Thursday, August 31, 2006

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” – Mark Twain.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour – I John 3:18, NIV.

Prophecy is like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: every generation has to learn anew just what it meant – and what it means.

Take the 70-week prophecy of Daniel 9 – the prophecy that ends with “an abomination that causes desolation.” (And yes, this phrase also shows up in Daniel 11:31 and Daniel 12:11.)

Now read I Maccabees 1:54-61, and it’s clear the Jews applied this prophecy to Antiochus IV – the Hellenistic king known to his friends as “Epiphanes” (i.e. “God manifest’), and to his enemies as “Epimanes” (i.e. “the crazy man”).
On the fifteenth day of Chislev in the year 145 [i.e. December 8, 167 BC], the king erected the abomination of desolation above the altar [i.e. an altar of Zeus was place in the Jerusalem temple]. . . . Whenever anyone was discovered possessing a copy of the covenant or practicing the Law, the king’s decrees sentenced him to death. . . . Women who had their children circumcised were put to death according to the edict with their babies hung around their necks, and the members of their household and those who had performed the circumcision were executed with them.
In short, Antiochus IV did his best to wipe out the Jewish religion – and it’s no wonder the Jewish people saw this in apocalyptic terms.

But read Mark 13:14, and it’s clear that Jesus took this prophecy – a prophecy most Jews in his time would have said had been already fulfilled almost 200 years before – and applied it to the future.

“When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation standing where it does not belong – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountain.”

Matthew’s gospel echoes this warning, but sharpens its ties to the original prophecy.
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 23:15-16, NIV).

But in his account, Luke states this prophecy was fulfilled by the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70:

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written” (Luke 21:20-22, NIV, emphasis supplied).

In short, Daniel’s “abomination that causes desolation” is a powerful image – a powerful image that keeps getting used and re-used because it explains and gives meaning to tragedy.

Just like Pearl Harbor, in other words, it meant something once.

But it still means something today.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The stained-glass ceiling

Half of all Protestant seminary students are women -- but when it comes to big, multi-staff churches, only 3% have been willing to put a woman in charge. (And even many of the little-bitty churches that can't get anybody else will only accept a woman pastor as a last resort.)

Want to know what you can do?
  1. Invite a woman to preach in your pulpit.
  2. Click on the title of this post for the relevant article in the New York Times.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

God's Own Party takes a hit

47% of Americans surveyed think the Republican Party is "friendly" to religion -- down from 55% a year ago. The drop was sharpest among two groups that have been key to recent GOP victories: Catholics and white evangelical Protestants.

But no, this isn't good news for the Democrats -- only 26% of those surveyed say that party is "friendly" to religion!

Other finds:
  • 69% think the Left has gone too far in trying to keep religion out of public life, while 49% think the Right has gone too far in trying to bring religion into public life.
  • 51% think it's okay for their pastor to discuss politics in the pulpit, while 46% think it's wrong.

And when pastors do talk about politics, what do they say? Based on the people surveyed who attend church regularly, the most common topics are:

  • hunger and poverty (92%)
  • abortion (59%)
  • Iraq (53%)
  • homosexuality (52%)
  • evolution or intelligent design (40%)
  • stem cell research (24%)
  • immigration (21%)

Click on the title for a link to the article in The New York Times.

Tempus fugitive

So when they met together, [the disciples] asked [Jesus], “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”
– Acts 1, 7-8, NIV.

What is the “day-year principle”?
A prophetic “day” in classical prophecy is a literal day. But in apocalyptic books (such as Daniel and Revelation), a prophetic “day” symbolizes a literal year.

Where does the Bible state this principle?
Adventist writers point to three texts:

  • Numbers 14:34 – just as the Israelite spies took 40 days to scout out the Promised Land, so too Israel will wander in the wilderness 40 years.
  • Ezekiel 4:5-6 – just as Ezekiel was paralyzed 430 days, so too God will punish Israel 390 years, and Judah 40 years.
  • Daniel 9:24-27 – seventy “weeks” are determined on God’s people – a time that nearly everyone agrees means 490 years.

Neither the Book of Numbers nor the Book of Ezekiel are apocalyptic prophecies.

And Ezekiel is actually a “classical” prophet.

So where do we get to use this principle?
Three time-prophecies:

  • the 1260 “days” of Daniel 7 and Revelation 12 (which we believe extend from AD 538 to AD 1798).
  • the 2300 “evenings and mornings” of Daniel 8 (which we believe extend from 457 BC to AD 1844).
  • And of course, the 70 “weeks” of Daniel 9 (which we believe extend from 457 BC to AD 34).

What about the 1290 and the 1335 day prophecies of Daniel 12? Or the half-hour silence of Revelation 8? Or the thousand years of peace in Revelation 20?
Don’t be silly.

So how do we know those other time-prophecies extend over a period of years, and not just days?
Because of the way these time-prophecies tie in with events.

And how do we know that we’ve picked the right events?
Because of the way these events tie in with the time-prophecies.

That’s a tautology!
But it works for us. As historicists, remember, we believe that apocalyptic prophecy describes all of earth’s history from the time of the prophet to the time of the end. The “day-year principle” gives us the elbow-room we need to do that.

But if you say that the “days” of these prophecies are actual, literal, 24-hour days, then you’re left with two alternatives:

  • Either these time-prophecies refer to events long past,
  • or the time-prophecies refer only to “the Time of the End.”

The first alternative is no fun; that’s why just about anyone who doesn’t have a PhD in Old Testament studies quickly moves on to the second.

But applying these time-prophecies to "end-time events" leads to the kind of wild-eyed speculation that would have Uriah Smith turning over in his grave.

Wait a minute – you’re saying the day-year principle makes it impossible to apply these time-prophecies to current events?

Most people today would say that makes them irrelevant.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If there’s one thing these time-prophecies do teach us, after all, it’s that God only gives us so much time.

Now we can spend that time fiddling with these prophecies – trying to make them fit the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, or Paris Hilton, or whoever is in the news just now.

Or we can do the things Jesus asked us to do: preach the Good News. Heal the sick. And cast out evil in whatever form it appears.

Why can’t we do both?
Because we don’t have the time.

Monday, August 21, 2006

This is not your parent's Bible commentary

Chapter by chapter, book by book, David Plotz has been blogging his way through the Bible. He's almost done with the Book of Numbers -- and if you want to know what a post-modern Jew with a quirky sense of humor thinks of the Good Book, then have I got a blog for you!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

1844 made really, really, really simple

1. William Miller predicted the world would end in 1844.

2. He was wrong.

3. But he got the date right.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Take 7

I don’t know if Daniel played an instrument – but there’s no question the man understood jazz.

That’s because Daniel 9:20-27 is an extended riff on Jeremiah 9:10-14. In Jeremiah, remember, God promised to bring back His people from Babylon when 70-years had passed. That’s good . . .

But it’s not good enough for Daniel. He’s not satisfied with the national restoration of Israel; no, he wants the spiritual restoration of the whole world!

So Daniel picks up Jeremiah’s theme and plays with it. Builds on it. Punches it up with motifs from Leviticus (the cleansing of the Temple), Isaiah (the coming Messiah), and some of Daniel’s own previous works (the Abomination of Desolation) – and then he multiplies it all by seven!

If the result is hard to follow . . . well, jazz isn’t always easy listening.

But in the process, we learn that prophecy is more than just a timetable – it’s more than just a series of rigid schedules that announce when God is supposed to arrive.

No, prophecy is creative. It’s singing the Lord’s songs in a whole new way; it’s taking the old, old standards and making them your own.

In short, Daniel has finally found a way to answer the question of Psalm 137 – the question of “how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

For as Daniel knows, you start by playing all the notes that are there.

Then you play all the notes that should be there.

Monday, August 07, 2006

All truth is God's truth

Interesting interview in Salon with Francis Collins -- head of the Human Genome Project, and a devout Christian. (And no, you're probably not going to like some of the things he says -- he believes in both miracles and evolution, in both the Virgin Birth and the Big Bang -- but as Jesus once pointed out, "God's kingdom is a net that catches all kinds of fish.")

Is it "dispensational premillennialism" or "premillennial dispensationalism"?

Click on the title for a thorough (and amazingly fair) explanation of the way many American evangelical Christians read prophecy -- and the impact this has on American foreign policy.

Friday, August 04, 2006

It's not a Moral Majority -- just a very loud minority.

When it comes to "moral" issues --issues such as abortion or gay marriage -- most Americans are in the middle.
  • They don't like abortion, but want to keep it legal.
  • They don't like gay marriage, but favor some kind of "civil union" for gay couples.

In fact, only 12-percent consistently favor the "conservative" stance on these issues -- and while the article doesn't say it, I'd suspect that an even smaller number consistently favor the "liberal" view.

What the articles ignores, however, is the power of these relatively small groups to set the agenda for the rest of us. (Click on the title for a link to the article.)

The one thing that makes us a pastor

The Christian Science Monitor did a "feel good" piece on a day in the life of a young priest -- the kind of stuff you'd expect to find in People magazine. ("He golfs! He eats cereal! He had a high school sweetheart!")

But in the midst of all that puff, there was one paragraph that is pure gold: "We often, often, often get called in the middle of the night. The callers don't want to see me," [the priest] says. "They want to see Christ."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I wonder if he could do the church bus next?

Okay -- this has absolutely nothing to do with pastoral ministry as it is currently practiced in the Adventist Church . . . but some things are just too cool not to pass on.

So click on the title of this post for a link to Ron Patrick's web-site. He's got a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. A Volkswagen Beetle. A jet turbine engine. A waaaaaaay too much time on his hands.

"We must believe in free will; we have no choice" - Saul Bellow.

Call it fate. Call it destiny. Call it kismet or predestination – and if you’re a fan of Old English, then you’ll call it “doom.”

But whatever you call it, the idea that God is in charge of everything that happens may not seem like the best of news.

Consider Daniel 8, for instance: Daniel’s vision of a “little horn” that rebels against God, persecutes His people, and shuts down operations in His temple for 2300 “evenings and mornings.”

That’s a long time . . .

And on the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be anything that Daniel can do about it. The play has been written, the parts have been cast, and the show will go on as God directs.

No, it would seem that God’s people are doomed. Fated. Predestined to live through a nightmare that will go on and on and on.

But Daniel knows God too well to be discouraged . . . and as Daniel 9 opens, he is reading another prophecy – a prophecy made by the prophet Jeremiah almost seventy-years before:

This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you (Jeremiah 19:10-12, NIV).

In short, God knows what He’s going to do – but God always leaves something for us to do.

That’s why Daniel prays the prayer He does in Daniel 9.

That’s why we should never be discouraged our afraid. Whatever the future may hold, after all, we know the One who holds it – and we can always reach out to hold His hand.

That’s not fate.

That’s our choice.

And it's God's choice too.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Bible speaks to teens (kind of)

The good news: 70% of US teens say the Bible speaks to their lives -- and roughly half say they read it at least once a week.

The bad news: only one-in-five consider the Bible's message when they're making decisions about sex.

Click on the title of this post for the link to EURweb.