Friday, August 15, 2014

A Postscript to Death: Remembering our Daughter-in-law Carol

I just wanted to share how much our family has appreciated prayers during these past few days.  On Thursday, August 7, our daughter-in-law,  Carol Frazier, went home to be with the Lord after a nearly 12 year battle with MS.  Although we will greatly miss her, we rejoice in the freedom she now has in the presence of the Lord.  For the past nearly two years, Carol had been a prisoner in her own body - being unable to do anything for herself.  Her mind was still pretty strong and she was able to communicate with Barry and her children up to the final couple of months, when even that ability to communicate was taken from her.  Our entire family was able to be together for a couple of days to celebrate her life.  And how we appreciate the strong support Barry and his family have received from their church family at Westchester Evangelical Free Church there in Des Moines. 


Carol was only 44, having just celebrated that birthday on July 28.  Certainly not old by today's standards.  Her death raises a myriad of questions which simply cannot be answered this side of glory.  Why was she stricken with such a debilitating form of MS?  Why was she taken so soon from her husband and children?  Why didn't God answer the many prayers raised on Carol's behalf for her healing?  Oh the many questions.  I sometime feel as did Job - always asking questions, never receiving any answers.  And yet we all have that peace that God was in total control.  Carol belonged to Him.  She was His child.  He only loaned her to our family for a short time of 20 years.  And when she breathed that final breath that Thursday afternoon, she was set free to enjoy that eternity that God had provided for her through Jesus Christ. 


Friends, death takes no account of age or position or power.  We are not promised a certain number of days upon this earth.  The only guarantee that comes with our birth is the certainty of our death, unless the Lord returns for His Bride.  Only God has numbered our days.  Only God sees the end from the beginning.  Only God knows.  We are instructed to be ready when that day comes for us.  Carol was ready, having trusted Christ as her Savior when she was a child.  And, as we gathered around her casket there in that cemetery this past Tuesday morning, there was a confidence that can only be described as the presence of Jesus Christ.  Yes, there were tears - but we did not sorrow as do those who have no hope.  Pastor Dave kept reminding us that Carol was not there in that casket; she was in heaven with Jesus.  And someday we will have a sweet reunion with her. 


Yes, there is a finality about death, but it does not have to be the victor over you.  Jesus tasted all of death for you when He died upon the cross.  The Apostle Paul was right when he wrote to the Corinthians, "Death is swallowed up in victory."  Carol knew that victory.  And so can you.  You just need to acknowledge your need for a Savior and believe that Jesus Christ died in your place.  When you confess your sins and invite Him to be part of your life, then you, too, will know that peace.  You, too, will have that victory when God summons you to His home.  I urge you to not put it off - remember, only God knows how many are your days. 


Before closing, I just want to make a brief comment about the still-holding ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.  Negotiations are ongoing in Cairo with Egypt acting as the chief negotiator.  America's role in the Middle East has become secondary.  I remember those days when Israeli leaders would think of doing nothing without first consulting their American allies.  I think the Israeli Prime Minister summed it up well when, speaking of President Obama, he said, "Don't ever second guess me again!"  And the exclamation point was indeed just that - an exclamation point filled with anger and almost disdain.  Will there be some type of truce achieved?  I believe it is highly unlikely.  Israel will not accede to the demands of Hamas and Hamas certainly will not acquiesce to recognizing the legitimacy of the State of Israel.  So, the fighting will stop, at least for awhile.  Hamas will seek opportunities to rearm and reposition itself.  And Israelis will rest easier for awhile, yet always being alert to the potential for rockets from Gaza.  The role of the United States will continue to be lesser than in the past, at least until a new Congress is convened in January after the midterm elections - a Congress that will hopefully be more favorable to Israel. 


I will write about IS next week.  What a monstrosity that is becoming!  And we are seeing what its intentions really are as they persecute those minority groups, including Christians, living in Iraq.  And their eyes are set upon Lebanon and Jordan.  They are like a cancer - and the only way to treat a cancer is to remove it.  Meanwhile, keep praying for "the peace of Jerusalem."  God is in control.



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Thoughts on Israel's Conflict and the Rise of Anti-Semitism

The now three-week old war between Israel and Hamas has intensified.  IDF units have uncovered a series of massive underground tunnels from Gaza into southern Israel.  It was through these tunnels that Islamic militants would enter into Israel with the express purposes of killing or kidnapping Israeli soldiers and/or civilians.  Over thirty such tunnels have been found and destroyed, making one wonder just how many tunnels there are. 

And still the rockets keep flying from Gaza into Israel, many flying deeper into the heart of Israel threatening Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  One rocket actually struck close to Haifa in the north of Israel.  Fortunately Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has destroyed many of those rockets before they reached their intended targets.  Because the threat is no longer just upon Sderot and the other Israeli towns that border Gaza, more Israelis are enthusiastic about what the IDF is doing during their incursion into Gaza.  According to a recent Israeli poll, Prime Minister Netanyahu's approval rating is at an all-time high, even among those who are part of the opposition parties within Israel.  Many Israelis have  become impatient with their government not taking decisive action against Hamas.  And now that it is doing something, there is applause and support.  And the Prime Minister has stated that IDF troops will not leave Gaza until the tunnels are destroyed and the infrastructure within Gaza that support those rocket attacks has been severely crippled. 

Western media has flooded Gaza with reporters and photo journalists. We have seen the images of children with shrapnel wounds.  We have witnessed the anguish of a mother who has lost her child.  We have seen the images of schools destroyed.  Of course the reporters are quick to condemn Israel for these atrocities.  Just this morning I was reading an article published by the IsraelInternationalNews.com website.  "An Italian journalist who until Tuesday was embedded in Gaza has backed the IDF's account of a rocket strike on a school playground in central Gaza's Shati refugee camp on Monday.  At least 10 people were killed in the attack - most of them children - and some sources claimed the death toll was as high as 30.  Palestinian sources were quick to blame Israel, claiming that an Israeli fighter jet fired missiles directly at the playground and nearby hospital.  Israel denied the accusations, saying that Hamas rockets aimed at Israel from the area misfired, and struck both the school and the hospital."  That is what the world heard.  But, the article continued, "But returning from a stint in Gaza, and safe from what he ominously referred to as potential 'Hamas retaliation,' Italian journalist Gabriele Barbati broke the media silence by tweeting the following message, confirming that Hamas terrorists rushed to cover up evidence of what was indeed errant rocket fire aimed at Israel. ...During the 23 days of Operation Protective Edge a handful of journalists have defied, purposefully or inadvertently, Hamas's restrictions on negative information from Gaza - only to backtrack soon after.  Two cases in particular highlighted earlier this week.  In one, Wall Street Journal reported Nick Casey tweeted evidence - and veiled criticism - over Hamas's leadership's use of Shifa Hospital in Gaza as a command center, shedding more light on the group's use of human shields.  Hamas reacted furiously, and a Hamas-affiliated twitter account blacklisted him as a journalist 'who lies for Israel' - a potentially deadly accusation for anyone in Gaza, let a lone a foreigner.  Shortly afterwards, the tweet was promptly removed by Casey."  I quote from the concluding paragraph of the article: "The use of human shields by Gazan terrorist groups during the current conflict has been repeatedly documented.  Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have stored and fired rockets from within densely-populated civilian areas, making Israeli attempts to stop them without causing collateral damage near to impossible.  To compound the problem, Hamas has openly encouraged civilians to act as human shields, glorifying their actions as heroism.  Terrorists have also used hospitals and schools as command centers and military bases.  On Tuesday, the United Nations Work and Relief Agency (UNWRA) admitted that it had discovered rockets stored in one of its schools for the third time."  You won't hear that report on your nightly news.

One of the websites I view every day is www.jerusalemonline.com.  It is a news source from Israel's Channel 2 news rooms.  Recently they interviewed Mosab Yossef, better known to use as the Son of Hamas - by the way if you have not read his story, you need to do that - whose father was a pioneer leader in Hamas.  During the interview, Yossef said, "Hamas teaches children to shed innocent blood. ... Hamas does not care about Palestinian lives, Israeli lives, or American lives.  They do not care about their own lives.  They see death as part of their ideology.  It is an expression of faith. ... Hamas is looking for conquest and domination. ... Hamas is not looking for a compromise by living beside another country.  Hamas mosques taught us that without the shedding of innocent blood in the name of the ideology, we cannot build an Islamic nation. They prepare us from age five.  This is the ideology that Hamas feeds us." 

Anti-Semitism has exploded around the world.  Massive demonstrations in France, Germany, England, and here in the United States.  As reported in The Washington Examiner on July 26, "A Facebook page calling for the death of Israeli Jews does not violate the social network's 'community standards,' according to multiple messages sent by Facebook in response to user complaints.  The page in question is named 'Death to zionst baby killer Israeli jews.  The page, which spells "Zionist" incorrectly, features an image of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a vampire with blood dripping down his chin as he feasts on a child.  It was started on July 25."  Then yesterday, Facebook removed that page.  "A Facebook spokesman confirmed to FoxNews.com Tuesday that the page had been taken down, saying, 'We've removed this page for violating our Community Standards.  Although the page was previously reported, it was mistakenly allowed to stay on Facebook.  We removed the page as soon as we were made aware of this error.  We apologize for the inconvenience.'"  Let's see - multiple messages over the course of five days before this offensive page was removed?  At first it didn't violate our community standards, and then it did?  I wonder how quickly such a page denigrating gays or Muslims or other minorities would have been removed?  But it was only Jews - open game for everyone to shoot at these days. 

Friends, the news about the Facebook page really alarmed me.  Over the years I have read many books detailing those years preceding World War II and particularly the Holocaust.  I have seen the images from the attacks upon Jewish businesses and homes during Kristelnacht.  I have read those editorials in German papers that encouraged people to lash out at their Jewish neighbors, even to reporting them to authorities.  America did nothing in the 1930's as Nazism and anti-Semitism grew across Germany.  And those early reports about death camps was viewed as fabrications and distortions.  No one rallied to the defense of the Jews, except of hundreds of individuals and families who secretly hid Jews from their persecutors - often becoming persecuted themselves.  What will America do today with this rising tide of Anti-Semitism around the globe?  Our government, since the declaration by President Truman in 1948 supporting Israel's Independence, has gone on record of supporting Israel - although at times that support has not been as forthcoming as it should have been.  (I just finished reading a fascinating book that I highly recommend - Steven Pressfield's newest book, "The Lion's Gate" which is the story of Israel's Six-Day War in 1967.  I learned that our government refused to offer any aid to Israel as it prepared for the war they knew was inevitable with Nasser's Egypt and her allies.) 

Before leaving the subject of Israel, I want to point you to two powerful articles found at the Middle East Forum website.  The first is by Raymond Ibrahim and is titled, "New Islamic Caliphate Declares Jihad on ... Muslims."  You can find it at the following web address:
www.medforum.org/4754/new-islamic-caliphate-declares-jihad-on-muslims.

The second article was written by David P. Goldman and is titled, "The One-State Solution Is on Our Doorstep."  You can find it at the following web address: www.meforum.org/4753/Israel-one-state-solution. Both these articles are very enlightening. 

One final note, a positive one, about Israel.  I share an article by Tova Dvorin, published on July 28 on the IsraelInternationalNews.com website.  "The Temple Institute, an organization in Jerusalem which works toward the rebuilding of the Third Temple, began a revolutionary campaign on Sunday to literally rebuild the Third Temple - through the power of crowdfunding.  Headlined under the title, 'Don't make history.  Make the future,  Build the Third Temple,' the indiegogo campaign promises that this generation of children is ready to see the center of Jewish worship rebuilt, once and for all. ... Now is the time for one of its most ambitious projects yet: completing architectural plans for the actual construction, fusing ancient texts and modern technology, the campaign's description states,  'While strictly adhering to the religious requirements set forth in Biblical texts, the Third Temple will also be equipped with every modern amenity: full computerization, underground parking, temperature control, elevators, docks for public transportation, wheelchair access, and much more.  The Temple Institute has engaged an architect to map out as practically as possible the modern Third Temple's construction."  Many of you have visited the Temple Institute with me during our tours to Israel.  It has been exciting to see the progress in the completion of the articles for temple worship.  In the midst of war, many in Israel are still pointing toward their future.  And the Bible does strongly declare that this Third Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem.  Just another indication that the End will soon be at hand and the trumpet will sound.   

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The World Seems to be a Giant Conflict Zone

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to live in an Islamic Caliphate?  I read two very disturbing articles today that give us an inside look at life in a Caliphate, at least for businesses and for Christians.  The first article was on the Fox News website: www.foxnews.com/world/2014/07/23/purged-by-isis-iraq-christians-appeal-to-world-for-help.  "Iraqi Christians are begging for help from the civilized world after Mosul, the northern city where they have lived and worshiped for 2,000 years, was purged of non-Muslims by ISIS, the jihadist terror group that claims to have established its own nation in the region.  Assyrian Christians, including Chaldean and Syriac Catholics, Syriac Orthodox and followers of the Assyrian Church of the East have roots in present day Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran that stretch back to the time of Jesus Christ.  While they have long been a minority and have faced persecution in the past, they had never been driven completely from their homes as has happened in Mosul under ISIS.  When the terror group ordered all to convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or face execution, many chose another option: flight. ... Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, included 60,000 Christians in 2003.  By last month, the number had dwindled to just 35,000.  It now stands at zero, according to Ignatius Yousef Younan III, patriarch of the Syrian Catholic Church.  Yousif Habash, the Iraqi-born bishop of the Syriac Catholic Church exclaimed, 'Where is the conscience of the world?  Where is the United Nations?  Where is the American administration to protect peace and justice?  Nobody has said a word.' ... Dr. Sallama Al Khafaji, a member of the Iraq High Commission for Human Rights, reportedly told a local news agency that ISIS militants forced their way into the home of an Assyrian family in Mosul, demanding a 'jizya' or poll tax.  When the family said they could not produce the money, three jihadist militants raped the mother and daughter in front of the husband and father, who later committed suicide."  So, here is the message: Christians, you have a choice - either you convert, or face death, or pay a tax.  If you were a Christian in Mosul, what would have been your response? 


On the breitbart.com website, there were these headlines today: "Islamic State Says Mannequins Must Wear Veils."  The brief article said, "The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) [which, by the way is another name for ISIS] told shopkeepers in Mosul the mannequins must wear veils.  The veil is in accordance with Sharia law since 'the human form is not depicted in statues or artwork.'  Both genders of mannequins are to wear the veil."   These people have an agenda that they certainly are not keeping hidden from sight.  The world knows where these militants stand and what their objective is.  And we are their ultimate target. 


Reports out of Ukraine today were tragic.  Two Ukrainian fighter planes were shot down by missiles in the same area where the Malaysian Airliner was shot down last Thursday.  Was that act of murder of 298 innocent people who were just getting on with their lives a planned act or an accident?  Perhaps we will never know for sure.  But the Cold War of the 1970's and 1980's is back and is threatening to become a hot war between Russia and Ukraine.  Sanctions imposed upon Russia have done little to halt their support of the rebels in Eastern Ukraine.  I think Russian President Putin knows that we will not take a hard stand.  President Obama is no President Reagan, of that Putin is very confident.  The Russian Bear is stirring from its slumber and is focusing upon recreating that powerful entity we once knew as the USSR.  Will Putin be successful in its recreation?  When one reads the Scriptures, especially those passages in Ezekiel 38 and 39, I believe it will happen.  Will it happen under Putin's leadership?  Quite possibly, but if not, at least Putin is setting the table for Gog.


And the fighting continues unabated in the Gaza Strip.  Richard Engel, reported from Gaza tonight on NBC Nightly News about the overcrowding of Palestinian hospitals with the wounded.  He then said, "There is one less hospital in Gaza tonight because it was bombed by Israel."  According to a report from the IsraelInternationalNews.com website this morning, "The IDF has struck a terrorist position in Gaza's Al Wafa hospital, illustrating the highly sensitive and illegal use of civilian targets as human shields by Hamas and other Gazan terrorist groups.  IDF sources say that the controversial decision to attack the position was taken after several days in which ground forces came under heavy fire from gunmen positioned inside the hospital grounds.  The fire reportedly included both light weaponry and heavy anti-tank missiles directed toward IDF armored vehicles.  'The hospital premises were being used as war rooms and command centers by the terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad,' said an IDF spokesperson.  The military added that it had repeatedly warned international agencies and the Palestinian head of the hospital directly about the gunfire from the hospital, as well as several other senior Palestinian officials - but to no avail.  Instead, in the past several hours the intensity of the attacks has only increased, posing a real and imminent danger to the lives of soldiers operating in the area, forcing the IDF to respond with fire of its own."


And The Jerusalem Post, in an article written by Ariel Ben Solomon, and published today, had a headline that read, "Jihadi cleric calls for Muslim fighters to join the fighting in Gaza."  "A new jihadi media outlet called Al-Fawaris released a video calling on Gazans to endure the military operation, saying that victory looms and that Muslims all over the world support them.  According to a report published on Monday by the MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor, the video also features jihadi cleric Abu hareth Al-Maqdisi threatening Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, saying his demise is coming soon. ... 'Oh our brothers in Gaza, know that you are fighting an enemy following Satan's path, whereas you are fighting in the way of [Allah] the merciful,' Maqdisi said.  He added that he and his fighters want to join the fighting in Gaza.  'True, we are fighting in Syria, but our heart yearns to arrive and fight the sons and brothers of the apes and pigs [the Jews],' MEMRI reported Maqdisi as saying.  The jihadi cleric said that Gazans must be patient and wait for either victory or martyrdom, adding that Allah will soon send 'extraordinary soldiers who will fight and defeat the Jews.  The days of defeats have passed.  Our concept today is offensive and therefore you must attack them [the Jews] so they won't attack you, hold on, fortify yourself and trust in Allah so you may succeed,' Maqdisi said." 


Does Hamas want a cease-fire?  Absolutely not, at least they give no indication that they desire such.  Hundreds of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel today.  And so Israel will keep moving forward with both its ground and air operations. 


I have wondered what the Gaza would be like today had Israel not disengaged from the Strip back in 2005.  Israeli leadership, really under pressure from the Bush administration, agreed to give peace a chance by withdrawing all Jews from the Gaza Strip.  Did peace come?  Did the Palestinian leadership take the reins to improve the lots of the people of Gaza?  No, for in spring 2006, Hamas succeeded in winning the election in Palestine and then took control of the Gaza Strip.  And it has been a hotbed for kidnappings, rockets, and terror ever since.  Should Israel just wipe out Hamas?  That would only create another leadership vacuum, so common in the Middle East, that would be filled with another terrorist group.  Should Israel re-annex the Gaza?  Not unless the Strip becomes an armed Israeli camp.  What about a ceasefire?  It will only happen when Hamas believes it would be to its advantage to accept one, but not until then.  They really do not care how many civilians are killed.  I don't hear any Hamas leaders anguishing about the high numbers.  That angst is only coming from Western media who do not understand the nature and history of the conflict. 


All around us conflicts are raging.  Jesus said that in the last days there would be "wars and rumors of war."  Just another indication that we are nearing the end.  "Come quickly, Lord Jesus" should be our battle cry.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Isaiah Was Right about the Israeli-Hamas Conflict

With regard to the current conflict between the Hamas-led government of Gaza and the Israelis, a verse from Isaiah came quickly to mind.  Isaiah writes: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20).  Isaiah is writing about a time when values were upside-down.  People were confused as to what right and wrong really were.  Now you are going to ask me, "How does this verse relate to the present situation between Hamas and Israel?"  The answer is pretty obvious when one looks at how the world views this situation.

First, who is viewed by the world as being the aggressor?  Who is viewed by the world as being the victims?  The answer to the first question in the eyes of the world is obviously Israel.  They are the big "bully" in the Middle East.  They are the ones throwing their weight around.  That is how the world sees Israel.  And, just who is the victim?  It is the poor, innocent civilians living in Gaza.  Last night, on the NBC Nightly News, two reports were shared from the conflict.  In the first report, only short images were shared of the fear as Israeli's headed to bomb shelters, but the majority of that first report showed the damage Israeli planes had inflicted upon Gaza, including a family whose home had been destroyed.  I thought to myself, I wonder what the second report would be like.  It was a reporter inside Gaza who was in a local hospital.  The images were of crying children, weeping mothers, distraught, over-worked doctors.  Upon whom did these people place the blame for their troubles?  Was it upon their own government, Hamas, who actually fired the first 150 rockets into Israel before the Israeli planes were sent skyward on their missions?  Of course not!  Over and over the world saw that it was all Israel's fault.  Then I opened the pages of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this morning and two images of the conflict were in the article: a very small picture showing Israeli's rushing toward bomb-shelters, and a much larger picture of a woman in grief in Gaza.  Which image do you think the editors of this newspaper wanted its readers to remember? 

Let's look at what has happened so far in the eight days this conflict has been raging.  The radical Islamists have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, some reaching as far north as Haifa, with many hitting portions of Tel Aviv and few even to Jerusalem.  Damage, so far, has been light with only one Israeli killed.  Why the lack of casualties?  It is because of two factors.  First, Israel has deployed its Iron Dome anti-missile defense system which has been 87% accurate in destroying enemy rockets before they can reach their intended targets.  Second, Israel has created a massive system of bomb-shelters where its civilians can flee when the sirens are sounded.  This, too, has saved many lives.  For the government of Israel, it uses its rockets to save lives, and it has invested millions of dollars in order to offer this protection.  I heard that each Iron Dome missile that is fired costs the Israeli government $50,000 - but they consider that a small price to pay to protect its citizens - both Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. 

Israeli planes have conducted over a thousand sorties over Gaza, targeting rocket-launching sites, warehouses where rockets are stored, and locations where Hamas leaders live and work.  Yes, sadly there have been nearly 200 civilian casualties.  Why such a high casualty count?  The Hamas-led government has built no system of bomb-shelters for its people.  In fact, they have encouraged people to house rockets in their homes.  It is a known fact that Hamas has placed its rockets on the tops of schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc., in the hopes that more civilians will be killed.  Those images of bodies make great public relations news for them.  The world sees those images and the blame is placed upon Israel. 

Let's see: Hamas began this conflict with the intent that their rockets, aimed at Israel's population centers, would create damage and casualties.  They were the aggressors.  Israel responded, after weeks of patience, with air strikes aimed at destroying those missiles.  The world sees them as being the aggressors, the Palestinians as being the tragic victims.  Isaiah was right: good is evil and evil is good.

Then this morning I was reading a headline story from IsraelInternationalNews.com.  Headlines; "Terrorists Offer 10-year Truce."  "Palestinian Arab sources reported Wednesday that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have drafted a ceasefire offer that would involve a 10-year truce with Israel."  The article lists the terms Israel must meet if this truce is to become a reality.  The list includes the following: 1) all crossings into Gaza opened; 2) an international airport to be opened in Gaza; 3) the Rafah (the crossing between Gaza and Egypt) to be opened up to international traffic, with UN supervision and international observers along the borders; 4) withdrawal of IDF tanks from areas they entered in Operation Protective Edge; 5) a complete removal of the blockade on Gaza; 6) an international sea port; 7) no more flights by Israeli aircraft over Palestinian territory; 8) an expansion of the fishing zone to 10 km from the shoreline; 9) Israel to release all terror prisoners who were freed in the Shalit deal and re-arrested in Operation Brother's Keeper (Israel's round-up of Hamas suspects after the deaths of the three Jewish teenagers); and 10) Israel will not interfere with the activity of the Palestinian unity government.  Friends, as I read this list I thought to myself: This would be like Germany wanting the Allies to make concessions after World War II.  In the minds of the leaders of Hamas, they have won this conflict.  And why do they think they have won?  It is because they know the world's sympathies lie with them because of the images and stories coming out of Gaza. 

Friends, I am tired of the one-sided reporting Americans and the world are getting.  I have neither heard a news story on any of the major television news services, nor read a report from any of the print media describing how Israeli trucks are daily bringing food and medical supplies into Gaza.  There is little reporting of how Israeli planes drop leaflets over entire communities strongly urging citizens to leave before an airstrike happens.  It is time the whole story is told. 

What should the government of Israel do?  I am not sure I have an answer.  My mind tells me that they should enter into Gaza and wipe out the leadership and the infrastructure that has allowed the rockets to be fired into Israel.  But I also know that if Israeli forces should do that, the world will definitely accuse Israel of being the aggressor and "bad guy."  Israeli leaders know that any cease-fire or truce will only be used by Hamas to re-gather its strength and to re-supply its rockets. 

Ah, but a solution is coming some day when the Messiah comes and will establish His Kingdom and reign from Jerusalem.  What a great day that will be!  Until that day happens, we need to pray that prayer of David: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 'May those who love you be secure.  May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.'  For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, 'Peace be within you.'  For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity." (Psalm 122:6-9).
  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thoughts for July Fourth

Friday our nation will celebrate its 238th birthday.  There will be family barbeques, parades, lots of patriotic music, baseball games, and those incredible fireworks displays as the day draws to a close.  But what exactly are we celebrating on Friday?  Some will celebrate a day free from work - and you get paid besides - how great is that!  Some will celebrate a time to do something out of the ordinary.  But many will have no idea of why there is a Fourth of July celebration.  Our children are growing up where the Spirit of 1776 is no longer taught with zeal and fervor, if it is taught at all.  Many of our young adults would be hard pressed to tell you who were George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock (didn't he start an insurance company?), Patrick Henry, and a host of others.  Fewer still could tell you who wrote the Declaration of Independence - it was Thomas Jefferson.  And fewer yet could share those opening words of that Declaration that have guided our nation these past nearly two and a half centuries: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal.  That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ..." 

A couple years ago Marlys and I had the privilege of standing in that room in Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Declaration was signed.  There was almost a hushed reverence as we stood there and heard stories from the Park Ranger about those who signed that parchment that day.  Did they know they were doing something significant?  Absolutely, for one of their number - John Adams - was careful to record a diary of what took place those weeks prior the writing of the Declaration.  Did they know that what they were doing would shake the world?  Perhaps it had entered their minds, but they were really creating a revolution based not upon some whims of another tyrant or the claims of a different political persuasion, but a revolution based upon some basic principles that were foundational for life.  That is what makes the American Revolution truly different from any revolution either prior to it or after it. 

I often ask myself what America's Founding Fathers would think if they were to arise from their graves today to observe the nation they created.    Perhaps they would marvel at the greatness America had become and the role of leadership America has played throughout the world.  Perhaps they would traverse the various memorials that dot the landscape of our National Mall - the World War II Memorial, the Viet Nam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and others - and be inspired by America's leadership.  Perhaps they would walk down many of the side streets in small towns across America and be thrilled at the initiatives that have created "mom and pop" stores - the backbone of America's economy now as it was back in 1776.  Yes, they would marvel at America's greatness.

But I also think that they would feel a great deal of sadness as they observed the multitude of homes with absentee fathers; cities where gangs rule with very little restraint, where citizens are fearful of being assaulted while simply walking to the corner store.  They would be shocked to know that prayers could no longer be raised in the public arena without the fear of litigation.  (The majority of our Founding Fathers were men who believed in the power of prayer and urged their national family to pray for them).  Their eyes would well up with tears as they witnessed the brazenness of the immorality that has become part of who we are today.  Yes, there was sin in 1776, but there was a sense of shame that often came with the sin.  Such shame is missing today. 

America has changed since those signatures were inscribed that July 4th in 1776.  Those men had a dream - a big dream, a bold dream, a dream that demanded sacrifice.  And they were willing to pay that sacrifice - and many of them did pay it.  But, as I have read many of the stories of those men and of their struggles in that period of 1774-1776, I have come to this realization: those men could do what they did because they believed in the power of God and believed God had called them for this purpose.  I found it interesting that one historian has said that the founding of America was no accident, for at no other time in our history has such a group of leaders ever been assembled.  I highly recommend two books written by Joseph Ellis.  One is titled, America's Founding Brothers, which tells the stories of many of those who helped make America what it became.  The second is titled, The American Creation, which relates the story of the writing of the Constitution.  Both books will leave you challenge your thinking and be an encouragement to you.

So, celebrate on Friday however you feel led.  But in your celebration remember what happened on that fateful day in 1776 when a group of men pledged themselves and all that they had to create a nation they believed could be blessed by God and used by God to impact their world.  Yes, "America, America, God shed His grace on thee; and crowned thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea."  America, may we return to those moorings of our past so as to find a purpose and guide for our present and future.  And may we do it before it is too late!  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Spiritual Battle Heats Up in the Middle East

I am deeply troubled by what is happening in Iraq right now.  It would appear that all the American men and women who gave their lives so sacrificially, while many others gave of their arms, legs, eyes, and ears for the cause of Iraqi Freedom, may have done so with futility.  Let's be clear about one thing: this is not a struggle for the control of Iraq, but for the establishment of an Islamic Empire in the Middle East, patterned like those of the Caliphates of old.

The major antagonist is known as ISIS - The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  However, it is also known as ISIL - The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  Now the word Levant refers to the area that exists between Egypt and Iraq; in other words, if one looks at a map, the Levant includes all the lands of the ancient Assyrian Empire.  Today that would include: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, parts of Turkey, and Egypt.  The goal of ISIL is not just the creation of an Islamic Caliphate within the borders of Syria and Iraq, but to also include all of the Middle East. 

Just today we have learned that ISIL or ISIS - no matter the name, they are one in the same - has captured control of the main border crossing from Syria into Jordan and from Syria into Iraq.  It is that crossing from Syria into Jordan that presents some huge concerns, not only for King Hussein and the people of Jordan, but also for Prime Minister Netanyahu and the people of Israel.  Since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and exemplified by Jordan's treaty with Israel in 1994, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has achieved relative stability - at least by Middle East standards.  If one looks at a map of the Middle East, three of Israel's neighbors have either gone through or are going through times of civil war and/or unrest: Lebanon - has been in a state of civil war for the past three decades; Syria - has been riled by civil war for the past three years; and Egypt - where, only through military intervention, was a civil war prevented.  That only leaves Saudi Arabia and Jordan as neighbors of Israel with relative stability. 

Now, we know that the intent and purpose of radical Islamic extremists is the destruction of Israel.  That is clear from the charter of Hamas (Gaza) and Hezbollah (Lebanon).  Few remember that it is also clearly stated in the charter of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) of which the present PA (Palestinian Authority) is a part.  Although promised during the Oslo Accords, that phrase within the PLO charter has never been removed. 

An article, written by F. Michael Maloof today at the WND website, is most alarming.  The article can be found at www.wnd.com/2014/06/iraq-invaders-threaten-nuke-attack-on-israel.  "The well-organized army of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, claims it has access to nuclear weapons and a will to use them to 'liberate' Palestine from Israel as part of its 'Islamic Spring,' according to a WND source in the region.  Franklin Lamb, an international lawyer based in Beirut and Damascus, said the move is part of the ISIS aim of creating a caliphate under strict Islamic law, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Iraq. ... Lamb said ISIS can do what no other Arab, Muslim or Western backers of resistance have been able to accomplish.  He quoted the ISIS member as saying, 'All countries in this region are playing the sectarian card just as they have long played the Palestinian card, but the difference with ISIS is that we are serious about Palestine and they are not.  Tel Aviv will fall as fast as Mosul when the time is right.'"  And from where would these ISIS fighters get their nuclear weapons?  According to the article, one source might be Pakistan, home to more than 30 terrorist groups; a second source might be Saudi Arabia, which has threatened to get its own nuclear weapons if Iran has those same weapons. 

Friends, if Baghdad falls to the ISIS rebels, I believe a greater threat will hang over the entire Middle East region than when Saddam Hussein was in power.  ISIS will not stop with Baghdad.  They will want Amman.  They will want Beirut.  They will want Damascus.  And their eventual target will be Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  They view themselves as preparing the way for the Twelfth Iman whose coming will initiate a new Islamic Caliphate throughout the region.  Dedicated Muslim fighters from around the world are joining ISIS fighters there in Syria and Iraq.  And, should they return to their home countries, they will carry with them that hatred for anyone that will not willingly bend to their Islamic intentions. 

This is not the time to be lulled into sleep.  This is not the time to be apathetic and pretend that what is happening half-a-world away will not impact you. except for perhaps at the gas pumps.  Friends, this is a battle between the spiritual forces that seek to control this world.  In the Book of Daniel, this is seen as the battle between Michael and the Prince of Persia (read Daniel 10).  Paul describes it in Ephesians as the struggle with the spiritual forces of darkness (read Ephesians 6).  Whatever you call it, it is representative of that final battle that will occur at the end of the age where the forces under the Antichrist will march defiantly against Jerusalem and the Messiah Himself (read Revelation 19).  It is time we have our spiritual houses in order, for the coming of the Lord is drawing ever closer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why Is Democracy Such a Struggle in the Middle East?


The Middle East has always seemed to teeter on the brink of destruction.  Historically, the Middle East has been the battle ground of countless armies clashing in the rush to become world powers.  The armies of Israel and its neighbors clashed on the hillsides of what is known today as the Golan Heights.  The armies of Egypt and Babylon clashed on the plains of northern Syria.  The armies of Persia marched across the deserts of the Middle East on its way to becoming one of the greatest empires the world had witnessed, until it was confronted with the armies of Alexander the Great, who then became the world's greatest ruler, only to see his kingdom fractured after his death.  Then the Middle East became the battle ground between the powers resident within Egypt and those within Syria, leading to what we know as the Maccabean War.  Then the Romans arrived and the Middle East was constantly in a state of chaos under their heavy-handed leadership. 

Then came the advent of Islam and the clash between three religious theologies: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  The clashes were bloody and deadly, resulting in Islam taking control of the Middle East, a control they maintained until the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.  And, since that date, the Middle East has been as if sitting on a powder keg, often with a short fuse waiting to be lit.

Today the Middle East has become even more embroiled.  The civil war in Syria is now several years old and has seen the destruction of countless lives.  Refugees by the tens of thousands have flooded across its borders into neighboring Jordan.  And now the nation of Iraq, that nation for which over 4,000 American soldiers gave their lives to help set them free, is under attack by one of the most brutal vestiges of radical Islam: ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  Just this past week we read of the execution of nearly 1700 captured Iraqi soldiers by ISIS.  They now control some of the major cities within Iraq and have commandeered control of one of the largest oil refineries within Iraq.  Its sites are set upon Baghdad and the complete takeover of the Iraqi people.  Will Iraq fall back into a situation even more desperate than those days of Saddam Hussein?  It is quite possible.  There seems to be a lack of resolve on the part of the rest of the world to reenter into the fray within Iraq.  The costs were too high in the previous attempt.  And there seems to have been a lack of resolve on the part of the Iraqi leadership to fully commit to the democratic process.

I need to restate something I wrote in a blog several years ago.  Its truth is now being realized.  It concerns the survival of a democratic way of life in the Middle East.  Yes, the American ideal would be for all the world to enjoy what we have enjoyed for over 250 years - freedom of expression, freedom of access, freedom to worship as one is led.  Now those principles did not just happen in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia.  No, the foundation for those principles were laid within the pages of Scripture and were taught to generation after generation in England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Holland, and Portugal.  Now, to be sure, there were different ways to interpret those principles, but the foundations were there.  So, when the American colonies were created and came together to form a new nation, the principles for a democratic republic were already there.  This nation was founded upon a Judaic-Christian foundation.

The history in the Middle East does not have those same foundations.  Since the 8th century, the Middle East has been govern by principles established upon the Koran.  These principles, as seen in the history of the Islamic world, better fit a government ruled by the power of a few rather than the many.  I am not stating that this is a wrong way to govern, for even within a Christian Europe, totalitarianism was tried, but rejected by the people.  So, given this history, how does someone set about creating a democratic foundation?  Well, our first thought is to have free elections.  But, friends, elections are not democracy.  Elections are a result of democracy.  Elections do not create democracy.  As our Founding Fathers knew, democracy is the result of generations of teaching.  We became excited when the Arab Spring happened, first in Tunisia, then Egypt, then throughout the Middle East.  Ah, we said, now we will have democracy in the Middle East.  So, we helped to establish elections.  And, we were shocked at the consequences: Hamas wins in the West Bank, the Muslim Brotherhood wins in Egypt, other radical groups win in Tunisia and Libya.  How could this have happened? we asked ourselves.  The answer is rather clear - because there was no foundation for the creation of a democracy.  Democracy is not caught; democracy is taught. 

I have been asked if I believed a democratic government would work in the Middle East.  And my answer is "yes" it can and it does.  Just look at Israel.   But upon what is the democracy in Israel based?  Upon those values inherent within the Judaic-Christian beliefs.  yes, there is a form of democracy in Turkey, but that is because the nation of Turkey was created to be a secular state.  But, there are forces within Turkey that are threatening that fragile democracy. 

What is going to happen in Iraq?  I don't know for the immediate future.  But I do know about its distant future.  Babylon will rise once again and become the most powerful city in the world.  It will be the seat of the government of the Antichrist.  Yet, I believe the Scriptures indicate that God will bring a remnant of believers out of Iraq (ancient Assyria) and they will join with believers from Egypt worshiping the God of Israel in Jerusalem.  Read Isaiah 19:23-25.  That should get you excited.

Friends, God is in control.  We can fully trust Him.