Friday, December 9, 2016

LET US RETURN TO THE LORD

"Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD . . . (Hosea 6:1-3)

We who have, by God's grace, trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, have been united with Him in his death for their sins and in His resurrection. As Christ was raised on the third day, we too, when we received Him as Lord and Savior, were raised with Him. That day became our "Resurrection Day," our "third day". We were raised to "newness of life" (Romans 6:4) "so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Romans 6:6).

But God's people today, as in Hosea's day, have a tendency to drift away from Him. And though our "idolatry" is more subtle today, it is no less deadly! The Apostle John, writing to believers in Christ, concludes his First Epistle with this warning: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21). The Apostle Paul, likewise, exhorted the Corinthian Christians: "Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry." (1 Corinthians 10:14)

What are the idols that seek our worship today? Has something taken the place of Christ in our love and loyalty? Is there any activity in our lives that cannot be legitimately offered to God in gratitude? Is He shut out of any part of our lives? Or perhaps we have perverted the worship of the one true God to conform to our desires - as the Israelites did in Hosea's day. All this is idolatry.

"Come let us return to the LORD!"

Monday, November 21, 2016

GRATEFUL FOR A KINGDOM THAT CANNOT BE SHAKEN

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe . . . (Hebrews 12:28)

On the November 2, 1852, my great-great-grandfather, Johann Friedrich Boberg, appeared in Knox County, Indiana, Circuit Court to sign a “Declaration of Intention” to become a citizen of the United States of America. In that declaration, Johann renounced his allegiance to Prince Leopold of Lippe in what was then The Kingdom of Prussia, and swore his allegiance to the United States of America. That declaration was five years and one day after Johann arrived in the port of New Orleans – the minimum residency requirement for citizenship. Since the five-year anniversary was on a Sunday, he had to wait until Monday morning to apply. Johann Friedrich Boberg was eager to become a U.S. citizen!

Christians have pledged their allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and King. That allegiance takes precedence over any and all other allegiances. Christians, however, have a sort of dual citizenship. We are in this world – as to our physical existence – but not of this world as to our spiritual, eternal life. This world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31), decaying from within because of its sinfulness and rebellion against God, but “whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

My physical citizenship in this world is limited in both its nature and duration. As to its nature, my physical citizenship is limited to the realm God has assigned to human government, which has no authority over my relationship to God. The duration of my citizenship in this world is also limited. First, it is limited by my earthly lifespan. It may also be limited by the very existence of the nation in which I live! For example, the Kingdom of Prussia that had been Johann Friedrich’s home was dissolved in 1918, following the devastation of the First World War. Everything in this world is tentative and fragile. And God has promised that He will “shake” this world system, and then remove that which was shaken:

At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:26-29)

God shook the world at Mt. Sinai when He gave His Law to the nation Israel. He shook both heaven and earth in the death and resurrection of Christ. And the writer of Hebrews says there is another “shaking” coming! When God shakes the heavens and the earth the next time, He will also remove what He has been shaken.

I’m thankful that by God’s grace, I have citizenship in an eternal kingdom! The most important citizenship a person can have is in the Kingdom of God. And we can have that citizenship through repentance from our sins and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We must renounce all allegiance to the prince of this world, and declare our total spiritual allegiance to Christ.

Johann Friedrich Boberg couldn’t wait to cast off the past and declare his allegiance to a new country. How much more eager should we be in these dark, sinful, violent times to renounce allegiance to this sinful world and declare our allegiance to God through Jesus Christ!

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)


Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken . . .

Friday, November 4, 2016

BEWARE OF BIBLIOMANCY!

Bibliomancy. n. Divination by interpretation of a passage chosen at random from a book, especially the Bible. (American Heritage Dictionary)

About thirty years ago, I sat on an examining council for a missionary candidate applying for service in Japan. The candidate had grown up in Japan as the daughter of very successful church planters in that country, yet she said she had felt a burden for the newly opened field of Russia. Knowing she would have to learn a new language and culture if she went to Russia, she struggled over whether to go to that field or return to Japan. Which one was God’s will? To which field was she called?

Her struggle ended when she received what she believed was guidance from God in her devotions. She read Jeremiah 49:31 – “Arise , get you up unto the wealthy nation, that dwelleth without care, saith the LORD, which have neither gates nor bars, which dwell alone.” The candidate explained her reasoning to the council along these lines: The Lord was calling her to a “wealthy nation, that dwelleth without care” and whose homes have no “gates or bars.” Russian people, she reasoned, did not dwell securely, their homes have walls and gates for security, and they are certainly not a “wealthy nation.” Japan, on the other hand, is a wealthy nation whose people dwell securely without walls or gates. On this basis, she was certain that God was calling her to return to Japan as a missionary. I saw that the regular council members were delighted with her answer, so a bit my tongue. What was more disturbing than the fact that this recent Bible college graduate and young missionary candidate misused the Bible in this way was the fact that the council members, all long-time pastors, approved of that use!

The missionary candidate egregiously took Jeremiah 49:31 out of context, but she was also mislead by the wording of the King James translation she was using. (The college she attended held to a KJV-Only position.) Better translations like the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version clearly show that the LORD’s command was not a missionary commission but a call to war! It was a prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of the Ishmaelite tribes of the Arabian peninsula:

"Arise, go up against a nation which is at ease, which lives securely," declares the LORD. "It has no gates or bars; they dwell alone.”  (Jeremiah 49:31 NASB, emphasis added)

The context of Jeremiah 49:28-33 is the pronouncement of God’s judgment on “Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor” (v. 28), the nomadic tribes of Arabia-Petraea.

Wrenching verses out of context to make them say something that was never intended is nothing new. Every pseudo-Christian cult does it. But it is paganism, seeking signs instead of truth and wisdom from the Scriptures. Many best-selling so-called Christian authors make millions off the gullibility of the Christian public by writing books claiming to have found  “hidden” messages in the Bible. The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin started an avalanche of books on the subject, pro and con, in the late 1990’s. Jonathan Cahn, who is sometimes called “pastor” and sometimes “rabbi,” is a Messianic Jew who has also capitalized on “hidden messages” in the Old Testament. His books The Harbinger and  The Mystery of the Shemitah both claim to unravel the “mystery” of America’s future. Cahn also says the Old Testament – in hidden messages – predicted the major economic crises and 9/11. The Harbinger sees the “mystery” of America’s future in Isaiah 9:10. But since the context surrounding that verse names “Jacob” and “Israel” and “Ephraim” and “Samaria,” who would imagine, just reading the text for what it says, that it contains a “hidden message” about America?!

This misuse of the Bible is bibliomancy! And it has a long history in Judaism. The Kabbalah -- which seems to be Cahn's inspiration -- is a Jewish mystical movement which began in the 6th century A.D. The Kabbalist commentary on the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), called the Zohar, serves as a guide to Kabbalists in their quest for a deeper knowledge of God through mystical experience and understanding the hidden messages in the numerology and individual words of Scripture.  According to Elliot Miller, writing for the Christian Research Institute: “The overwhelming philosophical influence in areas where Kabbalah began was Greek; Neo-Platonism and its ‘Christian’ offshoot, Gnosticism.”[i] Early gnostic influences were among the false doctrines Paul and John were combating in the early church. (See Colossians, John, First John, especially.)

This may come as a surprise to many, but the purpose of the Bible – even the Book of Revelation – is NOT to reveal specific details of the future. The Apostle Paul wrote to his young colleague Timothy about the power and purpose of Holy Scripture:

“. . . from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17 NASB, emphasis added)

But how about the Book of Revelation? The stated purpose of Revelation was to edify and encourage God’s people in the face of a hostile world. It is applicable to Christians in every epoch:

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3 NASB, emphasis added)


Prognostication is always popular. That’s why the daily newspapers have astrology columns. But that’s not the purpose of the Bible. The Bible is God’s unfolding plan of redemption through Jesus Christ and instruction in godly wisdom to conform His people to the image of Christ. That message is clear and plain throughout Scripture.

Looking for hidden messages in the Bible is bibliomancy, and that is paganism.




[i] http://www.equip.org/article/what-is-kabbalah/

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Americans Liberated Us: The Story of Alfredo Gallina

Alfredo Gallina is one of a diminishing number of Italians who experienced the liberation of Italy from fascist and Nazi tyranny. But more importantly, Alfredo also experienced spiritual liberation that gave him victory over the tyranny of despair.

In 1938, at the age of 17, Alfredo joined the Italian army to fight for Mussolini’s fascist state. Alfredo tells his story:


I call myself Alfredo. I live with my wife, Annamaria, in the central Italian city of Terni. Terni is a steel manufactur¬ing city, and is predominently communist. During World War II, it was destroyed by Allied bombing.


I grew up under fascism. I knew nothing else. At school, once a week, we boys were made to dress in black shirts and to perform military drills all day with wooden rifles. To be a good Italian was to be a good fascist and Roman Catholic. In 1929, Mussolini signed a pact with the Church which made "The Holy Roman Apostolic Church...the only Church of the State of Italy." Thus, both our political and our religious beliefs were decided for us.


During the war, I served in the Italian army. I felt it was the right thing to do. After basic training, I spent time in Rome, where I met my wife. My unit was eventually sent to Albania. We saw no action against the Allied forces, but we met with some stiff resistance from the local partisans. The spirit of these partisans forced me to think. Why were we fighting this war? Why were we here, upsetting the lives of these people? Later, I would see the same sacrificial resistance by Italian partisans.


I was in Bari on the Adriatic coast when Italy signed the armistice with the Allies. When Italy declared war on Germany, I made my way back to Rome, where I joined the Allied troops under General Mark Clark. I drove a supply truck during the long, bloody battle at Montecasino. I saw many men die. One was a close friend.


It was with the Americans that a spiritual change began in me. The American troops had chaplains of all denominations. One could choose what worship he preferred. And I noticed that all these different chaplains got along well—there was a certain respect. This was totally new to me. I had known nothing but Roman Catholicism. But among these Americans, there was a choice.


Through the Americans I fell in love with America, even though I had never been there. The American soldiers taught me the dignity of the individual. In the Italian army, even on the battle field, the officers ate good meat and vegetables, while the enlisted men drank a weak soup. The enlisted men were literally the slaves of the officers.


In the American army it was so different. Not only did the officers and enlisted men eat at the same mess, but it was first come, first serve! Officers, even high ranking ones, waited in line behind privates and corporals! And I thought I had seen it all when I saw a colonel washing his own car!


So the Americans liberated us not only from the German occupation, but also from our own religious narrow-mindedness and our social caste system. The liberation from the Germans was quick and complete; the other liberation has taken much longer and is still incomplete.


After the war, I studied the history of the United States, particularly the War of Independence. I thought of emigrating to America, but with a wife and two children, financial concerns held us back. I started a business and pursued riches and la dolce vita.


But spiritually there was a void in my life. I was thinking only of pleasure, comfort and security. I had turned my back on the Church—and with it, God—when I was 14. But God had not turned His back on me!


God in His grace began to work in my heart. Suddenly, all the material things I had seemed nothing. Even the earthly relationships so dear to me seemed vain and transitory. It was then that I began to seek a spiritual answer to life. I read the writings of all the major world religions. I found some truth in all of them, but not The Truth. I did not find the peace I sought.


With much reluctance I returned to the study of Christianity. My wife had remained a faithful Roman Catholic, but if Christianity were ever to mean anything to me, I would have to find it for myself.


I considered it logical to begin my study of Christianity with a study of Christ. I bought many books on the life of Christ, but they were by secular authors who treated Jesus as merely a great man, a historical figure, not as God incarnate. Years passed and my spiritual confusion grew worse. At times I thought I would go insane.


Then one day I saw on television a man who talked from the Bible in a way I had never heard before. He explained what the text meant without any appeal to ecclesiastical authority. His message spoke to a profound need in my heart. At the end of the program, he offered a free Bible to everyone who wrote in. Suddenly it hit me that I had been studying the life of Christ from many writers, but I had never read the Bible, the primary source! I sent for the Bible and began reading it. My desire to know Christ grew strong. In my heart, I felt that I did accept Him, but in my mind I had doubts. How could Jesus be both God and man? And how could God be sovereign and man responsible? I was reading the Bible, but I could not understand much of it.


Then, one day, two young men came to my door who said they were from The Bible Today. My wife and I were delighted to see them. They were generous with their time, and they helped me resolve my spiritual problem. They showed me verses of Scripture that presented all aspects of the questions which troubled me, and then they showed me a principle I have found most valuable. The Bible says, "The just shall live by faith." It is by faith that we accept what God says even when we do not understand how it all fits together.


The missionaries gave me another verse which eased my mind—Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."


I saw that my responsibility was simply to accept what God had revealed and apply it to my life, and then rest in the Lord regarding those things which are not revealed.


We prayed together with the missionaries, and as we concluded, I sensed a great joy and peace in my heart that has been there ever since. It was settled. I was free at last in Christ. The world around me had not changed, but I had, and so had my dear wife. We rested in the fact that Jesus had died for all our sins and was now living to give us peace and victory. My mind and heart were at last united...by faith.


God has brought Americans into my life in times of great crisis, and each time they have brought liberation. But the liberation I treasure most is my liberation in Jesus Christ!


End