Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The UN, Iran, and Putin

The UN General Assembly was busy last week hearing the rants from many of the world's leaders. Perhaps the most controversial one - as he has been for the past few - was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who ranted and raved about how oppressive the Israelis were and how colonial the United States was. Fortunately, many of the delegates vacated the chambers as he began. I probably would have as well. When you read his speech it is nothing but a hateful diatribe against democracy and the western nations, singling out Israel as the greatest threat in the world. He has become a very evil man.

Of interest to many of us were the speeches given by President Obama and then by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Personally, I believe our President did a great job of supporting Israel's position as a Jewish State. And most conservative commentators also cheered him, but with this disclaimer - that Obama was trying to regain the Jewish vote in America that he has lost in recent days. For the first time - perhaps since he has become President - I found myself agreeing more with him than disagreeing. Sort of startled myself.

The Palestinian Authority President and Chairman Abbas did what he had threatened to do: present a request to the Security Council that Palestine be declared unilaterally as a state with its borders being determined as they existed on the evening of June 4, 1967 - just prior to the 67 War. He also declared that East Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Western Wail - Israel's most holy site -would become the capitol. In his speech, Abbas claimed that the Israelis were solely responsible for the failure to achieve peace in the region. He described Israel as "an occupying power who has committed ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, pushing them away from their ancestral homeland." He also said, "Our people will continue their popular, peaceful resistance." However, he ignored mentioning the thousands of rockets that have been launched from Gaza into Israel, or the many Israeli citizens who have been murdered by terrorists from both the West Bank and Gaza.

Following the speech, Abbas quickly declined invitations by the Quartet (Russia, Europe, the UN and the United States) to resume negotiations with Israel. The Palestinian "eggs" are now in the Security Council "basket." I just read that discussion on this request should begin in early October.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to the Assembly after Abbas. His speech was a powerful declaration of historical truth. Once again he extended his hand to the Palestinians in friendship and in the offer to sit down to negotiate a just and lasting peace. The Prime Minister knew he was in a hostile environment. I quote from his speech: "I know that this is not exactly the image of Israel that is often portrayed in this hall. After all, it was here in 1975 that the age-old yearning of my people to restore our national life in our ancient biblical homeland was branded shamefully as racism. It was here in 1980 that the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt wasn't praised. It was denounced. And it's here, year after year, that Israel is unjustly singled out for condemnation. It's singled out for condemnation more often than all the nations of the world combined." He then went on to say, "Today I hope that the light of truth will shine, if only for a few minutes, in a hall that for too long has been a place of darkness for my country." Unfortunately, few delegates were listening.

If you get the opportunity to read the Prime Minister's speech, it is certainly worth reading. Also read the PA Chairman's speech. Then you can make the comparison.

Two other news-worthy items. Reuters reported today that Iran raised the prospect of sending military ships close to the United States Atlantic coast. The Iranian head of the Navy said, "Like the arrogant powers that are present near our marine borders, we will also have a powerful presence close to American marine borders." When I read this, I could not help but recall those scenes in one of Joel Rosenberg's novels about Iranian nuclear missiles being fired from ships off shore.

And, have you been paying attention to what is happening in Russia. Putin simply won't go away. Now he has declared his candidacy for President once again in elections to be held in March 2012. And he will win - and with an overwhelming vote besides. Since he left that office, the length of term for the Russian President has been extended from four years to six, which means that he could hold that office for two terms or twelve years. As one reporter said, we will have a new Russian Czar. And I think that is exactly what Putin wants to see happen. He is positioning Russia for greater influence. Do I hear the sounds of Ezekiel 38-39 on the horizon?

When I look out over the world and see what is happening, I am so encouraged to know that God is in total control. Nothing happening catches Him by surprise. He is in charge! Therefore our confidence needs to be completely in Him. Keep looking up!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nehemiah: A Lesson for Today

Are you ready for a crazy few days at the United Nations? Friday is supposed to be the big day when Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, after addressing the General Assembly, will present his case for a unilateral declaration of statehood for the Palestinians before the Security Council. He will need nine affirmative votes out of the 15 member nations on the Security Council, as well as no veto by any of the five permanent members of that Council: China, Russia, Britain, France, and the United States.

This morning one of the lead stories in the "Artuz Shev Daily Israel Report" stated that the latest strategy being discussed in order to "save face" for all the participants is to have Abbas present his request and then the Council will table it for discussion later on and encouraging the PA to resume talks with the Israelis for a negotiated settlement. (This renewed negotiation is almost impossible as the PA had made so many conditions that Israeli leaders will never accede to).

Abbas is not absolutely certain he has the nine votes needed for passage and he is certainly not certain of what the United States response would be: a veto, an affirmative vote (probably not), or an abstention. If Abbas would fail to get the nine votes needed, it would mean political failure for him and chaos in the ranks of the PA. Abbas has pretty much staked his future on the passage of this unilateral request for a Palestinian State.

If the request is tabled it gets the United States out of, at least, a temporary problem. If they should veto the PA request, they risk further angering the Arab world which is not looking with much kindness on our nation right now anyway. Last week the Saudi King announced that if the United States vetoed the PA request, then they would lose their status as friends with Saudi Arabia. However, if the United States approved the PA request, then it would further damage already strained relationships with Israel. An abstention would probably anger both sides. Thus, the indefinite tabling methodology looks appealing.

This past week, in my preparation for a time with a group of men beginning a three-year training for leadership in their homes, in our community, and in our church, I was in Nehemiah 2. (Our focus for the first eleven weeks of study is this book). When Nehemiah gets to Jerusalem he immediately encounters strong opposition from those who were benefited by the failure of the Jews to rebuild that city. The opposition included Sanballat, the leader of the Samaritans - who lived north of the city; Tobiah, one of the chief officials of the Ammonites - who lived east across the Jordan River; and Geshem the Arab, one of the most powerful men of his day as he led the coalition of Arab tribes that dominated the southern regions as far as Egypt.

Let me share with you verse 20: "I answered them by saying, 'The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.'" Wow! What an incredible statement for Nehemiah to make in his day! And, upon further analysis, it would be a great statement for Jewish leaders to make today. Let's break the verse apart.

First, Nehemiah declares that Sanballot, Tobiah, and Geshem have no historic claims to Jerusalem or the surrounding area. "You have no share in Jerusalem." Nehemiah is saying, "If you look into the historical records, you have no history here. This is a Jewish city. This is Jewish land." Today, Palestinians have been attempting to prove that they have an ancient history with Jerusalem, but, as our guide in Israel says, "we have yet to uncover an ancient mosque anywhere around the city, or in Israel for that matter."

Second, Nehemiah states that these three men have no present rights for any claim: "or any claim." In other words, they do not belong there. They can present no evidence for the authority they have had in the past.

Finally, Nehemiah affirms that Sanballot, Tobiah and Geshem and their groups have no future in Jerusalem: "or historic right to it." In other words, Nehemiah is stating strongly that Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside will always be Jewish.

Nehemiah stood boldly before those who had taken advantage of the Jewish absence during the Babylonian exile and had staked a claim for themselves. Nehemiah says, "We are back; it is time for you to move out and never come back. This place is now ours once again." Did not something similar happen in 1948, again in 1967, and still again in 1973? Did not the nation of Israel declare to the world that "we are back home! It is time for you to leave." That does not mean that Israel would run rough-shod over others; in fact, just the opposite has occurred: Israel has helped those who lived in the land, Israeli-Arabs are very prosperous, among the most prosperous Arabs in the world. And those Israeli-Arabs enjoy a freedom not found in the rest of the Arab world.

I believe Israeli leaders need to stand firm as did Nehemiah. And, when he did, good things happened.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Postscript to 9-11 Anniversary

So where do I begin this week? Let's see: There was the remembrance this past Sunday on the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attack. Memorial services were held around our country. Following one of our services at church on Sunday, one member came to me and exclaimed, "Pastor Max, that certainly was a tragic day." I agreed, but then added, "The greatest tragedy is that we failed to learn from the experiences of that day!" He got kind of a quizzical expression on his face. We did not have time to complete our conversation, but here is what I wanted to say to him, "I believe 9-11 was a wake-up call to our country that we were walking down the wrong side of the highway. We had decided to abandon God in our journey as a nation. Immediately following 9-11 churches were full, people were asking important questions about life and its meaning. But, in a matter of a few weeks, it was back to 'business as usual.' Our trust was now in the resources of our military who were seeking out and punishing those who had perpetrated that heinous act." What did we learn? Really nothing. Is the world a safer place because of 9-11? Ask those who live in neighborhoods in Detroit who cower in fear. Ask those believers living in Egypt. Ask the Christians in Sudan. And the list goes on and on. 9-11 was a call that should have resulted in repentance and fear of the living God. Instead, we have tolerated all gods because we don't want to offend any of them.

Can I share something with you? Well I am, anyway. For the past forty plus years I have been diligently studying the Old Testament. I see a remarkable resemblance between those days with ancient Israel and America in the twenty-first century. How many times did God sound the alarm admonishing the people that they were traveling down the wrong side of the road? Over and over again. Sometimes it was through natural catastrophes: earthquakes, plagues of locusts, famines. Sometimes it was through defeat by their enemies: Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians. Sometimes God warned them through the prophets. What was the response of the people to such warnings: an immediate turning to God, followed by the continuation of their lives as they had been in the past. The lingering effects of God's warnings really changed nothing concerning sinful society. In fact, to be perfectly honest, when you study the pages of the Old Testament you come to the conclusion that sinful practices became embolden as a consequence of the people's failure to heed God's warnings.

Do you see a pattern here with our world today? Just look where we have come since 9-11. The homosexual agenda has exploded where now it is a crime to even mention that you believe such practices are wrong. The status of marriage has crumbled to the point where States are actually having to have voter referendums on how to define marriage. Unthinkable that that should even have to happen.

I truly believe, friends, that God's anger toward our nation will shortly be released upon us. He has given us opportunity after opportunity, warning after warning, and yet we continue to hide our faces in the sand and continue in our sinful ways. Israel tried that approach for 200 years; but finally the day came when the armies of Assyria not only knocked on the doors of Samaria, but crashed through the doors. 150 years later something similar happened in Jerusalem when the armies of Babylon arrived.

I have been sharing with people that it is time for Christians to get right with God personally. Jesus is coming and we want to be ready ourselves. It may be too late to save our nation - and I only say those words with great sadness - but we can prepare ourselves. We can strengthen the witness of our churches with a renewed commitment to holiness, resulting in snatching a few more from the fires to come.

I am challenged with these words of Jesus: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Something to chew upon.

Postscript: Next week I will focus upon the United Nations vote to recognize Palestine as a nation. This vote is scheduled for next Tuesday. The repercussions of such a vote could be devastating. Stay tuned.

Postscript 2: By the way, the Middle East is about ready to explode. Over the weekend Turkey announced that it will be sending some of its warships to accompany the next flotilla destined for Gaza. And this past week the Turkish military removed equipment from their fighter jets that had indicated that Israeli planes were friendly; the Turks are not so friendly anymore. And then there was the assault in Cairo of the Israeli embassy there. Interesting to compare notes with that event and a similar one in Tehran in 1979 - the only difference being that it was the American embassy attacked there. If you want to read a definitive account of those days, I would encourage you to read Dore Gold's book: "The Rise of Nuclear Iran." It is powerfully written.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tensions Growing in the Middle East

Tensions continue to mount in the Middle East after the terrorist attack in late August that resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis near the southern port city of Eilat. The terrorists, affiliated with a Sinai branch of Al-Qaeda, had crossed the now porous Egyptian border. Israel was quick to retaliate but in a more restrained way than at other times. Yet the border incursion reminds us that the situation within Egypt regarding Israel and the continuation of the Camp David Accords of 1979 are tenuous at best.

This past weekend Turkey broke off diplomatic and military relations with Israel, recalling their ambassador from Tel Aviv and expelling Israel's ambassador to Ankara. This was prompted by the recent Palmer Report to the United Nations concerning the May 2010 Israeli commando raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in which nine Turkish protesters were killed. This ship was part of the flotilla seeking to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The Palmer Commission Report affirmed Israel's right to blockade Gaza, and also strongly criticized Israel for its use of force on the ship. Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Erdogan had stated that Turkey would take drastic actions unless Israel apologized, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to do. Now, relations between these two nations are more fractured than ever. Just another sign that Turkey is pointing in a more easterly direction for support than in a westerly one as in the past.

Also, this past weekend, IDF Major General Eyal Eisenberg, chief of Israel's Home Front Command, speaking before the Institute for National Securities Studies in Tel Aviv, said that, in his opinion, "the likelihood of an all-out war is increasingly growing." he went on to say, "Iran has not abandoned its nuclear program.... In Egypt, the army is collapsing under the burden of regular security operations, and this is reflected in the loss of control in the Sinai and the turning of the border with Israel into a terror border, with the possibility that Sinai will fall under the control of an Islamic entity. ... In Lebanon, Hezbollah is growing stronger within government arms, but it has not lost its desire to harm Israel." ("Arutz Sheva, September 6, 2011). Eisenberg described this as a "radical Islamic winter," and warned that "this raises the likelihood of an all-out, total war, with the possibility of weapons of mass destruction being used."

And, what is the United States doing? In a piece published by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg (who is no friend of Israel), he quoted former Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying that Prime Minister Netanyahu was an "ungrateful ally." Gates went on to say, "Netanyahu is not only ungrateful, but also endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel's growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank." So much for friendships.

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attack. What has changed since that day? Is the world a safer place? Just ask Israelis. Just ask Pakistanis. Just ask Afghans. Or citizens of Norway. Or the Coptic Christians in Egypt. Has terrorism been even slowed down? Even our own law-enforcement leaders are concerned, not about another 9-11 style attack, but about the one or two individuals who are living next door and are plotting an attack upon a nearby restaurant or shopping mall. It seems that the evil in the world is growing at an alarming rate. One wonders what it will be like when God finally takes the Restrainer from the world's scene (2 Thessalonians 2). I don't even want to begin to imagine.

Friends, I would invite you to continue praying for the peace of Jerusalem. We are commanded to pray thusly in Psalm 122:6. Pray for Israel's leadership that they might seek God's will and direction. And pray that our leaders will remember that promise given to Abraham of old: "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you" (Genesis 12:3). God's purposes will be accomplished. Keep looking up.