Merlin is an important character in the book.

It is interesting that the idea that humans have a right to propagate humanity to other planets, and to control the earth, cannot logically be defended as an important principle if there is no objective truth.

As indicated in the quotation at the beginning, spiritual choice, accepting or rejecting salvation through Christ (Maleldil in the Space Trilogy) is also part of the book.

Thanks for reading. Read Lewis.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Prayer and Devotion, by E. M. Bounds, part two

It is easy to pray when in the spirit of devotion. The attitude of mind and the state of heart implied in devotion make prayer effectual in reaching the throne of grace. God dwells where the spirit of devotion resides. All the graces of the Spirit are nourished and grow well in the environment created by devotion. Indeed, these graces grow nowhere else but here. The absence of a devotional spirit means death to the graces born in a renewed heart. True worship finds congeniality in the atmosphere made by a spirit of devotion. While prayer is helpful to devotion, at the same time devotion reacts on prayer, and helps us to pray.

Devotion engages the heart in prayer. It is not an easy task for the lips to try to pray while the heart is absent from it. The charge which God at one time made against His ancient Israel was, that they honoured Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him. The very essence of prayer is the spirit of devotion. Without devotion prayer is an empty form, a vain round of words. Sad to say, much of this kind of prayer prevails, today, in the Church. This is a busy age, bustling and active, and this bustling spirit has invaded the Church of God. Its religious performances are many. The Church works at religion with the order, precision and force of real machinery. But too often it works with the heartlessness of the machine. There is much of the treadmill movement in our ceaseless round and routine of religious doings. We pray without praying. We sing without singing with the Spirit and the understanding. We have music without the praise of God being in it, or near it. We go to Church by habit, and come home all too gladly when the benediction is pronounced. We read our accustomed chapter in the Bible, and feel quite relieved when the task is done. We say our prayers by rote, as a schoolboy recites his lesson, and are not sorry when the Amen is uttered. - From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Do physical laws explain the origin of everything?

Physicists have been looking for a "Theory of Everything" for a long time. No such theory has been universally accepted, to this point.

A recent book, A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, by Lawrence M. Krauss, begins by stating that the author is no fan of a supernatural creator. (p. xi) Then, it goes on to say that "The purpose of this book is simple. I want to show how modern science . . . can address and is addressing the question of why there is something rather than nothing." (p. xiii) And there is an afterword by Richard Dawkins, no less, who congratulates Krauss on his answer to the question of the subtitle, and also writes that
We may not understand quantum theory (heaven knows, I don't), but a theory that predicts the real world to ten decimal places cannot in any straightforward sense be wrong. Theology not only lacks decimal places: it lacks even the smallest hint of connection with the real world.

I found it most interesting that Dawkins referred to heaven, which, he says, he doesn't believe in. But never mind. The New York Times published a review of Krauss's book, which review mentions Dawkins, as well. The author of the review does not question the laws of quantum mechanics, which Krauss believes explain our very existence. But he does write: 
But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.
In other words, Krauss has not really explained nearly as much as he, nor Dawkins, think that he has.

Nor, says the review, do the laws explain why those very laws exist. (Krauss has no such explanation, either, and says so.) In other words, we still do not know, from a scientific standpoint, why there is something, rather than nothing. I don't think we ever will. As the writer of Hebrews put it: 11:3 By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible. (World English Bible, public domain) By faith, not by experiment. Dawkins and Krauss have faith, but it's a faith that there is no meaning, no purpose, to the existence of the universe. Those of us who believe in a supernatural Creator believe that they are wrong, but we can't prove it.

I have previously written on the weirdness of modern physics, here and here.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sunspots 358

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

Science: Karl Zimmer, science writer extraordinaire, in Discover, reports that autism is due to the addition of too many brain cells during fetal growth. Amazing!

National Public Radio reports on the size of the eyes of giant squid -- the largest eyes known on earth.

Politics: (sort of -- not much) National Public Radio reports that adding renewable energy to the US power grid causes problems, because of its unpredictability.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Prayer and Devotion, by E. M. Bounds, part one

Devotion has a religious signification. The root of devotion is to devote to a sacred use. So that devotion in its true sense has to do with religious worship. It stands intimately connected with true prayer. Devotion is the particular frame of mind found in one entirely devoted to God. It is the spirit of reverence, of awe, of godly fear. It is a state of heart which appears before God in prayer and worship. It is foreign to everything like lightness of spirit, and is opposed to levity and noise and bluster. Devotion dwells in the realm of quietness and is still before God. It is serious, thoughtful, meditative.
Devotion belongs to the inner life and lives in the closet, but also appears in the public services of the sanctuary. It is a part of the very spirit of true worship, and is of the nature of the spirit of prayer.

Devotion belongs to the devout man, whose thoughts and feelings are devoted to God. Such a man has a mind given up wholly to religion, and possesses a strong affection for God and an ardent love for His house. Cornelius was “a devout man, one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed always.” “Devout men carried Stephen to his burial.” “One Ananias, a devout man, according to the law,” was sent unto Saul when he was blind, to tell him what the Lord would have him do. God can wonderfully use such men, for devout men are His chosen agents in carrying forward His plans. Prayer promotes the spirit of devotion, while devotion is favourable to the best praying.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read, and practice, Bounds.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Green Oxalis leaves

Green is emphasized on this day of the year:

Oxalis leaves with purple spots

These are leaves of Oxalis, a common plant -- Oxalis, the genus name, is also often used as the common name. It is not especially closely related to clovers or shamrocks. These plants grow in our flower garden, but this photo was taken in Southern California.

In 2005, I posted a series on the colors. Here's the post, in that series, on green.

Thanks for looking, and reading.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Water into wine

John 2:1 The third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus also was invited, with his disciples, to the marriage. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it.” Now there were six water pots of stone set there after the Jews’ way of purifying, containing two or three metretes* apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water.” They filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the ruler of the feast.” So they took it. When the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and didn’t know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have drunk freely, then that which is worse. You have kept the good wine until now!” 11 This beginning of his signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 
*2 to 3 metretes is about 20 to 30 U. S. Gallons, or 75 to 115 liters. (From the World English Bible, public domain.)
This is a remarkable story. Only John's gospel tells it. There doesn't seem to be any suggestion that this is to be taken any other way than as a history of something that Jesus did. Therefore, there are two possibilities. Either John (or someone else) made this up, or it really happened. I believe in the truth of the Bible, so I reject the first possibility. If it really happened, it was some sort of miracle.

I say some sort, because, of course, John didn't tell us exactly what Jesus did, presumably because he, John didn't know. What, then, did Jesus do? I certainly don't know, either. But I can muse about it.

Verse 6 apparently means that the capacity of these water pots was about 100 liters, not that they were filled with water already. It doesn't completely rule out that there was some water in one or more of these pots. Verse 7 indicates that the servants filled these pots, perhaps from the village well. Apparently, as the water was poured, the contents of the pots became wine.

How did Jesus do this? We don't know, of course, but however and whatever He did, it was miraculous.

The chemical formula for alcohol (ethanol -- there are many kinds of alcohol. Ethanol is the kind in alcoholic beverages) is C2H5OH. The chemical formula for water is H2O. There are no carbon atoms in pure water, and, even if the water was impure, with some carbon atoms in it, they wouldn't be expected to be  incorporated into molecules of ethanol. Somehow, Jesus either created ethanol molecules, or transformed water molecules into ethanol. Such feats are beyond our ability, even today. (It is possible, I suppose, that Jesus, instead, acted on the taste buds and nasal passages of the ruler of the feast, and the other guests, but the text doesn't suggest that, and, even if it happened, it would be as miraculous as creating, or transforming, molecules.)
Some people of past times, including the alchemists of the West, believed that there is a philosopher's stone, that has the power to produce gold by transformation of other elements. Elements generally don't change into other elements, but this does happen, through some kinds of radioactive decay, and it is possible for humans to use nuclear reactions to change some types of elements into others. (See the Wikipedia article on Nuclear transmutation.) But don't expect to go to your friendly neighborhood university physics department and expect that they are capable of transforming hydrogen or oxygen atoms into carbon atoms, or water molecules into ethanol molecules. This is just not possible. (It is believed that several hydrogen atoms, through a long and involved processes, can be transformed into a carbon atom, in the heart of stars.)

How is wine made, normally? The process is carried out by yeast organisms, which require sugar to work on, and contain the appropriate enzymes for breaking the sugar down and making ethanol and carbon dioxide from it. (See Wikipedia article on ethanol fermentation) That normal process is remarkable enough that I consider the ability of yeasts to carry it out to be similar to a miracle, although it is a natural process -- somehow God has made it possible for it to be carried out, apparently with no divine intervention. But Colossians 1:16-17 indicate that Christ somehow sustains the universe at present, including sustaining yeasts, grapes, and ethanol fermentation:
16 For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.
There is more to wine than ethanol and water. There is a science, or art, of wine tasting, which I know very little about, but there are numerous chemicals in wine, besides ethanol and water, and the ruler of the feast must have detected a pleasing mixture of these, and ethanol, in what he tasted. Jesus would have had to create other substances, besides ethanol, in this wine.

I confess that I started thinking about this subject yesterday, and decided to write this post without checking the approximately 2,000 posts already published in this blog. I just now discovered that I had already posted on this miracle. However, I decided to go ahead and publish this post, which is a little more extensive.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sunspots 357

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

Science: National Public Radio reports that scientists at Fermilab believe they have evidence for the postulated Higgs boson, the so-called "God particle."

Wired reports on the possibility that worker bees may have personalities.

Politics: (sort of) National Public Radio says that the U.S. is approaching energy independence, and not because of the efforts of big oil, or the policies of Mr. Obama (or any other President).

Christianity: Ken Schenck says that sermons don't have to be based on scripture, and he has a good example to back up this claim -- the Apostle Paul.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Jane Eyre

A few weeks ago, I read an entire book on one of our computers for the first time. The book is Jane Eyre, which is public domain. I had never read it. The Wikipedia article on the book, which is rather thorough, and lists the characters, and gives the plot, says that there have been about a dozen movies based on the book, in English and other languages, including one in 2011, which I saw, and which gave me a reason to read the book.

Before reading the book, based on its reputation, and the movie, I thought that it was a romance novel, and gothic, too. It is those things, but it is more. The Wikipedia article indicates that the portrayal of Jane as a strong character makes the book a pre-femininist novel. It is also a Christian novel, in that it has a Christian world-view, and that some of the characters, including Jane, are believers, and attempt, sometimes at considerable cost, to live lives compatible with Biblical morality. That was my impression, and the Wikipedia article agrees. Here is an excerpt that illustrates these ideas:

St. John is unmarried: he never will marry now.  Himself has hitherto sufficed to the toil, and the toil draws near its close: his glorious sun hastens to its setting.  The last letter I received from him drew from my eyes human tears, and yet filled my heart with divine joy: he anticipated his sure reward, his incorruptible crown.  I know that a stranger’s hand will write to me next, to say that the good and faithful servant has been called at length into the joy of his Lord.  And why weep for this?  No fear of death will darken St. John’s last hour: his mind will be unclouded, his heart will be undaunted, his hope will be sure, his faith steadfast.  His own words are a pledge of this—
“My Master,” he says, “has forewarned me.  Daily He announces more distinctly,—‘Surely I come quickly!’ and hourly I more eagerly respond,—‘Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!’” (Chapter XXXVIII. These are the last words in Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, public domain, by Charlotte Brontë. My source is the Project Gutenberg edition. The Wikipedia article on the book is here.)

Thanks for reading. Read Jane Eyre, if you wish to.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Prayer and humility, part five

How lowly the attitude of Abraham, the friend of God, when pleading for God to stay His wrath against Sodom! “Which am but sackcloth and ashes.” [Genesis 18:27 -- see here for Genesis 18, KJV] With what humility does Solomon appear before God! His grandeur is abased, and his glory and majesty are retired as he assumes the rightful attitude before God: “I am but a little child, and know not how to go out or to come in.” [1 Kings 3:7 -- see here for 1 Kings 3, KJV] The pride of doing sends its poison all through our praying. The same pride of being infects all our prayers, no matter how well-worded they may be. It was this lack of humility, this self-applauding, this self-exaltation, which kept the most religious man of Christ’s day from being accepted of God. And the same thing will keep us in this day from being accepted of Him.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the series is here. Thanks for reading. Read, and practice, Bounds.

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Lord Howe Island stick insect -- big and amazing

I recently heard about the Lord Howe Island stick insect, Dryococelus australis. It's big, and amazing. It also almost became extinct. Here's an article, with photos, and a video. There's also a Wikipedia article on the animal. Enjoy (or not!)

Thanks for looking at this.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Sunspots 356

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

Science: Carl Zimmer tells us that mammals have a gene that's absolutely needed for embryonic development, that came to us from a virus.

From Fox News, a report, with a picture, on a flower grown from seed frozen into the ice, thousands of years ago.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Inconsistency in politicians, and the rest of us.

Here's a fascinating essay, from National Public Radio, on inconsistency in politicians, and in the reactions of non-politicians to such inconsistency. This is not a partisan piece, and the findings apply to more than the United States. For one thing there's an analysis of whether or not consistency is important for good leadership.

There's also a quiz on the inconsistencies of the current candidates for President, including President Obama.

Read, and ponder.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Prayer and humility, part four

Humility holds in its keeping the very life of prayer. Neither pride nor vanity can pray. Humility, though, is much more than the absence of vanity and pride. It is a positive quality, a substantial force, which energises prayer. There is no power in prayer to ascend without it. Humility springs from a lowly estimate of ourselves and of our deservings. The Pharisee prayed not, though well schooled and habituated to pray, because there was no humility in his praying. The publican prayed, though banned by the public and receiving no encouragement
from Church sentiment, because he prayed in humility. To be clothed with humility is to be clothed with a praying garment. Humility is just feeling little because we are little. Humility is realising our unworthiness because we are unworthy, the feeling and declaring ourselves sinners because we are sinners. Kneeling well becomes us as the attitude of prayer, because it betokens humility.

Humility is the first and last attribute of Christly religion, and the first and last attribute of Christly praying. There is no Christ without humility. There is no praying without humility. If thou wouldst learn well the art of praying, then learn well the lesson of humility.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the series is here. Thanks for reading. Read, and practice, Bounds.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Christ's coming, or heaven? Paul's letters to the Thessalonians

All the passages in Paul's letters to the Thessalonians, which are about heaven, or the second coming, are given below:

1 Thessalonians 1:9b how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.

1 Thessalonians 2:19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Isn’t it even you, before our Lord Jesus at his coming? 20 For you are our glory and our joy.

1 Thessalonians 3:11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you; 12 and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we also do toward you, 13 to the end he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with God’s trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, 17 then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 5:1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need that anything be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. 3 For when they are saying, “Peace and safety,” then sudden destruction will come on them, like birth pains on a pregnant woman; and they will in no way escape. 4 But you, brothers, aren’t in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief. 5 You are all children of light, and children of the day. We don’t belong to the night, nor to darkness, 6 so then let’s not sleep, as the rest do, but let’s watch and be sober.

2 Thessalonians 1:5 This is an obvious sign of the righteous judgment of God, to the end that you may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you also suffer. 6 Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay affliction to those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted with us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 giving vengeance to those who don’t know God, and to those who don’t obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus, 9 who will pay the penalty: eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired among all those who have believed (because our testimony to you was believed) in that day.

2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now, brothers, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to him, we ask you 2 not to be quickly shaken in your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by letter as from us, saying that the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For it will not be, unless the departure comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 he who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or that is worshiped; so that he sits as God in the temple of God, setting himself up as God. 5 Don’t you remember that, when I was still with you, I told you these things? 6 Now you know what is restraining him, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness already works. Only there is one who restrains now, until he is taken out of the way. 8 Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will kill with the breath of his mouth, and destroy by the manifestation of his coming; 9 even he whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 and with all deception of wickedness for those who are being lost, because they didn’t receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

The passages above were taken from the World English Bible, which is public domain. I have quoted all the passages, in Paul's letters to the Thessalonians, that refer to either heaven, or the second coming of Christ. The only use of "heaven" that I found was as the location from which Christ will return to earth. There are, as you can see, abundant references to the return of Christ. I guess that somewhere between a third and a half of these two short books deal with that subject.

This post was triggered by a comment, by someone, on the books, saying that the Second Coming was an important theme of both of them. It is. However, one thing that struck me is that, at least in the circles in which I move and read and listen, we emphasize heaven much more than the Second Coming, and, I fear, we talk about heaven as if it were an extended vacation, or an escape from hell, rather than as if it were an opportunity to be with the Risen Lord. That wasn't the attitude of the New Testament writers. God help me, and us.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

If humans descended from apes, why are there still apes?

"If humans descended from apes, why are there still apes?"

I have seen this question, or one much like it, on Facebook, a couple of times in the last few days. I doubt that the person posting that really expects an answer, of any kind. It's (I suppose) a rhetorical flourish. However, here's an answer.

No serious biologist believes that humans descended from chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas or orangutans. Most scientists believe that these great apes, and humans, had a common ancestor. It is possible that they are wrong, and that humans were specially created by God. I'll not consider that any further in this post, because the statement I'm responding to is really saying this: "OK, Mr. Scientist. You believe that humans descended from apes. How can that be possible, since apes are still around?"

I'll respond with this question: "If cell phones descended from land line phones, how come there are still land line phones?" Granted, of course, that phones don't descend from anything, but are manufactured, and that all analogies are less than perfect, it still is relevant to the original question.

In the first place, we can see the "common ancestor" again. Both cell phones, and land line phones, have evolved since the first cell phones were introduced. (See here for the Wikipedia article on the history of mobile phones, which were first introduced in the 1940s) The common ancestor is not around any more.

Second, different types of phones are in existence because there is, or has been, a market for them. Land lines are usually cheaper than cell phone service. Most people can't use their cell phones for connecting their computers to the Internet, and, for example, downloading large application programs. Our land line works well for that. On the other hand, there are many things you can do with a cell phone, even a non-smart phone, that are impossible with a land line. For example, if your land line stops working, you can use your cell phone to inform your land line carrier of the problem.

What does this have to do with apes and humans? Biologists believe that, for a new species to arise, it must occupy an ecological niche. What is an ecological niche? It's where the species lives, and how it obtains its energy. For animals, where it lives, and what it eats. Presumably primitive humans, either created specially by God, or coming from some ancestral form, were able to take advantage of ways of living that other creatures were not, most likely by being able to construct or occupy dwellings of various kinds, and by being able to cultivate crops and to domesticate animals. So they survived as a species. But there are other ecological niches, still occupied by the great apes, that humans don't fill, or don't fill very well, such as living on less than 200 species of plants, on the cold and cloudy slopes of mountains in Africa, as the Mountain Gorilla does. As long as there are available ecological niches, which humans are poorly equipped to occupy, we can expect the great apes to continue to exist. (Unless we hunt them to extinction.) This is true whether or not we share a common ancestor with them. There are good reasons for the continued existence of humans, and of great apes. Similarly, land lines and cell phones both exist because there are good reasons for their existence -- there are niches for both of them. In both cases, the arrival of a new entity did not mean that an older one would cease to exist.

Another response is this. "If dogs descended from wolves, why are there still wolves?" (As far as I know, all biologists, including those who believe that humans were specially created on an earth which is only a few thousand years old, believe that dogs descended from wolves.) The answer is similar to the telephone story. Dogs exist because there is an ecological niche, however artificial, available to them. So do wolves, in a different ecological niche. Clearly dogs have evolved into many different breeds or races, mostly under the direction of dog breeders. But dogs which seem to be much like wolves still exist. Most likely, wolves, themselves, have changed in small ways over the last several thousand years, so that they, also, are not identical with the wolf-dog common ancestor, or ancestors. But there are still wolves, and there are still dog breeds which most likely gave rise to newer breeds. The arrival of dogs didn't mean that wolves would immediately go extinct.

I hope that this answers the question. Thanks for reading.