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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Freedom in Proper Perspective: Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Merely freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.

However, in early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. From the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn, "A World Split Apart," speech delivered at Harvard University, June 8, 1978.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I Am Not Skilled to Understand

I am not skilled to understand
What God hath willed, what God hath planned;
I only know that at His right hand
Is One Who is my Savior!
I take Him at His word indeed;
“Christ died for sinners”—this I read;
For in my heart I find a need
Of Him to be my Savior!
That He should leave His place on high
And come for sinful man to die,
You count it strange? So once did I,
Before I knew my Savior!
And oh, that He fulfilled may see
The travail of His soul in me,
And with His work contented be,
As I with my dear Savior!
Yea, living, dying, let me bring
My strength, my solace from this Spring;
That He Who lives to be my King
Once died to be my Savior!
Words: Dorothy Greenwell, 1873. Music: “Greenwell,” William J. Kirkpatrick, 1885
See the Cyber Hymnal for an audible rendition of the music.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sunspots 174

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

Wired on how to cheat in athletic contests and not get caught.

Sports Illustrated reports that John McEnroe is still getting in trouble because of his bad behavior.

Legislation attempting to regulate on-line contact between public school students and teachers is under consideration in Missouri, says CNN.

rustyfly reminds us that visiting pornographic web sites may be aiding slavery.

David Heddle, of He Lives, has considered the length of days in the Bible, and calls John and Henry Morris liberal, because of the way they use scripture.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A little about "Grace" in the Bible

Many people know what the first verse in the Bible says. Not nearly so many know what the last one says. I'll give you a hint. It's about grace.

Grace is an important Christian concept. (See here for the Wikipedia article on Divine Grace.)

A search of the on-line English Standard Version Bible initially turns up 171 hits if I search for "grace." Of these, 47 are in the Old Testament, which means, of course, that most of the occurrences are in the New Testament.

The disparity between the Testaments is even greater, however. A simple search for "grace" also finds "disgrace," and variations of it. Of the 47 hits in the Old Testament, 36 are for "disgrace," and a few are for "graceful," which means that there isn't much mention of "grace," as such, in the Old Testament.

"Grace" as a word, is in the Old Testament as follows:
Esther 2:17 says that Esther found grace in the eyes of the king, her future husband.

Psalm 45:2 says that grace is poured upon the king's lips. (A possible reference to Christ?)

In Psalm 86:6, I find what seems to be the first legitimate request for God's grace, and the first mention of His grace in the Bible, in this pleading psalm of David.

Proverbs 3:34 uses "favor," referring to God's favor, and both the ESV and the New International Version have a text note, indicating that "grace" is a possible alternate reading.

Jeremiah 31 speaks of God's love for the people of Israel, and mentions that they found grace when wandering through the wilderness.

I make no claim to understanding of the meaning of Zechariah 4:1-7, but it seems to include a mention of God's grace.

Zechariah 12:10 also prophesies of God's grace to come.

Thus, I find but five occurrences of the word "grace," referring to God's grace, in the Old Testament.

It is not surprising that Grace is a mainly New Testament concept. John 1:17 says:
17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (All scripture quotations are from the ESV)

Here are some of the other places where "grace" is found in the New Testament:

There's a contrast between our inheritance from Adam and Eve, and our inheritance in Christ, in
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Although grace is free, and covers sin, we must not go on sinning, says Paul, in Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
and, the same chapter:
14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

1 Peter reminds us that our service to others is also part of God's grace:
10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace . . .

"Grace be with you," or a variation of that, is common in the New Testament. Perhaps the most significant of those statements is the last verse in the Bible:
Revelation 22:21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Grace be with you. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hiatus coming

I am going on hiatus, and don't expect to post much, except for some Sunday devotional posts, and perhaps a "Sunspots" once in a while, until September. More important things are scheduled.

I don't expect to be able to read most (maybe not any) of your posts, either.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sunspots 173

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

Wired on how networking really works.

Wired has an article (with photos) that says that some viruses are attacked by other viruses.

(or politics) A Sports Illustrated commentator on how US Olympic officials are acting too pro-Chinese.

Slate says that Franklin Graham has discouraged evangelism by Westerners at the Beijing Olympics.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Do the Narnia books tell us about the planets?

First Things has a review of a book by Michael Ward, entitled Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis. The theme of the book, published by Oxford University Press, no less, is that the seven Narnia books were consciously related to the seven heavenly bodies known to the ancients, by Lewis.

The author of the review says, understandably, that such a thesis sounds nutty. He goes on to say that, although Ward didn't convince him, his book did offer insights into the Narnia books that he hadn't had before, and that his idea isn't nearly as wrong as he thought it was when before he read Ward's book.

The review is long enough to explain what the book is about, with examples, but not too long for a reasonably easy read.

Thanks for reading. Thanks, First Things!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Did NASA prove that Joshua's long day happened?

I received an e-mail forward a few days ago, which claimed that NASA had proved the story of the long day, told in the book of Joshua.

The Bible story is true, although I don't know how to explain it, but the story that NASA has proved it isn't. See my previous post, from over two years ago, on this subject. The false rumor is still out there, and still circulating. (See here and here) That's too bad. God's truth is not served by false information, whether circulated knowing that it's false, or not.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ordering God around, at Isaiah's command.

This is one of many remarkable statements in the Bible:

Isaiah 62:6 On your walls, O Jerusalem,
I have set watchmen;
all the day and all the night
they shall never be silent.
You who put the Lord in remembrance,
take no rest,
7 and give him no rest
until he establishes Jerusalem
and makes it a praise in the earth. (ESV)

What a command to pray. "Him" is God, in this passage! We are to give God no rest!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Good for Becky Hammon!

Becky Hammon is a US women's basketball player, born in South Dakota, currently on the roster of the San Antonio Silver Stars of the Women's National Basketball Association, where she is the second leading scorer, and leads in assists. Hammon has recently received some criticism for playing for the Russian team in the Olympics.

That's right, the Russian team.

Why? Well, she didn't make the US women's Olympics team, which is no shame, as that group is an extremely talented one, with Sue Bird and Kara Lawson as its point guards -- Hammon's position. (As I write this, they are destroying the team from the Czech Republic by 40 points.) Hammon has played professionally in Russia. Most of the WNBA players have played in more than one country, one reason being that they don't get nearly as high salaries as NBA players.*

I saw Craig Sager interview Hammon a few minutes ago on USA cable TV, as part of its game coverage. He asked about the criticism, and, among other things, Hammon said that she was playing for God first, then country. This web page quotes her as saying much the same thing. Great! Country loyalty is fine, but loyalty to God should come first, whether you are a talented basketball player or not.

Thanks for reading.

*A commenter points out, correctly, that there was some serious financial incentive for Hammon to play for Russia, too, perhaps as much as a couple of million dollars -- it wasn't just for love of the game, and probably not just from a desire to play for someone in the Olympics. The money involved does not, of course, approach the outlandish salaries of some NBA players, but that's another story.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley

I recently read The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley (Ace, 1989). This is a re-telling of the legends of Robin Hood, who is best known for robbing the rich and helping the poor with the takings.

McKinley says that she was influenced by the version of Robin Hood, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, written and illustrated by Howard Pyle. I first read that book myself when I was a boy. She also used other sources. In her "Afterword," McKinley says:
Scholars disagree about when the stories were first told; the earliest hints of an historical Robin Hood date about 1260. The first literary reference to him is from the Piers Ploughman in 1377. But the retellings through the centuries have echoed concurrent preoccupations -- not those of a possible historical precedent that existed, and may or may not have been a person called Robin Hood. (p. 277)

So what were McKinley's "current preoccupations"? Well, there seem to have been several. Robin Hood, for her, was a Saxon, fighting Norman oppressors. (There is precedent for this, in some of the old versions of the story.) Another one is that Robin is introspective, and, if not fearful, extremely cautious. In Pyle's version, there are scores of outlaws. McKinley's Robin Hood doesn't seem to ever have more than twenty or so, and sometimes less than that. McKinley's Robin Hood is not the finest archer in his band. In fact, he may be the worst.

An important preoccupation, the most important, I would say, is the emphasis on women in The Outlaws of Sherwood. Marian, who loves Robin -- and the reverse -- does not live in Sherwood Forest, but her role is critical. (Pyle scarcely mentions her.) If there is a Christ figure in the book, she is the one. There is an archery contest, and Robin doesn't attend, because he believes it is a trap (which it is) and because he isn't a superb archer. But Marian believes that belief in Robin Hood's ability, and in his power to evade the Sheriff of Nottingham, is so important that someone must represent him. So she dresses in the costume the outlaws use, disguises herself as a male, and wins the contest. Then she is openly attacked by Guy of Gisbourne, who believes her to be Robin Hood, and nearly dies, for Robin's sake. She does recover.

That's not all Marian does, and she isn't the only woman with a prominent role. Marjorie, a pampered, sheltered young woman, becomes quietly competent in making do in what passes for a kitchen in Sherwood, and even plays a crucial role in the rescue of Robin's band from Guy of Gisbourne. Another woman, Cecily of Norwood, brother to Will Scarlet, becomes as good at woodcraft and fighting as the men around her, and she isn't the only such woman.

Marian, Marjorie, and Cecily all find husbands, life companions. All of them are aware of some flaws in the men they have chosen, but they have chosen well, and they have made the choice themselves. Marian and Marjorie come to the book already in love, but we get to experience Cecily's thoughts (and that of her eventual husband) as they come to realize how they feel about each other. All three of these women have rejected prospective husbands chosen for economic or political reasons by their fathers. Robin Hood's band removes the chosen groom from the wedding ceremony, substituting Marjorie's true love. Marian's father is unable to enforce his choice on her. Cicely runs away and joins Robin Hood's band, disguised as a boy.

Is this a feminist version? Perhaps so. It is a version which emphasizes the common humanness of both men and women. In other words, it is as much, or more, a version about character than about setting or plot. McKinley is good at portraying character.

What about worship, and the role of the church? There are, as in other versions, corrupt Bishops, traveling through Sherwood Forest bearing wealth, ripe for the picking. Friar Tuck is an important character, and he is a good man, but quite a bit is said about his healing ability, and next to nothing about his priestly duties, or his worship habits. Not much is said about anyone else's devotional life.

I enjoyed the book. McKinley's preoccupations are interesting.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sunspots 172

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

(or something) An oil-rich man from Qatar had his Lamborghini flown to the UK for an oil change, says Wired.

It may be possible to gain the benefits of exercise from a pill, according to a Wired report on experiments in mice.

Wired also reports that there is water on Mars.

Christianity Today has information on twelve Olympic athletes who are confessing Christians. (One of them, Tyson Gay, was mistakenly called "Tyson Homosexual," by a Christian news site. Sigh.)

Have you had your computers ports checked lately? (You may not even know that your computer has ports, but it does, or you wouldn't be reading this. It's possible for some sort of Trojan Horse to be sending out spam using your computer, through such a port.) Check here for a free test.

Bonnie on how religion can be marginalized in some people's thinking.

From a classic article on Christian parenting, in Christianity Today: "Provided with the world's most luxurious accommodations, our families live an interior life of poorer quality than refugees among rubble."

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Warning: This may be addictive!

Wordle is an on-line utility which takes text that you enter (or it will get text from any URL with an RSS feed, such as a blog) and generates graphics randomly from the text entered. I'm just getting started, but you can tweak the font and the colors, or just let Wordle do it randomly until you get something you like, by hitting the randomize button.

Here's a sample:

The sample is the first sentence above.

You can print your creation directly. To save it digitally, you have to take a screen-shot (Use the Alt and Print-Screen combinations) then paste the result into some program, preferably, but not necessarily, a graphics editor.

Thanks to Katherine for the tip. Enjoy!

Monday, August 04, 2008

J. K. Rowling gives a speech.

J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, gave the commencement address at Harvard University in June of this year. Her title was "The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination." It was a good speech, and, although other things could have been said, and there was a little of it that I would disagree with, it is well worth reading. This link is to a web page with the text of the speech, and video of Rowling's delivery.

There's some humor in the speech, some common sense, and some food for thought.

Thanks for reading. Read Rowling. The speech is a lot shorter than her books!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Death and roses

yellow rose against the sky

It happened this morning as I stood in my garden. Death suddenly jumped out from behind a bush, just when the thought came to me that one day the roses will still be here -- but I won't.
. . . Will I be able to accept death gracefully? With understanding? The years ahead of me are far fewer than those in the past. I pray for positive acceptance of my condition.
After I depart, the roses will manage very well without me, won't they, Jesus?
Malcolm Boyd, Prayers for the Later Years, Minneapolis, Augsburg, 2002, p. 60.

I thank one of our daughters for giving me this book for my most recent birthday.

Friday, August 01, 2008

What to do (and not do) when a Christian offends

I hope that this is a subject that you have never experienced, or never do experience. Nonetheless, some musings.

Jesus had something to say about this subject in Matthew 18.

In verses 7-9, which may not be related to the subject at hand, He warns that sin is real, and that the penalty for sin is everlasting torment. (He also made clear, in several places in the gospels, that there is a way to avoid that penalty, namely by accepting His own substitutional sacrifice for us.)

Then, beginning with verse 15, He gets to some practical directions on the matter:
Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (All Bible quotations are from the ESV)

The principles Jesus sets forth are these: Don't communicate with others first, but go directly to the individual who may have sinned. If only that directive were always followed! How much trouble would be saved. Jesus does not promise that the other person won't be angry. Perhaps he or she will. But we have a duty to approach him or her first.

Assuming that the other person does not satisfy you that no sin has been committed, take a witness, so that what is said is heard by more than one individual.

If satisfaction is not yet obtained, discuss the matter with the church, and take some action. The action prescribed appears to be removing the person from the church fellowship. I Corinthians 5:1-5 seems to mention such a case. Note that, even though the offense was grievous, Paul wanted the punishment to restore the person.

The Blueletter Bible displays the Greek words of the New Testament. Here they are, for Matthew 18:17 (go down to that verse). I was particularly interested in the use of the word "church." There was no church when Jesus said this. What word did Jesus use? He used ekklesia, twice. I am no Greek scholar, but the web page states that that word is #1577 in Strong's Greek reference. Clicking on that number yields a page, that shows, when you scroll down, all the uses of that word, and also gives the meaning of the word. Apparently it could have been used for Old Testament congregations. It is used in only one other place in the Gospels, namely Matthew 16:18. Ekklesia is used in a number of places in Acts, and elsewhere in the New Testament, where it means church, or congregation of believers.

Jesus didn't mention several possibilities, or specify further action. For that, I turn elsewhere in the New Testament.

What happens if the offense is done to the whole church, or the whole church becomes aware of it at once? In Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira lied to the whole church. Peter dealt with the offense at once, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Sapphira, at least, was given a chance to repent, but she held to the lie. Both of them dropped dead in front of the church, with some time between the events.

What happens if the sister or brother confesses? That's a good question, and it is not completely answered. The response of the accuser, or the church, should be loving, forgiving, restoring, and careful. Here's what Paul said about this:
Galatians 6:1 Brothers*, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
*The ESV has a note, indicating that this may be taken to mean "brothers and sisters."

There is no mention of restitution here. But restitution is mentioned in the New Testament, by Zacchaeus, in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus had been a dishonest tax collector. He promised to restore what he had taken by fraud. After he said this, Jesus told him that salvation had come to his house. Would the salvation have come if Zacchaeus had not offered to restore what he had taken? We don't know. How could this man possibly know how much he had taken from whom, and how did he go about making restitution? We aren't told.

Clearly, sometimes restitution is difficult or impossible. The person offended may be dead. Or someone may have done damage in a way that can't really be made up for, for example by raping someone. Or a thief may have squandered what was taken, and have no reasonable prospect of giving it back. So restitution is something that should be attempted, but it isn't a necessary part of restoration.

1 Corinthians 6:1-8 warns against Christians going to civil courts when a fellow believer offends. Is this prohibition absolute, or is it only about disputes between individual Christians? I don't know. What if, for example, a believer burns down the church building? This is not an offense against an individual, but the church as a whole. Is that covered? I'm not sure. Arson is not only a crime against the church, but it is also a civil crime. Don't we have a duty to report such a matter, for the protection of others? Don't we have a duty, under Romans 13:1-7, to obey the law and report the crime? Perhaps this person will burn down a grocery store, or a neighbor's house, if not punished. A hard question.

The Bible doesn't speak of several other matters. One of them is the possibility of delegating the church's authority to some smaller body, such as a church board or equivalent. Another one is how far to go in restoration. I suppose, for example, that if a brother or sister has sexually molested a child, he or she should be forgiven, and restored to full fellowship, but that doesn't mean that they should be put on nursery duty, or asked to teach a children's Sunday School class. If they can be tempted in that way, it is foolish for the church to put them in temptation's way again, and a disservice to the individual. Another one is whether or not to inform the public at large, or the authorities.

I haven't said all that can, or that should be said. I close with two items.

The first is the story of the priests and the building fund, in 2 Kings
12:1-16. The priests had, apparently, been using the Temple building fund for their own use for as long as 23 years. The king confronted them, and remedial action was taken -- there were safeguards put in place, so that the money was used for the purpose for which it was given. But there is no mention of restitution, even though restitution for property stolen or damaged was part of the Old Testament law (Exodus 22:1-14, for example). Why not, in this case? I don't know.

The second, and most important, is this: Any offense by a believer, or even mentioning the possibility, should remind me that I, too, may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1) How can I be more careful to avoid temptation? How can I act with integrity? I, too, may have to be dealt with at some point. I hope not, but I may. So may you.

Thanks for reading.