Monthly Archives: March 2014

Symbols of America

Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851

It was about fifty years ago that I first saw this painting. I remember wooden floors and white plaster walls. Standing beside the painting was a docent, watching the visitors with grandfatherly pride. His job was to guard this treasure from grubby little fingers. My fingers.

Keeping us at a respectful distance was a red velvet rope suspended from heavy brass stands. They were much like the ones used in my church – I had the feeling that viewing this painting was a religious experience.

I turned to my mom and reverently asked, “did George Washington really stand up in the boat?”

“No,” she said with a smile. “That’s called ‘artistic license.'”

Throughout the 19th Century and into the twentieth this painting – and other works of art like it – symbolized America. When Americans thought about their country they pictured George Washington as the symbolic hero.

Washington, a wealthy landowner, risking his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor for the cause of liberty. Washington leading the rebel alliance against the imperial troops.

Washington on horseback; at Valley Forge; kneeling to pray; bloody footprints in the snow.

The painting I was viewing had been completed in 1851. Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware” had it all – a band of ill-clad men braving the cold of a late December night and the hazards of an ice-choked river to attack the Empire’s mercenaries – and winning.

A brave General, willing to undergo the same hardships as his ill-equipped and shivering men; an army of citizen soldiers, underdogs against a mighty empire; an army of individuals putting their trust in the Almighty God because their own power was so tiny; this was the American hero – the symbol of the United States.

But during the 20th century this image began to be replaced by a new one in the hearts of Americans. Someone decided that we needed a new hero – one more relevant to our times.

The new symbol of America is the corporate lawyer. He sits far from the battlefield, risking neither discomfort nor injury. His army has no place for individuals. It is a machine, formed, trained, and equipped to be the most devastating implement of destruction ever seen.

Who is this man, this great symbol of America?

Picture him, if you will: A lobbyist, made wealthy by securing government favors for his clients. A man whose loyalty lies not with the citizens, but with the corporations and the government. He will see American citizens slaughtered by the thousands if he considers it necessary to achieve his goals.

Yes, he’s the new American icon, the one who symbolizes America worldwide. Few quote George Washington anymore – but this man’s name is on everyone’s lips.

Now imagine him, risen to political power. He does not brave the cold, or kneel in the snow to seek guidance from above. No, he has a comfortable armchair from which, with a quiet word, he dispenses oppression and death on his enemies, favor and fortune on his friends. He doesn’t pray but he’s not an atheist – he worships big government.

This is America. This is the face of the new empire, the American empire.

When inaugurated he had two major goals – goals so critical that he rammed them through in his first months in office.

First he raised an army, literally, of tax collectors. An army equipped with the finest weapons ever seen on earth. It’s purpose was to ensure that the government coffers remained full. His second goal was to fund an enormous corporate welfare project for his cronies, his political supporters. He had made careful arrangements to ensure that he shared in the pelf.

How fortuitous that he was assassinated! This allows him to replace – not just George Washington – but even Jesus Christ in the hearts of Americans.

In 1936 a pagan temple was consecrated to his worship. It contains a two-story tall idol—a statue of the new saviour. In the stone behind the statue are carved the words,

IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER

640px-Lincoln_Memorial

 

Discouraged?

Yesterday morning, Sunday, I looked at myself in the mirror as a shaved for the seventh day in a row. I knew that it would be another week before I got a day off. And I wasn’t exactly motivated to go to work. I’m the only one who goes into the office on weekends – I’d have nobody else there to encourage me.

I’ve been working on a new machine tool design for about 3 1/2 years. The first one is being installed at a customer’s location today. I should have felt a sense of relief – except there was a problem I hadn’t been able to solve. One major problem that makes the machine useless. And it’s all on me.

And that wasn’t my only reason for being discouraged. There were lots of others – but this is no place to air anybody else’s dirty laundry.

I even wondered, seriously, if Walmart was hiring. I had been joking about it with my office mates for two weeks.

“Welcome to Walmart!” Yeah, I could do that job.

But it was my responsibility to go into work and pull off a last-second miracle that would save the jobs of twenty people. And I wasn’t motivated. I can’t do this. I’m completely discouraged.

Me, me, me.

Yes, I have a ton of excuses to lack motivation. I “feel like” I have every reason to give up. But do I have the right to do so?

Hebrews 12:3
For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

No! I don’t have any right to feel discouraged. My problems are nothing compared to what Jesus Christ went through (for me!). So, what to do?

First, I reminded God of what His Word says (just in case He forgot):

Colossians 3:23
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;

I told Him that I would do my best to do what His Word said – but that I was holding Him responsible to motivate me. I even quoted Him a verse to prove that He had to do so:

Philippians 2:13
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

And you know what? It worked – I mean, He worked in me. I determined to do His Word and thanked Him for working in me to give me the will to continue.

So I went into work on Sunday, had a brainstorm and wrote some code. I did the drudge work of testing and debugging, and the problem was solved.

When I emailed the results to my boss he thanked me profusely. But I know who really deserves the credit. Because I wasn’t working alone.

Frivolity

I’ve been working too many hours. And days. Yes, even engineers have to work weekends when there’s a major deadline and everybody’s job depends on us.

I think I’ll have a day off next Sunday (the 23rd) to continue the Christian Basics series.  Until then I’ll be posting some lightweight social commentary.

Lost Knowledge

I promised several of my readers that I would write a series on the early chapters of Genesis. It’s an important record—a full understanding of God’s saving grace is aided by knowing from whence we came. We’ll look at how God formed, made, and created mankind; Adam’s disobedience and expulsion from paradise; and the promise of the Redeemer. But, after much prayerful consideration, I believe I need to do an introduction regarding ignorance.

The Genesis record has been thoroughly muddied by well-meaning (or otherwise) scientists, philosophers, theologians, and preachers. Everybody, it seems, has a favorite theory that reconciles the Bible with modern scientific discoveries. This theoretical speculation, however, is rooted in hubris – a prideful belief that we are smarter and more knowledgeable than any others who came before. This belief is dead wrong.

Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Without proper meekness and humility, a respectful awe for our Creator and Lord, we fall into an insidious trap. We forget that his thoughts are far higher than our thoughts. We believe we can figure out all the answers – or at least most of them. But, if we fail to start from the true beginning, our endings will be far from the truth.

So let’s set aside our pride and admit our ignorance. We can start by acknowledging to God that He knows more than we. And always has!

God doesn’t love the people of today more than he loved the patriarchs and prophets of old. He didn’t leave them in ignorance of His Word and will. It’s incontrovertible that those men and women possessed knowledge that has now been lost – and I’m not referring to their copy of Pyramid Building for Dummies.

What we find in Genesis is a synopsis of the most critical information about the creation. Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham (to name a few) all had a subtler and more complete understanding of what occurred.

But, you might ask, how could they? They didn’t have a written Bible!

All throughout history God has had his men who believed to receive His Word. Though they had no Bibles they did have the spoken Word of the prophets and a memorized tradition of how to read God’s Word from the stars.

Genesis 1:14
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

Before God first formed Adam he set the stars and planets in motion in the skies—so that His Word could be read throughout the earth.

Psalm 19:1-6
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

The lights in the firmament of heaven utter speech and show knowledge to those trained to read them. This topic is neatly summed up by Dr. Bullinger in his introduction to The Witness of the Stars.

For more than two thousand five hundred years the world was without a written revelation from God. The question is, Did God leave Himself without a witness? The question is answered very positively by the written Word that He did not. In Romans 1:19 it is declared that, “that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” But how was God known? How were His “invisible things,” i.e., His plans, His purposes, and His counsels, known since the creation of the world? We are told by the Holy Spirit in Romans 10:18. Having stated in v. 17 that “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word (the thing spoken, sayings) of God,” He asks, “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes, verily.” And we may ask, How have they heard? The answer follows–“Their sound went into all the earth and their words (their teaching, message, instruction) unto the ends of the world.” What words? What instruction? Whose message? Whose teaching? There is only one answer, and that is, THE HEAVENS! This is settled by the fact that the passage is quoted from Psalm 19, [one] part of which is occupied with the Revelation of God written in the Heavens, and the [other] part with the Revelation of God written in the Word.

Please remember that Bullinger’s book is not the Word of God. It is, at best, a survey demonstrating how much knowledge we have lost over the millennia.

When Abraham stood upon the Palestinian Hills and looked up at the heavens he could read God’s Word in the names and arrangements of the stars. He was inspired by God’s goodness just as we are when we read the book of Psalms. He could read about the creation, the fall, and the promised saviour. He knew that Messiah would come to die for God’s people and be raised again.* He could read about the resurrections of the just and the unjust.

Even at the time of the birth of Jesus there were men who believed God – outside of Palestine – who understood this knowledge. The Magi came from the East, confident that the saviour had been born. How did they know? They read it from the stars. Today all we have left of this godly tradition is the degenerate art of astrology (Star – Knowledge or Star – Word). In place of Magi we have magicians.

When we read about the men of God in the Old Testament – the patriarchs before the time of Moses – we should remember that they probably knew far more about the creation than we do today. Lacking a written word these men were trained in memorization and logic from a very early age. Honestly, they would make most of us look stupid.

But we have no reason to despair – the salient points, those most critical for our understanding – have been preserved. If we approach God’s Word with an attitude of trembling respect for His awful majesty we can avoid the trap of hubris. We will stop trying to explain more than is written. We must not worship either science or our pet “biblical” theories.

Let’s simply read what is written and glean the clear truths.

*Extra credit: Can you find a record in Genesis that demonstrates Abraham’s knowledge about the coming Messiah?

Understanding Parables

In the Gospels we often see Jesus teaching by way of parables. A parable is a short story, told by a teacher, to illuminate an important idea. This idea is intended to be obvious to the listeners. The story is an aid to the student. It helps him understand, remember, and act.

Note carefully that a parable illustrates one point. Remember Aesop’s fables? Same idea. There’s a one-sentence moral to the story. (The sentence might include a semi-colon)

An allegory is different from a parable – an allegory contains multiple elements, each having its own (non-obvious) meaning. In spite of what some scholars have claimed, Christ also used allegories*. But, each time an allegory appears in the Gospels, Jesus later explains it. One such example is in Mark 4. Jesus explains the allegory here.

Roman Catholic scholars, during the Middle Ages, began treating all of the parables in the Gospels as if they were allegories. Modern biblical scholarship has reverted to the earlier view that Jesus’ parables were simply parables.

What possessed “biblical scholars” to think that parables could be treated as allegories? Hah! I can’t read minds, especially of people who’ve been dead for over 500 years. But I do know that most people, most of the time, do things from self-interest. When a large number of people, over many years, all do something similar you can be pretty sure that’s the reason.

By treating parables as allegories, allegories that Jesus “forgot” to explain, scholars could make the Bible say whatever they wanted. Any idea they wished to convey they could, somehow, squeeze into one of the parables. That is handling the word of God deceitfully, no matter the motive.

It’s a good thing that the Christian church has rejected this dishonest methodology. We’d never do this anymore, would we?

Unfortunately, it seems that non-medieval biblical scholarship hasn’t made it into many pulpits. The “Christian preachers” of today are still treating the parables as allegories. The method is quite valuable to them: they can imagine a “doctrine” and then “prove” it by quoting Jesus’ words. It’s not surprising, then, that sincere Christian laymen don’t understand the purpose of parables. Constant repetition has convinced us that the allegorical method is the right one. I thought so, myself, for many years.

Because of this there was a certain parable that bothered me. A lot. Let’s read it.

Luke 18:2-6
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
And the Lord [Jesus] said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.

When I tried to handle this parable as an allegory I became very confused. It seemed to say that God was very much like an unjust judge. He didn’t give a damn about anybody. God tried his best to ignore prayers. The only reason He finally does anything is because He gets tired of listening to us.

Can you see why I had problems with this little story? The allegorical interpretation contradicts many, many verses elsewhere in the Bible.

This story perfectly illustrates the proper way to handle a parable – Jesus’ words are nonsensical as an allegory. But I missed it. God even instructed Luke to write the “moral of the story” at both the beginning and the end. But I missed it. Maybe it’s just me – does anybody else occasionally feel stupid in God’s presence?

Here is the verse before the parable:

Luke 18:1
And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;

And here’s the following verse:

Luke 18:7, 8a
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.

What’s the point of this parable? It’s simple. If you wouldn’t quit petitioning an unjust judge, why would you consider giving up on God?

Or, as the Bible puts it, “men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”

So, give your fainting couch to charity and keep praying.

*Why isn’t the word allegory (Greek allegoria) used in the Gospels? There’s a large body of evidence that these books were originally written in Aramaic and later translated to Greek. While I’m no expert on languages, I did check Aramaic and Syriac dictionaries. I found a word for parable but no separate word for allegory. Hmm…

Prayer: A Primer

Prayer is one of the most important parts of a Christian lifestyle. Very few Christians – and I include myself – pray as much as we could and should. Some believers fall short because they don’t know how to pray or what to pray for. God (who’s much sharper than us) anticipated this problem. Throughout His Word there are examples of prayer that we can study to our benefit.

All of the New Testament epistles written to the Christian churches contain prayers. Paul, the writer, spent much time in prayer for the believers. But it was God, by revelation, who told him to write about it. These prayers express God’s heart for us – today.

Let’s look at an example from the first chapter of the first epistle.

Romans 1:8, 9
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

Hold it! That can’t be true. In verse nine Paul says he prays “without ceasing.” I mean, the guy has to sleep sometime.

You’re right, it isn’t literally true (of the apostle Paul). But don’t worry, God had Paul write it that way on purpose. It isn’t an error, it’s a figure of speech. God wants us to stop and consider His words.

This figure emphasizes that Paul prayed during every available moment. God commands us to do the same.

1 Thessalonians 5:17
Pray without ceasing.

(By the way, if you want an easy verse to memorize, this would be a good one.)

Romans 1:9, however, speaks to more than Paul’s prayer life. The first half of the verse, “God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit,” reminds us that Paul’s prayers arose from God’s heart.

I’ve heard many Christians, when quoting the epistles, to put too much emphasis on the man, Paul, as if he were some theologian. We must remember that Paul was God’s man. And “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Paul wrote in the first person because God commanded it. These are words the Holy Spirit, God, taught to Paul – he received them by revelation. They are God’s Word.

With this in mind, read the verses from Romans again. This is God’s heart for you. Unlike Paul, God is able to remember you, think about you, and desire the best for you without ceasing. You’re in his heart 24/7. We’re God’s children, He is our father.

Picture a happy home presided over by an ideal father. As children of the Most High, that’s where we live.

Ephesians 2:19
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

Don’t act like a sullen teenager – talk to Him! That’s what prayer is. Prayer isn’t something we should reserve for once a week while kneeling in a church building. We should start our day by saying good morning to our Dad. Then, anytime we remember Him throughout our day, say a few words. It’s also a good idea to set aside some time every day to sit down and have a chat with Him. Our aim should be to pray “without ceasing.”

What are the different kinds of prayer? What do I talk about with my Father? Here are a few examples.

First we can simply acknowledge his presence – remember Him throughout the day.

Gal 4:6 [Lamsa Bible]
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts crying, Abba, Abon, O Father, our Father.

How about saying, “thank you,” for the many things He’s done for us?

Psalms 100:4
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

We may request specific things we need.

Philippians 4:6
Be careful [anxious] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

Ask Him to help out our family, friends, and coworkers.

1 Timothy 2:1
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

Pray for our enemies. You would be amazed how many times this can turn an enemy into a friend – though it’s not guaranteed!

Matthew 5:44
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Request wisdom and spiritual understanding. I always need more of that.

Colossians 1:9
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

Pray for those in authority. I may not wants to pray for politicians but God says to do it. Remember, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

1 Timothy 2:2
For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

Ask Him for the opportunity and ability to serve Him.

Acts 4:29
And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,

Thank Him for all the things that He’s promised He will do in the future.

Hebrews 10:35, 36
Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.
For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.

Before I wrap up I’d better handle a question that somebody always asks. “Why should we pray for things when God already knows that we need them?”

Naturally, somebody else always answers, “I heard this theory that…”

Everybody, it seems, has a theory about why God tells us to do certain things. Are you wondering if I have a theory? I certainly do! My theory is that we should stop making up theories. Simply read the words and believe what is written. We pray because the Bible says so.

So, talk to your Dad. He already wrote a big thick book to reveal how much He loves you. It would only be polite to say a few words in return!

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

You and I both have lots of “dead time” during the course of a day – driving, waiting for an appointment, cooking supper. God’s word encourages us to turn this into “live time” in prayer. We can give God thanks in every single situation because He is always able and willing to give us the victory.

1 Corinthians 15:57
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.