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Friday, August 31, 2012

How to report a cybercrime

I have never been the victim of a cybercrime, and I hope you haven't, either, but some people have.

Gizmo's Freeware has detailed advice on how to report such crimes, to the FBI and others. The report is here. Stay safe, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sunspots 381

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

Humor:  Wired reports on vending machines that give people coffee (or some other item) if they, the people, follow instructions, shouted from the machine, or on-screen.

Science: Karl Zimmer, in Discover, on the amazing variety of fungi found in dead logs.

Computing: I'm a twitter member, and I think this post is cross-posted as a twitter feed, but I'm not sure of that, and that's all I know, or do, with Twitter. Maybe your experience/interest is similar. However, there's a web site that lets you enter a subject, and see what, and who, has been recently tweeted about it. No twitter membership needed.

Christianity: A good post by Greg Laurie, reminding us of why we do good.

Image source (public domain)

*  *  *  *

As of January 19, 2013, I am prohibiting comments on this post, as it is receiving spam comments too regularly. If you have a comment, please use a different post, and, if necessary, refer to this one, "Sunspots 381," so other readers, and I, will know what you are talking about. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Assembling Together - Christians Gathering in Acts

I have previously indicated that the New Testament tells us four different ways that Christians, followers of Christ, should differ from others. One of those ways is that they should want to associate with other believers.

There are a number of occasions where we are told that the early Christians got together, for various reasons. I'm not sure that I have found them all, and I may have misinterpreted some, but here are brief descriptions of several times when the Christians joined together, or when people who were about to become Christians joined together, as found in Acts, and copied from the World English Bible, which is public domain:

1:15a In these days, Peter stood up in the middle of the disciples (and the number of names was about one hundred twenty)

2:1 Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all with one accord in one place.

2:46 Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.

4:23 Being let go, [from being arrested, Peter and John] . . . came to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24a When they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord,

5:12b They were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.

6:2 The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables.

9:19 He took food and was strengthened. Saul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus.

10:25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell down at his feet, and worshiped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up! I myself am also a man.” 27 As he talked with him, he went in and found many gathered together.

11:25 Barnabas went out to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they were gathered together with the assembly, and taught many people. The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

12:12 Thinking about that, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 

15:12 All the multitude kept silence, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul reporting what signs and wonders God had done among the nations through them.

16:13 On the Sabbath day we went outside of the city by a riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down, and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one who worshiped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened to listen to the things which were spoken by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and stay.” So she persuaded us.
16a As we were going to prayer, 

17:10 The brothers* immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea. When they arrived, they went into the Jewish synagogue.
11 Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed; also of the prominent Greek women, and not a few men.

18:1 After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth. 2 He found a certain Jew named Aquila, a man of Pontus by race, who had recently come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome. He came to them, 3 and because he practiced the same trade, he lived with them and worked, for by trade they were tent makers. 4 He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks.

19:1 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul, having passed through the upper country, came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They said to him, “No, we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 He said, “Into what then were you baptized?”
They said, “Into John’s baptism.”
4 Paul said, “John indeed baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe in the one who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke with other languages and prophesied. 7 They were about twelve men in all. 8 He entered into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for a period of three months, reasoning and persuading about the things concerning God’s Kingdom. 

20:7 On the first day of the week, when the disciples were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and continued his speech until midnight.

21:17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers* received us gladly.

28:30 Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who were coming to him, 31 preaching God’s Kingdom, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, without hindrance.

*A text note indicates that the word translated as "brothers," could have been translated as "brothers and sisters," or "men and women."

Thanks for reading. Read Acts.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Prayer and Trouble, part 7, by E. M. Bounds

Trouble has wise ends for the praying ones, and these find it so. Happy is he who, like the Psalmist, finds that his troubles have been blessings in disguise. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes. I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.”

Of course it may be conceded that some troubles are really imaginary. They have no existence other than in the mind. Some are anticipated troubles, which never arrive at our door. Others are past troubles, and there is much folly in worrying over them. Present troubles are the ones requiring attention and demanding prayer. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Some troubles are self-originated. We are their authors. Some of these originate involuntarily with us, some arise from our ignorance, some come from our carelessness. All this can be readily admitted without breaking the force of the statement that they are the subjects of prayer, and should drive us to prayer. What father casts off his child who cries to him when the little one from its own carelessness has stumbled and fallen and hurt itself? Does not the cry of the child attract the ears of the father even though the child be to blame for the accident? “Whatever things ye desire” takes in every event of life, even though some events we are responsible for. 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, August 25, 2012

Jesus and the Ten Commandments

A few weeks ago, I posted on the commandments of Jesus, especially those found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

I wish to muse about what Jesus had to say about the Ten Commandments, which are found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. (There are no significant differences between the two statements.) See here for the Wikipedia article on the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments are these: (See the Wikipedia article -- there are variations in the ways people number them.)
1) Don't have any other gods.
2) Don't worship anything man-made.
3) Don't use God's name frivolously.
4) Rest on the Sabbath Day.
5) Honor your parents.
6) Don't commit murder.
7) Don't commit adultery.
8) Don't steal.
9) Don't offer false testimony*.
10) Don't lust after anything someone else has.

*Note that this is not "Don't lie." Lying is usually wrong, but the commandment is more specific, probably because of the significance of testifying falsely in court. There are examples of lies told, in the Old Testament, that were apparently approved by God. In no case were these told to give an advantage to the liar. Usually, they were to protect someone else. Also, the 7th commandment doesn't explicitly forbid fornication, not because fornication is not sinful, but because keeping a marriage covenant is so important.

Jesus mentioned some of the Ten Commandments. Here's what He had to say:
Matthew 19:16 Behold, one came to him and said, “Good teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”
17 He said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but one, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
18 He said to him, “Which ones?”
Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder.’ ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ ‘You shall not steal.’ ‘You shall not offer false testimony.’ 19 ‘Honor your father and mother.’ And, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (All scripture quotations from the World English Bible, which is public domain.)

From the context, and what Jesus said  in Matthew 19, I conclude that Jesus affirmed Commandments 5 through 9. He not only affirmed the 6th and 7th commandments, but he expanded on them, in the Sermon on the Mount. The last part of verse 19, which Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18, would seem to cover the 10th commandment. So what about the first four? Jesus also spoke about the first and second commandment:

Matthew 22:35 One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (The quote in verse 37 is from Deuteronomy 6:5, and it is the relevant portion of the quotation. If we really love God, there won't be any other gods in our lives.)

He also said: Matthew 5:33 “Again you have heard that it was said to them of old time, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall perform to the Lord your vows,’ 34 but I tell you, don’t swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; 35 nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shall you swear by your head, for you can’t make one hair white or black. 37 But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’ Whatever is more than these is of the evil one. That affirms the 3rd commandment.

The 4th commandment wasn't exactly affirmed by Christ, or by the early church. Christ said that the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath, in Mark 2:23-28. There were occasions when Jesus healed on the Sabbath. The early church began celebrating on Sunday, apparently, not on the Sabbath (which is between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday). Paul said that some people regarded certain days, and some did not, in Romans 14:6, and indicated that either could be a means of honoring God. The New Testament, however, does not set aside, but affirms, the main principles of the 4th commandment, namely that it's a good idea to take some regular rest from work, and it's also a good idea to worship with others on a regular basis. (See here for more on the 4th commandment.)

Thanks for reading! Honor God and love your neighbors.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sunspots 380

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Science: Yes, amphibians (frogs and such) have recently taken some big hits. But Wired reports that several new species have recently been found.
The Arts: Wired has a gallery of artists' conceptions of humans exploring Mars.

Computing: I was amazed to read that a court has ruled that "liking" on Facebook is not protected as free speech. According to Fox News, this will be appealed.

Christianity: (or philosophy) Ken Schenck has a brief, but excellent post (11 lines long!) on the relationship between objectivity and faith.

A good summary of what Theistic Evolution is all about, from the BioLogos Forum.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Job, Harry Potter and misery

If there is a God, and He is even close to all-powerful, why is there suffering? (If there is a god who isn't even close to being all-powerful, he, she, or it is not God.)

That's a very good question, and theologians and philosophers have been asking it, and trying to answer, for a long time. But it's pretty clear that none of the answers are fully satisfactory to everybody. This attempt won't be, either. (I have dealt with the topic before, here, and here, among other places.)

C. S. Lewis had two good answers. One of them was in his non-fictional book, The Problem of Pain. Here it is in one sentence: "Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself." The other, simpler, better answer is in his splendid novel, Till We Have Faces. The four-sentence answer there is "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?" To me, a belief in an after-life is also an answer, but I won't say more about that here. I doubt if it's a full answer for almost anyone.

I'm sure that not everyone is satisfied with either of the answers given by Lewis. The question remains, for many.

One of the books of the Bible, Job, is about suffering. God, although sovereign, allowed Satan, the adversary, to take Job's possessions, his children, and his good health. (Satan said that, if he was allowed to do so, Job would lose his faith in God.) Job didn't like all this loss, and complained about what he didn't like for a few chapters. Other people, well-meaning, tried to tell Job that all this was his fault -- he must have done something bad. His wife told him to stop believing in God. Job refused to believe that his troubles were his fault, and he refused to stop believing in the goodness of God. But he still had a question. Why did this happen to me? In the end, God appeared to Job, and, basically, said, "Who are you to question me?" Job said, basically, "I'm sorry, you are right. Forgive me. I'll shut up." Then God restored his possessions, and he had more children. God told those who had questioned Job's righteousness to ask Job to pray for them. Satan doesn't make an appearance, after the very first part, but presumably he was seriously disappointed by Job's reaction. In many ways, the answer given Job is the same as the answer given in The Problem of Pain.

I don't know, for sure, if Job was a real character. He probably was, but I suppose that the book could be a long parable. I don't think it matters, for our purposes. The question remains -- why is there suffering, if there is a powerful and loving God?

I presume that you know enough about the Harry Potter books, by J. K. Rowling, that what I am about to say makes sense. If not, you  should read them, or at least the Wikipedia summary. (Here's one place where I have written about the books previously.)

Is J. K. Rowling a terrible person? After all, she wrote about a character, Harry Potter, who had to undergo a great deal of suffering. His parents died while he was still very small, he had to live with relatives, the Dursley's, who took advantage of him, and restricted him terribly. He went through all sorts of ordeals. Some of his best friends died. He felt that he and his two closest friends had to leave his wizard training at Hogwarts, and wander in the woods for an extended period of time, during which the three of them suffered the misery of disagreeing with one another, and doubting each other's motives. Harry's mentor, Dumbledore, died. Harry himself offered to die to save the good wizards.

Would people read these seven books, and watch the movies based on them, if Harry hadn't had to suffer? I don't think so. A life without conflict, without occasional misery, seems dull and uninteresting. (How much good news do you see on TV, or read in the newspaper, compared to scandals, natural disasters, wars, crimes, stupidity by various politicians, and other awful things? Not very much. The news organizations couldn't sell good news. We wouldn't buy it, or watch or read it.)

Rowling, to write a novel which speaks to us (or at least to some of us) included suffering, of various kinds. True, it wasn't all about suffering. In the end, Harry marries his sweetheart, and has children. He is at least on nodding terms with Draco Malfoy, who was once his bitter enemy. Voldemort and his followers are defeated. But I submit that Rowling, who had almost absolute power over the content of her books, including the plot, was not a bad person because she put many of her characters through terrible suffering. And she didn't put in characters, like Voldemort, who had, except possibly before the books start, no good characteristics, because she was not in control of what she wrote. She was.

Similarly, God is not a bad person, nor impotent, because there is misery in the world.

I know. The Harry Potter books are fiction. My life (I think) is real. So is yours. No analogy is perfect, and this one certainly isn't. But I think it helped me to write this post. Besides, I'm not so sure that the life of characters in a novel, in relationship to the author, doesn't resemble the relationship between our lives and the Creator.

Thanks for reading.

How to make your browser safer

Gizmo's Freeware has done it again. They have published a fine article on how to make your browser safer.

The article includes separate instructions for all common browsers. I highly recommend that you read it, and take at least some of the precautions suggested.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The world was fresh and young: Howard Pyle

Upon that quest, Sir Percival and Sir Ewaine rode together for the sake of companionship. And they made agreement to travel together in that wise until the fortunes of adventure should separate them.
So they rode side by side in very pleasant companionship, taking the way that chance led them, yet everywhere seeking for news of Sir Launcelot, of whom they could find no word of any sort.
In those days the world was very fresh and young, so that it was great pleasure to journey in that wise, for anon they two rode beneath blue skies and anon through gentle showers, anon up hill and anon down dale, anon through countryside, anon through town, anon through forest and anon through wold. Yea; in those days, when the world was young, all things of life were so gay and joyous that it was little wonder that good knights like those twain took delight in being abroad in that wise, for so they might breathe more freely, out in the wider expanses of God's world, and so the spirit within them might expand to a greater joy of life than would be possible in court or in lady's bower. - Howard Pyle, The Story of Sir Launcelot and His Companions, public domain. (Originally published in 1907)

Pyle was an illustrator, primarily of children's books -- this one was meant to be one. I first read it, and its three companion volumes, from my elementary school library, more than six decades ago. Pyle was considered to be an excellent artist, as well as a teacher of other well-known artists -- see the Wikipedia article on him. His most important pupil was probably N. C. Wyeth. The article says that Pyle's pirate book is largely responsible for the way current popular culture (such as the Pirates of the Caribbean series) shows pirates.

His idea of the world being somehow better during the time of King Arthur is interesting, and attractive, and it was probably one of the attractions of his series on Camelot, but I'm not sure that it is valid. The book which is the source of the quotation, and other books by Pyle, are available free from Project Gutenberg.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Prayer and Trouble, Part 6, by E. M. Bounds

Prayer in the time of trouble brings comfort, help, hope, and blessings, which, while not removing the trouble, enable the saint the better to bear it and to submit to the will of God. Prayer opens the eyes to see God’s hand in trouble. Prayer does not interpret God’s providences, but it does justify them and recognise God in them. Prayer enables us to see wise ends in trouble. Prayer in trouble drives us away from unbelief, saves us from doubt, and delivers from all vain and foolish questionings because of our painful experiences. Let us not lose sight of the tribute paid to Job when all his troubles came to the culminating point: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.”

Alas! for vain, ignorant men, without faith in God and knowing nothing of God’s disciplinary processes in dealing with men, who charge God foolishly when troubles come, and who are tempted to “curse God.” How silly and vain are the complainings, the murmurings and the rebellion of men in the time of trouble! What need to read again the story of the Children of Israel in the wilderness! And how useless is all our fretting, our worrying over trouble, as if such unhappy doings on our part could change things! “And which of you with taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit?” How much wiser, how much better, how much easier to bear life’s troubles when we take everything to God in prayer? From The Essentials of Prayer, by E. M. Bounds.

Although E. M. Bounds died in 1913, this book was first published in 1925, by an admirer of the author's life. Bounds was known for praying from four until seven each morning.

This post is one of a series, taken from The Essentials of Prayer, by Bounds. Found through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, here. The Essentials of Prayer is in the public domain. The previous post in the entire series on the book is here. Thanks for reading. Read this book, and, more importantly, practice, prayer.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Heartless, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Heartless (Tales of Goldstone Wood), by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, is a fantasy book, with swords, magic, and dragons. (See here for my musings on why sword and sorcery fiction is popular). It won the Christy award for Best First Novel in 2011. I haven't read the other winners, and I'm not sure if a fantasy novel has won this particular Christy Award previously, but the award was well deserved.

Stengl does not have a Wikipedia article on her, and Heartless doesn't, either. Here is the Amazon page for the author, and she has a blog.

I'll try to give away as little as possible of the plot, but will muse on various aspects of the novel. The plot is complex.

First, I confess that I have read two novels, by the same author, published after Heartless, in her series, Tales of Goldstone Wood. The second one, Veiled Rose, mostly takes place before the events in Heartless. There are some allusions to these events in Heartless, indicating that the author didn't just write a second novel based on the first one -- the first one foreshadows the second, and she already had largely it in mind when writing the first. (There is supposed to be a fourth novel, to be released later this year.)

Second, there is no doubt in my mind that this qualifies as a Christian novel, by almost any standard. I don't say this because it mentions Christ, or God, or the Bible, or salvation. It doesn't. In fact, the theology of the characters is nearly non-existent. They don't worship together, and they don't pray on a regular basis. I hope to post later, giving more detail on why I say that the book is Christian. My guess is that the fact that there is no direct "preaching" in the book might make it more attractive to non-Christians.

There is a Christ-figure, not in the sense that he dies to pay for the sins of others, at least not within the events of this book, but in the sense that he comes from another realm -- fairyland -- with the purpose of taking a bride for himself.

There are, as I said, dragons. Stengl's dragons live a very long time. They can appear as dragons, huge lizards with wings and fiery breath, or as human, or at least human-like, beings. They can talk, and are intelligent. They love treasure. They are almost entirely evil. No dragon is a main character, but a few of them appear in the book, and they are important in it.

The theme of the book is trust. Una, a princess coming into adulthood, and who is one of the main characters, trusts the wrong person for much of the story, but finally comes to trust the right one. In fact, she trusts him enough to let him kill her, as a dragon, so that she may live as a human. The episode reminded me of the experience of Eustace Scrubb, transformed from a dragon to a human by Aslan, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C. S. Lewis, but Stengl's depiction is more gripping, and, as I said, coming to that point is, in large part, what the book is about.

This is a fine book, and compares well with good fantasy from mainstream publishers. I confess that I have read Heartless twice in less than two months, and I am glad that I did.

I have read both the hardback book and the Kindle edition. Bethany House, the publisher, is to be commended for the latter. Not only are there color ornaments, and the like, and not many typos, but you can go to page numbers in the book, if you need to.

The book could have used a map, but there isn't one, in either edition.

Thanks for reading. Read Heartless.

Death and natural selection: compatible with the Bible?

In a series posted by the BioLogos Forum, the question of whether death, which is often thought to be a central part of how natural selection works, is considered. A Southern Baptist theologian doubts that such a mechanism is consistent with scripture, and with the goodness of God. A christian biologist responds, indicating that it is.

The biologist puts forth a couple of important ideas: biologists have a more complex view of the role of death and natural selection than Darwin (and most modern non-biologists) have, and some important theologians, before Darwin's theory was ever proposed, believed that non-human death could have occurred before the fall.

Here's the last post in the series, which provides links to the other three. (Look to the right of the photo of a church.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sunspots 379

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

Science: Wired reports on a study that shows that social connectedness as a teenager is much more important than academic achievement in adult happiness.

Sports: Syndicated columnist George F. Will says that football has gotten too big and too dangerous for the players.

The Arts: Rebecca Luella Miller, of Speculative Faith, tells us why fantasy is so appealing to so-called young adults.

Politics: (or something) National Public Radio reports that a book on Thomas Jefferson, by David Barton, has been pulled from their offerings, because of errors of fact.

Computing: Fox News reports that the bad guys use suddenly popular searches (related to some scandal, for example) as a way to mess up our computers.

Christianity: From the BioLogos Foundation, a brief summary of the history of how Darwin was received by Christians, in his own time. By no means all Christians were hostile. (Some were.)

Image source (public domain)

Monday, August 13, 2012

National Public Radio on David Barton's view of US history

National Public Radio has done some fact-checking about claims made by David Barton, whose view of history is so congenial to the right wing. He has made numerous false claims, according to NPR's research. Other authorities have also questioned his scholarship.

The truth speaks for itself. It doesn't need to be defended with inaccuracies or distortions, and such are generally counter-productive.

Update, August 14: Evangelical scholars have also criticized Barton's methods and conclusions. See here.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Prayer and Trouble, Part 5, by E. M. Bounds

There is a distinct note of comfort in the Gospel for the praying saints of the Lord, and He is a wise scribe in Divine things who knows how to minister this comfort to the brokenhearted and sad ones of earth. Jesus Himself said to His sad disciples, “I will not leave you comfortless.”

All the foregoing has been said that we may rightly appreciate the relationship of prayer to trouble. In the time of trouble, where does prayer come in? The Psalmist tells us: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Prayer is the most appropriate thing for a soul to do in the “time of trouble.” Prayer recognises God in the day of trouble. “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good.” [1 Samuel 3:18] Prayer sees God’s hand in trouble, and prays about it. Nothing more truly shows us our helplessness than when trouble comes. It brings the strong man low, it discloses our weakness, it brings a  sense of helplessness. Blessed is he who knows how to turn to God in “the time of trouble.” If trouble is of  the Lord, then the most natural thing to do is to carry the trouble to the Lord, and seek grace and patience and submission. It is the time to inquire in the trouble, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” How natural and reasonable for the soul, oppressed, broken, and bruised, to bow low at the footstool of mercy and seek the face of God? Where could a soul in trouble more likely find solace than in the closet?
Alas! trouble does not always drive men to God in prayer. Sad is the case of him who, when trouble bends his spirit down and grieves his heart, yet knows not whence the trouble comes nor knows how to pray about it. Blessed is the man who is driven by trouble to his knees in 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, August 11, 2012

Evidence for being a Christian: What the Bible says

Evidence for Being a Christian
(The graphic above is a link to a larger version, which you are free to use for non-commercial purposes.)

Who is saved?

We cannot save ourselves, and the church cannot save us.
Salvation from sin is a supernatural event, the result of God’s grace. We can ask forgiveness for sin, and accept Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and the power of the resurrection. We need to do these things. But salvation is God’s work in us. (Ephesians 2:8 for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, that no one would boast. (Scripture quotations from the World English Bible, public domain)

Furthermore, raising our hands, saying a prayer, kneeling at a mourner’s bench, shaking a preacher’s hand, testifying to being saved, being baptized, having our names on a church roll do not and cannot save us, in and of themselves. (There is nothing wrong with these acts, or similar ones, and most converts ought to do most or all of them, especially baptism, but they don’t save us.) In other words, no one is saved because she thinks she is, or because he joined the church 15 years ago. If she or he is saved, it is because of God’s forgiveness. Whether we are saved or not is ultimately a question that only God can really answer. I once heard a Southern Baptist pastor say that about 50% of the people on the rolls of his church weren’t really saved. Why did he say that? Because, although they had participated in one or more of the acts listed above, they showed no evidence of salvation. (Southern Baptists are by no means alone in this!)

A person who is saved bears fruit of salvation 
Matthew 13:18 “Hear, then, the parable of the farmer. 19 When anyone hears the word of the Kingdom, and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes, and snatches away that which has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown by the roadside. 20 What was sown on the rocky places, this is he who hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while. When oppression or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 What was sown among the thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of this age and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 What was sown on the good ground, this is he who hears the word, and understands it, who most certainly bears fruit, and produces, some one hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty.”

Matthew 7:16 By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ 23 Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’

John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. 2 Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already pruned clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you.

Jesus does not explain what “fruit” is. But He calls it “good fruit,” and says that we must remain in Him in order to produce it. The fruit is probably two related things: influencing people to be converted, and the Fruits of the Spirit, described in Galatians 5, which also describes bad fruit:

Galatians 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let’s not become conceited, provoking one another, and envying one another.

A person who is saved is not a habitual sinner.
(Note: To some people, sin is anything short of perfection – to them, honest mistakes, and memory lapses, are sin. However, I am using a more restrictive definition, from the Free Dictionary: 1. A transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate.  
2. Theology
a. Deliberate disobedience to the known will of God. b. A condition of estrangement from God resulting from such disobedience.
We should remember that there are sins of omission – things that we should do, but don’t – as well as sins of commission. See James 4:17 and Matthew 25:40-25.
Newly saved people don't instantly become mature Christians. The Holy Spirit works to develop us. Even mature Christians may newly realize some sin as He reveals it to them. Psalm 86:11a Teach me your way, Yahweh.)

1 John 2:1 My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. 2 And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.

Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection; 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him; 9 knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no more has dominion over him! 10 For the death that he died, he died to sin one time; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. 11 Thus consider yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 Therefore don’t let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 Also, do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin will not have dominion over you. For you are not under law, but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? May it never be!

A person who is saved follows Christ’s commandments.
John 14:21 One who has my commandments, and keeps them, that person is one who loves me. One who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will reveal myself to him.”
23 Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him. 24 He who doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words.

John 15:14  You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you.

1 John 1:3 This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. 4 One who says, “I know him,” and doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn’t in him. 5 But whoever keeps his word, God’s love has most certainly been perfected in him. This is how we know that we are in him: 6 he who says he remains in him ought himself also to walk just like he walked.

Matthew 7:24 “Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. 25 The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

What are Christ’s commandments?
Many of them are found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Some of the commands in that Sermon are to keep our motives pure – don’t even want to commit adultery or murder; be reconciled to others, and forgive them; turn the other cheek; love even your enemies; don’t draw attention to your good deeds; don’t be anxious about worldly possessions; judge yourselves before judging others; beware of false prophets. He also told us to live the summary of the Old Testament Law:

Matthew 22:37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

In Mark 12:14-19, Jesus commanded His listeners to honor the government, including paying taxes. We should remember that this was an occupying government, and its head was a Roman pagan emperor.

There are other commands, but one more is found in the last words of Matthew’s gospel: Matthew 28:19 Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

A person who is saved continues in a relationship with Christ, and seeks the fellowship of other Christians. 
John 15:1-7 (quoted above) uses the phrase “remain in me” or equivalent, seven times.

John 17:20 Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; 23 I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me.

Hebrews 10:24 Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the Day approaching.

There are about 20 occurrences of groups of Christians being together in Acts. (See here.) Sometimes they met to worship, sometimes as a prayer meeting, sometimes to consider policy or doctrine. It was Paul’s practice to establish churches wherever he went as a missionary. Christ refers to seven churches in Revelation.

To summarize the evidences given above for being a Christian, a Christian becomes more and more like Christ. The Holy Spirit works in the life of a believer to bring these things about.

My conclusion is that as long as we remain in good relationship with God, we will keep Christ’s commandments, our lives will bear fruit, and we will not lose our salvation. Perhaps I ought to stop there, but the original question still remains. There are at least two views of the answer, both with Biblical support, but the question, and its answers, are trivial beside the more important question – am I saved now? Unfortunately, some people, who don't follow Christ's commandments, who do not have a relationship with Christ, who are persistent and unrepentant sinners, and whose lives show the wrong kind of fruit, are deluded by Satan into thinking that they are saved when they are not.

Thanks for reading!

Added October 26, 2012: You may want to see this post, on the warning passages in the book of Hebrews.

Added June 9, 2015: Neither the chart, nor the above discussion, consider baptism as evidence that one is a Christian. In Acts, baptism was perhaps the most important sign of being converted. Jesus commanded the church to baptize new believers. It's important! But what the chart and discussion are really about is ongoing evidence, up-to-date evidence. Baptism, for most believers, is a one-time event. The four evidences above are about our continuing life in Christ.

Friday, August 10, 2012

"Darwin's Finches" were studied by a Christian

As a retired biology teacher, I knew about the finches of the Galapagos Islands. I also knew that, although they have often been put forth as good evidence for Darwin's theory of speciation by natural selection, Darwin, himself, didn't know much about them (although he did visit the Galapagos Islands while on his voyage with the Beagle.) And I knew that the world's expert on these amazing birds was a man named David Lack. I read his book, Darwin's Finches.

A recent essay from the Biologos Foundation points out something that I didn't know, but is well documented. That is that Lack became a Christian fairly early in his scientific career, and remained one throughout the rest of his life. Furthermore, his faith was known to contemporary scientists. The essay quotes Ernst Mayr, himself a towering figure in the science of evolution, and also perhaps the most important historian of biology of modern times, testifying to Lack's faith. (It is not clear that Mayr, himself, was a Christian. He may have been. He was also an important philosopher of biology.)

The essay indicates that Lack did not find his Christian beliefs and his evolutionary science to be in conflict.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Sunspots 378

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:
Science:  Wired reports that scientists attached a small camera to a cormorant, and recorded video from a 150-foot dive.

Wired also reports that the melting of the Greenland ice sheet may not be as big a disaster as we thought.

Computing: Gizmo's freeware has a detailed article on how to tell if your Windows computer is infected. It also has another on how to clean an infected computer. (It's easier to prevent than cure!)

Christianity: (or Hinduism) A blog post about ministering to women who have been involved in the Hindu practice of devadasi, temple prostitution, in India. I don't know how widespread this practice is. Here's the Wikipedia article on the practice.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, August 06, 2012

Life on Mars? So what?

Congratulations to NASA on landing the Curiosity on Mars.

Suppose life is discovered on Mars? I see nothing in the Bible that would rule out that possibility, or that predicts it, and no threat to my faith, whether life is discovered on Mars (or anywhere else but Earth) or not.

Some additional musings:

It is impossible to absolutely prove that there has never been (or, for that matter is not now) life on Mars. It can always be argued that the Curiosity, and any additional exploratory apparatuses or people, have not looked everywhere, under every circumstance. There could be life deep within Mars, or only under rocks in a few places that have been overlooked, or the life might not have been Carbon-based, so the wrong procedure was used to find it. However, I think that we may decide that there is reasonable doubt that life now exists, or ever has existed, on Mars, at some point, if there is no evidence for it.

Who cares if there is life on Mars? Well, curious people ought to care, just to find out. Also, it is possible that, if Martian life forms are found, we might be able to study them, and learn something of value, such as a cure for cancer, or how to establish life on the moon. The discovery of the Americas by Europeans is not an exact parallel, of course, but that discovery certainly changed life in Europe (and the Americas!), in ways that would have been impossible to predict. Do I anticipate important benefits to humans, if life is discovered on Mars? No, but it can't be ruled out.

If there is reasonable doubt that life has ever existed on Mars, then we will probably be more inclined to go there ourselves. The argument that we have messed up the biology of earth, and, therefore, shouldn't be allowed to mess up the biology of Mars, will be weak, or non-existent. Why should we go to Mars? Because it is there, as someone said about why we should climb Mt. Everest, however strong or weak that argument is. It is possible that there may be commercial and scientific value from various phenomena, geological, meteorological, or astronomical, discovered going to Mars.

We certainly have enough to do on earth. Poverty, disease and sin are a long way from being eliminated. But perhaps, as the pictures of the earth from the moon changed our way of thinking about ourselves, probably for the good, looking at earth from another planet, with an atmosphere, might also change our way of thinking about ourselves, for the good, enough and more to offset the expense and effort of going to Mars. But don't hold your breath.

Thanks for reading. I have previously mused about the possibility of religious activity among living things on other planets.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Prayer and Trouble, Part 4, by E. M. Bounds

Three words practically the same in the processes of Divine discipline are found, temptation, trial and trouble, and yet there is a difference between them. Temptation is really a solicitation to evil arising from the devil or born in the carnal nature of man. Trial is testing. It is that which proves us, tests us, and makes us stronger and better when we submit to the trial and work together with God in it “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” [James 1:2-3]

Peter speaks along the same line:
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith being much more precious than that of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” [1 Peter 1:6-7]
The third word is trouble itself, which covers all the painful, sorrowing, and grievous events of life. And yet temptations and trials might really become troubles. So that all evil days in life might well be classed under the head of the “time of trouble.” And such days of trouble are the lot of all men. Enough to know that trouble, no matter from what source it comes; becomes in God’s hand His own agent to accomplish His gracious work concerning those who submit patiently to Him, who recognise Him in prayer, and who work together
with God.

Let us settle down at once to the idea that trouble arises not by chance, and neither occurs by what men call accident. “Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground, yet man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward.” [Job 5:6-7] Trouble naturally belongs to God’s moral government, and is one of His invaluable agents in governing the world.

When we realise this, we can the better understand much that is recorded in the Scriptures, and can have a clearer conception of God’s dealings with His ancient Israel. In God’s dealings with them, we find what is called a history of Divine Providence, and providence always embraces trouble. No one can understand the story of Joseph and his old father Jacob unless he takes into the account trouble and its varied offices. - 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, August 04, 2012

Why do we have stock markets?

Wired has a most interesting piece, mostly about why stock traders want to trade at as close to light speed as possible, and how that's being accomplished, but the article also raises a fundamental question, and gives a disquieting answer:

"High-frequency trading raises an existential question for capitalism, one that most traders try to avoid confronting: Why do we have stock markets? . . . Trading increasingly is an end in itself, operating at a remove from the goods-and-services-producing part of the economy and taking a growing share of GDP . . ."

I'm not an economist, but I'd suggest a small tax on each stock/commodity/futures/whatever transaction.

Definitely worth a read.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Young-earth creationist on the debate (among Christians) about origins

Todd Wood is a good scientist, and a young-earth creationist. He is a young-earth creationist not because he thinks science supports that view, but because he thinks the Bible should be interpreted in that way. Others, of course disagree. He (along with a so-called evolutionary creationist) was recently profiled in a Christianity Today article.

Wood has posted his reaction to the article. The most important, and unfortunate, thing that he said was this: "A lot of folks may be too far gone to participate in fruitful discussion." In other words, a lot of Christians haven't been acting, or thinking, like Christians should, whatever their views on origins, and have become bitter toward those with other views, and close-minded about their own.

I'm afraid he's right, and I hope I'm not one of those "folks." I don't think Wood is.

Thanks for reading. Read Wood.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Sunspots 377

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

Science:  Wired reports on giant fossilized sperm -- from water fleas.

Sports: Wired on the massive anti-drug use efforts at the Olympics.

Computing: Gizmo's Freeware tells us that you can use Skype to let someone in another location see your computer's desktop. This may help in solving computer problems.

Christianity: Ken Schenck has been posting on interpreting the Bible. In a recent post in his series, he wrote: "For example, we have no reason to believe that the Parable of the Prodigal Son or the Parable of the Good Samaritan ever actually happened.  They are parables, not historical stories. Yet they are as true as any history book."

Image source (public domain)