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Look to the Bible as our guide in the future

Look to the Bible as our guide in the future. That’s a partial quote from one of our previous presidents. Any guesses as to who it was? Do you think he was Christian? Here are a couple clues. For decades after his death … <he> … suffered a reputation as one of the nation’s worst presidents, consistently ranking in the bottom 10 in polls of historians.

<His> farewell message to Congress … shows he sensed that history might judge him harshly. “Mistakes have been made, as all can see and I admit,” he wrote. “But I leave comparisons to history, claiming only that I have acted in every instance from a conscientious desire to do what was right, constitutional, within the law, and for the very best interests of the whole people. Failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent.

Look to the Bible as our guide in the future

Without Googling the quotes, do you know who said:

“My advice to Sunday Schools, no matter their denomination, is:

Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet-anchor of your liberties; write its precepts in your heart and practice them in your lives.

To the influence of this book we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilization, and to this we must look as our guide in the future.”

It sounds good, doesn’t it?

I know, some of you disagree. Some think it’s horrible. Others are delighted.

But, let’s look at what those words probably meant to the person who said them.

After all, the quote is from a series of 16 quotes from different presidents on christianheadlines.com. And they said, Some of our leaders who did not have religious faith had read deeply in the Bible and had great respect for its teachings. They also saw religion as a force for good in the world and important for the stability of our republic.

Consider this president, who felt we should look to the Bible as our guide in the future. Was he Christian? Or was he more likely using Christianity for other purposes?

Who said we should look to the Bible as our guide in the future?

The President quoted above is President Ulysses S. Grant.

Was President Ulysses S. Grant Christian?

PBS did a special called God in the White House. They have every President from Washington to Obama. Here’s what they wrote about Grant.

Ulysses S. Grant was not a member of a church, nor was he baptized. He is often categorized as a Methodist, likely because his wife was a Methodist or because of an incident in which a Methodist minister allegedly sprinkled water on a sleeping Grant after he had taken ill and announced the baptism to the public. Grant himself had a negative experience with organized religion in his youth. While at West Point, he got into trouble for not attending religious services. He wrote to a cousin: “We are not only obliged to go to church, but must march there by companies. This is not republican.”

Wow. I guess Grant was not a Christian. In some circles, he is listed as Methodist. However, that description, his activities and words, do not appear to be from someone who is truly following Jesus. Just look at what Jesus said about following Him in the passage below.

Jesus Predicts His Death – Mark

8:31—9:1 pp — Mt 16:21-28; Lk 9:22-27

Mk 8:31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

Mk 8:33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Mk 8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mk 9:1 And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

There are two verses to examine closely.

If anyone is ashamed of Jesus …

38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.

Here’s the definition list from dictionary.com for the word ashamed.

  1. feeling shame; distressed or embarrassed by feelings of guilt, foolishness, or disgrace:
    • He felt ashamed for having spoken so cruelly.
  2. unwilling or restrained because of fear of shame, ridicule, or disapproval:
    • They were ashamed to show their work.

I would not be surprised to find some amount of shame in Grant’s refusal to adopt the Christian faith of his family. However, whether because of shame or something else, any attempt to label him as Christian feels misplaced.

You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.

Mk 8:31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

Mk 8:33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Grant very much rejected Jesus by these accounts. As such, when he said things like, Look to the Bible as our guide in the future, we must wonder why. Why does a person with such disdain for Christianity say we need to look to the Bible? How can it have Christian significance? Much more likely, it was about getting people to support him as President than it was about God.

Look to the Bible. What does “History” say about Grant?

Grant thought that what history said about him was more important than peoples’ immediate perceptions at the time. So, let’s look to “History”. That’s history.com, in an article titled, President Ulysses S. Grant: Known for Scandals, Overlooked for Achievements

This isn’t about doing a hit piece on Grant. So, let’s look at the overlooked achievements, rather than the scandals. Why? Because of something Paul wrote.

Doing the “right” thing for the “wrong” reason

The passage below is about doing what appears to be the right thing, but for the wrong reason. It’s a concept that’s maybe only truly understood by Christians. However, for us, it is – at least should be – of critical importance. Everything we do should be for the Glory of God. Let’s see how that looks below.

No Confidence in the Flesh

Phil 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.

Guess what? Paul’s writing is a safeguard for us today too.

Phil 3:2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

Even a dog-lover like me knows that watch out for those dogs isn’t a good thing. Calling someone a dog generally isn’t good, but here’s a look at what it meant when this was said.

88.122 κύωνb, κυνός, dat. pl. κυσί m: (a figurative extension of meaning of κύωνa ‘dog,’ 4.34) a particularly bad person, perhaps specifically one who ridicules what is holy—‘bad person, dog.’ βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας ‘beware of the dogs’ Php 3:2. It is also possible that κύων in Php 3:2 may be interpreted as meaning ‘pervert’ (see 88.282).

A term for ‘dog’ may have quite a different connotation than it does in English. For example, to call a person ‘a dog’ in some languages is to compliment him for his faithfulness, but in other languages it may be merely a way of attributing promiscuous sexual behavior.  [1]Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 755). United Bible Societies.

Paul can be really hard to understand, so here’s an analysis of what he just wrote.

3:1 safe: Paul is concerned that the Philippians do not fall into the trap set forth by those within the church who support heresy.

3:2 In New Testament times, dogs were hated scavengers. The term came to be used for all who had morally impure minds. evil workers: Since the term workers was occasionally used to identify those who propagated a religion, the words evil workers probably refers to teachers who are spreading destructive doctrines. mutilation: Paul here points sarcastically and specifically to those who desire to reinstate Jewish religious practices as necessary for salvation. He chooses a term that literally means “to cut.” By doing so, he suggests that these people do not even understand the truth about the Old Testament practice of circumcision but understand it merely as a cutting of the flesh.

3:3 Paul defines true circumcision as a matter of the heart and not of the flesh. He reveals three aspects of true circumcision: (1) worshiping God in the Spirit; (2) rejoicing in Christ; and (3) placing no confidence in any human honor or accomplishment as a means to reach God. The Old Testament also taught that circumcision was more than a ritual of the flesh (see Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16, 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Ezek. 44:7).

Paul just told the people in the young Philippian church to watch out for the Jews who wanted to include things from their Law that weren’t necessary as Christ-followers. Not only that, but Paul also said these particular Jews didn’t even understand the reasons behind circumcision for the Jewish people. Doing the “right” thing for the “wrong” reason. It wasn’t the right thing to do.

Then, in subsequent verses, 3:4–9 Paul speaks as though he had confidence in the flesh to show that the reason he did not rely on Jewish credentials was not that he did not possess them, but that they could not achieve the righteousness only God could provide.  [2]Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Php 3:4–9). T. Nelson Publishers.

Consider especially the underlined portion below.

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Phil 3:7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

This is doing the right thing for the wrong reason. Everything Paul did before was as a Pharisee. Now, everything he does is for Jesus. The two are so different that Paul considers everything he did before as “rubbish”. The actual Greek word is actually about excrement. Much worse than what we think of as rubbish. That’s how different the two are.

And here’s the key to the difference between doing things for God or not.

10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Eternal life with God, and everything that goes/comes with it, is critical to Christians. That’s just not the case for non-Christians. We’ll delve into that more as we examine some of Grant’s accomplishments as President.

What were some of Grant’s achievements as President?

Let’s go through some of his achievements, as recorded in the previously referenced history.com article on him.

Preserving the union after the civil war ended

Preserving the Union and preventing a second Civil War were high on Grant’s agenda, and that outcome was by no means assured when he took office. While not as accommodating to Southern interests as Andrew Johnson, Grant oversaw the readmission of the Confederate states into the Union and took a far less punitive approach to the defeated Confederacy than other presidents might have.

Consider the passage below.

Love for Enemies – Matthew

Mt 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

OK – all sorts of people can say they love their enemies. But, how many can say everything that goes with Jesus’ statement on love your enemy. Just look at this list.

  • love your enemy
  • pray for your enemy who persecutes you. And isn’t that what most enemies do to each other?
  • be obvious sons of God.
    • The god whose sun rises on the good and the evil
    • whose rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous
  • And if all that wasn’t impossible enough already, be perfect as God is perfect.

It is truly impossible for anyone who isn’t Christian to do these things. I can safely say this, because even Christians, with the power of God’s Holy Spirit, cannot do all those things in this life on this fallen earth,

Therefore, the reality is that Grant, who was not Christian, cannot show this kind of love to the people of the former confederacy.

Right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude

Sadly, what follows is still not in full practice today. nearly 150 years later. In fact, in my lifetime, the situation has gotten worse. Especially so over the last several years.

While the 13th amendment to the Constitution had granted freedom to the former slaves, and the 14th amendment had recognized them as citizens, roughly 4 million African Americans throughout the South still had little political power or representation when Grant took office. In his inaugural address and from that day forward, Grant pushed for a 15th amendment, which would guarantee federal and state voting rights to all male citizens regardless of “race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

This reminds me of what Luke recorded for loving our enemies. We do need to make one pretty major adjustment though. Here’s what I mean. Below is the Biblical meaning of the word we read as “enemy”/”enemies” in both Matthew’s and Luke’s recording of what Jesus said on the topic of loving our enemies.

ENEMY — one who opposes or mistreats another. Before Israel could serve as the channel of God’s grace to the world, its existence as a nation had to be securely established. The enemies of the Hebrew people were thus regarded as God’s enemies, and the reverse was also true (Ps. 139:20–22). In the New Testament, by contrast, the enemies to be overcome are primarily spiritual in nature.

While the Old Testament refers to charity toward one’s enemy (Ex. 23:4–5; Prov. 24:17), the New Testament goes further by commanding love for one’s enemy (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:20). The New Testament looks toward a day when all enemies of good and righteousness will be overcome because of the redemptive work of Christ (1 Cor. 15:25).  [3]Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds. (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Thomas Nelson, Inc.

What makes this especially meaningful is that the ones doing the mistreating in the U.S. are those who fought against freedom for the slaves. And, sadly, is the reality that even some black Republicans appear to have joined those white people who are still trying to prevent true freedom for people of any color. Even against people who, by all appearances, are white but come from the “wrong” countries. We are truly going backwards.

So let’s look at what Luke wrote in Love for Enemies.

Love for Enemies – Luke

6:29, 30 pp — Mt 5:39-42

Lk 6:27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Lk 6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Since the scenario is backwards, with the persecutor as the true enemy, the white supremacists persecuting black people in Grant’s time and people of all colors today, the words need to change a bit. Roles are different. So let’s see what it might look like if the intended recipient of the message is the white supremacists.

But I tell you who hear me: Love your perceived enemies, do good to those who you hate you,
bless those who you curse you, pray for those who you mistreat you.
If you want to strike someone strikes you on one cheek, ask for their forgiveness turn to him the other also.
If someone is cold give them takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic as well.
Give to everyone who asks you,
and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What do you think? Is it too hard to read with the strikethroughs? Here it is again, without them.

But I tell you who hear me: Love your perceived enemies, do good to those who you hate,
bless those who you curse, pray for those who you mistreat.
If you want to strike someone on one cheek, ask for their forgiveness.
If someone is cold give them your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic as well.
Give to everyone who asks you,
and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Doesn’t this seem more like a Christian approach to the problems stemming from the way people of color are treated?

It’s never happened here. It especially doesn’t happen here among those who are most politically and vocally Christians either. It’s a very sad state of affairs.

The federal government gets involved in crimes against people of color

Most dramatically, Grant used both federal troops and the newly established Justice Department to fight terrorism against Southern blacks, particularly by the Ku Klux Klan, which had grown into a large and formidable force in the years after the Civil War. “By 1872, under Grant’s leadership,” Chernow writes, “the Ku Klux Klan had been smashed in the South,” although another group of the same name would emerge in 1915.

Well, this is also a dismal failure, even today. Worse, if anything. Crimes against people of color go languishing in someone’s folder. But crimes against the crime fighters, the rich, and the powerful, they get national attention and frequently are quickly solved.

It still seems to fit under the category of perceived enemies, when the true persecutors are the ones who are claiming to protect the persecuted.

When Frederick Douglass praised Grant’s efforts on behalf of African Americans, he added that “the Indian is indebted [to Grant] for the humane policy adopted toward him.” By the time of Grant’s inauguration, wars between Native Americans, white settlers and the U.S. Army had been going on for decades, particularly in the expanding western U.S. Some prominent politicians and military leaders made no secret of their desire to rid the country of certain tribes by any means necessary. General William Tecumseh Sherman spoke favorably of exterminating the “men, women, children” of the Sioux, and Nevada Congressman Thomas Fitch, in a House floor debate, called for the “extinction” of Apaches.

In an address to Congress in 1869, Grant argued that “a system which looks to the extinction of a race is too horrible for a nation to adopt without entailing upon itself the wrath of all Christendom.” While his proposed solution—“placing all the Indians on large reservations, as rapidly as it can be done”—hardly seems enlightened today, he also insisted on “giving them absolute protection there.”

As a long-term goal, Grant favored extending full citizenship to Native Americans, an injustice that wouldn’t be addressed until 1924. “Grant saw absorption and assimilation as a benign, peaceful process, not one robbing Indians of their rightful culture,” Chernow writes. “Whatever its shortcomings, Grant’s approach seemed to signal a remarkable advance over the ruthless methods adopted by some earlier administrations.”

While it sounds like more of the same thing, notice this:

In an address to Congress in 1869, Grant argued that “a system which looks to the extinction of a race is too horrible for a nation to adopt without entailing upon itself the wrath of all Christendom.” While his proposed solution—“placing all the Indians on large reservations, as rapidly as it can be done”—hardly seems enlightened today, he also insisted on “giving them absolute protection there.”

What was done back then, and what is still being done today, should entail upon itself the wrath of all Christendom! And yet, it doesn’t.

If anything, it’s too many of the so-called religious right that keep the status quo alive.

Even if the perception of who’s the enemy happened to be correct, which it often isn’t, we haven’t and aren’t taking a Christian approach to the problems.

Conclusion – Look to the Bible as our guide in the future

Obviously, there’s some disagreement over whether Grant was Christian or not. Although, the “not” side is the more believable of the two, at least to me. Therefore, it’s fair to conclude that someone who says Grant was Christian and did things like this in Jesus’ name is doing a great disservice on many counts. Why? Well, there’s the right thing for the wrong reason that we’ve looked at.

An extension from there is leading people away from God. Again, why? Because of passages like the one below.

The Wise and Foolish Builders – Luke

6:47-49 pp — Mt 7:24-27

Lk 6:46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Do you see my point?

Someone heard that Grant was Christian. Therefore, they assume his actions follow his faith. Then, in his case, the southern Christians don’t like what Grant’s doing. They get upset because he’s working against their slave-owner mentality. They believe, incorrectly, that God’s on their side. And therefore they think God’s asking Grant – Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? They don’t realize Grant doesn’t call Jesus his Lord at all.

Others look at the same scenario, but with a different conclusion. These people focus on the southerners’ expectation, strong belief even, that God supports them in their quest to keep slavery going. Therefore these people get mad at God because they think God supports slavery.

In both cases, God gets an undeserved reputation. Yes, there was slavery during Biblical times. It was also very much a male-centric society. But Jesus, and even Paul, started a revolutionary process. They included women. Jesus commanded His followers to care for widows and orphans.

That’s a revolution that’s sadly still not complete. Further, as pointed out earlier, it’s often the Christian right, aligned with conservative Republicans, that keeps preventing this revolution from being successful.

Still, to this very day, God gets blamed for something that people do in His name, even though they don’t listen to Him at all.

And that’s bad enough here in this life. But it also prevents far too many people from being saved. From spending eternity with the God who created them and loves them. But who don’t love Him, because they have a false impression of God based on the actions of some who claim to be Christian, and yet don’t follow basic teachings of Christ.

So that leads to the question of which God do you believe in and follow?

The God of the Bible?

Or the God that you, or someone else, made up from distorted claims, actions, and beliefs of what God actually said about Himself in His Scripture?


Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay


References

References
1 Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 755). United Bible Societies.
2 Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Php 3:4–9). T. Nelson Publishers.
3 Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds. (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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