Wednesday, March 21, 2012
A speaker at my church recently opened his disaster relief training seminar by ridiculing the belief (common among Bible-believing Christians) that earthquakes are now increasing. This is disturbing, for starters because the rise is predicted by Jesus Himself. It is also cautionary, and to fully understand the challenge? Persia. 595 BC.
To tell the truth I'm a little hesitant to bring up earthquakes, since my previous column on the documented increase in earthquakes in our lifetime hit the information highway at almost the exact same time as the news that the first of six massive earthquakes (the big one magnitude 9.0) had hit Japan, just a year ago.
Which was not a word of prophecy on my end. Just repeating what God said. (But it's hard to go wrong doing that.) Pure serendipity.
But it still makes me nervous to bring it up again.
But the speaker did bring it up, his comments, the source of no little consternation in my small group, which is now studying Revelation. And the few sentences he uttered managed to be disturbing on several levels.
First of all, he seemed to dismiss Bible prophecy summarily.
Anyone with a modem or a newspaper subscription, at this point, should be able to figure out that all the Biblical signs of the end times are in place. Israel (ridiculously improbable) is back in the land as a sovereign nation. Its people have returned in droves; virtually all but the American Jews are now residents of Israel. News channels that will allow people in Judea to see, realtime, the desecration of the Holy of Holies are in place. Electronic funds transfer technology creates the capability to limit sales transactions to select and "approved" individuals. Time is wrapping itself up. Disaster looms, seemingly, around every corner. (Without God.)
Ever watch the History Channel? It's practically 24/7 prophecy on the weekends. Even the lost recognize that something only supernaturally explicable is going on. So when Jesus tells His followers what signs to watch for, and that one of them is an increase in earthquakes (which are compared to birth pangs, increasing in both frequency and intensity) we should be looking for that increase to happen.
Which is why his comments were also disturbing on a second level: that a leader of my "denomination" (thankfully, not my church) would somewhat randomly choose to deny both Scripture and objective reality.
The facts are clear:
According to government data, the number of all earthquakes (magnitude 1 or above) recorded from 1975-2005 increased from approximately 5000 in 1975 to 30,000 in 2005, an increase of 600%. So earthquakes in our lifetimes (in just my ADULT lifetime) have definitely increased in frequency.
So what about intensity? According to government data, the number of strong earthquakes (7.0 or above ) have increased in the last fifty years by 800%. Including one yesterday, a 7.4 in Mexico.
Courtesy of the federal government, these facts are ridiculously easy for anyone to prove for themselves.
Check'em out for yourself.
But there is a much bigger issue here, and that is the curious need on the part of a Christian leader to disparage Scripture. The revealed Word of God, which God says that He magnifies even above His Holy name. (Psalm 138:2)
I don't understand it, but we shouldn't be surprised by it. God warned us over and over again that Scripture would be twisted, mocked and outright denied. And not by Henry the heathen nor by Pete in the pew.
By the men behind our pulpits.
"But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them." II Peter 2:1 (NKJV)
"As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine,nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm." I Timothy 1:3-5 (NKJV)
"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of Godwhich He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears." Acts 20:28-31(NKJV)
That last statement is heart-wrenching. Paul warned them for three years (and us for nearly 2000) that our leaders will lead us astray. "Did not cease to warn us", it says, "day or night, with tears".
Despite having been told to stand fast in what the Scriptures teach, our leaders are "reimagining Christianity" and "reinventing church". They're preaching a "new kind of Christian". They push a prosperity gospel, a social gospel and the gospel of identifying your own corrupt self as deity. A Tufts university study found that many pastors don't believe at all, and of those who do, 49% of evangelical pastors (in a Barna study) did not believe basic Biblical teachings like the existence of Satan and the sinless life of the Messiah.
A slippery slope. Now we have "pastors" saying that atonement is a "vile doctine" and that the cross is "cosmic child abuse."
So what’s the 21st century worshipper of God to do?
That hasn't changed.
"Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong." I Corinthians 16:3 (NKJV)
Our living examples? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
After Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream, we are told that he, at Daniel's urging,
"set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon". Daniel 2:49
(The same verse tells us that Daniel stayed in the king's court, which probably explains his absence from the rest of the story. )
The passage goes on to tell us that Nebuchadnezzar, ostensibly (inexplicably?) inspired by his dream, makes a giant image of himself in gold, sets it up "in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon." and commands all the judges, officials and rulers of the provinces to come and worship the statue. (Daniel 3:1-2)
And they did. (Daniel 3:3-6)
All but three: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. You know the story.
What you probably didn't know is this, an inscribed stone cylinder called the Babylonian Chronicle, records the history of Nebuchadnezzar's empire and reveals that a rebellion occurred in the tenth year of his reign, about 595 BC. This rebellion is believed to be the reason that Neb decided to demand a show of loyalty from his provincial rulers.
And there's a fascinating offhand piece of information in Jeremiah.
"Seraiah the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, … went with Zedekiah the king of Judah to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign." Jeremiah 51:59 (NKJV)
The fourth year of Zedekiah's reign would have been about 594 BC.
And an interesting timeline has emerged. Rebellion in 595 causes Nebuchadnezzar to build the statue and demand the presence and show of allegiance from his vassal kings. That would take about a year. Zedekiah up and goes to Babylon about 594 BC.
Zedekiah if you think about it, is conspicuously absent from the account in Daniel. He isn't mentioned with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
The inescapable conclusion? When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow to the cultural pressure of their time, their leader had his nose on the ground.
And there's our lesson from Daniel for today. Are we prepared to stand alone? We are obviously going to have to.
Our thought leaders, in the US today, are men described in I Timothy 1:7:
"They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm." (NIV)
No wonder Paul cried.
Find a pastor you can trust (I'm lucky there.) But don't stop being a Berean. Check the Book.
And be ready to stand alone. Our encouragement? We know that God goes with us, and He promises to finish the work He started.
So stand alone.
All it cost Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ultimately, was their bonds.
About Wendy Wippel
Last week: Red Letter Service
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