The End of the World as We Know It?

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 4:14 PM

(10 pm CDT update - I'm still here. Either I missed it, or someone got it wrong...)

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
(REM - It's The End Of The World As We Know It, 1987)

As I write, it's Saturday, May 21st, and the rapture, according to Harold Camping of Oakland, CA, is supposed to occur this afternoon at 6 pm... and I feel fine! (According to his prediction, the world itself won't actually end until October 21, 2011.) My first question is - is that 6 pm PDT (since that's where Harold is located) or 6 pm CDT (where I am) or 6 pm EDT (because television shows always list Eastern Time first - must be a conspiracy in there somewhere) or even 6 pm GMT (which is Greenwich Mean Time, which runs through England, and means I'm probably already too late)? It's an important question, if you think about it. If it's 6 pm EDT, then I have time to hear if it's really happening before it gets here to the Central Time Zone. Sort of a rolling rapture...

Anyway, I haven't cancelled any of my appointments for next week, and I would suggest that you don't either. It's not that I don't believe that Jesus will return someday and take home all those who have put their faith in him. That promise is found often and consistently throughout the Bible. It begins in the Old Testament with prophecies about the Day of the Lord. 

After Jesus' death and resurrection, there was a general expectation that he would return very soon. I love the picture of the church in Acts 2-4, but you also get the impression here that they were waiting for something to happen - the return of Jesus. And when it didn't happen right away and they had to go about their lives - and be Jesus' witnesses " Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth," (Acts 1:8 NLT2) - the church began following the leading of the Holy Spirit to share this good news to every tribe and nation. But they never lost sight of the promise that Jesus would return on a Day of Judgment and take his followers home.

For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18 NLT2)

This event is sometimes called the Rapture, though you won't find this word in the Bible. The word Rapture is a theological term that, according to my Accordance Bible Software, is "the imminent translation or removal from earth of the Church at the second coming of Christ." In Jerusalem just before he was taken prisoner, Jesus talked about his return and the warning signs that would be present in Matthew 24 and Mark 13.

Almost since the time of Jesus there have been folks who have tried to ascertain when Jesus' Second Coming would occur. Down through the centuries there have been many, many predictions. In my own lifetime and the 20th Century there have been seen several well-documented predications, and probably many more. (similar prophesies occurred for 2000, 1994, 1988, 1975, 1941, 1925, 1920, 1918, 1915, 1914, etc.) The first time you hear one of these it can be disconcerting, even scary, until you read more from the Bible about this event.

Jesus: "'However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.'" (Matthew 24:36 NLT2; see also Mark 13:32, which probably records the same event)
Jesus: "...'The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.'" (Acts 1:7 NLT2)

On two separate occasions Jesus clearly stated that no one but the Father (God) knows when this will happen. No prophet, no pastor, no denomination, no radio preacher - no one! Jesus often tells us to be ready because, he says, '"...the Son of Man (Jesus) will come when least expected.'" (Matthew 24:44 NLT2) It seems to be the height of arrogance or ignorance for anyone to claim they know or have figured this out. Jesus is very clear about this.

So, honestly, I'm not sweating 6 pm very much, no matter which time zone it comes in. My biblical faith tells me that this is a non-event, except for the poor folks who have been duped or frightened into making something out of another set of faulty predictions. Those who believe Camping have been gathering in spots around the country and even selling off their possessions in order to be ready. It's interesting that Camping, the latest prophet of doom, actually made this prediction once before in 1994. When it failed to occur then, he claimed to have gotten the math wrong. But this time he says he's got it right. Yea, sure...

I did a little more reading about Camping and his ministry, Family Radio. He's basing his predictions on math and codes that he believes he's found in the Bible. You can go to his website to learn more about how he came to this. He even goes so far as to explain why Jesus' own statements (see above) about his return aren't to be believed. Camping owns close to sixty radio stations around the country. Interestingly, one news article I read interviewed a receptionist with Family Radio who planned to be on the job Monday, and who said at least eighty percent of the staff there did not believe this prophecy. I was wondering how they would handle their station if they were all gone - I guess they won't be!

I have not listened to Camping nor read very much of his stuff. But this one topic - the time of the return of Jesus - seems to catch him and a number of otherwise well-intentioned Christ followers (as well as a few genuine nuts). Ultimately, it ruins their credibility with Christ followers, and it makes Christianity as a whole look crazy.

There is one aspect of all this with which Camping does help us. He reminds us that Jesus will return, and we had better be ready. It will happen suddenly, without warning, and there will come a day and time when it is too late - it really will be the end of the world as we know it. Jesus told a powerful parable that warns us all that though we may not know when he is coming, the wise person will be ready:

"'Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight they were roused by the shout, "Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!" All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Then the five foolish ones asked the others, "Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out." But the others replied, "We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves." But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came. Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked. Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, "Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!" But he called back, "Believe me, I don’t know you!" So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.'" (Matthew 25:1-13 NLT2)
Regardless of the day and time, each of us has to decide if we will have put our faith and trust in Christ and be wise and ready, or if we are willing to gamble and put it off and discover we are foolish. You are the only one that can decide that - what's your choice?

The Death of bin Laden

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Sunday evening I sat in front of the television and listened as President Obama announced the death of al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. I felt some joy about that, and relief that he was no longer a threat. We have individuals in our church who lost friends, co-workers and loved ones because of the 9/11 tragedy. I personally visited last year the "Ground Zero" site in New York City, and I visited in 2004 the site in Pennsylvania where the fourth airliner crashed. I have great admiration for the men and women who serve in our armed forces and the job they have done protecting our nation, and I am grateful for our special operations teams and the secret work they do. I certainly believe in the active presence of evil in our world today, and the actions of 9/11 can only be described in those terms, as far as I am concerned. And I believe bin Laden was clearly an instrument of evil.

I'm not sad that bid Laden is dead, but at the same time I can't say I feel "happy" either. I know this sounds weird, and I don't have it fully worked out, but stay with me. I feel relief, and I'm breathing a little easier because of his death. I've certainly watched television shows and movies where the "bad" guy is killed, and I walked away feeling he (or she) got what they deserved. In fact, the movie would have been a disappointment if that had not happened. But this isn't a movie - this is real life! This isn't about entertainment but about flesh and blood human beings.

From the Bible it is clear to me that God created governments and they serve several purposes. Among those, governments are given the responsibility by God to bring about justice. "...The authorities are established by God ... to punish those who do wrong." (Romans 13:4 NLT) The government's responsibility to maintain order and provide for the common good enables you and me to freely live out our faith. This isn't a naive belief that governments can do whatever they want. No government rules perfectly, and there are times when some governments fail and need to be replaced. But, the Bible shows us that governments do have a God-given responsibility to bring about justice and punish those who do wrong.

I certainly believe that's what has happened here. Our government has used its God-given responsibility to bring about justice and punish one who has clearly done much that was wrong. And in acting, it is likely that our government has also prevented future loss of innocent life. 

What has disturbed me over the years is when foreign nationals celebrate the death of Americans by terrorists. But, just because they act this way doesn't mean I have to. I don't think I can do that, at least not right now. As I said above, I can be relieved, and I can be grateful to our special forces team, but I cannot, in good conscience, celebrate the death of any human life - even if it is justified. 

I have this image of a baby being born into this world, and a mother and father who are so excited. Yet somewhere along the way, young Osama took some wrong turns. Instead of being a productive citizen and faithful son, somewhere along the way he became an instrument of sin and evil. So, I do not celebrate but instead feel sadness. Sadness that a life born full of promise ended so tragically. Sadness that sin and evil had gotten such a grip on an individual or organization to lead them to commit acts of evil. Sadness that hate could be so strong in our world today. Sadness that innocent lives have been damaged and destroyed by these acts of violence. Sadness that, somewhere along the way, they did not hear - at least not enough to act upon - the Good News of redemption in and through Jesus Christ. 

I am grateful that our government has chosen not to release photos of bin Laden. I don't want my ten-year-old son to accidentally see that picture and have it scorched into his memory. I don't want to take away his innocence just yet. I don't want him to live in fear or see terrorists around every corner. If I could make a wish for him, it would be that there would be no more wars and terrorism by the time he is a young adult. I realize that the only way that will happen is if Jesus returns, for he warned that prior to his coming there would be wars and threats of war. We really are living in the end times, though Jesus may not return in my lifetime or yours (and I'm not here to try to predict that time, either). 

So, we are stuck in the "in-between" times - after Jesus has defeated sin and death and allowed me to join his side, but before the victory is complete here on earth. We live in a world racked with sin, and ultimately no government or philosophy can fix that. We will not "progress" enough or "evolve" enough to get past these things. We are battling sin and evil - our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). But we are not alone - we can choose to be on the side of Jesus, who has already sealed the victory for us.

Because of Jesus' victory, I have hope ... but it's not so much in military victories or even peace treaties (as much as I am grateful for those). My hope is in Jesus Christ, who will one day return and bring his own safely home; who will judge the sheep and the goats, and cast some into outer darkness not only for their evil deeds, but even for their ambivalence to evil and to Jesus himself. Who will judge the Osama bin Ladens and Hitlers. I have hope because there will be justice, even when I do not see it in this life. And quite honestly, this past weekend, I sure would not have wanted to be bin Laden when he met his Maker. But because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I do look forward to meeting my Maker - and no event in this life can take that hope and that joy and that peace away from me!