Be Aware Of And Reject Normalcy Bias

I usually give you the title of the message before I speak. This week I’m not doing that. I want to do something different. I want to read five passages; and I want you to discern the common theme – which is related to the title.

The first passage is Isaiah 56. It begins with an invitation for the wild animals to eat the dead bodies of our corrupt leaders: Come, all you beasts of the field, come and devour, all you beasts of the forest!

Here are the reasons for their judgment: Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge. They were spiritually blind. They refused to see the truth and act according to the truth.

They are all mute dogs, they cannot bark. One of the reasons for owning a dog is so it can bark and warn its owner of danger. Israel’s leaders were unable to understand the danger they and the nation were in, and warn of the danger.

They lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain. They were lazy. They neglected their responsibilities. They were greedy. Like dogs with mighty appetites, they were never satisfied. They always wanted more.

And they were complacent. “Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” They Lord was displeased with these leaders. They would be judged and they would die.

The second passage is from Daniel 5: King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.

The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.

The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “May the king live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.”

So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.

Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position he gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes.

But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.

This is the inscription that was written: mene, mene, tekel, parsin. Here is what these words mean:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.

Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.

That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.

The God of Israel was offended by the king of Babylon – and rightly so. Belshazzar knew about the true God, the God of Israel. In spite of that, he insulted Him by using the goblets from His temple for a party, allowing people to drink from those special goblets who should have not drunk from them, and using those special goblets to praise false gods. The Lord decided to judge the king. And His judgment happen swiftly. That night the city was captured by the Medes and Persians, who had been besieging the city. The king of Babylon was killed, and the Babylonian empire came to a sudden end. The leaders of the the greatest empire the world had known, who were rich and powerful and enjoying life one day, were killed, captured, enslaved or impoverished the next.

Our third passage: Luke 12: Yeshua told this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

The forth passage: Luke 17: Messiah tells us what life will be like before His return. He gives us two examples. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Before Yeshua returns, people will be living life as usual. However, that will change suddenly by unexpected destruction.

The final passage: 1 Thessalonians 5: You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

What’s the common theme? Normalcy bias. Normalcy bias is a wrong way of thinking about the present and the future. It’s the assumption that tomorrow will be like today – maybe a little better, maybe a little worse, but still, like today.

Just as our hearts are prone to wander from God, our minds our prone to normalcy bias. When times are bad, we think things will always be bad. But something good can happen that can radically change things in a good way – and it can happen suddenly. Think of Joseph languishing in jail, and suddenly becoming prime minister of Egypt. And when times are good, we expect them to remain good. But life doesn’t work that way in a fallen world. Spring and summer are followed by fall and winter. That’s a gradual change.

However, the world, and our lives can changed suddenly and significantly. That’s why we read in Proverbs 27: Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.

Ya’akov, James, the brother of the Lord, and a son of David, Jewish royalty, and the leader of Messiah’s Community in Jerusalem, which was the mother community of all the other communities in the world, elaborated on this proverb. James 4: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. Unlike God, who knows the end from the beginning, our knowledge of the future is very limited.

The creature is very different from the all-knowing and all powerful and all-enduring Creator. James doesn’t compare our lives to a mountain – big and strong and enduring; but to a mist. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

We need to adopt the attitude that we are frail creatures whose lives are temporary, whose lives are completely dependent on the will of God. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. None of us know what will happen tomorrow. To speak as if we do is arrogant and evil. We are to approach the future with a humble, God-fearing attitude, understanding that our lives are in God’s hands, and subject to sudden and significant change.

Several years ago, my friend Jhan, who was a founding father of Jews for Jesus, and the best preacher in the Messianic Jewish Community, went into Manhattan one morning, tripped on some stairs in Grand Cental Station, hit his head and was dead within hours. I suspect that Jhan did not wake up in his home that final morning, thinking that his life would be over in a few hours. But it was.

Since we don’t know what will happen tomorrow; since we don’t know if we will die and meet the Lord – or if the Lord will return and this part of our life will be over, we always need to be ready to meet the Lord. Let’s take Messiah’s warning to heart. Matthew 24: Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Be the faithful and wise and diligent servant who is promoted and rewarded, not the wicked, worldly servant who is cut to pieces. Be spiritually prepared. Be ready to met your Master at any time. Avoid normalcy boas in spiritual matters.

Another area to be aware of and reject normalcy bias: the global financial system. I sense the global economy is about to change; and that we are about to go through very difficult times. In response to the last economic crisis, which took place 10 years ago, the global economy was bubble-ized with trillions of dollars created out of nowhere. That money was used to prop up the banks and big corporations. That money did not benefit the average person. As a result, interest rates have been abnormally low for a long time. Nations, corporations and individuals have taken advantage of this abnormal situation and gone further and further into debt. US national debt is more than 100 percent of Gross Domestic Product, putting us in the red zone. We are running trillion dollar deficits. If the US was in a real economic recovery, we wouldn’t be adding a trillion dollars a year to an already humongous debt. As someone recently observed: an economic recovery based on more debt is no recovery at all. It is an illusion of recovery.

You don’t cure a heroin addict by giving him more heroin. You don’t fix a crisis caused by too much debt, speculation and risk by adding more debt, speculation and risk. Yet that is exactly what has been done for the past 10 years.

The first rule of digging yourself out of a hole: Don’t dig yourself deeper into the hole. Yet, that is exactly what the world has done for the past 10 years.

The global financial system is more indebted, has more risk, is less stable, is more fragile and brittle than ever.

This bubble in stocks, bonds and real estate is bigger than the previous bubble. When this bubble pops, the results are likely to be worse than the last crisis – potentially much worse.

If empires can suddenly fall, like Babylon or the former Soviet Union, can’t complex, highly indebted, globally inter-connected financial systems? The political systems of bankrupt nations?

There are years when nothing happens. There are days in which years happen.

Prepare yourself mentally for hard times. Prepare yourself physically: have enough food for a month, better two. Have some cash. If you can, have some silver or gold.

And above all, prepare yourself spiritually: Focus on things above, not things below – taking in the Word of God, praying to Him, having a running conversation with Him throughout the day, building up Messiah’s Community, warning people of their danger, proclaiming the Good News of salvation through knowledge of and loyalty to the Messiah.

And the title of this message? Be Aware Of And Reject Normalcy Bias.