Tag Archives: Wisdom

Alistair Begg preaches on practicality and initiative in the story of Ruth

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

I finished listening to Alistair Begg’s series on Esther, and I’m now on to his series on Ruth. Sermon #3 stood out to me, because it touches on the important issues of free will vs determinism as well as the two methods of seeking God’s will: mysticism vs wisdom.

The discussion centers around Ruth’s decision to go to the barley fields to work, in order to get something to eat.

The MP3 file is here.

Here is the description:

When we’re facing a future devoid of prospects or possibilities, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged. Ruth could relate. She was a penniless widow in a foreign land seeking a way to provide for herself and her widowed mother-in-law. Her future was totally dependent upon someone showing her unmerited grace and favor. Instead of giving up, she gives us an example of humility, initiative and faith as she seeks work and sustenance.

As things in the world spin out of control, it’s important to remember that you must always have a plan and be working on that plan. Even when things look very bleak, you have to do something reasonable and practical, and then pray to God for “favor”. That God will do something unexpected that will make your reasonable action bear unexpected fruit.

If you want to listen to sermons #1 and sermon #2 in the series on Ruth, you can find the whole series here. So far, I have listened to 5. The first two were also very good, so if you listen to the first 3, you will definitely benefit. Each one is 35 to 40 minutes.

If you’re going to be a Christian, you need to be as smart as you can be

C.S. Lewis has some words to live by for you
C.S. Lewis has some words to live by for you

I guess I will start this post by linking to something a friend of mine named Joel Furches wrote about an atheist engineer. (link is dead)

He writes:

As an Aerospace Engineer for the U.S. Navy, Jason Pratt is not inaccurate when he describes himself as a rocket scientist for the government. He has flown F-14 Tomcats and the F/A-18F Super Hornet. He was a test pilot of the FA-18B and D Hornet, the FA-18F Super Hornet, and the T-45 Goshawk. His pedigree with all things aeronautical is well established. As was his atheism.

Pratt grew up in a single parent home. He and his sister were raised by their mother, who felt it was her duty to introduce them to church in their teenage years. The church Pratt attended was a religious shell: a ritualistic facade with little reference to actual scriptural teachings. He went through the ceremonial steps as a matter of form, and the moment he was confirmed by the church, he confirmed himself an atheist, and left the church in his dust. His family took this with barely a nod, and as soon as she was confirmed, his sister followed his example.

After High School, Pratt entered college to study engineering. Academically, he proved himself quite brilliant, and flaunted that brilliance at every opportunity. He describes himself as very much a “self-righteous atheist” in college.

He found his atheism very freeing, morally, living by the code of “do whatever you want as long as nobody gets hurt.”

Says Pratt:

“I started to meet other students, and some of them were claiming to be Christians. I even had some of them as roommates. Having had some church background, I knew the type. They were hypocrites, deluded by the silly book that they claimed they believed in. And so I frequently took pleasure in ridiculing them. I would mock them. I would look for any reason to bring out things that they would claim they believe and I would just make fun of them, and mock their God and the Bible that supposedly guided them.

“I generally enjoyed playing the intellectual superior, and I enjoyed challenging what they believed.”

Not much surprise to Pratt, most of the Christians he met had no ability to defend their faith against his ridicule.

[…]One day, however, Pratt met a fellow engineering student named John Thatcher. Thatcher had a perfect GPA, which was somewhat intimidating to someone like Pratt, who took such pride in his own intellect. Thatcher was a very likable guy. He was also a Christian. This made things difficult for Pratt.

At the same time, Pratt discovered that his Academic Adviser – a leading authority in the field of Thermodynamics – was a Christian. This discovery was made when Pratt went to his adviser’s office one day in order to request some help from the brilliant man. As Pratt approached his office, he was shocked to find a scientific article, arguing Thermodynamics from a Christian perspective, hanging from his office door. Pratt was so infuriated, he stormed away and never spoke to his adviser again.

Confused and upset that these two very intelligent men would believe in superstitious nonsense, Pratt made it his goal to truly examine the claims of Christianity for the first time.

This reminded me of a quote from atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel.

He says this:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)

I think in general, it’s a good thing when Christians strive to be different from the culture around them. Obviously, that means having different moral values and different goals than what’s popular and acceptable for non-Christians. It means not openly engaging in activities that are forbidden to Christians, like not getting drunk, not having premarital/extra-marital sex, etc. And I think it also means being as smart as you can possibly be about about areas that touch on your Christian worldview. Why? Because like the story above says, being informed and having the answers is attractive to people who are searching.

It doesn’t help God for you to be wild and stupid

In my life, I have sometimes tried to lead other Christians to study harder things and to get better jobs. Most of the time, this works. I can get young Christians to not study English or Drama or Art History, and instead get them to study Engineering or Computer Science or Nursing. And if they already are studying hard things, then I encourage them, I buy them books, I play games with them and ask them how things are going. Once they have the degrees, I encourage them to get jobs, to work in the summers, to open investment accounts, and pay off their loans.

The point is this – what you study and what you do for work and how good you are at your job plays a massive role in whether you will get into conversations with non-Christians at all. It is not good service to God to bungle your education and career because you were more interested in feeling good, having fun and seeking thrills. You will lose opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others that way.

Managing your money – paying off debts and investing early and often – is part of that signal of maturity that you send to others. And don’t underestimate the importance of marriage and children – something I don’t have. If I had a successful marriage, and lots of well-behaved children, that would help a lot as well. Especially if people could come over to a warm and happy home. It sends a message. However, if you’re going to stay single, then keep your self-control and be content with it. That sends a message, too.

Life is short. Don’t do what feels good. Do what works.

Alistair Begg preaches on practicality and initiative in the story of Ruth

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

I finished listening to Alistair Begg’s series on Esther, and I’m now on to his series on Ruth. Sermon #3 stood out to me, because it touches on the important issues of free will vs determinism as well as the two methods of seeking God’s will: mysticism vs wisdom.

The discussion centers around Ruth’s decision to go to the barley fields to work, in order to get something to eat.

The MP3 file is here.

Here is the description:

When we’re facing a future devoid of prospects or possibilities, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged. Ruth could relate. She was a penniless widow in a foreign land seeking a way to provide for herself and her widowed mother-in-law. Her future was totally dependent upon someone showing her unmerited grace and favor. Instead of giving up, she gives us an example of humility, initiative and faith as she seeks work and sustenance.

As things in the world spin out of control, it’s important to remember that you must always have a plan and be working on that plan. Even when things look very bleak, you have to do something reasonable and practical, and then pray to God for “favor”. That God will do something unexpected that will make your reasonable action bear unexpected fruit.

If you want to listen to sermons #1 and sermon #2 in the series on Ruth, you can find the whole series here. So far, I have listened to 5. The first two were also very good, so if you listen to the first 3, you will definitely benefit. Each one is 35 to 40 minutes.

Are Christians responsible for making plans and making good decisions?

Here’s a wonderful post on decision making and the will of God posted on Neil’s blog. In his post, Neil explains the Biblical model for making good decisions.

Excerpt:

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

He has a helpful picture posted as well:

This is actually a very important topic for me, because I like making plans and making good decisions. I like being the quarterback or squad leader of my own life. I like to pick objectives and then make plans to achieve them. (Nothing too exotic, just simple stuff like saving money or reading more books)

Actually, I really oppose the idea that God has a magical fairy tale will for each person that will make them happy and fulfilled. For me, life isn’t like that. I don’t expect God to lead me along like a child at a scavenger hunt. I expect to survey the battlefield where I am and then do something to make a difference. There are lots of things you can do that will please God. Should you focus on your career and sponsor apologetics conferences? Or should you use your spare time preparing Sunday school lessons? There are lots of good things you could do to please God. Your job is to pick the one that will be the most effective. It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, it only matters if it’s effective and if you are good at it.

Who is Rifleman Dodd?

A while back, I was busily working my way through the U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List, and I came across a book by C.S. Forester called Rifleman Dodd, or alternatively titled Death to the French. It’s a work of historical fiction that takes place during the Napoleonic wars. The story is about a British marksman named Dodd, who is cut off from his own lines during a withdrawal maneuver. He is subsequently left to fend for himself behind enemy lines. An ordinary man might be full of despair and forget about his mission entirely. But Dodd is no ordinary man. Not only does he find a way to survive by finding food to eat, water to drink and places to sleep, but he also tries to remember his orders and to think about what he can do to advance the cause of his General, the Duke of Wellington.

Here’s an excerpt from a gritty book review:

It’s about a green-coated British infantry rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars, an age when rifles were a novelty and most of the army was red-coated and carried muskets. Private Matthew Dodd gets separated from his regiment during a retreat and finds himself stranded behind enemy (French) lines in Portugal. With the occasional aid of some natives, but mostly on his own, he harasses the French with his rifle and tries to prevent them from building a bridge across the Tagus River. It’s a remarkable tale of survival and solitary achievement, of a rank-and-file soldier who lives by his wits and slowly learns to make plans without orders, and shows leadership qualities and a knowledge of warfare.

I think we’re in the same situation as Dodd.

There is no point in us looking for breadcrumb trails to happiness at this point. That’s not the point of Christianity. The point of Christianity is friendship with God, imitation of Christ, honoring moral obligations, self-sacrificial love for your neighbor (and even your enemies!), and dedication to the truth – whether anyone else likes you or not. It’s not supposed to make you happy, and it’s not necessarily going to be a normal life like everyone else has. Things may not work out the way you’d like them to.

We seem to be making such a big deal about compassion and forgiveness in the Christian life these days – such a big emphasis on our feelings. Almost like we have forgotten that we have obligations to our friend – and his objectives. A relationship doesn’t mean that one person completely disregards the character and goals of the other person and then is automatically granted forgiveness whenever they want it. That’s not a friendship – that’s using someone else for your own ends. Maybe it’s time to remember what this is all about.

New study: women seeking to have a child should start before age 32

Brain vs Heart, from: theawkwardyeti.com
Brain vs Heart, from: theawkwardyeti.com

Dina sent me this sobering piece of research from the New Scientist which is perfect for all the young feminists who have been taught in college that marriage should be put off, and women can easily get pregnant after age 40.

Excerpt:

It’s a question many people will ask themselves at some point in their lives: when should I start a family? If you know how many children you’d like, and whether or not you would consider, or could afford, IVF, a computer model can suggest when to start trying for your first child.

Happy with just one? The model recommends you get started by age 32 to have a 90 per cent chance of realising your dream without IVF. A brood of three would mean starting by age 23 to have the same chance of success. Wait until 35 and the odds are 50:50 (see “When to get started”).

The suggestions are based on averages pulled from a swathe of data so don’t give a personal prediction. And of course, things aren’t this simple in real life – if only family size and feelings about IVF were the only factors to consider when planning a family. But the idea behind the model is to help people make a decision by condensing all the information out there into an accessible form.

“We have tried to fill a missing link in the decision-making process,” says Dik Habbema at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, one of the creators of the model. “My son is 35 and many of his friends have a problem deciding when to have children because there are so many things they want to do.”

It’s a scenario that will be familiar to many; the age at which people have their first child has been creeping up over the last 40 or so years. For example, the average age at which a woman has her first child is 28 in the UK and has reached 30 in Italy, Spain and Switzerland. In the US, the birth rate for women in their 20s has hit a record low, while the figures for those over 35 have increased over the last few decades.

The decision is more pressing for women thanks to their limited supply of eggs, which steadily drop in quantity and quality with age. Female fertility is thought to start declining at 30, with a more significant fall after the age of 35.

[…]The new model incorporates data from studies that assess how fertility naturally declines with age. The team took information on natural fertility from population data collected over 300 years up to the 1970s, which includes data on 58,000 women.

I have often tried to talk to young women about the need to get their lives in gear. I advise them to work summers during high school, obtain a STEM degree in university, minimize borrowing money by going to community college for the generic prerequisites, don’t have premarital sex, get a job related to their STEM field straight out of college, pay off their debts, move out of their parents’ house, start investing from the first paycheck, marry between age 25-30, and then start having children after the first two “stabilizing” years of marriage. This is sound advice, rooted in my careful reconnaissance of the things that human beings care about and need in their old age. This advice is not bullying, it comes from reading many, many relevant papers. It comes from putting the knowledge gained from reading the papers into practice, and seeing results where appropriate.

I am giving you the numbers. Straight out of a peer-reviewed study. Don’t follow your heart. Don’t listen to your friends. Follow the science. Make your decisions within the boundaries of reality. God will not save you from foolish decisions.

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