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:  "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 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 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  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  "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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Modern Day Daniel

We are now in the season where commencement speakers and their addresses are viewed through critical filters.  Some speakers are even "uninvited" because there is a fear of what that person might say.  Of course, we do not want to upset the "politically correct" band-wagon these days.  Every speaker, every commencement address must tow the line of what is acceptable.  Gone are those days when a commencement speaker was empowered to share truth about life and to give a measure of hope to those students he or she was addressing.  I remember having the privilege twice of delivering a baccalaureate message (most schools don't even have those any more) to graduating seniors and their families in the small community where I served as pastor.  My desire, on both occasions, was to share truth with those students about the purpose of their lives and to help them discover a hope through Christ.  Was I "politically correct?"  Probably not, at least not by standards of today. 

Fox News reported last week on a commencement address held at Lebanon High School in Missouri.  You can find the article at:" "A Missouri High school principal who garnered thunderous applause and a starring role in a viral video for a commencement speech in which he repeatedly invoked God in ways to dodge First Amendment objections has atheists seeing red.  Lebanon High School Principal Kevin Lowery can be seen on a 3-minute YouTube clip reminding graduates that the nation's motto of 'In God We Trust' can be found on U.S. currency and in Francis Scott Key's original version of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'  Lowery also wryly noted during the May 23 commencement that even though 'God is reflected in the very fabric' of the nation, it would be inappropriate to mention The Almighty at a secular ceremony.  'So while it would not be politically correct for us to have an official prayer this evening, I would like for us to have a moment of silence in honor of tonight's graduates.  Thank you.  And just in case you're interested, during my moment of silence, I gave thanks to God for these great students, their parents, their teachers and for this community.'"

Immediately, a spokesman for the American Atheists, David Muscato, blasted the address.  He said, "I find this extremely objectionable.  I think it's clear that Kevin Lowery violated the spirit of the First Amendment separations of religion and government.  This was an underhanded and dishonorable way for him to forcibly inject his personal religious views onto his students and the others present and into his role as a government official."  In other words, according to Mr. Muscato, there is no place for the expression of one's faith, or lack of faith in Mr. Muscato's case, within the public arena.  And yet, friends, such an expression and dialogue of faith within the public arena was foundational in our nation's history.  It was the expression of faith that guided those men who wrote first our Declaration of Independence and then our Constitution.  It was the expression of faith that guided President Lincoln as he addressed that sober audience in Gettysburg. 

According to Brian William's on last night's "NBC's Nightly News", there have been a documented 74 deadly attacks on schools within the past 18 months resulting in the deaths of dozens of students, faculty, and administrators.  The moral foundations of our young people are noticeably absent.  Compromise and conformity are their watchwords.  Could these facts be attributed to a Supreme Court's decision decades ago that removed the Bible from the classroom?  Or of more recent decisions that have stipulated that prayers could not be made in school settings?  (Of course, we applaud those teachers who pray while their students are under the attack of a madman with a gun, but would condemn them if they prayed during the routine of a normal day).  And, for the most part, the Church has been silent.  Somehow the Church rolled over as if what happened in our schools did not make that big a difference.  And, now we are finding out that it does...and it is too late to do anything. 

I am grateful to men like a Kevin Lowery who will take a stand for foundational principles.  They remind me of one of my favorite heroes in the Bible - Daniel.  A man who had "purposed in his heart" that he would serve God faithfully, no matter the costs.  And that purpose carried him through decades of public service and through a lions' den in his later years.  How we need more "Daniels" today.  Will you commit yourself to being one?  You are needed!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Science Fiction is No Longer Just Fiction

I will be quite honest, I am not one who has a strong passion for things of the science-fiction genre.  I have only seen one of the Star Wars films.  I hardly saw any of the episodes of Star Trek on television.  And the science-fiction trilogy by C.S. Lewis is my least favorite of his writings.  I usually find things of the science-fiction genre pretty bizarre. 

But I was intrigued when I read the following headline: "Humans could colonise space by sending DNA to distant planets and 'printing' a new civilization, experts claim."  The article was posted at
"The 100-year starship project is a joint endeavor run by Darpa, Nasa, Incarus Interstellar and the Foundation for Enterprise Development.  Through the project Darpa has previously suggested that 'printing' humans on distant planets is a possibility for colonizing the Milky Way galaxy.  Announced in January 2012, the project has an overall goal of achieving manned interstellar travel by 2112.  To do so it is evaluating a number of different technologies, including 'warping' space time to travel great distances in short time frames at faster-than-light speeds."

The proposal, offered by Nasa Engineer Adam Seltzner, which is somewhat radical, is built on "work by other researchers, would see humans launched as bacteria to distant planets before being 'printed' by methods unknown, perhaps a machine. ... 'Our best bet for space exploration could be printing humans, organically, on another planet,' he said.  'Maybe we will colonize other worlds not with astronauts in space suits, but with bacteria.' Seltzner continued."

"The idea was first dreamed up by Harvard biologists Dr. Gary Ruvkun and Dr. George Church, as reported in a Harvard Medical School release.  They suggest that fractions of the human genome could be sent to distant worlds in bacteria.  Upon arrival, the various segments would then be reassembled into a human genome."

"Quite how these bacteria would grow into humans is up for debate.  They could simply be left to evolve, as life did on Earth, seeding another planet with our own organisms.  Alternatively, an autonomous machine capable of creating cellular life could be sent thousands of years in advance to a habitable exoplanet outside the solar system.  Upon arrival, information on how to genetically construct a human would be beamed to the machine.  Of course, these proposals are something that will only be possible for humans hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of years in the future.  But many scientists are of the belief that we will one day be able to create multicellular life - and it stands to reason this could include an organism as complex as a human."

What an article!  Friends, did you ever think you would live to see the realm of science-fiction become a reality?  There are a lot of questions concerning life that originated via a machine.  Would such a life have an eternal soul?  Would such a life have the ability to understand right from wrong?  Would such a life be able to reason through problems?  These are all things that humans are able to do now because every life is a creation of God, not of a machine.  The slippery slope is becoming more complex.  It is time that, as believers, we rediscover a Christian worldview, or, perhaps, make that discovery for the first time.  What does the Bible say about such matters?  We had better know.  And we had better let our children and grandchildren know as well.