Archive for June, 2014

God Blessed America: Jefferson

Posted in God Blessed America, Old Testament, Psalms, Psalms 33

PSALM 33:12a
God Blessed America: Jefferson
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Psalm 33:12a Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.

Baptists heroically led the fight for religious liberty in the colonies, but were not its only champions. Lord Baltimore chartered “Mary-land” in 1632 as a haven for Catholics persecuted in England, and for nonconformist Protestants. Lord Berkeley and George Carteret granted religious freedom when they founded the colony of New Jersey in 1664.
No discussion of religious freedom in the USA is complete without mentioning the extraordinary efforts of William Penn. King Charles II owed the Penn family $80,000. Penn, hoping to establish a haven for the persecuted, asked the King to pay him with wilderness land in America.
In 1681 King Charles II gave William Penn the largest territory ever granted a British subject and named it Pennsylvania, Penn’s Woods, in honor of William’s father, Admiral Sir William Penn. Later William Penn the son received Delaware from the Duke of York.
Penn gave his life to what he called the “holy experiment”, granting absolute religious freedom, and proactively pursuing and recruiting immigrants. He invited the persecuted everywhere to come to his colony.
My family and I owe a personal debt to Penn. My Wilcox ancestors (through Grandma Hill) were on his ship on his last trip to Penn’s Woods. The bulk of our Wilcox’s remained Quakers for nearly two centuries.
When discussing non-Baptists who influenced religious freedom, Thomas Jefferson has to be mentioned. He was without doubt the Baptists’ unparalleled, most loved political figure. To them, he was a pantheon of one.
A persistent story about Jefferson involves the influence Baptists had on him in the years before the Revolution. Dolly Madison, late in life, supposedly confirmed that Baptists influenced Jefferson. She remembered him saying it was a Baptist church from which his views were gathered.
Familiar with a Baptist church near his home, he let its democracy influence his thinking of a pattern for the colonies. He allegedly said Baptist church government is the only form of pure democracy existing in the world. He concluded it would be the best plan of government for the colonies.
Andrew Tribble served as Pastor of the small Baptist church. It met monthly. Jefferson attended its meetings for several consecutive months, and had Tribble in his home to discuss Baptist philosophy of self-governing.
The Baptist/Jefferson love affair is complicated to unravel. Jefferson’s opponents accused him of being an atheist. He refuted these claims, and through it all, Baptists stayed true to him. They considered him their ideal statesman, though his religious views were diametrically opposed to theirs.
In my studying for these sermons on religious liberty, I encountered two extremely bizarre stories. One is that visitors can go to Roger Williams’ home and see the root of an apple tree that invaded his body and took on its shape. Macabre. The other story is about the Baptist Mammoth Cheese.
The ultimate tangible expression of appreciation from Baptists to Jefferson was shown in a weird gesture made by the Virginia Baptist religious-liberty-hero John Leland. Before Jefferson was elected President, Pastor John Leland had moved from Virginia to Cheshire, Massachusetts.
Leland had known Jefferson well in Virginia, and campaigned vigorously for him in Massachusetts. Leland, convinced he and other Baptists had helped Jefferson win the Presidency, decided a unique gesture of love and appreciation was needed. He had his church members bring all the milk their cows gave on a given day in order to make a mammoth cheese. No cow of a Federalist, Jefferson’s opponents, was allowed to offer milk, “lest it should leaven the whole lump with a distasteful savour.”
The townspeople made a special cheese press, sang a hymn over it, and put the ingredients in it. Leland said it was the largest cheese ever put to press in the New World or Old. It weighed 1235 pounds, was four feet wide, and fifteen inches thick. Since it was too heavy to be delivered on a wheeled vehicle, the townspeople hired a sleigh to bring it to President Jefferson during the winter. Leland himself made the 500-mile trip. The news media made him a national super star. His cheese was the talk of the country.
Jefferson cut off a piece of the cheese, thanked Leland and the people of Cheshire, and kept the cheese at the White House for two years, until it was replaced by the “mammoth loaf” presented to him by the US Navy.
Leland delivered the mammoth cheese on New Years Day 1802. On Sunday January 3 Jefferson attended church in the USA Capitol building and heard John Leland preach on the text, “A greater than Solomon is here.” I wonder; was the preacher thinking more about Jesus or about Jefferson?
Some speculate this uncanny incident is the basis of our expression “The big cheese”. But, as is the case in most idioms, accurately discovering its origens is hard to do because its roots are shrouded in foggy shadows.
Few peoples’ religious beliefs stir up a more raucous debate than Thomas Jefferson’s. He is usually said to have been a Deist, a person who believes God created the world, wound it up like a clock, and then left it alone. We know for sure Jefferson was not a Deist because he believed in miracles. He was convinced God did intervene in human affairs.
Jefferson adored the teachings of Jesus. He believed they were the best source of moral material in all of history. Jefferson felt Christian morals were absolutely essential to having a happy society. He would buy nice Bibles, and give them as presents to his children and grandchildren.
Jefferson called himself a Christian, but we have to be careful here. He defined the term very narrowly. He said he was a Christian in the sense of following Jesus’ “genuine precepts”. Jefferson believed the text of the New Testament had been corrupted and mistranslated, which had resulted in Jesus being reported to have said things he never said.
Concluding Jesus was not the Son of God, Jefferson rejected huge portions of the four Gospels. His “scissor and paste” Bible is on display at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
When seeking to accurately discern people’s religious beliefs, we must let them speak for themselves. The best, most succinct, understanding of his religious beliefs was clearly spelled out in a letter he wrote at Monticello in his older years (June 26, 1822) to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse.
In the letter, Jefferson was very candid. He said the true, reliable doctrines of Jesus were: 1) There is only one God; He is all perfect; 2) There is a future state of rewards and punishments; 3) To love God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion.
To make double sure he was clearly expressing his beliefs, Jefferson in the same letter absolutely rejected Calvinism, saying it wrongly taught: 1) There are three Gods; 2) Good works are nothing; 3) Faith is everything; 4) Reason in religion is unlawful; 5) God elected certain individuals to be saved, and certain others to be damned.
In this letter, Jefferson called himself a Unitarian, and wrote, “I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian.” I think this designation of himself as a Unitarian is, in modern parlance, the most accurate description of his religious beliefs.
In concise form, Jefferson believed there was no Trinity, salvation was by works not grace, human reasoning superseded any notion of divine revelation (thus the Bible was not trustworthy or authoritative), and only free will existed in determining people’s dealings with God.
Jefferson moved away from orthodoxy under the tutelage of a college professor at Williamsburg. Dr. William Small was a Scott who introduced the Enlightenment worldview to Jefferson. Its key insight was; reason, not revelation or unquestioned tradition or superstition, deserved first place in human thinking. With this premise accepted, his mind was closed to any argument favoring Holy Writ or the presence of the Divine in a person’s life.
Reason wants everything explained and rationalized. To live by faith requires accepting what lies beyond our ability to fully comprehend. Only by a divine miracle of conviction and conversion can this position be embraced.

Mothers, What You Do Matters

Posted in Old Testament, Proverbs, Proverbs 31

Proverbs 31:30
Mothers, What You Do Matters
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Proverbs 31:30 (Holman) Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting,
but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.

For this message I owe Bonnie Angelo’s book, “First Mothers”, which tells about the mothers of twentieth century Presidents. I want to thank Rod Williams, who read the book, and marked every religious reference in it.
The first First Mother, Mary Ball Washington, retired each evening with a religious book. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, she had a favorite “meditation rock”, which was said to be her favorite retreat for reading and prayer. At her request, she was buried a few steps from Meditation Rock.
George Washington said of her, “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson one; let your children see you doing daily private time with God. Avoid ostentation but do set the example.
Abraham Lincoln grew up attending a Baptist church with his parents. In early political days, when asked his religious views, he said, “his parents were Baptists, and brought him up in the belief of the Baptist religion”.
His birth-mom Nancy was a brilliant woman, a fervent, emotional worshiper and an avid Bible reader. Nancy regularly read the Bible to Abe and used it to teach him to read and spell. Her influence stayed with Abe his whole life. Lincoln said, before he learned to read he would hear his mother quoting Bible verses repeatedly through the day as she worked at home. He said when he later read these verses, he could hear her voice speaking them.
Nancy died at age 36. In her dying words, she told her children to be good and kind to their father, and to one another, and to love, reverence, and worship God. Abe, at age 9, helped his father make her coffin, and then tracked down a traveling preacher to say words over his mother’s grave.
Lincoln said of her, “I had a good Christian mother, and her prayers have followed me thus far through life”. Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson two; let your children hear you pray for them individually by name.
After step-mom Sarah arrived, the Lincoln’s helped build a Baptist church house in Indiana. Abe served there as a church sexton. Sarah believed God is kindhearted to all. As Abe’s birth-mom Nancy had done, Sarah continued to teach Abe the ways of gentleness and kindness.
She appreciated him, and said, “Abe never spoke a cross word to me in his life since we lived together”. She also said he never refused to do anything she asked, and he was kind to everybody and every thing.
As President-elect, before leaving Springfield for Washington, he went to Charleston, Illinois, to visit 72-year-old Sarah Lincoln. When she expressed fear for his safety, Abe said, “No, Mama, trust in the Lord and all will be well.” Sadly, her premonition proved true. When told Abe had been assassinated, she said, “I knowed they’d kill him. I been awaiting for it.”
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson three; teach your children to be kind and gentle. Kindness, a learnable behavior, is Christianity in action.
Before Harry Truman was five years old, his mother Martha had used her large-print Bible to teach him how to read. He said by the time he was thirteen years old, he had read this “old Bible three times through”.
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson four; teach your children to love the Bible. You will not be around forever to coach your children spiritually, nor will they probably stay in the same church always. The Bible can for a lifetime be the ever-present, tangible reminder and initiator of faith.
Ida Eisenhower had her sons read the Bible at the dining table. If one of them made a mistake while reading, he had to pass the Bible to the next brother. A church once awarded her a citation for memorizing 1,365 Bible verses. About this time, she gave Dwight a watch for reading all the Bible.
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson five; redeem meal times. Turn them into mini-worship-services. Let them be built-in reminders of God.
Lyndon Johnson’s mother, Rebekah, was proud of her family’s history, which included a long line of Baptist preachers. Her grandfather served as editor of Texas’ first Baptist newspaper. He also served as president of Baylor, which he successfully steered through the upheaval of the Civil War.
When she wrote letters to her son, she wrote on the back of the envelope the word “Mizpah”, a Bible word (Genesis 31:49) that came to connote an emotional bond between two people separated from each other.
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson six; pass on the heritage of righteousness. Tell them stories of faith from their own family’s past. I was told the stories. I was a teenager before I realized a member of my family could be an unbeliever. I thought spirituality and holiness were in our DNA.
Richard Nixon took both oaths of office with his hand on two Bibles, not one. His mother’s Bibles had been passed down for generations. One memento he kept for himself. At his first inaugural, his mother wrote him a note. “To Richard–You have gone far and we are proud of you always–I know that you will keep your relationship with your Maker as it should be, for after all, that, as you must know, is the most important thing in this life.”
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson seven; Teach your children that relationship, not rules, is the most important part of serving God. Many reach a certain level of behavior, think they have arrived, and see no reason to go higher in the spiritual realm. This is a prescription for Christian failure.
For the Ford family, churchgoing was a regular Sunday routine. All four boys, scrubbed and slicked, sat in a pew near the front. Later, when it seemed Lieutenant Gerald Ford’s life would be lost in a typhoon at sea, he clung to a narrow catwalk, reciting his mom’s favorite Bible verse, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson eight; take your children to church. In church I heard the message that led me to surrender to God’s will for my life. Grady Etheridge preached John 3:16, and I was forever changed.
Nelle Reagan, who served as her church’s drama director, coached her son Ronald on his lines for the little morality plays she put on at church, and helped him master his leading roles in high school productions. This was an appropriate foreshadowing for a youngster that later became a famous actor.
Nelle also weekly visited the local county jail. She took the inmates treats, and taught a Bible lesson. Ronald’s wife Nancy said her mother-in-law’s deep faith had a profound influence on Ronald’s life, “Nelle was a deeply religious person, and that rubbed off on Ronnie his whole life.”
Nelle’s church was central to her life. She was the president of the Missionary Society, taught Sunday School, and every Sunday she and her sons, in knee pants and long black socks, sat side by side near the front.
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson nine; let your children see you doing God’s work. Show them how to worship, minister, and be on mission.
George Bush, asked how his mom Dorothy became Matriarch of a wonderful family, said, “Mother would always see the good in people. She was a devout Christian and her life was guided by the teachings of Christ.” She read the Bible aloud at meals, and applied lessons to the family’s lives.
Mr. Bush was shot down in WW 2 on a bombing mission, but was miraculously rescued by an American submarine. He later said, “I had faced death, and God had spared me.” He said one of the lessons his mother taught him was “the most important fixed star of all: God exists today and forever.”
He once wrote in his diary he was thinking one day about his mother’s wise words, “Do your best, try your hardest; be kind; share; go to church”.
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson ten; teach your children God exists and can be trusted. On our way to seminary, Ruth and I stopped to see Grandpa Marshall. He leaned on my 1972 Ford Maverick and said with deep conviction, “Son, I believe God exists as much as I believe you and I are standing here.” I knew he meant it, and expected me to believe it too.