Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Egypt - A Year Later

Today marks the first anniversary of the "Arab Spring" uprising in Tahrir Square in Cairo. You will remember images of young people marching for democracy. Pressure was applied upon President Mubarak to step down and to turn the reigns of Egyptian government over to the people. Let's see what has happened over the course of this past year?

President Mubarak was forced to resign and went into exile at his home near Sharm-el-Shiek, along the Red Sea. His cancer became worse and eventually he and his sons were arrested. Presently they stand trial for crimes against the government. Mubarak is in such a weakened condition that he attends the court proceedings lying upon a cot. Of course the crowds roar for their execution. Let's see - is this democracy at work? Rather reminds me of the actions of the people during the French Revolution: heads must roll.

So, when Mubarak stepped down, did the people get a voice? No! The Egyptian military, which has controlled Egypt since the days of General Nassar, remained in power. This Council is now known as the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces). Often they brutalized the people. A year later, General Tantawi and the SCAF still hold the reigns of power in Egypt.

But, you will ask, what about the elections that the Egyptians have just completed? Yes, what about those elections? The big winners were the religious Islamists. When the new Egyptian parliament convened earlier this week, 72% of the seats were held by either members of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafist parties (360 out of 498 seats). And, according to reports published on January 10 in the newspaper "El-Badil" election fraud was very high. According to that paper, only 40 million Egyptians were eligible to vote, yet over 52 million votes were cast. Some people voted at least 32 times. (Sort of reminds me of the quote we heard while living in Chicago in the early 1980's - "Vote early and vote often.") Now there are calls to annul the elections and to conduct them once again.

It is very interesting, of course, that the winning Islamists were excited about the outcome of the elections. In fact, one of the leaders of the Salafi party - Tal'at Zahran, said unapologetically that it was their Islamic duty to be dishonest - "It is our duty to forge elections; God will reward us for this."

Of course now come speculations about the type of government Egypt will have. Will those members of the Parliament, now in the majority, be able to swing Egypt into the Sharia Law camp? What will be the response of the military leadership? Will generals step down and relinquish control to the "people?" These are some very interesting questions.

We know that members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been meeting with General Tantawi . Although no definitive results have been published, speculation abounds that a deal has been struck that will allow the Muslim Brotherhood to push a certain portion of their agenda, but at the same time have the SCAF in control of the government. According to Daniel Pipes in an article titled, "Don't Ignore Electoral Fraud in Egypt," General Tantawi will continue to hold the reigns of power; the generals desired an Islamic victory. He closed his article with this statement: "We are witnessing not an ideological revolution but a military officer corps staying dominant to enjoy the sweet fruits of tyranny."

What do I believe is going to happen in Egypt? Let me relate two things near term and one far term. First the near term events. I believe that the days of relative freedom of expression for Egyptian women is nearing an end. Egyptian women have benefited from a secular Islamic control. They could dress how they pleased. They could become educated and express themselves. I believe that will soon change. The hagib will soon be the garb for all women. Secondly, I believe that persecution of Egyptian Jews and Christians will increase. I see the day coming when Christians will be rare in Egypt. How we need to pray for those believers that God will prepare them for what is to come.

Now for the long term. In Isaiah 19, the prophet tells us that a day will come when Egypt will be united with both Israel and Iraq (the ancient nation of Assyria) and will come to worship the living God in Jerusalem. One can only imagine what that will be like. But, God said it and I will believe that it will happen. God is not finished with the Egyptian people just yet. God still has a role for them to play in the great symphony that will crescendo when the King arrives. What a day that will be! The orchestra is tuning is not long until the concert will begin!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jesus Said, "Give Me a Drink"

Among the goals I have set for myself during 2012 is the reading of Oswald Chambers' classic devotional, "My Utmost for His Highest." It has been years since I last read this powerful presentation of biblical truths. And, to be quite frank, I did not get much out of the reading. Perhaps I was hampered by the stiff and stilted English that Chambers used. But I have a new updated version written in today's English, edited by James Reimann. Now I am underlining sections each day as they take on new meaning for me.

In today's devotional - January 18 - I was reminded once again how disoriented we often are in our walk with Christ. Chambers cites the words of Jesus to the woman at the well in John 4:7 - "When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Will you give me a drink?'" He then makes this bold and rather startling statement: "How many of us are expecting Jesus Christ to quench our thirst when we should be satisfying Him!" Wow! That statement gives one a jolt!

I don't know about you, but I find it so very easy to ask God to do something for me. All right, many times I command God to do something for me. As our congregation has been learning through two weeks into the Book of Malachi, the defining problem of the people of Israel in the 5th century BC was that they believed God was their servant, rather than they being God's servants. The problem with this mentality is that when God does not do what we command Him to do then we come to the conclusion that He either does not love us any longer or that He has moved away from us.

Chambers did not cite Psalm 103 in his devotional, but he could have with great emphasis. There David writes so succinctly: "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless your holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of his benefits" (Psalm 103:1-2, KJV). I so want God to bless me, but how often do I want to bless Him? How often do I simply give to God because my soul, my innermost being, desires to do that? The Lord asks, "Give me a drink" and our response generally is, "Okay, but here is what I want from You, Lord."

This past Sunday I gave my congregation a homework assignment - guess it is still the Village School within me. The assignment was to take 30 minutes and write down a response to this question: "How do I know the love of God?" Then, at the bottom of the page, they were to write these words: "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so!" Then they were to post this sheet somewhere that could be seen and to know daily that God loved them. When we realize how much God truly loves us and all that He has done and continues to do for us, should we not then "give Him a drink?"

Friends, may we discover anew the joys of blessing the Lord, of sharing with Him a drink of cold water.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Where Is the Leader We Can Follow?

I know many of you are tyring to keep up with the political climate here in the States right now. Both Iowa and New Hampshire have registered their decisions, yet, if the exit polls conducted yesterday in New Hampshire are accurate, one in three Republican voters would have liked to have voted for "None of the Above." There is a need for real leadership today, for someone to tackle the issues, not hurl accusations at others.

I recently read a book on Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet. It was titled, "A Team of Rivals," written by Doris Kearns Goodwin. By the way, this is a book that I highly recommend. As you know, Lincoln guided this nation through some of its most perilous days. He made lots of enemies during the course of the 1860 election. Yet, interestingly enough, some of those political opponents that were most vocal against Lincoln, he appointed to his cabinet after his election. Why? Because they were most qualified for the positions they would hold. And, although Lincoln was castigated mightily by newspaper editors, military leaders, Congressmen and Senators, as well as some of his own cabinet members, Lincoln never retaliated. He just led. He stayed the course. He addressed the issues of his day with forthrightness and courage. And, in the end, he lived to see victory accomplished, at least victory in the war effort. Tragically, he never lived to see victory in the reconstruction.

At the church where I serve as Preaching-Teaching Pastor, Buffalo (MN) Covenant Church, I am working with two groups of men in discipleship-leadership development. We spent the fall studying the book of Nehemiah. This winter we are studying John Maxwell's book, "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership." Yesterday morning our focus was upon the Law of Influence. I cited as an example Daniel. Daniel was a man of character that is clearly shared with us in chapter 1. Daniel was also a young man who cultivated relationships with others, especially those in leadership roles: King Nebuchadnezzar and King Darius especially. And Daniel was a man who was faithful to his ideals and principles for seventy years, for when those who sought his demise tried to find skeletons in his closet with which to accuse him, they could find none (Daniel 6:4-5). I am confident that that would not be the case among our leaders today. We could say of Daniel, "He was a true leader."

I believe that is what many Americans are looking for today: someone they can have confidence in to lead our nation back to a position of strength and respect within the community of nations. They are looking for someone who will stand for principles even when those principles may be viewed unfavorably by others.

Friends, the world sits precariously close to the edge of the precipice. The European financial crisis has not gone away - Greece is still within a stone's throw of financial default with others clinging tenaciously to their own thread of survival. Iran, sensing the demise of the American presence and power in the Middle East, has issued one threat after another causing further unrest in an already troubled region. Stability in Egypt teeters toward radical Islamic rule after recent elections provided the Muslim Brotherhood and the radical Salafists with majority status in the new parliament. China's military is flexing its newly found muscles in the Pacific rim. With untested leadership North Korea could become even more rogue than in the past. And, here at home, people are clinging to any thread of hope they can find.

Yes, there is a crying out for real leadership. Who will be our Daniel? Who will be our Lincoln? Who will be the one who will lead confidently with courage and resolve?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

As We Enter 2012...

The 2012 political year is now officially underway. It is a long time until November 6 and most of us will become inordinately tired of the attack ads on radio and television. The Iowa Caucuses really did very little to clear the Republican picture. Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann, because of their poor showing, will reassess their campaigns and, in all likelihood, will both drop out of the race before the week closes. That leaves four still standing: Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum - who finished in a virtual tie, and Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. These four will leave to campaign in New Hampshire and then in South Carolina and Florida. By the end of January the race will be down to two. It will be interesting to see how quickly, if at all, the Republican Party will coalesce around its candidate. Stay tuned, it could be an interesting year politically.

Over the Christmas week our Congress did it once again - kick the proverbial can down the road a little further. This time the can was kicked out for two months as the extension to the payroll tax roll-back was approved through February. What does that mean? It means that Congress, upon its return from the Christmas break, will once again wrestle with how to reign in spending. There seems to be an intense fear in Washington to do the right thing; so all I am anticipating is another kicking of the can down the road for another few months. This will certainly become one of the great campaign issues of 2012.

Meanwhile tensions continue to mount in the Middle East. Without an American military presence in neighboring Iraq, Iran now has the latitude to become the regional bully that it has desired to be. Just yesterday the Iranian government threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz if American warships re-enetered the Persian Gulf. I don't think Iran wants a war, but it feels free to intimidate. The Iranians know that Americans would not readily accept another Middle Eastern War. Thus the strong talk backed up with just enough military muscle that others will back away. The response from the Saudis was a request, which was granted by the Obama Administration, for purchase of more F-15 fighter jets for the Saudi air force. The Saudis simply do not trust the Iranians.

Also yesterday the Palestinian Authority and Israelis sat down in Amman, Jordan, at the invitation of King Abdullah, to attempt to reignite the peace process. Nothing was accomplished. The Palestinians came with a long list of preconditions - including a freeze on all Israeli building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with agreement to the 1967 borders as initial boundaries. Of course Israel refused to accept these pre-conditions, but politely attended. King Abdullah is wary of what might happen on his western border if Hamas and Fatah create a unified Palestinian government. In many ways King Abdullah is trying to fill that vacuum left when Egyptian President Mubarak was overthrown last February. Time will tell if there will be any success, but I highly doubt there will be.

Speaking of Egypt, yesterday marked the third phase in the election of a new Egyptian Parliament. According to an article I read in this morning's Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Egyptian military is conversing with the Muslim Brotherhood about some kind of unity government. Friends, the handwriting is on the walls: the new Egypt will not look like the old Egypt; the new Egypt will be governed by Islamic Sharia Law. The result will be a continued and increased persecution of Christians living in Egypt. So much for the 2011 "Arab Spring."

One final note, 2012 will prove to be an interesting year for Europeans. The European Union is still reeling from the collapse of the Euro and the near financial collapse of Greece, Italy, Spain, and Ireland. Will other nations join in teetering near the edge in 2012? I would not want to bet against it.

As we enter into 2012, many are talking about this being the year that the world comes to an end - December 21, 2012. Friends, this is our opportunity to share with people that there is still time for them to put their trust in Jesus Christ. There is hope to be found only in Him. There is peace to be found only in Him. Let us not become people filled with despair, but let us seize the moment - carpe deim - and live triumphantly for Jesus Christ as we await His soon return.