Mesa Musings: Bad times or End Times?

With the "madness" of March soon to abate, I'm afraid things remain perilous as we head into April and beyond.

Humanity has experienced, with alarming frequency in recent decades, powerful earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes and assorted other calamities.

What's next? Locusts?

When I was a college student in the late 1960s, an old guy (probably my age today) with a white beard would haunt our quad a couple of days each week, hoisting a huge collapsible sign.

The sign had flames painted on it with large letters bellowing the phrase: "Time is Short — Repent!"

If time was short in 1969, what must it be now?

The elderly gentleman would deliver long-winded sermons in the quad. It was not a mission for the squeamish, and he was unflappable. I admired his pluck and fortitude.

A few students would sidle up to politely listen to what he had to say. Some would offer challenges and barbs and await responses. Others would hurl epithets. Most, like me, simply ignored him and walked on.

I was embarrassed for him. I never remained within earshot long enough to catch his three teaching points. One message that I did pick up loud and clear, however, was that we students were bound for hell.

I elected not to be judgmental. An agnostic at the time, I considered myself open-minded. I figured he was either a good-hearted soul who sincerely believed what he spouted, or he was completely delusional and not worthy of my time.

As a serious public relations student, I attempted to critically assess his marketing approach.

"Buddy," I mused, "if you are truly sincere about your message, couldn't you have come up with a more effective way to communicate it?"

A decade later — as a father of four with a mortgage and a yearning for something transcendental in my life — I abandoned stale agnosticism for Christianity. I've never second-guessed that decision.

Last week, I watched as a few members of the media cast Franklin Graham in the same light as the old fire-and-brimstone guy at my college. That's unfair.

You've undoubtedly heard of Graham. He's founder of Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization that provides aid to victims of war, poverty, natural disaster and disease. It's an agency that does an enormous amount of good work worldwide.

Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, told Newsmax that the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami might presage the Second Coming.

Some in the media responded reflexively, making it sound as if Graham, upon hearing of Japan's tragedy, jumped on the nearest soapbox and shouted, "The end is near!"

That's not what happened. Rather, Graham offered a thoughtful riposte to a reporter's inquiry.

"Maybe this is (a sign), I don't know," Graham observed. "But, regardless, all of us need to be prepared to stand before Almighty God.

"We should pray and be vigilant. The Bible teaches us Jesus is going to return someday. Many of us believe that day is sooner rather than later."

"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars," Jesus cautioned his disciples in Matthew 24, "but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains."

Sounds a lot like today.

Some theologians take Jesus' words as a warning of End Times, as Graham obviously does. Graham stands squarely at the center of mainstream Christianity on this one. Others see the words as foretelling the destruction of the Jewish temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. Or, the warning could apply to multiple historical episodes over the last two millennia.

I happen to be in Graham's camp.

No matter your camp, I suspect we can agree that the times they are a-changin'. And they seem more perilous than less.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column now appears on Tuesdays.

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