Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt - What Is It All About?

This is a special Weekend Edition of "Christianity for Today." I received an e-mail yesterday from one of my students asking if I would write about what is happening in Egypt. I am sure that by now you have seen the pictures of the mass demonstrations occurring in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez. Tens of thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down after 30 years of autocratic rule. These protests followed those occurring in Tunisia two weeks ago when Prime Minister Ben Ali was ousted from office following 23 years of corruption and power. Now similar scenes are occurring in Yemen. Will Jordan and Saudi Arabia be far behind.

We are so used to having a transition of power in government every four years. Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, the American people have limited the term that a president can serve to no more than eight years. However, that has not been the case in the Middle East. Take Egypt for example. President Mubarak assumed power after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. Both men were military leaders. In fact, since the days of General Nassar in the 1950's, the military has been the defacto leader in Egypt. President Mubarak is now 82 years of age and is suffering with cancer. Rumor had it that he had designated his son, Gamal, to be his successor. Now the people are saying they have had enough of a Mubarak ruling their country.

If you look at these Arab states, the primary causes for unrest include: high unemployment and devastating poverty. These are among the wealthiest nations because of their oil reserves, but most of that wealth is kept within the ruling families. I am amazed at how much aid the American people give to these wealthy nations. Not much of it filters down to the people. Now the people want their share of the pie.

I know what you are saying, "Max, why should I be interested, let alone concerned, about what is happening in far off Egypt and Yemen?" The answer is two fold -one very pragmatic, the other very biblical. First for the pragmatic response: Since the protests began in Tunisia, have you noticed how oil prices have risen dramatically, approaching $100 per barrel. You know what you are paying at the pumps now. Suppose these protests impact Saudi Arabia, the world's leader in oil production. Can you imagine what that will do to oil prices. Some analysts believe it is possible to have oil reach $200 per barrel. I will let you do the math regarding fuel prices. Not only will you pay it at the gas pump, but at the clothing store and the grocery store as those costs will be passed along to the consumer. Pragmatically, what is happening right now, today, in the Middle East could decimate the world's fragile economic conditions.

But, there is also a biblical concern. From the surface these protests seem to have a democratic flavor to them. In fact, I was reading in the paper this morning that President Obama is applauding those in Egypt who have dared to stand up. However, always lurking in the shadows is radical Islamic extremists. In Egypt, it is the Muslim Brotherhood. In Yemen, it is Al-Quaida. In Lebanon, it is Hezbollah. And we know what the intent of these organizations is: the destruction of the Western World and the extermination of Israel. Might not these organizations seize this opportunity? I found it very interesting when you look at these nations that are in turmoil, the map begins to look very much like that of the Psalm 83 War. Might we be seeing the birthpangs of that war? I don't want to commit myself, but I do not think it is merely a coincidence.

My friends, it is time to become aware of what is going on. It is also time to be excited that God is still in control. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Growing Backlash

Last week I wrote about the recent uprisings in Tunisia and the overthrowing of that country's long termed dictator - President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. I stated at the time that the eyes of many other leaders in the Arab world were looking at this event with wary eyes.

Yesterday, riots dominated the urban cities of Egypt. Thousands of people protested in the streets of Cairo, Suez, Alexandria, and Mansura demanding the end of the Mubarak regime. President Hosni Mubarak has governed Egypt since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. Although he has had friendly ties with the West during the past 30 years, his government has also been plagued with corruption. In recent years the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt and one of the most radical arms of Islam, has sought to overthrow his government. Many believe that the Muslim Brotherhood was behind the protest demonstrations yesterday. Could the Mubarak government of Egypt be toppled by the masses of the people as was that of Tunisia? It certainly seems possible. An article in the today stated that the Egyptian President had sent his wife and son Gamal, whom many see has his successor, to London, along with 97 suitcases of undescribed stuff. (My personal guess is that much of that stuff was in the form of dollars or even gold). Keep an eye upon Egypt - it bears watching.

There were riots yesterday in Beirut as well. Protesters took to the street against the Hezbollah-appointed new Prime Minister Najib Mikati. I shared with you last week that Hezbollah had withdrawn from the Harir-led government, leading to its collapse. They then proceeded to install their own prime minister. The new prime minister is a close associate with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. In response to the pending violence in Lebanon, the United States has sent two nuclear carriers with a total of 210 planes to patrol the waters off the coast of Lebanon. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) have been put on high alert along Israel's northern frontier with Lebanon. Once again the Middle East teeters on the brink.

Finally there was the suicide bombing of the International Airport in Moscow on Monday, killing 35 and injuring at least 180. To date no one has yet taken responsibility for the bombing, but most experts believe it was associated with Chechnyan militants who have attacked Russia before. How will the Russians respond? That is the great unanswered question at the moment.

Once again I am drawn to those words of Jesus found in Matthew 24. You remember that His disciples had asked Him "What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Among the signs Jesus announced were these: "You will hear of wars and rumors of war...Nation will rise again nation, and kingdom against kingdom." (Matthew 24:6-7). What I find significant with what is happening in the Middle East right now is that the riots in Egypt and in Lebanon underscore the great animosity that people have for Israel. We know that it is the stated purpose of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah to see the destruction of the State of Israel. Could we be seeing the shadows of the impending Psalm 83 War? I don't know for sure, but I do know that God has a purpose for what is happening there.

Yesterday during our semi-monthly prophecy lunch, we discussed, among other news items, what is happening China and its growing influence around the world; the continuing impact of our national debt which staggers our imaginations; and the growing persecution of Christians around the world. This is not the time to bury one's head in the sand, but to look up, see the signs of our times, and remember that Jesus' coming is our great hope.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Of Tunisia, Russia and the Middle East

I was engaged in a conversation a few days ago and I asked, "What do you think about what is happening in Tunisia?" The people I was with got that "deer in the headlight" look. Some had no idea where Tunisia was on the map. Yes, it is a country that has flown under the radar screen of many of us since 1987 when President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali came to power in a bloodless coup that removed the founder of modern-day Tunisia. Ben Ali has ruled Tunisia ever since.

He was a very corrupt dictator lavishing himself and his family while the people he supposedly served became entrenched in abject poverty. The Europeans knew what was happening in Tunisia but turned their heads and pretended not to see the corruption. Shortly before Christmas, a young Tunisian college-educated street vendor burned himself to death after Tunisian police had confiscated his vending cart. Without his cart he had no means of employment and so committed suicide. That led to initial protests, first against unemployment, but later against government corruption. Leaked documents from the American embassy in Tunis, intercepted by Wikileaks, became public and a nation-wide revolt occurred.

Over this past weekend, President Ben Ali fled the country to Saudi Arabia. According to published reports, interim president Foued Mebazaa has promised a "total break" from the past actions of the government and has committed himself to a more democratic rule.

"So, what is the story?" you are asking. "Why should I be interested, let alone concerned?" There is a great fear among many totalitarian Arab states that what has happened in Tunisia might advance into other parts of the Arab world. We know that many of the Arab leaders operate under at least the suspicion of corruption, if not actually being corrupt. Just today, a protester was arrested in Saudi Arabia. Fears also have been expressed in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan. Even the leaders of Hamas have voiced concerns. Is there a biblical role for this type of revolt? I am not sure, but it does fascinate me. I will keep you posted.

One other part of the world to keep your eye on is Russia and its growing influence in the Middle East. Russian President Medvedev is touring the Middle East - of course he is not visiting Israel. Yesterday he was in Ramallah, the capital of the Palestinian Authority. Although not officially stating that he would recognize a Palestinian State, he nonetheless indicated that he would give it consideration. A Russian recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian State would be significant. Friends, the Russian bear is stirring. Could Ezekiel's War be taking shape?

There is always something exciting happening these days. God certainly is not silent; neither should we be.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tucson and History

On Saturday, January 8, an act of violence in the city of Tucson, Arizona, shocked this nation once again. A crazed gunman stalked a member of the US House of Representatives Gabriel Giffords and shot her while she was sponsoring a rally for constituents there in Tucson. Although she is likely to survive her horrible wounds, six others, including a nine-year old girl were killed before the gunman was apprehended.

The scenes from Tucson brought back memories of those on the campuses of Virginia Tech University and of Columbine High School, and, yes, from Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center Towers in New York. Although it seems that such scenes are becoming increasingly more frequent, I trust that we will not become numb to them.

Immediately after the reports of the gunshots in Tucson hit the airwaves, the blame game began. The central person upon whom blame was cast was Sarah Pallin, Alaska's former governor and the Vice Presidential candidate of John McCain. Questions were raised about the increase in the incendiary rhetoric in today's political realm. Is the tone of rhetoric increased today compared to previous generations?

As some of you know, I enjoy reading the history of our great nation. The period of the American Civil War is my favorite, but I have been reading about those days of the founding of our great nation. Let me ask you: According to many historians, what national election brought about the greatest animosity and vitriol from the contestants? Think about that for a moment. Some of you might say that the past election was certainly not a stroll among gentlemen. Neither, for that matter, were the two campaigns of George W. Bush. The 1860 campaign between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas was fiercely contested. Yet, the most heated campaign was that of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. It was the first election between two political parties. Oh the language that was used by both sides. Oh the attacks made. A friendship was torn asunder that would take two decades to heal. (Interestingly and ironically, both Adams and Jefferson died on the same day - July 4, 1826,)

Heated rhetoric has been part of the history of the American Congress. On May 22, 1856, during the intense days of pro- and anti-slavery debate, South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks attacked Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner while the later was writing at his desk. Brooks hit Sumner with a cane so intensely that the later was severely injured, resulting in a three-year rehabilitation before he could resume his senate seat.

Let's not blame rhetoric for this vicious attack. Instead, let us look at the philosophy that this young man - Jared Loughner - had begun to believe. His two favorite books were the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf, not exactly books that inspire acceptance of democratic ideals. I believe that one motive for the attack is that Representative Giffords was Jewish. We know that both Karl Marx and Adolph Hitler despised and even hated Jews.

How will our lives be impacted because of Tucson? Because of 9-11 we now must proceed through long lines of security before we can board an airplane. Because of the Oklahoma City bombing, we must go through screenings before entering into a federal building. Will we now have to go through security screenings before we can meet with our Congressmen or those who represent us?

The Bible tells us that in the last days, lawlessness will increase. Sure doesn't create a very exciting view of our world, does it? Yet our hope still remains in God! Yes, the Righteous One is coming.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Of Frosts, Bees, and Famines

Already descending those marbled steps that bordered the southern walls of the Temple Mount, Jesus is greeted by His disciples. They were enthralled with the magnitude of the buildings that dotted the mountain before them. Jesus quickly shares with them that the day was soon coming when not one stone would be left upon another in that place. Of course, that necessarily led the disciples to ask Jesus the sixty-four-million-dollar question: When will this take place? Their curiosity had been peeked.

Jesus then began to share with them many signs that would point to the time of the end of the age. Among those Jesus cites are these: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains" (Matthew 24:7-8).

Earthquakes are becoming so commonplace that they hardly make the news, unless they create major chaos and death. Why, just last week there was an earthquake centered in Indiana and felt as far away as Wisconsin. And there was a rather strong earthquake that rocked portions of Chile once again. But, we seemingly are learning to live with the thoughts of earthquakes.

But, the word that intrigued me was that of famines. Now we usually think of famines as a result of drought, a lack of rain. One thinks of the famines that ravage the sub-Saharan regions of Africa. But, might there be other causes of famines. I recently heard a news reporter saying that the freezing conditions that the American deep south experienced just before and immediately after Christmas, could bring a famine of fruits and vegetables that could last well into this year. When was the last time you associated famine with frost? I sure hadn't linked the two.

Then, just this morning, I read an article from AOL News titled, "US Bumblebee Population in Sharp Decline." The article begins, "The population of bumblebees in the United States is in a kind of free fall, dropping 96 percent over the past two decades, according to a new study that has scientists alarmed." Those scientists are theorizing that the sharp decline in bumblebees is due to an increased fungal infection and genetic defects from inbreeding. But here was the interesting quote from Sydney Cameron, the head author of the study and professor at the University of Illinois: "The bumblebee is wild, but it pollinates commercial crops from tomatoes to coffee, and its disappearance would have a dire effect on food sources." He didn't use the word famine, but you know that was what he was thinking.

A declining bumblebee population, coupled with the already well-recorded decline in the honeybee population, and there should be cause for alarm. Without proper pollination, plants will not produce their fruits. Could the lack of bees be another indicator that we are living in the end times? I don't think it is a mere coincidence that record-setting frosts and now a study of declining bee populations both occur within days of each other.

Famines - a reality that seems to have the ability to grow even stronger in the coming year. Just another reason to be ready to hear the trumpet.