Archive for the ‘end times’ Category

Saying goodbye to a brother in arms

Until this year, Veterans Day had become a relatively mundane affair for me.  As a 24-year veteran of the US Army, I’ve had my share of “Thank you for your service,” free meals from a special menu at (name your restaurant), and 10% discounts “for one day only” at various stores.  However, after this year Veteran’s Day will never be the same, as it is henceforth the day I said goodbye to a brother in arms.

In 1981 my wife and I were assigned military quarters in a duplex on a hilltop overlooking Godman Army Airfield at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was a young captain serving in the Field Artillery. The couple living on the other side of the unit was approaching the end of their tour of duty at Fort Knox. It wasn’t long before they were gone and a new family moved in.  Although we were unaware at the time, God’s hand was moving in our lives by giving us these new neighbors.

Bill and Susan were a unique couple.  Susan was a former Army officer and a member of the last generation of the Women’s Army Corps—the women’s element of the US Army. The WAC, as it was called, was disbanded in 1978, and all units were integrated with male units. Bill, or “Flip” as he was better known to many of his friends, was a figure larger than life. He was a soldier’s soldier—what every professional soldier aspires to be.  Commissioned as an Infantry officer, Flip was highly decorated in Vietnam, winning a Silver Star for valor in action against the enemy, two Purple Hearts in recognition of his status as a twice-wounded soldier, the Legion of Merit, and two Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry. He also earned the Ranger tab and a coveted Combat Infantryman Badge, or C.I.B., in recognition as his service as an Infantryman in combat. When I met him, Flip was an officer in the Army’s Aviation Branch, a helicopter pilot flying Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters, better known as “the Huey.” I was in awe!

Despite my being 10+ years younger and of lesser rank, Flip never let that stand between us.  He quickly became both a friend and mentor. Most importantly, he was a man of God.  Flip had a deep faith that he was not shy about sharing with others. He and Susan introduced my wife Linda and me to the Anglican form of liturgical worship, which eventually led to us becoming Anglicans ourselves. What a wonderful gift!  Bill and Susan would later become the godparents of our two daughters and, in turn, their two children would become like daughters to us.

My friend Flip died on August 21, 2020. During this time of pandemic, we were fortunate to participate in his online memorial service on Veterans Day.  Like too many Vietnam veterans, late in life Flip suffered numerous ailments connected with his military service.  The brave men and women who served in Vietnam are quickly declining in numbers today—many have reached their 70’s and 80’s and there are even a few in their 90’s. They deserve our thanks and admiration, as well as the Veterans Administration’s medical support and other services that a grateful nation owes them.

For those who might have served as Army officers at Ft. Knox, KY in the early 1980’s, you’ll understand when I tell you that Flip and I often shared time together at the Fiddler’s Green.  But unlike forlorn cavalrymen in the poem by the same name, who are eternally destined to quench their thirst at an old-time canteen, the passing of my friend is no cause for sorrow or melancholy.  It’s a time for celebrating a life lived for God, family and country.  As with the passing of every Christian brother in arms whom I’ve bid a similar farewell, I rest assured knowing that I’ll see Flip again on that day when Christ restores all things on Earth to the original order that God intended. His departure leaves us with an emptiness which only Flip could fill, but we take comfort in assurance of the glorious reunion to come. Until that day, rest in peace brother!

In Memoriam

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) William John Filippini

August 26, 1944 – August 21, 2020

Fiddler’s Green

These trying times

King David stretches out his hands in prayerKing David stretches out his hands in prayer,  Hungarian Gradual 1500-20

 

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”  American patriot, poet, philosopher, and political activist Thomas Paine penned these words in December 1776, referring to the difficulties associated with America’s Revolutionary War.  Paine’s words couldn’t ring truer today. These are tough times. The global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused rapid, fundamental changes in the lives of Americans and millions of people around the world. The pandemic effects are cascading and could affect us for a generation.

Christians have special responsibilities during times like these.  My recommendations for all who profess Christ as their Savior are as follows:

Trust in God: Viruses are a natural part of this world. Remaining informed, preparing and not panicking are vital when facing contagion, just like we plan for natural disasters like hurricanes and blizzards. No matter how dire the situation might appear, the Lord remains our refuge and strength, “an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). When Christians put their trust in God, it bears witness to the power of Jesus Christ to all those around us.

Pray Without Ceasing: Be aware of God’s presence and have an ongoing conversation with Him throughout the day. Pray for the sick, those who are frightened, and those who are alone. Pray for public health officials, for doctors and nurses, researchers, caregivers, emergency management personnel and police. Pray for our elected leaders, especially those who will be making important decisions that will impact many lives. Pray for those who have lost their jobs and whose continued employment is at risk.  Pray for those who have lost their child care.  Pray for those who have had their school year disrupted.

A Prayer for Protection

Since you, O God, are with us,
nothing that has happened, nothing still to come,
can rob us of our hope in Christ.
Sustain us, we beg you,
during this time of uncertainty.
Bless all the emergency and medical personnel
who are caring for the sick and working to contain the outbreak.
Grant swift recovery to those who are affected
and comfort to their families and loved ones.
Encourage those who are afraid.
Bind us now, more than ever,
to you and to each other,
so that we may triumph
by the power of him who loves us,
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

Social Distancing, not Social Disconnection: Caring for the sick and dying is a fundamental calling of Christians. Early Christians were noted for caring for the sick and dying, sometime risking their lives. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Even if a pandemic prevents Christians from gathering as congregations to worship, they can still support one another in caregiving. This can be in the form of prayer, verbal encouragement in person or by phone, and coming alongside others to provide help. Each individual’s personal situation will dictate the level of risk he or she is willing to accept.

Be Informed, not Misinformed: Today we live in the Information Age.  Unlike previous times, where people may have suffered from a paucity of information, today people are bombarded by information from thousands of sources on a 24/7 basis. Many of these sources are not accurate or reliable. It is more important than ever to get your information from reliable sources.  Here are some good sources.   

 

Crises come and crises go.

When they’ll happen you never know!

But rest assured that God is there,

to keep you in his loving care.

This will pass!

Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? –Matthew 6:25–27

 

An Unshakeable Kingdom

Peace be Still by Arnold Friberg

“Peace, be still,” by Arnold Friberg

The tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have many Americans on edge, as they struggle to understand what is causing it all. Sadly, such tragedies have become common in our country. The public and government responses to these shootings are predictable: the left calls for stricter gun control laws, while the right emphasizes the Constitutional right to bear arms and attributes the shootings to mental health problems. Unfortunately, most Americans fail to recognize the root cause of the problem. Why is this?  Perhaps it’s because we live in a country where, for many, the idea of good and evil has become an archaic concept, something associated with ancient religious superstitions.   

The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council explained it like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in. 1 Peter 5:8 says, Satan “…prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Those lacking a solid spiritual foundation very easily become his prey. Yes, evil is real.

Chaos often breeds isolation, which for some people means empty lives nearly devoid of human contact. Isolated and confused, they might seek meaning in their lives through narcissism—an egoistic admiration of one’s self, which is a form of idolatry. Narcissism is easily fed through social media, where one can simply manufacture a false persona in an effort to gain approval from others.

Over prolonged periods, isolated individuals can  become enveloped by darkness.  Some may seek meaning or self-purpose through infamy—mass shooters are not soon forgotten.  Mass shootings are only one symptom of the problem however. It manifests itself in many other ways, including drug and alcohol addiction, pornography addiction, child abuse, human trafficking, suicide and countless others.

To begin to fix the problems in America, we don’t need more laws or more gun rights.  We need a spiritual revival of our Judeo-Christian roots. Dr. Jack Graham, the pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX explains it like this, “All of us are involved in some kind of a spiritual battle—a warfare that’s going on increasing.  A battle that is getting hotter and hotter right now and predictably so.  In fact, the Bible tells us that in the final hours of human history that perilous times will come.  Difficult dangerous times will come.” Dangerous times are not exclusive to American Christians.  Persecution of Christians because of their faith is running rampant around the globe.

Of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the Rev. Franklin Graham wrote, “The Word of God tells us to ‘mourn with those who mourn,’ and that is what our nation is doing. We grieve the tragic and devastating loss of life in El Paso and Dayton this weekend. The number of victims of the mass shootings is much higher than the headlines reveal, because each mother, each father, each sister and brother, each wife and husband, is also a victim—a victim of the heinous and senseless evil unleashed by two murderous gunmen. Their loved ones have been stolen from them.” And “”As we mourn with these families and communities, let’s continue to sincerely lift them up in prayer before the Lord.” Despite what some politicians have said, prayer is a proper response to mass shootings.

Fortunately, Christians needn’t despair at what they see happening around them. They can be confident that God is in control of their lives, even when the world appears to be coming apart all around them. Throughout the scriptures Jesus remains as solid as a rock. We see this vividly portrayed in Mark chapter 4, when Jesus and His disciples are on a boat in the midst of a terrible storm. Jesus is asleep on a cushion when his frightened disciples wake Him, fearing they are about to perish. Jesus rises and speaks the words the simple words, “Peace, be still.”  Immediately, the wind ceases to blow and the water grows calm. His disciples then marvel that even the wind and the sea obey Him.    

The same Jesus who calmed the storm is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakeable kingdom. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” Christians need only do their best to imitate the life of Christ. God will take care of the rest.

My Superhero

Superheroes

Superheroes are all the rage these days.  They’re winning at the box office with blockbuster movies like “Wonder Woman,” “Black Panther”  “Aquaman” and yet another new episode in the Spiderman series.  Older superheroes like Superman and Batman remain tremendously popular too.

With Christmas approaching, the aisles of toy stores and toy departments are lined with superhero kitsch, mainly over-hyped, over-priced superhero-themed stuff that will make the kiddies giggle on Christmas morning and eventually be tossed into a corner with a dozen similar forgotten toys.  Superhero figures also fill the pages of comic books; some of these books are sold for incredible amounts of money—literally worth their weight in gold.

Many adults and kids alike are attracted to these imaginary superheroes, yet they pay little attention to a real superheroes in their midst.  This superhero is powerful.   He is fearless and always defeats his many enemies.  He never makes mistakes. He can’t be outsmarted. He never tells a lie. He is a clear thinker and never loses his cool. Millions of people have purchased figurines of the real superhero.

So far the real superhero sounds about the same as the imaginary ones doesn’t he?  However, there are really many differences between my superhero and the imaginary ones.

Unlike the imaginary superheroes, my superhero isn’t handsome.  According to one writer, there’s nothing about his appearance one would find particularly attractive.  The same writer described my superhero as a sad man. He doesn’t sound very exciting or charismatic does he?   

My superhero did the unthinkable.  He surrendered to the enemy!  Only a short time after his surrender he was violently put to death and buried in a tomb.  End of story?  Not quite!

My superhero has performed many miracles. He turned plain water into wine and controls all of nature. He gives sight to the blind and makes the lame walk again.  He can control the wind and the sea, calming storms and raging waves. He can walk on water. 

Headline:  Man surrenders himself in exchange for hostages.  Billions saved!

Yes, my superhero surrendered to the enemy, but it was done voluntarily. He freely sacrificed himself to free billions of hostages.  He was put to death by the enemy, but he rose from the dead after three days and now lives forever.  He has already raised men from the dead and will raise many more in the future. 

My superhero doesn’t wear a mask, he wears a golden crown.  He has been called the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace. He is Immanuel—God with us, fully man and fully God! His name is Jesus. During this period of Advent Christians around the world reflect on the promised return of their Savior.  The book of Revelation describes him like this:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  –Revelation 19:11-13 (NIV)

The first chapter of the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus, the “Word of God” is the author of all creation.  All things were made by Him: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  –John 1:1-5 (NIV)

Darkness has never overcome my superhero and it never will.  He cannot be defeated.  Jesus sacrifice of himself defeated sin and death forever.  Jesus offers redemption freely to those who claim him as savior. His story is told in this passage of the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only-begotten Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through Him all things were made.

 For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven,

was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

 For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

 On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

 He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

Now that’s what a real Superhero looks like!

…to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.  –Revelation 1: 5b-6 (NIV)

Fake News and False Prophets

Flooded Road

Psalm 69:2 (ESV) – I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold;  I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. 

The past few weeks have seen a multitude of natural disasters.  First, Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coastline, causing inestimable wind and flooding damage.  Hurricane Irma followed next, wrecking havoc in the Caribbean and the Florida peninsula.  Irma was followed by Hurricane Maria, which dealt another blow to the Caribbean, devastating Puerto Rico and still posing a threat to the US East Coast as I pen this blog entry.

On September 19, a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City, collapsing buildings, burying countless victims in rubble, and creating havoc in the city whose metropolitan area is home to some 21 million souls. Since the initial quake, Mexico City has been struck by multiple large aftershocks; there was a moderate-sized earthquake in the Los Angeles area; and another moderate quake occurred near Japan’s Fukushima power plant.  Fukushima is the place where a 2011 earthquake damaged three nuclear reactors, resulting in the cores melting down and releasing high levels of radiation into the Pacific Ocean.  It remains a tremendous hazard today.

The timing of these events has been a windfall for late night radio talk shows where prophets of doom warn about the end of the world.  Their latest doomsday message predicted the world would end on September 23, when a giant, hitherto undetected planet called Nibiru would suddenly appear and pass so close to the Earth that its enormous gravitation and magnetic field would cause a planetary disaster, ending life as we know it. Well, the September 23 apocalypse has passed and we’re still here.  

In 1992, radio evangelist Harold Camping predicted Christ would return in September 1994. He had based his prediction off numbers and dates found in the Bible. When this failed to happen, Camping made several adjustments to the predicted date, the last date of which was October 21, 2011. He attributed his errors to mathematical errors in interpreting Biblical numerology.  It didn’t happen!

Richard W. Noone, in his book titled 5/5/2000 Ice: The Ultimate Disaster, predicted the world would end on May 5, 2000 when Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn would aligned with the earth for the first time in six thousand years. Wrong!

A predicted apocalypse on December 12, 2012 also passed without incident.  That was the date that some believed the ancient Mayan calendar ended, spelling doomsday for mankind.  Didn’t happen—again!  

The Holy Scriptures are full of warnings about false prophets.  Jesus himself warns us of false prophets in Mark 13, which provides many details about the cataclysmic end times that will occur on Earth in the last days. Mark 13 ends with Jesus telling us clearly that not even he knows the day or hour when this cataclysm will occur.  Only God the Father knows when our world will end!

In truth, there have been many doomsday predictions for as long as mankind has been around; none have come to pass save the great flood that Jehovah warned Noah to prepare for. A direct warning from God–that’s something you can trust!

Unfortunately for us, false prophecies are rampant today, along with the ubiquitous fake news we hear so much talk about in the media.  This leaves Christians little remaining to believe in besides their Bible. So how historically accurate is the Bible?

It is very accurate according to Dr. Ken Boa. Boa is president of Reflections Ministries (www.kenboa.org).  His article, titled ‘How accurate is the Bible?’ originally appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Knowing and Doing, the teaching quarterly published by the C.S. Lewis Institute. 

According to Boa, there are three lines of evidence supporting the claim that the biblical documents are reliable: 1) the bibliographic test, 2) the internal test, and 3) the external test. The first test examines the authenticity and accuracy of biblical manuscripts; the second deals with the claims made by the biblical authors, most of whom were eyewitnesses to the events they describe; and the third looks to outside historical confirmation of the biblical content. Boa explains very clearly how biblical evidence meets all three tests.  His article can be found at this link: http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/410.

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 tells us, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good,” (ESV).  The Bible passes the reliability tests as described so succinctly by Dr. Ken Boa. Christians should rely on the lens of the Bible to examine everything we hear and see today.  It’s the only certain way to avoid being misled by fake news and false prophets. Which lens are you looking through, a worldview conforming to biblical truth or one conforming to the secular world?

For more on ‘Worldview’, see Bob Burney’s article at this link:  http://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/worldview-which-lens-are-you-looking-through-11595738.html.

 

Let Not Your Hearts be Troubled

ISIS

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?   And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  —John 14:1-3 (ESV)

The daily news is filled with hate and violence. The Islamic State (ISIS) is conducting a systematic genocide of Christians and other minority religious groups in Syria and Iraq. Iran routinely threatens to destroy the state of Israel. North Korea recently threatened a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States for what its leader perceived as threats.

Here at home the anger in many Americans is palpable. Violence is increasingly occurring at political events as the presidential election approaches. Respect among diverse people and groups in our society is waning. Many American Christians feel persecuted. Sometimes it seems as if God is no longer welcome in our society.

With all of the bad news it’s easy to become disheartened if you lose sight of the big picture. However, Christians may take comfort in the assurance that GOD IS STILL IN CHARGE. He reigns supreme in this World. “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” (Psalm 103:19)

The world may turn its back on Christ today, but a time of reckoning will come.  Hebrews 12 reminds us that God is “slow to anger,” but his wrath is a “consuming fire.” God commands a kingdom that “cannot be shaken.” Neither should we be shaken when we hear of all the troublesome things happening in the world today.

God’s perfect plan is being played out in our lives, even though it might not be clear to us today. Speaking of the future, St. Paul reminds us, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The heart trouble Jesus speaks of in John 14 is a spiritual problem for which He is the only cure. Let not your hearts be troubled!  When we take our eyes off of Christ, the heart troubles begin. Christians must stay focused and avoid getting caught up in the daily distractions. As St. Paul encourages us, fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith! (2 Timothy 4:7)  

Perseverance means more than endurance— more than simply holding on until the end.  A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer.  God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands.   –Oswald Chambers

 

The final countdown has begun…or has it?

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea. —Psalm 46:1-2 (NKJV)

The final countdown has begun—a global cataclysm such as man has never seen before will take place on December 21st.  At least that’s what some people believe. The blogosphere is abuzz with all sorts of doomsday stories.  The present hype is based upon the Mayan calendar, which according to some arguments ends at winter solstice in 2012.

For the Mayan faithful, the end of the calendar means that events leading to the end of the world will be put in motion in some unknown manner—perhaps by an asteroid collision with the earth; perhaps a massive earthquake will devastate the entire planet; or perhaps a giant volcanic eruption will darken the sun, causing all living things to freeze to death.

So who are these Mayans who have stirred things up so?  A quick check of the website history.com tells us the Mayans were an ancient culture whose civilization was centered in the tropical lowlands of what is modern day Guatemala. It grew and eventually spread across a large portion of what today is Central America and Southern Mexico.  The Mayan civilization peaked around the sixth century A.D. and for unknown reasons had largely vanished by around 900 A.D.

I’ve read a lot of arguments, both pro and con, surrounding Mayan calendar predictions, but there’s one point I haven’t seen discussed. If the Mayan calendar is truly prophetic, why didn’t it end more than a millennium ago when the Mayan civilization faded away? Unfortunately there are no Mayans around anymore to provide some answers, just as there are no Phoenicians around to tell us about their civilization.  We have only vague archaeological clues as to what really happened.

History is replete with doomsday predictions, all of which have been a bust thus far.  The most recent was made by Harold Camping, radio preacher and founder of the Family Radio network. Camping convinced thousands of loyal followers that the world would end on May 21st of last year. Billboards across the nation announced the coming of doomsday.  There was even one in a parking lot near my home in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.   Camping’s prediction record is now 0-2 and thankfully he has pledged to refrain from future speculation about the Earth’s demise.

Scientists nearly universally agree that the Earth will be destroyed one day by some cosmic event conforming to the recognized laws of physics. Things spinning around the sun are bound to collide with something big sooner or later. How or when this might occur, however, is anyone’s guess.

Jesus speaks of the real end times in Mark 13:32-33, telling us,  “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.”  Christians needn’t be troubled by all of the end time chatter they’re hearing today.  We only need these reassuring words from Jesus:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”   —John 14:27 (NKJV)

I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and a blessed Christmas season. And for any Mayan faithful out there, I encourage you to read this blog entry again on Christmas day and to ponder the reassuring words of Jesus!