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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Weekly Trivia: Another Error in Reasoning

As you might be realizing right now, there are many, many fallacies out there. I probably won't get to them all, either, but I still think it's essential to know and understand them if you want to live on this planet.  We hear them every day, but may not always be savvy to them.

I tried googling my last two posts on errors in reasoning, and discovered that many, many blog posts exist out there accusing the Bible, and therefore Christianity, of being full of these fallacies.  But after reading a few of them, I realized that the problem is that many Christians don't understand (or don't bother with) good debate technique.  If you're sharing your faith with an unbeliever, it is absolutely essential that you understand these fallacies, and don't use them.  If what you have to say is really defensible, you don't have to trick people into believing it.

So, on to the next fallacy...

Superstition or Bad Science: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

With such a long handle on this one, you would think it would be something really clever, but I honestly think its one of the easiest to identify.  Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc is a really fancy, Latin way of saying, After this, therefore because of this.  I think of it as the superstitious or bad science argument, because it is based on the illogical idea that because something follows something else, it must be the result of the first occurrence.  The definition of good scientific reasoning is that the results are repeatable, explainable, unbiased, and so forth.  Superstitious assumptions do not hold up under such scrutiny.

A common quasi-religious example is the notion that if you spill salt, you are doomed to bad luck unless you throw some over your shoulder.  Honestly, it cannot be proven that spilling salt was the origin of all the bad things that happened to you.  It could be that you didn't get enough sleep, and therefore had sluggish reflexes that day, which caused you to dump the salt and wreck your car in the same day.  It also cannot be proven that throwing salt over your shoulder reverses the trend.

The worst thing about the Post Hoc argument is that it causes you to overlook better explanations for what happened, and may prevent others from looking for them, as well.

Example: "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham." (Matthew 3: 7-10 NIV).
The speaker is John the Baptist.  The Post Hoc argument is that because we were born Israelites, we are holy, like Abraham was holy, and children of the promise God made to him to bless his descendants.  But John is saying, holiness results from repentance, not from being born into a family.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Speak Now

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."—Martin Luther

I am late in posting this because I wanted to talk about a very controversial subject today, and that means that I needed to put a lot of serious thought into my words.  Of course, I'm talking about Haiti.  Christians should be.  After all, we claim to know and worship a God who is love, and who is near to the brokenhearted.

I think Esthermay at Heart of a Pastor's Wife did an excellent job addressing the "why" of the earthquake for those who are struggling with that.  If you need comfort on that subject, visit that link and read what she has to say.

I wanted to talk about a related subject: What is the Christian response to the disaster in Haiti?  Right now, U.S. residents are pouring money into aid organizations, trying to ensure that the Haitians have good medical care, clean drinking water, adequate food, and at least some kind of makeshift shelter.  These are all good things.  Needed things.  But they are what anyone would do if they had any tenderness in their hearts.  Is this all that Christians should be doing?

I've heard the quote, "Preach Christ, and if necessary, use words," which has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.  Living our beliefs is a good start, but I'm convinced that the world doesn't have time to wait for us to speak--and all the time we are silent, they may be reading comedy into our pantomimes.  Actions speak louder than words, but words speak more clearly than actions.  I firmly believe that Christians should be using this opportunity to preach to the country of Haiti in the middle of this disaster.

That is where many Christians vocally disagree with me, because preaching right now, when everyone is hurt and desperate for help, isn't politically correct.  Many Christians are afraid of being politically incorrect, because political incorrectness = making someone uncomfortable or angry = causing offense = being mean.  And of course, being mean is unchristian, right? Sound familiar? (Read last week's post on Non Sequitur if you don't recognize it). 

While it's true that Christian values and political correctness sometimes coincide, it doesn't follow that all Christianity is politically correct, or that it even should be.  By saying we should preach now in Haiti, I'm saying that a lot of people in Haiti need Jesus.  This is politically incorrect in itself, but somehow becomes worse because of my timing.  Furthermore, it suggests to some that I want to "take advantage" somehow of the situation to "push my beliefs."

This earthquake highlights how many thousands of people are desperately in need of the hope and comfort that only God can provide, and how many people may not have had the chance to hear those words before they died. So today I'm confronting the excuses I've heard (concerning this disaster, the tsunami disaster a few years ago, the earthquake in China, Hurricane Katrina, and so on), that Christians "shouldn't take advantage of the situation to push our beliefs," or that, "We should bide our time and earn their trust before we speak."  This need won't go away with medicine, water, food, and shelter--so why wait?
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3 NIV)
I'm not speaking against supplying the real, dire physical needs of the Haitian people.  If we withhold this aid, they will die.  But if we cower in fear of the "PC cops" (politically correct social commentators) and withhold the bread--the message--God has given us to share, the Haitians will survive this, live on for a few years, and then go to their eternal deaths.  Do they have time to wait for us?

The Grip of Fear

This topic has burdened my heart for a decade now.  When is it a "good time" to talk about Jesus with someone who is hurting?

So many people have been telling me that Christians can't be confrontational, calling sin evil and condemning it, when they are preaching about Christ, especially when they are preaching to people who are already hurting.  People aren't supposed to convert because they're afraid, I've heard.  Also, I don't want to talk about Jesus right now, because I need to be sensitive to this person's pain.

I don't buy it.  Honestly, these words are spoken out of fear of the repercussions of being openly Christian in a godless world.  These people don't want to offend, not because they actually care about another's feelings, but rather because they want to protect their own skin.  That, my friends, is terribly heartless.  While Christians are worrying about "feelings," people are dying without being challenged in their lost condition.  Do we really want a whole generation to stand before God and say in their own defense, "But, God, nobody told me it was a sin"?

Fear is one of Satan's most effective tools against Christians, and so far, political correctness is another inroad for that fear. Our Christian mission is to preach Christ and serve Him at every opportunity, because God wants to save as many as possible before He has to judge the world (2 Timothy 4: 1-3; 2 Peter 3:9; Acts 17:30-32).  If we really claim to follow Jesus, we don't have room for excuses.

Can Christians go into disaster zones and get in trouble for talking about Jesus?  Sure.  In a disaster, there will be people who are angry at God, and they may lash out at Christians because of that anger.  Still, we have to take that chance, because we have Christ--something the world doesn't--and we don't have time to warm people up with cookies.  If God is in what we are doing, we will be able to deliver our message.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.(2 Corinthians 2: 14-16 NIV)

The Time to Act

I saw a video of smoke rising from Port-Au-Prince, and a woman's voice shouted, "The world is coming to an end!"  Her words gripped my heart.  What if it had been the end of the world?  All those people facing eternity in darkness and torment.  Only God can rescue, but did they all know Him?

When a disaster rises to the world consciousness, many people start thinking about eternity, and how their lives hang by a thread in the balance.  When in pain, people look for God.  We should be there to introduce Him--now, not later.  If trouble is the only way that people feel the need for God, why make them live through any more of it before introducing them to their Source of help?  What if today is their last day?

I'm praying for our missionaries out there, that they will speak the Good News boldly, and that God will be able to use them to reach out to these hurting people.  If you feel God calling you to go there and preach about Him, do so without delay.

I know it's probably an empty hope in this instance, but I'm also praying that my own words will help someone come to know Him.  About six months ago, someone from Port-Au-Prince came to this site and according to my site feed, printed something off.  I'm sure the printout is long gone now, but I'm praying that God has used something I've said to make Himself known there.  However God chooses to reach people, whether through men and women present on the ground, or through some obscure woman in the U.S., I celebrate it. For now, I'll continue to make Jesus known in the time I've been given.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Weekly Trivia: Another Fallacy

As I said last time, secular knowledge, such as proper speech and debate technique, is not as good as knowing your Bible.  Such teaching isn't a guide for righteous living, but it can be a useful tool in understanding the world we live in and catching onto all the lies.

Non Sequitur (It Does Not Follow)

The Non Sequitur argument appears to be a traditional inductive argument (principles A, B, and C all support conclusion D), but the conclusion cannot be derived from the supporting points.  This is frequently an extremely subtle error in reasoning, and often slips past unnoticed.  Because of this, it is also extremely dangerous.

Example: Read 1 Samuel 10:17-27. Here you see the nation of Israel falling for two Non Sequitur arguments, although neither is overtly stated in the passage.
  1. The neighboring nations all are lead by kings.  The neighboring nations seem great and prosperous. Israel doesn't have a king. Therefore, in order for Israel to be as great and prosperous as their neighbors, they need a king and not God to lead them. (verses 17-19).
  2. Saul is taller than all the rest of the men in Israel, therefore he would make a great king. (verses 23-24).
In verse 27, we read of a few people who didn't fall for the Non Sequitur argument everyone else believed.  Saul didn't do anything about them at the time, but I would imagine their protests were silenced eventually.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Behold! the Bridegroom Cometh

My extended family has celebrated quite a few weddings in the past few months, so I've been thinking a lot about the topic, obviously. I was thinking about it again, even though I'd planned to talk about prophecy today, and suddenly God reminded me of some research I did on Jesus' first miracle, some months ago.  Oddly enough, it ties the two topics together.  I just love it when God makes it work out that way, don't you?

The Significance of the Wedding at Cana

Months ago, I was rereading the story of the Wedding at Cana, which most readers know is the first documented miracle Christ performed during His earthly ministry.  I found myself thinking, "Why is this significant, compared to all the other miracles?  Why would the disciples think it was important to write this particular miracle down, since they also noted that many other miracles weren't written down?"

So many people had read this story to me and came up with a rather vague understanding that the wine was significant as a symbol of God's spirit being poured out on earth.  I think this interpretation is partly right, but it overlooks a lot.  For one thing, why did it have to happen at a wedding?

It is clear that there was a lot of symbolism in Jesus' decision to turn water into wine.  I see that it was not lost on the audience (although it may have taken a few years to really sink in), although it seems to have been lost on its modern, non-Jewish audience.  What was going on?  Verse 6 is the often-overlooked key to the mystery:
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Ceremonial washing.  When I've read about ceremonial washing in the Old Testament, it usually involved curing a disease, purification after a disease, or preparation for a priest to enter the temple.  Why were there ceremonial washing jars standing right there, in the middle of a wedding ceremony?  Wouldn't they have put them up before the guests arrived? Out of curiosity, I googled ceremonial washing and the Jewish wedding ceremony.

There are a lot of variations in the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony (I'm talking about the modern one, though the practices are ancient).  One thing that always takes place early in the wedding week (the ceremony is a week of festivities) is the ceremonial bathing of the bride to be, called the mikvah bath.

The mikvah is usually an indoor pool filled with a mixture of natural water (rainwater or water from a spring) and purified water (like tap water).  The mikvah has common origins with the concept of baptism.  We call it baptism, from the Greek, baptismo, to dip, because early Christians didn't want it to be confused with bath, meaning to wash, a word associated with the pagan bathing house used by secular Greeks.

Jewish women always bathe before going into the mikvah.  Most modern mikvah pools have showers provided for use before going into the pool.  The water in the pool is not meant to actually soap up and wash off in; it is to symbolically remove impurity of a spiritual nature, so real dirt must be removed first.  The bride ceremonially dips herself in this water, making sure that her whole body, including her hair, is submerged, and says a series of prayers.  This is to make her ceremonially pure for her wedding (such things as her period, contact with a dead body, or sexually immoral behaviors make her ceremonially impure).  This ritual purification ceremony precedes the day the wedding party of the bride and the wedding party of the groom actually come together.

So the ceremonial jars that Christ used to make the wine were not just jars for drinking water or watering cattle.  The servants had to have thought it strange that Jesus would tell them to fill those jars, of all the jars and containers in the house!  They were special, ceremonially pure jars that had symbolically purified the bride earlier that week, and were not normally used in contact with food.

What Jesus Meant

At the last supper, Jesus told His disciples that the wine they were drinking was symbolic of His blood, which was going to be shed to take away their sins before God.  It is interesting to review that statement in light of the Wedding at Cana.  Could it be that He was thinking about His mission on earth while sitting there at that wedding banquet? Yes, I think so.
"Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied [to Mary], "My time has not yet come." ( John 2: 4 NIV)
This miracle, then, is a prophecy of what Jesus was planning to do--that is, purify His bride, the church, with His sacrifice.  But before Jesus presented the disciples with the wine, symbolic of the spiritual purification His death would bring, Jesus recognized that His time had come (John 13: 1), and that it was time to wash His disciples' feet (see also earlier reference to Psalm 24: 3-5).  He did this saying, "Unless I wash you, you have no part in me," (John 13: 8 NIV).  So they were bathed before they were ritually purified, according to Jewish tradition.

Back at the wedding at Cana, the master in charge of the ceremony didn't know where the wine came from, although the servants who helped Jesus did, and assumed that the bridegroom was somehow behind it.
"Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." (John 2: 10 NIV).
One side note here is that it is possible it was non-alcoholic "wine" that Jesus made, since it was so sweet; sometimes the word for wine in Hebrew can mean grape juice, though I can't confirm it here. What is more important to notice here is that the bridegroom was in charge of bringing the wine, and the real bridegroom, Christ, did just that.  He didn't take the job lightly, either, but was extravagant with the gift, bringing only the best.  It didn't matter to Christ whether we were actually alert enough to recognize or value the gift He brought.  He brought it anyway.

There is another thing to draw from this story.  If Jesus has purified His church for the wedding, it surely means that the bridegroom's party is coming soon.  Are we ready?  Are we staying pure, as He has made us pure, looking forward to that day in the near future when He comes to take us away with Him? 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Weekly Trivia: Bad Arguments

While it's true that the Bible is the best resource for advice when it comes to coping with the world we live in, sometimes secular sources of knowledge can also be helpful. These are tools, not guides, for dealing with problems in this world, and don't replace the principles for daily living that the Bible offers.

Bad arguments, or argument fallacies, as scholars have called them, are errors in logic that can sometimes slip by unnoticed when someone is trying to convince you of something (arguing a point).  Anyone who is speaking or writing to persuade you may use these.  If you notice them, it could mean that they are trying to convince you of a falsehood, so be watchful!  Beware of teachers, speakers, leaders, or peers who use these too often!  They may be trying to lead you down the wrong road.

Fallacy of the Day: Red Herring

Named after the technique of throwing the bloodhounds off the trail by dragging a stinking fish across the trail, this is the technique of bringing up a side issue to draw attention away from the main issue.

Example: "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7: 22-23 NIV).

By drawing attention away from the main issue, a red herring minimizes it, and often leaves important questions unanswered.
Jesus addresses another red herring here: Matthew 23: 23-24

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Looking Back...Looking Forward

The Popular, the Best, and the Favorites

Okay, so you can accuse me of giving in to the sheep mentality, but I thought that since many other bloggers out there rang in the new year with a "Best of" post, it wouldn't hurt to join in. In case you haven't been following Savvy Sheep for very long, now is your chance to check out the highlights of 2009. You might like what you read...and, in case you're wondering, all of the posts linked here still have open comments sections, so feel free to drop me a line and tell me what you thought.

And now, without further ado...The List.

  • An Almond Branch   This is the third-most popular post on this site. It explains God's command to Jeremiah to watch for Him like an Almond branch, and goes into a Christian's responsibility to God and to the world in light of the prophesied Second Coming of Christ.
  • Test Your Prophets (and Your Teachers)   I delve into the Biblical way to test prophets and teachers to see if what they say is truly from God and worthy of your trust.
  • Don't Conform to the Pattern of the World    The second-most popular post on this site. It links to the most popular post on Savvy Sheep (from 2008). I go into secular Groupthink theory and show how true Christianity is the solution to Groupthink.
  • To Obey is Better than Sacrifice   I explain the concept of sin and atonement in many worldviews and world religious teachings, and then explain the Biblical concept of substitutionary atonement. Many Christians today do not fully understand Biblical atonement and may wrongly buy into the teachings of other religions.
  • An Honorable Soldier   I talked about supporting the men and women in the armed forces and remembered to honor veterans and their sacrifice.
  • What Has God Done for You Lately?   I posted a little reminder, as much for myself as others, that we should give thanks for a God who is more than a guy who gives us stuff.
  • Reaching for Stars   My cousin's wife, Leanne, guest-posted advice for youngsters about dreaming big but trusting your future and your dreams to God.
  • Breadcrumbs    I talked about Jesus' example of generosity, versus the world's stinginess.
There are many more good posts from the past year, but these have been some of my most popular ones. I encourage you to branch out and explore my site. You might find something else you like!

My Plans for 2010

 One of my dreams for this blog is to post more regularly, especially bi-weekly. Unfortunately I'm having some difficulty juggling two jobs, various responsibilities, and a blog, too. I'm planning to add one post a week, alternating the longer teaching posts with short trivia posts. We will see how well I do.

The purpose of this blog is to encourage Christians to learn  to spot the Devil's tricks. That's why I write so often about popular thinking, religious and cultural views that contradict God's teachings, and studying the Word of God. I plan to keep talking on these issues, because they haven't gone away yet.

You can help me out in three ways over the coming year: (1) Pray for me. You have no idea how many things always go wrong right when I'm ready to post something! I am convinced that this is Satan trying to keep my writing from ever being an effective tool in God's hand. (2) Leave a comment. I can write better posts if I know my readers. Plus, it's just as fun as getting a letter in the mail :) . (3) Subscribe and tell a friend. I'm trying my best to write what God puts on my heart, but sometimes the messages God gives me need help reaching His intended audience.

May God guide you and care for you in the coming year. I'll see you in a couple of days!