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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sunspots 355

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

Science: (sort of) a photo of a museum display of  Robert Wadlow, the tallest person who ever lived, considering only certified measurements, with a brief description of his short life.* The display includes a lifelike statue of Wadlow.

Politics: Cal Thomas, conservative commentator (and Christian) had to apologize. He also said this: "Why do so many of us only watch programs that reinforce what we already believe? Where is the growth in that?" Where, indeed?

Christianity: Weekend Fisher is running an anti-virus program on her soul.

*I know. "Short," in this context, is a pun. I mean no disrespect to Wadlow. I just couldn't think of a better word.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Medical Students and evolution

There has been a fair amount of discussion, over the past few years, as to whether pre-medical students need to have some background in the basic ideas and theory of evolution. (For more on this, do a search on the phrase "medical student" combined with the word evolution.) Part of this discussion was generated by the story of a pre-med student who was a young-earth creationist, and was denied a recommendation to medical school by a faculty member.

The Panda's Thumb is a multi-author blog, with several contributors. The main thrust is against the Intelligent Design movement, and some of the posts have been strident and intolerant of Christianity in general, as well as of the ID movement. However, some posts do an excellent job of considering scientific evidence bearing on evolution, particularly as it relates to the scientific claims of the ID movement, and some authors seem to understand the concerns of Christians, and sympathize with them. The blog is required reading for anyone expecting to keep up with the Intelligent Design field. A post, a few years ago, by Jack Krebs, considered the question "Why should medical students study evolution?" I was impressed with the tone, and the content.

The author is, or has been, a high school teacher himself, and knows full well that, whatever the subject of a high school class, students won't retain all of it, and may never use the specific course material in their careers. He also knows that that shouldn't mean that students aren't taught anything, and that a few students really may use a lot of the material of some high school classes. (Speaking from experience, the same is certainly true of university classes!)

Although he doesn't define evolution -- an all too common problem with writing on the subject, from many different viewpoints -- he is sympathetic to the claims of religion, and indicates that he opposes a naturalistic world-view.

Krebs goes on to answer his question by including an actual example, where knowledge of the biochemistry, genetics and neurobiology of mice seems to offer some hope of treating bipolar disorders in humans. Almost certainly, if no one had looked at similarities between humans and mice, with a view to learning more about their similarities, this hope would not have been possible.

Krebs doesn't make a knock-down case, but it's a case, and should be pondered carefully by those who believe that studying similarities between organisms is not of use in the medical profession.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prayer and humility, part three

Humility is an indispensable requisite of true prayer. It must be an attribute, a characteristic of prayer. Humility must be in the praying character as light is in the sun. Prayer has no beginning, no ending, no being, without humility. As a ship is made for the sea, so prayer is made for humility, and so humility is made for prayer.
Humility is not abstraction from self, nor does it ignore thought about self. It is a manyphased principle. Humility is born by looking at God, and His holiness, and then looking at self and man’s unholiness. Humility loves obscurity and silence, dreads applause, esteems the virtues of others, excuses their faults with mildness, easily pardons injuries, fears contempt less and less, and sees baseness and falsehood in pride. A true nobleness and greatness are in humility. It knows and reveres the inestimable riches of the Cross, and the humiliations of Jesus Christ. It fears the lustre of those virtues admired by men, and loves those that are more secret and which are prized by God. It draws comfort even from its own defects, through the abasement which they occasion. It prefers any degree of compunction before all light in the world.

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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sunspots 354

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

Science: (or food) National Public Radio on whether adding fiber to food is good for you.

Sports: A Sports Illustrated columnist has a radical idea on who gets to take the last shot in a close NBA game.

Politics: How advocates for opposite positions reached a compromise that's good for both the interest groups that they represent. Oh, that there were more of these stories. (From National Public Radio)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Human construction praised by God? Jeremiah 22:6

Jeremiah 22:1 Thus said Yahweh: Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word, 2 Say, Hear the word of Yahweh, king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter in by these gates. 3 Thus says Yahweh: Execute justice and righteousness, and deliver him who is robbed out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence, to the foreigner, the fatherless, nor the widow; neither shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people. 5 But if you will not hear these words, I swear by myself, says Yahweh, that this house shall become a desolation. 6 For thus says Yahweh concerning the house of the king of Judah: You are Gilead to me, the head of Lebanon. Yet surely I will make you a wilderness, cities which are not inhabited. 7 I will prepare destroyers against you, everyone with his weapons; and they shall cut down your choice cedars, and cast them into the fire. 8 Many nations shall pass by this city, and they shall say every man to his neighbor, Why has Yahweh done thus to this great city? 9 Then they shall answer, Because they forsook the covenant of Yahweh their God, and worshiped other gods, and served them. (World English Bible, public domain)

The Hebrew word, bayith, translated "house," occurs in verse 6, which I wish to focus on. It also occurs in verses 1, 4, and 5, and in verse 13 of the same chapter, which I did not quote above. As in English, there is some uncertainty about the meaning. House can mean a dwelling, or it can mean the people who are associated with a household. Since it seems pretty clear that Jeremiah was talking about the royal palace in verses 1, 4, and 5, I'm going to assume that he was also doing this in verse 6. (See here for a number of translations of this verse.)

It seems likely that this translation is correct: 'Now this is what the LORD says concerning Judah's royal palace: "I love you as much as fruitful Gilead and the green forests of Lebanon. But I will turn you into a desert, with no one living within your walls.' (New Living Translation) Other translations agree with this one, but not all do.

If that translation is correct, it means that a human creation is praised by God, Himself, as being as beautiful, as worth considering, as part of the natural world.

See Exodus 36, which describes the construction of the tent of meeting, and 1 Kings 10, which, to some extent, describes the palace, in the time of Solomon. I have previously posted on taking care of the environment, more than once. The most important of these posts is here. Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Animal fat prohibited in Jewish dietary laws

Leviticus 7:22 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘You shall eat no fat, of bull, or sheep, or goat. 24 The fat of that which dies of itself, and the fat of that which is torn of animals, may be used for any other service, but you shall in no way eat of it. 25 For whoever eats the fat of the animal, of which men offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh, even the soul who eats it shall be cut off from his people. 26 You shall not eat any blood, whether it is of bird or of animal, in any of your dwellings. 27 Whoever it is who eats any blood, that soul shall be cut off from his people.’” (World English Bible, public domain)

The Old Testament has many dietary regulations, some still kept by some Jews (and some Christians). See the Wikipedia article on kosher foods.

The text quoted above prohibits the consumption of fat from types of animals which could be offered as a sacrifice. Since the Jews were not allowed to eat any part of most kinds of animals except those listed, they would not have had much fat in their diet. However, an article in the Jewish Encyclopedia says that "The fat of birds or of permitted wild animals is not forbidden."

In my musing on this subject, I note a few things:

1) Fat formed an important part of the sacrifices. Perhaps that's the main, or the only, reason why the prohibition on eating it. It is also possible that the prohibition was so the Israelites wouldn't get too much cholesterol, or be more likely to be overweight.
2) This had to have been symbolic, rather than absolute. Meat usually has fat blended in with the muscle, so that it would have been impossible to remove all the fat from, say, the leg meat of a cow. We can buy hamburger which is 96% lean, but the Jews couldn't have eaten meat that was 100% lean.
3) In Acts 15:20, the Jerusalem Council asked Gentile Christians not to eat blood, but there was nothing said about fat. Why? (A search for "fat" turns up over 100 instances in the Old Testament, mostly about dietary laws or sacrifices, but no occurrence at all in the New Testament.)
I would guess, and it's only a guess, that the reason has to do with the symbolism of blood sacrifice. It was Christ's blood that paid for our sin, not his "meat."

Any thoughts? Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Prayer and humility, part two

The parable of the Pharisee and publican stands out in such bold relief that we must again refer to it. The Pharisee seemed to be inured to prayer. Certainly he should have known by that time how to pray, but alas! like many others, he seemed never to have learned this invaluable lesson. He leaves business and business hours and walks with steady and fixed steps up to the house of prayer. The position and place are well-chosen by him. There is the sacred place, the sacred hour, and the sacred name, each and all invoked by this seemingly praying man. But this praying ecclesiastic, though schooled to prayer, by training and by habit, prays not. Words are uttered by him, but words are not prayer. God hears his words only to condemn him. A death-chill has come from those formal lips of prayer—a deathcurse from God is on his words of prayer. A solution of pride has entirely poisoned the prayer offering of that hour. His entire praying has been impregnated with self-praise, selfcongratulation, and self-exaltation. That season of temple going has had no worship whatever in it.
On the other hand, the publican, smitten with a deep sense of his sins and his inward sinfulness, realising how poor in spirit he is, how utterly devoid of anything like righteousness, goodness, or any quality which would commend him to God, his pride within utterly blasted and dead, falls down with humiliation and despair before God, while he utters a sharp cry for mercy for his sins and his guilt. A sense of sin and a realisation of utter unworthiness has fixed the roots of humility deep down in his soul, and has oppressed self and eye and heart, downward to the dust. This is the picture of humility against pride in praying. Here we see by sharp contrast the utter worthlessness of self-righteousness, self-exaltation, and self-praise in praying, and the great value, the beauty and the Divine commendation which comes to humility of heart, self-depreciation, and self-condemnation when a soul comes before God in prayer.
Happy are they who have no righteousness of their own to plead and no goodness of their own of which to boast. Humility flourishes in the soil of a true and deep sense of our sinfulness and our nothingness. Nowhere does humility grow so rankly and so rapidly and shine so brilliantly, as when it feels all guilty, confesses all sin, and trusts all grace. “I the chief of sinners am, but Jesus died for me.” That is praying ground, the ground of humility, low down, far away seemingly, but in reality brought nigh by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God dwells in the lowly places. He makes such lowly places really the high places to the praying soul.

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. Public Domain. The previous post in the series is here.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pilgrim's Progress anniversary

On this date, in 1678, The Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan, was published. It has never been out of print since.

Here's an excerpt:

Saw! why, I went but a little further, and I saw one, as I thought in my mind, hang bleeding upon the tree; and the very sight of Him made my burden fall off my back (for I groaned under a very heavy burden), but then it fell down from off me. It was a strange thing to me, for I never saw such a thing before; yea, and while I stood looking up, for then I could not forbear looking, three Shining Ones came to me. One of them testified that my sins were forgiven me; another stripped me of my rags, and gave me this broidered coat which you see; and the third set the mark which you see in my forehead, and gave me this sealed roll. (And with that he plucked it out of his bosom).

Christian, who is the pilgrim of the title, is explaining how his load of sin was taken from him. Wonderful! Here's my source for the text of the first part of the book, which is public domain.

Thanks for reading. Read Bunyan!

Friday, February 17, 2012

What Intelligent Design is, and isn't

I have run into a new blog, which looks like it is going to be relevant to my interest in Intelligent Design. The author is intelligent, seems open-minded, and writes clearly, although readers probably would be better off with at least a nodding acquaintance with the intersection of philosophy and science.

One post concerns the question of exactly what Intelligent Design is. There are several fine comments, including some on the question of whether ID, or evolution (which is not defined in this post, but should have been) is falsifiable.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dragonspell, by Donita K. Paul

I recently read Dragonspell, by Donita K. Paul. Here's the book's web page in the author's web site. Dragonspell was honored as a finalist for the Christy awards for Visionary novels for 2005. The Christy awards are presented annually for what I have called Faith Fiction, that is, fiction that tells a story that is designed to appeal to conservative Christian readers, and, generally, is marketed by members of the Christian Booksellers Association.

So, what is explicitly conservative Christian about Dragonspell? There is a supreme being, Wulder, who can be spoken to, and is the supreme creator. His followers invoke his protection when threatened by evil beings. Wulder does not appear in the book. Paladin, apparently meant to represent Christ, does appear a few times. Paladin is said to understand the mind of Wulder completely. I found no evidence of an analog of the Holy Spirit in the book. Satan is represented by The Pretender, who does not appear in the book. There are a number of moral choices presented to the characters, especially to Kale Allerion, the teenaged girl who is the protagonist. For example, she is instructed not to use her magical powers for show.

If you are going to have God the Father, and God the Son, in a work of fiction, why not God the Holy Spirit? And if Paladin represents Christ, why didn't he die for the sins of others, only to be resurrected?

It seems that Dragonspell was influenced by Tolkien. What fantasy novel, in English, hasn't been?

There are several species (Paul calls them races, but the differences seem too great for them to have mutual children), in fact seven (usually) good ones and seven bad ones, apparently always evil. But Paul is not as good at naming things as Tolkien. Mordakleep and bisonbeck are the names of two of these types. She also names other things, such as pnard potatoes, razterberries, and druddums, the last being a nasty sort of animal. Elizabeth Moon, a successful fantasy writer, said this: "In fantasy, you can make up words for things–and I do–but making up new words for everything will make the writing look silly (and incomprehensible.)" Paul came close to incomprehensible, and silly, at times.

In spite of these negative criticisms, I mostly enjoyed the book. There's great appeal in seeing a slave girl becoming aware that she has great magical power. The characters who go, with Kale, to look for a particular kind of dragon egg are interesting. So are the dragons, which are of several types, and can also make moral choices. Great, it's not. Good enough, it is. I hope to read the next book in the series.

Note that I have steered clear of setting the plot before you, as much as possible. If you really need to read about that, read Paul's summary, or look up the Amazon or Barnes & Noble pages on the book.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sunspots 353

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

 Sports: Jeremy Lin, NBA player from out of nowhere (well, from Harvard) electrifies New York city basketball fans as the Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers. (Warning - 10 minute video. You can get the idea in the first 30 seconds.)

The Arts: (also Anthropology) A web site on the so-called pygmies of Central Africa, with emphasis on their music.

Computing: Wired on how to (at least a little bit) hide your activity from Google.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Prayer and humility, part one

In humility there is the total absence of pride, and it is at the very farthest distance from anything like self-conceit. There is no self-praise in humility. Rather it has the disposition to praise others. “In honour preferring one another.” It is not given to self-exaltation. Humility does not love the uppermost seats and aspire to the high places. It is willing to take the lowliest seat and prefers those places where it will be unnoticed. The prayer of humility is after this fashion:
“Never let the world break in,
Fix a mighty gulf between;
Keep me humble and unknown,
Prized and loved by God alone.”
Humility does not have its eyes on self, but rather on God and others. It is poor in spirit, meek in behaviour, lowly in heart. “With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love.” The parable of the Pharisee and publican is a sermon in brief on humility and self-praise. The Pharisee, given over to self-conceit, wrapped up in himself, seeing only his own selfrighteous deeds, catalogues his virtues before God, despising the poor publican who stands afar off. He exalts himself, gives himself over to self-praise, is self-centered, and goes away unjustified, condemned and rejected by God.
The publican sees no good in himself, is overwhelmed with self-depreciation, far removed from anything which would take any credit for any good in himself, does not presume to lift his eyes to heaven, but with downcast countenance smites himself on his breast, and cries out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Our Lord with great preciseness gives us the sequel of the story of these two men, one utterly devoid of humility, the other utterly submerged in the spirit of self-depreciation and lowliness of mind.
“I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:14.
God puts a great price on humility of heart. It is good to be clothed with humility as with a garment. It is written, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” That which brings the praying soul near to God is humility of heart. That which gives wings to prayer is lowliness of mind. That which gives ready access to the throne of grace is selfdepreciation. Pride, self-esteem, and self-praise effectually shut the door of prayer. He who would come to God must approach Him with self hid from his eyes. He must not be puffed up with self-conceit, nor be possessed with an over-estimate of his virtues and good works.

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. Public Domain. The previous post in the series is here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What makes a sermon Christian?

In a previous post, I responded to a commenter who asked me what makes a blog Christian. She also asked me what makes a sermon Christian. I had never really considered either question, and I am grateful for them. In this post, I'll attempt to answer the second question.

First, what is a sermon? The Free Dictionary gives two definitions:
1. A religious discourse delivered as part of a church service.
2. An often lengthy and tedious speech of reproof or exhortation.

A commenter on the previous post said that we probably shouldn't call things Christian, because people can be Christian, but inanimate objects and human creations cannot be. Well, not everyone agrees with that distinction, although I see the point. The dictionary disagrees.

Here are the definitions of Christian, from the Free Dictionary:
1. Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
2. Relating to or derived from Jesus or Jesus's teachings.
3. Manifesting the qualities or spirit of Jesus; Christlike.
4. Relating to or characteristic of Christianity or its adherents.
5. Showing a loving concern for others; humane.
1. One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
2. One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

By the second definition, a blog, or a sermon, could be Christian. And, if it didn't relate to or derive from the teachings of Christ, it wouldn't be. It would be a Moslem sermon, or a humanist sermon, or a materialist sermon, or a political sermon. I really don't think I can give a better answer than that. A Christian sermon is a discourse, relating to or derived from Jesus or Jesus's teachings.

Thanks for reading. Thanks again to Weekend Fisher for asking the questions.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What makes a blog Christian?

I received this comment recently (on this post) from another blogger. I am pleased to read her work on a regular basis, and often comment on it, and I suspect that she is my most faithful reader and commenter.

Weekend Fisher wrote... I've found myself wondering: What are the criteria for a Christian blog? And, What are the criteria for a Christian sermon?

I have some thoughts on it myself, but my question to you is: Would you have parallel criteria for those, compared to the ones you have for novels? Would the requirements be higher / lower for blogs? Sermons?

For example, I consider your blog a Christian blog -- and I've read blogs by pastors and theology professors that I do not consider Christian blogs.

I'd be much obliged if you'd share your thoughts.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

First, I am grateful for the question, and the assessment. I try to produce a Christian blog. But "what makes it one?" is a good question. (I'll try to deal with sermons in a separate post, later.)

One aspect of being a Christian blog is, I hope, found in my "Guidelines for this Blog," published nearly seven years ago. I hadn't read that in quite a while, but I still think I'm trying to follow these guidelines. The first one is the most important: "I hope to glorify God with this blog." That is the most important criterion. A Christian blog must glorify God. I understand that no objective measure of whether or not I do so is possible. God knows, and understands, my motives, and what, if anything, is accomplished by a blog, or a blog post. A Christian blog should have, as its fundamental purpose, to glorify God. Does every post need to do that? No. An occasional political post, recipe, photos of the family dog, or setting forth the blogger's side of an academic, theological, or philosophical dispute would also be acceptable, and need not take away from the main purpose, it seems to me. A personal blog -- one that's about aspects of the blogger's daily life -- can glorify God, and I have seen some that do.

Conversely, a blog that is mostly about selling something, glorifying the blog owner, seeking redress for actions that the blogger perceives as hurts to her, or to put forth some partisan political view* is not Christian. A blog that isn't written from a Biblical world view cannot glorify God, as I see it.
*What do you get when you mix religion and politics? Politics."

Do you have to testify or preach in a blog, for it to glorify God? No. Instruction on what the Bible says, for example (Anne does this very well.) glorifies God.

Glorifying God need not be done explicitly. For example, in posting excellent poetry or photographs, a Christian blogger need not say that she is doing this for God's glory. If it's good enough, and has a Biblical world-view, it will do that without having to tell any one that you are doing it. As C. S. Lewis wrote: "What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians about other subjects--with their Christianity latent." (God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970, pp. 89-103. Quote is from p. 93.) Lewis never saw a blog, but I think this statement applies, if anything, more to blogs than to books. I thus propose a second criterion, namely that a Christian blog should be excellent. It should use language well, use graphics that are appropriate and well-done, and, where appropriate, refer to pertinent recognized sources. It should mostly stay clear of subjects that in which the blogger has no real expertise, or at least it should steer clear of pontification on such subjects.

Excellence, of course, is also subjective. I'm not proposing that every Christian who blogs should try to emulate C. S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers, or Billy Graham, but that every Christian who blogs should try to do her best.

I would propose a third guideline, which is important, but especially on posts on controversial matters, namely that the blogger observe the golden rule: treat readers, commenters, and the authors of source material, as you would want to be treated yourself, in the same manner that Christ would treat them. A Christian blogger, then, should answer comments courteously, treat the views of others with respect, and have a humble attitude. Again, this is subjective.

A commenter, who disagreed with me on a particular issue, demanded that I remove a post. I didn't do it, and I suggested that further comments on this particular post, by this person (who says he is a Christian, but had made several long comments, most of them claiming that I must not have read the Bible) would not be welcome. I did not delete any of his comments. I hope I treated the commenter with more respect than he used in treating with me. I saw caving in on this matter as forsaking excellence.

Thanks for asking, Anne!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Should "Christian" fiction be labeled as such?

Sorry, but I won't answer this question, but I will refer to previous discussions on the subject.

Recently, Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent, apparently one who serves authors of Faith Fiction, argues that "Christian Fiction" should be so labeled, as part of honesty in marketing. Mike Duran, who uses Gardner as his agent, begs to differ. There are many comments on both posts.

I have previously posted, several times, on what Christian fiction is, or isn't. Most of these posts are analyses of the works of authors of fantastic literature. This post is an attempt at describing Christian novels. It includes links to posts by others, including some professional authors, related to the question of definition, which is related to labeling.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Sunspots 352

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Science: Wired reports on a study of the number of generations it would take to evolve from the size of a mouse to that of an elephant. (A lot.)

Speaking of rates of evolution, the New York Times reports on a virus that changes very rapidly, and how dangerous this can be.

I learned something I didn't know, or had forgotten, namely that some spores (which are microscopic) have elaters attached to them. See here and here for some great photos.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Celtic Crusades trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead

I recently read the Celtic Crusades trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead. The books concern one Scottish family, and some Norwegian allies, and a search, during the time of the crusades, for three relics of the time of Christ, namely the spear that was driven into Christ's side, while He was on the cross (The Iron Lance, see here and here), the cross, itself (The Black Rood, see here and here), and the cup Christ used in The Last Supper (often called the Holy Grail, but called The Mystic Rose in Lawhead's series -- see here and here.)

Lawhead writes Faith Fiction. That is, his books are marketed towards a conservative Christian audience, and often sold through the Christian Bookseller's Association. At least one of the three books won the Christy Award. Books of Faith Fiction generally do not use the f___ word and other such words, do not usually include sexual intercourse between characters portrayed as good, who are not married to each other, and often include some explicit religious experience, such as a conversion experience. Faith Fiction may be historical, contemporary, romance, in the sense of being mainly about falling in love, murder mystery, fantastical, and more. (See here for the source of the term, and my analysis of a discussion of it by an author who writes Faith Fiction.) I prefer to read mainstream fantastic literature, having usually been somewhat disappointed by fantastic Faith Fiction, either because it is too preachy, or not well written. I read Lawhead's series, the Pendragon Cycle, five volumes about the story of King Arthur and related characters, many years ago, and have never been moved to re-read those books. I would call them fantastic literature, inasmuch as magic, and myths, were an important part of the plots. (I like magic and myths in fantastic literature, by the way.)

I don't want to give away much of the plot of the three books under discussion, since I was pleased enough by them to recommend them to readers who are interested in historical faith fiction. I will say that there was no magic, as such, in the books, except for some miracles and visions. There was no waving of wands, no spells cast by wizards. At least some parts of the books were true.

The writing was good. The plots were interesting, and at times gripping, and occasionally surprised me. There were interesting characters, including strong female characters. The main character in one of the books was female. There was no conversion, as such, but some of the characters had visions which were life-changing experiences, and were challenged to live an unselfish life, dedicated to the service of Christ, and of others, when they had been selfish, ambitious, proud, seeking personal vengeance, or a combination of these, before the experiences. There was an emphasis on true Christianity, as opposed to the emphasis on politics and profit in much of the church in the time of the crusades. (And before and after that time.)

The main character in each book fell in love, and two of them got married. This is often a characteristic of Faith Fiction.

The main problem that I had with the books was their premise, which, I guess, was realistic enough, considering the time when the stories took place, namely the importance of the sacred relics. I (and many other Protestants and others, and even some Roman Catholics) are not happy with the emphasis placed on, say, The Shroud of Turin, or the Ossuary of James. My faith does not depend on such items, and emphasizing them, genuine or not, could easily become a kind of idolatry, as I see it. The fictional people in the books, including the main characters, did revere the three objects.

Another interesting aspect of the books is that some of the Middle Eastern characters were fabulously wealthy, seeming to have enough servants, enough liquid assets, and a large enough dwelling to be able to accomplish almost anything. Some of the things that they did accomplish were for the good, by the way. Could there have been so many wealthy people in the area in the same time period? I'm not sure. There must have been many, many, poor people, as well.

Well, enough said. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Prayer benefits the entire person

As every part of man’s complex being enters into true praying, so every part of that same nature receives blessings from God in answer to such praying. This kind of praying engages our undivided hearts, our full consent to be the Lord’s, our whole desires.
God sees to it that when the whole man prays, in turn the whole man shall be blessed. His body takes in the good of praying, for much praying is done specifically for the body. Food and raiment, health and bodily vigour, come in answer to praying. Clear mental action, right thinking, an enlightened understanding, and safe reasoning powers, come from praying.
Divine guidance means God so moving and impressing the mind, that we shall make wise and safe decisions. “The meek will he guide in judgment.”
Many a praying preacher has been greatly helped just at this point. The unction of the Holy One which comes upon the preacher invigorates the mind, loosens up thought and gives utterance. This is the explanation of former days when men of very limited education had such wonderful liberty of the Spirit in praying and in preaching. Their thoughts flowed as a stream of water. Their entire intellectual machinery felt the impulse of the Divine Spirit’s gracious influences.
And, of course, the soul receives large benefits in this sort of praying. Thousands can testify to this statement. So we repeat, that as the entire man comes into play in true, earnest effectual praying, so the entire man, soul, mind and body, receives the benefits of prayer.

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. Public Domain. The previous post in the series is here.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Coping with sudden death

This post is in reaction to the accidental death of a seven-year-old girl that I didn't know. She died yesterday. I did know a little about her father, and had spoken briefly with him several times at his place of business. I know a number of his employees, and former employees, pretty well. I know an adult daughter of the person who was driving the vehicle that was involved in the accident. My Facebook page has had a lot of posts by others on this event in the last few hours. Some of them have been wonderful. Many of them have been perplexed. If this helps anyone else, fine. I hope it does. But I'm just musing about it. I'm not an expert.

How should sudden death be coped with?

Be ready! Death comes to everyone, and death is permanent. After death, there are no further chances for communication. Death ends all chances to fix things, to do things, to say things. I should be ready to go at any time. I should be sure that I tell the people that I love that I love them, often. I should be sure that my relationship with Christ is up-to-date. (I hope that I love Him. I know that He loves me.) I should realize that this is true of others, not just me, and, if I truly believe that heaven is for real, and that there is a hell to shun, try to lovingly persuade those others to be ready for their deaths, in as many ways as possible. In Luke 12:20, Jesus told a story of a man who wasn't ready for death, and called him a fool.

My will should be made, and up-to-date, and I should have made plans for others to access my important documents, written a tentative obituary, and planned my funeral.

Comfort! In John 14, and elsewhere, Jesus tried to comfort His disciples, in advance of His death. He sent the Holy Spirit, who is also called The Comforter, to them. The Holy Spirit didn't come right away, but several weeks later. Survivors need comfort, after death, for a long time. Comfort can be given in many ways. Showing up, taking food, helping clean, hugging, saying "I love you," or "I'm sorry," calling, and in other ways.

Forgive! This includes self-forgiveness. I don't know all the circumstances of the accident, but the driver surely has had reason to question a lot of things -- why didn't I do this, and why did I do that, and what if. The parents must have such questions, too. And not just about the accident. Did they show her enough love? Were they perfect parents? No one is a perfect parent, and no one is a perfect driver. Try to realize, and accept this, and move on. It won't be easy.

Of course, it may be necessary to forgive someone else. Is that always easy? Of course not. But what good does it do to not forgive? Unforgiveness eats away at a person. It hurts the unforgiving individual more than it can possibly hurt anyone else.

It may be necessary to ask for forgiveness, too. If so, do it carefully, prayerfully, lovingly and humbly.

It's not about me! It's about the person who has passed, and everyone else. The devil wants me to use any excuse to become the axis that the world revolves around. I'm not, and I must try to avoid trying to be, or thinking that I am or should be. Is this easy? Of course not. Christ provided the example, and Paul tells us about that in Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Corinthians 13.

Pray! For yourself, for others affected, and, that, in the entire situation, Christ will be glorified, perhaps in ways that you never see.

May God help this family, and those associated with this tragic event, and all the other tragic deaths.

Thanks for reading. I'm no expert on this subject. Both my parents are dead, but both of them were in declining health, and had been for some time. A brother-in-law was murdered, two years ago today. But I haven't coped with the death of a spouse, or a child, a grandchild, a close friend, or, as a child, a young parent. I probably will have to do some of this at some point.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Sunspots 351

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

Humor: (Sort of) McDonald's is different in France, according to National Public Radio.

Science: Wired reports on a small shrimp (yes, there are fairly large ones) that emits a cloud of glowing material when attacked.

The US Department of Agriculture has released a new plant hardiness zone map. Gardeners, check it out.

Image source (public domain)