0001 – Source Code 1–No Other Gods

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exo 20:3)

So I’ve been binge watching Babylon 5, and I am struck by the degree to which this show involves religion, even a more accurate understanding that not all Christians are Catholic. One of the leads, played by the lovely Claudia Christian, is a Russian Jew. still observant when it fits the plot. Now, somewhere in Season 2, Dr. Franklin, the station’s chief medical officer, remarks that he is a “foundationist”, that is, he believes in God, but that every time we try to define God, He is always bigger. This intrigued me because that is a very humbling idea. When we try to define God, we must realize that our definitions will always fall short, because we cannot conceive God in our finite minds.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1Co 2:9-10)

In reading this first commandment, it seems like a simple thing. We don’t build or worship blocks of stone or wooden idols. We don’t sacrifice animals to the sky or the sun. However, I think there is more to this verse than meets the eye.

I have what may be considered a peculiar view of history. I take the Scripture seriously wherever it leads. When I read of the accounts of the Creation and the Flood, to the Tower of Babel, it seems a much better fit than the millions of years of evolutionary history I’ve been spoon-fed for years. Thus it seems to me that while the Bible tells us the essential truths of history, the secular world also passed down to us in the form of folklore and myth another history, much diluted by time and retelling. Where the Bible had the benefit of Divine shepherding over the centuries, the stories of myth did not. Myth tells of great deeds and great heroes, even gods, who lived ages ago. What should amaze us is that these stories exist at all, that there is something rather than nothing. What inspired these stories?

There are a few works that follow this line of inquiry, but the field has been ignored for centuries, especially now that the theory of Evolution has taken over academia. Isaac Newton wrote a book on history that made a serious attempt to reconcile the stories of myth and the ancient world with the Bible, called, The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended To which is Prefix’d, A Short Chronicle from the First Memory of Things in Europe, to the Conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great (see On Amazon for Kindle). More recently I’ve seen it in Brian Forbes’ From Noah to Hercules (see Noah to Hercules on Amazon). I encourage you to take a look at some of these sources for yourself. 

It seems fiction as we know it today simply was unknown in the ancient world. While there were certainly story tellers, our modern methods of printing and inexpensive materials, electronic distribution and so on didn’t exist. Thus anyone who committed a story to stone or clay did so because they believed it was true, or at least worth recording. They simply didn’t have time to invest or money to pay a scribe to write out what everyone knew was fiction (because everyone knew the stories as well as he did). We also know that stories were more often transmitted orally long before they were ever committed to writing and bear evidence of this in their patterns and forms. Whole epics were memorized. Thus while many of the mythologies we know today from the ancient world are grossly exaggerated, they have some basis in truth. Two cases help illustrate this.

One fantastic epic from the ancient world is Gilgamesh. Inscribed on an incomplete series of clay tablets and found in a ruined library of Ashurbanipal in 1849, the epic is the story of an ancient king, Gilgamesh, who lived in a historically verifiable place, Uruk, probably sometime in the 29th-24th centuries BC. Gilgamesh is famous for destroying a number of monsters in the ancient world, and built many cities. He met fascinating characters like Utnashpashtim, the survivor of the world-destroying Flood. Though the story of Gilgamesh is exaggerated, there may be pieces of it that can be verified.

Another is Homer’s works of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Many of the events of the Iliad, the story of the Trojan War, have only recently been understood as more accurate than we gave credit. Many ancients believed that the war against Troy to be a defining date in history, so that events were understood before the war and after the war. Troy itself, its ruins anyway, are believed to be verified on the west coast of Turkey. Troy VII (layer 7 of Hesilik) is believed to match the destruction of Troy in about the 12th century BC. Biblical Troas was located not far from the original Troy. Troy was a real place. The evidence for its destruction is real. When Homer (or the Homeric poets) wrote down the narrative at a much later date, it was a story told and retold, memorized for generations and shared as a morality tale and entertainment. However modern investigations into the story, including elements of its descriptions of geography have been verified as accurate. Extending credibility to the Iliad is easier than to the Odyssey, but being works from the same period should allow us to give Odyssey the benefit of the doubt.

Ancient history seems to be divided into roughly three periods, 1) the age of Titans (“of old”, Creation to 1689 AC at the Flood), 2) the age of gods (“of former times”, after the Flood, approx 4000 BC to about 2500 BC), and 3) the age of Heroes (2500 BC- to the fall of Troy). In each successive age, glory and honor diminishes. And this is why primarily we are not taught this, and why we favor Evolution. Evolution teaches that each successive generation is better than the last, so that our generation is certainly better than those of the ancient world. We have computers, after all. But we forget, even if our only evidence is the ancient structures like the pyramids, the problems we solve today with computers, they solved in their heads. Contrary to Evolution, when we study the Scriptures we find that ancient man was far more intelligent than we are today, not the knuckle-draggers we’ve been taught.

If we were to line this up against the Biblical record, I believe that the age of the Titans was the period before the Flood. The atmosphere was pressurized far more than now due to a canopy of water that lay over the whole earth. Animals didn’t need great lung capacities to support massive bodies and they grew to tremendous size, as did the rest of the natural world. People too took advantage of this highly oxygenated atmosphere and likewise grew to unusual sizes, even “titanic” proportions, to the point “there were giants (or, Nephilim) in those days.” Whether you believe they were giants, the result of genetic manipulation by the “sons of God” in Genesis 6, or that the Nephilim were the mighty offspring of their unions with human women, people were larger than life in those days. “These were the he mighty men who were of old.” God need not call them anymore than that. “Of old” (or, time before time) seems to be the Bible’s way of describing this time before the Flood.

The men and women who emerged from the Ark became the basis for the pantheons of gods told by their great-grandchildren, as these were not only taller than most, but lived extremely long lives, compared to their descendants. I find it interesting that Noah had three sons. In Greek mythology, the Titan Kronos had three sons, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. In Egyptian mythology, the world emerged from the Flood-waters and eight primary gods were responsible for the creation of the world. Strangely, it was eight souls that emerged from the Ark to repopulate the world. I believe the first few generations that emerged from the Ark became the basis for the mythologies the developed in the ancient world. While the Bible says little about the exploits of these ancients, focusing instead on the family of the promise, the mythologies are filled with their exaggerated exploits. Gilgamesh may well the secular name of a king mentioned in Scripture, Nimrod. (See http://davelivingston.com/nimrod.htm)

In the Bible, there is a curious proverb attached to the “ancients” in 1 Samuel 24:13. The proverb is, “out of the wicked comes forth wickedness”. But the word used for the ancients is more closely defined as “men of former times” or “of the east”. This is a curious designation, since the people who emerged from the Ark traveled south along the mountain ridges while the flood waters receded and the plains dried out, then they descended west from the mountain ridge and gathered in the plain of Shinar, the site of the original Babel. This site is considerably further south than the Ararat mountains where the Ark landed.  The Bible has a sense of its own antiquity.

The age of Heroes follows on and describes the generations that followed the gods. The Iliad and the Odyssey takes place in the age of Heroes, but not in the age of the gods. The Exodus takes place in the age of Heroes (1440-1400 BC) as does the stories of Joshua, Samson and David. It is into this time that Scripture takes us into the story of Israel in earnest. When God gathers His people at Sinai, He first warns them about worshiping other gods. God isn’t worried about a cabal of imaginary or fictional deities that hold the attention of men for a time. I believe he is referring to the pantheon of men and women who lived after the Flood and were at first revered by their progeny, and were later worshiped, their stories told and retold, until they were no longer recognized as merely human.

We are prone to honor our heroes. We build statues in their honor. We put their faces on our currency. We tell and retell their stories until they pass into legend. Did George Washington really cut down a cherry tree to show he couldn’t tell a lie, or did someone invent the story, using that name, to teach a moral lesson (ironically, since the story wasn’t true)? How often today do we invoke the authority of those long dead to establish a point? (“Lincoln once said . . .”)

It seems that God had more in mind here than telling us not to make up gods and then serve them, but to resist our natural tendency to honor and glorify the dead (um, Catholic saints?), venerate them in our memory and eventually make them an authority in our thought-lives (Charles Darwin anyone?). It is a challenge to us to whom we give authority to in our thinking, and a challenge to our worship.

Who are the gods in your life? Your parents? Why does Jesus say:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luk 14:26)

‘Why does Jesus challenge the authority of those in our own lives? Who do you give permission to guide your thoughts?

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2Co 10:5)

Some say they worship reason, but how do they define reason? But there are lots of ways to define reason, and sometimes, it is simply what makes a person happy at any particular time. By whose definition do they define it? For someone somewhere gave them the idea that Reason ought to prevail. And if it is not Reason that guides your actions, then what does? Who holds sway over your mind if not God?

“Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:20-22)

I believe with this first commandment, we’ve been taught for generations and lulled into thinking that the Israelites were ordered to stop worshiping fictions, but I am afraid the truth is much more unsettling. These statues, rituals and ideas of men were based on real people of the distant past, whose stories and legends passed down to them, but without the fact-checking of divine inspiration. Instead, their stories were conflated and padded with the desires of sinful men, to manipulate and coerce others for the sake of power. Who were the priests and soothsayers if not the most powerful men of their age? If we are not aware of this, our ancestors may become the same for us, our overlords from the grave, because we were not careful to “have no other gods” before Him.

God knew this tendency was within all of us to make sacred those we revere, to honor our heroes and glorify their memory. Thus even in the midst of idolatry, there a grain of truth. 1 Corinthians 10:10 says that sacrifices to idols are sacrifices to actual demons, real spiritual powers. Why wouldn’t the demons rejoice when God and His transcendent nature, greater than all we can ask or imagine is ignored in favor of finite, limited creatures (Romans 1:23)?

Thus His first commandment is very simple, “Have no other gods before Me.”

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We Cannot Imagine

The Lord Speaks

I’ve got 99 problems, but the Lord is bigger than all of them. Job could have said that (and did by the end of his book). So can we. Why do we appeal to God when we suffer, because we know, without thinking, that the Lord exceeds the extent of our suffering, He is bigger and more powerful than anything we can ask or imagine. No sooner than we conceive a limit for God, He exceeds it. And yet, in our limitedness, our Gini tide, God does not look down with contempt, but with the love of the vastness of His nature. Doesn’t God deserve your attention and respect today?

Why go to Church if it doesn’t mean anything to me?

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The problem here is that the non-Christian sees the Church as irrelevant. This is half-true. Many Churches gave up trying to be relevant years ago, just focusing on preserving what few they have left and keeping up appearances until Jesus comes back. I have seen churches give up on trying to reach the world because it costs too much. For them, evangelism isn’t relevant to their mission. The lost-ness of the world doesn’t mean anything to them. Many “little old church ladies” are more concerned about making sure their preacher’s shirts appear ironed than about making sure their neighbor knows about Jesus.

A man will not see any logical reason to attend a church service in order to preserve his soul. It simply doesn’t make sense. How does attending an hour or more a week with a group of people you kinda know change your eternity? The answer is, it doesn’t. That answer is in the saving power of Jesus Himself. Only then do you understand the spiritual significance of His Body, the Church. The non-Christian will not feel compelled to come to Church until their soul has been touched and made sensitive to its need for redemption. It is odd too the animosity expressed toward Church, since for the most part it is harmless, except when it isn’t.

But Christians too fall victim to this problem. Some might say, “The message I hear on Sunday morning is not the same truth that I read in the Bible.” Others might throw in that they feel the Church just doesn’t speak to them where they are, or that the Bible they hear on Sunday morning isn’t relevant to their lives. This is usually a symptom of a Christian who doesn’t spend much time with God through the week. For a person far from God will fail to pick Him out of a crowded soul.

For Christians, the answer is easy. Spend more time with God, and just with God. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) You want to come away from a Church service filled? Hunger for righteousness. Thirst for Righteousness. Desire even more time with God, and you will not leave unsatisfied.

Non-Christians will acquire a desire for Church when they see such desire modeled. When they see the fire kindled in believers for the Word of God and the fellowship of the Church, they will have a desire for God, a hunger for the presence of Jesus in them. They look for His face in yours.

Why go to Church just to obey a set a rules?

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Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
(2Co 3:17)

Many feel that the Church is a system of rules, or that it is legalistic. Perhaps you’ve thought that mandating Church attendance is a legalistic pursuit. That we should be free to attend as often, or as little as we wish to. The operative word here is “me.” A me-centered faith doesn’t do a whole lot, and ends up being legalistic. The same statement might be applied, “I only need to go to church once a month to be a Christian.” Now who’s being legalistic?

The question again isn’t about what I must do to be saved? That’s well established. It’s, “what must I do to grow in Christ?” When asked that way, we realize the hill is a little steeper. How often should I go to Church in order to grow in Christ? How often should I read my Bible, pray, go to Bible study, witness to my neighbor, in order to grow in Christ? I know that if I don’t do any of those things, I will not grow.

We know that faith in Christ isn’t based a set of rules, but that we often resort to rules to make our conscience comfortable. Abolish the rules you have set in your own life and pursue Christ with abandon. Demonstrate to others that Christianity is the free-est form of living there is, because we have total freedom in Christ.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
(Php 4:8-9)

They Shall Look on Him They Have Pierced

Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the One they pierced. (John 19:37)

The apostle John inserts this remark at the foot of the cross. Only John, of all the disciples, stood at the foot of the cross with Mary, Jesus’ mother, and the other women who followed Jesus. He is actually reciting an Old Testament prophet, Zechariah, one of the post-exilic prophets in the 5th-4th centuries BC.

“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the house of David and the residents of Jerusalem, and they will look at Me whom they pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly for Him as one weeps for a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)

This is a sad moment for the followers of Jesus, but something about this “piercing” has always bothered me. Why is “piercing” the operative word here? Certainly when Jesus was crucified, his hands and feet were “pierced” by nails and His side was “pierced” by a spear. And even after His resurrection, the evidence of these “piercings”
are still evident (John 20:25-27). Long after, in Revelation 5:6, Jesus’ appearance is as “a slaughtered lamb” standing in Heaven.  Forever Jesus bears the evidence of his crucifixion, the piercings in his hands and feet and side. But why? Couldn’t Jesus have chosen to rise in a body that doesn’t bear evidence of such trauma?

I believe part of this answer is found in the Law.

But if your slave says to you, ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family, and is well off with you, take an awl and pierce through his ear into the door, and he will become your slave for life. Also treat your female slave the same way.  (Deuteronomy 15:16-17)

Slaves who wished to stay with their masters after their term of slavery was up (seven years) were pierced with an awl in their ear. This means in symbol they were physically attached to your house, they belonged to you and your family for life. With our modern conceptions, this may seem a barbaric practice. But a slave, who previously sold himself to pay off debt, may find himself in a much better position serving someone else and their household, than by trying to make his own way. He may have found love and family in this new situation, and accepting the piercing was a permanent reminder of their decision.

Jesus was willing to be pierced as a slave. We had all been sold into slavery as sinners (Romans 6:17) and had no hope of redemption since no one could resist temptation and be free. Sin held us down and trapped us in death, and we have no hope without Jesus. In fact, slavery is a powerful image often employed in the New Testament to illustrate our plight.

Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death–that is, the Devil– and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.  (Hebrews 2:14-15)

But how did Jesus take all of our slavery upon Himself? He became a slave and bore the penalty of our sins. He had never sinned Himself, but offered Himself, His perfect sinless life, as payment for our debt. In exchange for His permanent enslavement, He was pierced, according to the Law. Instead of his ear to the doorpost, it was his hands and feet to the cross. As long as He lived, he would bear the payment of our sin.

But wait, Jesus died. Doesn’t that mean He is no longer a slave? Yes. But you see His payment was once for all.

so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.  (Hebrews 9:28)

Now He is alive, and no longer the slave. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. However, He still bears the marks of our slavery in His own flesh. Those are marks He received not because of necessity, but because of His love for us. Just as the slave gladly received the piercing to continue to be a part of the family, so Jesus accepted the piercing so that we could become part of His.

Interestingly, John again quotes the Zechariah passage above, but more completely in the book of Revelation.

Look! He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, including those who pierced Him. And all the families of the earth will mourn over Him. This is certain. Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

Perhaps all the families will mourn because of the coming judgment, and that is certainly a part of what Revelation is about. But maybe many will mourn, remembering the sacrifice Jesus made for them, because they see the piercings in His hands and feet. They will see the piercings and weep because Jesus paid all of their debt and all they can give is their gratitude. Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions” and still bears the mark of His piercing.

 

P.S. I want to warn anyone who has ever had a Near Death Experience or talked to someone who has. Many of these people who die in the operating room or under similar circumstances may claim to have seen Jesus, be filled with peace and light and so on. If they have claimed to see Jesus, ask this simple question: Did you see the marks on his hands? Only the true and authentic Jesus bears these marks. That was how He proved Himself to Thomas. Any other Jesus is false cannot be trusted. And beware the false Jesus and his teachings.

Why go to Church when I am not loved there?

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It ought to be to the Church’s shame that this statement is every uttered. This hearkens back to the last question, but it is the more naked resentment and hurt feelings. It is hard to win back those who have had a prior relationship with your church. “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” (Pro 18:19 ESV)

Again, the problem seems complicated. There are a couple of possibilities.  The person in question is complaining because he or she doesn’t “feel” loved. At some point in the past, someone offended them and now they believe that everyone in the church feels the same way as that individual, since no one else offered an apology, or came and visited their home (I have heard this expressed). More likely no one else knows about the offense. It is just as likely, everyone knows the person who did the offending, and don’t want to “rock the boat”. This kind of church believes that one person leaving the church is easier to stomach with than confronting with the Offender. Personally, I believe that such an Offender needs to be dealt with as Ananias and Sapphira, but that is God’s judgment to decide, not mine.

However, for the offended, they are depriving the whole fellowship of the Body of Christ by not attending any Church because of their own hurt feelings. The Whole body suffers when one suffers (1 Corinthians 12:26). This behavior is selfish, that is, it cannot see past itself and its own pain. And such a one believes that it is he who deserves the apology from all, or even a few, rather to take the example of Christ, and accept the suffering for His sake. They may well be owed an apology, but is it for them decide whether this grievance should keep them from all fellowship? Did Christ demand an apology from the Jews who insulted him at the foot of the cross? Does Christ demand an apology from you every time you insult Him by ignoring Him, or pushing him aside for your own priorities? What this question shows isn’t a greater holiness, but a lack of grace, though such was extended to them through Christ. (Matthew 18:21-35)

Why go to Church if Church is unfamiliar and uncomfortable?

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And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
(Heb 10:24-25)

Most non-Christians avoid the Church because it is unfamiliar. They believe that they need to have “church clothes” in order to attend and not be shunned. Sadly, many churches shun new attendees exactly because they are unfamiliar, especially close-knit and clique-ish type churches. (James 2:1-4) Then again, people will attend church even if it is standing room only, if its message is relevant enough, its people warm enough, and its worship inviting enough.

First, we must dispel the notion that we require a certain type of person we accept for attendance. We ought to be welcoming to all. Shame on any believer that makes style of clothing a standard for fellowship. When the church began, it was the clothing of slaves and ordinary people that made the cut. There was no such thing as Sunday clothes. Sunday was a work day back then.

But second,  understand that this question is probably a smoke-screen. It is not the building or pews, or most times even the strangers they meet there that give rise to this question. It is the emotional attachments to previous buildings or relationships that make a person feel truly uncomfortable in church. Whether a person attended a funeral at a church, or went there as a kid, or knows someone in the church who has hurt them or whom they have hurt, a person will feel uncomfortable with church. Help them work through their hurt, maybe even the resolution of hurt feelings. But most importantly, love and understanding will help this person overcome their fears. It will take time, but “don’t give up on meeting together.” If the person feels uncomfortable with going to church, offer to pray with them, and offer to sit with them.

Third, now that they have settled into a particular routine of not going, even going to another church will be difficult. People go to new churches because that is where their friends are going. Having an inside connection like a friend will go a long way to getting someone to try going to church for the first time. This also means that simply “inviting” someone to church isn’t enough. If you invite someone to your church, who do they know? Your best kids program and preacher’s sermon won’t be enough to keep a casual attender. They will stay because of who they know. Try being that person.