Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Another Revisiting of the First Amendment

I want to revisit the assault upon the First Amendment this week.  But before I look at the assault, I thought perhaps it would be good for all of us to just re-read that First Amendment to our United States Constitution, passed by Congress in 1789 and ratified in 1791.  The First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."  It seems to be rather straightforward in what it says, and yet the First Amendment has been the topic of more confusion than perhaps any other section of the Constitution.  And the assault upon it's foundational truths continues yet today.  Here are a few examples:


In Idaho, Pastor Donald Knapp and his wife Evelyn have owned The Hitching Post wedding chapel for 25 years.  Both are licensed ministers.  They have been informed by their city government that refusing to "marry" a same-sex couple will cause them to be sent to jail.  Earlier this month the State of Idaho approved same-sex marriage and, as in other states where similar measures have been adopted, problems for those who hold to a biblical view of marriage become evident.  According to an article in Tony Perkin's Washington Update, dated October 20, 2014, "For Donald and Evelyn, there was never any question what the duo would do.  Unapologetically Christian, the husband-and-wife team is overtly religious, marrying couples with faith-driven vows, and even offering marriage sermons on CD to newlyweds."  Yet the city authorities have said that unless they conformed to the new law, they would be fined up to $1,000 a day for every day they refuse to perform the ceremony and have 180 days in jail. 


"FRC (Family Research Council) warned this movement was coming, but even we didn't expect the government to move this quickly.  'The other side insisted this would never happen - that pastors would not have to perform same-sex marriage,' ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom)'s Jeremy Tedesco told Fox News's Todd Starnes.  'The reality is - it's already happening.'  Government officials are making it clear that they'll use their power to punish anyone who opposes the agenda of homosexual activists.  It's a scary turnaround for a nation founded on the same free exercise of religion, which is now punishable by six months in prison.  When there are plenty of other options for homosexuals seeking a marriage license, why should they be able to use the power of government to force Christians to participate?"


Then there is the case of a young student attending the University of New Mexico who was punished for criticizing lesbians.  The article is posted at: www.wnd.com/2014/10/judge-rules-on-student-punished-for-criticizing-lesbians.  The article was written by Bob Unruh and posted on October 20.  "The University of New Mexico and one of its professors will face trial on a charge of violating the constitutional rights of a student punished for expressing her opinions about lesbianism in a class described by the instructor as having 'controversy built right into the syllabus.'  Chief U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo denied a motion by the university to dismiss a case brought by student Monica Pompeo, who claimed she was improperly dismissed from the class for describing lesbianism as perverse in an assigned critique of a lesbian romance film.  The course, 'Images of (Wo)men: From Icons to Iconoclasts,' was taught by professor Carolyn Hinkley in 2012.  Judge Armijo, in her Sept. 29 order, wrote that the First Amendment 'violation in this case arises from the irreconcilable conflict between the all-views-are-welcome description of the forum and [the professor's] only-those-views-with-which-I-personally-agree-are-acceptable implementation of the forum.  "Hinkley wrote in the syllabus: 'It's quite clear that we do not expect anyone to necessarily agree with the positions and arguments advanced in our work.  There's controversy built right into the syllabus, and we can't wait to hash out our differences.  But when she assigned students to watch and write about 'Desert Hearts,' a 1985 lesbian romance film, Pompeo said Hinkley refused to read beyond the first two pages of her harsh critique.  The professor described Pompeo's opinion as 'inflammatory and offensive' hate speech and said it would be in her best interest to drop the class."


In a rare victory, Judge Armijo ruled on behalf of the plaintiff, Ms. Pompeo.  She wrote, "Plaintiff has made out a case that no reasonable educator could have believed that by criticizing lesbianism, plaintiff's critique fell outside the parameters of the class, given the description of the class set out in the syllabus.  The court questions whether a university can have a legitimate pedagogical interest in inviting students to engage in 'incendiary' and provocative speech on a topic and then punishing a student because he or she did just that.  Simply because plaintiff expressed views about homosexuality that some people may deem offensive does not deprive her views of First Amendment protection.  Plaintiff has made out a plausible case that Hinkley ostracized her because of Hinkley's personal disagreement with plaintiff's ideology, and not for legitimate pedagogical purpose."  May this judge's kind increase.


And the battle continues in Houston.  The Mayor changed the language of the subpoena last week, dropping the word "sermon" and replacing it with the word "speech."  In effect, it did not change the subpoena at all.  But the nation, despite the lack of any media coverage, except by Fox News, has rallied around those five pastors.  Former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, encouraged pastors across America to send Houston Mayor Annise Parker a sermon, and perhaps send her a Bible as well.  Martial arts champion and television star, Chuck Norris, said the action of the Houston Mayor reminded him of the words of Forrest Gump and his mother, "Stupid is as stupid does."  In an article, posted at www.wnd.com/2014/10/houston-5-pastor-sermon-fight-hit-nerve-for-america, Bob Unruh quotes from Pastor Wilfredo De Jesus of the New Life Covenant Church in Chicago: "It's a sad day in the United States of America, in the land of the free, when the First Amendment rights of religious leaders are being trampled on by a mayor for political gain and/or exposure.  I accept the fact that what I preach may be considered by some as controversial and not accepted as popular.  What I will not accept is a government body deploying bullying tactics that perpetuate an environment of hate toward Christians and bigotry toward Christian beliefs."  Stay tuned - this conflict in Houston is not over, yet. 


I want to close with a reference to some thoughts from Billy Graham.  You can find the entire article at: www.cnsnews.com/mrctv-blog/michael-w-chapman/rev-billy-graham-america-just-wicked.  Dr. Graham states, "Even though America is just as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah ever were, and as deserving of the judgment of God, God would spare us if we were earnestly praying, with hearts that had been cleansed and washed by the blood of Christ.  The problems of the world will never be settled unless our national leaders go to God in prayer.  If only they would discover the power and wisdom that there is in reliance upon God, we could soon see the solution to the grave problems that face the world.  Today the world is being carried on a rushing torrent of history that is sweeping out of control.  There is but one power available to redeem the course of events, and that is the power of prayer by God-fearing, Christ-believing people."  And to that I will said a hearty "Amen!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Another Wake-Up Call in the Battle for Truth

If you have been following my blog for the past seven years, you will remember that I have stressed that the day will come when Christians will be put under the microscope and condemned for what they say and do in the name of Jesus Christ; that the day will come when pastors will be arrested and put in jail because of the truths they proclaim from the Word of God.  Friends, that day is getting closer than we realize.  Allow me to share a story that was reported on several of the conservative news sites yesterday.


The article can be found at www.wnd.com/2014/10/major-u-s-city-demands-oversight-of-sermons.  The author of the article is Bob Unruh, one of the featured writers with WND.  Allow me to quote from the article.  "Officials with the City of Houston, Texas, who are fighting for a controversial ordinance that would allow men to use women's restrooms there now have demanded to see the sermons preached by several area pastors.  The recent move came in a subpoena from the city to pastors for copies of their sermons - and copies of other communications from the pastors to their congregations - in the city's fight over a 'non-discrimination' plan that allows 'gender-confused' people to use whatever public restrooms with which they identify.  A legal action challenging the city's move has developed because the city allegedly violated its own charter in the process of adopting the Equal Rights Ordinance, which in May designated homosexuals and transgender persons as a protected class.  Critics say the measure effectively enables sexual predators who dress as women to enter female public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities.  And a coalition of activists that includes area pastors filed suit Aug. 6 against the city and lesbian Mayor Annise Parker after officials announced a voter petition to repeal the measure didn't have enough signatures to qualify for the election ballot." 


So, let's just stop right here and ascertain the gravity of the situation.  The city council of Houston, Texas, adopted an ordinance that made it possible for persons who are confused about their gender to use any public bathroom facility that they choose.  The people of Houston strongly disagreed with that ordinance and filed a petition signed by many of its residents urging the city council to repeal the ordinance.  And, several of the area pastors spoke out against that ordinance through sermons, e-mails, blogs, etc. to their congregants.  What was the response of the Mayor and the Council?  They challenged the signatures on the petition and they decided to subpoena the sermons and other forms of communication from those pastors on record as opposing the ordinance.  The Mayor and the Council members are not interested in hearing the Gospel; they just want to know if what is said from the pulpit aligns with the will of the Council. 


The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorney working on behalf of the pastors said that "the city is illegitimately demanding that the pastors, who are not party to the lawsuit, turn over their constitutionally protected sermons and other communications simply so the city can see if the pastors have ever opposed or criticized the city.  'City council members are supposed to be public servants, not 'Big Brother' overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,' said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley.  'In this case they have embarked upon a witch hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it.'"  ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb said, "The city's subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented.  The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.  Political and social commentary is not a crime; it is protected by the First Amendment."


Friends, this is a very serious matter.  I have been teaching a class on Church History on Monday evenings in my church.  I have been noticing an interesting trend when it comes to the conflict between the teachings of the Gospel and the world.  What happened in the Book of Acts when the disciples dared to proclaim boldly the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  They were arrested and threatened by those who opposed that message.  In fact, we read where James was arrested and martyred, and a similar fate awaited Peter, except for the divine intervention of God.  The Apostle Paul knew the difficulties of opposing those with divergent positions: imprisoned, beaten, and even stoned.  The world is frightened when confronted with the truth. 


And, as one continues in the study of the history of the Church, the assault upon truth is obvious.  Our great nation was founded by those who were being persecuted because of the truths they held regarding the Word of God.  And, as a consequence of that persecution, when this nation was founded, one of its foundational principles was that truth should not be quieted by government.  This is the reality of the First Amendment. 


And yet now that foundational principle is being assaulted.  If the courts rule in the favor of the Mayor and Council of Houston, Texas, then pastors in this country will be faced with the reality of choosing whether to: a) continue preaching the truths of the Bible and speaking boldly those truths, knowing that to do so will most certainly lead to a jail sentence, or b) to compromise on biblical truth so as to preserve their freedom from jail.  And the issue that will create this dilemma will be that of homosexuality and gender equality.  We have seen it already in Canada and places in Europe.  Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have already embraced the transsexual agenda.  It is on our doorsteps, and the situation arising in Houston is a strong clarion call that the battle is now engaged. 


It is becoming increasingly clear that my role as a pastor/teacher is to proclaim the truths of the Scriptures as clearly and as powerfully as the Spirit of God gives the ability.  And then to help the families within my church to own those truths as their own so that they, in turn, can instill them into the hearts of their children.  If America is to be saved, it will only come through a cooperative and dedicated effort on the part of homes and churches strongly committed to knowing and proclaiming truth, even if it means a sacrifice might be required.  I challenge you to re-read the book of Daniel, especially those first six chapters.  "Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone; Dare to have a purpose firm, dare to make it known."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sukkot, ISIS, and a Frightening Decision

Tonight is the Eve of the Jewish Festival known as Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles.  As with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), this annual celebration has its roots planted deeply in the wilderness wanderings of Israel following the exodus from Egypt.  This Feast is first mentioned in Leviticus 23:33-43.  As part of this remembrance of God's provision for Israel during those 40 years of wanderings, Israel was to live in booths constructed of tree and palm branches.  I have seen some pictures of some incredibly beautiful sukkots today.  The Feast of Tabernacles lasts for eight days.  It is the last of the fall festivals in Israel.  As with all of the Hebrew feasts, this one is a reminder of what God has done in the past and a celebration of what God is doing in the present and a hope for what God will do in the future.  Perhaps we need more celebrations like this in our Christian experience.


I want to share with you two articles I received this morning.  Both were reported on the Fox News website.  The first was titled, "Congressman: 'At least 10 ISIS fighters caught trying to cross into US."  The article can be found at: www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/10/08/congressman-at-least-10-isis-fighters-caught-trying-to-cross-into-US.  Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, said that he had learned that "at least" 10 Islamic State fighters had been caught trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas.  He had learned this from people at the Border Patrol.  Rep. Hunter went on to say, in the article, "ISIS is coming across the southern border.  They aren't flying B1 bombers bombing American cities, but they are going to be bombing American cities coming across from Mexico.  I know that at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas."  He then speculated that if 10 fighters had been caught, how many were not caught by the Border Patrol. 


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denied this claim by Rep. Hunter.  One senior DHS spokesman said, "The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground.  DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border."  A spokesman for the Congressman responded, "The congressman was conveying what he knows - and what he was told.  It make sense that the left hand of DHS doesn't know what the right hand is doing - it's been that way for a long time and we don't expect that to change." 


The porousness of the border between Mexico and the United States has long been documented.  For every illegal who is caught there are dozens who are not caught.  Reports have circulated that radical Islamic terrorists have been in Mexico and the assumption is that some have crossed over into the United States.  Could it be that we will have to fight ISIS or other radical Islamic groups here on our soil?  It certainly is a greater possibility than some might want to admit. 


The second article, also on the Fox News website, is titled, "Commission says Christian business owners should leave religion at home."  The article was written by Todd Starnes, whose book, "God Less America" I have reviewed in a previous blog.  (By the way, it is a must read).  The article can be found at: www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/07/commission-says-christian-business-owner-should-leave-religion-at-home.  The article begins, "The Human Rights Commission in Lexington, Kentucky, has a chilling message for Christian business owners who refuse service to LGBT organizations: leave your religion at home.  'It would be safe to do so, yes,' Executive Director Raymond Sexton told me.  'Or in this case you can find yourself two years down the road and you're still involved in a legal battle because you did not do so.'"


"On Tuesday, a Lexington Human Rights Commission hearing examiner issued a recommended ruling that the owner of a T-shirt company violated a local ordinance against sexual-orientation discrimination.  The examiner concluded that Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals broke the law in 2012 by declining to print shirts promoting the Lexington Pride Festival.  The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization subsequently filed a complaint.  Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases, represented Adamson, a devout Christian.  'No one should be forced by the government or by another citizen to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,' said ADF attorney Jim Campbell.  'Blaine declined to the request to print the shirts not because of any characteristic of the people who asked for them, but because of the message that the shirts would communicate.'"


What did this ruling require?  "First, Hands On Originals cannot discriminate against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  In other words, the T-shirt company must service LGBT customers - no questions asked.  The examiner also ordered Adamson to attend 'diversity training' conducted by - wait for it - the Lexington Human Rights Commission."  Todd Starnes writes, "Take just a moment and let that sink in - a Christian business owner is being ordered to attend diversity training - because of his religious beliefs.  That's a pretty frightening concept and a mighty dangerous precedent. ... In essence, the Human Rights Commission is telling Christian business owners they have to change their religious beliefs.  It's the idea that the government knows best and Christians must reorient their beliefs." 


Oh the power of a minority - and the LGBT community represents less than 5% of the American population; yet it has enough influence to attack small business owners and giant business enterprises, like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A.  And the decision, this past Monday, by the United States Supreme Court certainly did not help the conservative Christian cause at least for the immediate moment.  The Court refused to consider appeals from lower courts that had been brought to the Supreme Court.  Thus the door was opened for the recognition of gay marriage in states such as Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Utah.  But I took hope in the article Tony Perkins wrote in his "Washington Update" for the Family Research Council.  "While the Left races to spin the news as a victory for its cause, the reality is that today's announcement doesn't mean that the justices would rule against marriage.  What it does show is that the Court is hesitant to jump into the fray and impose a 'Roe v. Wade' type decision on a nation still sharply divided on the issue. ... If the Supreme Court thinks America isn't ready for same-sex ',marriage,' they're right.  As more states are forced to recognize it, people will see the ensuing attacks on religious freedom.  They'll feel the wedge driven between parents and their children when school curriculum is changed to contradict the morals moms and dads are teaching at home.  They'll shudder as more people lose their jobs because they refuse to celebrate (not just tolerate) same-sex 'marriage.'  Maybe then they'll realize that the true goal is not about the marriage altar - but fundamentally altering society." 


So, we have the threat of ISIS crossing our border intent upon destroying the Great Satan.  Yet, at the same time, we have the decline in morality that is destroying us from within.  Perhaps there won't be much left for ISIS to take.  But aren't you glad that you are in the hands of a great God?  I know that I am!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yom Kippur and the United Nations General Assembly

This coming Saturday is one of the highest and holiest days in the Jewish calendar.  It is known as Yom Kippur, or The Day of Atonement.  The roots for this holy day go back to the commandments given by God to Moses upon Mount Sinai following the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt.   The details of this special day are found in the following texts: Leviticus 16:1-34, Leviticus 23:26-32, and Numbers 29:7-11.  This was a national day for fasting and repentance of sins.  On this day, the High Priest would enter into the Most Holy Place and there sprinkle the blood of a bull and the blood of a goat upon the cover of the Ark of the Covenant.  This cover was known as the Mercy Seat.  The blood of the bull was representative of the sins of the High Priest, while the blood of the goat represented the sins of the people.  Thus both the priest and the nation were represented.


Following the sprinkling of the blood upon the Mercy Seat, the High Priest would then, in the presence of the people, lay his hands upon the head of a second goat confessing the sins of wickedness and rebellion of the people, thus transferring those sins now to the goat.  Then that goat would be taken by a chosen individual deep into the wilderness and released never to be seen again.  This represented that God had removed the sins from the camp and the people were forgiven.  Some final sacrifices then completed the events of this important day. 


Are there any lessons we can learn from The Day of Atonement?  And the answer is "yes."  First, there is the reminder that the way to forgiveness is through following the plan of God.  Moses did not just think up this way.  It was given to him by God Himself.  "Moses, if the people want to know My forgiveness, then this is the avenue they must take."  There was only one way to repentance and forgiveness!  Sounds pretty narrow, doesn't it?  But the way to God is a narrow way.  It is only through Jesus that one can experience the forgiveness of sins.  Remember those words of Jesus: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  The Day of Atonement was God's plan.


Second, there is the reminder that the way to forgiveness comes through the shedding of innocent blood.  That bull and goat had done nothing deserving of death.  They did not need to be forgiven.  Yet they gave of their lives so that the people might be forgiven.  What a picture here of what Jesus Christ did for us upon the cross!  He had done nothing deserving of death.  He did not need to be forgiven.  He freely gave of Himself for us: "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). 


Third, there is the reminder that when God forgives our sins, they are totally removed from us.  That goat, called the scape-goat, was taken so far outside the boundaries of the camp, that it was never seen again.  No one ever knew what became of that goat; perhaps it wandered in that wilderness until it died, or perhaps it became a meal for a lion or a pack of wolves.  The Bible affirms for us that God, also, has removed our sins from us: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12).  What an amazing statement!  Those sins will never be seen again. 


The Day of Atonement really becomes a portrait for us of what Jesus Christ would do upon the cross.  So, perhaps it might be good on Saturday to just take a few moments to simply thank God for the forgiveness of your sins through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Of course, it is good for us to do that on a regular basis. 


Before I close, I just wanted to make a quick comment upon some of the speeches given by world leaders at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.  Last week, Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, used his time to rail against Israel, accusing them of "crimes against humanity" during the recent Operation Protective Edge.  He also indicated, although he did not give specifics, that he intends to appeal to the United Nations Security Council to set a date whereby Israel must exit Samaria and Judea (the West Bank).  Reading between the lines in his speech, one comes to the conclusion that the Palestinians are no longer interested in a face-to-face peace process, but want a declaration by the international community that will force Israel to either leave the West Bank or to defy the wishes of that international community by remaining.


Then, yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed that same United Nations General Assembly.  He spent a good amount of time making the case that Hamas and ISIS or ISIL or IS are simply branches off the same tree.   Both Hamas and ISIS have as their stated intent the destruction of Israel.  He then addressed the accusation of "crimes against humanity" by showing photographs of Hamas rocket launchers on school grounds and in neighborhoods.  He used these words, "Ladies and Gentlemen, As Israeli children huddled in bomb shelters and Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system knocked Hamas rockets out of the sky, the profound moral difference between Israel and Hamas couldn't have been clearer: Israel was using its missiles to protect its children; Hamas was using its children to protect its missiles."  The Prime Minister also seemed wearied by the lengthy peace process, but also appeared to keep the door open for future talks. 


The focus of the world is upon ISIS right now.  Even our own governmental leaders have failed to "connect the dots" between ISIS and Hamas and Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda.  The Israeli Prime Minister is correct - there is an obvious link.  I think the Australians are beginning to see the link with their recent uncovering of a plot that is almost too grisly to even think about.  There is a link with the recent terrorist murder in Oklahoma: this was not an act of workplace violence, but an act of terrorism, a hate-crime if you will.  Is it ever possible to totally eradicate the radical Islamists?  No.  We tried in World War 2 to eradicate Nazism and Fascism and were successful in damaging its influence, but both Nazism and Fascism still exist today, especially among those white-supremacist groups.  No, we will never totally destroy radical ideologies, but the world - including, and most importantly, the Arab world - needs to join hands to do all it can to destroy as many of those radical ideologies as possible.  The world was successful in World War 2.  It can be again, but it will take some bold leadership - a Roosevelt or a Churchill - to make it happen; and, I am afraid, as I look out over the leadership landscape today, such leaders are sorely missing.  Leadership today is through accommodation rather than through courage.  Leadership today is achieved by popularity polls rather than through assertive visioning. 


Who will the world listen to?  The Palestinian Authority Chairman or the Israeli Prime Minister?  I know whom I am inclined to listen to...but I don't believe the world is listening to the right voice.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ISIS, Khorasan, Israel and Shana Tova

Eyes are focused upon the Middle East right now.  Earlier this week, IDF (Israel Defense Forces) shot down a Syrian fighter plane that had strayed into Israeli air space along the Golan Heights.  This was the first time since the 1980's that Israel had actually shot down a manned Syrian fighter.  I believe it was a strong statement by Israel that they will tolerate no one encroaching upon their space. 


And yesterday American warplanes and tomahawk missiles hit ISIS targets within Syria - the first time American planes have actually entered Syrian air space to deliver warheads against ISIS.  They were joined by five other Arab nations (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain) in a coalition whose purpose is to destroy the capabilities of ISIS.  The contributions of these ally nations was not described.  In addition to ISIS targets, American planes also struck targets belonging to another radical offshoot of Al-Qaeda, known as Khorasan.  According to American intelligence, this group was actively engaged in making plans to attack either the United States or a Western European target by blowing up a plane.  Attorney General Eric Holder said, "We hit them last night [Tuesday] out of a concern that they were getting close to an execution date of some of the plans that we have seen.  And the hitting that we did last night, I think, will probably continue until we are at a stage where we think we have degraded their ability to get at our allies or to the homeland."  This comes after repeated declarations by the Administration that the core leadership of Al-Qaeda has been decimated such that they are no longer a threat to the United States. 


President Obama stated yesterday that "the fight will take time."  And I believe he is correct.  ISIS is a formidable foe.  It is well armed, well financed, and well advertised.  Its tentacles reach deep into both Western Europe and the United States.  Dying for a cause is appealing to many young men and women whose lives really have no hope.  They are trapped in poverty in our inner cities.  Many have dropped out of school thus creating a more hopeless situation for them.  So, when the Facebook and Twitter images of the glory of fighting for a cause and dying as a martyr for that cause appear, interest is piqued.  Estimates are that as many as 2,000 Westerners have joined ISIS.  Some are turned away at the border before they cross and they then return home but with a mindset of martyrdom.  And they have as their intent to destroy as many other lives as they can before they themselves are destroyed.


Friends, it will be interesting to read the speeches from many of the world leaders over the course of the next few days as the United Nations opens its fall season.  I am sure there will be the usual "Israel bashing" which almost seems universal these days.  And, of course, there will be dialogue about global warming, or is it climate change.  Don't turn a deaf ear to what these leaders say for they are a barometer of where the world is heading. 


Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  It marks the beginning of the year 5775.  It also marks the beginning of one of the most celebratory months in Judaism.  Rosh Hashanah is followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement which falls on October 4 this year.  It is a day spent in fasting and prayer.  The Feast of Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles begins on October 8 and lasts for seven days.  This Feast commemorates Israel's 40 years of wanderings in the wilderness.  Many Jews will create "booths" or outdoor living quarters for those seven days. 


Some of you may be asking yourself, "I have always wanted to go to Israel and to walk where Jesus walked and to hear the echoes of the voices of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."  I have traveled to Israel 8 times and can honestly say that each time I am in His Land, I grow to have a deeper understanding of the Word of God.  The Bible literally comes alive as one threads his/her way through those winding streets of the Old City.  To sit in quiet in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and view the surrounding countryside and then to read the stories of Jesus and His miracles there brings a new excitement to one's heart. 


I am privileged to be leading another tour to Israel in 2015 - leaving on February 27 and arriving back home on March 8.  We will be visiting such places as Joppa and hear the story of Jonah; Caesarea where Paul was imprisoned for two years; Megiddo and stand look out over the valley of Armageddon; Capernaum, the adopted hometown of Jesus; the Mount of the Beatitudes and reconnect with the Sermon on the Mount; and of course we will take a boat out on the Sea of Galilee.  After our time in Galilee, we will journey down the Jordan Valley, visiting En Gedi, the fortress where David and his men hid from King Saul; Qumran - where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered; and Masada, whose story thrills the imagination.  And, of course, there will be time to take a dip in the Dead Sea - one of the most unique places on this earth.  Then we will conclude with four incredible days in Jerusalem itself.  There will be time for prayer at the Western Wall.  Visits to the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the Upper Room, and the House of Caiaphas will draw us more deeply into those final hours of Jesus' life.  We will traverse portions of the Via Dolorosa and make our way to the Garden Tomb where, with a special Communion Service, we will celebrate our Savior's death and resurrection.  The tour is for 10 days - days that will impact your life forever.  And the cost for the tour is under $4,000 per person, including airfare, hotels, two delicious meals per day, all gratuities, entrance fees, deluxe motor coach and an outstanding guide. 


If you would like to receive an informative brochures detailing this tour, please send me a message via Facebook, including your e-mail address and I will forward to you information.  Registration for our tour closes on November 1, but there are still seats available.  I can assure you, your life will be forever changed and your study of the Word of God will become more special. 


So, I wish you a "Shana Tova."  It means in Hebrew, "The year is good."  And I trust it will be for each of you.



 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Apology

Yesterday I included at the close of my blog some information regarding an e-mail our church had received asking for urgent prayer for those Christians suffering in Iraq.  The e-mail, purported to be a letter from a Crisis Relief International worker, related about children being beheaded.


That e-mail was a bogus one I came to find out.  The reference is the following web-address: www.matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2014/08/handling-the-urgent-international-prayer-request.  That website will share the fallacy of the e-mail I related yesterday.


I try to do my best to make sure that all my facts are straight and the e-mail links are vetted as well as I know how to do, but this one just slipped by.  So, please accept my apologies. 


But the message to pray for the suffering believers in the path of ISIS is not a bogus event.  They really do need our prayers for God's strength to be given to them. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Warning That Needs to Be Heeded

I read an article this morning that I found very disturbing.  It was an article written by Chelsea Schilling and posted at www.wnd.com/2014/09/isis-luring-u-s-women-with-cash-for-babies-promises. "Islamic State terrorists are recruiting women from Western countries to fly to the Middle East, marry jihadists and bear their children in a 'cash-for-babies' scheme.  The depravity of ISIS Muslims already has been well-documented, with their torture and murder of children in Iraq, their crucifixions of adults and their use of women as sex slaves.  But observers are saying the latest report, how ISIS is luring American women by promising money in return for bearing children for militants, takes the jihadist group to a whole new level."  And, once again, Minnesota takes center stage.  The article states, "Female members of at least three Somali families in Minneapolis have gone missing in the past six weeks.  A 19-year-old from the area is known to have flown to Turkey in secret before crossing the border into Syria. ... It was reported one of the missing Somalians from Minnesota 'left home saying she was attending a bridal shower [but] instead flew to Turkey.'"


According to the article, "'They [speaking of ISIS] are selling them [these young girls] this mystical sisterhood of going to the caliphate and being able to be Muslim in this idealized, utopian society,' warned Mia Bloom, a professor at the center for terrorism and security studies at the University of Massachusetts.  'They are targeting these young girls in a very predatory way - the way child sex abusers target young children.'  .. Bloom also expressed concern that ISIS will use the women as suicide bombers.  She said, while most women would stand out on a military installation, in most other public places, people wouldn't expect a woman to carry out a suicide attack.  'If you change your tactics and target mosques or schools, that's when women are really quite ideal,' she explained." 


Friends, I would strongly urge you to read this article.  This is the world we are living in.  The power of radical groups, such as ISIS, is not to be overlooked.  Historically there have always been those who seek to be identified with such groups, whether it is out of the sense of adventure, or just to escape their own problems back home, or to feel that they are part of a new world order. 


Giving our young people today more things does not fill that void within their hearts, yet that is what our society through the tentacles of the media would have us believe.  Every ad on television or on Facebook or on Twitter is a reminder that "things bring happiness."  But they don't.  That ache within the hearts of many of our young people today also cannot be filled with religion.  Young people today are fed-up with the false promises and the hypocrisy they have seen in religious ceremonies and rites and so they have bailed out of organized religious practices by the hundred of thousands. 


That void, that emptiness, can only be filled with the presence of Jesus Christ.  I believe that young people today are truly seeking for truth.  Many are tired of "the game of life" and want to know what life is really about.  As a Christian parent, I have a strong opportunity to influence my children for Jesus.  As a Christian grandparent, I need to use those opportunities to influence my grandchildren for Jesus.  I need to model before them what "Jesus in the flesh" looks like.  I need to share truth with them - not just opinions.  I need to let them know that the Bible is the foundation upon which I make the choices for everyday living.  Friends, this MUST begin in the home.  For too long we have thrust this responsibility upon our schools and upon our churches.  Both have failed - in some cases failed miserably.  In Deuteronomy 6, God instructs Moses to tell the people that "dads, get involved in the lives of your children from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night.  Use those moments to share truth with them."  Yes, I know dads are busy these days - there are a lot of demands upon them.  But, Dad, don't just shower your children with things; shower them with who you are - the real you. 


I believe that if we model this well - and it will take some time because it is a whole new way of parenting and grandparenting than what has been in the recent past - then, perhaps we will not have young girls running off to join radical groups.  We will not have young people abandoning the church as they grow older. 


As I close this blog this morning, I want to share an urgent prayer request my church received from a neighboring church.  They concern e-mails received from missionaries working in the area where ISIS has been active.  "Missionaries who are in the areas that are being attacked by ISIS are asking to be showered in prayer.  ISIS has taken over the town they are in today.  He said ISIS is systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus.  He said so far not one child has.  And so far all have consequently been killed.    But not the parents.  The UN has withdrawn and the missionaries are on their own.  They are determined to stick it out for the sake of the families - even if it means their own deaths.  They are very afraid, have no idea how to even begin ministering to these families who have seen their children martyred.  Yet he says he knows God has called them for some reason to be His voice and hands at this place at this time."


Friends, will you pray for these who are serving Christ in these war-torn places?  Will you pray for those Christians in northern Iraq who are paying the ultimate sacrifice because of their love for Jesus?  Our God is still in control!  Amen!