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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Prayer and devotion, by E. M. Bounds, part six

     In the nature of things, religion must show much of its growth above ground. Much will be seen and be evident to the eye. The flower and fruit of a holy life, abounding in good works, must be seen. It cannot be otherwise. But the surface growth must be based on a vigourous growth of unseen life and hidden roots. Deep down in the renewed nature must the roots of religion go which is seen on the outside. The external must have a deep internal groundwork. There must be much of the invisible and the underground growth, or else the life will be feeble and short-lived and the external growth sickly and fruitless.
      In the Book of the prophet Isaiah these words are written:
     “They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31.
     This is the genesis of the whole matter of activity and strength of the most energetic, exhaustless and untiring nature. All this is the result of waiting on God.
     There may be much of activity induced by drill, created by enthusiasm, the product of the weakness of the flesh, the inspiration of volatile, short-lived forces. Activity is often at the expense of more solid, useful elements, and generally to the total neglect of prayer. To be too busy with God’s work to commune with God, to be busy with doing Church work without taking time to talk to God about His work, is the highway to backsliding, and many people have walked therein to the hurt of their immortal souls. Notwithstanding great activity, great enthusiasm, and much hurrah for the work, the work and the activity will be but blindness without the cultivation and the maturity of the graces of prayer. - 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.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

More criticism of Jerry Coyne from The Panda's Thumb

The Panda's Thumb is a prominent blog, mostly devoted to attacking the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. In my opinion, the ID movement is in need of some criticism.

Jerry Coyne, who has solid academic credentials as an evolutionary biologist, is a self-proclaimed atheist, and a militant one at that -- he wants to stamp out religion entirely. A few days ago, I wrote about a post on The Panda's Thumb that criticized Coyne. The author argued that it is possible for Christianity, or at least a belief in the supernatural, and a belief in evolution to co-exist, and gave two examples, one of them Darwin himself, of important evolutionary biologists who believed so. (I think it is possible for a believing Christian to believe that much or all of the variety in living things came about through natural selection, but that's another story.)

That same author, Nick Matzke, has written another post on that blog, again about Coyne. In this one, Matzke refers to another blog, where an upcoming article by Coyne, in which he argues for his program of eliminating religion from North American life, is criticized seriously for using poor methodology.

Come on, Coyne! You aren't an expert in religion, philosopher, or other fields! And you have proved this.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sunspots 363

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

Science: National Public Radio on why women have more migraines than men do.

(or maybe humor, or math) A doodler experiments with drawing stars, in a video. She's amazing!

Politics: (or The Environment, or Computing) Wired reports on interactions between environmental activist organization Greenpeace and large tech companies, such as Google and Amazon, over, among other things, Cloud Computing.

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware mentions a freeware utility for rotating, or even mirror-imaging, video files.

Christianity: What is Jesus doing (now)? Ken Schenck has some thoughts on that.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Prayer and devotion, by E. M. Bounds, part five

     The spirit of devotion pervades the saints in heaven and characterizes the worship of
heaven’s angelic intelligences. No devotionless creatures are in that heavenly world God is
there, and His very presence begets the spirit of reverence, of awe, and of filial fear. If we would be partakers with them after death, we must first learn the spirit of devotion on earth
before we get there.
     These living creatures in their restless, tireless, attitude after God, and their rapt devotion to His holiness, are the perfect symbols and illustrations of true prayer and its ardour. Prayer must be aflame. Its ardour must consume. Prayer without fervour is as a sun without light or heat, or as a flower without beauty or fragrance. A soul devoted to God is a fervent soul, and prayer is the creature of that flame. He only can truly pray who is all aglow for holiness, for God, and for heaven.
    Activity is not strength. Work is not zeal. Moving about is not devotion. Activity often is the unrecognised symptom of spiritual weakness. It may be hurtful to piety when made the substitute for real devotion in worship. The colt is much more active than its mother, but she is the wheel-horse of the team, pulling the load without noise or bluster or show. The child is more active than the father, who may be bearing the rule and burdens of an empire on his heart and shoulders. Enthusiasm is more active than faith, though it cannot remove mountains nor call into action any of the omnipotent forces which faith can command. - 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, April 20, 2012

The Panda's Thumb on accomodating evolution and Christianity

The Panda's Thumb is a prominent, and important, blog, authored by many people, mostly scientists. Its most common theme is attacking the Intelligent Design movement. (I am not a fan of the ID movement myself. I do believe that there is a Designer, who did some designing. See here.)

A recent post in the Panda's Thumb, seriously criticizes Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist and self-proclaimed atheist. According to the Wikipedia article on him, which is linked to in the previous sentence, "He claims that religion and science are incompatible. . ."

Nick Matzke, criticizing Coyne, points out that two of the most important evolutionists ever did not make such claims. One such was Theodosius Dobzhansky, who famously wrote "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution." The title of that article is often used today, in writing about origins, even though the article is nearly 40 years old. When I was a graduate student in genetics, I was urged to read Dobzhansky's Genetics and the Origin of Species, and I did. It was an important book.

The other evolutionist was no less than Darwin, himself.

Matzke does not claim that either Dobzhansky or Darwin believed in a personal God, or in Christ's redemptive work, simply that they believed that there could be accomodation between a belief in evolution by natural selection and Christianity -- belief in one does not have to negate belief in the other. He merely claims, with solid documentation and appropriate quotation, that Coyne's claim about incompatibility is a real stretch.

Thanks for reading. Read Matzke.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How insignificant humans are!

Leonard Pitts, columnist for the Miami Herald, has written a splendid column about, of all things, the Titanic. Yes, the ship that sunk. There is a re-make of a movie about it, showing in theaters now.

His point? We thought the Titanic was unsinkable. Even God could not sink it, they said. We thought we had it made. But we were wrong, 100 years ago, and we'd better not get to feeling too proud now. Even the Titanic was just a dot in an enormous ocean, an ocean so much older than the Titanic that we can scarcely imagine it.

Pitts doesn't mention it, but the building of the tower of Babel comes to mind. According to the story in Genesis, the builders had far too much appreciation for their own ability. Disaster struck. Pitts doesn't mention climate change, either, but that's just one place that the next disaster we aren't prepared for may come from. Or it may come from our dependence on the all-too-vulnerable North American power grid, from the European (and US) debt crisis, from Iran or North Korea starting a nuclear war, from disease germs becoming resistant to antibiotics, or from any one of a number of things I haven't thought of, or, of course, from the Second Coming. But a disaster will come. And we won't be ready, no matter how smart and well off we think we are.

We are recently evolved (or created, or both) inhabitants of a small planet around an ordinary sun in an ordinary galaxy, a very small spot, in time and space, in the grand scheme of things, and we forget that at our peril.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sunspots 362

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

Humor: (or advertisement, or something) A company in Germany built a barrel organ that plays Star Wars music, out of Legos, as part of a promotion for the latest Star Wars movie release.

Science: How human activity is causing earthquakes in the US, reported by National Public Radio.

The Arts: 60 Minutes, the CBS News program, gives an uplifting video report on the world's only all-black orchestra. (Warning -- some commercials are included.)

Computing: Gizmo's freeware has some tips for searching for files on your Windows 7 or Vista computer.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Blaise Pascal on Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and supposed conflicts between science and scripture

Blaise Pascal, in Letter XVIII of his Provincial Letters,  had something important to say about misinterpreting the Bible, and about seeming conflicts between the Bible and scientific findings:

In what way, then, are we to learn the truth of facts? It must be by the eyes, father, which are the legitimate judges of such matters, as reason is the proper judge of things natural and intelligible, and faith of things supernatural and revealed. For, since you will force me into this discussion, you must allow me to tell you that, according to the sentiments of the two greatest doctors of the Church, St. Augustine and St. Thomas, these three principles of our knowledge, the senses, reason, and faith, have each their separate objects and their own degrees of certainty. And as God has been pleased to employ the intervention of the senses to give entrance to faith (for "faith cometh by hearing"), it follows, that so far from faith destroying the certainty of the senses, to call in question the faithful report of the senses would lead to the destruction of faith. . . .

We conclude, therefore, from this, that whatever the proposition may be that is submitted to our examination, we must first determine its nature, to ascertain to which of those three principles it ought
to be referred. If it relate to a supernatural truth, we must judge of it neither by the senses nor by reason, but by Scripture and the decisions of the Church. Should it concern an unrevealed truth and something within the reach of natural reason, reason must be its proper judge. And if it embrace a point of fact, we must yield to
the testimony of the senses, to which it naturally belongs to take cognizance of such matters.
So general is this rule that, according to St. Augustine and St. Thomas, when we meet with a passage even in the Scripture, the literal meaning of which, at first sight, appears contrary to what the senses or reason are certainly persuaded of, we must not attempt to reject their testimony in this case, and yield them up to the authority of that apparent sense of the Scripture, but we must interpret the Scripture, and seek out therein another sense agreeable to that sensible truth; because, the Word of God being infallible in the facts which it records, and the information of the senses and of reason, acting in their sphere, being certain also, it
follows that there must be an agreement between these two sources of knowledge. And as Scripture may be interpreted in different ways, whereas the testimony of the senses is uniform, we must in these matters adopt as the true interpretation of Scripture that view which corresponds with the faithful report of the senses. "Two things," says St. Thomas, "must be observed, according to the doctrine of St. Augustine: first, That Scripture has always one true sense; and secondly, That as it may receive various senses, when we have
discovered one which reason plainly teaches to be false, we must not persist in maintaining that this is the natural sense, but search out another with which reason will agree.

St. Thomas explains his meaning by the example of a passage in Genesis where it is written that "God created two great lights, the sun and the moon, and also the stars," in which the Scriptures appear to say that the moon is greater than all the stars; but as it is evident, from unquestionable demonstration, that this is false,
it is not our duty, says that saint, obstinately to defend the literal sense of that passage; another meaning must be sought, consistent with the truth of the fact, such as the following, "That the phrase great light, as applied to the moon, denotes the greatness of that luminary merely as it appears in our eyes, and not the magnitude of its body considered in itself."

An opposite mode of treatment, so far from procuring respect to the Scripture, would only expose it to the contempt of infidels; because, as St. Augustine says, "when they found that we believed, on the authority of Scripture, in things which they assuredly knew to be false, they would laugh at our credulity with regard to its more recondite truths, such as the resurrection of the dead and eternal life." "And by this means," adds St. Thomas, "we should render our religion contemptible in their eyes, and shut up its entrance into their minds.
And let me add, father, that it would in the same manner be the likeliest means to shut up the entrance of Scripture into the minds of heretics, and to render the pope's authority contemptible in their eyes, to refuse all those the name of Catholics who would not believe that certain words were in a certain book, where they are not to be found, merely because a pope by mistake has declared that they are. It is only by examining a book that we can ascertain what words it contains. Matters of fact can only be proved by the senses.
If the position which you maintain be true, show it, or else ask no man to believe it -- that would be to no purpose. Not all the powers on earth can, by the force of authority, persuade us of a point of fact, any more than they can alter it; for nothing can make that to be not which really is.

There are some thinkers, who, with good intentions, believe that, whenever there is a seeming conflict between the meaning of some scripture, and evidence from science, the latter should automatically be rejected. As an extreme case, there are those who claim that the earth is the center of the solar system, and the universe. This flies in the face of the evidence from science, going back to Galileo. It is, as St. Thomas put it, not only a mistake scientifically to claim that geocentrism is correct, but asserting that it is can make Christianity "contemptible."

The conclusions of scientists are sometimes overturned -- for example, relativity has modified Newton's picture of the solar system. And we do not always really know what the Bible means to say. But, that being understood, the three evidences, senses, reason, and faith, are all of importance, and, if applicable, must always be considered.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Prayer and devotion, by E. M. Bounds, part four

     The spirit of devotion removes religion from being a thin veneer, and puts it into the very life and being of our souls. With it religion ceases to be doing a mere work, and becomes a heart, sending its rich blood through every artery and beating with the pulsations of vigourous and radiant life.
     The spirit of devotion is not merely the aroma of religion, but the stalk and stem on which religion grows. It is the salt which penetrates and makes savoury all religious acts. It is the sugar which sweetens duty, self-denial and sacrifice. It is the bright colouring which relieves the dullness of religious performances. It dispels frivolity and drives away all skindeep forms of worship, and makes worship a serious and deep-seated service, impregnating body, soul and spirit with its heavenly infusion. Let us ask in all seriousness, has this highest angel of heaven, this heavenly spirit of devotion, this brightest and best angel of earth, left us? When the angel of devotion has gone, the angel of prayer has lost its wings, and it becomes a deformed and loveless thing.
     The ardour of devotion is in prayer. In Rev. 4:8, we read: “And they rest not day nor night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” The inspiration and centre of their rapturous devotion is the holiness of God. That holiness of God claims their attention, inflames their devotion. There is nothing cold, nothing dull, nothing wearisome about them or their heavenly worship. “They rest not day nor night.” What zeal! What unfainting ardour and ceaseless rapture! The ministry of prayer, if it be anything worthy of the name, is a ministry of ardour, a ministry of unwearied and intense longing after God and after His holiness. - 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.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ignorance in science

Yesterday, I posted on Ignorance as submission, about how God knows everything, and we don't, and, sometimes, we have to just submit to that.

Today, I'd like to consider the question of ignorance in science. Really, the question of limits to science -- are there things that science cannot ever know?

I believe, and I am not alone, that God gave humans the ability to discover things, and that is part of the image of God (see here and here) in us. Part of discovering is what we now call science, God can be honored by good scientific work. Many of the great scientists of the past were deliberately trying to find out about how God made things, and even atheist scientists (and by no means all scientists are atheists) may honor God, unwittingly, by making new discoveries, or by developing new theories. Science can produce knowledge that can be terribly misused -- for example so-called atomic bombs, biological warfare, or using the Internet to spread racial hatred or to exploit women. But it can also produce knowledge that can be used for good. For example, the Internet can be used for communicating the gospel of Christ, or more efficient crops may be produced. But mostly, knowing more is a good thing.

It is possible that God has placed some limitations on scientific discovery, for His own reasons. I'm not aware of any such, but that would, I suppose, be possible. (One such reason might be to fight human pride.) That's not what I'm musing about here. I'm musing about limitations to scientific knowledge. Are there things that scientists can't learn? I believe that there are.

First, how do we know anything? How can I be sure that the computer I am typing this on actually exists, and that the yard I see out the window actually exists? Perhaps they are all the products of my imagination. Lest there be any doubt, I do believe the evidence of my own senses, unless there is very good reason not to, and so does every other sane person. But it is possible that I am deluding myself.

Second, why is there something, rather than nothing? Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most famous scientist of our time, recently said that that was the biggest mystery that he wished were solved. I don't see science solving that, ever. I believe that it is a limit on science. (Hawking is famously not a Christian. Neither is Michael Ruse, one of the most important philosophers of science, who also asks the question given at the beginning of this paragraph.) Hawking, with a co-author, wrote a book which claims to answer that question, and specifically claims that God need not be part of the answer, but the book has been seriously criticized, and not just on religious grounds. My judgment is that it does not really answer the question.

Third, what, if anything, came before the Big Bang? We don't know. I understand that some readers may believe that there was no such thing as a Big Bang. I disagree. The evidence is quite good, considering the subject, and I see no reason why a belief in the Big Bang and a belief in a supernatural Creator need conflict.

Fourth, where is a particular sub-atomic particle found, and what is it doing? For decades, scientists have believed that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle sets limits on what we can know about very tiny particles -- one reason being that the very act of observation changes what we are trying to measure.

Fifth, there are things that we cannot know, because of time, distance, or both. For example, we cannot know exactly what is going on at this very moment, on planets around the stars in some distant galaxy, because, if we ever get there, too much time will have passed. The very evidence of what went on then, there, will have decayed significantly, or disappeared. On a more commonplace level, we can't predict the future exactly.

Sixth, in mathematics, which is a tool of science, there are things that cannot be proved, or disproved.

If science has limitations, does that prove that there is a God? No. It is certainly compatible with the existence of God, but the main evidence for God's existence is not scientifically oriented.

It may be that one or more of the limitations listed above will eventually be shown not to be limiting. Not knowing that is, in itself, a limitation on present science.

I have previously had a profitable dialog with an atheist, covering part, but not all, of the same ground, and you are welcome to read some of that.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ignorance as submission

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? I don't know, and you don't, either. I don't even know if angels can dance on the head of a pin, or if they would want to. There is a Wikipedia article on the subject, and, among other things, it says that this question has been used as a dismissal of theologians of the past, and that "[in] modern usage, this question also serves as a metaphor for wasting time debating topics of no practical value." (Dismissal of the theologians of the past may have been unjust -- they may not have really cared very much about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, according to the article.)

A friend recently asked me a question -- not the one above -- about angels. I responded that I didn't know much about them. I also looked up the subject, and discovered that there has been a great deal of speculation about these beings, among Christians, and, before the time of Christ, among Jews. As this Wikipedia article about the view of angels among Christian theologians puts it, "the Biblical canon is relatively silent on the subject."

It seems to me that knowledge of what angels look like, how they originated, how they spend their time, and the like, are a subject that God doesn't think we need to know very much about. Why not? I don't know. Perhaps that sort of knowledge would be dangerous to some of us. Almost certainly, having answers to such questions is not necessary for redemption by Christ. It's of no practical value.

There are a lot of things that some of us Christians would like to know the answers to. For example:
When and how is Christ returning?
What did Jesus do between his birth and his trip to the Temple, at about age 12? Did he have any siblings? How many siblings? What were their names, and what were they like? What happened to them? What happened to Joseph? When did he die?
What did Adam and Eve look like?
What did Jesus look like?
What was Paul's thorn in the flesh?

Granted, some of us think that we have the answers to these, or other such questions, especially the first one, but some of the rest of us have different answers, and none of the answers we think we have are supported unambiguously by the Bible.

Do I need to know the answers to these questions, in order to be redeemed from sin? No. Apparently, in God's view, they are of no practical value.

Humans need to submit to God's authority. Put like that, most Christians don't have major problems. Oh, sometimes we disobey. But we understand that we need to obey, and understand that we should repent when we don't, and we resolve, with God's help, to obey in the future. But we also, I believe, need to submit to God's authority not only in relation to our own behavior, but in relation to knowledge, and acknowledge our own ignorance. Being ignorant is part of submission, too.

Job went through a lot. At the end of the Book of Job, after Job questioned God for several chapters, off and on, God appeared, and, basically, said to Job "You don't know anything, so why are you questioning me?" Job basically said "You are so right. I'm sorry." (See here for more on that dialogue.)

There are some things that we should know, and submission to God's authority is not a valid excuse for knowing things that we can discover, and should discover. For example, it's no excuse for not studying the Bible, or for not reading and seeing and hearing what others have to say about it. In fact, not doing those things is failing to submit to God's authority. But there are a lot of areas, some Biblical, some not, where I have to say, basically, "God, I don't understand this, or know how this worked, or how it will work, and I'm just going to trust you on this subject." I have to recognize that I'm not meant to have definite knowledge on some things, and submit to an omniscient, omnipotent God who does, and Who can do something about them, if He chooses to.

In addition to the type of question I gave above, there's another type of question. Why did God let, or cause, some particular thing -- fill it in yourself -- to happen? Why didn't God cause this particular outcome, or let it happen? Here, of course, Job is the textbook case. Although we are (sort of) told why Job suffered as he did, we aren't sure that Job was ever told at all. The point of God's lecture to Job, about the world around Job, was not about questions of understanding how nature works, but it was about why bad things happen to good people. That's the question Job really wanted an answer to. He got an answer, but it was "I am God, and I, myself, am the answer. That's all you need to know." (See also Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis.)

Thanks for reading. I hope to post soon on the limits of scientific knowledge.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Some possible means for the origin of humans, other than by special creation

Tim Keller, a pastor, has been writing a series, entitled "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople." This is the final post in that series. He is sympathetic to considering the scientific evidence, and believes that people have been turned off, perhaps even to the claims of Christ, because some Christians have publicly dismissed some of that evidence.

Keller has been considering the possibility that humans came about through some sort of evolutionary process.  I believe that he has answers for several objections, raised by Christians, to that possibility, although he does not have unassailable proof. In the final post, he points out, among other things, that the words used in Job 10:8-9, by Job, are similar to the words used in Genesis 2:7, describing the origin of Adam. (See here and here -- the same Hebrew word is used.)

For those concerned about such things, Keller believes in a literal Adam and Eve, who fell, and from whom all humans are descended.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sunspots 361

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

Science: National Public Radio on the possible bad consequences of the record warm weather that most of us have been having.

Politics:  (Sort of) The Canadian government will stop minting pennies this year, according to the National Post.

Computing: An assessment and comparison of free digital image editors.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

America's view on evolution and creationism (Infographic)

The BioLogos forum recently published an infographic, which presents the relationship between various views of origins and such variables as education, church attendance, and political party. That graphic may be found here. The graphic does not print or project well, because of its elongated shape. I asked BioLogos to redo the graphic, or, failing that, for permission to modify it so that printing and projection would be easier. I received permission from a moderator of the BioLogos blog (scroll down the comments to see that permission) provided that I used the same attribution. I have done so, including the URL as part of the resulting graphics, which I present here, smaller than actual size, so as to fit in this blog. For full-sized graphics, click on whichever one you want to see:

The introductory part of the original graphic is above.

How beliefs have changed.

Beliefs by political party.

 How church attendance relates to beliefs in origins.

The credits, indicating the source of the data.

Each graphic above are available at larger size. Just click on the graphic you want.

Thanks to BioLogos, and thanks for looking and reading. Within limits, as I understand it, you can use this material. To quote the post which presented the original graphic, "We encourage you to share the graphic with anyone and everyone, but please be sure to link back to this post as its source!" Once again, here's a link to that post, or you can copy the URL which I included in each of the graphics above.

The rapture?

Many Christians believe in a rapture, a time when Christians who are alive will be suddenly removed from the earth. Not all Christians do, however, and there are differences as to the expected timing and mode of the rapture among those who do believe in one.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we tell you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left to the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. (World English Bible, public domain)

Where does this belief come from? Is that word, rapture, in the Bible? The main, perhaps the only source, is 1 Thessalonians 4:17, given above, which doesn't actually use the word, rapture. The Blueletter Bible gives a number of translations of the verse, here, none of which have this word. The Latin Vulgate uses rapiemur, and, as I understand it, rapture is derived from that Latin word. There's a Wikimedia entry on rapiemur. The Wiktionary entry on rapture supports that, and also indicates that rapture, in English, has another, more common meaning, namely extreme pleasure.

One apparent teaching of the passage above is that the return of Christ will not be like many have portrayed it. There is a common belief about that return, namely that it will be stealthy -- those left behind will not realize what happened to believers. They will just disappear. But that idea is not suggested by the passage above. On the contrary, it seems that Christ's return will be widely recognized.

Some Bible scholars believe that the passage quoted above is a prophecy about the once and only return of Christ. They reject the idea that He will come once, for the church, and then return again to judge.

Here's the Blueletter Bible's Greek lexicon listing for apantesis, which means to meet one. There are four instances in the New Testament, in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and also in Matthew 25:1 and 6, and Acts 28:15.

At least one writer believes that apantesis, based on the other uses in the New Testament, means that 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is describing going up to meet Christ, and then coming down with him. Here's Matthew 25:1 “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. . . . In this case, apantesis seems to mean meeting, with the expectation of coming back with the person met.  So it's a welcoming committee, not an escape, in Matthew. I'm not sure that that rules out meeting someone, and then leaving, but it casts some doubt on that idea.

That same writer, basing his argument on Matthew 24, where Jesus indicates that His return will be like the sudden coming of the Flood, in the time of Noah, says that those taken by the Flood were not Noah's family, but the evil people who rejected Noah's teaching. That is true, but not everyone agrees that that means that evil people, who rejected Christ, will be taken away when He comes, and believers will be left behind.

I'm not going to solve the arguments about end times in this post, of course. The important thing about Christ's return, whenever and however it occurs, is to be ready. Thanks for reading. Be ready!

Monday, April 09, 2012

The importance of the resurrection

I can't add to that, but I need to repeat it.

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the resurrection. See Acts 2:24, 32; Acts 17:18; 1 Corinthians 15, and elsewhere, for Biblical grounds for that statement.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

George MacDonald on a miracle of resurrection

But what did our Lord mean by those words--"The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth"? Not certainly that, as we regard the difference between death and sleep, his words were to be taken literally; not that she was only
in a state of coma or lethargy; not even that it was a case of suspended animation as in catalepsy; for the whole narrative evidently intends us to believe that she was dead after the fashion we call death. That this was not to be dead after the fashion our Lord called death, is a blessed and lovely fact.

Neither can it mean, that she was not dead as others, in that he was going to wake her so soon; for they did not know that, and therefore it could give no ground for the expostulation, "Why make ye this ado, and weep?"

Nor yet could it come only from the fact that to his eyes death and sleep were so alike, the one needing the power of God for awaking just as much as the other. True they must be more alike in his eyes than even in the eyes of the many poets who have written of "Death and his brother Sleep;" but he sees the differences none the less clearly, and how they look to us, and his knowledge could be no reason for reproaching our
ignorance. The explanation seems to me large and simple. These people professed to believe in the resurrection of the dead, and did believe after some feeble fashion. They were not Sadducees, for they were the friends of a ruler of the synagogue. Our Lord did not bring the news of resurrection to the world: that had been believed, in varying degrees, by all peoples and nations from the first: the resurrection he taught was a far deeper thing--the resurrection from dead works to serve the living and true God. But as with the greater number even of Christians, although it was part of their creed, and had some influence upon their moral and spiritual condition, their practical faith in the resurrection of the body was a poor affair. In the moment of loss and grief, they thought little about it. They lived then in the present almost alone; they were not saved by hope. The reproach therefore of our Lord was simply that they did not take from their own creed the consolation they ought. If the child was to be one day restored to them, then she was not dead as their tears and lamentations would imply. Any one of themselves who believed in God and the prophets, might have stood up and said--"Mourners, why make such ado? The maid is not dead, but sleepeth. You shall again clasp her to your bosom. Hope, and fear not--only believe." It was in this sense, I think, that our Lord spoke. - George MacDonald, Miracles of our Lord, public domain. MacDonald was commenting on Mathew 9:18-26.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Resurrection clothing

John 19:23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also the coat. Now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. 24 Then they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to decide whose it will be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which says,
“They parted my garments among them.
For my cloak they cast lots.”*
Therefore the soldiers did these things. 

38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked of Pilate that he might take away Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission. He came therefore and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred Roman pounds. 40 So they took Jesus’ body, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. (World English Bible, public domain. All Bible quotations in this post are from that version.)

John 20:3 Therefore Peter and the other disciple went out, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran together. The other disciple outran Peter, and came to the tomb first. 5 Stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths lying, yet he didn’t enter in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and entered into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the cloth that had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself.

14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, and didn’t know that it was Jesus.
15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?”
She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

*The reference is to Psalm 22:18 They divide my garments among them.
They cast lots for my clothing.

We aren't given a step by step description of how Jesus was clothed at various stages during the time leading up to the crucifixion, and after it, but most likely, he was stripped completely, or possibly stripped to His undergarments, whatever that might have been, for the execution. That, of course, would have been part of the shame of this awful punishment.

His clothing, or most of his clothing,was divided up among the soldiers, and almost certainly not returned to his family or friends with the body. Even if it had been, Joseph and Nicodemus apparently started over, with wrapping appropriate for burial. But Jesus didn't need that, either! When Mary Magdalene saw Him, she didn't recognize him. He must have been wearing something, but it wasn't the grave clothes. His resurrection included some sort of clothing, not just His body!

Although this promise may have been meant only for the church at Sardis, most likely, it applies to all of the redeemed, who will receive a glorified body, and glorified garments:

Revelation 3:4 Nevertheless you have a few names in Sardis that did not defile their garments. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will be arrayed in white garments, and I will in no way blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

Thanks for reading! No Easter finery (if you wear such) can match whatever Jesus was wearing.

He is risen!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Prophecies relating to Holy Week

Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength has posted a list, with references and quotes from the Bible for each, of all the fulfilled prophecies relating to Holy Week.

I thank her.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Sunspots 360

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

Science: National Public Radio reports on a study that suggests that eating moderate amounts of chocolate helps keep weight off.

NPR also reports on potential problems in giving a heart transplant to a patient who is as old as former Vice President Cheney.

And NPR also reports that the earth has more than one moon. (No, that's not an April Fool's joke!)

The Arts: The BBC reports on the remains of what appears to be the oldest stringed instrument ever found in Europe.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


In a previous post, I mused about behemoth, a real, or perhaps imaginary, creature mentioned in the Book of Job.

I now turn to leviathan, which is mentioned in the next chapter of Job, also as part of God's response to Job, which, basically, is that God knows what He is doing, and Job doesn't.

Job 41:1 “Can you draw out Leviathan* with a fish hook,
or press down his tongue with a cord?
2 Can you put a rope into his nose,
or pierce his jaw through with a hook?
3 Will he make many petitions to you,
or will he speak soft words to you?
4 Will he make a covenant with you,
that you should take him for a servant forever?
5 Will you play with him as with a bird?
Or will you bind him for your girls?
6 Will traders barter for him?
Will they part him among the merchants?
7 Can you fill his skin with barbed irons,
or his head with fish spears?
8 Lay your hand on him.
Remember the battle, and do so no more.
9 Behold, the hope of him is in vain.
Won’t one be cast down even at the sight of him?
10 None is so fierce that he dare stir him up.
Who then is he who can stand before me?
11 Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
Everything under the heavens is mine.
12 “I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,
nor his mighty strength, nor his goodly frame.
13 Who can strip off his outer garment?
Who shall come within his jaws?
14 Who can open the doors of his face?
Around his teeth is terror.
15 Strong scales are his pride,
shut up together with a close seal.
16 One is so near to another,
that no air can come between them.
17 They are joined to one another.
They stick together, so that they can’t be pulled apart.
18 His sneezing flashes out light.
His eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.
19 Out of his mouth go burning torches.
Sparks of fire leap out.
20 Out of his nostrils a smoke goes,
as of a boiling pot over a fire of reeds.
21 His breath kindles coals.
A flame goes out of his mouth.
22 There is strength in his neck.
Terror dances before him.
23 The flakes of his flesh are joined together.
They are firm on him.
They can’t be moved.
24 His heart is as firm as a stone,
yes, firm as the lower millstone.
25 When he raises himself up, the mighty are afraid.
They retreat before his thrashing.
26 If one attacks him with the sword, it can’t prevail;
nor the spear, the dart, nor the pointed shaft.
27 He counts iron as straw;
and brass as rotten wood.
28 The arrow can’t make him flee.
Sling stones are like chaff to him.
29 Clubs are counted as stubble.
He laughs at the rushing of the javelin.
30 His undersides are like sharp potsherds,
leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.
31 He makes the deep to boil like a pot.
He makes the sea like a pot of ointment.
32 He makes a path shine after him.
One would think the deep had white hair.
33 On earth there is not his equal,
that is made without fear.
34 He sees everything that is high.
He is king over all the sons of pride.”

*41:1: Leviathan is a name for a crocodile or similar creature. (Quoted, including the note, from the World English Bible, which is public domain. All quotations from the Bible in this post use that version.)

Most Bible scholars suppose that leviathan means crocodile. But not all do:

Some think this to be a crocodile but from the description in Job 41:1-34 this is patently absurd. It appears to be a large fire breathing animal of some sort. Just as the bomardier beetle has an explosion producing mechanism, so the great sea dragon may have an explosive producing mechanism to enable it to be a real fire breathing dragon. - taken from the lexicon page on leviathan, from the Blueletter Bible. That same chapter also suggests that the creature may have been a plesiosaurus.

As far as I am aware, there is no credible evidence that dinosaurs and humans lived on earth at the same time. Nor is there evidence that fire-breathing dragons ever existed, either, however much we might wish that they had (or do). As in the previous post on behemoth, my guess is that at least some of the description given in Job is fanciful, like some of the beliefs about animals in medieval bestiaries. (We may have some equally ridiculous beliefs about some creatures now, but don't realize it.) The point of Job 41 is not to give an accurate zoological description, but to point out to Job, and early readers of the story, that God is in charge, even of remarkable creatures. My guess is that Job, and quite a few of his contemporaries, supposed that leviathan was as described, but had never seen such a creature.

Unlike behemoth, leviathan is mentioned more than once in the Bible.

There is a passing mention in Job 3:8.

Here's part of Psalm 74:12 Yet God is my King of old,
working salvation throughout the earth.
13 You divided the sea by your strength.
You broke the heads of the sea monsters in the waters.
14 You broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces.
You gave him as food to people and desert creatures.

Again, this seems to be poetic, not referring to actual events, but who knows?

There is another passing reference in Psalm 104:26, and there's also Isaiah 27:1 In that day, Yahweh with his hard and great and strong sword will punish leviathan, the fleeing serpent, and leviathan the twisted serpent; and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea. Again, this doesn't seem to be meant strictly literally. One reason I think so is because the same chapter also talks about Israel budding, blossoming, and producing fruit.

If there really were, or are, dragons, God made them, or allowed them to come into existence. That's really the point of Job 41, I believe.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 02, 2012


Job 40:15 “See now, behemoth, which I made as well as you.
He eats grass as an ox.
16 Look now, his strength is in his thighs.
His force is in the muscles of his belly.
17 He moves his tail like a cedar.
The sinews of his thighs are knit together.
18 His bones are like tubes of brass.
His limbs are like bars of iron.
19 He is the chief of the ways of God.
He who made him gives him his sword.
20 Surely the mountains produce food for him,
where all the animals of the field play.
21 He lies under the lotus trees,
in the covert of the reed, and the marsh.
22 The lotuses cover him with their shade.
The willows of the brook surround him.
23 Behold, if a river overflows, he doesn’t tremble.
He is confident, though the Jordan swells even to his mouth.
24 Shall any take him when he is on the watch,
or pierce through his nose with a snare? (World English Bible, public domain)

This passage, part of God's dialog with Job, apparently meant to show Job how little he really knew, is the only place in the Bible where the word, behemoth, is used. Some scholars believe that the word refers to the elephant, or, more likely, the hippopotamus, but at least one source suggests that behemoth may have been a dinosaur. Clearly, we don't know for sure what creature is referred to, or if, in fact, it was a real, as opposed to an imagined, being. The Wikipedia article on Behemoth suggests that it was mythological. William Blake, for one, produced a picture of behemoth, based on the description in Job. (Blake's picture includes leviathan, another beast mentioned in Job, and elsewhere. I hope to post on leviathan, also.)

In medieval times, books of bestiaries were produced. As this source says, the purpose of these books, and their descriptions of the creatures in them, some real, some mythological, was a larger one than teaching about animals. These books were meant to teach moral lessons. Was the behemoth a real animal? Was it an animal that Job thought was real, but did not exist? We don't know. We do know that God's power and knowledge transcends that of us humans. As Job finally did, we must say that we must be silent in awe at what God can do.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Prayer and devotion, by E. M. Bounds, part three

The great lack of modern religion is the spirit of devotion. We hear sermons in the same spirit with which we listen to a lecture or hear a speech. We visit the house of God just as if it were a common place, on a level with the theatre, the lecture-room or the forum. We look upon the minister of God not as the divinely-called man of God, but merely as a sort of public speaker, on a plane with the politician, the lawyer, or the average speech maker, or the lecturer. Oh, how the spirit of true and genuine devotion would radically change all this for the better! We handle sacred things just as if they were the things of the world. Even the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper becomes a mere religious performance, no preparation for it before-hand, and no meditation and prayer afterward. Even the sacrament of Baptism has lost much of its solemnity, and degenerated into a mere form, with nothing specially in it.
We need the spirit of devotion, not only to salt our secularities, but to make praying real prayers. We need to put the spirit of devotion into Monday’s business as well as in Sunday’s worship. We need the spirit of devotion, to recollect always the presence of God, to be always doing the will of God, to direct all things always to the glory of God.
The spirit of devotion puts God in all things. It puts God not merely in our praying and Church going, but in all the concerns of life. “Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” The spirit of devotion makes the common things of earth sacred, and the little things great. With this spirit of devotion, we go to business on Monday directed by the very same influence, and inspired by the same influences by which we went to Church on Sunday. The spirit of devotion makes a Sabbath out of Saturday, and transforms the shop and the office into a temple of God. - 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.