Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Christmas Reflection from Tragedy

Well according to the Mayan calendar we are now just two days away from the end of the world.  From the crowds that I have witnessed at local shopping malls in recent days, the thought of the world ending certainly has not disquieted many hearts.  Oh you read of a few groups that have huddled together to welcome the world's ending, but I wonder what will be their response when December 22 arrives with all its uncertainty.  Friends, we know that the day is coming when this world as we know it will end.  But of that day and hour only the Father in heaven knows.  Mayan calendars, Nostradamus, and other instruments of prognosticating the future know nothing of the mind of God, let alone the dates that He and only He has determined.  Now, I believe that Friday might be the day that Jesus comes for His Church, an event we know as the Rapture.  If that would happen, I will gladly join with millions of other believers to welcome that exciting day.  But, unless that event occurs, the world will keep spinning on its axis as it has for countless years; mankind will continue his quest to be like God, much as he has done since the Garden of Eden, with its resulting heartaches and sufferings; and the Church should, and I emphasize that word "should" proclaim with all the authority of heaven that God has provided a way for mankind to be reconciled to a holy God. 

This year the Advent Season has been marked with incredible tragedies.  Those images that filled our television screens and computer monitors this past Friday will be etched into our minds and hearts.  We ask ourselves the question, "How could God allow this to happen?  How could God stand by and allow a madman to destroy the lives of 27 innocent people and their families?  Friends, I have to admit that I have no answers for those questions except to say that they come as a consequence of living in a world still dominated by the power of sin.  Bad things happen to good people because we are citizens of a world still under the curse.  Every day good, decent people die in car accidents.  Every day good, decent people die of cancer and heart disease.  Every day good, decent people lose their jobs.  Every day good, decent people have their marriages ripped asunder.  And each event is as tragic as was that of Newtown, CT this past Friday - except there the tragedy was magnified twenty-seven-fold and was before us on national television. 

Now as we witness the sorrow and the funerals for these children and their hero-teachers who gave their lives to protect other children, our hearts are filled with both sorrow and rage.  How could this happen so close to Christmas?  But did you know that a similar tragedy occurred as part of that first Christmas story.  We read in Matthew 2, "When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 'A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.'" (Matthew 2:16-18).  Last Friday in Newtown, CT, parents were unaware of the danger that lurked in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School.  They sent their children off that morning thinking it would be another normal day.  Yet tragedy struck.  Now just imagine what it would have been like if they had been forced to stand there and watch their children being murdered and could do nothing about it.  Yet that is what happened in Bethlehem that day.  Can you imagine the horrors?  Can you hear the screams of the mothers and fathers?  Can you hear the cries from the little boys, many of whom were just learning to walk, as they were wrested from their parents grasp?  This is part of the Nativity story that we intentionally forget because it causes us to ask the unanswerable question - Why, God?  The birth of Jesus Christ caused the deaths of many little boys in and around Bethlehem, little boys whose lives lay before them, lives filled with hope and joy.  Why did God allow this to happen?  Perhaps it was a proclamation that just as those innocent children died so that the boy Jesus might live, that years later the innocent Jesus - the Lamb of God - would die for those who were not so innocent. 

As I have pondered the events of last Friday through the lens of the Advent story, I have discovered that there is a depth to the story of that first Christmas that we often never explore.  In fact, to be honest, the Advent story raises a lot of deep questions that are ignored in our haste to retell the story in its simplicity.  So, in these remaining days before Christmas, perhaps you could take some time, sit down with your Bible, and re-read the Christmas story.  Read it slowly.  Ponder how you would have responded if you had been Mary and greeted by an angel.  Ponder how you would have responded if you had been Joseph and told that your fiancee was pregnant.  Ponder how you would have responded if you have been one of the shepherds.  Be honest with yourself.  What questions would you have asked?  What information would you have wanted?  In that way you will be getting deeper into the significance of the story.  And, if you want to be totally blown away, read John 1:14.  That should cause you to pause in bewilderment: God became a baby.  The One who created the world became a created being; the One who parted the waters of the Red Sea and caused the walls of Jericho to fall became a helpless infant.  Oh that we might probe the depths of the Christmas story.

Friends, I want to thank you for being on the journey with me for another year.  One can only wonder what the New Year will hold for us as we await the return of Jesus.  But we will be there to help you understand the events from a biblical perspective. 

So, I wish you and yours a very Merry and Blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with His presence in all things.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Of Korea, the Middle East, and the Fiscal Cliff

The eyes of the world were on North Korea this morning as they launched a missile with the purported purpose of putting a satellite into orbit.  The South Koreans and the Japanese governments are filled with uncertainty as to what this launch really means.  But it does demonstrate that the North Koreans have the capacity to deliver a warhead into South Korea, Japan, and possibly even to the United States.  We know that the regime in North Korea is anti-God, anti-West, and anti-democracy.  Reports indicate that a contingent of scientists from Iran were present at the launch.  This only confirms what was already speculated of the ties between those two countries.  One can only feel for the people of North Korea, the most impoverished nation on the face of the earth.  Resources that could have been used to promote their welfare were used to enhance North Korea's pledge to be a scourge to the rest of the world.  I will be interested to see what the reaction from Beijing will be. 

Fall out continues from the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza and the renewed Arab Spring in Egypt.  Last week Khaled Mashaal, the political leader of Hamas who has been in exile from the Gaza Strip, returned amid much fanfare.  The Egyptian government under President Morsi, a leader within the Muslim Brotherhood, permitted Mashaal's return, the first time in 45 years.  Can the connection between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas be more clear?  While in the Gaza, Mashaal said, "Palestine will be Palestine.  We will never surrender the land, Jerusalem, the right of return or our right to resistance.  We will not leave any inch of Palestinian land and we'll never give up any of our rights."  According to the article published in "Religion Today", Israeli President Shimon Peres stated in response to Mashaal's comments, "He unmasked the real nature of Hamas: to kill, to conquer, not to compromise, the people of Gaza can remain poor and hungry." 

There are two things happening now in the Middle East that I find alarming.  First, the situation in Egypt continues to unravel.  As I have shared with you, this coming Saturday, December 15, the Egyptian people will be voting on the new constitution which is primarily forcing Egypt under Islamic Sharia law.  The outcome of this election is uncertain at the moment, but if passed will have disastrous consequences to Egypt's Coptic Christian minority as well as to those liberal Egyptians who have enjoyed freedoms under the Mubarak regime.  Protests continue in Tahrir Square.  One wonders what the arrangements are between Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Egyptian military leaders.  To further compound this concern is the recent decision by the Obama Administration to deliver 20 F-16 fighter planes to the Morsi government.  Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute is quoted in an article in Arutz Sheva, the online news from, "Should an over reaction by Egypt spiral into a broader conflict between Egypt and Israel, such a scenario would put U.S. officials in an embarrassing position of having supplied massive amounts of military both belligerents.  Given Washington's fiscal woes, American taxpayers should no longer be Egypt's major arms supplier." 

The second alarming situation still developing comes as a result of the Palestinians being given a new status at the United Nations.  Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas now believes that the world recognizes the legitimacy of a Palestinian State, although officially there is none.  But the international perception is greater than the reality.  The Israeli government compounded the problem with its granting permission to build some 3,000 housing units in Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) and around Jerusalem.  The International Community, especial the European Union nations, were incensed with many recalling their ambassadors in protest.  According to Israeli authorities, these permits were granted in areas that would not be part of any two-state solution. 

A senior Abbas aide, Nabil Shaath, said, "by continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our lands and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the ICC (the International Criminal Court)."  Israel is withholding some $100 million in tax rebates and other fees it collects on behalf of the Palestinians to pay for Palestinian debts to the Israeli communities.  If the Arab world cannot destroy Israel through acts of violence, it will seek to do it through attacking its reputation at the World Court.  Friends, isn't it great to know that according to the Bible we know how this story will end - not with Israel's demise at the World Court or through a series of attacks, but with the arrival of their King, the Lord Jesus. 

With less than three weeks remaining, Congressional leaders and the President appear to be no closer to a solution to the impending "fiscal cliff" than they were before the November elections.  To be perfectly honest, I am not sure what a solution would look like.  The problem is that no one wants to bear the inevitable pain that will be associated with a solution.  It is time for churches to begin creating a plan to help parishioners when the difficult times come.  Clothing closets, food shelves, listing of who is a plumber, an electrician, a roofer, a doctor, etc, and the list goes on.  This is how Christians have survived difficult times in the past.  And, in our preparedness, the Church will be ready to help their communities to be salt and light in difficult times.

And so the world rushes on this Advent Season unaware of the cliff it is careening toward.  Yet, for those of us who are believers, as we prepare to celebrate Christ's birthday, we are preparing to celebrate His return.  That makes the Christmas Season extra-special.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Of EMPs and Chemical Weapons

There was a very interesting article this morning in Arutz Sheva, the Daily Israel Report from  The headlines were: "Doomsday for Iran? US Tests EMP Bomb."  The article was written by Tzva Ben Gedalyahu.  "Boeing has successfully tested an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) missile that turns 'science fiction into science fact' and could be the doomsday weapon against Iran, but media have largely ignored the development."  The article continues, "The U.S. Air Force and Boeing demonstrated the device more than two months ago over a military site in the Utah desert, reported the VR-Zone technology website.  Boeing did not keep the test a secret, but most mainstream media and technology sites overlooked the report.  The test was named CHAMP - Counter-Electronics High Power Advanced Missile Project and was the first time a real EMP missile has been tested with positive real world results."

What does an EMP device do, you are asking?  The article states, "EMP causes non-lethal gamma energy to react with the magnetic field and produces a powerful electromagnetic shock wave that can destroy electronic devices."  According to the article, the Utah test was successful in that video cameras showed images of numerous desktop computers running and then suddenly all of them go out quickly followed by the camera going black. 

What is the significance of this little article tucked away in an Israeli online paper?  Reports had circulated for years of the possibilities of using an EMP device to create targeted damage through the destruction of the electrical grids.  Now possibilities have become realities.  Just think, for a moment, of the damage an exploded EMP would create over a city the size of New York.  All of the power would be destroyed.  No lights.  No traffic signals.  No subways.  No automobiles (don't forget the heart of modern cars is a sophisticated electronics system).  No telecommunications.  The result would truly be chaos and anarchy as everyone would be in survival mode.  In literature about EMPs the little phrase, "back to the dark ages" is often used.  Now we know that that can in fact happen. 

Should we be concerned?  Absolutely.  If the United States has this technology, it is almost assured that other nations are developing it as well.  Could it be possible that Iran is working on EMP alongside of its nuclear program?  Most assuredly.  We know it is developing a more sophisticated long-range missile system, including satellite launchings, that could be used as a delivery system both for a nuclear and EMP bomb. 

I don't want to be an alarmist, but just thought you should know.  The fiction of yesterday is now the reality of today.

Are you following the events in Egypt?  Lots of unrest in Cairo and beyond.  The proposed Constitution is scheduled for a popular referendum on December 15th.  Will the people approve this return to Islamic rule by the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi?  I guess that will depend upon how intimidated the people are by the MB.  There just might be another "Arab Spring - the Sequel" on the horizon.

And Israel's response to the United Nations General Assembly vote to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a non-member observer state has aroused international concern.  Several nations either have threatened to recall their ambassadors or have done so in response to Israel's decision to proceed with the construction of 3,000 housing units around Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank).  But, according to Israeli sources, these units will be built on land that would not be included in any land given to the PA as part of a two-state solution.  Stay tuned, this one might get very interesting.

And then there is the threat that the beleaguered Syrian President Assad might use chemical weapons against the rebels within his country.  This brings alarm to Turkey and Israel especially.  NATO has agreed to send Patriot missile batteries to Turkey's border with Syria.  And you know that Israeli forces are on high alert along the Golan Heights.  Will NATO step in if chemical weapons are deployed?  Another unfinished story.

Jesus told His disciples as they sat overlooking the temple and its glory, that in the end of the age there would be "wars and rumors of war."  The rumors are spreading quickly these days.  Perhaps as we celebrate Christ's first Advent, He will honor us with His second.  Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Aftermath of the UN Vote on Palestine

I know it is highly unusual for me to post two blogs within the same week, but I wanted to let you know of the vote of the United Nations General Assembly last Thursday afternoon on the question of the status of Palestine.  By a vote of 138-9 the General Assembly now recognizes the Palestinian Authority as a non-member observer state.  The United States and Israel condemned the vote and indicated that it did nothing to further the peace process toward a two-state solution.  In fact, it probably set the process backwards.

The Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas knew the symbolic importance of November 29, the date of the vote.  It was November 29, 1947 that the United Nations voted to recognize a two state division of the Palestinian Mandate that had been overseen by Great Britain since the end of World War I.  For those who do not know, the Jews, under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, accepted that division, while the Arabs rejected that two state solution.  Thus the War of Independence of 1948-49. 

President Abbas said that Jerusalem was the eternal capital of the State of Palestine.  He said that "history is with us; the future belongs to us and God is with us." 

There is now bipartisan support in Congress to withhold nearly $600 million in aid to the Palestinians.  Several Senators - Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Charles Schumer (D-NY), John Barrasso (R-WY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have also gone on record as wanting the PLO office in Washington closed.  Voting on the funding issue could come as early as this week.  Other nations are considering similar options against the PA. 

Meanwhile, the turmoil continues in Egypt.  President Morsi has declared December 15 as the date for the Egyptian referendum on the newly written Egyptian Constitution.  Of course it was written entirely by Islamists without any representation from either Christians or moderate Muslims.  Egyptian judges are now on strike against Morsi's government.  Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations continue in and around Tahrir Square.  Will the Morsi government and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt be short-lived or will Egypt once again be under the authoritarian rule of one?  Stay tuned as this one is far from being played out. 

Keep looking up this Advent Season.  As we prepare to celebrate Christ's first coming, let us also be prepared to celebrate His second.