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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lectures on Revivals of Religion, by Charles Grandison Finney, 11

Finally.—I have a proposal to make to you who are here present. I have not commenced this course of Lectures on Revivals to get up a curious theory of my own on the subject. I would not spend my time and strength merely to give you instructions, to gratify your curiosity, and furnish you something to talk about. I have no idea of preaching about revivals. It is not my design to preach so as to have you able to say at the close, “We understand all about revivals now,” while you do nothing. But I wish to ask you a question. What do you hear lectures on revivals for? Do you mean that whenever you are convinced what your duty is in promoting a revival, you will go to work and practise it

Will you follow the instructions I shall give you from the word of God, and put them in practise in your own lives? Will you bring them to bear upon your families, your acquaintance, neighbors, and through the city? Or will you spend the winter in learning about revivals, and do nothing for them? I want you, as fast as you learn any thing on the subject of revivals, to put it in practice, and go to work and see if you cannot promote a revival among sinners here. If you will not do this, I wish you to let me know at the beginning, so that I need not waste my strength. You ought to decide now whether you will do this or not. You know that we call sinners to decide on the spot whether they will obey the Gospel. And we have no more authority to let you take time to deliberate whether you will obey God, than we have to let sinners do so. We call on you to unite now in a solemn pledge to God, that you will do your duty as fast as you learn what it is, and to pray that He will pour out his Spirit upon this church and upon all the city this winter. 

The previous post in this series is here. Charles Grandison Finneyʼs Lectures on Revivals of Religion is in the public domain, as I understand it. It is available here. This is the last post in this series. Next Sunday, God willing, there will be an excerpt from another Christian classic. Thanks for reading. Seek revival.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I'm thankful for Hydrogen

Thankful for Hydrogen

Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. About 75% of the mass of the universe is Hydrogen. That is even more remarkable, since Hydrogen is also the least massive of the kinds of atoms. It takes about 12 Hydrogens to have the same mass as Carbon, and over 200 Hydrogens to have the same mass as some of the heavier elements.

So why, other than that it is common, is Hydrogen important? For a number of reasons. The graphic says that Hydrogen makes up part of water, and water is a unique, and very important substance. The graphic also says that Hydrogen is important in photosynthesis. Photosynthesis uses light energy to split Hydrogen from water, and to attach that Hydrogen to Carbon. As a result of the process, glucose, C6H12O6, is produced. Glucose is the basic food molecule of the biosphere, and it has 12 Hydrogen atoms. The graphic says that Hydrogen is found in DNA. It is. It's also found in fats, sugars, proteins, vitamins, hormones, and more, all of them essential to living things, including us.

The graphic also says that Hydrogen can be said to be the ultimate source of the sun's energy. That is true. Four Hydrogen nuclei fuse, to make a Helium nucleus, and, in the process, a little of the mass of the four Hydrogens is changed to energy, according Einstein's E=mc2 equation. Since the mass is multiplied by the velocity of light, squared, that energy adds up. The sun is not burning, in the usual sense. It is changing its Hydrogen to Helium, nuclear fusion, and is releasing energy in the process. The sun is changing about 4.289x1012 g of mass to energy every second. (source) That's about 5 million tons. But don't worry. Even at that rate, the sun isn't going to run out of Hydrogen for a very long time. There's a LOT of Hydrogen in the sun.

They aren't on the graphic, but I'll mention two other important things that Hydrogen is and does.

Hydrogen makes acids to be what they are. An acid is a substance that can release a charged Hydrogen atom. Some of us have too much acid in our digestive system, and take various antacids, or proton release inhibitors. (A proton makes up the nucleus of a Hydrogen atom.) But acids are very important. Stomach acid does a good job in digesting food, for one thing.

Hydrogen is an excellent fuel, in the sense that you can get a lot of energy from it when you  burn it. Rockets blasting off into space use Hydrogen as their fuel. The chemical equation is very simple: 2 Hydrogens + 1 Oxygen = 1 water + energy. Recall that photosynthesis uses light energy to break up water. Burning Hydrogen does the opposite. It puts Hydrogen and Oxygen together, and gives up energy in the process. There is Hydrogen in most of the molecules in gasoline, and in kerosene, and in natural gas, coal and wood. When any of these burn, water is produced. (Check your exhaust pipe on a cold day.)

Hydrogen fuel, in various ways, may become more useful to us in the future. Hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles are being tested. Since Hydrogen is available in water, and there is plenty of water, we aren't going to run out of Hydrogen. However, like photosynthesis, to get Hydrogen out of water takes energy, which means that Hydrogen fuel cells will probably take more energy to produce than they make available. But they may still be used, because of convenience, and cutting down on the pollution from burning gasoline, if various developmental details can be worked out.

Thanks for reading! I believe, but cannot prove, that God planned for Hydrogen, the smallest nucleus, to have these important roles in our lives, and in the way the universe is. It can't be disproved, either.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'm thankful for Adenosine

Thankful for adenosine

I'm thankful for adenosine. You should be, too. Adenosine plays some critical roles in our lives. The graphic above shows a molecular model, found in the Wikipedia article on adenosine. (Such use of the graphic is allowed.) The black spheres represent Carbon atoms, the red, Oxygen, the black, Nitrogen, the white, Hydrogen, and the yellow-orange sphere represents Phosphorus. The rods represent covalent bonds. The dotted lines indicate some movement of some of the electrons. Adenosine is also known as adenine monophosphate (AMP). The Phosphorus on the right, with its attached four Oxygens, is a phosphate. The hexagon and pentagon, on the left, are Adenine, a Nitrogen base. The middle part is deoxyribose, a 5-Carbon sugar.

It is pretty well known that DNA uses Nitrogen bases A, C, G and T to make up our hereditary code. The A stands for Adenine. However, A is connected to a 5-Carbon sugar, Deoxyribose, and to a phosphate, in actual DNA. (C, G and T are also so connected.) The actual genetic code is the sequence of AT, TA, CG and GC pairs, in the double helix, but there wouldn't be a double helix without the deoxyribose and the phosphate.

I used a photo of three girls to represent heredity. I'm not sure how they are related, but I think that two of them are identical twins. In any case, even if one of them is a cousin, rather than a sibling, they clearly share some external characteristics. These characteristics are largely determined by the common DNA that they got from their parents. You may not have thought of it, but the heredity-determining ability of DNA is important, even if you don't have any children. The left half of your body gets the same DNA as the right, the top as the bottom, etc. That's important to make us what we are. Besides, all of us have parents, living or dead.

Adenosine has another important function. It is the raw material for ATP, adenosine triphosphate. ATP has two more phosphates attached to it, in addition to the one in adenosine (AMP).

In most automobiles, the energy stored in gasoline is released, a little at a time, in the cylinders. That's a much better way of using the chemical energy of gasoline than causing an explosion in the gas tank would be! In a similar way, energy from food, say a sugar molecule, is captured, temporarily, in several ATP molecules, which can be transported within the cell. (One part of such capturing is glycolysis.) When energy is needed, for example to make a hormone, ATP is turned back into Adenosine/AMP, as the high-energy bonds that held the two additional phosphates are broken. It sounds complicated, and it is, but is works, and it's a good thing it does! So the energy from food is divided into ATPs, and these are used, a little of the energy at a time.

Because adenosine, and other important molecules, have Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen and Phosphorus in them, living things all need such elements. They need other elements, too, especially Sulfur, which is found in proteins.

I'm convinced that God knew about adenosine, and how it would work, and planned for this. I can't prove it, and it can't be disproved, either. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sunspots 497

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity: A good blog post on why congregations aren't singing, only listening, in some churches.

Health: (or not!) National Public Radio reports that the victims of a hospital medical mistake are seldom told about that mistake, and seldom receive any apology. Over 200,000 patients die each year because of a mistake in a hospital.

Literature: (or something) A rant, with instructions, on how to make last names into plurals.

Politics: National Public Radio reports on the lottery for office locations, won or lost by incoming US Congressional electees.

Science: (or something) The tweel may eventually replaced inflatable tires. Michelin now has a plant to produce them.

 Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'm thankful for cellulose. You should be, too.

Thankful for cellulose
Cellulose is a polymer. That is, it is made of a smaller molecule, repeated many times. The graphic above shows a molecular model of cellulose, but it's only part of a real molecule. Real cellulose molecules have those hexagonal subunits repeated as many as thousands of times. Such long molecules make up fibers. The graphic comes from the Wikipedia article on cellulose. The Wikipedia allows such use of this graphic. The background photo is of trees in North Carolina. Tree structure, including trunks, branches, twigs, roots, leaves, fruit and flowers, wouldn't be possible without cellulose.

Why is cellulose important? The main reason is that it makes up most of the structure of plant cell walls. Without plants, we would have no food. The animals who are our companions, or help to make our lives easier, and who furnish us with meat, milk, eggs, leather, and many other products, wouldn't have food, either. Without plants, we would be missing building materials, cotton textiles, fuel (including fossil fuel), many medicines, special food substances like coffee, sugar, tea and chocolate, ornamental and shade plants, and many other useful, even necessary items.

Plant cell walls provide plants with their structure. Plants have no bones, but each cell, as it were, has its own skeleton. (That type of structure means that plants can't move around, whereas animals can. Although we have rigid bones, we also have flexible muscles, which allow us to walk, fly or swim. Plants are rigid all over.) Cellulose is used to make paper and cotton. It furnishes much of the fiber, which is important for our diet, even though we can't really use it for fuel. (Cows and termites have special microorganisms in their guts that can break down cellulose, so that these animals can get food energy from it. We don't.)

So. Consider a world with no paper. And no cotton. And no chocolate. And no flowers. And no food. It wouldn't be much of a world.

Cellulose, depending on how it is treated, and what's combined with it, can be the basis of wooden bridges that can hold freight trains, or flexible garments made of cotton.

In a previous post, the importance of the bonding of Carbon atoms was discussed. Because Carbon atoms can form four covalent bonds, complex structures like cellulose are possible. I believe, but cannot prove, that God designed Carbon in this way. (It can't be disproved, either.)

I'm thankful for cellulose. I hope you are, too.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lectures on Revivals of Religion, 10, by Charles Grandison Finney

3. You see the error of those who are beginning to think that religion can be better promoted in the world without revivals, and who are disposed to give up all efforts to produce religious awakenings. Because there are evils arising in some instances out of great excitements on the subject of religion, they are of opinion that it is best to dispense with them altogether. This cannot, and must not be. True, there is danger of abuses. In cases of great religious as well as all other excitements, more or less incidental evils may be expected of course. But this is no reason why they should be given up. The best things are always liable to abuses. Great and manifold evils have originated in the providential and moral governments of God. But these foreseen perversions and evils were not considered a sufficient reason for giving them up. For the establishment of these governments was on the whole the best that could be done for the production of the greatest amount of happiness. So in revivals of religion, it is found by experience, that in the present state of the world, religion cannot be promoted to any considerable extent without them. The evils which are sometimes complained of, when they are real, are incidental, and of small importance when compared with the amount of good produced by revivals. The sentiment should not be admitted by the church for a moment, that revivals may be given up. It is fraught with all that is dangerous to the interests of Zion, is death to the cause of missions, and brings in its train the damnation of the world.

The previous post in this series is here. Charles Grandison Finneyʼs Lectures on Revivals of Religion is in the public domain, as I understand it. It is available here. Thanks for reading. Seek revival.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I'm thankful for Chlorophyll

Thankful for chlorophyll

The picture above is of a blueberry leaf, and of one version of a  model of a Chlorophyll molecule.

A recent post attempted to explain why we should be thankful for Carbon atoms, which are able to form complex structures. A Chlorophyll molecule isn't nearly as complex as DNA, or as a protein, but it's pretty complex. The Wikipedia article on Chlorophyll says that Chlorophyll a has this chemical structure: C55H72O5N4Mg. That's 137 atoms, of 5 different elements. Without the capacity of Carbon to form such structures, life would be impossible. (Chlorophyll a is the most common Chlorophyll molecule. Chlorophyll b, which is very similar, is also found in green plants. Other similar molecules are found in other types of organisms.)

Life requires energy sources. For most living things, certainly including us, Chlorophyll is essential in making such energy available. How does it do this? It is a pigment. Like all pigments, it absorbs certain types of light. Light is a form of energy. Before we get to the energy, let's consider the color of Chlorophyll. It's green. So what? That means that it is not absorbing green light. Green light is being reflected from the leaves that contain Chlorophyll, or it is passing through them. It's other colors of light that Chlorophyll absorbs. (That's true of all pigments -- a red pigment, for example, does not absorb red light. It reflects it.) Chlorophyll absorbs the energy of blue and red, or far red, light.

What does Chlorophyll do with this energy? It makes it available to photosynthesis, the process, as the name suggests, whereby light energy is used to make things. What is made is simple sugars, which are used for food, and also as raw materials for making other types of molecules needed by living things.

Photosynthesis requires two raw materials, water (H2O) and Carbon dioxide (CO2). The energy absorbed by Chlorophyll is used to break water molecules, so that Hydrogen is available. In the process, Oxygen is given off. See here for the summary chemical equation for photosynthesis. It is only a summary. The process is complex. That Hydrogen becomes attached to Carbon, from the Carbon Dioxide, and the result is glucose (C6H12O6).

The food we eat, where food is an energy source usable by our body's metabolism, all comes from green plants, directly or indirectly. It comes from plants like beans and spinach, or from animals that eat green plants, like cows, or, rarely, from animals that eat animals that eat green plants, such as some fish.

The three-dimensional structure of Chlorophyll makes it possible for it to trap light energy, and divert it into chemical energy -- food. I believe, but cannot prove, that God designed Carbon atoms, and also Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen and Magnesium atoms, so that they could be assembled into Chlorophyll molecules, thus making it possible for green plants to get food, and for us to get food from them. I also believe that He planned and designed the complex enzymes that construct Chlorophyll, and that assist in transferring captured light energy to chemical bonds. As I say, I can't prove any of this, but no one can disprove it, either.

Thanks for reading. Be grateful for photosynthesis.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I'm thankful for water

Thankful for water

The graphic above is based on a photograph by Monteregina, on Flickr, and is used by permission. The model of the water molecule is from, which allows such usage. I thank both of these.

I'm thankful for water. You should be, too. We are mostly made of water, after all.

Why else should we be thankful for water?
Water provides a great deal of beauty -- water drops on leaves, clouds, rainbows, waterfalls, reflections in pools, and in other ways. Indirectly, it provides more beauty, because most of the living things that we think of as beautiful, such as roses, or bluebirds, depend on water to live and grow. See the graphic above, which shows the beauty of water in cloud formation and reflection.

Water is an important solvent. It carries food molecules, hormones, and waste products throughout our bodies, and those of other organisms. It carries the ions that we use to cause signals in our brains, and in other nerve cells.

Water is the basis of a transport system in the body. It helps carry food through the gut, for digestion, and carries red blood cells, with their load of Oxygen, white blood cells, which fight infection, and platelets, which repair tissue damage, around the body. It helps our sperms and eggs get together. It does these things for many other organisms, too.

Water is one of the two raw materials of photosynthesis, the process which makes, directly or indirectly, almost all of our food, and that of most other organisms. In other words, our food, carbohydrates, proteins and fats, is partly constructed from atoms taken from water molecules.

Water serves as a habitat for many organisms. Some of them live in water and never come out of it. Some of these, such as some humans, alligators, herons, and beavers, can live near water, and depend on it, but don't live in it full-time. Some, like dragonflies and toads, live in water in part of their lives, but out of it in the rest. Some organisms use frozen water -- snow or ice -- to live in or on.

Water is responsible for shaping the land around us.

Water has been necessary for much of human transportation and exploration. It still serves in that way.

Water serves to moderate climate -- temperature fluctuations are usually less, near bodies of water. Although we don't hear much about it, water vapor in the atmosphere is the most important greenhouse gas. (We hear more about carbon dioxide because there isn't nearly as much of it in the atmosphere, thus significantly adding to it is much more likely than adding to the amount of water vapor.) Without greenhouse gases, the earth's temperature would be well below freezing -- not conducive to life.

Water is necessary for many manufacturing processes. Other such processes may not absolutely require water, but use it, because there is often a lot of it available, and it is inexpensive. For example, it is used in cleaning and cooling. We use it in our homes, to wash our bodies, our food, our dishes and clothes, and to carry off body waste.

Water is able to do some of these things because it has some remarkable, even unique, properties.

It is the only common substance which exists normally in all three states -- gas, liquid and solid. That makes living in snow or on ice possible. It also makes the water cycle possible. It rains!

Water is the only common substance which has a solid form which is less dense than the liquid form. In other words, ice floats. This makes it possible for fish and other organisms to live in bodies of water in the winter -- they live in liquid while there is a solid roof over them. It also gives polar bears a place to live.

Water is the only common substance which is most dense between the temperatures where it changes state. It is most dense at 4 degrees Celsius, which is about the temperature of a refrigerator. It becomes less dense as it cools from 4 degrees down to 0 degrees, where it freezes, and also as it warms from 4 degrees up to 100 degrees, where it boils. So what? That property makes it less likely that a body of water will freeze solidly, and also allows nutrients, which have sunk to the bottom of a body of water, to be recirculated. Bodies of water often are at 4 degrees on their bottom. See here for more information.

Water has a high heat of fusion, and a high heat of vaporization. This means that water moderates temperature, not only in weather and climate, but in us -- we can expose ourselves to temperatures significantly higher or lower than our own, and suffer no ill effects.

Water is transparent. Other substances are, too, but not as many as you might think. This transparency means that we can see -- light goes through the water-based fluids in our eyes, to hit the retina. Plants can carry on photosynthesis because light goes through parts of their cells, to reach the chloroplasts. Underwater plants can carry on photosynthesis because light comes through water to them.

Water is polar. See the model of the water molecule in the graphic. The two white spheres represent Hydrogens, the red sphere an Oxygen atom. Because they are arranged asymmetrically, there is more positive charge near the Hydrogens, more negative near the Oxygen. This makes water molecules attractive to one another -- they tend to hang together, the positive part of one attracted to the negative part of another. This makes water drops possible. It also allows some insects, and even birds and lizards, to walk on top of water -- the water, as it were, would rather hold on to itself than let the animal fall into it. This polarity makes it possible for plants to bring water up to their tops, so those cells can live. Plants don't have any pumping mechanism, like our hearts. Other substances are also polar.

Life on earth is often, with good reason, called Carbon-based. But it is also water-based.

Genesis 1:2 says, at the beginning of the creation story, "The earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep and God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters."  Revelation 22, the last chapter in the Bible, says "1 He showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2a in the middle of its street. On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month." How to interpret Genesis 1, and Revelation, are matters of considerable controversy, but, however they are interpreted, water is mentioned as an integral part of creation, and of the Final Kingdom.

Clearly, water is important. I believe God planned it that way. I can't prove that He did, but it can't be disproved, either. I'm thankful for water, with all its characteristics. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sunspots 496

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

Education: A former University of North Carolina football player has filed suit, claiming that the university did not provide him with the substantial education that he was promised when recruited. (The university apparently let some students "take" classes that they didn't even attend.)
Health: (or not) We're running out of chocolate, according to The Washington Post and other outlets.
Science: Wired reports on how a study of the cat genome sheds some light on how domestic cats are genetically different from their wild relatives.

National Public Radio has a fine series on color. One post is about how our perception plays tricks on us when we are considering color. Another is about how animals get color from what they eat, partly -- flamingos are an example -- and how rare blue coloring in animals is.
Wired also reports on nudibranches, sea slugs, who eat defensive mechanisms from other creatures, and use them to defend themselves. They are also spectacularly colored -- some are blue.

 Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I'm thankful for Carbon atoms

Alanine: Carbon can bond with four different things

The picture above is of an Alanine molecule. Alanine is one of 20 or so amino acids found in living things, and that make living things possible. There is only one amino acid that's simpler than Alanine. The others are more complex. The graphic is modified, with permission, from one found on The spheres represent atoms. The rods, some very thick, represent bonds between the atoms.

Life on earth is often called Carbon-based, and there's good reason for that. The reason is that Carbon is the basis of the complex molecules that make up living things, including DNA, proteins, antibodies, sugars, fats, steroids, vitamins, hormones, proteins, caffeine, the alkaloids found in chocolate, and many more.

Suppose you were in a group of people, and that group decided that each person would hold hands with two other people. If you did, the most complex arrangement you could make is a line, perhaps not a straight line, but a line. The line might be a loop, but it would still be a line. Now suppose that you and the others could hold on with hands, and also with feet. The possibilities for arrangements are much greater with four connections per person. Well, Carbon is like that, too. It readily forms four connections, called covalent bonds, with other atoms. Usually these are Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Sulfur or Phosphorus, or another Carbon atom. These six elements make up almost all of the molecules necessary for life.

The Alanine molecule shown above illustrates the ability of Carbon to connect to four different things. Alanine has a central Carbon. That Carbon is attached to 4 different entities. One of them is a Hydrogen molecule. The other three are more complex. Two of them, the COOH and the NH2, are found in all other amino acids. But the CH3 group, a methyl, is not. The other amino acids have some other entity in its place. Each of the amino acids found in us has a different item connected to the central Carbon. All 20 of these amino acids are necessary to make hemoglobin, the molecule that carries Oxygen around your body in the bloodstream. Hemoglobin is much more complex than Alanine -- it has 147 amino acids, of 20 different types, including 11 Alanines. Those 147 amino acids have to be of the right kind, at the right place, in order for Hemoglobin to work properly.

The ability to connect to four other things is critical to the complex structure of the molecules of living things. Can any other type of atom do that? Well, Silicon can. It's a member of the same family of elements as Carbon. But Carbon works for us in a way that Silicon can't. Carbon is a smaller atom -- a Carbon atom has less than half the mass of Silicon. Silicon is too heavy to float into the air. But Carbon, with other atoms, forms gases, which can get into the air. One of these is Carbon Dioxide. Carbon Dioxide can go anywhere on earth, as a gas, through the air. Photosynthesis, the process that makes our food, takes in Carbon Dioxide and water, and turns it into food. The green plants that carry out photosynthesis can grow in a wide variety of situations, because they can make their own food in them. And the animals that live on green plant food can also exist in a wide variety of locations, all throughout the biosphere. If our molecules were based on Silicon, that wouldn't be possible.

I believe that God planned the universe, including the properties of Carbon atoms. I can't prove this, but no one can disprove it, either, even those who say that those properties are an accident.
I'm thankful for Carbon atoms, and the amazing things that they are able to do, connected to other atoms. I hope you are, too. Thanks for reading.

A later post indicates the reasons why I'm thankful for water.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lectures on Revivals of Religion, by Charles Grandison Finney, 9

2. Mistaken notions concerning the sovereignty of God have greatly hindered revivals. 

Many people have supposed God’s sovereignty to be some thing very different from what it is. They have supposed it to be such an arbitrary disposal of events, and particularly of the gift of his Spirit, as precluded a rational employment of means for promoting a revival of religion. But there is no evidence from the Bible that God exercises any such sovereignty as that. There are no facts to prove it. But every thing goes to show that God has connected means with the end through all the departments of his government—in nature and in grace. There is no natural event in which his own agency is not concerned. He has not built the creation like a vast machine that will go on alone without his further care. He has not retired from the universe, to let it work for itself. This is mere atheism. He exercises a universal superintendence and control. And yet every event in nature has been brought about by means. He neither administers providence nor grace with that sort of sovereignty that dispenses with the use of means. There is no more sovereignty in one than in the other. 

And yet some people are terribly alarmed at all direct efforts to promote a revival, and they cry out, “You are trying to get up a revival in your own strength. Take care, you are interfering with the sovereignty of God. Better keep along in the usual course, and let God give a revival when he thinks it is best. God is a sovereign, and it is very wrong for you to attempt to get up a revival, just because you think a revival is needed.” This is just such preaching as the devil wants. And men cannot do the devil’s work more effectually than by preaching up the sovereignty of God, as a reason why we should not put forth efforts to produce a revival. 

The previous post in this series is here. Charles Grandison Finneyʼs Lectures on Revivals of Religion is in the public domain, as I understand it. It is available here. Thanks for reading. Seek revival.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wrestling Jacob:

Genesis 32:22 He rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed over the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them, and sent them over the stream, and sent over that which he had. 24 Jacob was left alone, and wrestled with a man there until the breaking of the day. 25 When he saw that he didn’t prevail against him, the man touched the hollow of his thigh, and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained, as he wrestled. 26 The man said, “Let me go, for the day breaks.”
Jacob said, “I won’t let you go, unless you bless me.”
27 He said to him, “What is your name?”
He said, “Jacob”.
28 He said, “Your name will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
29 Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”
He said, “Why is it that you ask what my name is?” He blessed him there.
30 Jacob called the name of the place Peniel*: for, he said, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose on him as he passed over Peniel, and he limped because of his thigh. 32 Therefore the children of Israel don’t eat the sinew of the hip, which is on the hollow of the thigh, to this day, because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.

World English Bible, public domain. *Text note - Peniel means “face of God”.

I don't think I understand all this, and I doubt that anyone else understands it fully, either. No doubt there are many who understand this story about Jacob better than I. Did Jacob really wrestle, or was this a dream? Was this a man, an angel, or an appearance of Christ, Himself? If the other wrestler was an angel or Christ, how is it that Jacob apparently wrestled to a draw. Was his opponent letting him win (or tie)? We don't know for sure. My guess is that Jacob needed reassurance that God was with him, and that this experience, whatever it was, cemented that belief in Jacob's mind.

A few chapters later, Jacob showed his commitment to God, and his belief that God was committed to him:
Genesis 35:1 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and live there. Make there an altar to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.”
Then Jacob said to his household, and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, change your garments. Let’s arise, and go up to Bethel. I will make there an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me on the way which I went.”
They gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. They traveled, and a terror of God was on the cities that were around them, and they didn’t pursue the sons of Jacob. So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. He built an altar there, and called the place El Beth El; because there God was revealed to him, when he fled from the face of his brother. Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; and its name was called Allon Bacuth.
God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan Aram, and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob. Your name shall not be Jacob any more, but your name will be Israel.” He named him Israel. 11 God said to him, “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations will be from you, and kings will come out of your body. 12 The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, and to your offspring after you I will give the land.”
13 God went up from him in the place where he spoke with him. 14 Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he spoke with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him “Bethel”. 
Charles Wesley wrote a long (by our standards) hymn about this episode:
Come, O thou Traveler unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee;
With Thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.

I need not tell Thee who I am,
My misery and sin declare;
Thyself hast called me by my name,
Look on Thy hands, and read it there;
But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?
Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.

In vain Thou strugglest to get free,
I never will unloose my hold!
Art Thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of Thy love unfold;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

Wilt Thou not yet to me reveal
Thy new, unutterable Name?
Tell me, I still beseech Thee, tell;
To know it now resolved I am;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

’Tis all in vain to hold Thy tongue
Or touch the hollow of my thigh;
Though every sinew be unstrung,
Out of my arms Thou shalt not fly;
Wrestling I will not let Thee go
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

What though my shrinking flesh complain,
And murmur to contend so long?
I rise superior to my pain,
When I am weak, then I am strong
And when my all of strength shall fail,
I shall with the God-man prevail.

My strength is gone, my nature dies,
I sink beneath Thy weighty hand,
Faint to revive, and fall to rise;
I fall, and yet by faith I stand;
I stand and will not let Thee go
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

Yield to me now, for I am weak,
But confident in self-despair;
Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,
Be conquered by my instant prayer;
Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if Thy Name is Love.

’Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy bowels move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

My prayer hath power with God; the grace
Unspeakable I now receive;
Through faith I see Thee face to face,
I see Thee face to face, and live!
In vain I have not wept and strove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

I know Thee, Savior, who Thou art.
Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend;
Nor wilt Thou with the night depart.
But stay and love me to the end,
Thy mercies never shall remove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

The Sun of righteousness on me
Hath rose with healing in His wings,
Withered my nature’s strength; from Thee
My soul its life and succor brings;
My help is all laid up above;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Contented now upon my thigh
I halt, till life’s short journey end;
All helplessness, all weakness I
On Thee alone for strength depend;
Nor have I power from Thee to move:
Thy nature, and Thy name is Love.

Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin, with ease o’ercome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Through all eternity to prove
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sunspots 495

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Christianity: Threads from Henry's Web, a blog, has some careful thinking on separation of church and state. (Notice that I'm not putting this in Politics, but in Christianity.)
A blog post about Contemporary Christian music, from a worship leader who has moved away from doing 100% of that in worship.

Computing: Relevant reports that there is a real college course, entitled "wasting time on the Internet."
Gizmo's Freeware reports on a free web site that will convert most any file format into something else.

Humor: Tom Magliozzi, co-host, with his brother, Ray, of Car Talk, a long-running National Public Radio show, has passed away. We miss him.
Why it's smart to wear the same outfit every day. (This seems to apply to men, not women, but what do I know?)

Literature: Speculative Faith on The Bible and magic. I hadn't considered that Elsa, from Frozen, is a witch, but I guess she is. The article doesn't condemn Frozen. It does point out specific uses of magic that Christians should avoid.
Science: Wired reports on the winners of a contest on the best photos of microscopic objects.
Sports: Caroline Wozniacki, tennis star (she came in second in this year's US Open) ran in the New York marathon, and did well, in spite of never having run the entire distance at one practice session before. How good would she be if she really practiced?

 Image source (public domain)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Lectures on Revivals of Religion, by Charles Grandison Finney, 8

1. Revivals were formerly regarded as miracles. And it has been so by some even in our day. And others have ideas on the subject so loose and unsatisfactory, that if they would only think, they would see their absurdity. For a long time, it was supposed by the church, that a revival was a miracle, an interposition of Divine power which they had nothing to do with, and which they had no more agency in producing, than they had in producing thunder, or a storm of hail, or an earthquake. It is only within a few years that ministers generally have supposed revivals were to be promoted, by the use of means designed and adapted specially to that object. Even in New England, it has been supposed that revivals came just as showers do, sometimes in one town, and sometimes in another, and that ministers and churches could do nothing more to produce them than they could to make showers of rain come on their own town, when they are falling on a neighboring town. 

It used to be supposed that a revival would come about once in fifteen years, and all would be converted that God intended to save, and then they must wait until another crop came forward on the stage of life. Finally, the time got shortened down to five years, and they supposed there might be a revival about as often as that. 

I have heard a fact in relation to one of these pastors, who supposed revivals might come about once in five years. There had been a revival in his congregation. The next year, there was a revival in a neighboring town, and he went there to preach, and staid several days, till he got his soul all engaged in the work. He returned home on Saturday, and went into his study to prepare for the Sabbath. And his soul was in an agony. He thought how many adult persons there were in his congregation at enmity with God—so many still unconverted—so many persons die yearly—such a portion of them unconverted—if a revival does not come under five years, so many adult heads of families will be in hell. He put down his calculations on paper, and embodied them in his sermon for the next day, with his heart bleeding at the dreadful picture. As I understood it, he did not do this with any expectation of a revival, but he felt deeply, and poured out his heart to his people. And that sermon awakened forty heads of families, and a powerful revival followed; and so his theory about a revival once in five years was all exploded. 

Thus God has overthrown, generally, the theory that revivals are miracles.

The previous post in this series is here. Charles Grandison Finneyʼs Lectures on Revivals of Religion is in the public domain, as I understand it. It is available here. Thanks for reading. Seek revival.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Sunspots 494

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

Health: The University of Southampton (in the UK) has reported on a study of near-death phenomena, based on hospital reports.

Science: Ants can regulate their falls from heights, so that they land where they want to. (Report from Wired.)

Wired also reports on how to understand cat behavior. You really can.

From the BBC: flocks of over a million starlings perform what looks like a dance, or an animated sculpture.

Sports: From USA Today - Steve Nash, a long-time spectacular and hard-working NBA player, may finally have to retire, due to injury.

 Image source (public domain)

Monday, November 03, 2014

Stones as witnesses in the Bible

There are a number of places in the Bible, mostly in the Old Testament, where someone used a stone as a reminder of an important event. Important events included acknowledging God’s help and reaching agreement with another party in a dispute. Perhaps there are other cases, but here are those that I found, all quoted from the World English Bible, which is in the public domain.

Genesis 28:10 Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 He dreamed. Behold, a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13 Behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give the land whereon you lie to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your offspring will all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.”

16 Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, “Surely Yahweh is in this place, and I didn’t know it.” 17 He was afraid, and said, “How dreadful is this place! This is none other than God’s house, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, and Yahweh will be my God, 22 then this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, will be God’s house. Of all that you will give me I will surely give a tenth to you.”

Genesis 31:45 Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar. 46 Jacob said to his relatives, “Gather stones.” They took stones, and made a heap. They ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha,* but Jacob called it Galeed.* 48 Laban said, “This heap is witness between me and you today.” Therefore it was named Galeed 49 and Mizpah, for he said, “Yahweh watch between me and you, when we are absent one from another. 50 If you afflict my daughters, or if you take wives in addition to my daughters, no man is with us; behold, God is witness between me and you.” 51 Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap, and see the pillar, which I have set between me and you. 52 May this heap be a witness, and the pillar be a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and that you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, for harm. 53 The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.” Then Jacob swore by the fear of his father, Isaac. *The two names both mean "witness heap," in Aramaic and Hebrew, respectively.

Exodus 24: 3 Moses came and told the people all Yahweh’s words, and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words which Yahweh has spoken will we do.”

4 Moses wrote all Yahweh’s words, and rose up early in the morning, and built an altar under the mountain, and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. (The Bible doesn't explicitly say that the altar was made of stone, but almost all the altars in the Old Testament used such materials. This was after Moses received the Ten Commandments, which, according to scripture, were graved on two stone tablets by God. In a sense, those tablets -- both versions -- Moses broke the first ones in anger, were also memorial stones, of an agreement between God and the Israelites.)

Deuteronomy 16:22 warns against setting up a stone for the wrong purposes, presumably to commemorate an agreement that God could not honor, or to use in the worship of another god: “Neither shall you set yourself up a sacred stone which Yahweh your God hates.”

Deuteronomy 27:1 Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep all the commandment which I command you today. 2 It shall be on the day when you shall pass over the Jordan to the land which Yahweh your God gives you, that you shall set yourself up great stones, and coat them with plaster. 3 You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have passed over; that you may go in to the land which Yahweh your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as Yahweh, the God of your fathers, has promised you. 4 It shall be, when you have crossed over the Jordan, that you shall set up these stones, which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall coat them with plaster. 5 There you shall build an altar to Yahweh your God, an altar of stones. You shall not use any iron tool on them. 6 You shall build Yahweh your God’s altar of uncut stones. You shall offer burnt offerings on it to Yahweh your God. 7 You shall sacrifice peace offerings, and shall eat there. You shall rejoice before Yahweh your God. 8 You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”

Joshua 24:21 The people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve Yahweh.” 22 Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen Yahweh yourselves, to serve him.”

They said, “We are witnesses.”

23 “Now therefore put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to Yahweh, the God of Israel.”

24 The people said to Joshua, “We will serve Yahweh our God, and we will listen to his voice.”
25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a great stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of Yahweh. 27 Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all Yahweh’s words which he spoke to us. It shall be therefore a witness against you, lest you deny your God.”

1 Samuel 7: 10 As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines came near to battle against Israel; but Yahweh thundered with a great thunder on that day on the Philistines, and confused them; and they were struck down before Israel. 11 The men of Israel went out of Mizpah, and pursued the Philistines, and struck them, until they came under Beth Kar.

12 Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer,* saying, “Yahweh helped us until now.” *Ebenezer meant "stone of help." There was no Bible character named Ebenezer, by the way.

2 Samuel 18: 18 Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself the pillar which is in the king’s valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in memory.” He called the pillar after his own name. It is called Absalom’s monument, to this day. (This use of a stone was probably not pleasing to God, but an expression of pride by Absalom.)

1 Kings 18:30 Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me!”; and all the people came near to him. He repaired Yahweh’s altar that had been thrown down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom Yahweh’s word came, saying, “Israel shall be your name.” 32a With the stones he built an altar in Yahweh’s name.

2 Chronicles 33:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. 2 He did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight, after the abominations of the nations whom Yahweh cast out before the children of Israel. 3 For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; and he raised up altars for the Baals, made Asheroth, and worshiped all the army of the sky, and served them. 4 He built altars in Yahweh’s house, of which Yahweh said, “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” 5 He built altars for all the army of the sky in the two courts of Yahweh’s house. 6 He also made his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom. He practiced sorcery, divination, and witchcraft, and dealt with those who had familiar spirits, and with wizards. He did much evil in Yahweh’s sight, to provoke him to anger. 7 He set the engraved image of the idol, which he had made, in God’s house, of which God said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. 8 I will not any more remove the foot of Israel from off the land which I have appointed for your fathers, if only they will observe to do all that I have commanded them, even all the law, the statutes, and the ordinances given by Moses.” 9 Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that they did more evil than did the nations whom Yahweh destroyed before the children of Israel.

10 Yahweh spoke to Manasseh, and to his people; but they didn’t listen. 11 Therefore Yahweh brought on them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh in chains, bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.

12 When he was in distress, he begged Yahweh his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 He prayed to him; and he was entreated by him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Yahweh was God.

14 Now after this, he built an outer wall to David’s city, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance at the fish gate. He encircled Ophel with it, and raised it up to a very great height; and he put valiant captains in all the fortified cities of Judah. 15 He took away the foreign gods, and the idol out of Yahweh’s house, and all the altars that he had built in the mountain of Yahweh’s house, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. 16 He built up Yahweh’s altar, and offered sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving on it, and commanded Judah to serve Yahweh, the God of Israel. 17 Nevertheless the people sacrificed still in the high places, but only to Yahweh their God. (One of the most remarkable stories in the Old Testament, in which Manasseh used altars, probably made of stone, to worship idols in the very house of God, and then sincerely repented, and discarded all of these, and “built up Yahweh’s altar.” Yahweh’s altar in the tabernacle was not made of stone (see here.) The altar in the temple constructed by Solomon was most likely made of bronze (see here.)

Psalm 118:22 The stone which the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone. (This seems to be prophetic. See the 2 passages quoted below.)

Mark 12:10 Haven’t you even read this Scripture:

‘The stone which the builders rejected,

the same was made the head of the corner.

11  This was from the Lord,

it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

Ephesians 2:18 For through him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, 20 being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; 21 in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.

Jeremiah 43:8 Then Yahweh’s word came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes, saying, 9 “Take great stones in your hand, and hide them in mortar in the brick work, which is at the entry of Pharaoh’s house in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah; 10 and tell them, Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will set his throne on these stones that I have hidden; and he will spread his royal pavilion over them. 11 He will come, and will strike the land of Egypt; such as are for death will be put to death, and such as are for captivity to captivity, and such as are for the sword to the sword.

We now come to the New Testament, but see also the quotations related to Psalm 118, above.
Matthew 16: 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 I also tell you that you are Peter,* and on this rock† I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (*A text note says "Peter’s name, Petros in Greek, is the word for a specific rock or stone. †A text note says "Greek, petra, a rock mass or bedrock." As I understand it, Jesus was mostly, or entirely, saying that His church was to be built on the figurative rock, or truth, that Christ is "the Son of the living God.")

Romans 9:30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, who didn’t follow after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith; 31 but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, didn’t arrive at the law of righteousness. 32 Why? Because they didn’t seek it by faith, but as it were by works of the law. They stumbled over the stumbling stone; 33 even as it is written,

“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense;

and no one who believes in him will be disappointed.” Paul was quoting Isaiah 8:14 and Isaiah 28:16 “Therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone of a sure foundation. He who believes shall not act hastily. . . .’”

1 Peter also quotes Isaiah: 1 Peter 2:1 Putting away therefore all wickedness, all deceit, hypocrisies, envies, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, that with it you may grow, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious: 4 coming to him, a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God, precious. 5 You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Because it is contained in Scripture,

“Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, chosen, and precious:

He who believes in him will not be disappointed.”

We dont use stones in this way much, or any, anymore. We sign court documents, or take pictures, or post on Facebook. But what if we did use stones as witnesses? What events, what decisions, might we have marked? As an exercise, I’m planning to look at my own life, and make a list of important events and decisions that have shaped it. It will be personal -- I’m not going to post it. Perhaps you should do the same. Thanks for reading!