The end has come for Harold Camping but it’s not the end of the world

You might not know or remember the name Harold Camping but you probably are familiar with his work.  He was the man who had convinced many of his followers that the end of the world was coming in May 2011.  When this didn’t come about as predicted, rather than learn his lesson he stated that he misinterpreted what the rapture was but still called for the end of the world in October of 2011.  This was undoubtedly little comfort for his followers who had sold their homes and toured around in RV’s touting the end of the world.  It probably also didn’t make the people happy who had given his ministry $80 million over a five year span.

Harold Camping died at the age of 92 on December 15, 2013.  I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead but I must question whether Camping’s contributions to Christianity were undone by the embarrassment that he caused.  I never followed Camping’s teachings and even if I did, only God can judge the heart of a man.  I truly hope that he was a genuine Christian who was just misguided in a particular belief and not a man who led many astray under the guise of Christianity.

I get very frustrated when Christian leaders cause an embarrassment to Christianity.  I’m not talking about getting caught in affairs and scandals, those are bad obviously but that is different than what I’m talking about.  I get mad when Christian leaders claim to speak for God when it doesn’t appear as if God has spoken.  We have lots of revelation from the Lord, it’s called the Bible.  What the Bible declares to be sin, we should boldly proclaim to be sin.  But too many leaders take things a step further and declare things that the Bible does not say.

God does punish sin but He doesn’t always bring disaster upon cities or nations because of their sins.  Unless God has spoken directly to an individual to proclaim this as truth, they should parse their words.  Boldly speak the truth about sin but don’t make sweeping proclamations about what God is doing in response to that sin.  God will judge sin, it just might not be here on earth.

Likewise, we know that one day “the end” is coming.  I can definitively say that we are one day closer today than we were the day before.  Beyond that, we simply don’t know.  Jesus gave us signs of the end and we do see them in the world today.  However, every generation has looked around them and has seen those signs.  And perhaps this is the point – Jesus could return at any moment because the signs have always been there and always will be.

Of further embarrassment on the end of the world front though, Jesus said that no one knew the day or hour of His return – not even Him!  There is no secret Bible code that Jesus couldn’t figure out but math whizzes today can crack.  In short, I can’t think of any way to say it other than the fact that people who want to declare they know more than Jesus that they reek of arrogance and ignorance.

Unfortunately Christians sometimes adopt an “end justifies the means” mentality that does more harm than good.  In an effort to prevent sin, broad proclamations about judgment are made which may make Biblical sense but are not Biblically supported because frankly the Bible just doesn’t tell us that a hurricane today is indisputably the judgment of God for a particular sin.  It could be, but not every disaster is the judgment of God.  Jesus made that clear when He discussed the tower of Siloam killing 18 people in Luke 13:4.

Perhaps Camping’s great fault was that he was overzealous to warn people about the judgment that awaits unrepentant sinners.  I can’t claim to know what his true motivations were.  If this were it, he could be excused for wanting to get the gospel out.  But I will never excuse the methods that involve misinterpreted scripture, no matter what the intended result was.

In the end Harold Camping went to meet his maker about 2 1/2 years later than he expected.  I can only hope that the word he receives from the Lord is a “well done” to a well intentioned but misguided man and not a “depart from me, I never knew you.”

Are you a Pharaoh or a Nebuchadnezzar?

The Bible has its share of villains whether it’s King Herod, Pontius Pilate, or Judas Iscariot.  Even King David plays the role of villain before repenting of his sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah.  There are two Old Testament villains who stand in stark contrast to one another who can teach us a lot about Christianity.

Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar are two of the baddest guys in the Bible.  Both enslaved the Israelites.  They both contended with two of the greatest heroes of the Bible – Moses and Daniel, respectively.  The difference is that Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson while Pharaoh did not.

When you read through the account of Exodus, you will see a lot of heart hardening on Pharaoh’s behalf.  Every time Moses performs a miracle Pharaoh hardens his heart.  At first it may appear that he acknowledges the power of God but then he will quickly go back on his word.  This happens repeatedly during the first several plagues that strike Egypt.

After a time though there is a slight change.  Instead of Pharaoh hardening his heart, we’re told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  This thought may make some of us uncomfortable but it’s important to remember that this hardening of the heart is not arbitrary and it only happens after many times of Pharaoh doing it himself.

It appears as though Pharaoh crosses a point of no return, a place where he will never repent and God turns his sinful heart against him in order to bring about the destruction of Egypt due to the hardness of Pharaoh.  History tells us that after Pharaoh’s army is drowned in the Red Sea, the nation is no longer the world power that it had been.

Compare this to Nebuchadnezzar.  By all accounts Nebuchadnezzar was more ruthless than Pharaoh as he conquered a large part of the Middle East.  Pharaoh was considered a god in Egyptian religion but Nebuchadnezzar’s word was just as unquestioned.  Pharaoh killed a lot of Israelite baby boys before Moses but there were still those who defied him.  When Nebuchadnezzar called to execute all of his wise men for being unable to interpret his dream, nobody questioned him in this.

The ultimate difference between the two men is that Nebuchadnezzar ultimately humbled himself after being humbled.  Pharaoh was put in his place time after time through the plagues and yet even after the death of his own son he went back on his word and sent his army out after the Israelites.

Nebuchadnezzar was humbled on multiple occasions as well.  His wise men were shown to be foolish.  Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego refused to bow to the idol he created and they walked away from their punishment unscathed.  Nebuchadnezzar didn’t learn his lesson completely from these incidents but one could argue that God at least kept them on his mind after each subsequent failure.

Eventually it would take a seven year madness to humble Nebuchadnezzar.  God humbled him just as He did with Pharaoh.  But Nebuchadnezzar decided that he was no longer going to fight against the Lord’s will and he thereby humbled himself.

Christians and non-Christians alike have similar choices to make.  When we mess up – and all of us will – will we humble ourselves and learn from those mistakes like Nebuchadnezzar or will we proudly and stubbornly harden our heart and continue to do things our own way?

God can use a man, even one as wicked as Nebuchadnezzar, when they repent.  On the other hand, Pharaoh got exactly what he had coming to him for defying God and ignoring His hand at work.

Shuffling chairs on the Titanic

There’s an expression – shuffling chairs on the Titanic – that is meant to express frustration and futility.  The idea is that the task is pointless because the ship is going down and it doesn’t matter what seat you’re sitting in.

It’s a bit of an exaggeration to use this expression to sum up my summer – really most of my year – but I do feel as if I’ve put a lot of effort into some futile tasks.  I’ve written some about my illness this summer (and one of those posts was lost in a server move – see below.)  The short version is that I was diagnosed with colon cancer this summer.  Two operations, almost a week in the hospital, and lots of bills for my insurance company to pay and I’m pleased to say that I’m cancer free.  Praise the Lord for this and for providing great doctors to take care of me!

The strange thing about this summer is that my struggle with cancer hasn’t been my frustration.  I didn’t enjoy surgery or all of the doctor’s appointments and I’m still physically recovery from losing 18 inches of my colon a month ago.  However, I always had complete faith that everything would be alright in that regard.

My frustration and sense of futility actually comes from my web ministry.  About two months ago I decided that I needed to upgrade my servers.  Spreading Light Ministries has become a network of sites totaling more than two dozen domains and each year I’ve been adding half a dozen more or so.  This meant that it was time to upgrade.  Unfortunately my upgrade was a disaster.  Things were sold to me as an easy switch from one system to another.  After they already had my money I discovered that things were not an easy switch and I never would have agreed to such an upgrade if I knew it required me to manually move my sites and reconfigure each one.  This required about three days of constant work.

To make matters worse, my upgrade was anything but an upgrade.  My new server just didn’t work right and my sites kept becoming inaccessible.  Tech support was good when I called them but things kept crashing about every other day and I didn’t feel as if I should be required to inform them of a problem that they should be monitoring.  In the end I just couldn’t stick with the service as it was far too unreliable.  I ended up switching to a new company that I had done business with before but not for servers.

My new server has been much more reliable and I’m feeling comfortable with where I am at.  However I am still not 100% back to where I was two months ago.  A few files were lost because I restored my backups from June and anything that I had written since then was inaccessible with the crummy server.  If it seems like I’m venting a bit of frustration, well I am.

Christians are not immune to frustration.  It doesn’t mean that we lack faith.  It doesn’t mean that we question God’s goodness.  It simply means that we are human and we live in a fallen world.  Last week I preached that God is still good and I really do believe that despite fighting cancer at a young age.  But we all get frustrated at times.

I have taken this new server move as an opportunity to update a few sites.  Some of it is a necessity and some is just practicality.  But the truth is that I’ve been doing a lot of work and I haven’t really been able to create anything new.  Two months have gone by and there is really nothing to show for it despite all of my work.  That is why I feel like I’m shuffling chairs on the Titanic.

Fortunately, I don’t believe that I’m on a sinking ship.  In the end, this will be more like changing the wall colors in a room that otherwise didn’t need to be painted.  Perhaps it was unnecessary but at least I’ll have a new, brightly colored room in the end.  At least that’s the goal.  Hopefully in a week or two and things move into fall, I’ll have some new great content to add once again.  And hopefully this will be the last digital move that I have to make in a long, long time.