Saturday, January 31, 2009

A man, two sons, had (Mat. 21:28-32)

I have a somewhat lengthier quote to discuss from İncil, the parable of the two sons found in Mat. 21:28-32. My English-speaking friends can look it up.
İki oğul benzetmesi

«Ama şuna ne dersiniz? Bir adamın iki oğlu varmış. Adam birincisine gidip, `Oğlum, git bugün bağda çalış' demiş. «O da, `Gitmem!' demiş. Ama sonra pişman olup gitmiş. «Adam ikinci oğluna gidip aynı şeyi söylemiş. O da, `Giderim, efendim' demiş, ama gitmemiş. «İkisinden hangisi babasının isteğini yerine getirmiş olur?» «Birincisi» diye karşılık verdiler.
İsa da onlara, «Size doğrusunu söyleyeyim, vergi görevlileriyle fahişeler, Tanrı'nın Egemenliğine sizden önce giriyorlar» dedi. «Yahya size doğruluk yolunu göstermeye geldi, ona inanmadınız. Oysa vergi görevlileriyle fahişeler ona inandılar. Siz bunu gördükten sonra bile pişman olup ona inanmadınız.

A man two sons had. Bir adamın iki oğlu varmış. The -mış verb ending, by the way, is nearly unique in major languages. It's called the "dubative" or "narrative" suffix, and is used by Turks to indicate events they have no personal, direct, knowledge of. When translating this single syllable into English, you need to use such expressions as "they say," or "it has been said," or "once upon a time."

I have read, it has been said, that Muslims and Christians have contrasting opinions about the two sons. Christians take note of the fact that the second son at least repented and did the right thing. The Muslim notices that the first son at least showed proper respect for the father. Islam does not mean "peace," but "submission." Although the Muslims I've met yearn to please God and take delight in prayer, there is an emphasis on external conformity as the ultimate duty of a man, or nation. Kidnapped journalists are released if they'll repeat the Arabic statement of faith in One God and in Mohammad his prophet. To the journalists, it's just a matter of parroting nonsense syllables. To the kidnappers, it's a valid conversion to flaunt to the world.

A superficial compliance is a small price to pay for peace in the family. No sense in getting all worked up over things you can't change. Republicans under the 0bama administration can see the charm in the Turkish proverb "İt ürür, kervan yürür." The dogs bark, the caravan moves on. No need to join forces with Al Capp's caricature of college demonstrators, Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything (S.W.I.N.E.).

Yet, there is a Kingdom, and there is a King, whose interests take priority over the status quo. And there are real, and eternal, consequences for ignorning reality.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Workplace resentments (Mat. 20)

It's hard to fill out a standard job application when you have a work history as interesting as mine. You're pursuing some gigantic project to change the world, but need a little cash in hand from time to time. So, you hang around on a street corner where contractors can pick up day laborers who get paid in cash at the end of each day. Or, for the more middle-class person, you go to ManPower.[1] Show up wearing coveralls, and that costume might get you a three-week gig at a cinderblock factory. You pick up fresh blocks from a conveyor belt, and stack them neatly on pallets. It's those skinny four-inch wide blocks that take the most out of you, since you grab and stack them two at a time.

Day laborers frequently have addiction problems. Hire a few to help you unload a truck, and you can smell the wine oozing out of their pores after a few hours. They are typically lower-class, socially and economically. During the Reagan Recession of the early 80s, I counted myself fortunate to land a job with a predominantly black work crew, cleaning and baling plastics and fabrics for recycling. A place to go, something to do, and someone to pay me for it -- and life suddenly looked significantly brighter. I learned about "mother's day," that glad event once a month when federal checks flood the hood to temporarily enrich the unwed mothers and any boyfriends who could latch onto that gravy train.

Still, the guy who paid me $5 / hour, cash, gave me a foothold when I desperately needed it. A few years later, when he came by the software vendor where I worked, I had the chance to thank him.

I don't think I'd be a good union man. The guy who provides me with work, tools, and a workplace, is my benefactor, not my enemy.

Still, day laborers are acutely aware of every hour that they work.

Mat. 20 begins with a disturbing little parable about some day laborers. The vineyard owner goes out first thing in the morning, and hires a batch to work his vineyard. He goes out a few hours later, and hires some more. Goes out at noon, finds the latest crop of guys shaking off their hangovers, and puts them to work. Rinse and repeat.

At the end of the day, he pays the folks who worked a single hour a full day's wages. The same as everyone else. Of course, this does not sit well with the people who've endured the weight and heat of the entire day. Well, tough. After all, Jesus points out,
İşte böylece sonuncular birinci, birinciler de sonuncu olacak.
And, a few words:
  • bir -- one
  • son -- the first
  • sonuncular -- last
  • sonuncular -- the last
  • olacak -- will be
Well, actually, this is a word of hope for us late bloomers. Israel had spent a few thousand years, by that time, testifying to the One God, and smashing idols -- at least, when they weren't building fresh idols of their own. Now that the consummation of their pilgrimage was at hand, the torch was about to be handed to a batch of latecomers.

That hurts, folks. There was a time when I wanted to be a leader in our church. It never happened. Time after time, I'd see newcomers drop in from out of nowhere, suddenly acquire the recognition and honors I craved -- then casually discard opportunities I despeartely yearned for. It's like having a younger brother show up and displace you from the center of the universe!

On the other hand, though, every one of us benefits from the work of those who have gone before. As Sir Isaac Newton said, we see farther because we can stand on the shoulders of giants. God can indeed raise up new witnesses from unexpected places.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Migrating mountains! (Mat. 17)

After taking Peter, James, and John along for a brief mountain-top hobnob with Moses and Elijah, Jesus rejoined the rest of the disciples. While the Big Cat was away, the mice did play. A case of demonic possession showed up that followed the Linda Blair script more closely. And for some reason, these seasoned evangelists who'd cast out demons with a word during their preaching tour, were in over their heads. Jesus interrogated the lad's father, and cast out the devil.

Why had the first team failed?
Sonra öğrenciler tek başlarına İsa'ya gelip, "Biz cini neden kovamadık?" diye sordular. İsa, "İmanınız kıt oldoğu için," karşılığını verdi. "Size doğrususunu söyleyeyim, bir hardal tanesi kadar imanınız olsa şu dağa, 'Buradan şuroya göç! derseniz, göçer. Sizi için imkansız bir şey kalmez."
And, a few words:
  • imanınız -- your faith.
  • kıt -- scarcity. Famine.
  • hardal tane -- mustard seed
  • dağ -- mountain
  • göç -- to migrate, to move off
Well, I can read the newspapers and see all the hysteria over major corporations tossing folks overboard. Or, I can pray in faith, and share with the world the amazing things that God can do.

Metaphorical disconnect (Mat. 16)

OK, let's set the stage. Jesus recently fed more than 4,000 people from a handful of supplies. The team is boarding their commuting vehicle, and someone forgot to pack the box lunches. Not the best time for a food-based metaphor.
İsa onlar, "Dıkkatli olun, Ferisilerin ve Sadukilerin mayasından kaçının!" dedi.
Today's words:
  • dıkkat -- Caution!
  • Dıkkatli olun -- Watch out!
  • maya -- leaven / yeast
  • ikiyüzlük -- Hypocrisy. iki- -- two. -yüz- -- face. -lük -- having the characteristics of.
  • kaçmak -- avoid
Well, the official political and religious leaders of Israel had just finished demanding a sign from Jesus -- "and maybe then we'll take you seriously." Jesus, however, knew the folly of defending yourself to people whose minds were already made up. He warned his people against letting that kind of corrosive skepticism take root in their minds. Like leaven in dough, contemptuous unbelief would eventually permeate one's entire attitude towards life.

His disciples, however, were thinking about lunch, and missed the point. Our Lord's rebuke, however, anchored in in their minds so well that we still read this saying today. Unfortunately, history demonstrates that they still missed the point.

The "leaven of the Pharisees" is defined in one of the gospels as "hypocrisy." The popular religious leaders of the day took delight in their ceremonial displays of their religious fidelity. Thirty years or so later, when Paul brought a painfully garnered "care package" to the church at Jerusalem, the leaders were barely polite. Yes, that's nice, that those gentiles thought to help out. But what REALLY matters is -- we have many among us who are zealous for the Jewish traditions. So why don't you play along with them?

Jesus knew better than to "play ball" with the Pharisees. Paul tried to make nice, tried to get along, and demonstrated by his painful experience that there's just no pleasing some people.

In the long run, many Jewish Christians buckled under the pressure, and went back to their native culture. Short-term relief, however, came at the price of eternal damnation for themselves and their descendants. And, the short-term was short, indeed. The Christians in Jerusalem who stood fast, who remained faithful to Jesus, took the unanticipated break in the Roman siege as their sign to beat feet and get out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Walk, on the water (Mat. 14)

One of the most memorable scenes in the Bible happened after Jesus spent a night in prayer, by Himself, on a mountain -- then noticed that his disciples were having trouble getting across the lake. Being the benevolent soul, He walked on over to help out.
Sabaha karşı İsa, gölün üstünde yürüdüğnü görünce dehşete kapıldılar. "Bu bir hayalet!" diyerek korkuyla bağrıştılar. Ama İsa hemen seslenerek, "Cesur olun! Ben'im, korkmayın!" dedi.
And, a few more words:
  • cesur -- courage
  • Cesur olun! -- be brave!
  • Ben'im! -- It's me!
  • korkmak -- to fear
  • korkmayın! -- don't be afraid!
One of our Turkish friends has a fear of dogs. "Köpeğe kormasınız?" I asked. Alas, I'd left out the k, and was asking them if they smelled the dog!

The most frequent command in the İncil is, korkmayın! Do not be afraid! When the Book of Revelation enumerates the kinds of folks who will not be welcome in the Heavenly City, the list starts with "the fearful and unbelieving." Apparently, our Lord knew that life is filled with things to be afraid of. Yet we also have His hand of protection upon us, and His power around us, and His angels standing guard over us. Faith, and reason, mark out the right course of action: be brave, and hang in there!

Supremely valuable (Mat. 13)

"Opportunity cost" is a phrase you'll find in economics textbooks. The cost of doing item A is, you can't do item B. Given limited resources of time and capital, we make choices every day, every moment. Will I update my blog? Or play a computer game for five minutes? The book The Unheavenly City defined the poverty-mentality as "present-oriented." If you always do, at the moment, that which looks most appealing, at the moment, you are and will be poor. Or, as a wise sloganeer said, "If you do what you like you won't like what you do." Comoputer programmers coined the term "dogwash" to describe this phenomenon. The closer you get to the deadline of a major project, the more urgent other chores look. Yes, I need to debug this module, but the dog really needs washing ...

Laying claim to something supremely valuable requires the sacrifice of something, or perhaps everything, less valuable. Properly appreciating one's wife, for example, means forgoing every other woman on earth. Jesus described God's Kingdom in terms familiar to people whose poverty was relieved by hopes of good luck from time to time:
Göklerin Egemenliği, tarlada saklı bir defineye benzer. Bunu bulan adam yine saklamış. Sevinç içinde gitmiş, varını yoğunu satıp o tarlayı satın almış.
And, a few words:
  • tarlada -- field
  • defineye -- treasure
  • saklı -- to hide
  • var -- there is
  • yok -- there is not
  • varını yoğunu -- everything; lock, stock and barrel[1]
  • satın almış-- to buy
  • satın -- to sell
Discovering unexpected resources will test your character. A daughter who'd selected a worthless husband frequently called her parents for financial help. Then, one glad night, she called with good news, for a change. They'd won $5,000 on the lottery! To the aging parents, this looked like the opportunity to get caught up on bills, to get ahead. A few nights later, the daughter called again, begging for help. What happened to the jackpot? "Oh, we spent that on more lottery tickets."

In America, the vast majority of big winners at the lottery are worse off in five years than they were before they won. Expenses (and needy relatives) grow faster than unearned income.

In this case, the unexpected resource found by some, overlooked by others, is the Kingdom of Heaven. The opportunity to be in on what God is up to, to find a place in His ongoing program, a position on His team. Something of so much eternal and transcendent value that people have gone singing to their deaths in order to participate.

Well, as financial guru Peter Daniels once said, "The cost of a small dream is exactly the same as the cost of a big dream -- your whole life." May our merciful Creator grant us grace to dream big, live big, and spurn petty distractions in pursuit of worthy goals.


[1] This metaphor comes from America's historic love of firearms, and refers to parts of a rifle.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Not nestled in a brass lamp ... (Mat. 12)

Ottoman Turkish (Osmanlı) was one of the few languages in the world with a vocabulary as large as we English speakers enjoy. Like English, Osmanlı was a "shotgun wedding" of contrasting linguistic families. The core, those 20% or so of the words you use 80% of the time, were from the Ural-Altaic family. For literature and poetry, Osmanlı relied heavily upon Persian-derived words. Farsi is an Indo-European language. Religious and legal terms came from Arabic, a semetic language. Despite the efforts of Ataturk's language reformers, a number of the older words are still in circulation. Saat (hour) and kitap (book), for example.

Today's word, from the Arabic, is cin. English speakers recognize djinn and geni. This is a spiritual being, a powerful one of malevolent character that must be handled with care, if at all.

First-century Israel was conversant with the care and handling of cinler. In fact, there were professional exorcists who traveled around performing rituals that were intended to grant relief to the sufferers of demonic possession. Some of you may have seen the depressing Linda Blair movie The Exorcist which presented the process as frantic, desperate, and ritualistic.

When Jesus came along expelling demons with a word of command, this gave his enemies yet one more reason to complain. If demons were docile in his presence, didn't that prove that he was really on their side?
Eğer ben cinleri Beelzebub'un gücüyle kovuyorsam, sizin adamlarınız cinleri kimin gücüyle kovuyorlar? Sizi bu durumda kendi adamlarınız yargılacak. Ama be cinleri Tanrı'nın Ruhuyla kovuyorsam, Tantrı'nın Egemenliği üzerinize gelmiş demektir.
And, a few more words.
  • gücüyle -- with the power of. güç (power) + üy (direct object of possessive) + le (with)
  • kovmak -- drive out. kovuyorsam -- If I drive out. kov (stem) + uyor (first personal singular present) + sam (subjunctive)
Oh, yes. Jesus was not the only exorcist around. Merely the most effective one. Exorcism is still practiced among Christians, by the way. Rarely with the pomp and pagentry the movie would lead you to expect. Being able to pray, and command demons, in the name of Jesus is like having the right to sign checks using the name of one who has unlimited wealth.

During the time of his earthly ministry, Jesus swept much evil out of the life of his nation. After his exit, however, because of the stubborness of the nation in its unbelief, the forces of spiritual evil returned, with a vengeance.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Liberating servitude (Mat. 11:28-30)

Ivan Illych once said, "The gospel is like a joke told to a circle of men. And one man smiles." Every public figure fears "losing the audience." You give it your best shot, and the joke falls flat. The listeners miss the point. Instead of laughter or applause, you hear that latest cliche for disconnect -- the sound of crickets.

After the twelve disciples came back from their preaching tour throughout Israel, Jesus rejoiced greatly in His spirit. Even though the "chattering classes" of first century Israel failed to get the point, people were responding. Demons were fleeing. The Good News was transforming lives. And it is good news:
Ey bütün yorgunlar ve yükü ağır olanlar! Bana gelin, ben size huzur veririm. Ben yumuşak huylu ve alçakgönüllüyüm. Boyunduruğuma girin ve benden öğrenin, böylece canlarınız huzur bulur. Boyunduruğum kolay taşınır, vereceğım yük de hafiftir.
Let's look at today's words:
  • boyun -- neck
  • boyunduruğum -- yoke, bondage
  • huzur -- peace of mind, comfort
  • yük -- burden, load, cargo
  • kolay -- easy
  • hafif -- light
Some deaf tourists were visiting an art museum. They became excited while viewing Salvador Dali's surrealistic The Sacrament of the Last Supper. To those with eyes to see, the Savior says (in sign language) "Come unto me."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hospitality (Mat. 10)

Gary North once wrote that rich people tend to be as heavily in debt as poor people. They live in bigger houses, with bigger mortgages. They drive fancier cars that take longer to finance. The expense of "keeping up appearances" may leave little true discretionary income.

So, what's the difference? Well, a rich guy has a lot farther to fall if he suffers financial setbacks. On his way down, he usually leaves his friends behind. By contrast, true generosity is often found among the poor. People who live close to the edge are, perhaps, more likely to extend a helping hand to others who topple over the edge. After all, they might need a hand themselves another day.

Cultures held in disdain by elites often have a ethic of hospitality. R. J. Rushdoony, a Presbyterian scholar who served for a decade as a missionary to western Native American tribes, wrote of how a man could journey among these tribal people for weeks. Food and lodging graciously offered, no questions asked. A Turkish friend explained a custom among the rural people in his nation. You could knock on a total stranger's door, tell him that "Allah wishes to be your guest today," and get a meal and a place to sleep. No questions asked, no pay requested.

When Jesus sent out his twelve disciples to preach throughout Israel, they relied upon this same ethos of hospitality:
Onun evine gireken, evdekilere esenlik dileyin. Eğer o evdekiler buna layıksa, dilediğiniz esenlik üzerinde kalsın ...
Now, a few words for the day:
  • layıksa-- worthy
  • esenlik -- peace
  • dilek -- wish, desire, requrest (noun)
  • dilemek -- wish, desire, requrest (verb)
  • dilek dilemek -- to make a wish
One of the most successful communes in America manufactures recreational vehicles. They've been in business for decades, now. One of their ambitions is to provide safe and affordable housing for traveling evangelists. The bringer of the message can pull into the marketplace, step out of his air-conditioned bubble of portable America, bequeath enlightenment to the benighted heathen, then ride off into the sunset.

Do you all see the problem with this?

Jesus charged His disciples to tap into pre-existing networks of credibility. When you show up to announce the King's reign, offer free samples of the Kingdom's wealth. Heal a few sick people. Cleanse lepers. Raise the dead. Announce that the King reigns, and has wonderful things in mind for His loyal subjects. Then, make inquiries to find a "man of peace," a worthy host. Pronounce a blessing upon his household. Stay with that family for the duration of your time in the city. Mesh with real life.

When we preach the gospel, we invite people into eternal fellowship with the Eternal God. A message transmitted over natural channels sounds more convincing, I suspect, then one that drops down from out of nowhere, without any context.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Construction -- Matt. 7:24-28

As a liberal arts degree holder, I've working my share of construction-related jobs. The starting point was always the foundation. As one wise mentor explained, "A mistake in the foundation will chase you all the way to the chimney top!" When you are forming up a rectangular foundation, use a long tape-measure to make sure that the diagonal corners are identical. Then you'll know that the corners are square.

Later, I was the man with the white hard-hat, clean hands, and clipboard who wandered around job sites watching other people work. I took notes of what went on. When one contractor poured inadequate concrete into a bridge, my notes documented the fact, and a painful penalty clause kicked in.

Jesus worked construction, I believe. He knew about sawdust and planks. Consider, for example, this parable:
«İşte bu sözlerimi duyup uygulayan herkes, evini kaya üzerinde kuran akıllı adama benzer. Yağmur yağmış, seller yükselmiş, yeller esmiş ve eve saldırmış; ama ev yıkılmamış. Çünkü kaya üzerine kurulmuştu.
Bu sözlerimi duyup da uygulamayan herkes, evini kum üzerinde kuran budala adama benzer. Yağmur yağmış, seller yükselmiş, yeller esmiş ve eve yüklenmiş. Ve ev çökmüş; çöküşü de korkunç olmuş.»
İsa konuşmasını bitirince, halk O'nun öğretişine şaşıp kaldı. Çünkü onlara kendi din bilginleri gibi değil, yetkili biri gibi ders veriyordu.
And, a few words for today:
  • sel -- flood
  • yel -- wind
  • uygulamak -- to apply
When I pray, I like to use a deck of 3 by 5 index cards. Each has a word, or a brief phrase, indicating a matter where I want to invoke God's favor. The top card, therefore the first and last thing I pray for, is Wisdom. Since we tend to get what we pray for, it's pretty important to pray for the right things! I am also painfully aware of the foolishness in my own life, the areas wherein I lack awareness.

This morning, however, a disturbing thought occurred: is it wise to pray for more wisdom, unless one is busy applying the wisdom he already has? Brilliant people rarely achieve leadership positions in corporate environments. They have their brilliant insights, and stop there to gloat. In real life, however, it's the doers who make progress.

May a merciful God have mercy upon us, and not leave us stranded inside our own ineptitude!

Friday, January 16, 2009

What, me worry?

Children of the sixties remember Mad Magazine, its trademark character Alfred E. Neumann, and his trademark catch-phrase, "What, me worry?" A similar message from the ultimate sane man is really helpful in today's uncertain economic climate:
Gökte uçan kuşlara bakın! Ne eker, ne biler, ne de ambarlarda yiyecek biriktirirler. Göksel Babanız yine de onları doyurur. Siz onlardan çok daha değerli değil misiniz?
And, a few words:
  • bakın -- Look at! Behold! Consider!
  • kuş -- bird
  • çok daha -- very much more
  • değerli -- precious, costly, valuable
  • doymak -- to be full up, to be satisfied
İsa spoke of a God whose awareness and compassion extended even to the birds of the air. A God who lavished elegance upon the ephemeral lilies of the field. And are we not far more valuable to the One who takes note of every sparrow that falls?
Siz önce O'nun egemelıiğinin ve O'ndki doğruluğun ardınadan gidin, o zaman size tüm bunlar da verilecektir.
The exuberant goodness of the Creator should be reason enough for us to spurn our own pettiness, and "live large," in the light of His expansive generosity. "Every day above ground is a bonus," and as long as we are "on the clean side of the dirt," we have reason for gratitude.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Nazar değmek, nazar boncuğu

Envy is a sin against the 10th commandment. Otto Scott wrote that envy is as destructive to a society as a major earthquake is to a city. In tribal parts of Africa, where envy reigns supreme, the people live in identical round huts. If a man's crops are thriving, he'll sneak out at night and spoil his own harvest, lest envious neighbors accuse him of, and lynch him for, witchcraft. After all, if a man prospers, it can only be because he made someone else suffer.[1] In the west, capitalism began churning out wealth on an unprecedented scale only after a millennium of sermons preached against the sin of envy. As the Westminster shorter catechism explains in quaint, but perceptive and elegant language:

Q. 80. What is required in the tenth commandment?
A. The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition,[169] with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.[170]

Q. 81. What is forbidden in the tenth commandment?
A. The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate,[171] envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.[172]

In Turkish folk tradition, the fear of envy appears as an anxiety about "the evil eye." The expression nazar değmek means to suffer from the evil eye, and the nazar boncuğu is a lovely glass blue and white bead that protects one from the evil eye.

Well, Jesus, peygamber İsa, also warns us to watch out for the evil eye. However, in the creative way in which this matchless teacher stood accepted notions on their head, Jesus warned us to watch out for our own evil eye!
Bedenin ışığı gözdür. Görünüz sağlamsa, tüm bedeniniz aydınlık. Görünüz bozuksa, tüm bedeniniz karanlık olur. Bura göre, içinizdeki "ışık" karanlıksaü ne korkunçtur o karanlık.
And we have some wonderful words to contemplate today.
  • beden -- body. bedeniniz -- your body.
  • Gör -- eye. Görünüz -- your eye.
  • ışık-- light
  • sağlamsa -- if healthy, whole, wholesome ...
  • aydınlık -- shining, filled with light.
  • karanlık -- is dark
  • korkunçtur -- how dreadful, terrible is ...
When you offer your friend that lovely Turkish greeting Gün aydın, you are wishing him or her a bright and shining day.

Apparently Jesus is telling us that the focus of our lives determines the quality of our lives. I worry about my culture, since its corporate dreams seem so obsessed with death and decay. Consider the most popular shows on TV -- CSI, NCIS, etc. Other societies on the verge of collapse had similar obsessions. And, as much as I enjoy that kind of television (only for the scientific part, of course!), I sometimes wonder how wise it is to invite so much darkness into my thought life!

Still, darkness recognized as such is relatively harmless compared to darkness embraced as the light. Ideology, Russian novelist Soltsenitsyn wrote, is that 20th century invention that made it possible for men to do -- routinely, dispassionately, and on an industrial scale -- the kinds of atrocities that previous generations could only commit in the heat of battle. C. S. Lewis warned us against the ultimate tyrant -- the one who wants to do us good, in his own terms. A regular dicatator has to sleep sometimes, and can get bored with tormenting you. The do-gooder, by contrast, has a self-image that is predicated upon his redemptive role.

May God have mercy upon us, and permit us to see things clearly.


[1] These parts of the world are kept poor by envy and the fear of envy. During good times, these folks barely subsist. During bad times, they starve. Zimbabwe used to be "the breadbasket of Africa." Then, a significant part of the population indulged in an orgy of unrestrained envy -- and now face starvation on a massive scale. They got what they wanted, and are now reaping the wild oats they sowed. But they can comfort themselves, as they bury their children, with the cheerful thought, "Hey, at least I got to stick it to The Man!"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Another inaugural address

Gospel writer Matthew presents much of our Lord's preaching in the form of one long message, towards the beginning of his biography. You might call it the King's "inaugural address," as He commences His public ministry. Every king makes promises. So, too, did İsa:
Ne mutlu ruhta yoksul olanlara! Göklerin Egemenliği onlarındır.
Ne mutlu yaslı onlanlara! Onlar teselli edilecekler.
Ne mutlu yumuşak huyla onlanlara. Onlar yeryüzünü miras alacaklar.
Ne mutlu doğruluğa acıkıp ve susayanlara! Onlar doyurulacaklar.
And a few words:
  • Ne mutlu -- how blessed!
  • Göklerin Egemenlik -- Kingdom of Heaven. You may recognize the word borrowed from the Greek, "hegemon."
  • doğruluk -- righteousness
The Muslims I number among my friends earnestly yearn to live right with God. They "hunger and thirst" after righteousness. The vile Hollywood myth (that faith and family do not matter) profoundly disturbs much of the world. The desire to live by transcendent, eternal values gives people of faith an edge over people who believe in nothing. The future looks problematic for post-Christian secular Europe. They imported Muslim laborers to replace the children they were too selfish to have, and are now trying to figure out how to deal with a virile and culture in their midst that has no desire to assimilate into the culture of godless hedonism.

In 1992, an English teacher and I conversed at length while enjoying a city-sponsored cruise on the glorious Dnieper river. She had grown up believing that Ukrainians and Russians were Slavic brothers working together to build an ideal civilization. Then, the wall came down, and the archives opened. Her entire frame of reference was discredited. She hoped her 14 year old son would believe in God, though, and was glad that we had come from America to talk to her people about God. She was not yet ready to believe, however, and I have often prayed for her since. William Conrad's novel Victory deals with a man who seeks refuge from the world in stoic unbelief, and finds that option totally futile.

As a Christian, I grieve for my friends who yearn for righteousness, but are "barking up the wrong tree."[1] As a person of faith, however, I believe that God can and does make Himself known to those who seek.


[1] American metaphor derived from coon hunts. The prey eventually is "treed," and the hounds surround the tree barking madly. Unless, of course, they are "barking up the wrong tree."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Decrepit trees (Matt. 3:10)

Under American tax laws, you can depreciate trees -- if you are an orchardist. It takes several years for a young apple tree to start bearing fruit. If properly tended, it can continue to do so for decades. Eventually, though, the tree's productivity tapers off, and it's time to yank it out, by the roots, and bring out the chainsaw. Seasoned apple wood is dense, burns hot, and makes excellent firewood.

Some trees are consigned to the flames sooner than others.

One verse from today's reading impressed itself upon my awareness this morning:
Balta şimdiden ağaçların köküne dayamıştır. İyi meyve vermeyen her ağaç kesilip ateşe atılacak.
And, here's a few words for today:
  • balta -- ax
  • ağaç -- tree
  • kök -- root
  • meyve -- fruit
  • ateşe -- fire
Martin Luther, the monk who catalyzed the Protestant Reformation, once pointed out how plants normally bear fruit for the benefit of other creatures. "Only Satan, and men controlled by Satan, bear fruit for themselves," he wrote. Productivity appears to be hard-wired into the structure of the universe. We exist to achieve purposes larger than ourselves. To benefit those around us, starting with those closest to us. People who achieve high levels of productivity in demanding vocations also tend to have long lives. Pablo Casals and Pablo Picasso were both working, as cellist and as artist, well into their nineties.

On the other hand, I'm sure we all know people of remarkable potential, who just sort of fizzled on the launch pad, and never really soared[1] into achieving the things they could have done. Dear friends, charming people, and derelicts. Often, these are the people who die early.

Retirees often experience health problems. While they were working, engaged with life, making things happen, they tended to outrun illness. The very act of generating output maintained their health. The vigorous older people we know are those who still have things to do.

May God grant us the grace to stay in the race all the days of our lives.


[1] When Jewish people "assimilate," and walk away from their faith and heritage, they frequently change their names. One such, a Nazi collaborator who today destabilizes nations, adopted a verb for a surname. An Esperanto verb, the future tense of "to soar." You may have heard of George Soros.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Someone else has been with her ... (Matt. 1)

In Shakespeare's day, after a performance of the play Richard II, the lead actor scrubbed off his makeup and hurried on over to the home of an available young woman. As he pounded on the door, an upstairs window opened. The playwright looked down and said, "William the Conqueror came before Richard II!"

A guy I know was once infatuated with a young lady of suspect virtue. Then, one memorable night, he learned that this lady had, shall we say, "a history." Including with the guy he was rooming with.

It can be stunning to learn that things are not symmetrical with the object of one's chaste and all-consuming desire. To learn that she may be your first, but you are number 1 ... n in her list!

Imagine the cauldron of emotional upheaval that buffeted Yusuf when Meryem came home after a visit with her cousin Elizabeth -- and was six months pregnant. Matt. 1:19 describes the man's true nobility:
Meryem'in nişanlısı Yusu, doğru bir adam olduğu ve onu herkesin önünde utandırmak istemediği için ondan gizlice ayrılmak niyetindeydi.
A few words to revıew:
  • nişanlısı -- betrothed
  • doğru -- righteous. straight. true.
  • herkesin -- everybody
  • utandırmak -- to put to shame
  • gizlice -- secretly
Yusuf would have been well within his rights to have denounced Meryem as a loose woman. There's a cynical old American saying, "The first baby can come any time; the rest all take nine months." Even in first-century Palestine, people could count to nine. Yusuf knew that marrying Meryem would expose him to a life time of humiliation, of people quietly chuckling and nudging each other as he walked past them. In addition to this was the stunning, horrifying certainty that ladies do not get pregnant on their own; obviously, at least one other person had been with her. Still, he was willing to engage in a sham marriage, and a discrete divorce, in order to shield the baby from the stigma of bastardy, and Meryem from the strictures of justice.

It was after Yusuf decided to do the kind thing that supernatural encouragement came his way. His sterling character shines forth, however, since he made the decision to subordinate his own reputation, and his own outraged feelings, to the welfare of Meryem and the babe she carried.

(For the record, Christians do not believe that God had carnal relations with Meryem. Like Muslims, we believe that Jesus was conceived by a miracle, and Meryem's virginity was not impaired.)

Friday, January 9, 2009

The heavenly city

Ezekiel ends with a river gushing forth from the threshold of the temple, going forth to water the land, and getting deeper as it goes. Johns' revelation, too, ends with a river, clear as crystal, of the water of life. It proceeds from Heaven's Throneroom, and goes forth to bring life to the City of God. Both banks have trees, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. Twelve kinds of trees, simultaneously and continuously blooming and bearing fruit. As my beloved mentor R. J. Rushdoony explained, creative people prove in their experience that -- the closer they get to their muse, the more prolific and productive they become. Potential, as a wag once said, means "not any good, yet." As we "stir up" the gift within us, as we act upon our calling, equipping, and destiny, we enjoy seasons of great achievement.

The Heavenly Jerusalem, as we have seen, is God's mobile home on earth, the people among whom He lives and moves, speaks and acts. His Spirit pours forth from His throne, permeates the city, and incidently makes things right for the nations of the world.

Let's look at one more time passage. The angel is leaving John with some parting words, about the words he's just been entrusted with:
Sonra bana dedi ki, "Bu kitabın peygamberlik sözlerini mühürleme. Çünkü beklenen zaman yakındır.
And now, a few words:
  • mühürlemek -- to seal up. In this case, the verb is in the negative imperative -- "Hey, YOU. Do NOT seal this up."
  • beklemek -- to wait for
  • zaman -- the time
  • yakındır -- is near
This command is in stark contrast to the command Daniel received at the end of his prophetic career. The aged prophet Daniel, who'd served as vizier for four successive emperors, was curious about how things would turn out. He was told that it was none of his business. The book was "sealed," inexplicable until the appointed time. Daniel was told to live out his life patiently, and look for the resurrection, when his questions would finally be answered.[1]

Daniel's message was "sealed," until the time of our Lord Jesus Christ, who made things explicit. John's message, on the other hand, was not sealed. The time was near, and his Revelation was meant to be understood by, and to benefit, the people he was writing to at that time. There is, alas, in American folk Protestant culture, a diseased notion afloat that John was actually writing to us, rather than to those whom he said he was addressing! Talk about vanity!

Still, it is edifying to read of God's mercies lavished, and promises kept, and prophecies fulfilled, in the past. Since He is "the same, yesterday, today, and forever," we, too, can receive strength for our trials, and expect a victorious conclusion to our life's quest.


[1] My favorite G. K. Chesterton short story, found in The Club of Queer Trades, tells of a Major Brown who accidently blundered into the middle of someone else's story. Major Brown's task, at the end of the story, was to let mysteries alone, and wait til the next life for the answers. Some questions, such as how things turned out for old romantic interests, are best left alone.

Coming down from heaven

The grand story, with all of its cartoon-like violent, vivid imagery, sound track and drama, is beginning to wind down. Like Ezekiel, the prophet John describes God's dwelling place with humanity:
Sonra melek beni Ruh'n yönetiminde, büyük ve yüksek bir dağ götürdü. Oradan bana, gökten, Tanrı'nın yanından ince O'nn görkemiyle ışıldayan kutsal kenti, Kudüs'u gösterdrdi. Kentin ışıltısı, çok değerli bir taşın, billur gibi parıldayan ışıltısına benzıyordu.
And now, a few words
  • billur -- crystal
  • parıldamak -- gleam, glitter, twinkle
  • ışıltı -- glitter, twinkle
The prophet describes a gleaming city descending from heaven, from the Divine Presence. I am reminded of John's description of the new birth in chapter 3 of his gospel, as the birth "from above." I am also reminded of the phrase that occurs several times in The Epic of Gilgamesh -- "When kingship was let down from heaven."

Somehow, a new reality, a new kingdom, a new order, shows up in the neighborhood. And the nations have reason to rejoice.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Great white throne -- final judgement

The Koran portrays the final judgment as a walk over a narrow bridge that arches across the flames of Hell. The Biblical vision is of a pure, gleaming throne, with a personal Judge reviewing the books.
Büyük bayız bir taht ve tahtın üzerinde oturanı gördüm. Yer ve gok O'nun önünden kaçtılır ve yok olup gittiler. Tahtın önünde duran büyük küçük, bütün ölüleri gördüm. Sonra bazı kitaplar aöıldı. Yaşam kitabı denen başka bir kitap daha açıldı. Ölüler, kitaplarda yazıl anlara bakılarak yaptıklarına göre yardılandı.
A few words:
  • büyük -- great, big
  • bayız -- white
  • taht -- throne
  • küçük-- small
  • kitap -- book
Chapter 20 is the one that has spawned all kinds of fanciful speculation. There is a classical word for apocalyptic hysteria, chiliaism. This comes from the Greek word for thousand. Chiliaism is an obsession with an imaginary future, and a lust to make pretty maps of it. The screen against which this imaginary future is projected is the "thousand year reign" mentioned in this chapter. What does it mean? When does it start? How long does it last? How does it end? Well, Hitler dreamed of a "thousand-year Reich." Byzantium lasted around a thousand years. The Hapsburg Catholic dynasty endured for nearly as long, in Europe.

In the Bible, though, it all depends on context. Frequently, "thousand" is a word-picture for "too many to count." If, as Psalm 50 says, God owns "the cattle on a thousand hills," then who owns the beasts on hills 1,001 to n? And Revelation is a book of word pictures. Traditionally, the Church has countenanced three different millenial theories. A wild card popped up 150 years ago, alas, and now bedazzles and dumbfounds many American Protestants. The contenders are:
  • Amillenialism -- we are in the millenium, the time when Jesus is ruling, in a spiritual sense, but evil will be giving us a run for our money all the way 'til the end.
  • Postmillennialism -- we are in the millenium, Jesus is ruling now, and the world will be gradually transformed as Christians are faithful in their works of service.
  • Premillennialism -- things will go from bad to worse, until the other team controls the entire field. At which point comes the end, followed by a literal thousand-year epoch of peace and plenty.
  • Dispensationalism -- we can know in detail the sequence of events that will happen after "the rapture," after we are removed from the scene, and those events have no relevence to us.
The point of this chapter, however, is brutally simple: all of us will face our Maker on the Last Day, and will give an account of what we have done with the lives we were given.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Are you invited?

In many of his parables, Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a party. A metaphor used frequently in the New Testament for the Church is -- the Bride of Christ. As a collective entity, we are bound in strong ties of covenantal affection to the One who died for us and redeemed us with His own blood. Another metaphor used for the connection between Christ and His people is -- as close as if He were the head, and we were the rest of the body.

The Gospel is an invitation to come to the party, come into fellowship with God and with His people, feast on His provision, rejoice in His presence. In this chapter, we see the invitation extended yet again:
Melek bana, "şunu yaz" dedi. "Ne mutlu Kuzu'nun döğün şölenine çağrılmış olanlara!" Ve şunu ekledi "Bunlar gerçek sözlerdir, Tanrı'nın sözleridir."
And, a few words for today:
  • mutlu -- blessed. Ne mutlu -- how blessed!
  • döğün -- wedding feast.
  • gerçek -- truth, truth, fact, actual.
Come on in! Check out the place settings -- your name may very well be on one! The universe rings and echoes with the joy of the occasion: men and God at table are sat down. Fellowship is restored and celebrated. It's great now, and the best is yet to come!

Monday, January 5, 2009

In one hour ...

One of Woody Allen's best movies, Crimes and Misdemeanors, shows how the central character, an optometrist, commits two murders: of his mistress, and of his conscience. Towards the end, as the honored professional man tells his story to a failed movie maker (played by Allen), he asks the nebbish: "Suppose you did something horrible, and nothing happened. What would that tell you?" The Allen character replies, "That my worst fears were realized."

John Calvin said that God judges some sins in this life, so that men will not impugn His justice. Some sins, however, go unpunished until the next life, since we do need to walk by faith and not by sight. The people of Israel had lived under the Sword of Damocles for nearly an entire generation. They knew of the doom Jesus had predicted ... but it had not happened yet. Therefore, he must have been just another false prophet, right? John, however, has a different message for them:
Çektiği ıstıraptan dehşete düşecekler, uzakta durup,
"Vay, vay, büyük kent, güçlu kent Babil!
Bir saat işinde cezanı buldun diyecekler."
Let's look at a few words:
  • ceza -- punishment
  • ıstırap -- pain, suffering
  • dehşet -- terror, horror, awe
Jersalem had become "the big city, the strong city, Babylon." Yet, "in one hour," in a very brief period of time, the bills came due.

"There was a young lady from Niger ..."

The limerick is a unique popular verse form in English. It follows the rhyme scheme of A A B B A. It's designed for humor, and many limericks are unfit for mixed, or decent, company.[1] The rhyme scheme need not be perfect: part of the human in the following limerick stems from the way Niger and Tiger look so much alike, but are pronounced so differently.
There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a Tiger.
They came back from a ride,
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the Tiger.
There's some grim wisdom lurking behind the laughter. Will the project you're committed to take you towards your goals? Or will it consume you?

In Bölüm 17, the prophet has a vision of a lady riding a fantastical beast. With imperial pomp, she gloats over the suffering of the "little people" who got in her way, and offers the nations a cup brimming with her own wickedness. A golden cup, mind you.[2] The prophet is astonished. What right does this emblem of all that is wrong have to ride so high? And the angel tells him,
Melek bana, "Neden şaştın?" diye sordu. "Kadının ve onu taşıyan yedı başlı, on boynuzlu canaverın sırrını ben sana açıklayayım."
And, a few words:
  • şaşmak-- to astonish
  • kadı -- woman
  • açıklamak -- to open up, to reveal
Israel was riding high. Acording to at least one scholar, Max I. Dimont, nearly one out of every seven households in Rome worshipped the God of Israel. Yet this was the same Israel that discarded God's King, and loudly, and proudly, asserted that they wanted no king but Caesar. This was the same Israel that imposed an economic boycott on Christians, and saw to it that those who named the name of Christ would never get anywhere, socially, politically, or vocationally. This was the Israel that told the nations to suck it up, grin and bear it, and rejoice to bear the yoke of Rome.

When Christians use force, and the threat of force, against their neighbors, the results can be "unanticipated consequences." Protestant Christians in New England were worried about the influx of Irish Catholics. So, they teamed up with a Unitarian, Horace Mann, to set up the "common schools." These "generic" schools would, they believed, wean the young ones away from allegiance to the Pope, and turn them into proper Americans. Yet when people of contrasting convictions attempt to work together, those who believe the most firmly are called upon to give ground to those who believe less, until finally the enterprise is captured by those with no faith at all.

Today, only a small percentage of Christian young people who attended public schools still embrace the faith of their parents.


[1] "Mixed company" means a gathering comprised of both genders.

[2] Jamie Buckingham was reminded of this passage when reading a novel by an American novelist. The prose was exquisite, but the story was defiling.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A sea of blood (Bölüm 16)

The plagues are falling. Prayers are being answered. And that is not always good news for everybody.
İkinci melek taşını denize boşaltı. Deniz, ölü kanına benzer bir kana dönüştü ve işindeki bütün canılar öldü.
Josephus, renegade Jewish warrior who went over to the Roman side in time to save his own hide, wrote several large history books, including first-hand reports of The Jewish War. The Sea (of Galilee) was, indeed, turned to blood. Literally, since it was covered with corpses.

Hello, again. Bölüm 15

Gökte büyük ve şaşılacak başka bir belirti gördüm. Bu, son yedi belayı taşıyan yedi melekti. Tanrı'nın öfkesi bu belalara son buluyordu.
John sees another great sign in the heavens, something else his readers need to get a grip on in order to make it safely through the events that were about to happen. Let's look at a few words:
  • gök -- heaven. Gökte -- in heaven.
  • son -- end. Final. Last.
  • son bulmak -- to find an end. to be complete.
Seven angels appear, holding seven phials or cups, which contained the seven plagues that would exhaust the wrath of God upon His earthly enemies. These plagues tended to symbolically echo the plagues Moses unleashed upon Egypt, as well as indicate what the Jewish nation had to look forward to. For example, hailstones of a talent's weight (about 40 kilograms). Roman catapults hurled limestone rocks about that size into rebellious Jerusalem. The people inside, in desperate blasphemy would shout, "Here comes the Son!" They recognized God's condign judgement when it fell upon them.

Take note, though, of who the agents of this wrath are. Folks we've met in chapters 2 and 3. The seven leaders of the seven churches.

We underestimate the power of corporate prayer, and the authority God has given us to bring rebellious nations to heel.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Epistemology question ...

Here's today's verse (14:3)
O yüzrk dört bin kişi, tahtın önünde, dört yaratığın ve ihtiyerların önünde yeni bir ezgi söylğyordu, yer yüzündex satın alınmış olan bu kişilerden başka kimse o ezgiyi oğrenemedi.
Let's look at a few words:
  • yüz -- hundred
  • rk -- fourty
  • dört -- four
  • bin -- thousand
  • yeni -- new. The fabled "new troops" of the Ottoman empire were the yeni çeri -- a term more familiar in its anglicized spelling of Janissary.
  • ezgi -- song
Twelve, of course, is the number of God's people taken as a whole. Twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles of Jesus, twelve "good men and true" sitting on a jury. Oh, yes. There is a reason why a jury has twelve members. They represent the godly community in the exercise of justice, in the Anglo-American common-law tradition.

Just to make sure the reader understands that this body represents all of God's people, John squares the number, to get 144, then multiplies it by a thousand for good measure.

God's people bear the mark of his ownership upon their foreheads. And they have a new song to sing, one that mystifies the outsiders. The Calvinist has a simple way of explaining this phenomenon. For reasons of His own, God makes some people His own -- and makes Himself known to his own. There are some scholars who argue that the elect and the reprobate actually have different epistemologies, different structures of knowledge. The elect struggle to apply the knowledge of God to every detail of their lives. The reprobate desperately struggle to blind themselves to the evidence right in front of their eyes every day. As C. S. Lewis observes in one of his Narnia stories, "if you try very hard to make yourself stupider than you are, you will very often succeed."

Yet, there has to be some underlying common hard-wiring that defines the human soul, so that people of different faiths, and no faith, can communicate with one another. Still, part of our walk with God just does not make sense to those who do not know God. In which case, we have recourse to prayer.