Since the last issue, events have rocked the world at a rate that has even the most optimistic gasping with uncertainty and fear. The financial world, driven by greed and dishonesty, has continued to plummet, plundering the nest eggs of hardworking people across the globe; environmental issues have continued to dominate the minds of the average citizens with continuing pressure on water and unprecedented weather; and the political manoeuvring of Vladimir Putin in Russia shows that he will stop at nothing to achieve his ascendancy.

The media has continued to carry the images of desperate share traders staring hopelessly at their computer screens as billions of dollars of shareholder wealth literally vanish before their eyes. None of their vast experience can help them understand, nor adequately explain when this bewildering phenomenon will have run its course.

The murky world of finance

The magnitude of the problem that has been created is borne out by the collapse of Bear Stearns, the fifth largest global investment banking, securities trading and brokerage firm, established in 1923 with over 14,000 employees. And there are warnings of more to come!

How has this come about? Put simply, it is the work of those driven by greed and dishonesty.

Reports of Bear being in trouble first started to surface in the middle of last year. Ultimately it succumbed as a result of making risky loans with borrowed funds, with the lenders of the borrowed funds asking for their money back and those that Bear had lent the money to, defaulting on the loans. Bear became stuck in the middle with nowhere to go.

Analysts typically use the public records of large listed organisations to assess their potential for investment. The Balance Sheet is a key financial document that is used in their analyses. However, in order to achieve higher profits, banks and other financial institutions engaged in off-balance sheet transactions to conceal the nature of their risky lending to shareholders, the analysts and the regulators.

The problem has compounded because some of the funds lent on a daily basis between banks to keep the financial system working were being directed to off-balance sheet transactions. Therefore, the total exposure to these risky off-balance sheet transactions was completely understated and largely unknown. Consequently, when the loans began to be called in and the borrowers were unable to repay, the full extent of the funds never to be seen again, came to light.

Australia has not been isolated in this crisis. This is a problem of global proportions, because vast sums of money are moved every day across the world and our banks are part of this complex web of transactions. The issue is no better reflected in the fact that all major banks have, for the first time since the establishment of the Reserve Bank, raised their interest rates to levels above the official rates set by the Reserve. In fact, some banks are raising rates again before the Reserve has even had time to review any adjustments to those official rates.

Whilst there are those who obviously have benefited through their deceptive, untrustworthy conduct, many across the world have lost their homes and possessions by trying to become beneficiaries of the gains that others have achieved. The writer of the Proverbs has declared that “the getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death” (21:6).

At the end of the day, the position of the follower of Christ has to be one of gaining wisdom and understanding, which “are better than the [profits] of silver… and fine gold… and more precious than rubies” (Prov 3:14–15).

It should come as no surprise to us as watchmen that the very underpinning of the ‘prosperity’ of the world, its financial systems, would begin to crumble in line with that of the world’s crooked political systems and decaying religious systems. Babylon the Great and the kings that have partaken of her corruption are characterised as having “lived luxuriously” (Rev 18:7,9 nkjv), or “wantonly” (Thayer), and the destruction of both systems is short and swift. The demise of both is described as taking “one hour” (Rev 18:10,17,19), and “so great riches is come to nought” (v17) and desolation (v19).

Herein lies an important warning to ensure that we do not become entrapped by the material concerns of this world, for it will be all replaced by “the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ… for ever and ever” (Rev 11:15).

The environmental crisis gets worse

At a recent Bible seminar, one of the attendees asked whether the Bible made any reference to the world’s environmental crisis. I said that whilst I did not know of any specific reference, I knew for sure that God would not permit man to destroy the earth.

Whilst this was reassuring, it did little to provide any relief from the searing heat as Adelaide endured the longest period on record above 35o in any Australian capital city, and there are almost daily reminders of the perilously low levels of water in the River Murray, placing its long term future in serious doubt. At the same time, the UK on the other side of the world experienced one of the severest storms in living history that caused power cuts to 10,000 homes and major travel disruption across Britain. This followed the worst flood in 60 years in the UK during the previous summer when nearly 150,000 homes were without drinking water and British military and rescue workers battled to save a major electricity substation on the outskirts of Gloucester, that served about 500,000 homes, with some 50,000 homes without electricity before the substation was threatened.

We have been left in no doubt that these devastating changes in the environment can be directly attributable to human activity after years of denial. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is universally recognized as the world’s most authoritative voice on the science of climate change and scientists are now linking the shifting world weather patterns to the environmental crisis.

Established by the United Nations, the role of the IPCC is to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to climate change, as well as its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. The IPCC’s assessment reports are benchmarks in humanity’s understanding of climate change.

In February 2007, the IPCC released a summary on the contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report titled Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. This most recent research from the IPCC concludes that global warming is “unequivocal” and that human activity is the main driver of this warming, asserting with near certainty – more than 90 percent confidence – that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities have been the main causes of warming since 1950.

Man, through years of neglect and abuse of the environment, has now placed the earth virtually into an irreversibly dangerous position. But it is not his to treat in this reckless fashion. The Psalmist declares that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (24:1); and the time is soon approaching when it will once again be like the Garden of Eden, as declared in Ezekiel, when speaking about the restoration of the Land of Israel. “And they shall say, This land that was desolate is become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are become fenced, and are inhabited” (36:35, cp Isa 51:3).

This is the message of hope that we should carry forward into all the corners of the earth (Luke 14:23), showing that the Creator can and will restore the earth to its pristine origins. This should not only be done through our public witnessing, but environmental responsibility should be actively practised by every Christadelphian. If we were to do otherwise, we would be no better than those who have brought the condition of the earth so perilously close to collapse.

Tsar Putin!

Vladamir Putin is a man who is in full control of Russia and his grip on her neighbours is almost vice-like.

Stepping down as President on May 7, as required by the national constitution, Putin has taken most of the powers that he exercised with him to the post of Prime Minister. In the vacuum he has installed a puppet President, Dmitry Medvedev, who according to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, is so similar in style, policies and appearance as to be virtually indistinguishable from Putin. (“Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev almost the same, Egyptian president says”, London Daily Telegraph, March 27, 2008). The report continued by saying that Medvedev has even had voice and behaviour coaching so that he imitates his mentor’s speech patterns, mannerisms and slightly clenched gait.

Yet Mr Putin is expected to remain the real power in the land.

And how he will maintain his power for some considerable time is becoming more obvious. Another report in London’s Sunday Times (“Putin’s fanatical youth brigade targets Britain”, September 27, 2007) provided an account of the new leader of Russia’s youth movement, Nashi, 26 year old Nikita Borovikov. It justified his harassment of the British Ambassador when the Ambassador had spoken at a conference last year organised by Other Russia, a coalition of opposition groups headed by Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion.

Borovikov is reported to have said, “The US, Britain and the rest of Europe don’t like the fact that Russia is becoming strong again. They want to get their hands on our oil and gas and are plotting to try to bring in a government which is open to influence. We will do all we can to safeguard our interests and independence.” This is not inconsistent with the mantra that the 100,000 strong Nashi members have drummed into them at their regular camps across Russia.

The group was modelled on the Komsomol, the Communist party youth organisation. It was inspired by Vladislav Surkov, a close aide to President Vladimir Putin, who wanted to protect the Kremlin from any uprising such as the one that toppled the government of Ukraine. Most independent experts believe Ukraine’s “orange revolution” was a genuine popular protest movement, but the Kremlin’s mistrust of the West was fuelled by evidence that the US State Department helped fund it.

With Kremlin funding and members from fifty Russian cities, Nashi has become a powerful tool in the drive to boost patriotism among the country’s youth. Its activists march in T-shirts emblazoned with Putin’s portrait. The group’s flag, a diagonal white cross on a red background, mixes Soviet and Russian imperial imagery.

Indoctrinating the youth of the nation has all the hallmarks of Hitler Youth, who were fed a diet of nationalism, topped off with a strong dose of anti-Semitism. Rebuilding the patriotism of the nation through the fervour and energy of its youth is a clever means of consolidating a strong grip on power for the foreseeable future.

With such a serious hold on the fertile minds of the youth of Russia, sprouting anti-Western sentiment, it is not hard to see how Russia will be able to marshal the numbers to make up the large army required to mount the invasion of Israel that we know is a certainty. Russia’s preparations to invade the Land are well in hand. She has a mission and has a plan to make sure that it will be accomplished. Nothing is surer than that.

How do our preparations for the coming of the Lord compare? We all know the parable of the ten virgins and can clearly explain the lessons conveyed in the imagery of that story. But, the question is, what are we doing about trimming our lamps?

Our lives can become lost in the plethora of meetings that we can readily fill our time with, but what is the impact of what we learn from those meetings having on our lives? Or do we simply attend the meetings, exchange some fleeting pleasantries and return home, without any idea of how what has been said can be applied in our lives?

What we learn has to make that journey from our head to our heart and make us more like our Master. It is time that we should check to see if we are simply going through the motions, and allow the Word to really move us to make the serious changes that we all need to make.

Equally, those who have the privilege to address the congregation need to carefully consider the nature of the message that they are to deliver. Are the comments to be delivered prepared through long and prayerful consideration of the needs and challenges of the brethren and sisters? Or are they hastily prepared because we have overcommitted ourselves and our remarks end up becoming a predictable litany of well-worn and empty clichés?

The wise man wrote: “Receive my words and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding.” Both speaker and hearer alike have a responsibility to make every opportunity one that is a worthwhile use of time in preparation for the call of the Bridegroom, who we are told will come quickly, bringing the reward with Him.