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Monday, May 31, 2010

From the Trivia Files Contest: Here's One for the Soldiers

I thought, in honor of the veterans of foreign wars, and all those who are currently serving, that I would make today's question about a soldier in Israel's history.

Now all the soldiers who are truly celebrated in the Bible were men who fought bravely on the battlefield, but who engaged in an even higher-stakes fight in their personal lives, taking a stand for God.  They sacrificed more than their own strength for a cause; they also were willing to sacrifice relationships with others, even going against the whole nation of Israel, because they believed that the most important battle anyone has ever fought is in the heart.  They weren't just warriors of renown, like Og of Bashan.  They were men of God.

So here's the question for today:

The enemies' camps were so large that their camels were as numerous as sand on the seashore, but this brave warrior, emboldened by a dream and interpretation he'd overheard, and God's assurance of help, led only 300 men to total victory over the invading armies.
                                                        ...Who was he?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

From the Trivia Files Contest: Another Challenge

This is the fourth question of the challenge.  If you're just catching up with me, don't forget to click on the tags at the end of this post so you can go back and read the rules and answer all the questions so far.

The prize for this contest is a book by Fritz Ridenour called So What's the Difference?  This resource lays out the basic tenets of the world's major religions and compares them to the central doctrines of Christianity.  I first read this book in high school, and it really helped me (as I've already stated, I'm not benefiting in any way from that endorsement).  This book is not overly technical and I think that's one of the best things about it--it makes complicated concepts plain to readers without forcing them to get a college degree in order to understand it.

Now, on to the question:

Which of these is not one of the Ten Commandments?  They are not listed in order.
  1. You shall not steal.
  2. You shall not murder.
  3. You shall not misuse God's name.
  4. You shall not have any other gods before me.
  5. You shall not commit adultery.
  6. Love your neighbor as yourself.
  7. Honor your father and mother.
  8. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
  9. You shall not covet.
  10. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

From the Trivia Files Contest: A Question of Movie Accuracy

In the 1956 movie, The Ten Commandments, Moses (Charlton Heston) raises his staff and strikes the water at the edge of the Red Sea.  The water parts and the Israelites rush through on dry ground.

The question for today:  

Is that the way it happened in the Bible?  Did Moses strike the water to part the Red Sea?
 Don't forget to answer all of the questions in this series if you want to win the contest.

Friday, May 28, 2010

From the Trivia Files: Contest Rules and Another Question

I started this series thinking that I'd post one a week, just like I did with the last series.  However, if I'm going to make this one a competition with a prize, I don't think I should keep my readers waiting long.

Therefore, I've decided to keep the posts coming regularly for the next week.  Before I go any further, I think I ought to lay out a list of rules for this contest.

Contest Rules:
  1. Entrants must post an answer to every question in order to be eligible to win.  One answer per question, please.
  2. Anonymous answers cannot win prizes, because I won't be able to identify a person to mail the prize to.
  3. The prize is a book, So What's the Difference? by Fritz Ridenour.  This is not a paid endorsement, it's just a book I would personally recommend to my readers.
  4. All correct answers to the questions will be posted at the end of this series (a really good reason not to keep everyone hanging for months).
  5. The winner will be either the person who answers the most questions correctly, or, if there is a tie, the person randomly selected from the list of top competitors.  At the end of the contest, I will announce the winner and ask that he or she email me at the address I will make available so I can know where to send the prize.
So here's the question for today (I'll continue posting over the weekend).  To latecomers: Don't forget to post an answer to the last trivia question, here.

"For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you."    
                                                    ...Who said it?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From the Trivia Files: Sacred or Secular Quote?

Here's a test to see if you know your stuff.  Of course, there's always ways to cheat, but that wouldn't be very Christian, would it?

Here's the challenge.  Which of these quotations is from the Bible, and which was originally penned by William Shakespeare?  Both could be from one source.  For those of us who were well-steeped in the King James Version growing up, this might prove difficult.

First quotation:
"Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?"
and here's the other one:
"Few love to hear the sins they love to act."
 So, are both from the Bible, both from Shakespeare, or is it one of each?  Comments are welcome. If I get enough response, I might turn this into a contest.  Who can tell?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Jeremiah Generation, Part 2 Listening

This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes.  They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.
They keep saying to those who despise me, 'The Lord says: You will have peace.'  And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, 'No harm will come to you.' 
But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word?  Who has listened and heard his word?--Jeremiah 23: 16-18 NIV

Last time I spoke at length about the zeal I have seen in earlier generations, a quality that seems to be greatly lacking in this present generation.  I want to see that change.  I can't tell you how much I want that.  I can tell you, however, that over the past decade I've had a hard time locating people who would agree with me.

Many churches today all across the U.S. are rich, powerful (especially politically), well-equipped with state-of-the-art technology, full of people who regularly fill the pews, socially and ecologically active, and affirmed by the general populous.  Things have come a long way from earlier generations, who met secretly in crypts and sewers, or later, didn't even have air conditioning in the auditorium or heated water in the baptismal pool.  It seems we have it better than the previous generations, but I would be chasing a red herring if I wrote about how modern technology or social trends are hurting today's church.

So what is wrong with the modern church?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files: Informal Argument Fallacies at Your Fingertips!

In case you haven't been following this blog very long, or you lost track and want to catch up, I'm putting all the weekly trivia files posts this year in one list for easier browsing.  More (and different) trivia starts next week!

From the Author's Desk
We've covered a lot of ground, haven't we?  Remember, the posts' comment sections are still open for comments, if you have any.

In those posts, wherever possible, I tried to find examples of people using the argument fallacy in the Bible, as well as offering another example I made up myself, so if you're looking for an example, you can find one here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Jeremiah Generation, Part 1 Zeal

"To whom can I speak and give warning?  Who will listen to me?  Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.  But I am full of the wrath of the Lord, and I cannot hold it in." --Jeremiah 6: 10-11a NIV

Throughout the visible church's history, there have been times when ministers and leaders have preached with boldness, condemning sin without reservation or fear of the consequences that might come to them for opposing what was evil in their societies.  At other times in history, the visible church has retreated from the advance of rebellion, sometimes even embracing it and melding it with their message.  If the record in the Bible is any proof, these changes in behavior follow a cyclical pattern.  People seek God when trouble comes and they're not afraid of "rocking the boat," but when all seems to be well, many lose their zeal for Him.

Lately I've been missing the zeal I used to find in Christian circles, and I'm seeing that Americans are in that stage of spiritual decline that tends to sweep through a population every generation or two, as it did in the days of Jeremiah.  Many Christian groups today are afraid of sharing the truth with people, for fear it will make someone uncomfortable or cause trouble for them in their own lives.  They hide as if they had only their own strength to stand against the whole world.  We don't do memory verses any more, and I take it that's why I rarely hear anyone reciting 1 John 4: 4, "Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world," which I learned in Sunday school.

Are we now afraid to believe that God is the only way to Heaven?  Can we tell people they are wrong any more?  What troubles me the most is that I'm hearing teachers speak as if we're at a high point of "spiritual sophistication" in the Christian faith, in part because we are "enriching" our faith by joining with other faiths.  When I look at this situation, all I see is people running away in fear.  When this present "comfortable" faith no longer serves us, will we return to the zealous faith of previous generations?

About the faith of those previous generations...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files #16 (The Last), Apples to Oranges

I started this trivia series at the beginning of the year, and today I'm wrapping it up with another fallacy that appears in both creative literary works (prose fiction, poetry, drama) and formal debate (essays, speeches, etc.).

For the sake of any readers who are just tuning in to this series, I've been covering bad logic and debate fallacies so that Christians can be armed against rhetoric tricks that can confuse and destroy faith, and so that they won't use them on others (because we don't have to trick people into believing the truth).  If you haven't kept up with the series, feel free to look through the archives.  The posts are numbered (except for the first two, but they're clearly labeled).

Last time I posited that the creative works we read have arguments in them, although we tend to overlook these arguments.  It is true that creative writing derives much of its power from emotion and symbolism, and that formal logic dictates an almost mathematical simplicity and order (thus excluding this sort of thing).  But I think we're missing something if we say that these two types of writing are mutually-exclusive.  In my personal creative writing endeavors, at least, I think of emotion and symbolism as a way of enriching logical debate, like a sugary coating on an otherwise dry or unpleasant set of problems.  It is logic that presents and orders the truth, but without emotion or symbolism, it never becomes personal, never draws us to examine ourselves or desire what is good.  This is why I think Jesus presented some of His most important points in parables instead of preaching in essay form.

So what am I saying?  Should we ignore logic?  Certainly not.  Every human being I've ever encountered was logical in his or her thinking--that is, always trying to have a reason to do something and think something.  Even babies try to find patterns in the world around them.  I don't think we can ever truly escape this trait in our natures. Therefore, I've come to believe that at the root of everything we hear is some sort of logic, even if it is flawed logic.  It isn't wrong to love beauty and symbolism, but it is our job, as thinking Christians, to find the argument amidst it all and determine whether it is the truth.

False Analogy: Comparing Apples to Oranges

I'm talking about emotion and symbolism and it's place in argument because this fallacy, the false analogy, is closely connected to that debate.  Authors of creative works regularly use metaphorical language (simile, hyperbole, synecdoche, etc.) to illustrate hard-to-describe or -explain  qualities.  Often figurative language compares a familiar thing to a less familiar thing, drawing parallels between the two or pointing out significant things they have in common, so the audience can understand the new concept better.

Okay, that sounds extremely technical, but I have to say that we use metaphors all the time.  When we try a new food and someone asks us what it tastes like, we might grin and say, "It tastes like chicken."  Metaphors likewise teach us something we didn't know before by making a comparison, although they're usually more complicated than that.

The false analogy looks just like a creative bit of metaphorical language, but it is illogical because the comparison it draws often overlooks key differences between the two things being compared, leaving the audience confused and misinformed.

A classic example is the comparison of apples to oranges.  They are both fruit, both sweet, and both frequently appear in still-life paintings.  However, if you compare them on the basis of shape, color, structure, parent plant, vitamin content, etc. they are radically different.  Therefore, you couldn't use one as an example to help a child understand more about the other.

Here are some more examples:
Example 1: The fall of Adam and Eve and subsequent banishment from Eden in Genesis should not be read as the initial breaking of fellowship between God and man as a result of sin; it is better read as a growing up story, in which God booted Adam and Eve out of the nest so they could achieve a more mature understanding of Him.
I read a discussion of this on a blog today (I've not quoted it verbatim) and I thought it fit here, perfectly.  It is part of a recently-published book by a famous Christian author who is an ordained minister (I'll give you no more details for now).  Let's break this down into simpler terms.  The author was comparing banishment from Eden and from God's presence to the experience of being told to move out when we're grown so that we can learn responsibility.  There are two metaphors here: (1) A bird sometimes pushes its babies out of the nest to force them to achieve what they were born to do, so a parent making a child move out is forcing him to achieve what he was designed to do; (2) In Genesis, God was like a parent trying to make Adam and Eve achieve what He designed them to be, not like a parent following law with punishment.  So we are being instructed to believe that God designed us to disobey Him and to die in exile from His presence (but with an understanding of God's reasoning that was achieved through negative experiences); that blaming others for our own decisions, killing others, etc. are just childish behaviors we grow out of; and finally that disobedience is not sin (transgression of a law) and not serious, but rather just honest, natural mistakes made while experimenting and learning, and therefore deserves no punishment.  In essence, the basic argument in this false analogy is that sin is not wrong, because it's just as much a natural part of growing up as losing a tooth or getting pimples.
Example 2: "In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked.  He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, 'Stand up on your feet!' At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them." (Acts 14: 8-13 NIV). 
This false analogy is a little harder to explain, because it requires a bit of historical background.  Hermes was the messenger of Zeus according to Greek myth, so the basic analogy being made is that Paul and Barnabas were like Hermes and Zeus (in fact, were human versions of those gods) because they had performed miracles.  Beyond that, Paul was like Hermes because he was the one talking.  Obviously there are a lot of ways that Paul and Barnabas were unlike the Greek gods, including the fact that they did not have supernatural powers (their miracles were done by God, not by their own efforts) and Paul was not indeed Barnabas' messenger.  The people (reinforced by their temple priests) acted this way, based on a misinformed analogy, a false analogy.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dirt with a Purpose

"A man's own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord" (Proverbs 19: 3 NIV).

Someone once recommended to me that I should make the phrase, "It's all about ME!" my personal catchphrase if I ever wanted to succeed in my career.  "Is this a joke?" I wondered, but unfortunately I discovered it wasn't.  Worse still, that wasn't the last time I got that advice.  So, since this is graduation season (and I can think of at least half a dozen people I know who are graduating in the next couple of weeks), I thought it was a good time to bring this up.  When it comes to serving God and trying to succeed in our careers, is it possible to do both?

Now, I understand that sometimes we have to put other people's problems and concerns out of our mind long enough to get through a day's labor, because if we don't focus on dealing with our own problems, disaster will come.  Still, that doesn't translate to "It's all about me!"  If we aren't thinking about deadlines in college, we'll probably fail out; if we're not thinking about completing that report for our boss, we'll probably get fired. This is expected behavior in such circumstances, and only extreme situations would prompt different behavior from most people.

It's when we have begun to think that our lives are more important than others' concerns, when we believe that others have nothing better to do than to help us with our problems, when giving up anything we want for the benefit of another is unthinkable, and when someone's demand for an apology seems aggravating or outrageous, that we have arrived at the "It's all about me" mindset.  In other words, we need to be able to "turn off" our self-focused "knob" at will, and drop everything to focus on someone else for awhile, or we've got a problem with self-absorption.

When this individual gave me that advice, I was horrified, and worried that I was being given a hint about something I was doing in my own life.  I went immediately to my bedroom and didn't rest until I'd spent a few hours seriously seeking the Lord about it.  Why did it trouble me so much?  In all my years of reading the Bible, I've never seen evidence in Scripture that God blesses this mindset.  It's not all about us.  It was never all about us.   This mindset comes from our fallen natures, where we raise ourselves up to be gods at the centers of our respective universes.

The truth is that even our biggest concerns aren't important at all, even our goals for our careers, and in fact, we aren't important.

Now, I can hear people correcting me, saying, "You're wrong, Rachel. You are important because Jesus died for you.  Why would you think so little of yourself and your life if God thinks so much of you?"

Well, I'd have to respond that I am important, but not because I had any right to be important, or any inherent quality that made me important.  I'm important to Jesus because He gave importance to me, and aside from the value Jesus chose to put on me, I am nothing (Romans 5: 6-8; Psalm 8: 4-6).  In reality, even though the thought somehow hurts my pride, God made me out of dust (Genesis 2: 7), and everything I have and do, and every day I live, are privileges and gifts from God.   God doesn't fool Himself about what I really am and where I came from, so why should I?

"So what are you saying, Rachel?  God wants us to go around feeling like dirt all the time?"

Well, not exactly.  We're dirt with a purpose, and that purpose is to obey God.  To say we are unimportant is not saying that as followers of God, we have nothing to live for, no right to be happy, and nothing good to say about ourselves.  God wants us to have good things in our lives, but none of our own efforts can achieve those things as long as we are ignoring Him.

The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that without humility--without the ability to honor God and stop worshiping ourselves--we are living in opposition to God.  As long as we refuse to believe what God has said about humankind, we will get nowhere (Psalm 127: 1); but as soon as we submit our lives to God's direction, we will have God's help and His blessing on what we are doing.

As Jesus said, "The greatest among you will be your servant.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23: 11-12 NIV).  How often do we pass over those words without really reading them?  What does this mean, really?  I read it as yet another reinforcement of something God had already told us.  In essence, God opposes those who mock His ways, but He upholds those who obey Him ( see also Proverbs 3: 34).

Turning again to the subject of my own career (and perhaps yours), I think it's better to have God's help than to try to do it all myself and think only about how my decisions affect me.  Life is short, and I need friends--most importantly, I need God as my friend. I cannot let my own views of what I think I need interfere with what God knows I need, and what others around me need.  I know that I have often failed at taking my own advice, but I'm still trying to do my best every day to submit my life to God and let it all be about Him.
"If the Lord delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall,  for the Lord upholds him with his hand" (Proverbs 37: 23, 24 NIV).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Catching Up

In case any of you have been wondering where I've been (since I've been rather hard to reach for the past week), I got selected to do my civic duty as a juror last week, and the trial lasted a little longer than predicted.

I'm back now, and I'm trying to catch up on posting, returning emails and other communications, writing projects (including that Great American Novel that's taking so long to write), housework and craft projects, etc.   I think I won't get the posting schedule quite back to the way it was this week (I'm delaying the argument fallacies post until next week).  However, I do plan to write another full-length post by Thursday or Friday.  Stay tuned for that!

Meanwhile, I'm sure you've noticed I've made some changes around here.  Be sure to check out the tabs at the top of the page and the "recent comments" module at the side of this page.  If you'd like to nominate a post for the "Must-Reads" tab, feel free to do so at any time.  If you're having trouble with the blog loading incorrectly, have discovered dead links or malfunctioning "widgets" (one example of a widget is the "Share This" button at the bottom of each post), etc., please feel free to tell me so I can see what I can do to fix the issues.

In the meantime, keep studying your Bible and keep those eyes peeled for tricksters!