Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Another Arab Spring in Egypt?

The ceasefire, although very fragile, is holding between Israel and the Hamas leadership within the Gaza Strip.  I think both sides realize that its continuance is highly unlikely.  As one looks back over other ceasefires that have been declared in that region, the winners have appeared to be the ones who have been opposed by Israel.  It is almost certain that Hamas is using this time to rearm itself as it bathes in the favorable international media attention that it has received.  Who has not grimaced at those pictures of bodies of children being removed from the rubble of buildings IDF planes had destroyed.  Yet the media has paid little, if any, attention to the destruction, both real and emotional, that the hundreds of Hamas rockets have caused in the lives of the millions of Israeli citizens who live near the Gazan border. 

The strength of the ceasefire lies within the hands of the Egyptian President Morsi.  Yet now he himself and his administration is under attack within Egypt.  Hundreds of Egyptians have camped out in Tahrir Square just as they did back in January 2010.  This time they are demanded the resignation of President Morsi.  Strikes have been called.  Violence has occurred.  Egypt is in a state of unrest once again.  What was the reason for this latest unrest in Egypt?

This past weekend President Morsi declared that he alone possessed absolute powers within the Egyptian government.  In essence he declared that he would be another autocratic ruler just as the ousted President Mubarak had been.  Even the Egyptian Supreme Court is struggling with the legality of Morsi's declaration.  Headlines today indicate that the Supreme Court in Egypt has joined the lower courts in striking against the rule of President Morsi.  Wait a minute, I thought the Arab Spring had put Egypt on the road to a democratic, what am I missing?  How could the tide of popular opinion for Morsi turn so quickly? 

First, we need to remember that President Morsi is both a member and a leader within the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the largest and most powerful radical Islamic movements within the Middle East.  And, as you will remember, the Muslim Brotherhood has as its stated purpose the destruction of the State of Israel and the promotion of the next Islamic Caliphate.  You cannot separate Morsi from his political roots anymore than you can separate President Obama from his Democratic roots or George Bush from his Republican roots. 

Second, we need to remember that Islam is a religion that does not relate well to the principles of democracy.  Islam is a religion that is founded upon autocratic ideals.  When one looks at those nations where Islam is the religion, or at least the dominate religion, those nations are governed by autocrats.  Libya for years was dominated by Gaddafi.  Syria has been ruled by the Assad family for decades.  Saudi Arabia has been ruled equally long by a monarchy within the hands of one family.  So, yes, Morsi was elected by the people in a democratic election, but his comfort lies in being the leader with all the powers at his disposal.  Even though he has indicated that this is only a temporary assumption of powers, history is hard pressed to find those who have held such power ever relinquishing those powers later.  As someone has said, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."  Time will tell what will happen in Egypt.

But the impact of the Egyptian situation has great bearing upon Israel and Hamas.  If Morsi is forced to resign because of the pressures of another uprising, then the influence he has upon Hamas to keep the ceasefire will be rendered ineffective.  And we know that Iran is already prepared to step in to champion its proxy in Hamas. 

If you are interested in reading about the situation between Israel and Gaza I highly recommend an article written by Dr. Earl Tilford titled, "The Gaza Trap."  You can find it at

Tomorrow a resolution will be presented before the 193-seat United Nations General Assembly to grant an upgrade in the Palestinian Authority's status to non-member observer state.  The United States has gone on record as opposing this resolution.  One US senior official, in an interview with the "Wall Street Journal" stated, "Our message to the Palestinians has not changed.  We believe that bringing forward a resolution on statehood is unwise, does not help bring them closer to their legitimate aspirations, and will create an environment less positive for negotiations.  We are trying to prevent this from happening, don't want it to happen, and it has not happened yet."  On the other hand, the European Union has not yet decided how its member nations would vote on the resolution.  However the United Kingdom has gone on record as supporting the resolution if the Palestinian Authority can grant assurances that it would not seek to join the International Criminal Court or any other UN agencies and would not take its statehood bid to the United Nations Security Council.  You can find this full article at under the heading of "PA submits draft statehood resolution to UNGA."  It was posted on November 27. 

And things have gotten much more interesting in Israel as they prepare for elections in January.  Defense Minister and former leader of the Labor Party (he left that party and had formed his own party known as Independence Party) Ehud Barak has announced his retirement from politics.  And former Kadima Party leader and former Prime Minister Livni has announced that she is forming her own political party.  You have to love the way the Israelis do their elections.  Stay tuned, this is going to get very interesting in the coming weeks. 

And here in the States all eyes will be focused upon Washington as the "fiscal cliff" gets closer and closer.  Many ideas are being kicked around with the emphasis upon "kicked."  As of yet no one from either party has presented "the straw man" from which negotiations can begin.  And until that happens, really nothing will happen.  I am wondering who will show the courage and boldness and political risk to step forward with a proposal.  But to be perfectly truthful with you all, any resolution now will only move the cliff down the road a little further.  The debt load that our country has right now and our insatiable appetite for government funding of almost every aspect of our lives precludes any realistic reigning in of the impending financial disaster.  We can merely postpone it. 

But I am glad that my hope is not based upon stocks and bonds, silver and gold.  "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."  And I hope you can say the same. 

Thought for the Week:  Forbidden fruits create many jams.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Perspective on Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense

For the moment anyway the eyes of the world are focused upon the Middle East and the renewed conflict between Israel and her Hamas neighbors in the Gaza Strip.  The Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, living in communities near the border with Gaza have endured the anguish of hundreds of rockets launched at their communities from inside Gaza.  Classrooms have been emptied, stores and businesses have closed while families have huddled in the safe-rooms within their homes.  The world has stood by and watched with hardly a whimper coming from the international community. 

In late December 2008 Israel began what came to be called Operation Cast Lead in response to the increase in rockets targeting Israeli communities.  That Operation began with an aerial assault followed by an incursion of IDF forces on January 3, 2009.  Operation Cast Lead was concluded by January 21, 2009.  Of course Israel was accused of unnecessary civilian casualties during that incursion and aerial assault.  But the world tends to forget that Hamas has placed its rocket launchers and weapons storerooms within civilian communities.  (It would be like closing all the American military bases and dispersing those units within major civilian centers - Chicago, New York, Miami, Minneapolis; those potential targets, if attacked by an enemy, would result of many civilian casualties.  Who then would bear the responsibility for those casualties?)  This is similar to what is happening in Gaza.  If you put rocket launchers on school grounds, expect some children to be hurt.  If you put military weapons in rooms in hospital basements, expect some patients to be hurt. 

A week ago Israel began Operation Pillar of Defense in response to the increased number of rocket attacks upon Southern Israeli communities.  The rockets even hit as far north as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - something not seen since the days of Saddam Hussein.  Damage from those rocket attacks have been kept to a minimum thanks to the presence of the Iron Dome defensive shield that has knocked out many of those incoming rockets before they could hit their intended targets.  Now, over 75,000 IDF forces and reservists are poised to launch a ground invasion into Gaza for the purpose of destroying the military capabilities of Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups.  As of this writing such an incursion has not happened.

And to complicate any chances of a ceasefire, this morning a terrorist bomber boarded a transit bus in downtown Tel Aviv, planted a bomb and then fled.  The resulting explosion caused nearly two dozen injuries, some serious.  This is the first terrorist attack upon an Israeli bus in quite some time.  Does it represent an escalation in Hamas' plans? 

What makes this renewed conflict different from that of 2008-2009 is the Arab Spring, particularly its results in Egypt.  Back during Operation Cast Lead, the Egyptians cooperated with Israel in closing the borders with Gaza thus preventing any weapons from entering into the Strip.  Today, Egyptian President Morsi has gone on record as giving support to Hamas, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to which he belongs.  Egypt has said that it would not seal its border with Gaza.  Would the Egyptians chance a war with Israel over Hamas and Gaza?  That seems to be a very viable question.  Another concern is whether Hamas' allies to the north, Hezbollah in Lebanon, will be stirred up against Israel's northern border.  They probably have a greater weapons capability than does Hamas because of their pipeline through Syria from Iran.  And unrest grows within Jordan against the government of King Abdullah.  What are those implications at this particular moment?  It seems that Hamas has become emboldened this time because the response from the Arab world has not been condemnatory.  They feel they have the blessings of the Arab world to continue their assault, for after all, the ones the world holds responsible are the Israelis.  In a way, Hamas cannot lose, no matter the outcome. 

If one looks carefully at what is happening right now, plotting the major players on a map, you will find Israel in the center, surrounded by Hamas and possibly Egypt on its south, Hezbollah and Lebanon and Syria on its north, and Jordan on its east.  Now, let's refresh our memories with regard to the Psalm 83 War.  There Asaph lists a future grouping of nations that will go up against Israel with the purpose of causing Israel's extermination.  Who is included in that list?  Edom, Moab, and Ammon represent the modern nation of Jordan.  Philistia represents the state of Gaza.  Tyre is representative of Lebanon.  Gebal, ancient Byblos, represents Syria.  And many scholars believe that the Hagrites represent Egypt.  Could what is happening today be the prelude to this war prophesied by one of ancient Israel's most notable musicians and seers?  I am not saying that it is, but it is does seem more than a mere coincidence. 

Friends, on this Eve of Thanksgiving, when it appears that the world is spinning more rapidly out of control and we can wonder about who is at the steering wheel, I am grateful to know that my God is still the Sovereign Ruler of this world.  This is a rather unusual Thanksgiving verse, but I have drawn great comfort from it since the election: "The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men" (Daniel 4:17).  This verse is one of the truly great statements of hope and assurance that our God is still in control.  Therefore I need not panic; I need not despair; I need not worry.  I am in good hands when I am in God's hands.  And, friends, I think that is a tremendous blessing for which to give praise this Thanksgiving Season.

So, with that I wish you a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving.  And, keep looking up, because I think Gabriel is about to begin warming his lips for that great trumpet blast.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Romans One Comes to Life

In our church here in Buffalo (MN) we have been encouraging members to read through the Bible this year.  It has been exciting to see what God does when people begin to take His Word more seriously.  I have been reading ahead as I want to anticipate and be prepared for any questions our readers might have concerning an interpretation of a passage.  I have recently been reading in Paul's letter to the Romans.  As I read through chapter one I asked myself this question, "How did a first century disciple of Jesus Christ know with such accuracy what culture twenty centuries removed would look like?"  It could only be a God-thing.

Take a few moments and read Romans 1:18-32.  What struck me again as I reread it was that little phrase - "God gave them over" - that was used three times.  In verse 24 we read, "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another."  In verse 26 we read, "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts," continuing then to describe lesbian and homosexual acts.  Finally, in verse 28 we read, "Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done."  Paul then creates quite a list of sinful practices that came as a consequence of willfully turning away from God.

Let me cite an example of where we are today.  This incident occurred at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and was published on November 1.  The headlines read, "Aaack! Girls Getting Eyeful in Locker Room."  This is a reference to Evergreen State College's nondiscrimination policies that allow a grown man to get naked and change into his swimwear right alongside a girls swim team.  A college spokesman told WorldNetDaily that the school would make sure "transgendered individuals would continue to have access to the women's locker room, and the school would uphold civil rights for all."  A letter was sent from the Alliance Defending Freedom organization to both the college's recreation director and vice-president of student affairs.  The letter reads in part, "Most of these students are minors, and range from ages 6 to 18.  On several occasions recently, the children saw a naked man in the women's locker room sauna who was displaying his male genitalia.  The children saw him through a sauna's glass door, which allowed him a plan view of the young girls while they were changing.  The children notified their swim coach, who called police."  The offender is a male, aged 45, who believes he is a woman. 

Friends, I read this article and could hardly believe what I was reading.  Is it no longer safe for my granddaughters, for your daughters to go to a public swimming facility for fear that a grown man will be in the shower room because he thinks he is a woman?  Has God given us over to the depravity of our shameful lusts? 

Then, just this morning, I read an article published by WorldNetDaily citing a new booklet printed by the International Planned Parenthood Foundation that is advocating "sexual rights" for all children.  There was a link to that booklet.  I share the link with you at
Let me warn you that you will be disturbed by what you read. 

This is the world your children, your grandchildren, my grandchildren are growing up in.  It is time for the church to be emboldened by the Holy Spirit and take a stand for biblical morality and decency.  It is time to help moms and dads teach biblical principles to their children.  It is time for the church to be an advocate to teenagers who want to stand strongly for Christ in the midst of school systems that have caved to the "new morality of indecency."  I believe there are many such young people, but they need our prayerful support and encouragement.  They can't do it alone.  I believe it is time that we stop playing games and begin to count the costs of desiring to serve Jesus Christ with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.  It will probably mean that we are ridiculed.  It will probably mean that we will be ostracized by family as being "old-fashioned" and not politically-correct.   Friends, it is time to awaken out of our slumber.  This is war - war for the souls of boys and girls, of teenagers, of families.  The stakes are high and we simply cannot afford to lose - the consequences are eternal.  Get your church into the fight! 

Speaking of fighting, according to a report in Sunday's edition of The Jerusalem Post, the IDF fired warning shots into Syria after a stray Syrian shell exploded on the Golan Heights for the second time.  "The shell hit as Israel suffered a barrage of missiles from Gaza, putting the IDF in the position of monitoring enemy fire along both the northern and southern borders."  The IDF fired one missile at a Syrian artillery cannon, but it caused little damage.  These were the first shots fired by Israeli forces into Syrian territory since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  Three weeks prior to this action, three Syrian tanks entered the demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights and remained for several hours. 

I have been on the Golan Heights several times during the tours I have led to Israel.  It is a strategic location paramount to the security of the Galilee and of Israel as a whole.  The Syrians and the Assad regime have demanded its return almost since the ink dried on the armistice that ended the Yom Kippur War.  One wonders why Syrian president/dictator Assad would attempt to incite Israel to war.  By the way he is also doing something similar on his northern border with Turkey.  Perhaps he believes that the only way he can save his leadership and bring the factions in Syria together is by having a war with Israel.  Anyway, the situation in Syria bears continued watching. 

I know these are days in which we could become easily discouraged.  But God has placed us here for this moment with His purpose in mind.  The question you and I must ask ourselves is this, "Am I resolved to not be defiled by the world and to take a strong stand for Jesus Christ no matter what it might cost?"  How we answer that question will reflect greatly upon how influential we will be in our world.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Election Response

As many of you did last night, I stayed up late to watch the election returns.  I was guardedly optimistic because of the closeness of the various polls in the final days before the election.  And I know that so many believers had united hearts in prayer for this election knowing of its critical nature to the future of our nation.  But as the evening hours began to wane the optimism was replaced by first shock and then disgust.  How could Americans vote for a continuance of a policy that had failed so miserably for the previous four years?  How could Americans vote for a series of promises that was nothing more than the reiteration of the same promises made four years before and never kept?  How could Americans vote for a continued gridlock in Washington?  How could Americans vote for the status quo?

As I lay in bed last night - really I was sleeping on the couch as Marlys and I had driven down to Ankeny, IA for our granddaughter's honors band concert earlier that evening, so Marlys had one couch and I had the other - sleep escaped me.  I began to remember the America that I had grown up knowing.  A nation where people looked out for one another.  A nation where governments only stepped in when neighborhoods and churches failed to do so.  A nation where trust in one's leaders was earned and respected.  America - the land of the free and the home of the brave - was a place you were proud to call your home.  I remember that during my first trip overseas to Israel in 1979, there was a pride in telling people you were from America.  I remember those famous words of John F. Kennedy as he took the oath of office in January 1961: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Today those words of a Democratic president are as foreign to us as if they were in another language.  After the recent hurricane Sandy hit New York City, I saw a video clip of a lady hanging on to New York's Governor Cuomo and saying, "Will you build me a house?  I need a house."  And he responded, "Of course I will build you a house."  Now I am not diminishing the anguish that woman had, but her question and, unfortunately the governor's response, is indicative of what ails America today.  Why solve my own problems?  Just let the government take care of it.  Why should I take the initiative to help myself?  The government will provide for me.  Our nation now consists of nearly equal numbers of "givers" and "takers."  The "givers" are those who pay their taxes and are quick to solve their own problems without governmental interference.  The "takers" are those who, as a rule, pay no taxes, and yet are dependent upon government for assistance just to live.  The "takers" are easily swayed.  Where is that pride we once had as Americans?  We were independent thinkers.  We were independent problem solvers.  We had initiative.  We had drive to be the best in the world.  Today we have accepted second-rate status as being the new normal. 

As Marlys and I were talking over dinner tonight, she related an article she had read earlier in the day that simply stated that those of us who grew up in the Republican party with its focus upon high morality and love for country are now in a minority.  Even within the Republican party there are those who want to escape from the controversy of the abortion and homosexual issues by softening the party's stance.  Perhaps that will have to happen if the Republican party is to compete with a party that has already sold out its moral base.  But, if that happens, there will be many of us who will be left without a political house.  

One final thought entered my mind.  In fact is a thought I have been ruminating upon for the past several weeks:  What if God's will for this election is not what I wanted?  I have even prayed that I would be accepting of the outcome.  But that acceptance has not come without disappointment I must admit.  So what does this election mean for us as Christians?  First, I need to accept that God's will has been done just as I had prayed for weeks that it might be.  Second, I need to recognize with praise and thanksgiving that God is still on the throne; His plan has not been rattled because President Obama won a second term.  Third, I need to put this election into its proper focus.  I believe the time of God's judgment upon our nation is close at hand - and I believe it is even closer at hand because of yesterday's election results.  Let me just give an example from here in Minnesota where an amendment was on the ballot that would have given the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman constitutionality.  That amendment was defeated - the first time in our country's history where a state denied that constitutional definition of marriage.  Other states also gave legitimacy to same-sex marriages.  Friends, this is an egregious act before a holy God.  How much longer before God says, "I will give them over to their depraved minds and morals?"  I believe such a time is closer than we want to think.  I will not be alarmed over increased droughts that threaten people's livelihoods or violent storms destroying property and lives.  They will be acts of God "giving us over to our depravities."  Fourth, this election reminded me once again that this world is not my home, that I am a stranger here.  Perhaps we have grown too comfortable in recent years, but now that comfort has been removed.  I believe tough times are coming to those who truly profess Jesus Christ.  I believe it is time for churches to stop playing games and get seriously into the Word of God.  It is time to prepare for the persecution that is coming.  It is time for churches to create plans to help one another when such persecutions come:  legal counsel, financial assistance plans, emergency shelters and food stores, perhaps even educational resources when our children are forced to flee from the public schools.  Perhaps we had better take a lesson from our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. 

It has now been nearly twenty-four hours since those first returns were announced.  The shock has disappeared, the disappointment and disgust will take some more time to heal.  Yet my confidence in God and His Sovereignty remains even stronger.  It is time that I take more seriously my role of leadership over the flock God has entrusted to my care to prepare them for what will happen; it is not a question of "if" but "when."  As someone said, "We are just getting that much closer to the return of Jesus Christ."  To that promise and hope I will say an enthusiastic "Amen!"