Saturday, February 28, 2015

Spock: The Hand Signal for Life and Prosperity

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock on the 1960's television show Star Trek, died on Friday, February 27, 2015. My friend, Darlene Parsons, one of the collaborators of the website Wartburg Watch, came to faith in Christ while watching an episode of Star Trek. Though Darlene's testimony is unusual,  God often demonstrates an ability to speak to people through various and unusual ways.

The Vulcan greeting of Spock may be one of those unusual ways. In a video for the Yiddish Book Center's Oral History Project, Leonard Nimoy describes how as a boy in the Jewish synagogue, he first saw the hand symbol that he later adopted as the Vulcan greeting (see above left). The Jewish hand signal he observed was five fingers forming the Hebrew letter Shin. Years later, Spock suggested to the director of Star Trek that this hand signal be adopted as the Vulcan greeting along with the phrase "Live long and prosper." I'd like to demonstrate in this post how this hand signal, one that most Americans simply know as a fictitious Vulcan greeting from a 1960's television show, might actually be a great substitute for the traditional American handshake.

The Hebrew letter Shin
The Hebrew alphabet is made up of 22 letters. The 21st letter is Shin (pictured to the right). The symbol for Shin looks like our English letter W, but in Hebrew the Shin is the holy symbol for the Divine Presence. The ancient Jews placed this symbol outside their houses on the doorpost of their homes. They would never leave the house, or enter it again, without kissing the Shin.  If you ever have an opportunity to watch the epic movie Ben Hur, pay attention as this Jewish young man comes home and kisses the Shin of the Mezuzah after serving as a Roman slave for many years. Jews believe that God is "the guardian of the doors of Israel," and kissing the Shin is an expression of their faith in Him. The Jews tell a story of a rich Persian king named Arteban who once boasted about his "unmatched wealth." One day the king sent to a prominent Jewish rabbi a pearl. In return, the Jewish rabbi sent the king a mezuzah with the shin on it (see picture below) with the following note:
"Your gift of the pearl must be guarded from thieves who may harm you, but my gift is even more valuable because it guards us from harm!"

One of the Hebrew words for God is Shaddai שדי, which means "Almighty." The Hebrew letter Shin ש is the first letter of Shaddai (read Hebrew from right to left). Thus, when the Jews left or entered their homes, they professed their belief in Almighty God (El Shaddai), the One who gives them life and prosperity in the face of all their enemies. The Shin represented to the Jews the power of their God. Orthodox Jews will never pronounce the Hebrew personal name for God (YHWH) which is translated in our English Bibles as LORD (all capitals) and transliterated into English as Jehovah because they believe 'The Name' too holy and sacred. Refusing to pronounce "The Name" for God, the Jews have for centuries assigned the Hebrew letter Shin as an abbreviation for "The Name" of God. The Hebrew word השם means "The Name" and notice how the Hebrew letter Shin ש is in the middle of "The Name." It is for this reason the letter Shin, which in Hebrew also pictorially represents the 'fire' or 'presence' of God, came to represent "The Name" of God (see Leviticus 24:16). I'm sure it will be surprising to many Americans that what they've known as the Vulcan greeting given by Spock on the television show Star Trek is actually the Jewish hand signal for "The Name" of God and represents the belief that God alone provides life, provision and security for His people. 

But there's more.

In II Chronicles 6:6 the Lord says: "I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel." Some Jews do not believe it to be coincidence that the city of Jerusalem has not only "The Name" in the middle of the Hebrew word for Jerusalem (see picture to the left), but the city itself is built on top of three valleys - the valley of Hinnom, the valley of Tyropoeon, and valley of Kidron (see picture to the right) - and these three valleys form the letter Shin. It can be safely assumed that God is in the business of leaving His mark in the city of Jerusalem. It was in Jerusalem that the Temple (the Presence of God) was built. It was in this great city of the world that God revealed Himself to man. All Jewish synagogues must have an ark of scrolls that face the city of Jerusalem. According to the Mishna and the Shulchan Aruch, Jewish daily prayers must be made facing the city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, where God has inscribed His name. Jews would place Mizrach plaques on the walls facing Jerusalem to always remind them of the direction to which their Jewish prayers should be offered, a custom later adopted by Muhammad's followers they began praying toward Mecca.

But the most astonishing thing about "The Name" of God as represented in the Jewish letter Shin is that it is prominent in the Hebrew name Yeshua. In English, Yeshua is translated Jesus. He is Emmanuel; God with us. The Name of God is seen in His Name.

The Bible tells us Jesus' name was given to Mary by the angels because "He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).  The Savior's name “Y’shua" is the exact Hebrew word for “salvation.” The Infinite became an infant to bring us salvation. Every time someone called out the name Y'shua, they were actually saying “salvation.” If someone asks, "From what does Y'shua save us?" the answer would be "shame." The shame of our sin and its judgment. There's too little time to show the incredible connection between the letter Shin in the Hebrew words "shame," "salvation" and "His name," but just know that God saves you from your shame for the glory of His name.

In a city where God inscribed His name in the hills and valleys, a place where He dwelt among men in that first tabernacle, then later the Temple, and ultimately in the God-Man, Jesus Christ, who "tabernacled among men,' we find the incredible true story of One who gave Himself as atonement for our sins in order that we might come to know what it means to have eternal life, real prosperity and Divine security.

So next time you think of Spock's "Live long and prosper" greeting, remember the Hebrew letter Shin and that it represents the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Language of War: Netanyahu in Washington

On Tuesday, March 3, 2015 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to a joint assembly of the United States Congress. In what seems like an intentional breach of political protocol, Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak without first seeking President Barak Obama's permission. The White House is white hot over the Prime Minister's trip to the United States next week. The Washington Post describes the President and his administration as 'unhinged'.

For the past several months, the President of the United States has bypassed Congress and secretly entered into nuclear talks with Iran. In essence, the President is proposing that Iran be allowed to enrich their uranium, a precursor to developing nuclear weapons. This treaty calls for Iran allowing "inspectors" to chart their progress. Ironically, this proposed nuclear treaty is similar to the treaties the United States made with North Korea. However, during the Gulf War, when the United States government was focused on the opposite side of the world, North Korea broke their end of the bargain and created a nuclear bomb from the enriched uranium they'd been allowed to make all those years under the various treaties.

Benjamin Netanyahu believes the same thing will happen in Iran. According to the Prime Minister, any 'negotiations' that end in a nuclear treaty allowing Iran to enrich uranium is "an existential threat" to Israel.   The Jerusalem Post in its February 9, 2015 headline says Netanyahu's acceptance of Boehner's invitation to speak before Congress is "not political, it's existential." Every American parent ought to make his son or daughter put down their video games and go look up the definition of "existential." If Netanyahu is right, our youth could be trading in their video consoles for a military gear very soon.

An existential crisis is one when a people or a nation's very existence (thus the word 'existential') is in question. Benjamin Netanyahu believes that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, it will be used to "blow Israel off the map." That's the very thing, according to Netanyahu, the leaders of Iran wish to do. The terrorist organization that serves as the frontal piece for Iran is Hezbollah. Under cover of the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah--and thus Iran--have been taking military actions to procure the Golan Heights on the northern border of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Iran's ultimate intention is to destroy the nation of Israel. To give Iran the means to create nuclear weapons creates an "existential crisis" for Israel.

When a nation or her leaders perceive an existential crisis, they'll attack their enemies for the purpose of survival. The word 'existential' to war is like lightening to thunder. One always comes first. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Saddam Hussein called the Shia-led Iranian government "an existential threat" to the Sunni/Baathist government of Iraq. Shortly thereafter, on September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran and caused the longest conventional war of the 20th century, the 1980-1988 Iraq/Iran War.  It will be very interesting to count the number of times Benjamin Netanyahu uses the phrase "existential threat" or "existential crisis" when before Congress.

"Existential" is the language of war, and Americans need to pay attention. Netanyahu would never risk offending the people of the United States or their President without cause. He is giving us every indication he intends to attack Iran if they proceed with development of a nuclear weapon, regardless of American support.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Evil that Comes from Ignorance: Obama's ISIS

Barak Obama has put our nation and the world at risk.

The President has failed to identify ISIS as a religiously motived Islamic movement bent on world domination. He prefers the acronym ISIL, and calls ISIS a 'cult.' Our President is so fearful that some might identify ISIS fighters as  highly devoted to the Muslim religion that he cautions Christians not to get on our moral "high horse," reminding us that there have been "terrible deeds done in the name of Christ."

This nonsensical attempt at moral equivalency between ISIS and Christianity would be sad were it not so dangerous. It is impossible to name just one person who claims to follow Christ, one Christian organization, or one Christian movement in the world -- as well as any other religion -- that beheads non-believers,  buys and sells women and children as concubines and slaves, and uses inhumane torture as a means of advancing their cause. ISIS stands alone. In his attempt to defend Islam as a religion, Mr. Obama is miscalculating ISIS as a threat.

ISIS publishes a monthly magazine--a slick, full-color periodical--called Dabiq, that has become the instrument of recruitment for ISIS worldwide. One only has to read this magazine to know ISIS' attempt at world domination is religiously motivated. ISIS is Islamic to its very core. Truth be known, the reason many Muslims are scared of ISIS is because they know ISIS considers them apostates from the true teachings of Muhammad and the real Muslim faith.

Don't believe me?

Check out Volume 7 of Dabiq, entitled From Hypocrisy to Apostasy where ISIS leaders celebrate the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot, crow over the cold-blooded murders in Paris of the French journalists who "mocked Islam," and call for the future deaths of any Islamic hypocrites who speak out against ISIS. Dabiq boldly declares of ISIS:  "We are the religion of the sword." The Arabic word Islam means "submission," and Muhammad taught his followers to use the sword to bring people into submission to God (Sahih Muslim, Book 19, Number 4294). ISIS believes anyone who professes to be a Muslim but doesn't support ISIS is actually a hypocrite turned apostate. And, according to the true teachings of Islam, all apostates to the faith are to be put to death. That's what ISIS believes. They are religiously motivated.

But it gets worse.

In the October 2014 issue of Dabiq there is an article called “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour," a reporter details a conference convened by ISIS to determine whether Yazidis-- Kurds who borrow elements of Islam but resist the Islamic State--are apostate Muslims, and therefore marked for death, or merely pagans and therefore fair game for enslavement. The conference convened by ISIS determined:
Yazidi women and children [are to be] divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations [in northern Iraq] … Enslaving the families of the kuffar [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophetand thereby apostatizing from Islam (emphasis mine).
Mr. President, during college exams one of my roommates was given an F because he didn't reference the primary sources on the subject of which he was writing. The primary sources for what ISIS believes are found in Dabiq. It seems that neither you nor anyone in your administration has read the source material. Your bizarre attempt at moral equivalency is revealing your own ignorance of the dangers facing the world through ISIS.
"The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding." Albert Camus
There will be some who read this post and wrongly claim I am against the President. The New Testament injunction to "pray for those in authority" is one I take seriously. I regularly pray for our President and his family. However I am adding to my prayers for him that God removes from our President his ignorance of a security threat that is spreading faster than Obama's withdrawal of troops.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Dangerous Lies of Modern Historians

Throughout his remarkable life,  scientist Isaac Newton (1642-1727) studied the biblical chronology of the world and compared it with the records of ancient civilizations. It was Newton's deep conviction that "the Greeks and the Romans, no less than the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians greatly exaggerated their antiquity from motives of national vanity."

Newton believed that the ancient civilizations lied about their past in order to be seen as the oldest, most advanced and greatest of all the nations. The only book written by Newton and published posthumously was his Chronology of the Ancient Nations where he shows the only history of the world worth trusting is the Hebrew chronology in the Old Testament.

Likewise, when Albert Einstein died in Princeton, New Jersey on April 18, 1955, he was helping the extraordinary Russian chronologist Immanuel Velikovsky (1895 -1979). Einstein and Velikovsky were friends, both living in Princeton. Velikovsky, similar to Newton, believed that the Bible's chronology of the world is the only historical record that can be trusted. Velikovsky reconciled biblical chronology with mainstream archeology and Egyptian chronology in his wonderfully written and extremely readable Ages in Chaos (modern reprints are three volumes). Einstein worked with Velikovsky on his book Worlds in Collision, a study of the history of cosmic cataclysms that affected the earth during the second millennium B.C. (think "The Ten Plagues"). The two greatest scientists during the last five hundred years of western civilization, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, both possessed a deep interest in biblical chronology and chaotic cosmology.

 But why should this be of interest to you? For this reason: In an age when secular scientists and pagan historians tell you that there is "no way the Bible is true," familiarity with the works of Newton and Velikovsky might open your eyes to the possibility that the ones who may be actually duped about the history of the world are those who have accepted the chronologies of the ancient kingdoms at face value. According to Velikovsky and Newton--and Einstein considered both these men superior scientists--the actual history of the world is found in the Bible, for the ancient civilizations all exaggerated their antiquity for reasons of national vanity.

Velikovsky believed that humanity has suffered a collective amnesia on the subject of catastrophes such as the flood, the plagues, etc....  In reaction to the oft repeated near-destruction of human civilization since creation,  deep scars have been left on the human psyche. We forget because we want to forget. Although the solar system has been settled for 2,700 years, Velikovsky points out there is only a 700 year cycle in the human collective consciousness. A world that forgets past cataclysms is a dangerous world indeed.

Velikovsky's fear was that in the twenty-first century, the one in which we live, the world will suffer a re-enactment of catastrophe, only this time it won't be the planets or the cosmos that bring the disaster. We're the ones in possession of the means of  our own destruction.  According to Velikovsky, Newton and Einstein, the world has never been in a steady state of evolution. The world was created, has suffered cataclysmic events throughout ancient history, and will face additional cataclysms in the future.

The ancient prophet said, "Prepare to meet thy God." (Amos 4:12). If you are wondering who He is, He is the God of the Bible, the Creator of the Universe, the One who in love for screw-ups like us, came to earth to be our Savior. If you swallow the unintentional lies of the modern historians who seek to discredit the Bible, you may think yourself too smart and too intellectual to trust the God "who made the world and everything in it, who is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in any temple made with human hands" (Acts 17:24).

Before rejecting the Bible as untrue, you might ponder the effect on you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey and One Bolt of Truth

This Valentine's weekend the widely anticipated movie Fifty Shades of Grey will come to theaters. The book upon which the movie is based is notable for its "its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices" involving bondage, dominance, forcible submission, sadism and masochism. Already the movie has drawn more pre-release ticket orders than any other R-rated movie in the history of film.

That can only mean a number of men and women who follow Jesus will be drawn to see the movie, if not for any other reason than the 'buzz' the movie is creating in popular culture. I've reflected on the appropriate response to church members who ask me about the movie or the book. Contrary to popular opinion, "Just Say No" doesn't work for some. Young people want reasons; logical, relational, personal reasons for any course of action. Saying "no" to a movie that promises us "an escape from our mundane lives into a world of passion and ecstasy" requires a reason that is far more exciting and passionate than the movie itself.

I think I've found that reason.

It comes from one of my heroes, a man named C.S. Lewis.  Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James' chose the title based on her belief that "nothing is black or white. Unlike his British counterpart, C.S. Lewis expresses a truth about sex that has no shade of gray. I hope his words strike your heart like a lightening bolt from heaven:
Sex is a sensory pleasure; that is, an event occurring within one's own body. We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he "wants a woman." Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes). Now Eros makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman."  - C.S. Lewis
Real eros wants one particular woman. I'm reminded this Valentine's Day that I've found her. I love my wife for who she is, inside and out. I respect her strengths, accept her weaknesses, and enjoy the differences between her and me. I know this one particular woman. I see into her; she sees into me. The overflow of this into-me-you-see is a passion and an ecstasy that people without grace can only imitate but never facilitate. We share spiritual, emotional and personal intimacy that blossoms into passionate ecstasy. To tweak Lewis' analogy: "We both drink the wine and treasure the bottles."

If you find yourself drawn to watch Fifty Shades of Grey, you'll see visual images of sexual domination, physical bondage, and intense sadomasochism. In the midst of such cinematic portrayals you may hear sounds of sensory pleasure, but don't be fooled. During the intervening quiet moments, if you listen carefully, you'll hear the crushing of a soul.

May it not be yours.

Friday, February 06, 2015

It's Prudent to Sing "Days of Elijah" Out of Uniform

The above video has gone viral. It is a group of United States marines singing the song Days of Elijah. This song, based on Psalm 91, is a celebration of the coming of the Messiah. An examination of Psalm 91 clearly shows that Elijah was prophesying the coming of the Son of God to Bethlehem to inaugurate His eternal Kingdom.

Jesus Christ is quite clear to His followers about the kind of kingdom He came to establish. When Peter drew a sword to defend His Lord from arrest, Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders" (John 18:36). When Jesus said "My kingdom is not of this world' it doesn't mean His kingdom is not in this world, because it is. Rather, Jesus told Peter to put up His sword because the methods by which Jesus' kingdom is advanced are not in the same methods by which the kingdoms of this world are advanced. 

The kingdoms of this world, including the United States and all other nations, advance their interests through force and military might, which the Bible calls "the sword." Jesus, however, advances His eternal kingdom through His followers loving their enemies, not demanding back anything  that is taken from them, turning the other cheek when struck,  refusing to retaliate, and by praying for and blessing those who wish to do them harm (see Luke 6:27-38)

When the kingdom of Jesus has advanced throughout this world - and it is guaranteed that His kingdom will eventually overtake the entire world at some point in time - then "the nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4).

Unlike many who praise the video above, I don't like it. Don't misunderstand; I am pro-military, pro-Israel, pro-NRA, pro-conservative, pro-...well, you get the idea. In a world gone wicked, governments of civilized people should bear the sword to strike at the root of evil. Natural law also demands that weapons be used to punish evil doers in those nations intent on protecting individual liberties and personal rights. In addition, the Bible tells us in Romans 13:4 that governments are "God's servant(s) for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Nations advance the principles of liberty when evil doers are punished by the government's 'sword.'

But the eternal kingdom of Jesus only advances when individuals give up their personal rights and love their enemies.

Soldiers in uniform are on a mission for the state. I am grateful that our marines, airmen, army and special forces are the tip of the spear for our government in bringing temporal justice to evil doers who behead children, burn pilots, subjugate and rape women, and perpetrate evil. We should increase our military spending, not lessen it. I am an honorary commander this year for an Air Force Base. I love our men and women in uniform.

However, it may be prudent for men and women in the American armed forces to refrain from singing a song like "Days of Elijah" while in their military uniforms (edit: or, as one commenter wisely wrote, 'refrain from publishing the video'). Why? When the enemies of the United States watch this video -- and they will -- they will falsely associate Jesus and His eternal kingdom with American snipers, billion dollar jets, techno-savvy drones, and the finest fighting men and women in the world.  In other words, they will think they are fighting Christians intent on killing them. In reality, they are fighting Americans intent on bringing temporary justice.

Our American fighting force is needed in a world full of evil; but nobody enters the eternal kingdom of God at the tip of a sword (are you listening Islamists?) - rather, people find entrance into the eternal kingdom by encountering people who choose to love their enemies, just as Christ chose to love us and die for our sins.

The United States government and the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ are not the same. I tell the men and women in our church who are employed by the the United States government to serve in our armed forces that they should always remember one thing: 
"If an enemy dies on the field of human conflict, the one who kills should be identified as a soldier of the state, and not as a follower of Jesus Christ. A Christian can have enemies, but a Christian can never be the enemy." (Wade Burleson)
For those followers of Jesus who cannot separate government service from the personal commands of Jesus to 'love your enemies,'  something that I have no problem doing, they should become conscientious objectors to military service. However, those followers of Jesus who have chosen to take on the task of killing evil doers on behalf of our United States' government by bearing the sword of temporal justice, might consider the wisdom of being filmed singing "Days of Elijah" while in military gear.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Doubts About Doubt: Katy Perry's Reality

Katy Perry's Wikipedia page states Katy's mother, a preacher's wife, forbad Katy from eating "Lucky Charms" as a girl because Lucky was too much like Lucifer. One wonders if Katy had been allowed to eat the cereal if she would have ever kissed the girl? Katy eventually renounced the "Christian" faith of her youth, and became a New Age spiritualist.

No one who follows Jesus ought to be distressed by similar renunciations of "Christianity." In reality, what is revolted against is the abuse and perversion of Jesus' teachings and the life He brings. Jesus told us, "I came so you can have real and unending life, more and better life than you ever dreamed of having" (John 10:10, The Message).

Like Katy Perry,  Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)--author of books like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Treasure Island -- rebelled against his strict and unnatural upbringing.  Stevenson was raised in a Scottish Calvinistic home where Law was emphasized to the neglect of God's love for sinners in Jesus Christ. As a young man, Robert Stevenson renounced his rigid upbringing which he described as "the deadliest gag and wet blanket that can be laid on a man." There was no such thing as New Age faith in Stevenson's day so he became an atheist.

However, as Robert Louis Stevenson turned forty years of age, he began to have "doubts about his doubt." He realized that though the world claimed to be able to give him life and wisdom, the world actually had no satisfying answers to the problems he faced. 

At age forty-two Stevenson would write, "There is a God who is manifest for those who care to look for Him." Before Stevenson died two years later at age forty-four, he described his faith in Jesus Christ as "a cast iron faith." The last short story Stevenson wrote before he died was entitled Markheim, and it is a veritable "look in the mirror" for people like Katy Perry and others who renounce what they consider "Christianity," only to discover they've never really had faith in the first place.

If you were denied Lucky Charms in your youth by well-meaning but deceived parents, God's grace will eventually overcome your objections and bring you to an understanding that He alone gives real life through His Son, and this life is ultimately the only solution to the problems that plague us all.