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My Habakkuk 2:6-7 mistake (again)

Very recently, someone on the Internet wrote about Habakkuk 2 and what it says about debt, which seemed to me a good chance to print an explanation I feel compelled to do on occasion to make up for a mistake I made once.

Once I referred to Habakkuk 2 on the telecast with the implication that it was a prophecy about the United States and Britain. After all, look at our debt, etc. Senior ministers at headquarters caught my mistake and pointed it out to me: The prophecy in Habakkuk 2 is not directly about the United States. That is not how the Church interprets prophecy. We don’t look at the news and decide what in the Bible fits it. That’s backwards. (Let others do that and get it wrong!) Rather, we look at the physical people under discussion and identify them as the subject of the prophecy — not only truer to God’s Word, but the approach that has served the Church for decades and decades.

Consequently, while Habakkuk 2:6-7 may use a principle of debt and creditors arising suddenly as a word picture for what God is saying, it is not a prophecy about the United States or Great Britain. (Though many other passages do speak of our debt problem!) BUT, the principle used in making the statement should be heeded by any nation that heaps up debt on itself, as the U.S. has done to remarkable lengths. And we use the verse in that sense regularly in our writings, but, as the senior ministers helped me to see (and I felt dumb about it afterwards, as it was so obvious), we only refer to it for the principle, NOT because it is a prophecy about the U.S., as — considering how the Bible should be interpreted — it clearly is not.

As I have had church members ask me about my earlier mistake misidentifying Habakkuk 2 as being a prophecy about the U.S., I always feel compelled to do my part to make sure my mistake is undone and not perpetuated. 🙂 (I say this because the old video of that telecast is still played on occasion during sermonette times in some congregations so it comes up from time to time.) The principle used to prophecy to the ancient Babylonians about the consequences of their violent rapaciousness (and possibly to the future Beast power, as well) is absolutely not a prophecy made directly about the United States or modern Israel. But it should be heeded by any nation that pursues the same foolish path we have.

J.P. Morgan Chase, Jeremiah 17:9, and Richard Feynman

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Richard Feynman: Physicist, yes, but also economist and Bible scholar? Well, sort of… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wish I had noticed this article when it first came out in the Wall Street Journal a week ago: “Polishing the Dimon Principle” by Jason Zweig (the online article doesn’t seem to require a subscription and also includes a video, which I have not seen).

In the article, Mr. Zweig notes his opinion that the investment problems roiling J.P. Morgan Chase are rooted in ignoring the advice/warning of famed physicist Richard Feynman: “You must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Reading this, I could not help but think of Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (The answer, by the way, is given in v.10, and how thankful we should be that there is an answer!)  I frequently refer to the principle there and what I call our natural “Jeremiah 17:9 heart” in my sermons and such, because the truth of this verse has so impressed me over time. Our capacity for self-deception is seemingly boundless, and I see it so frequently in play that it makes me wary of it in myself, noting that I’m just as human as the next fellow.

But the correspondence to biblical principles in the article didn’t end there. Later, Mr. Zweig — who writes a regular WSJ feature “The Intelligent Investor” — also quotes (or paraphrases) economist Peter Bernstein as saying “[T]he riskiest moment is when you are right.”

What Scripture does this remind you of? Possibly the same as what it reminded me of: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). I could see some others in there, but this one seemed the most natural to me.

As Mr. Bernstein noted, the moment when you are right–or, actually, when you believe you are right, since, in your mind, there is no difference–is a time fraught with peril… Because, unless you are God, you actually might be wrong, and your conviction that you are right is one of the insurmountable obstacles to learning that you are not.

This thought frequently crosses my mind when I read 1 Corinthians 10:12, and it strikes me that Paul’s words there are an interesting warning: They are meant to warn those who feel they are in no need of warning. In fact, they are a warning to those who are, perhaps, among the least likely to listen to it and heed it.

On this thought further, Mr. Zweig points out that studies have shown those who actually make a bet on, say, the outcome of a horse race become up to three times more confident that it will actually turn out the way they gambled than they would have believed if they had not bet on it at all. The choice to take the stand, in and of itself, affects the belief that the stand is correct. (We could push our theme in the post and mention Christ’s teaching that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, I suppose.)

On one hand, some of this we all recognize as true.  We see it in action in others, and we know the human capacity for such self-deception.

But rarely do we apply the knowledge to ourselves. Like the hypothetical individual of James 1:23-24, we see the capacity of self-deception in humanity, recognize that we are human, and then fail to make the connection — at least to the point that it impacts action. It should provide us with a healthy self-doubt — not so much self-doubt that we take no action at all, but enough self-doubt that we are open to hearing (truly hearing) the opinions of others who disagree with us and evaluating them on the merits.

Anyway, I have other things to do, but I thought it was nice to see these biblical principles in play in Mr. Zweig’s article. And it’s a reminder to me of something I know to be true but which is still neat to see: The Bible really does offer insight on a surprising range of topics. However, that advice isn’t always in the most obvious places — after all, a concordance search on “economics” isn’t going to yield Jeremiah 17:9. Yet, as J.P. Morgan Chase sure could have used that advice…

Good news on American debt

united states currency seal - IMG_7366_web
U.S. Currency Seal. Image by kevindean via Flickr

I would hate to be guilty of always looking at the clouds instead of the silver lining, so when I saw the report “U.S. Deleveraging, Unlike Some” on the Powerline blog that had some good news about American debt, I thought I would pass it along. Well, “good” is a relative term, of course!

To “leverage” yourself, in this case, is to use your borrowing power, and to “deleverage” is to reduce your debt. And the good news is that the United States, unlike, say, the UK and Europe, has, on the whole, been getting rid of debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By the standards in the report, the United States has reduced its total debt as a percentage of GDP by 16% since the second quarter of 2008, when much of this mess accelerated.

Actually, to be more specific, the American government has not, but the citizens and private companies of America have. The report claims that the American government has continued overextending itself and increased debt, but that the private households, banks, firms, etc. of the United States have personally cut back to the point that the net result for the country is a reduction of overall debt.

Of course, some of you out there reading this might be a part of that change, and good for you if you have been! The Bible tells us that the borrower is servant or slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7), and if you’ve ever been in severe debt, you’ve tasted the sentiment expressed in that proverb. It is encouraging that at least our citizenry may have some financial sense when little-to-none seems to be visible in our leadership.

Same for our private businesses, and the report points out that our financial institutions are not nearly as debt-leveraged as their counterparts elsewhere in the world [note: “pc” means “percent (of GDP)”]:

One is tempted to ask what all the fuss was about in the US. The debt of financial institutions is just 40pc, compared to the UK (219pc), Japan (120pc), France (97pc), Germany (87pc) and Italy (76pc). Bank debt has dropped from $8 trillion to $6.1 trillion — accelerated by the Lehman collapse — as lenders rely more on old-fashioned deposits.

So, good news for America on this front. (Read the report, though: Abysmal news for the UK.)

But to say we are out of the woods would be delusional. For one thing, we’ve created the sort of economic environment that is, sadly, dependent on stupidity: Where Bubba’s willingness to let Visa loan him money to by an 80″ flat screen TV may be dumb for Bubba but is good for Uncle Sam — short term, of course, not long term. (My apologies to those actually named Bubba who are too smart to do such a thing.) When a nation’s economic standing is hampered when its people begin to behave rationally, it’s in trouble.

And, ultimately, our problems are not policy problems but spiritual problems. While Habakkuk 2 is not a direct prophecy about the United States (which the Bible makes clear and which I feel responsible for clearing up), there are many prophecies in Scripture which point out that crushing debt is our destiny if we do not get our spiritual house in order — which involves so much more and runs so much deeper than monetary policy.

Still, it’s nice to hear some good news for a change, with whatever caveats it may bring with it. With clouds as dark as these, any silver lining is a welcome sight.

An undersea world of soft targets

Offshore platform located in the Gulf of Mexic...
Image via Wikipedia

Great article in the Wall Street Journal today: “The Terrorist Threat Beneath the Waves” (behind a paywall, I’m afraid). It discusses how our “undersea economy” — in particular our offshore oil rigs, etc. — are incredibly vulnerable to terrorist attack, especially as submarine technology is now amazingly cheap.

The idea isn’t attacking with a submarine equivalent to on of America’s underwater “bad boys,” which are out of the reach of most nations. Rather, the article points to the sort of “cheap” submarines being used now by drug cartels and even smaller, remote control vehicles which are more and more common and which can go “all the way down,” as it were.

I admit that I haven’t given this idea much thought, but I think that the author — president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Andrew Krepinevich — makes a good case. Right after 9-11, there was a great deal of talk about hardening America’s numerous soft targets, but the impetus seems to be gone these days. However, should we become entangled in an overt conflict with Iran or Syria — which means at war with their terrorist proxies, as well — reminders of the vulnerability of such soft targets may arrive uninvited.

Funny video explaining the European bailout

Too funny not to share. Europe has reached a “solution” concerning its (current) finance crisis, and the UK’s Guardian uses two animated office workers to explain it to us in simple terms. Check it out — and feel free to notice the parallels to America’s own “magical” economic solutions, as well. (Word of warning: Some “common” language is used on one occasion, so caveat navita stans.)  I tweeted about this earlier, but thought it was funny enough I’d post it here, too.

Click the screen grab below to go to the article and video.

[Click to go to the Guardian's video]

Vatican’s call for One World (Economic) Government

It’s great to be back in Ohio! Wow, do I have a lot to do! And I get to celebrate our return with a dentist visit in a few short hours–hooray!

Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Rome
Image via Wikipedia (from Andreas Tille)

This is just a quick post to note that the commentary I submitted to Charlotte about the recent paper published by the Roman Catholic Church (specifically, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) concerning analysis of the current financial crisis and recommendations for the prevention of future crises has been published at the Tomorrow’s World website: “Vatican: ‘Supranational authority’ needed to guide world finance.”

Here’s the lead paragraph:

On Monday, October 24, 2011, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published its recommendation for a globally empowered international authority over the world’s finances. This move by the Vatican may seem like simply “another academic paper” for policy wonks. But for students of Bible prophecy, the move represents possibilities of tremendous prophetic significance.

Click here here for the whole (brief) article.

In a related article, I thought today’s Wall Street Journal piece “The Vatican’s Monetary Wisdom” was pretty good, noting that the analysis of one of the major “root” cause (a standardless fiat monetary system afte the collapse of Bretton Woods) in the paper is insightful but that the recommendations come across as a naĂŻve “more of the same” approach, relying on a central global authority to be–miraculously, perhaps–better and more virtuous at a managing a standardless fiat monetary system than individual governments have been.

The WSJ article is good, but I would argue that the Vatican paper is in not the product of naïvety.  (Read the short commentary to see why I would think so.)

I hope to do a video for a Heads Up video podcast on the subject later.

[EU Flag with Question Mark]

Europe: Death Throes or Birth Pangs?

[EU Flag with Question Mark]

(EDIT: A cleaner, edited version of this post now appears as a commentary on the Tomorrow’s World website. Check it out!)

Are the dark ages creeping up on Europe once again?

The news and opinion pages are full of dire headlines. In the Wall Street Journal over the last few of days, I’ve read some biggies. Yesterday brought a sad article: “Greek Crisis Exacts the Cruelest Toll” — discussing the spike in economy-prompted suicide rates in Greece and describing one man’s story in heartbreaking detail. The day before brought the article, “What Comes After ‘Europe’?” with the summarizing subhead “The riots of Athens will become those of Milan, Madrid and Marseilles. Border checkpoints will return. Currencies will be resurrected, then devalued.”  The demise of Europe’s Union is taken as a foregone conclusion.  As the author, Bret Stephens, points out:

America will survive this because America is a state. But as Bismarck once remarked, “Whoever speaks of Europe is wrong. Europe is a geographical expression.” The “fiscal union” that’s being mooted will never come to pass: German voters won’t stand for it, and neither will any other country that wants to retain fiscal independence—which is to say, the core attribute of democratic sovereignty.

What comes next is the explosion of the European project.

Is that going to be what comes next?

Speaking of the spiraling crisis in European Union economics, the WSJ elsewhere quotes Forbes.com writer Charles Kadlec from September 19 who gave a succinct summary of Europe’s woes: “There appears to be no way out.”

However, what appear to be the death throes of a continental superpower-wannabe which had overreached in hubris and arrogance, may not be death throes at all.  They may be birth pangs.

As many observers of the goings-on in Brussels have noted many a time, the politicians and influence peddlers on the continent always seem to conclude the same thing: the solution to the problems of Europe is always more Europe. The solution to the difficulties caused by unification is always more unification.

Europe has seen difficult times give rise to powerful ascensions to greatness before, as difficult as the memory may be to consider. It may seem tactless to mention it, but only the foolish ignore the fact that the crushing difficulties experienced by Germany during the Weimar Republic were an integral catalyst for the rise of Hitler’s Third Reich. As Mr. Rahm Emanuel, then President-Elect Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff, infamously said in 2008 of the unfolding U.S. financial crisis: “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste; it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid” (New York Times, November 6, 2008).

As Europe heads for the crisis of its life, many will see in that crisis the opportunities of a lifetime. There is an end to every tale, and the current crisis will bring to many the opportunity to craft the next chapters of the continent’s story and attempt to shape the end of that tale to suit their own ambitions.

But we have the opportunity to know the end from the beginning.

Bible prophecy has much to say about the final state of things in Europe. As bad as things may seem now, as a good friend frequently reminds me, revolutionary change is always painful.  The picture painted for Europe in Scripture is not dependent on the whims of politicians or the latest economic panics. It is a picture of a continent’s rise to a position of domination atop the heights of the world and power the likes of which the world has never seen before.  It is a picture, too, of the consequent destruction of the United States and the nations of the former British Commonwealth, the persecution of true Christians, and the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.

Don’t confuse Europe’s birth pangs for death throes.

And don’t wait for the headlines to catch up to the Bible!  As the story of Europe’s race toward its destiny unfolds, skip to the last chapters ahead of time and read the end before it happens.  Request our free booklets The Beast of Revelation: Myth, Metaphor or Soon Coming Reality? and Fourteen Signs Announcing Christ’s Return.  The “End of Europe” discussed by today’s analysts is, truly, only its beginning.

[Image of Gold Bar]

How should Christians invest?

Great commentary from Wyatt Ciesielka, today — something I try to say often which he has taken the time to say right. Click on the introductory paragraph below to read it:

[Click to go to commentary about gold investing]

The borrower is servant to the lender

Wow — great illustration, today, of the truth of Proverbs 22:7,

“The rich rules over the poor,
And the borrower is servant to the lender.”

The United States has been living off of its credit card, and it is coming time to pay the piper (mixed metaphor, I know). However, we can’t seem to agree on how to do that. The UK’s Guardian reports today about Rep. John Boerner’s failed attempt to even get his plan to a vote because he could not get enough conservative Republicans to agree to it. It would not have succeeded, anyway, as it would have been shot down in the Senate, although there it could have faced improved odds in its amendments. If Boerner’s plan failed to pass muster, it’s hard to imagine how Sen. Harry Reid’s plan will fare any better in the House.

However, here’s the paragraph that caught my attention in the Guardian article:

“The White House will almost certainly make its priority paying interest on its debts so that the US does not default for the first time in its history. But the consequence could be delaying monthly payments to federal workers, soldiers and other employees, and millions of cheques to social security recipients, veterans and others. The treasury said it would release details in the coming days regarding which payments will take priority over others. It makes an average of 80m payments a month.”

That’s the way that debt works!  Interest payments ĂĽber alles.  When you are considering sacrificing your own soldiers, veterans, employees, and elderly so that you can continue to pay interest to your foreign creditors, you are seeing the truth of Proverbs 22:7 playing out.  Welcome to servitude.

Kudos to the Governor of Texas for making such a step, but how nice it would be to see the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, or the Senate Majority Leader come before the people not to deride the “other side” but to ask the people of the United States to appeal to God to heal what is wrong with our land and to fast for the humility to see His will more clearly and, more importantly, to act on it over own own desires.

For all the wrangling and arm twisting going on in Washington D.C., that is still the only real, long term solution to America’s woes: national repentance.

Let no one think that the U.S. has to fall slowly.  Jeremiah 6:26 & 15:8 speak of destruction coming suddenly, and Deuteronomy 28:43-45 describe the role that indebtedness to foreign powers will play in the destruction of a nation that has forgotten God, His ways, and His commandments.  Habakkuk 2:6-7 should be sobering, as well — while it is not about the United States, the reason God is able to use debt as a metaphor in that passage for the sudden destruction the Chaldeans and Babylon had earned (and may earn in the future) through their rapacious lust for conquests is because debt often is a fundamental cause of sudden destruction, as the U.S. may soon learn.

National repentance.  Let’s pray for it — but more than that, let’s remember that nations are composed of individuals.  Consequently, there can be no national repentance without individual repentance.

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For those to whom the idea of prophecies about Israel applying to the United States (and other British-descended nations) are new, please request the free Tomorrow’s World booklet, “The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy”

[The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy]