Sharp About Your Prayers

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Getting Carried Away…

May 19th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Faith and the City

“The end is near!”

So says Harold E. Camping.

How near?  Well, pretty shoe-shaking near.  Mr. Camping and his followers believe that the world is going to end tomorrow, Saturday, May 21, 2011, somewhere around 6:00 pm.

Is the eighty-nine year old Christian radio broadcaster sure about this?

In an interview with New York Magazine this past week, Camping states that he is “absolutely, 100% positive” that his biblical calculations are accurate.  According to Camping, a massive earthquake will begin tomorrow afternoon in the Pacific Ocean.  He predicts that this cataclysm will sweep around the planet laying waste to human civilization. Those on God’s good side will escape this tumult by being “raptured”—whisked away to heaven—right before the chaos is unleashed.

The rest of humanity…?

They better get busy, say Camping’s supporters, because “there’s not much time left to get right with God.”

For months his followers have been buying billboard space asking people to “Save the Date!  May 21, 2011.”  This past week, a retired MTA employee, Robert Fitzgerald, announced that he spent his life savings ($140,000) buying provocative subway advertisements in an effort to warn New Yorkers about the impending disaster.  Mr. Fitzgerald firmly believes that tomorrow is Judgment Day.

As long as our faith has existed, there have been Christians who have been willing to predict the end of the world.  Yes it’s true, other traditions have produced apocalyptic prophecies, but we Christians seem especially eager to grab poster boards and parade around Times Square.

Why?

Some say our scriptures lead us in this direction.  The Old Testament book of Daniel and the New Testament book of Revelation (primary sources for people like Camping) were both written during times when the religious community was being violently persecuted.   Both of these books picture the end of the world in vivid terms.

Others point to the fact that the Bible counsels against making end-of-the-world predictions.  As Jesus said, ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’  Matthew 24:36

Still others say that human beings latch on to end-of-the-world predictions because we are psychologically worried about our own end, and our egos have trouble imagining the world going on without us.

What do you think?  Why are human beings fascinated with predictions that profess “The End is Near!”?  If you have an answer, I would love for you to post it here.

This Sunday (assuming that we have worship!), I plan on preaching about end-of-the-world prophesies, and the relevance (Did I really just say “relevance”?) they have for our faith and our lives.

In the meantime, my advice to you (to quote my very funny friend, Nick) is “Don’t get carried away!” 😉

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20 Comments so far ↓

  • ToddNo Gravatar

    What is the official time zone that God observes?

    Jesus Mean Time (JMT)?

  • Randy WeberNo Gravatar

    The end of the world is attractive for some who hope that heaven will be a better place, than they have experienced here in this life. I’ve also encountered people who use their hope for the Second Coming being near, as a way to avoid having to fully engage with our calling to live a dynamic life here and now, to the glory of God. RW

    • JuliannaNo Gravatar

      I agree with the last part, Randy.

    • ROSE CUNNINGHAM (Rose)No Gravatar

      CONTRIBUTION TO THE END OF TIME

      I will be a Door-Keeper in the House Of GOD
      day after “The End Of Time”
      I will personally greet you, at 11am
      “World”s City” entrance at 55th on Fifth
      See you There

  • Debra Turner

    I haven’t a clue why people are always trying to predict when the world will end, but it’s nothing new is it? It’s happened throughout history. Perhaps people want to be an active part of the Second Coming. What frightens some and others don’t think about much, is a preoccupation of others.

  • JuliannaNo Gravatar

    All I know is that I will be volunteering at the shelter overnight Saturday night, so if I don’t qualify for “rapture” (rolling eyes), I will die doing something I love; however, if we are alive come Sunday morning, I am looking forward to your sermon, Scott!

  • Bill StewartNo Gravatar

    Since my wife has been out of town for two weeks, I had planned to do a lot of cleaning, particularly the kitchen.

    When I read that the end of the world is coming, then I thought maybe I should forget about the cleaning and spend the day reading the Bible and praying, cramming for finals, as it were.

    I thought about it a bit more, and decided that a better plan would be to bank on election, and clean the kitchen. Faith + works.

  • Laura FissingerNo Gravatar

    When I saw the subject line for your letter, Rev.Scott, I cracked up. I am so grateful to God for creating humor and laughter. When I took Rev. Randy’s class on “Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts”, in fact, my number one gift turned out to be humor!

    When people have apocalyptic “sure dates” like this one, I always find that corner in me that’s scared I somehow won’t make the cut as a saved Christian (lots of training in Catholic self-condemnation as a kid). I do know better, however.

    I also know that I can’t use these prophecies as a get-out-of-housework card. Phooey. I’ll wash my floors, and thank God for another day in the humor-blessed FAPC faith family.

  • Rick KNo Gravatar

    Surely we may agree or not on Mr Camping’s deduction of God’s calendar Pastor Johnston, but to dismiss his prediction out of hand is foolish. I personally am disgusted by the media’s snarky mockery of not just Mr Camping’s prediction but also of the bible in general and the faith we as Christians put in it.

    To have our spiritual leaders being cute and dismissive as well is extremely surprising and very disappointing to me as a Christian.

    I personally am prepared either way and if the rapture is today, I am ready and will rejoice to see Jesus. I am not so foolish as to think I know more than Mr Camping or have all the answers. To take away from God’s word as you seem to do in your dismissive post Pastor turns me off completely to you as a Pastor.

    You missed an opportunity to focus on the real message which is repentance, and the re-ascertion of the Bible’s importance to us even today as the word of God. Being cute and funny and critical and dismissive is what I expect from the world and the media. Not from a pastor.

    Whether its today or in a hundred years, rest assured Gods word will be fulfilled.

    May he have mercy on us all for our transgressions and give us leaders who are not afraid to preach what is written in his word.

    • SBJNo Gravatar

      Rick,

      Thanks for writing!

      You are correct. I do dismiss Mr. Camping’s prediction. I don’t, however, think that I do it out of hand. I do it based on scriptural and historical grounds. This is not the first time that Mr. Camping has predicted the end of the world. My guess is that it will not be his last.

      I believe that the Bible is God’s Word, but I do not believe that the Good Book is some puzzle/code/cypher that requires elaborate calculations in order to figure out what God wants of us. The whole point of the Protestant Reformation was that the Bible is actually easy for everyone to read and interpret once it has been translated into people’s common tongue. Sadly, Mr. Camping seems to think that he alone has insight into its mysterious ways.

      In any case, I believe that Jesus is absolutely clear in directing his followers not to predict or obsess about the day or the hour of his return. Christ focuses on talking to his disciples about preparedness! So, I commend you for your readiness and desire to be prepared whenever Christ comes. Yours is a scripturally sound approach (not Camping’s), and this is, in fact, what I will be preaching about tomorrow.

      Finally, I am sorry if my attempts at humor offended you, but I have to say that when engaging someone like Camping, I felt like I had two choices: tears or laughter. I chose the later. Maybe I should have chosen the former. Perhaps the best response to someone like Camping is tears and lament.

      I say this because I believe that people like Camping do a lot of harm to the Christian faith. They do this by making believers look, not like fools for Christ (as per the Apostle Paul), but like deranged, controlling narcissists who have no care for the many “followers” who have invested their life savings and heart’s hopes in this false prophesy.

      May the grace and peace of Christ be yours today,

      SBJ

  • Rick KNo Gravatar

    I hear you pastor. I was in the park reading Revelations this afternoon and was ready either way. I wish more emphasis was put on the event and less on the timing. I realize there will be many who will focus more on his swing than on the fact a pitch is coming. He may not have hit it, but until today none of us could have said with 100% certainty that he was wrong. Even a broke clock is right twice a day 🙂

    His conclusion has turned into a blessing for me personally as It forced me to revisit what I believe and why and renewed my faith in Gods powerful promise of abundance and rewards of faith.

    I applaud you for getting back to me. Maybe Ill see you tomorrow.

  • Laura FissingerNo Gravatar

    The dialogue above between Rev. Scott and Rick K stands as a superb, compassionate example of Christian exchange. My thanks to both of you.

  • Laura FissingerNo Gravatar

    To Rev. Scott and Rick K. — thanks to both of you.

  • JanetteNo Gravatar

    Thanks for great thoughts. I believe none of us know when the World will end, but that it will according to the Bible and my belief. The best thing you can do is to live your life each day to the best of your ability, helps others, be happy, laugh and take good care of your family. Do the right thing, and be kind.
    Illness, accidents, sudden tragic events can take us away at any time.

  • Bill StewartNo Gravatar

    After I cleaned up, including washing the kitchen floor, I settled down to continue reading “Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy”, by Eric Metaxas, a must read book. At 6:00 pm, I came to the part about Bonhoffer’s second visit to New York, in June and July of 1939. He listened to a sermon by Harry Emerson Fosdick at Riverside Church, which he thought was simply dreadful, and that afternoon went to Broadway Presbyterian Church, my old church before FAPC, and thought the sermon was perfect. The next Sunday he went to church at a “Lutheran church on Central Park West” (which I think must have been Holy Trinity on West 65th), where he thought the sermon was “poor”. How cool that Bonhoffer liked my old church, and preferred a Presbyterian sermon over a Lutheran one!

    The main thing is that Harold Camping is no doubt a sincere, devout and well intentioned Christian, but he is a poor theologian, and people like him cause a lot of damage to Christianity.

  • Chris ToddNo Gravatar

    A parishioner of yours forwarded your letter to me. I share your concerns. I covered it in my sermon this morning. My perspective is a little different having come out of fandom. Like some fans, some believers hate mystery, ambiguity, paradox or unanswered questions in their favorite subject and will resort to going way beyond the text, or twisting the Scriptures into knots, in order to work out an answer that satisfies their curiosities or their need for absolute certainty in absolutely everything.
    It’s this inability to take “no” or “we don’t know,” for an answer that drives some people to set dates for Jesus’ return.

    If you want to learn a little more about where the notion of the Rapture came from and insights I bring from geekdom, check out my blog: http://preacherofthenight.blogspot.com/2011/05/right-kind-of-rapture.html

    I get your stuff forwarded to me a lot. Keep up the good work.

  • Rob Gregory

    Good response in the conversation with Rick.

    I think a lot of people can get so caught up in one aspect of their faith that they miss the point of the entire thing. We are here to love one another and be conduits for God’s love. If you truly live a Godly life, and one that is modeled after Jesus, does the end really matter? You are preparing yourself for something greater through the life you are living. Isn’t that our ultimate purpose? To be conduits for His love and be witnesses through our actions? I think it is.

    By falsely claiming to know when the Rapture will occur Camping has cost other believers, who might not be as strong as himself, their livelihoods and their dignity. That is not love. Having a position of power carries great responsibility and Camping has clearly abused his position, causing much harm to others in the process.

    I have enjoyed the conversation you sparked with this post and the sermon on Sunday as well!

  • PeterNo Gravatar

    Hi Scott —
    It’s been a while since we communicated. Vicki and Howard Palefsky told me they were in New York and were privileged to hear your sermon on May 22nd. Vicki commented that many in the congregation around them were quite moved by it, and that reminded her of the many wonderful sermons you shared with us at Trinity in Atlanta.
    I had to laugh because one of the posts above reminded me of a favorite family anecdote. When my grandmother would come to visit with us, we would always take her out to dinner at least two or three times while she was with us. She did not have a great tolerance for liquor, and after a couple of pre-dinner cocktails her voice would rise in volume and pitch. On one such occasion, she began proclaiming to everyone around us that we must surely be living in the “end time.” This embarassed my mother no end, and her comment (also issued at a volume to reach those around us) was: “She’s just afraid to go alone and wants to take the rest of us with her.”
    I’m now going to click back and look for your sermon.
    I hope that you and your family are all well!
    Kind regards,
    Peter