Top Ten Classic Paintings

I may want to change this list tomorrow, but for today, here are the ten greatest paintings of all time, in my humble opinion.

  1. Samson (and Delilah), 1887, by Solomon Joseph Solomon (English, 1860-1927), oil on canvas, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. See Judges 16. Samson is under intense assault by Philistines as the delighted, vindictive Delilah taunts him with his severed hair in her hand.
  2. Evening, 1888, by Charles Sprague Pearce (American, 1851 – 1914), born in Boston and studied in Paris.
  3. The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan of Turkey, 1880–1891, by Ilya Repin (1844-1930), late-19th century Russian painter, teacher at St Petersburg Academy. Oil on canvas, 140.9 × 79.9 in, State Russian Museum, St.Petersburg. Under the demand for their submission from a sultan, these proud Cossacks are collaborating on a mocking reply, which they know they may incur the wrath of the Sultan.
  4. Daniel in the Lion’s Den, 1896, by Henry Ossawa Tanner (American, 1859-1937). Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Tanner once wrote: “My effort has been not only to put the Biblical incident in the original setting… but at the same time give the human touch which makes the whole world kin, [and] to convey to my public the reverence and elevation these subjects impart to me.” The son of a minister, Tanner allegedly told his father, “you preach from the pulpit and I will preach with my brush.”
  5. Evening Bells, by Isaac Levitan (1860-1900), One of the greatest landscape painters among the progressive group of 19th century Russian Itinerants (Wanderers), noted for his mastery of light and colour.
  6. King Lear; Cordelia’s Farwell (1898), by Edwin Austin Abbey (American, 1852 – 1911), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
  7. Lamentation Over the Death of the First Born of Egypt, 1877. Charles Sprague Pearce (American, 1851-1914). National Museum of American Art, Washington DC. A critic described this work as “a picture one will not forget.” I saw it over twenty years ago and I still remember the museum, the room, the painting and how deeply it moved me.
  8. Secluded Monastery(1890), by Isaac Levitan (1860-1900), One of the greatest landscape painters among the progressive group of 19th century Russian Itinerants (Wanderers), noted for his mastery of light and colour. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
  9. Bargemen on the Volga (1870-73) by Ilya Repin (1844-1930), State Russian Museum, St.Petersburg. oil on canvas, 51.8 X 110.6 in.
  10. The Angelus (1859), by Jean-Francois Millet (1814-75), devout French realist painter of peasants at work, key member of Barbizon School. Musee d’Orsay.


    Photo Credits:

    Samson (and Delilah)


    The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan of Turkey

    Daniel in the Lion’s Den

    Evening Bells

    King Lear; Cordelia’s Farwell

    Isaac Levitan

    Bargemen on the Volga

    The Angelus

So Goes the Church

America is currently experiencing a decline in church attendance and health. Buildings are being sold, young people are bolting and biblical literacy is evaporating. With sincere concern, many are rearranging deck chairs as the ship continues to sink. Some seek a more polished strategy to stem the decline but in many cases, it doesn’t. Others feel helpless and sing, “Nearer my God to Thee.”

Is the Church the Culprit?

In the face of tumultuous change, many churches turned inward and lived in the past. A spiritual “static cling” kept them in a comfy bed of nostalgic irrelevance and practical indifference. Time to wake up! Jesus did not establish His church to live in or for any one cultural era. Even if we successfully re-form churches on the surface just for a new “era” that will also someday be gone, we may pacify a few critics but we still won’t deserve to exist in Jesus’ name.

Another take is that we have been too graceless, rigid, inactive or self-absorbed, thus turning off insiders and outsiders. Perhaps, but those flaws also flourished in times when American churches were booming.

Some claim churches are dying because Christians aren’t (a figurative reference to Jesus’ demand for us to die to our sinful selves and live for him). When enough members forgo this “death,” congregations get brittle and break apart. Again, this is not new.

Perhaps our leaders have been too silent or intimidated in the face of moral chaos and theological upheaval. The fundamentals of biblical Christianity remain posted on many “what we believe” pages on church websites but we don’t let them out often or clearly enough in public. We fear being called “fundamentalists” along with many other loaded labels our culture pins on us.

Is Our Culture the Culprit?

When the gospel becomes less comprehensible or palatable to the popular culture, why do we rush to blame the church for her decline? American culture is becoming radically secular. Tolerance for biblical faith is fading. The gospel, rightly embraced and expressed, may itself be a reason for our decline. The truer we are to Jesus, the less we fit worldly paradigms and values. Our culture prefers do-it-yourself religion to biblical faith. People presume they can figure out good and evil for themselves. Yes, the serpent’s strategy first used on Eve still has legs.

Wanting to keep insiders and win outsiders, many churches soft-pedal the tougher elements of our faith and try harder to compete with the culture, or worse, conform to it. Like a ship at sea, we sink as we take in too much of the ocean. Feeling the competition, many churches positively teach their young how to feel like Christians but not how to understand Christianity. College professors easily tear such a feelings-based faith apart. And since Hollywood still out-performs most churches in manufacturing feelings, we lose many we once entertained. Young believers who meet the world woefully unarmed often become casualties.

Our popular culture largely considers the church as “primitive,” “narrow,” “irrelevant,” and “provincial.” The truth is, this culture will soon be all those things in the eyes of future generations. Meanwhile, if Jesus’ word is true, the church (even if numbers decline) will survive all the passing cultures and civilizations that critique her.

A Commitment Crisis

The culprit theories above have certain merits. Still, even our best efforts at blame leave us adrift as storms loom on the horizon. I think a hard look at the family in America brings us closer to the problem. Paul practically equated the church with marriage (Ephesians 5:32). Have you noticed that the decline of marriage and the nuclear family in America is simultaneous with the decline of our churches? The family and the church are both under attack for similar reasons and, apparently, with the same result—decline! Because family breakdown impacts the young most, it is the young, more than other age group, who are turning away from church. As the family goes, so goes the church.

“Oikos” is the New Testament Greek word for home, household or family, the basic unit of society in NT times. The early church derived much of its definition and shape from the oikos. To Paul, family function was directly related to church function. A husband serving as the Christ-like head in his oikos was, for Paul, a godly model for the relationship between Christ (the groom) and the church (His bride). Paul thus saw the oikos as a fair testing ground for discerning leadership qualities for elders and deacons in Jesus’ church. He asked, “If a man does not know how to manage his own [oikos], how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5). As care for the family crumbles, so does care for the church. Since we are God’s oikos (Hebrews 3:6), it stands to reason that family decline would be tied to church decline at the hip.

Personal relationships involving deep commitments are hard work. As our culture grows more impersonal and commitment gets less cool, respect for marriage falls. When relationships get difficult, it is popular bolt. Like families, no church is stronger than the relationships she maintains, first with God and also with each other and the community. Relationships matter! Meanwhile, secularism continues to erode morality, marriage and meaning inside and outside the church. In a highly secular era when families are disintegrating, why would we expect churches to grow? It is high time to fight like Christians for the nuclear family and for singles like me to join the good fight. But first, we must renew our baptismal commitment to die to ourselves, rise forever with Jesus and trust Him to love and protect His bride.


Photo Credits:

Featured Image

Family Breakdown

A Full 180

What sort of fruit grows on a tree of “the knowledge of good and evil?” What looked so irresistible to Eve that it made her disobey God? Was it an apple, a pear, a pomegranate or what?

Wrong question. The fruit (undoubtedly delicious) did not produce the sin. Something went wrong deep inside the hearts of Adam and Eve when they fell for the forbidden fruit. Eve tried to blame the serpent and Adam blamed Eve, but in fact, they had only themselves to blame.

It is easy to blame our sins on other people or things. We like to point to poverty, abusive parents or the seductive entertainment industry to justify our vices. Such excuses won’t fly with God. Beauty is not to blame for adultery. Money does not make us greedy. Poverty and pain occur to us all, but some face it with virtue while others blame it for their vice. The problem lies deeper than objects and circumstances.

Jesus knew where the problem was. He said, “A good man produces good out of the storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” (Luke 6:45).

Turning our circumstances around is not enough. Oh, it may provide a temporary fix, but it can’t create virtue or correct vice. Do-it-yourself religion won’t work either. A turn must take place in your heart and it must be a full 180. And to keep from turning back, you must keep a firm hold on God’s hand and trust His knowledge of good and evil over your own.

We Must Discriminate!

A shocking magazine cover on display in a public bookstore in Minnesota a few years ago featured a man with both arms raised and the middle finger of both hands raised higher. I approached the information desk and asked the manager, “Do you intend to keep this crass cover on public display?”

A clerk trying to impress his manager proudly replied, “Yes, we don’t discriminate! We have gay magazines, sex magazines and so on. If we took this one down, we would have to take them all down.”

His moral highway had no red or yellow lights.

I responded, “No you don’t. Your store can put up or take down any magazines you want.”

His face went blank. He was surprised to hear me affirm his moral freedom.

I continued, “You make decisions, don’t you? I honor your store’s freedom to put up or take down what you want. But if you didn’t discriminate, there would be no limit to the size of your magazine rack. I just want you to admit that you are freely deciding what to display or not, when and how. Everybody discriminates.”

The clerk was silent. He claimed to be obligated by some noble invisible standard of consistency that would force him to take down everything objectionable if he ever took down any one thing objectionable. It was a secular sort of legalism of which he was proud. He justified things raunchy, hateful, sadistic, evil and snide with the self-satisfying notion that it is noble not to discriminate.

The failure to discriminate is often nothing more than a refusal to think. Okay, maybe it’s more. It’s also a refusal to care. This delusion is what lies behind much of the nonsensical and angry art and entertainment that is so popular today. It also lurks behind the rise in moral despair and chaos in America which is crippling our education system, hurting our economy and tearing down the family.

When used as a tool of racial prejudice or a morally unjust purpose, discrimination is wrong and inexcusable. But if a driver cannot discriminate between red, yellow and green on the highway, he’s a menace. If a batter cannot discriminate between curves and fast balls, he will strike out. Basketball players must discriminate between their team and their opponents. If a husband will not discriminate in favor of his wife over a floozy, he will soon crash. If a culture cannot define marriage in distinct moral terms that respect children’s need for a mom and a dad in the home, it will dissolve into sexual chaos. Discrimination also helps in choosing a healthy spouse, church and career. You need it to decorate your home well or to create displays at bookstores. Most of all, discrimination is essential for sorting out right from wrong. Refuse to discriminate morally and you will soon become a useful public tool for blatant forces of evil, even beyond bookstores.

Politics or Principle?

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama said, “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian … it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.”

When he reversed this position for the 2012 campaign, no one asked if he still thought marriage was a “sacred union” or if God was still in the mix. Over 16 years, Obama went from supporting same-sex marriage, to being “undecided,” to opposing it, to “evolving” and finally to supporting it again. Maybe “sacred” means “flexible.”

In 1996, President Bill Clinton supported and signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. He recently explained why in a recent Washington Post op-ed:

  1. He said that 1996 “was a very different time.”
  2. He also believed that its passage “would diffuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.”

In other words, it was politics. Today, he is righteously indignant against the law he signed. He wants it overturned. He considers it discriminatory and thus immoral. Two years after signing DOMA, Clinton got into hot water for failing to discriminate against a young intern and in favor of the woman to whom he once vowed to be forever faithful.

If sexual identity constitutes a minority group and legal grounds for redefining marriage, then should bisexuals be able to marry both a male and a female simultaneously since his/her “orientation” is, directed toward both sexes? Such questions are rare today because our public discourse is driven more by politics than principle. Our leaders put politics over principle because this impresses those who elect them. Thus, we get flexible politicians who use poll-tested rhetorical gymnastics to keep us impressed. Everything, including “marriage,” gets redefined. Here’s a short list of examples:

    “Choice” : A non-offensive euphemism for exterminating babies.

    “Compassion” : Politicians turning America into a welfare state.

    “Crisis” : Political opportunity.

    “Cut”: An actual increase in spending but a decrease in hypothetical spending plans.

    “Deficit”: An excuse to print money out of the blue.

    “Love” : Having sex with someone you may or may not know. Some colleges offer courses that use “love” to describe incest and pedophilia.

    “Lottery” : Government making tons of money off of the poor.

    “Marriage” : Something we cannot define without being bigoted toward some sexual interest group somewhere whose votes are up for grabs.

    “Marriage equality” : The absence of a standard for marriage. When you apply a definitional standard, somebody somewhere loses their “equality”

    “Not one dime” : Phrase politicians use to deny the cost of expensive new government programs. This works well today.

    “Stimulus” : Euphemism for paying off political cronies.

    “Reality” : Posed and artificially manipulated entertainment.

    “Unemployed” : State of life in which you are not looking for work, usually half the number of people actually out of work.

    Why do we reward leaders and reporters who use words so flexibly? Easy; we too have placed politics above principle. Words get stretched beyond recognition because our morality has no roots deeper than what certain constituency groups want or what sounds good.


    Photo Credits:

    Barack Obama

    Bill Clinton