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Monday, December 31, 2012

Reprogramming heart scar tissue, and cell signalling

I recently read an article on some of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2012.

One of these was that experimenters have been able to reprogram heart scar tissue -- tissue that results from a heart attack -- to perform ordinary heart functions. See reports here and here. The work was done in mice, but most likely there will be ways to do this in humans, too.

Another breakthrough was the emerging importance of proteins called G protein-coupled receptors, which proteins receive signals outside a cell membrane, and cause some sort of action inside that membrane. These receptor proteins are involved in the senses of vision and smell, in regulating heart rate and digestion, and in regulating the immune system, as well as having other functions. The DNA which codes for these proteins makes up about 4% of the human genome.

See the previous Sunspots column for links to another list of the most important scientific discoveries of 2012, and to the most interesting microscopic views of living things published in 2012.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Prayer and Consecration, part 5, by E. M. Bounds

God wants consecrated men because they can pray and will pray. He can use consecrated men because He can use praying men. As prayerless men are in His way, hinder Him, and prevent the success of His cause, so likewise unconsecrated men are useless to Him, and hinder Him in carrying out His gracious plans, and in executing His noble purposes in redemption.
God wants consecrated men because He wants praying men. Consecration and prayer meet in the same man. Prayer is the tool with which the consecrated man works.
Consecrated men are the agents through whom prayer works. Prayer helps the consecrated man in maintaining his attitude of consecration, keeps him alive to God, and aids him in doing the work to which he is called and to which he has given himself. Consecration helps to effectual praying. Consecration enables one to get the most out of his praying.

We must insist upon it that the prime purpose of consecration is not service in the ordinary sense of that word. Service in the minds of not a few means nothing more than engaging in some of the many forms of modern Church activities. There are a multitude of such activities, enough to engage the time and mind of anyone, yea, even more than enough. Some of these may be good, others not so good. The present-day Church is filled with machinery, organisations, committees and societies, so much so that the power it has is altogether insufficient to run the machinery, or to furnish life sufficient to do all this external work. Consecration has a much higher and nobler end than merely to expend itself in these external things.
Consecration aims at the right sort of service—the Scriptural kind. It seeks to serve God, but in entirely a different sphere than that which is in the minds of present-day Church leaders and workers. The very first sort of service mentioned by Zachariah, father of John the Baptist, in his wonderful prophecy and statement in Luke 1:74, was thus:
“That he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of our life.” 
Here we have the idea of “serving God in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.”
And the same kind of service is mentioned in Luke’s strong tribute to the father and mother of John the Baptist before the latter’s birth:
“And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”
And Paul, in writing to the Philippians, strikes the same keynote in putting the emphasis on blamelessness of life:
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings, that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life.” 

- 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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sunspots 398

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

Science: Wired has posted the year's best microscopic views of living things. Spectacular (in a small way).

Wired has also compiled a presentation of the top scientific discoveries of 2012. These include confirmation of the Higgs field, and synthesis of an alternate information molecule, XNA.

Sports: (and academics!) USA Today tells us that the number one teams in men's college basketball and football, as of December 18, 2012, are also number one in graduation rate. That would be Duke basketball, at 100%, and Notre Dame football, at 97%.

Politics: (sort of) Kathleen Parker, columnist, says that one of the factors contributing to the decline of the middle class is that fewer people with high school education, but not a college education, get, or stay married. She makes some suggestions for fixing this.

According to a report in Wired, there is little or no correlation between video game playing and carrying out acts of violence.

Computing: Gizmo's freeware tells us about two on-line services that will help us save a web page, graphics and text, to our computers, as a single .PDF file.

"Viruses and malware don't teleport into your PC — they're let in. In almost all cases, that means opening a seemingly innocent attachment, clicking a bogus 'You're infected!' popup, or visiting malware havens such as porn sites." - Fred Langa, Windows Secrets, December 20, 2012


Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

You shall call his name Jesus!

You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins. - Matthew 1:21b, World English Bible, public domain.

Clicking on the graphic should make it visible in a larger form.

Blessed Christmas to you all! Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Prayer and Consecration, part 4, by E. M. Bounds

As prayer is the condition of full consecration, so prayer is the habit, the rule, of him who has dedicated himself wholly to God. Prayer is becoming in the consecrated life. Prayer is no strange thing in such a life. There is a peculiar affinity between prayer and consecration, for both recognise God, both submit to God, and both have their aim and end in God. Prayer is part and parcel of the consecrated life. Prayer is the constant, the inseparable, the intimate companion of consecration. They walk and talk together.
There is much talk today of consecration, and many are termed consecrated people who know not the alphabet of it. Much modern consecration falls far below the Scripture standard. There is really no real consecration in it. Just as there is much praying without any real prayer in it, so there is much so-called consecration current, today, in the Church which has no real consecration in it. Much for consecration in the Church which receives the praise and plaudits of superficial, formal professors, but which is wide of the mark. There is much hurrying to and fro, here and there, much fuss and feathers, much going about and doing many things, and those who busy themselves after this fashion are called consecrated men and women. The central trouble with all this false consecration is that there is no prayer in it, nor is it in any sense the direct result of praying. People can do many excellent and commendable things in the Church and be utter strangers to a life of consecration, just as they can do many things and be prayerless.
Here is the true test of consecration. It is a life of prayer. Unless prayer be pre-eminent, unless prayer is to the front, the consecration is faulty, deceptive, falsely named. Does he pray? That is the test-question of every so-called consecrated man. Is he a man of prayer? No consecration is worth a thought if it be devoid of prayer. Yea, more—if it be not preeminently and primarily a life 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.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas? Perhaps not the right word

Some people want others to say "Merry Christmas," as opposed to "Happy Holidays." I can understand that, but I'm not sure that that's the phrase that they really want to use. See here for more on the so-called "War on Christmas."

A search for the use of the word, "merry," in the King James Bible turns up 28 occurrences. A good number of these associate being merry with being at least mildly intoxicated, and in some of those cases, the merry person, or persons, did something foolish while merry.

Dictionaries indicate that merry means happy, having fun, enjoying things. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with being happy, having fun, and enjoying things at Christmas. But I think there's a better, and more appropriate phrase: "Blessed Christmas!" We were blessed by the coming of Christ, who lived as a perfect sacrifice, and died as one, and was resurrected, proving that the sacrifice was accepted. We are blessed!

The angels told the shepherds that Christ's coming brought peace to those who accepted the sacrifice. They also said that His coming brought glory to God. We are blessed.

Blessed Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Why Strict Atheism is Unscientific

There's a fine post, on the topic of the title, "Why Strict Atheism is Unscientific," at the BioLogos forum, including a splendid quotation from Carl Sagan. It's brief, readable, and important.

Read it, if you wish to. Blessed Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Regulating guns, by Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice

A lot has, and will be, said about regulating guns, especially in the light of the tragic recent shooting in Connecticut.

I have no wish to get into a debate on that subject. I do wish to inform, by repeating something written by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the Court majority, in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Court struck down a District ordinance prohibiting gun use, in 2008 In other words, the Court affirmed the Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Many commentators consider Scalia to be the most conservative member of the Court, by which I mean that he is the most reluctant to change what he believes the Constitution and amendments meant to the framers at the time adopted.

Here's part of what Scalia wrote, indicating clearly that the right to bear arms is not an absolute right, in the view of the Court:

 2. Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose:  For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

I also state the obvious, namely that, for the Christian, the laws of God should override the laws of any nation, even the U. S. Constitution.

It is my understanding that U. S. Supreme Court documents are in the public domain. See here for the Wikipedia article on District of Columbia v. Heller.

Thanks for reading. Be safe, and have a Blessed Christmas.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sunspots 397

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

Humor: (Not exactly, but I don't have a "Food" category.) A small Georgia town has two fruitcake companies, according to a National Public Radio report on fruitcake, and what is in it, and what it's good for. 

Science:  A study of porcupine quills may help produce better injection needles and surgical wound repair, according to National Public Radio.

The Arts: The World has a report on languages created for works of fantasy literature. You can hear Ursula K. Le Guin, discussing her splendid The Dispossessed, and see a weather report in one of Tolkien's elvish languages.

A fine blog post, with photographs, giving a biography of J. R. R. Tolkien.

Christianity: Kerry i am took a walk with a Haitian man, with no common language, with amazing consequences.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The January Dancer by Michael Flynn

I recently read The January Dancer, by Michael Flynn (New York: Tor, 2008). It was a good read, but it's not as ground-breaking as Flynn's Eifelheim, in which non-humanoid aliens get stranded on earth in the 1300s, and some of them are converted to Christianity. One symptom that the book is less important is that there is no Wikipedia article about it.

The book is set in the far future, thousands of years from now. There is a chart of part of the galaxy, with a dozen or more star systems, all inhabited, shown, before the story begins. (Terra isn't one of them, although there are Terrans in the book.) The action takes place on more than one of these planets, and in space. Flynn supposes that it is possible to travel faster than light, in a method not fully explained, but involving following certain "highways" in space. The January Dancer of the title is a artifact, apparently roughly the size of a bottle of water, that was discovered on a site of a previous civilization. (In the book, this civilization is "pre-human," and doesn't seem to have been ancestral to humans.) The captain of the boat that found it was named January, and the object changes shape unobtrusively, hence "dancer."

There are two aspects of the book that I'd like to mention. One of them is its structure. The book is mostly a story, told by a scarred man to a harpist. Occasionally we get back to the interaction between the two, and that interaction, and who these two are, are part of the plot, but the book could have been written, I guess, as just a narrative of the story that the scarred man tells.

If you are interested in knowing more about the plot, you can find reviews of the book, for instance herehere, here and here.

The second thing I wish to write about is the treatment of religion, which is not a major theme of this book, but which I always find interesting.

Even though it's the far future, there is some recollection of Christianity. Here's part of a conversation between the scarred man and the harpist:
". . . If there is another side of death, none have come back to tell us of it."
"There is are ancient legends that once, someone did." (p. 178)

and from another conversation: ". . . She had a god who was supposed to be three without being more than one. . . " (321)

On page 392, a group of Terrans, working, are said to be singing a song about bringing in sheaves, which song must be "Bringing in the Sheaves," a gospel song written in the 19th century which has been, I believe, almost forgotten in our own day.

But there are new gods, also mostly forgotten. Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein among them. Newton, for example, is said to control the motion of astronomical objects. (p. 384) An interesting idea!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas - great news!

As I write, the big news in the United States is a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a great tragedy. If it hadn't been for that, it would have been the inability of President Obama and the Republicans of the House of Representatives to reach some settlement, so as to avoid the "fiscal cliff," which will increase taxes on most of us, and cut parts of some government spending drastically and suddenly.

But these events, or whatever events will soon take their place, pale into insignificance beside the birth of Christ, God Himself, come to earth to live, die, and be resurrected as the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Here's a 5 minute, 37 second video, of a flash mob of excellent singers, presenting that Good News in a California mall in 2010. If you have never seen this, you should. If you have seen it, you should see it again!

Thanks for reading. Please watch.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Prayer and Consecration, part 3, by E. M. Bounds

Consecration being the intelligent, voluntary act of the believer, this act is the direct
result of praying. No prayerless man ever conceives the idea of a full consecration. Prayerlessness
and consecration have nothing whatever in common. A life of prayer naturally
leads up to full consecration. It leads nowhere else. In fact, a life of prayer is satisfied with
nothing else but an entire dedication of one’s self to God. Consecration recognises fully
God’s ownership to us. It cheerfully assents to the truth set forth by Paul:
“Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body and spirit, which are God’s.”
And true praying leads that way. It cannot reach any other destination. It is bound to run into this depot. This is its natural result This is the sort of work which praying turns out. Praying makes consecrated people. It cannot make any other sort. It drives to this end. It aims at this very purpose.
As prayer leads up to and brings forth full consecration, so prayer entirely impregnates a consecrated life. The prayer life and the consecrated life are intimate companions. They are Siamese twins, inseparable. Prayer enters into every phase of a consecrated life. A prayerless life which claims consecration is a misnomer, false, counterfeit.
Consecration is really the setting apart of one’s self to a life of prayer. It means not only to pray, but to pray habitually, and to pray more effectually. It is the consecrated man who accomplishes most by His praying. God must hear the man wholly given up to God. God cannot deny the requests of him who has renounced all claims to himself, and who has wholly dedicated himself to God and His service. This act of the consecrated man puts him “on praying ground and pleading terms” with God. It puts Him in reach of God in prayer. It places him where he can get hold of God, and where he can influence God to do things which He would not otherwise do. Consecration brings answers to prayer. God can depend upon consecrated men. God can afford to commit Himself in prayer to those who have fully committed themselves to God. He who gives all to God will get all from God. Having given all to God, he can claim all that God has for him.

- 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, December 15, 2012

How computers work

How do computers work? It's a complex subject, but I'm going to give it a shot.

By computers, I mean information appliances, including, but not limited to, personal computers, larger computers, tablets, and smartphones.

I'll start with an attempt at diagramming the important parts of computers:

The graphic is a link to a larger version of the chart.

The diagram above, complex as it is, leaves out a lot. Perhaps the most important entity that it leaves out is perhaps the most important kind of software -- personal data. Documents, presentations, graphics, videos, music, eBooks, and other items that we, the users, have created, or that we have obtained from other sources.

Hardware and software

Computers require hardware, physical equipment. There are many kinds of hardware, including cases, monitors or viewing screens, touchscreens, physical memory, cables, mice, trackpads, keyboards, processing units, modems, routers, printers, computer projectors, wi-fi receiver/transmitters, speakers, and a lot more. These are all physically tangible, although often, they are hidden inside the case.

Software is information of some sort, that is stored, for intervals ranging for the life of the processing unit or hard disk, to for a very short time. There are several kinds of software, including operating systems, application software (or apps), hardware drivers, utilities, and data. One thing that I need to say about information -- it's stored, and passed on, as some sort of binary data -- a string of 1's and 0's, represented as pulses of electric charge, as tiny areas on a  memory chip, either magnetized or not, or in some other way. If you could dissect an information appliance, you aren't going to find anything that looks like a picture. Pictures are assembled, by software, from these pulses or magnetized areas. I'm  going to discuss these types of software below.

A cynical way to look at the difference between hardware and software is that, if all goes well, eventually, you can get software to work, but that, eventually, hardware will fail and stop working.

Software should sometimes be updated. The manufacturer may find an error in the software, as originally sold or distributed, and corrects that, or adds capability to an application, or finds a vulnerability to a virus or other malware in an operating system. Microsoft updates Windows several times a year. When an update becomes available, you should usually update the software. Some updating is automatic, provided the information appliance has an Internet connection.

Operating systems

Operating systems include the instructions that make an information appliance into something more than an expensive doorstop or paperweight -- when it is turned on, the operating system, after a delay (called booting up) tells the information appliance "You are now a computer, or smartphone, or whatever it is." They also do other things, such as help the user communicate with the computer, for example by monitoring the keyboard and sending the information input in that way to the operating system, a utility, or an application. They read information from storage hardware.

Examples of operating systems include Windows (all versions) for Windows computers and tablets, Mountain Lion for iMacs, and Ice Cream Sandwich for Android tablets and smartphones. There should be an operating system already installed on any information appliance you purchase from an electronics store.

Operating systems also communicate with peripheral hardware, such as printers, and the viewing screen. They may communicate with a disk drive or other storage device.

Ideally, an operating system is so unobtrusive that a user doesn't even notice it, or may not even think that her information appliance has one.

Application software

Application software is designed to carry out a specific purpose, for example word processing, or allowing a user to play a particular game. Whereas all functioning information appliances have operating systems, the applications available may vary widely from one information appliance to another. You have probably seen this in comparing the appearance of two smartphones.

If I want to create a document of some sort, say a business letter, I do whatever the operating system requires, so that the computer retrieves a word processor application from storage. Then I type the letter. The operating system passes the information from each key, and from other ways of inputting, to the word processor. The word processor receives that information, and presents it as a string of letters, some capitalized, and punctuation, including spaces and line breaks, on the screen. Word is the most common word processor. There are many others.

Other applications, say Angry Birds, use few or no inputs from the keyboard, but are similar to word processors, in that the operating system starts them, and they take user input, in this case from finger movements and taps on a touchscreen, they display the result on the screen, and that they are for a specific purpose. You wouldn't use a word processor to calculate your taxes, and you can't use Angry Birds to play solitaire.

Browsers

A browser is a special type of application. Its purpose is to connect you with the Internet, although browsers can be used for other purposes. Many people use a browser to send and receive e-mail, and to access documents compatible with the web that are stored as data on their information appliance. Examples include Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, Dolphin, and the stock Android browser. (That is, the one that comes installed on devices with an Android operating system, such as Ice Cream Sandwich.)

Browsers, like all applications, are under the control of the operating system, and use the operating system to communicate with the user. Browsers usually look up information on the Internet, under the control of the user, and present the contents of a web page to the user. Entering a URL, such as "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_browser" or the simpler "en.wikipedia.org," or typing a search term or phrase, tells the browser where to go on the Internet. Clicking on a link also tells the browser where to go.

Browsers usually have extensions. A common one is Adobe Reader, which lets the browser present .PDF files to the user. Another one is the Flash player, which allows the browser to present some types of multimedia. Other extensions may attempt to block access to dangerous web sites, or keep track of passwords for you. There are many other extensions.

Some applications can connect to the Internet without using a browser. This is often true of e-mail applications and utilities, and is true of some apps.

Hardware drivers

Hardware drivers work with the operating system to communicate with various kinds of peripheral hardware, such as printers, cameras, a mouse, and others. Printers, say, are not all alike. Even printers made by the same manufacturer are not all alike. The operating system sends information from an application, such as a word processor, to a printer driver, which, as it were, translates that information to the language used by the particular printer, which, in turn, prints out a document.

Most hardware comes with a driver installed, but there are times when the operating system will tell you, as it were, "I don't know how to communicate with this type of device." For example, if a new type of camera comes out a couple of years after your computer, most likely there won't be a driver for this camera installed on the computer. You may have purchased a CD with the camera driver along with the camera, or it may be necessary for the operating system to search the Internet for a driver, or you may have to go to the manufacturer's web site and locate a driver and download it and install it, in order to use that camera with our computer.

Utilities work with the operating system to do various things. Perhaps the most common type of utility is anti-virus software. Another handy type of utility is a program that tells you which software you need to update, and helps to update it for you.

Data

Data is a general name for information that you create, or that someone else makes available to you. There are many types, including text documents, messages, books, web pages, pictures, presentations, spreadsheets, game scores, music, videos, and others.

User-created data, such as term papers, financial information, and photos, may be extremely important. Because this is true, it should be backed up frequently. That is, it should be copied onto an external storage device, or to Internet storage sites. I use a flash drive, and copy all the data files created or saved, say, during the last three days, onto it, then copy from the flash drive to a second computer. Twice a month, I copy at least that months files to an external hard drive.

Thanks for directing your browser and the operating system to access this web page.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Global Burden of Disease study

National Public Radio has reported on a massive study, on the Global Burden of Disease, which attempted to answer the question "how many people are sick, disabled, or die, from what causes, at what ages, in each country of the world?"

Perhaps the most important finding of the study is that, as the world's population ages, more and more people will be living with serious disabilities, because people who are older are more likely to have such disabilities.

Another finding of the study is that "The U.S. ranked about 32nd in healthy life expectancy, behind both Canada and the U.K.," which is one of many indications that the US healthcare system is certainly not "the best in the world," as politicians have often claimed. (Speaker of the House Boehner said so in 2012. I think President Obama said it during his first campaign for the Presidency, but I can't find a reference to that.)

The original study was published as a group of reports in The Lancet, the most important medical journal in the United Kingdom (Investigators included scientists from the U.S., and other countries.) At least some of these original reports are freely available. Here's the table of contents, with links to the articles. The on-line version includes a remarkable interactive bar graph, which shows the effects of various kinds of problems (such as war and disaster, and cancer) on people, at certain ages, and the effects on males and females. Warning -- that bar graph takes some time to load.

The authors recognized that, for some countries, the data was far from complete, but the main conclusions are not affected by this.

To read a short list and discussion of the most important problems with healthcare in the United States, go here. (That post was written in 2009, before the adoption of "Obamacare," but the problems haven't changed much. There may be other serious problems caused by that law.)

Thanks for reading. Stay healthy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sunspots 396

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

Humor: (or engineering) BBC News reports on how tall a Lego tower could be. I thank one of my brothers for the link.

Science: Wired has assembled the twenty best scientific figures -- charts, drawings, etc -- of 2012. (I know -- it's not over yet). I found all 20 of them to be just amazing. Note: For some reason, I was unable to view these using Firefox, my usual browser. I did see them using Chrome and Internet Explorer. Some of the diagrams showing climate change were really scary. I guess I liked the last one, showing how geese from Asia fly at great heights, the best.

Computing: Snapseed, an award-winning app for photo-editing, is now available free for iPads, iPhones, and Android cell phones and tablets.


Angus T. Jones, the young star of Two and a Half Men has recently become a Christian. He has stated that the show he's on is "filth," and that people shouldn't watch it. Christianity Today has posted some reactions from Christians (some of them not totally supportive). There's also an interview with Jones, who calls himself a "paid hypocrite."

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Prayer and consecration, part 2, by E. M. Bounds

Consecration is not so much the setting one’s self apart from sinful things and wicked ends, but rather it is the separation from worldly, secular and even legitimate things, if they come in conflict with God’s plans, to holy uses. It is the devoting of all we have to God for His own specific use. It is a separation from things questionable, or even legitimate, when the choice is to be made between the things of this life and the claims of God.
The consecration which meets God’s demands and which He accepts is to be full, complete, with no mental reservation, with nothing withheld. It cannot be partial, any more than a whole burnt offering in Old Testament times could have been partial. The whole animal had to be offered in sacrifice. To reserve any part of the animal would have seriously vitiated the offering. So to make a half-hearted, partial consecration is to make no consecration at all, and is to fail utterly in securing the Divine acceptance. It involves our whole being, all we have and all that we are. Everything is definitely and voluntarily placed in God’s hands for His supreme use.
Consecration is not all there is in holiness. Many make serious mistakes at this point. Consecration makes us relatively holy. We are holy only in the sense that we are now closely related to God, in which we were not related heretofore Consecration is the human side of holiness. In this sense, it is self-sanctification, and only in this sense. Sanctification or holiness in its truest and highest sense is Divine, the act of the Holy Spirit working in the heart, making it clean and putting therein in a higher degree the fruits of the Spirit.
This distinction is clearly set forth and kept in view by Moses in “Leviticus,” wherein he shows the human and the Divine side of sanctification or holiness:
“Sanctify yourselves, therefore, and be ye holy, for I am the Lord your God. And ye shall keep my statutes and do them; I am the Lord which sanctify you.”
Here we are to sanctify ourselves, and then in the next word we are taught that it is the Lord which sanctifies us. God does not consecrate us to His service. We do not sanctify ourselves in this highest sense. Here is the two-fold meaning of sanctification, and a distinction which needs to be always kept in mind.

- 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.

December 19, 2012: This post has become a target for spam comments, so I am disabling comments on it. If you want to comment, please comment on a different post. Thanks.

Friday, December 07, 2012

I'm afraid I've won the "War on Christmas"

I think I've won the war on Christmas. I shouldn't have. I should have lost it, and let the Christ of Christmas be the winner in my life. I'm not speaking of the "war on Christmas" that some people are. I'm speaking of another, more important one, the real one.

. . . Christmas itself has now far outstripped Easter in popular culture as the real celebratory center of the Christian year -- a move that completely reverses the New Testament's emphasis. We sometimes try, in hymns, prayers, and sermons, to build a whole theology on Christmas, but it can't in fact sustain such a thing. N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperOne, 2008, p. 23.

The War on Christmas, in most people's minds.

Every year, at about this time, we hear about the so-called "War on Christmas." The Wikipedia even has an article on "Christmas Controversy."

To quote the Wikipedia: "Modern-day controversy occurs mainly in western countries such as the United States, Canada, and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom and Ireland, and usually stems from a contrast between the holiday's significant social and economic role in these countries and its strong association with Christianity in an increasingly multiculturally sensitive and religiously diversifying society." Let me consider three of the reasons that some Christians say that there is such a war.

1) Some uninformed people object to the use of Xmas, believing that that is minimizing Christ, for whom Christmas was named. However, Xmas has been a common way  of representing Christ's name in written form. The X comes from the Greek letter chi, which looks like an X, and is the first letter of the word for Christ in Greek, which is Χριστός (Christos). See the Wikipedia article on that Greek letter for more. The labarum, which uses chi and rho, the second letter in the Greek word for Christ, plus a cross, to represent Christ, is an important symbol in some churches.

2) Some Christians, and some others, believe that manger scenes, or crèches, should be displayed by city or other local governments. Other people object, on the grounds that doing that is a violation of the Constitutional separation of Church and State, and the courts have generally agreed with them.

There should be separation of Church and state, such that local, state, and national governments should not officially recognize Wiccan, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other religion's special days. (We do have an official Christmas holiday in this country, and I'm not advocating doing away with that. Even people of other faiths usually seem to enjoy and celebrate the Christmas holiday, at least as a day off. Recognizing Christmas by a national holiday is a longstanding tradition, even though it is, after all, a recognition, by government, of a Christian special day. But let's not go further.)

Back to government recognition of Christmas, or not. Fighting for manger scenes at Christmas time seems like a strange battle. We don't know when Christ was born, not even the exact year, let alone the month and the day.

Besides that, manger scenes are usually inaccurate. There is no Biblical evidence that the shepherds who came to visit Christ stayed very long, and that their visit overlapped with that of the wise men. Almost no Bible scholars think that the wise men came while the shepherds were there. Except for the fact that there were three gifts mentioned, there's no evidence that there were three wise men, or astrologers. Perhaps there were two, or a dozen. It may have been three, but we aren't sure. There's no suggestion, in the Bible, that they came from three different races. The Bible does not say that they came on camels. Perhaps they did, but there's no solid evidence for it.

The current Pope has even gone so far as to point out that there is no evidence that there were any animals in the stable where Christ was born. (The Vatican uses animals in its nativity scenes, and the Pope concedes that Christians, including Catholics, aren't going to stop including them.)

There is no good reason why a church, or a private individual or organization, cannot display a manger scene at Christmas, or on the Fourth of July, for that matter. But Christians shouldn't try to get the government to sponsor an inaccurate symbol to be displayed at what may be the wrong time of year.

3) There are also complaints when "Christmas cards" have no reference to Christmas, or when someone says, or writes, "Happy Holidays," rather than "Merry Christmas."

It's certainly true that these things happen. But should those who hold Christ, and His name, to be deeply significant, be offended? I'm not sure that we should. Commerce, in North America, takes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the other days through December 24 as serious shopping times. Jobs depend on selling lots of stuff. There is music played over the speaker systems in stores, and on the radio. We expect to hear "Jingle Bell Rock," "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," "The Christmas Song," "Here Comes Santa Claus," and the like, most of them have nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Some do, of course, such as "Silent Night." "Little Drummer Boy" has a little to do with Christ's birth, but drums, as we think of them, weren't developed until centuries after Christ's birth. (Here's one list of the greatest "Christmas" songs. Many of them don't mention Christ.) Santa Claus, not Christ, is the main attraction in most Christmas parades. We expect to see, if we wish, various TV programs dealing with the season, such as one about Rudolph, or Frosty, or the Grinch. The latter, at least, acknowledges the importance of a spirit of generosity, but the TV program about that green creature makes no mention of the birth of Christ, and the others usually don't, either.

We should be generous all year. There's nothing wrong with giving so-called "Christmas presents," but I suspect that, even in the family celebrations of most believers, we don't connect doing that with the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus, or with Christ's gift of freedom from sin, other than, perhaps, reading part of Luke 2. Most of the symbols associated with Christmas have a life of their own, independent of any connection with the birth of Christ. It is possible to connect most of them with His life, and some of us try to, but sometimes the connection is pretty tenuous, and is easy to forget. Can you tell me what the color red, or Christmas trees, have to do with Christ's birth? I can't.

What am I saying? I'm saying that, in fact, a month or so of the calendar is largely dedicated, not to the birth of Christ, but to increasing sales for the year, to displaying traditional symbols, to greeting others, and giving to other people. Most giving to others, co-workers, the poor, or our own families, is not much connected to Christ's birth. It's just a seasonal habit, and much of it is commercially driven, or because we want to take an income tax deduction, or because we want to feel good about ourselves. Giving to others, in the right spirit, is a good thing, but most of it, in December, is not directly related to Christ's birth. It's no wonder that some people, and some businesses, use "Happy Holidays," rather than "Merry Christmas." And "Merry Christmas" is not about Christ's birth, either. Being merry is about gifts, and families, Christmas bonuses, and days off. A more appropriate exclamation would be "Blessed Christmas," if we mean it. Almost all of us, including those of us who claim to be followers of Christ, spend more time, money, and thought on addressing cards, selecting, wrapping, giving and receiving presents, eating with others, wondering if it will snow, traveling, and listening to, or watching, traditional material in the media than we do thinking about the significance of the birth of Christ. Why blame Walmart or ESPN or whoever, when they say "Happy Holidays?"

The real war on Christmas.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with taking part in many of the customs of the culture in which we live, associated with the time period between late November and early January. That is, unless doing so turns us into selfish whiners with too much to do to be really generous and loving to others, or into crabs, complaining because we can't find the perfect gift, or because someone else doesn't share our family or church traditions. But taking part in these things should not take up most of our attention. They need to be kept in perspective, eternal perspective.

Christ, the creator and sustainer of the universe, came from heaven, at our great need. He came to develop as an embryo in Mary's womb, to be born, to live as a great teacher, die as a sinless sacrifice for our sins, and come back from death to prove that He had accomplished that task. If I forget that, or fail to emphasize it in my own thoughts, I've won the war on Christmas, the wrong one, when I should have lost it.

If my life, my thoughts, and my words don't make the accomplishment of Christ more important than Christmas traditions, or my hobbies, my job (or lack thereof), my team, my political agenda, my family and friends, or even my church, then I've won the war on Christmas, and Christmas has lost it, as far as my own personal battleground is concerned. Christmas has lost this war because I don't keep the truth of Christ's accomplishment as the most important thing in my head, year round. My mind is not on Christmas, and what it really means. It's on peripheral things.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it. 6 There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John*. 7 The same came as a witness, that he might testify about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but was sent that he might testify about the light. 9 The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own, and those who were his own didn’t receive him. 12 But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name: 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.  *John the Baptist

1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (World English Bible, public domain)


Thanks for reading. God help me, and you. Blessed Christmas!

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I added the quotation from N. T. Wright on January 2, 2013.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Sunspots 395

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Humor:  The Onion has named Kim Jong-Un, of North Korea, the sexiest man alive. The Chinese People's Daily took them seriously.

(Not exactly humor . . .) The Huffington Post has a slideshow on signs that celebrity marriages were doomed from the start.

Science:  Wired reports that microbes have been found in a body of water in Antarctica, 65 feet under the ice.

Business Line (!) speculates that planets around other stars may be "more habitable than earth."

From Flickr, a photo of a turtle's face, close-up.

 Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

To sequence a baby's genome, or not?

National Public Radio reports on the dilemmas of deciding whether or not to sequence a baby's entire genome -- it can be done, and will get cheaper as time passes.

There are things about my own genome that I'd rather not know. Do I have a predisposition for Alzheimer's? I hope not, but I'd rather not know that, I guess. Or at least I would have rather not know that when I was a thirty-year-old.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but it always brings more responsibility. Perhaps we should never sequence anybody's genome, unless there is a compelling medical, judicial or scientific reason for doing so.

Thanks for reading. Read the article.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Attributes and qualities of God

Attributes and qualities of God
Attributes and Qualities of God

About a year ago, I posted a chart, illustrating an ideal pattern for prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Adoration, or praising God for who and what He is, is perhaps the most difficult of these for me to get a grip on. So I have attempted, and it is a feeble attempt, for sure, to set forth ten of God's special attributes. Some of these attributes, especially numbers 7 and 10, are shared, in a measure, by humans, and, I believe, make up part of the image of God in us.

No chart, however complex, or sophisticated, or clear, can capture who and what God is. This doesn't. But it's an attempt.

As with all my charts, you may use this freely, without restrictions, except that you are not to use it for commercial purposes. I would hope that you would credit me when you use any of my materials. Also, if you want a larger size, with better resolution, the chart, itself, is a link to the picture on my Flickr photostream. Following that link will lead to the original picture. There is a small magnifying glass above the picture. Click on that, and you will see an invitation to see all sizes. Pick a larger size, if you wish.

You may want to see this post, listing the the ways God reveals Himself to humans.

Thanks for reading and looking.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Prayer and Consecration, part 1, by E. M. Bounds

When we study the many-sidedness of prayer, we are surprised at the number of things with which it is connected. There is no phase of human life which it does not affect, and it has to do with everything affecting human salvation. Prayer and consecration are closely related. Prayer leads up to, and governs consecration. Prayer is precedent to consecration, accompanies it, and is a direct result of it. Much goes under the name of consecration which has no consecration in it. Much consecration of the present day is defective, superficial and spurious, worth nothing so far as the office and ends of consecration are concerned. Popular consecration is sadly at fault because it has little or no prayer in it. No consecration is worth a thought which is not the direct fruit of much praying, and which fails to bring one into a life of prayer. Prayer is the one thing prominent in a consecrated life.
Consecration is much more than a life of so-called service. It is a life of personal holiness, first of all. It is that which brings spiritual power into the heart and enlivens the entire inner man. It is a life which ever recognises God, and a life given up to true prayer.
Full consecration is the highest type of a Christian life. It is the one Divine standard of experience, of living and of service. It is the one thing at which the believer should aim. Nothing short of entire consecration must satisfy him.
Never is he to be contented till he is fully, entirely the Lord’s by his own consent. His praying naturally and involuntarily leads up to this one act of his.
Consecration is the voluntary set dedication of one’s self to God, an offering definitely made, and made without any reservation whatever. It is the setting apart of all we are, all we have, and all we expect to have or be, to God first of all. It is not so much the giving of ourselves to the Church, or the mere engaging in some one line of Church work. Almighty God is in view and He is the end of all consecration. It is a separation of one’s self to God, a devotement of all that he is and has to a sacred use. Some things may be devoted to a special purpose, but it is not consecration in the true sense. Consecration has a sacred nature. It is devoted to holy ends. It is the voluntary putting of one’s self in God’s hands to be used sacredly, holily, with sanctifying ends in view.

- 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.