Archive for the ‘Prophecy’ Category

Guard your heart

Sacred Heart of Jesus

“When a man’s heart is right with God the mysterious utterances of the Bible are spirit and life to him. Spiritual truth is discernible only to a pure heart, not to a keen intellect. It is not a question of profundity of intellect, but of purity of heart.”  Oswald Chambers

The word “heart”, as used in the Old Testament, is frequently translated from the Hebrew “לב (sounds like “leb”). It describes a person’s inner being—specifically their will, mind, consciousness, emotions and understanding. It can also refer to moral character and determination. The Hebrew people of Biblical times believed the heart was a body’s place of knowledge, memory and thought. From a holistic viewpoint, the Hebrews saw the heart as the predominant force behind a person’s character, decisions, words and deeds.

The word “heart” as used in the Greek New Testament is καρδία” (sounds like “cardia”). It is the root of the modern English “cardiac.” Like the Hebrew word for “heart,” καρδία has multiple interpretations. It represents the origin of one’s spiritual life and includes emotions. thoughts and one’s personal will. It also describes the center of one’s longings, desires and feelings.

In Roman Catholicism, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion recalls Jesus’ infinite love for all mankind. Saint Matthew reminds us that we are to return Jesus’ love for us.  In Matthew 22:37-38(a), Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Christian writer Witness Lee was born to a Christian family in North China in 1905. In his book The Economy of God, which was published in 1968, Lee examines the role of the heart in a Christian’s life. He says:

“Our relationship with the Lord is always begun and maintained by the heart. Of course, to contact the Lord is a matter of the spirit, but this must be initiated and maintained by the heart, for our heart is the gateway of our whole being.” He continues, “In other words, the heart becomes both the entrance and the exit of our being. Whatever enters into us must enter through the heart. Whatever comes out from us must proceed through the heart.”

There are many worldly forces competing for our hearts. The Bible is full of examples and warnings about idols, false prophets and false teachers.  We find these deceivers all around us today. Idols manifest themselves in the forms of power, wealth, fame, celebrity, self-indulgence and the like—things we choose to worship in place of God. False prophets sometimes appear in the form of politicians, governments, religious leaders and, more recently, some social media outlets. They plant seeds of fears and confusion with words running contrary to the teaching of Christ. 18th century Welsh theologian Matthew Henry’s comprehensive Bible commentary has much to say on false prophets and teachers. For example:

“Our Saviour cautions his disciples to stand on their guard against false teachers. And he foretells wars and great commotions among nations. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword never departed from them. See what comes of refusing the gospel. Those who will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. But where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid. It is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts, even in troublous times.”  Commentary on Matthew 24

Psalm 1 tells us to meditate on the Law (instruction) of the Lord. If your heart is fixed on the Word of God, you are not likely to go astray. The Word of God is “at work” in believers who hear and meditate on it (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Word of God helps us to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). The working of the Word of God is evident in true believers.  My mom spent the last few months of her life in a dementia facility.  One of the residents was a believer who was probably close to 90 years old. This blessed man, overcome by Alzheimer’s Disease, daily recited the Roman Catholic Missal for hours on end. Even in his diminished state, the Word of God was at work in this old Saint’s heart.

The Word of God helps us avoid the temptations of idolatry and false prophets.  As Corinthians 10:13 tells us. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (ESV)

So how can Christians respond to temptations that tear at their hearts? Naturally, Jesus provides the answer.  In Matthew 4:1-11, we find the story of Jesus’s temptation by Satan. In this passage, Jesus is tempted (tested) in the wilderness and responds with the Word of God, reciting scripture to Satan:

            Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

            You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

            You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.

Ephesians 6:17 calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” Like a sword, the Word can be used for both defensive and offensive purposes—defensive as when Jesus responds to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, and offensive as when we see the triumphant Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, in Revelation 1:17-18, where he proclaims, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Study the Holy Scriptures and receive the Word of God!

Today, Jesus calls to each of us, “Come, leave behind your life of sin and sorrow. Come to the cross, find forgiveness for your sins, and join me in resurrection victory. Come, be My disciple. Come and know the joy of a loving Father. Come, before it is too late.” –Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker emeritus of the Lutheran Hour.

…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. –1 Timothy 1:12(b)-14

The Seven Penitential Psalms

 

Saint Peter in Penitence by El Greco

St. Peter in Penitence, El Greco, (ca. 1580)

We are currently celebrating the church season of Lent, a 40-day period before Easter when Christians reflect upon the passion and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who was crucified and died as atonement for our sins, setting believers free from sin and death. Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the promise of eternal life for His believers.  Penitence, a solemn contemplation of one’s sins and request for God’s forgiveness, is foundational to Lent.

One Lenten discipline that I recommend is the prayerful reading of the Seven Penitential Psalms—Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. These psalms (prayers) are generally attributed to David.  Psalm 51 is probably the most widely read of the seven. In Anglican and Catholic traditions, it is often recited by congregations on Ash Wednesday and at other times during the Lenten season.

Christian tradition suggests several possible reasons behind the writing of these psalms. Probably the most widely accepted explanation is they were King David’s prayers of repentance for his sins against Uriah and Uriah’s beautiful wife Bathsheba. David’s sinful lust for Bathsheba drove him to conspire to have Uriah killed in battle. With Uriah out of the way, David took Bathsheba for his wife.  She conceived and bore a baby son, but the child died shortly after birth.  Recalling the words of condemnation delivered to him by the prophet Nathan regarding David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12: 4-7), David believed the baby’s death was God’s punishment for his transgressions. Nathan said to David:

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! (NIV)

Another Christian tradition associate’s the Seven Penitential Psalms with the Seven Deadly Sins. We first encounter the Seven Deadly Sins in the writings of Pope Gregory I around the year 600.  The sins are pride, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

The writings of  French Roman Catholic theologian Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly (1351-1420) associates certain spiritual virtues with the Seven Penitential Psalms: Psalm 6, fear of punishment; Psalm32, sorrow and confession for sin; Psalm 38, hope;  Psalm 51, love of purity and mercy; Psalm102, longing for heaven, Psalm 130, distrust of one’s own strength and hope for mercy; and Psalm 143: joy.

During this year’s season of Lent, I’ve committed to prayerfully reading the Seven Penitential Psalms daily as part of my morning devotion.  It has been a deep spiritual experience, one that I plan to make part of my future Lenten discipline.  I encourage readers to give this a try.  You can find the Seven Penitential Psalms online at the following URL:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/seven-penitential-psalms-songs-of-suffering-servant.cfm

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.