Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jesus didn't return on May 21. Now what?

In spite of all the hype and hoopla generated by Harold Camping, Jesus was a no-show for the rapture on May 21. The news media have finished laughing and are now turning their attention to other stories. Soon the billboards will come down, and the entire event will be forgotten by most.

But before the story slips from our collective memories, I want to focus on two concerns--and two lessons--we need to learn from this event.

Concern #1: I'm concerned for Camping's followers who believed his prediction...and quit their jobs, maxed out their credit cards, spent their savings, and ultimately put stress on their families. Right now they are struggling with feelings of anger and embarrassment. They bought into the message of a man who seemed so persuasive, so sure of his facts. And now they don't know what to do...or what to believe. If you know some of his followers, please reach out to them. They need your encouragement...and your biblical wisdom.

Concern #2: I'm concerned for believers who were mildly concerned about Camping's prediction. They didn't abandon all to follow him, but they were at least curious. Perhaps they even watched the clock on May 21 to see if Jesus just might indeed return at the predicted hour. But when He didn't, they shrugged their shoulders and quietly congratulated themselves over not getting too excited about the prediction. And any thoughts they might have had about preparing for the rapture all too quickly vanished. Like a vaccination, they have been inoculated against getting too excited about Christ's return. And this can lead to spiritual lethargy and complacency.

So what lessons ought we learn from this non-event?

Lesson #1--Know the Bible: It should have been obvious to all serious Christians that Harold Camping was wrong. His entire system was based on arbitrary numbers and dates that were not grounded in the biblical text. His entire prediction was based on his belief that 5 is the number of atonement, 10 is the number of completion, and 17 is the number of heaven. But if someone took the time to look at his "proof texts" for these spurious numbers, he or she discovered they were based on an fanciful interpretations of passages that didn't actually teach what he claimed. He then arbitrarily multiplied these three numbers...and then squared that total to arrive at the number of days from the crucifixion to his date for the rapture. But what biblical basis did he have for multiplying these numbers, or squaring the result? None whatsoever!

My point here is that the methods used by Harold Camping to reach his conclusion are not the means God uses to communicate truth. The Bible is not a giant cryptogram with hidden messages that required a secret cipher to decode. God created humans with language skills, and God communicated to His creation using those same language skills. To understand the Bible, read it as you would any literary text--in its normal historical, cultural, literary context. Harold Camping kept looking for deeper, hidden messages. And in doing so he missed the clear teaching that God provided in His Word.

So what did Jesus say about His return? Here's what God's Word clearly declares:
Matthew 24:36--"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."
Matthew 24:42--"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming."
Matthew 24:44--"For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will."
Revelation 16:15--"Behold, I am coming like a thief." (When is the last time you correctly predicted the day a thief was going to break into your house?)

Here is what the Apostle Paul taught in regard to Jesus' return and end-time events:
1 Thessalonians 5:2--"For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." (Again, the allusion to the day coming like a thief.)

Peter said the same thing in regard to Jesus' return and end-time events:
2 Peter 3:10--"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief."

How could we be sure Harold Camping was wrong? His prediction didn't match the clear teaching of Jesus, Paul, and Peter!

Lesson #2--Jesus is coming: This brings me to my final lesson...and it's one we dare not forget. Jesus didn't come back on May 21, but He is coming back! We don't know the exact day, so we are always to be ready. Jesus was absolutely clear on the reality that He is coming back, and He expects us to live as though His return could happen at any time.

"Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will" (Matthew 24:42-44).

The Book of Revelation begins and ends with the same admonition from Jesus:
"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).

"And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book....Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done....He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming quickly.'" (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20).

Harold Camping's specific date was wrong because it flowed from his creative imagination, not from the clear teaching of the Bible. But he was right in believing Jesus is coming back. And while Jesus didn't return on May 21, He could perhaps return tomorrow.

Are you ready?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thrown under the bus

I struggle to find words that describe my response to today's speech by President Obama. It looks to me like the United States has just thrown Israel under the bus, harming a longtime ally in an attempt to score points with others in the Middle East.

The United States just reneged on commitments we made in 2004 when we promised Israel we would not force them to return to the 1967 borders--which are not defensible. We might say our commitment to Israel is "unshakeable," but actions speak louder than words. And by our actions we have just put Israel in an untenable position.

It seems as if we have committed our country to a policy of ethnic cleansing, publicly demanding that Israel abandon land that has historically belonged to the Jewish people. For example, from 1948 till 1967 all Jews were forcibly excluded from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and denied access to the Western Wall, the holiest location in Judaism. Is it our official position to demand that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem be judenrein?

We are quick to pressure Israel to make concessions, but similar pressure isn't being applied to the Palestinians. When the Palestinian Authority announced a unity government with Hamas, our response was muted, even though Hamas refuses to abandon it's formal position calling for the destruction of Israel. We continue to fund Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority even though he has refused to negotiate with Israel. We say we are committed to Israel's security, but our statements don't align with our actions.

My concern with America's current foreign policy decisions in the Middle East extend beyond just Israel. We abandoned longtime ally Hosni Mubarak, publicly calling on him to step down within days after demonstrations began. We were quick to throw our support behind the "pro-democracy" demonstrators in Cairo. But we didn't actively support the protestors who demonstrated against rigged elections in Iran. And we still haven't called for the removal of Bashar Assad of Syria, even though he has killed nearly a thousand demonstrators over the past several weeks. Yet we pressured Bahrain to give in to the demands of Shiite protestors even though there is evidence that the unrest in Bahrain is being fomented by Iran. Our actions against the leadership in Egypt and Bahrain have offended and alienated Saudi Arabia, which also feels abandoned by the U.S.

It looks like our current national policy is to distance ourselves from friends in the hope of courting the favor of enemies. This won't work. We will end up with no friends...and more emboldened enemies. What western, secular politicians perceive as tolerance and even-handedness is viewed in the Middle East as weakness and vacillation. America's new policy is a policy of appeasement...and it looks much like an earlier version promoted by Neville Chamberlain just before World War II. And my fear is that the results will be similar.

While I'm concerned for Israel, I believe God will take care of them. I'm more worried about the United States. If we turn against Israel, we will be turning against God. As God said to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, "And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse." I don't want the United States to become a nation cursed by God. But the path we seem to be choosing is not encouraging!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Distortion of History

On Monday The New York Times ran an op/ed piece from Mahmoud Abbas on "The Long Overdue Palestinian State." The article is based on a revisionist view of history that disturbs me. Here is one of the key paragraphs:
It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.
To help put the UN partition vote in perspective, I've included the front page of The New York Times with its original coverage of that UN General Assembly vote. The final vote was 33 in favor of partitioning the land into two states and 13 opposed. The Jewish population in Palestine, though they didn't have an official vote in the UN, had agreed to the proposal. So who opposed it? Well, the Arabs living in Palestine along with 13 voting member of the UN. These were Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Yemen. The article also makes this clear. "The walkout of the Arab delegates was taken as a clear indication that the Palestinian Arabs would have nothing to do with the Assembly's decision."

Look carefully at the list of nations opposed to a two-state solution in 1947. Apart from Greece and Cuba, the remaining 11 countries share one thing in common. They are all Muslim countries, and they include every Arab country from the Middle East that could vote!

Abbas' op/ed piece tries to blame Israel for the failure of a Palestinian state. He implies that Israel was responsible for the war that resulted in the expulsion of the Palestinians. In fact, it was the Arabs who opposed the formation of the State of Israel as part of any two state solution, and it was the Arabs (including the Palestinians) who sought to destroy Israel.

Did the ensuing conflict result in a refugee problem? Yes it did...on both sides. (Remember that hundreds of thousands of Jews were also expelled from Muslim countries following the formation of the State of Israel.) Did the conflict prohibit the formation of a State of Palestine? It did...especially after Egypt and Jordan swallowed up the land that had been allocated to a Palestinian State. Did Israel end up with more land than had been originally allocated to them by the UN? Yes they the result of a war imposed on them by the surrounding countries who sought to deny the Jews the right to have a country they could call their own.

President Abbas, it is the Arabs who are ultimately responsible for the lack of a Palestinian state. Isn't it about time to stop blaming the Jews...and to acknowledge your past failures? It seems like that sort of honesty is an important first step toward any lasting peace.

New "Cuban Missile Crisis"?

For most Americans, the danger posed by Iran seems to be more symbolic than real. Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs represent a system opposed to our values. But, up till now, that threat has been limited to the Middle East. Our soldiers felt Iran's impact in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the average American has never really felt threatened by Iran. That is, until now.

There is a report in today's Jerusalem Post that Iran is secretly building rocket bases in Venezuela. The report is based on a May 13 article in the German newspaper Die Welt titled "Iranische Raketenbasis in Venezuela in Planungsphase" ("Iranian Missile Base in Venezuela in Planning Phase"). The article claims that the Iran and Venezuela completed a secret agreement last October to construct a missile base on the Paraguaná Peninsula in Venezuela (near Aruba) that could house intermediate-range Iranian missiles. The missiles and launch facilities would be hidden in underground silos.

So what's the threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region? Initially the threat would be somewhat limited. Iran's Sajil-2 missile can travel approximately 1,200 miles, which puts Miami within range. More worrisome are recent reports that Iran and North Korea have been exchanging missile technology. North Korea has missiles with a range of 4,000 miles. A missile with that range, launched from Venezuela, could reach any destination in the continental United States.

One last piece of the puzzle. It is likely Iran is still working on developing nuclear weapons. Should they succeed in developing such weapons—and the West seems incapable of stopping them—they would have the ability to place those weapons far closer to the United States than we might ever have imagined.

Those of us old enough remember the Cuban Missile Crisis remember the threat posed by an enemy seeking to place weapons of mass destruction close to our border. Now, imagine a scenario where the person with his finger on the button is not an avowed Soviet atheist, who believes nuclear annihilation means the end of all life. Rather, the person is a radical Muslim who believes a worldwide conflagration must precede the return of the Mahdi.

Maybe we ought to be more concerned about what Iran is doing in the Middle East, and around the world. It's not just Israel who should feel threatened by the actions of their leaders!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Misery loves company

With the average gasoline price in the U.S. hovering near $4 a gallon, most American are feeling the pinch. There are predictions that prices will soon begin to fall, and that would be good news. In the meantime, if there is any comfort to be found in the current price we are paying, perhaps it's the joy we can have that we are not filling up in some other countries of the world.

I just did some checking (and calculating!) to determine the average price being charged for gasoline in some other countries. This is not as easy as it might seem for three reasons. First, the price fluctuates daily. Second, most countries list prices per liter, which must be converted into gallons (A U.S. gallon is 3.7854 liters.) Third, prices in other countries are listed in local currencies, and they fluctuate in value against the dollar on a daily basis. So what follows are the prices for gasoline in selected countries, converted to U.S. gallons and U.S. dollars, as of today.

France -- $10.14 per gallon
Israel -- $8.36 per gallon
U.K. -- $8.29 per gallon
Japan -- $7.15 per gallon
Germany -- $6.29 per gallon

I'm not sure if it makes you feel any better...but when the pump clicks off after putting $50 of gas into your car, just be thankful you weren't filling up overseas. In Israel, the same amount of fuel would have set you back about $105 dollars!