Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Not for the squeamish

First, some science stories. These are just plain weird.

  • What's the upper size limit for what a heron will eat? A young rabbit?
  • This one is more interesting and less odd: how you can read palms (and fingernails) without being involved in occult at all!
  • A distressing platelet disorder reminiscent of Ebola hemorrhagic fever.
  • Knife to the head? No problem!
  • This woman's eyes would betray her during finals week.
Why so much from Daily Mail? The WSJ has disproportionately too much space devoted to the bailout. Granted, it's about Wall Street. But for you readers who desire a politics/economics-themed post anyway, visit Rebellious Pastor's Wife.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Islam ISN'T dangerous?

You tell me.

  • The house of the author of a book about Aisha (Muhammad's youngest, favorite wife) is firebombed by guess who.
  • Another rocket attack in Afghanistan.
  • "Minerals" and "industrial products" causing suspicious symptoms and the occasional death? Yep, we all know that Iran isn't dangerous at all...HT BCPRS.
More later...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pentecost 20

Readings: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Philippians 2:1-18; and Matthew 21:23-32 (sermon text).
We're very competitive - but in talk only, or also in deed? Talk is cheap; the deed is what's tough. Look at today's parable: the vineyard work (metaphor for faith) to teach us to become faith-walkers and not only faith-talkers. It's Pharisees (talk only) versus tax collectors and prostitutes (walkers). Jesus call us to walk. But, like the first son, we vehemently say "No! Don't make me do it!" Yet later some of us do end up doing our Father's bidding, sacrificing our own selfish agendas. Many of us will also stay merely talkers - if even that.

There was a Son who both said and did "Yes." He did it in love, for He came to serve and to save. But why did He leave heaven for a time? He didn't have any obligation to spend 33 years with us ingrates. Remember, though: He was NOT primarily a role model! That cheapens Him. Rather, He did it to forgive sins (the Word that works) so that we may always walk with Jesus. We may not know where this walk leads, yet we have Him beside us, carrying us gently.

Walk thus: away from severed sins, on the path God has set you in, in the joy of God's forgiveness. You have the privilege of saying "Yes" to the Father's bidding. It's not just for trained church workers. Evidence of having said "Yes" is found in the expanding Kingdom, those with whom we have shared the Gospel of Christ.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Varied reading

Courtesy GHF, a political/educational/scientific menu diverse enough to satisfy nearly all my readers...

  • Is this an example of low school standards? Or simply refusal to acknowledge the bottom 50%? Or something else?
  • This reminds me of the Obama T-shirt case. Give me examples of nonpartisan political messages and I may agree with U of I - otherwise not.
  • Someone needs a statistics course. And quickly.
  • Science and politics united: the abstract for a paper titled "The Obama-Tribe 'Curvature of Constitutional Space' Paper is Crackpot Physics."
In light of the Presidential debate last night, Cheryl's and Cao's posts are illuminating. Pun intended if it humors you.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The curious case of the 'Vader beetle'

If you have an aversion to pictures and discussion of beetles, slugs, and ravenous song sparrows, go on to the next post. Otherwise, here's some research I did on a beetle found on a routine plant-hunting expedition I was on recently. (Its nickname came from looking at it from the belly side. It uncannily resembles Darth Vader from that vantage point.)

First, a picture of the specimen (source):

Exhausting Googling gave me a tentative name: Pterostichus melanarius (Illiger). Given the name, I found out its habitat (native to Europe but spreading into the Midwest from the coasts - check, because my specimen was found in the heart of the Midwest), food (aphids, slugs), and what eats it (any insectivore in the area, basically). Its length is listed as Coincidentally, a colleague caught a song sparrow - listed in the field guide as a connoisseur of this carabid - a few days later in a live-animal trap that was only supposed to catch mammals.

Now share your beetle stories! Or correct my species identification.

Update: While walking on a wooded bluff the morning of 9/27/08, I spotted a juvenile individual of this species; it was about 12mm long and had yellowish legs. Leia, perhaps?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Chapter 11, part 2

Below are some specific Biblical prophecies fulfilled hundreds of years later, on average.

  • Tyre. Predictions are in Ezekiel 26:3-4, 7-8, 12, 14, 21. Fulfillment: Nebuchadnezzar broke its gates; Alexander the Great destroyed the city; Antigonus besieged it for 15 months; Muslims captured it; today, fishermen indeed "spread their nets there."
  • Sidon. Predictions are in Ezekiel 28:22-23. Fulfillment: not destroyed; frequent wars ("blood in the streets" and a "sword on every side").
  • Samaria. Predictions are in Hosea 13:16 and Micah 1:6. Fulfillment: it fell violently, was destroyed, and had vineyards planted in it.
  • Gaza-Ashkelon. Predictions are in Amos 1:8, Jeremiah 47:5, and Zephaniah 2:4-7. Fulfillment: the twin cities were destroyed; the Philistines were driven out; shepherds came in, as did Judah's remnant.
  • Moab-Ammon. Predictions are in Ezekiel 25:3-4 and Jeremiah 48:47, 49:6. Fulfillment: the cities were taken by eastern peoples for palaces; exiles returned.
  • Petra and Edom. Predictions are in Isaiah 34:6-15, Jeremiah 49:17-18, Ezekiel 25:13-14, and Ezekiel 35:5-7. Fulfillment: the cities were emptied of people, conquered by Israel and heathen, and had a bloody history.
  • Thebes and Memphis. Predictions are in Ezekiel 30:13-15. Their former names were No and Noph. Fulfillment: idols were destroyed, Thebes was burned, and there were no more native Egyptian rulers in either city.
  • Nineveh. Predictions are in Nahum 1:8, 1:10, 2:6, 3:10, 3:13, and 3:19. Fulfillment: the city was drunken, flooded, burned, and became desolate.
  • Babylon. Predictions are in Isaiah 13:19-22, 14:23, and Jeremiah 51:26, 43. Fulfillment: covered by swamps and desert creatures, desolate, like Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. Predictions are in Matthew 11:20-24. Fulfillment: destroyed throughout the course of history (Jesus didn't specify the means).
  • Jerusalem enlarged. Predictions are in Jeremiah 31:38-40. Fulfillment: precise rebuilding through even today!
  • Palestine. Predictions are in Leviticus 26:31-33 and Ezekiel 36:33-35. Fulfillment: Jews were dispersed, allowed to return, persecuted - and yet they thrived.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pentecost 19

Today's readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30; and Matthew 20:1-16 (sermon text).
Comparing wages - keeping up with the Joneses - is unfortunately a way of life for many of us. It can breed discontent, and often does. But when we know only our wages, we don't complain at all. Our human nature likes fairness. But are we satisfied when someone is truly fair?

The point of today's parable is God's fairness and generosity versus ours. Granted, the first workers did verbally agree for one denarius. Today's courts usually don't like the wage inequality, however. So we ask God, "How can You be so unfair?" Those who do less are given proportionately more. Where do you stand before God in respect to this? Do you work all day, every day? Or do you only work a little and infrequently?

Seen through the Law-lens, the point of this parable disappears, for God does not define Himself by the Law. Look at it by the Gospel instead. "Why did God give me this set of circumstances?" All we can know of the answer is that He has situated us in a place to do His will and be molded. All should get a chance to be His servants - even those who do less, who come in late.

Each of us "justly deserves temporal and eternal punishment." BUT! Remember that God's justice forgives you: He came down to earth as a human, lived out the Law, went through God's entire punishment for us. We did not earn this! But see the glorious mercy of God - what we really want, what we need, and what we get when we ask it of God. He is the God-Who-Forgives.
A hearty thank you to Exploring the Quran reader Dan, who sent Nashida the link to the HTML to put links to the ESV text by each Scripture reference.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

That can wait a few more years!

Courtesy of GHF, a Sunday Daily Mail story. The headline says it all:
Church makes 'ludicrous' apology to Charles Darwin - 126 years after his death.
The comments there are, for the most part, pretty good. Paired with this story, it's even better. Very thought-provoking.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ha!

A saying floats around: inside each person is a God-shaped hole or vacuum. This satisfying opinion piece provides scientific evidence. Apparently Christian = rational. (Didn't we know that?)

Update: Oct. 1 WSJ publishes a letter of response. Short, sharp, appropriate.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Chapter 11, part 1

Chapter 11 is the first in Part 3 (God at work in history and in human lives).

1. Definition of prophecy
  • Extra-Biblical: a spoken or written word proclaiming God's will for the primary audience; a "sign."
  • Scriptural: same as above plus divine inspiration, sometimes telling of future events (predictive prophecy).
2. Tests of a prophet
  • False prophets often or always have "prophetic ecstasy" (e.g. Baal worshipers) induced by a certain type of music, for example.
  • False prophets often occur in paid groups (e.g. under a king).
  • Deuteronomy 18 (twisted by Muslims), Jeremiah 23, and Ezekiel 12:21-14:11 are extended sections on marks of false prophets.
3. Objection to predictive prophecy: post-dating. But here are some facts...
  • The Septuagint was translated in 280-250 B.C. Therefore, the entire OT as we know it must have been complete before then.
  • Ezekiel: the unusual dating system matches archeology perfectly.
  • Even giving the critics generous benefit of the doubt, there is no way the prophecies could have all been written after the radically-claimed dates.
  • Presuppositions of critics: history is a closed system; there is no God; there is no possibility for miracles (and therefore no predictive prophecy).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Chapter 10, part 4

Don't worry, it's the end of this chapter. There's a whole other third part still to go! Bear with me.

The Hallucination Theory: all post-Resurrection appearances were hallucinations. But...
  • Being an eyewitness was extremely important.
  • Visions? Meaning: seems objective, but no actual, physical object is observed.
  • The overwhelmingly typical type of person who hallucinates is "high-strung." However, the people who saw the risen Christ were psychologically diverse; very few were "high-strung."
  • Hallucinations are very subjective and individualistic, brought on by familiar settings and wanting to see something. How could more than 500 people, for example, hallucinate the same thing at the same time?
  • There are many textual examples (vide: Thomas) of physically seeing/touching/hearing the risen Christ.
  • Familiar surroundings and certain time periods lead to hallucinations. But the actual circumstances were diverse and unlikely to induce visions.
  • People who hallucinate generally want to. But the disciples saw Christ without wanting to - against their will.
  • Hallucinations fade gradually, over months. But Christ's risen appearances stopped cold at the Ascension.
The Wrong Tomb theory: everybody forgot where Christ really lay. But...
  • The women had seen the grave firsthand three days before (Matthew 27:61, Mark 15:47, and Luke 23:55).
  • Upon hearing the women's report, the disciples ran to check (John 20:2-8).
  • The angel attested that it was the right tomb (Matthew 28:6).
  • Christ's enemies would definitely have gone to the right tomb for the body!
  • AND Joseph of Arimathea - it was his tomb, after all.
  • The women were purposeful and clear-headed, unlikely to mistake the tomb for another.
The conclusion: CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pentecost 18: Holy Cross Day

Readings: Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, and Matthew 18:1-35 (sermon text).
We often wish for "easy" or "fast-forward" buttons for life. But there are non. None for the painful process of giving forgiveness, either? See the Gospel text: Peter, the bold disciple, with many foibles, figures that seven acts of forgiveness is quite enough, a heroic act worthy of a divine pat on the back. Jesus' answer, 77 (or 7x70, depending on the manuscript) signifies an infinite number of acts of forgiveness. That sounds very slow and painful! Christ drives the point home with the parable following His dialog.

The king forgave (fast-forward!) the unpayable debt of the servant. God is even more magnanimous; He showers abundant absolution on us daily! Christ's extension (the actions of the first to the second servant) shows our reluctance to forgive (fast-forward) others who have sinned against us much less than He has forgiven us. We, slow to forgive, like Peter, expect a divine back-pat. How presumptuous!

It certainly isn't easy to forgive. Granted. Thus, to forgive, we must focus on Jesus' love for us, His merciful acts, instead of focusing on others' slights to us. Don't hit pause, stop, or rewind. Remember the free forgiveness you have received from God! You are now free to forgive others - share the gift.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Zoology news of the day

From Cool Pilot Brother, henceforth CPB: the Daily Express account of a gerbil traversing some, shall we say, unusual territory.

From Daily Mail: a bicapitate pokilotherm in pictures.

While we're on the subject of multiples, read about 'Yoda.'

Comic relief...maybe

Two pages of Palin comics sent to me by GHF (some may repeat):

From "Burning Hot" with a great many U's and R's added, the first.

Actually, this was part one. The above was part 2.

***

Satirical? A bit too ironic? Campus Crusade changes its name...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Palin & co.

Some easy reading, so you can recover from McDowell (for a few days, anyway!):

I have intentionally not been blogging about the whole Palin/Biden/Obama/McCain war of sorts. But plenty of others have. And so, for your reading pleasure, here are posts from both sides.

Michelle Malkin tallies up Obama's gaffes, while Ed picks out one each of Huckabee, Ridge, and Palin.

A UK perspective on the treatment of Palin here.

Via Road Sassy: excerpts and a link to the full text of Palin's RNC speech, of which I caught the last half live.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Chapter 10, part 3

Today we begin to wade through some of the "inadequate, concocted, explain-away hypotheses" that attempt to undermine the historicity of the Resurrection.

The Swoooooon [sic] theory: revived by spices and cool air. But...
  • Soldiers, Joseph, and Nicodemus judged by their knowledge that He did die.
  • A spear thrust + hours of horrible physical suffering = only a swoon?
  • In the closed room and afterwards, He looked hale - not haggard - to His disciples.
  • How could He have wriggled out of the grave cloths without disturbing the shape?
  • AND rolled away the huge stone AND overpowered the guard?
  • AND walked 7 miles to Emmaus AND claimed to have been resurrected?
  • This hypothesis would also falsify the Ascension account, going at odds with Luke's character.
The Theft theory: the disciples (or someone else) stole the body. But...
  • Enemies had no motive to steal the body; the disciples had no power to.
  • The guards' testimony was trusted.
  • Could the disciples have gotten past the guards AND broke the seal AND rolled away the stone?
  • The disciples, at the time, were depressed and cowardly.
  • If the soldiers had been asleep (as they claimed), how could they know that the disciples stole the body?
  • Soldiers wouldn't have fallen asleep, under penalty of death - much less the entire guard of four, all at the same time.
  • A stone of the size indicated would have taken too much effort and made too much noise to move.
  • Robbers wouldn't re-wind grave cloths, even if they had had the time.
  • Because of the honorable burial Christ had received, the disciples had no motive to move the body; there was nothing more they could do for it.
  • Since the disciples didn't suspect or even understand the Resurrection at first, they wouldn't have tried to help it along.
  • The disciples, as demonstrated in earlier chapters, had honorable character.
  • Did the Jews move it? Then why didn't they produce the body?
  • Did the Romans move it? That would have been directly counter Pilate's wish to keep peace.
  • Did Joseph of Arimathea move it? He would have consulted or told the other disciples.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Pentecost 17: "Carefronting"

Today's readings were Ezekiel 33:7-16 (sermon text), Romans 13:1-10, and Matthew 18:1-20.
What is a watchman? One who sees problems, speaks to the offender, and addresses them. How to respond? Matthew expounds on offenses to us - but what about sins that don't affect us directly? Ezekiel tells us to point out the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ, God's people. Why? The wicked person's blood - if we don't warn him - is on our hands.

Therefore we should warn our fellow Christian about his specific sin and its consequences. The ultimate consequence of sin is a slow death, both physical and (more important) spiritual.

We should also beware of our own self-righteousness. We too go from stealthy sin to full-blown rebellion, claiming cheap grace and possibly losing our salvation. We should not grow prideful in our warning of others - we should warn ourselves too.

Finally, since sins recur, we also need to point to Christ and His righteousness imputed to us. Show Jesus your sin, and your sin, Jesus. It needs no self-justification, but rather His forgiveness.

These tasks - "carefronting" - may entail risking the loss of a friendship. Many of us are afraid to "judge." But speaking a word of God, in caring confrontation, with an aim toward restoring the brother or sister to the faith, is not judging. It's reporting the liberating Word to them. Confront the person in love, therefore, because Christ's love for you and them compels you to.

Be Ezekiel, whose name means "God-strengthened." Let Christ's Word and sacraments give strength via forgiveness and faith to your humbled heart. Let Him go with you this week, and the next, and the next. Carefronting is very difficult. But the forgiveness it brings is a great reward.
Amen.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Chapter 10, part 2

This section deals with circumstances at the tomb of Christ.

Pre-Resurrection scenario
  • Jesus was dead. Crucifixion was the worst means of death. See, again, the JAMA article (PDF).
  • Tomb: plenty of textual evidence locating and describing it. Consider the events - why would each (e.g. Joseph of Arimathea asking for the body) have happened if there had been no tomb?
  • Burial. Prof. Edersheim tells of burial customs.
  • Stone: needed several men to move.
  • Seal: a cord secured at both ends by sealing wax.
  • Guard: faithful soldiers to Rome; neglecting their job meant death; probably 4 men total; no other dead prisoner was guarded like this!
  • Disciples: scattered because they didn't expect a resurrection at all.
Post-Resurrection scenario
  • The tomb was irrefutably empty.
  • Grave clothes were neatly folded in two piles.
  • The seal was broken.
  • A Roman guard wouldn't have intentionally deserted or slept at its post.
  • Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus alive backed up apostolic witness. Over 500 people (see 1 Corinthians 15) saw Him.
  • Silence of enemies - they couldn't produce the body, no matter how much they wanted to.
Established historical fact
  • No one could refute the Resurrection by producing the body - because it wasn't there!
  • Yet many still refused to believe.
Established psychological facts
  • Disciples' lives were transformed; their accounts stand under cross-inspection.
  • 1900 years of history; see chapter 12 in particular.
  • Verdict: these facts count as subjective evidence for the truth of the Resurrection.
Established sociological facts
  • Christian Church: founded on the Resurrection (see many passages in Acts).
  • Worship: Sunday, not Saturday (a huge change from Judaism).
  • Sacraments: Communion (celebrating His death - yet joyful because of the Resurrection) and Baptism (vs. circumcision - see Romans 6:1-6).
  • Persistence of the Church through many centuries.
Next up (the final section of this chapter!): hypotheses cooked up to explain away the Resurrection as presented in the Scriptures, and why and how each fails to consider all of the evidence.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Chapter 10, part 1

Unfortunately, in the interests of summarizing, I had to omit virtually all of the quotes by various scholars and historians; there were an average of 10 for each major point. This chapter's title? "The Resurrection: hoax or history?" Biblical accounts are found in Matthew 28:1-11, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21.

1. The importance of the Resurrection
  • Christianity is the only world religion based on a RESURRECTED personality. The Resurrection is thus the core of Christianity; without it, the religion would fall apart.
  • Christ rose by His own power; the Resurrection is proof of His claim to be "the Son of God."
  • According to Peter: the Resurrection (a) explained Jesus' death; (b) was prophesied; (c) was witnessed by the Apostles; (d) caused Pentecost; and (e) proved that Jesus Christ is indeed the King of kings.
  • Restatement of the above: Christianity is a historical religion.
2. Christ's claims that He would rise from the dead
  • Importance of claims: resurrection would be a wholly foolish claim if the person claiming thus couldn't do it or didn't know what would happen. The Jews (but, oddly, not the disciples, at least initially) took the claims seriously.
  • Claims by Jesus: Matthew 12:38-40, 16:21, 17:9, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, 26:32, and 27:63. Mark 8:31-9:1, 9:10, 9:31, 10:32-34, 14:28, 14:58. Luke 9:22-27. John 2:18-22, 12:34, chs. 14-16.
3. Historical approach
  • Resurrection as a time-space dimension historical event: The tomb is precisely defined; Jesus is demonstrably historical; guards and Sanhedrin were, too. Wilbur Smith: we know more about Christ's death than about the death of any other ancient person. "Many infallible proofs" (Acts 1) = strictest legal evidence.
  • Legal/historical testimony: (here were gobs of quotes) Eyewitnesses were Paul and the Apostles. Luke's account consists of interviews with eyewitnesses. A quote by Ambrose Fleming (emph. added):
    We must take this evidence of experts as to the age and authenticity of this writing, just as we take the facts of astronomy on the evidence of astronomers who do not contradict each other. This being so, we can ask ourselves whether it is probable that such book, describing events that occurred about thirty or forty years previously, could have been accepted and cherished if the stories of abnormal events in it were false or mythical. It is impossible, because the memory of all elderly persons regarding events of thirty or forty years before is perfectly clear.
Later we get into even more quotes. Read the book for yourself if you'd like to see them all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Atrocities: a judicious selection

The Midnight Sun keeps up with things quite admirably. If you don't mind getting at least a little angry at the world and certain personalities, read these:
  • Around the Blogosphere: five choice cases of political correctness at it meanest and ugliest.
  • Global warming? Really? (Yes, I know that its proponents say that it can cause unusually cold spells - but, as Ed Darrell periodically reminds us, be suspicious of anything that can explain all the facts.
  • Women pastors (of a sort)? Where?
Elsewhere: