Archive for the ‘Fake News’ Category

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

 

A Heart of Stone

Heart of Stone

Political discourse in America today has become vitriolic — constant lying, name-calling, bickering, accusations and spewing pent up anger. Indeed it has gotten so bad that even the president has joined the fray.  Social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook only serve to exacerbate the situation, as they have become bully pulpits for angry politicians and journalists.  It’s gotten to the point where I dread looking at social media or reading/listening to the news, as there is a paucity of objective discussion and reporting everywhere. Personal civility and decorum in America is rapidly declining, particularly in the political realm.  

           Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.                                           –Proverbs 16:24*

 Words are like bullets—once they’re let fly there’s no taking them back. The Epistle of James calls the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  By using this  strong comparison, James emphasizes that Christians must be mindful of the colossal power of what proceeds from their mouths.  The epistle goes on to note the inconsistency of praising God with one breath and cursing people made in God’s image with the next (vv. 9–10). Words can demean and destroy.

When you have learned to walk in the light of the Lord, bitterness and contention are impossible.”  —Oswald Chambers

This leads me to ask the question, “How radically would America change if suddenly all the politicians who profess to be Christians started behaving like Christ followers, becoming beacons of light in the dark political landscape?”

In January 2017, the New York Times reported that 91 percent of the new Congress identified as Christian.1 The Times went on to say that this figure was only slightly less than the 95 percent reported in 1961. Allmost all US presidents, including President Trump, have been Christians according to Pew Research.2

Christianity isn’t a label or tag; it’s a life, guided by the Holy Spirit, where an individual endeavors to be Christ-like in thoughts, words and deeds.  Inevitably, all Christians transgress and fall short of the glory of God along the way, but striving towards the ultimate goal of Christ-likeness remains a constant.

Restoration and transformation are two recurring themes in the Book of Ezekiel. Restoration is displayed in God saving the people of Israel from bad shepherds, giving them societal safety, reuniting tribes, and God’s children being restored to a right relationship with Him.  God’s ultimate restoration of his people is exemplified by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. 

On the other hand, Ezekiel describes transformation as a personal, spiritual experience. To the ancient Hebrews, the heart was the locus of a person’s being, their mental processes, emotions and personal will. The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines hard-hearted as, “having or showing no kindness or sympathy for other people.”  In the passage from Ezekiel 36 below, evidence of spiritual transformation in God’s children is the softening of their hearts. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  —Ezekiel 36:26-27

One of those laws referred to in the Ezekiel passage is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus quotes this verse in Mark 30:5, after being asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” In the next verse, Mark 30:6, Jesus adds to this, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”   

This brings me back to politics.  Christians who also happen to be politicians don’t get a free pass when it comes to loving their neighbors.  Christian politicians contributing to the Capitol Hill vitriol need to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves whether their actions glorify God. Are they being patient, humble, pure and obedient to God?

In Colossians 3:8, Paul tells us to put away anger, wrath, and malice; instead, he says in verse 12, we must, “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”  This is the model Christ gave his followers through many examples in his own life; it’s the model all Christians should strive to adhere to in their actions towards believers and nonbelievers alike.

Christian politicians should display a Christ-like heart—Ezekiel’s “heart of flesh.”  Christians behaving like Christ can bring real healing transformation. Around 312 A.D, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Rome recognized Christianity as a legal religion.   This remarkable feat, going from persecuted underground church to a legal religion, recognized by the Empire, was accomplished not by violent revolution, but through years of adhering to the tenets of the faith while suffering terrible persecution.

It was not political or military power that ultimately convinced Rome to accept Christianity, but the perseverance and faithfulness to Christ’s teachings by the early Christians. The tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering displayed by Christians prevailed over Roman cruelty and oppression. American politicians could achieve a lot by following their example.

 Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.  —from an Anglican Prayer of Confession

 1 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/03/us/politics/congress-religion-christians.html

2 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/20/almost-all-presidents-have-been-christians/

* All Bible quotes are taken from the NIV Bible.

 

Who can you trust?

Trust.jpg

In his popular play All’s Well that Ends Well, William Shakespeare said, “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”  This quote could introduce a number of discussions, but today I want to focus on trust.  The Miriam Webster Dictionary has several definitions of trust.  For this discussion, I’ll focus on the first, which is “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

Think about this question for a minute and then try to answer. Who can you trust?  I’ll bet you didn’t come up with a long list of people. The fact is that most of the people reading this blog aren’t very trusting. According to polls of American voters, trust in the U.S. Congress is running at near all-time lows, as is trust in many state and local governments. 

Much of this distrust is fueled by the pending insolvency of many so-called “trust funds,” like the Social Security “lock box,” which apparently isn’t locked tight enough to keep the Congress from raiding it and depleting the funds. Then there are numerous similar lock boxes at the state and local levels established to fund the retirements of teachers, firefighters and police. It seems that politicians have raided many of these as well, causing some states and municipalities to renege on their retirement promises to employees. 

Trust in amorous relationships is on the rocks. Social media is awash in “cheater” stories and videos.  Videos about catching cheaters in the act have become a popular form of entertainment. Websites with advice on how to cheat on your significant other without getting caught abound.    

You certainly can’t trust a lot information on the Internet. Internet sexual predators take on false identities to try to lure children into sexual encounters.  Internet news sites (and news outlets in general) are awash in so-called “fake news.”  Comparing the story lines of Fox News (right-leaning) and CNN (left-leaning), for instance, gives two very different views of reality.

You can’t trust advertising, especially when it comes to products like weight loss supplements, miracle cures, and get rich quick schemes.  Environmental news is questionable—global warming advocates and so-called global warming deniers are locked in seemingly mortal combat.  Do you have a financial adviser or auto mechanic you fully trust?  Do you have complete faith in your physician or dentist?  Do you trust the attendants in the nursing home that’s caring for your parent? Do you trust the weather forecaster on your TV? Do you even trust the clergyman in the pulpit?

So amidst all this distrust in the world, who can you trust?  The great entertainer Lawrence Welk, who was better known for Polkas than proverbs, might have said it best when he advised, “Never trust anyone completely but God. Love people, but put your full trust only in God.”  Scripture is full of similar advice (references are taken from the NIV):

Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Micah 7:5-6,  Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend.  Even with the woman who lies in your embrace guard the words of your lips. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.

1 Peter 2:6, For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

There are many other examples of scripture that speak to trust. The best advice I can provide is to trust in God alone.  Your friends and loved ones will inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you. You can trust me on this! 

Check out this short video – How to trust God.   https://youtu.be/OVDaq-drUh0

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.