Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ready for 2014

I trust you all had a wonderfully blessed Christmas Season and are now ready for the adventures of a new year.  As we look ahead toward 2014 one wonders what lies ahead.  Will the weather patterns in 2014 be as crazy as they were in 2013: snow storms in May, drought in July, frigid temperatures in December?  Will our government continue to be as dysfunctional as it is now?  What will be the impact of the mid-term elections next November?  What will the economy do in 2014: will the stock market continue to rise, or will there be a great collapse?  And, on the international scene, will the war in Syria continue almost unabated?  Will John Kerry realize the goal of a peaceful settlement of the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority?  What is going to happen in Iran, in Egypt, in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan?  These are just a few of the many questions that may or may not be answered in the coming year. 

Now for some disturbing news that really is a reflection upon our times.  In an article, published on the WND website on December 18 (www.wnd.com/2013/12/democrat-investigate-every-homeschool-parent) Bob Unruh reports that a "Democratic state senator in Ohio has proposed a law that would require every homeschooling parent to be investigated and approved by social service agencies before they would be allowed to teach their own children."  The bill, known as SB248, would require social workers to interview parents and children separately, conduct background checks and determine whether or not homeschooling is recommended.  The article continued, "If homeschooling is not recommended, parents would have to submit to an 'intervention' before further consideration of their request to homeschool."  This plan would replace parents with "unqualified social workers to make educational decisions for children."  Friends, this is just another step in the government taking over the responsibilities God has assigned to parents.  Will the government next come into private Christian schools and close them down as well because something is not taught the way the government believes it should be taught?  Just another slippery slope we are sliding down.

Another instance where the meaning of Christmas was compromised.  (www.foxnews.com/us/2013/12/19/school-removes-christ-savior-from-silent-night).  "A New York school district is in hot water with moms and dads after educators removed all religious references in 'Silent Night', a religious Christmas carol about the birth of Christ.  'It's kind of insulting,' parent Robert Dowd told television station WCBS.  His child attends Ralph J. Osgood Intermediate School in Kings Park, Long Island.  Many parents and concert goers were stunned last week when boys and girls sang the familiar Christmas carol - sans the references to Jesus.  The words 'Holy Infant,' 'Round yon virgin,' and 'Christ the Savior' were taken out.  Instead, the phrase 'sleep in heavenly peace' was used.  School Superintendent Susan Agruson told the Kings Park Patch that the words were removed to prevent non-Christians from being offended.  'The chorale director thought it was an appropriate way to represent the song without offending those of other faiths,' Agruso told the newspaper.  Outraged parents sounded off at a school board meeting on December 17.  The Board of Education has since posted an apology on its website and noted, they too, were offended."  Why is it no one seems concerned about offending Christians?  When are we going to say, "Enough is enough?"  Christmas is part of who we are as a nation.  It is an integral part of the religious foundations upon which this nation was built.  And the music of Christmas is an integral part of the celebration of Christmas.  If we remove from our schools every vestige of religious music, there will not be much left for our kids to either sing or play. 

This next news article comes from the ContraCostaTimes.com website.  It is titled, "Computerizing people may be next step in tech," and was written by Steve Johnson with the San Jose Mercury News.  The article states, "The move to outfit people with electronic devices that can be swallowed, implanted in their bodies or attached to their skin via 'smart tattoos' could revolutionize health care and change the way people interact with devices and one another.  Critics call the trend intrusive, even sacrilegious.  But others say it ultimately will make life better for everybody.  Some researchers and executives envision a day when devices placed in people will enable them to control computers, prosthetic devices and many other things solely with their thoughts."  Amal Graafstra, who has programmed locks to open with the mere wave of his hands or whose computers start with a similar wave of his hands, has had those hands implanted with radio frequency identification tags.  The article continues, "In a patent application made public in November - Google's Motorola Mobility branch proposed an 'electronic skin tattoo' for the throat - with a built-in microphone, battery and wireless transceiver - that would let someone operate other devices via voice commands. ... Last year, Proteus Digital Health of Redwood City won approval to sell a pill that relays information about a person's vital signs via a mobile phone to their doctor.  And officials at Santa Clara-based Intel envision their microchips one day in devices ingested or implanted for medical and other uses."  Here is a scary thought: perhaps these same microchips will be used by a government to keep tabs on where people are and what they are doing.  Perhaps such microchips might be the means by which a government controls the buying and spending habits of its people.  All of a sudden, the words of Revelation 13 take on a new meaning and one can begin to envision just how the Antichrist and his government will be able to control people.  Perhaps the Lord's coming is not that far away. 

On a related note, Jerome Corsi writes in an article at www.wnd.com/2013/12/national-id-headed-for-your-wallet-purse, about the National Identity Card that will be required of all individuals by May 2017.  This is part of the REAL ID Act of 2005, enacted after the 9/11 Commission discovered that several of the terrorists had state-issued driver's licenses and were able to freely board airplanes even though they were terrorists who had entered the United States illegally.  Corsi writes about the REAL ID Act "that was set for a phase implementation beginning in January 2014 and full-scale enforcement planned no later than May 2017, at which time the federal government will no longer accept state-issued driver's licenses and ID cards that do not meet the minimum security standards set by DHS."  In other words, without one of these National Identity Cards, you will no be able to get through security at an airport or train station.  As of December 20, 2013, thirteen states had taken no steps to be REAL ID compliant (Minnesota is one of those states).  I am wondering where in the Constitution there is room for a National ID Card.  I think our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves if they could look in upon us now. 

Friends, I am excited as I anticipate 2014.  I will certainly keep focused upon Israel and the Middle East.  I will certainly keep focused upon the moral decline in our nation.  And I will certainly keep focused upon the world's teetering economic situation.  And, yes, I will keep you posted as to what is happening. 

Yesterday I had the delightful opportunity of meeting for lunch with a group of sophomore girls.  We had a great time interacting about what is happening in our world.  Such a sharp group of girls.  One of them asked me, "Is there any way that the decline in our nation could be stopped?"  What an insightful question.  My response was that I can see no way to stop our nation's moral decline unless there is a great spiritual awakening, but, I further added, I did not think our nation was interested in such a spiritual awakening.  Am I being a pessimist?  I rather think I am a realist and a Biblicist.  But we know we are preparing for the Lord's return.  Perhaps 2014 will be the year! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Reality of the Duck Dynasty Controversy

I hadn't planned on writing a blog this week since it was Christmas week, but decided that I would weigh in on the "Duck Dynasty" situation.  Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan, stirred up a hornet's nest last week when his comments about gays and blacks was published in the GQ magazine.  Immediately there was an uproar.  A&E, the network of the "Duck Dynasty Show," immediately suspended Mr. Robertson from appearing in any new programming, in effect moving the star from the show.  Facebook and Twitter pages lit up with responses, mostly positive toward Mr. Robertson and what he said.  Cracker Barrel, one of the sponsors of the program, immediately pulled all Duck Dynasty merchandise from their stores that contained the picture of Phil.  But, the uproar created caused them to make the following announcement: "We made a mistake, we listened to you, and we apologize.  #DuckDynasty products are back in our stores."

What created the firestorm were, among others, these words from the article: "Everything is blurred on what's right and what's wrong.  Sin becomes fine...Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."  

According to Fox News, here is what Phil Robertson said yesterday to a Bible-class at his church, White's Ferry Road Church of Christ: "I am just reading what was written over 2,000 years ago.  Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom.  All I did was quote from the scriptures, but they just didn't know it.  Whether I said it, or they read it, what's the difference?  The sins are the same, humans haven't changed.  If you give them the bad news, they'll start kicking and screaming. But you love them more than you fear them, so you tell them." 

So, why should Christians be concerned about a television reality show?  It is because a pattern is being set, friends, that is leading down a very slippery slope.  Mr. Robertson's statements about the homosexual community came in a private interview conducted by a magazine.  When asked a question, he was very candid and honest with his reply.  As Mr. Robertson said, "I love all men and women.  I am a lover of humanity, not a hater."  Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California, said, in an article published on the World New Daily website: "We believe in God, the Creator and designer of the world and all of its creatures.  We believe He has provided, as the Bible teaches, an intended design for sex and marriage.  We choose to hold to that, while being tolerant of those who choose to disregard it.  And we will continue to tolerate and even love those that disagree with us.  It would be nice if that were a two-way street." (www.wnd.com/2013/12/duck-censorship-a-warning-to-ministers). The article also quoted Doug Napier, senior vice president of legal for the Alliance Defending Freedom: "America's long tradition of free and open discussion about important cultural issues is the cornerstone of a healthy society.  This move is more evidence of the one-sided censorship of the cultural and political elites outraged by such a basic teaching.  Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, president of BOND - the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny - said, "Robertson expressed his personal views about morality, faith and traditional families.  He didn't make the statements on the show.  He did not condemn or attack gays, nor did he single them out.  In fact, Robertson talked about how his Christian faith instructs him not to judge or disrespect others who don't agree with his beliefs." 

What I find alarming is that if it had been a gay person who had made similar comments about the heterosexual community, nothing would have been said.  There would have been no outrage.  There would have been no media focus.  But, because it was an outspoken evangelical Christian who made these comments, immediately the response is a negative one.  And, really all Mr. Robertson was doing, was commenting on a biblical passage - Romans 1 - where the Apostle Paul addresses this very issue.  And Paul is very straightforward about the subject, as was Mr. Robertson.  But we don't like what the Bible says about homosexuality.  It is not an unforgivable sin, but it is a sin nevertheless.  I share with my congregation those amazing words from Paul to the Corinthians believers.  I urge you to read First Corinthians 6: 9-11 and notice the tense of the verb Paul uses in verse 11 - "and such WERE some of you," implying that they no longer practiced the sins listed above, including homosexuality. 

Friends, the Bible is not a book where we can "cut and paste" those truths that we want to keep and eliminate all the rest.  The Bible is either ALL God's Word or it is NONE of God's Word.  There is no middle ground.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that "ALL Scripture is inspired of God...and ALL Scripture is useful" (2 Timothy 3:16).  The problem today is that so many people do not know their Bible.  Oh, perhaps every home has a Bible, but it usually just sits on a shelf gathering dust.  It is not read daily.  Its truths are not taken to heart and practiced.  And so, when a Mr. Robertson shares with us thoughts about the Word of God, people who do not know the Word take an immediate negative response.

Here is where it can get very scary to those of us who are preachers or teachers of the Word.  If we preach the whole counsel of God from the Scriptures, it is a guarantee that we will offend someone.  Even Jesus while here on earth, when He spoke, people either accepted His words or walked away from those words.  Will the day come when I could be arrested and put into a jail cell because I dared to proclaim God's Word as it should be?  Absolutely...and, furthermore, I don't believe it is that far away.  Sure hope that someone will look after Marlys while I am put away.  I refuse to water down the Scriptures just to save my reputation.  I want to be like Daniel or his three friends.  And I know that most of you do as well. 

Perhaps this "Duck Dynasty" controversy is a wake-up call for us to arouse out of our slumber and realize that a battle is waging all around us.  It is time to put on the armor of God and to get into the fight.  The eternal state of many souls is the prize.  This is not the time to be wishy-washy, but to move ahead in the power of the Spirit.  That is what Jesus came to do that first Christmas.  And that is what He desires that we do today.   

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Peace on Earth - Really?

The calendar indicates that a week from today is Christmas Eve, the night in which our Savior was born - He whose name was Jesus, "Savior", and Emmanuel, "with us God."  The announcement by the angelic choir to those shepherds that evening trumpeted, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

Peace - that principle the world so longs for but is unable to find.  Throughout the years of recorded history, the world has known millenniums of war but only a few years of peace.  And yet today men are still striving for peace.  We read this fall of the new initiatives created in Geneva to resolve the problems with Iran's bent toward nuclear capability.  Time will tell if this six-month temporary agreement will bring any peace.  Then I read in yesterday's "Jerusalem Post" a report that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were in discussions to form a unity government.  The article stated, "PA President Mahmoud Abbas is in talks with Hamas head Khaled Mashaal and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to unity government ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections, reported Palestinian new agency Ma'an Tuesday. ... This was not the first time that the two parties had announced an agreement to end their differences.  Over the past few years, Fatah and Hamas have reached a number of such agreements that were never implemented. ... The two rival parties have been distant since 2006, when Hamas won the Palestinian democratic elections.  Clashes erupted between Fatah and Hamas the following year, leaving Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah in control of the West Bank."  And, into this mix, are the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the PA seeking to resolve the matter of a two-state solution.  Our Secretary of State John Kerry is certainly racking up frequent flier miles for his trips to and from the Middle East. 

Peace - will there be peace in 2014?  Peace - will there be peace any time soon?  Look at our world: tensions mount between China and Japan; uncertainty of what is happening in North Korea keeps the Korean peninsula on the brink; Central African Republic is ready to explode and with it the possibilities of spill over into neighboring countries; the government of the Ukraine is heading in one direction (toward Russia) while its people want to head in another (toward Europe).  And who can forget the ongoing warfare in both Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria where the bloodshed has become so commonplace that it often fails to make news headlines anymore.  These are just a few of the hot spots in these closing days of 2013.    Peace - not this year; and probably not next year as well.

Yet the angels calmed the terror and anxieties that the shepherds were experiencing by saying that peace would come to the world in the person of the infant who had just been born.  Jesus, the Prince of Peace, stepped into a world that knew no peace.  There was the unrest between the people and their Roman oppressors.  There was the unrest between the people and their religious leaders who oppressed them with merciless rules and regulations.  There was the unrest between geographical locations, often seen in the way the Judeans looked down upon the Galileans. 

But Jesus came to bring peace.  Jesus shared with His disciples, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27).  And later that same day, Jesus reiterated a similar thought when He proclaimed to them, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Now some of you will recognize that these words of Jesus came the evening of His betrayal.  Certainly not a night of peace for the disciples, in fact, they fled in panic when the arrest of Jesus came.  Certainly not a night of peace for Jesus as the suffering lay before Him. 

The peace that Jesus came to bring was not a freedom from wars or unrest - yes, that will happen when He reigns here during those thousands years, but that is still future.  The peace that Jesus came to bring was not a freedom from personal clashes or sectarian differences.  The peace that Jesus came to bring and what He reminded His disciples of was that peace that could be established between them and God.  The Apostle Paul expressed it well with these words to the Romans, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

I believe the "peace on earth" the angels announced to the shepherds was the peace of a right relationship with God.  This peace becomes ours when we surrender our self-will and selfish ambitions to Jesus Christ; when we accept His gift of salvation that He came and purchased for us there on Calvary's cross.  Friends, that is why Jesus came.  It was not to bring peace between the Jewish people and the Roman authorities.  It was not even to bring peace between the people and their religious leaders.  To be honest, the coming of Jesus made both scenarios more difficult.  But Jesus came so that man might be at peace with God.  This was what mankind most needed.  This was what mankind could not experience by his own efforts.  This peace with God could only be provided by God Himself.  And so the journey toward that peace began in a manger-bed in Bethlehem that first Christmas Eve so many years ago and continued toward a cross and then an empty tomb.  It was a journey that only God could take.  Oh we have so much to celebrate this Christmas Season.  Take time to thank God for that peace you have because of Jesus.  And if, friend, you have not experienced that peace, then I would urge you to hurry off to find Jesus, even as the shepherds did.  And accept for yourself the free-gift of salvation that Jesus came to provide for you.  Then you, too, will know that "peace with God." 

Marlys and I want to wish each of you and your families a most Blessed and Merry Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thoughts on World Leaders and Advent

The eyes of the world have focused upon South Africa as leaders from around the world came to pay their last respects to one of the great leaders of the last century - Nelson Mandela.  He had a vision of a country where both whites and blacks could live side-by-side in peace and prosperity, and even though imprisoned for 27 years, he never lost that vision.  It was that vision that caused Nelson Mandela to rise eventually to the presidency of South Africa and oversee the destruction of apartheid.  Today's South Africa is the result of that dream.

Perhaps Nelson Mandela was the last of the great leaders of the past century.  And there were some incredible leaders in that century: Winston Churchill, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walensa - just to name a few.  Each of these leaders commanded respect even if you disagreed with them.  These were individuals who had a vision and a strong commitment to that vision.  These were individuals who commanded respect while serving in those leadership positions.  Even in death, these leaders are still respected.  As I look out over the landscape of those who purport to be today's leaders, I am afraid that I do not see men or women of the stature of a Churchill, or a Reagan, or a Mandela.

Yet the world cries out for leadership today.  The problems continue to grow.  Political unrest in Thailand, in Ukraine, and in Central African Republic.  And, in Iran, that nation that seeks to be a full partner within the world community once again, executions of those who oppose the ayatollahs rises at an alarming rate.  (Interesting note: This past week the United Nations appointed Iran to be a member of the committee that oversees human rights violations around the world.  Sort of makes you wonder about the wisdom within the United Nations.  Sort of like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop).  And one wonders when the world's economic foundations will crumble, even as the stock market continues to rise.  And the political divide within our nation continues to widen.  Even with yesterday's announcement that an agreement had been reached to solve the budgetary crisis for the next two years, the reaction was negative.  One senses the needs for a strong leader in Washington.  As I look out over the landscape, I believe the world is preparing itself - perhaps unknowingly - for that strong world-leader the Bible says will come, namely the Antichrist.  Perhaps 2014 will be the year of his unveiling.  Of course, that would mean that Jesus would come (at least for those of us of the pre-tribulational mindset).  Wouldn't that be a great thought?

Advent continues as we look forward to the celebration of the birth of our Savior.  Yet the hurry and the worry of the season intensifies as one prepares all that we have forced into this season.  Now I am not saying that what we do during this season is wrong.  I love the programs, the lights, the music, the gifts, the food, the tree.  But perhaps the pressures we put upon ourselves to make sure everything is "just right" is wrong.  I was thinking of the shepherds the other day.  After they had received the announcement of the birth of Jesus, what was their immediate response?  Did they say, "Wow, that was great, but we need to find someone first to come and look after the sheep while we are gone!"  Did they say, "Well, that was something.  Perhaps we should look into it tomorrow."  No, the Bible simply says, "they hurried off to Bethlehem."  Routine - interrupted.  A night of sleep - vanished forever.  Worry over what might happen to the sheep - not a concern at the moment.  Their focus was upon getting to Bethlehem and finding Jesus.  Friends, this season, in the midst of the hurry and worry that this season brings - and there seems to be an almost endless supply - let us not forget to hurry to Jesus first.  After all, He is the reason why we hurry and worry in the first place.  And, when we bow before Him as He lies in that manger, we will discover the peace and joy that He has come to give.  And, for a moment anyway, the hurry and worry will fade into the background as we worship the Prince of Peace.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Greatest Mystery of All - The Incarnation

We are now a few days into the Advent Season, a joyous time in which we remember the birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Christmas is a time filled with the mystery of that event we call The Incarnation.  Now that word is derived from two Latin words: "in" - a preposition meaning "in", and "carnis" - a noun meaning "flesh."  Thus, "incarnation" means "the endowment with a human body; appearance in human form"  or simply put "in flesh."

There are two strong biblical passages that teach the doctrine of the Incarnation without using that term.  These passages are so familiar to many of us, yet, for me, they are shrouded with a deep mystery - a mystery that, I believe, will not be resolved through all of eternity.  And, what is that mystery, you are asking?  It is how God became a man!  Yet it is even deeper than that, for in both the Roman and Greek worlds, their gods and goddesses often appeared to be human, although they never took on a human body.  The deeper mystery is that God became a baby!  Thank about a baby for a moment.  A baby is completely helpless.  A baby can do nothing for himself or herself.  A baby is dependent upon someone to feed him or her.  A baby is dependent upon someone to protect him or her.  A baby is unable to communicate clearly his or her desires with those around.  A baby needs guidance and discipline as he or she grows.  A baby needs to have his or her mind trained and educated. 

And that is what Almighty God became - a baby!  The One who holds the world in the palm of His hand (Isaiah 40:12) was Himself lovingly held in the arms of Joseph.  The One whose claim is that "nothing is too difficult for Him" (Luke 1:37), became One who could do nothing for Himself.  The One who provides food for the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26), was nursed at the breast of His mother, Mary.  The One whom King Solomon proclaimed that even the highest heavens could not contain Him (2 Chronicles 6:18), was gently laid in a manger.  Friends, God became a baby!  Even Mary, when told that she would be the mother of Jesus, exclaimed to the angel Gabriel, "How will this be?" (Luke 1:34).  Mary did not question the proclamation; she questioned the process.  How would the infinite God become a child within her womb? 

Friends, let us not forget this Christmas Season that wonderful, incomprehensible mystery we know as the Incarnation.  I would encourage you to re-read once again those two powerful passages: John 1:14 - "The Word (that is Jesus Christ, the Eternal Logos) became flesh (He became a baby!) and lived for a while among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth," and Philippians 2:6-8 - "Who, being in very nature God (He and the Father were one!), did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (He became a baby!).  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! (that was the reason why He came!)" 

Oh what a glorious mystery!  Let's proclaim it this Advent Season with passion and joy! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Thanksgiving Reminder

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  However, the news concerning that day is not focused upon a spirit of gratitude to God for the many blessings that He has bestowed upon us, but it is upon how early the stores will open so that we can go and fight the crowds for that "blockbuster deal."  Somehow I don't believe that, when the fourth Thursday of November was set aside to be a national day of Thanksgiving, it was envisioned that it be anything other than a day for family celebrations around the received blessings from God.  Yes, there was to be the feast - turkey with all its trimmings.  Yes, there would be opportunities for families to engage in an activity that they would not normally do - perhaps, put together a puzzle, or play a game, or watch a special movie. 

Thanksgiving has become a mere blimp on the calendar, sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas.  Perhaps it is because there is no commercial value to Thanksgiving.  How does one market Thanksgiving?  How can one make a profit on Thanksgiving unless you are selling turkeys and cranberries?  Pilgrim costumes don't seem to have that same sell-ability as do ghosts and elves.  Unlike most other holidays, Thanksgiving appears to be rather boring.  Remove the dinner and all that is left is - well, in the eyes of many, just another day.  So, why not go shopping?  So, why not hurry off to spend money? 

I believe our attitude toward Thanksgiving Day is just another reflection of how far removed we are from a meaningful walk with God.  In the Old Testament, God created three opportunities for Israel to pause, to remember, and to celebrate the goodness of God.  Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles were all times of celebration after the annual spring and fall harvests.  Yes, the people were to use those times to be with family.  But, more importantly, they were to use those days - and each of the above feasts lasted for seven days or longer - to focus on being grateful to God for His protection, His presence, and His provision. 

So, tomorrow, take time to say "thank you to God."  Perhaps you will want to read Psalm 103 before you dig into the turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn pudding, and pumpkin pie.  Perhaps you might want to just go around the table and ask everyone to share something they are thankful to God for.  Perhaps it is just taking a few quiet, personal moments to say a word of heartfelt gratitude to God for His blessings this past year. 

In closing I share this passage with you.  It will perhaps be the most read passage tomorrow, but its truths are so very powerfully said. 
     1.  Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
     2.  Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
    3.  Know that the LORD is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
    4.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name,
    5.  For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.  (Psalm 100)

May you all have a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

An Historic Agreement of an Historic Mistake?

Late Saturday evening, an agreement was reached in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 nations that affected Iran's nuclear program.  (The P5+1 nations are: Britain, France, China, Russia, the United States and Germany).  In the late night hours President Obama went on national television to herald this historic agreement.  The agreement halts Iran's march toward becoming the world's next nuclear power for the next six months.  In return the P5+1 nations agreed to lessen some of the economic sanctions that had been imposed upon Iran. 

The response from America's allies in the Middle East and among our own Congressmen has been less than enthusiastic.  Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu has proclaimed this agreement "an historic mistake."  In remarks to his cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said, "For the first time, the world's leading powers have agreed to uranium enrichment in Iran while ignoring the UN Security Council decisions that they themselves led.  Sanctions that required many years to put in place contain the best chance for a peaceful solution.  These sanctions have been given up in exchange for cosmetic Iranian concessions that can be cancelled in weeks.  Implications of this agreement threaten many countries - including, of course, Israel.  Israel is not bound by this agreement.  What we achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement; it is a historic mistake.  Today the world has become a more dangerous place, because the most dangerous regime in the world took another step towards achieving themost dangerous weapon in the world." (Arutz Sheva, 11/25/13).  Israeli Economics Minster Naftali Bennett said, "We awoke this morning to a new reality.  A reality in which a bad deal was signed with Iran.  A very bad deal.  This bad deal gives Iran exactly what it wanted: a significant easing of the sanctions while retaining the most significant parts of its nuclear program."  He went on to say, "It is important that the world knows: Israel will not be committed to a deal that endangers its  very existence." (Arutz Sheva, 11/25/13).  One would almost expect this type of response from the leaders of Israel.

But the response from the government of Saudi Arabia was hardly different.  Ambassador Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz called the Obama administration's rush to embrace Tehran incomprehensible.  "We are not going to sit idly by and receive a threat there and not think seriously how we can best defend our country and our region." 

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York released the following statement: "I am disappointed by the terms of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations because it does not seem proportional.  Iran simply freezes its nuclear capabilities while we reduce the sanctions.  It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table, and any reduction relieves the psychological pressure of future sanctions and gives them hope that they will be able to gain nuclear weapon capability while further sanctions are reduced.  A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.  The goal of the administration is to eliminate all of Iran's nuclear weapons-making capability by the end of the final negotiations; it is still my hope they can achieve that goal.  As for additional sanctions, this disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December.  I intend to discuss that possibility with my colleagues." (Newsmax, 11/25/13).

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz said on Sunday,"I think it could turn out to be a cataclysmic error of gigantic proportions.  It could also turn out to be successful, to be the beginning of a negotiated resolution.  But I think the likelihood of it being the former is considerably greater."  (Newsmax, 11/25/13). 

And that is not all the news coming from the Middle East.  Russia and Egypt are strengthening the ties between those two countries.  "U.S.-Egyptian relations have dropped off substantially since the July 3 coup, and in light of Washington's decision to cut military aid to Cairo in October, there are no signs of improvement." (Stratfor, 11/14/13).  According to the Stratfor article, "reports have emerged that Russia and Egypt are negotiating a considerable military deal, certainly the largest and most important between the countries since the 1970's.  Price estimates for the deal, which reportedly centers primarily on MiG-29 fighter aircraft, air defense missile systems and anti-tank guided missiles, range from $1.5 billion to $4 billion."  The seeming vacuum created by America's decision to not be supportive of the Egyptian military leadership is being filled by a Russian presence, giving them a new foothold into the Middle East region. 

Finally, according to a report the BBC Newsnight, citing multiple sources, the generous financial aid the Saudi Arabian government supplied to Pakistan for its development of a nuclear program, was given as part of an understanding by the two countries that, if and when Saudi Arabia required use of nuclear warheads, the Pakistanis would provide it to them.  The report continued, "Another unnamed source - identified only as a former Pakistani intelligence office, said that in his view 'the Pakistanis certainly maintain a certain number of warheads on the basis that if the Saudis were to ask for them at any given time they would immediately be transferred.'"  Gary Samore, who was President Obama's counter-proliferation adviser until March 2013 said, "I do think that the Saudis believe that they have some understanding with Pakistan that, in extremis, they would have claim to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan." 

Friends, I find this all so intriguing.  America's role in the Middle East is diminishing.  In Egypt, we abandoned our ally in President Mubarak in favor of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.  The Egyptian people came to recognize the direction Morsi was taking his nation and another revolution occurred, yet the American administration has not recognized the legitimacy of Egypt's military leadership, thus creating an opportunity for Russia to come to Egypt's aid.  In Syria, although a "red line" was created by the Obama Administration and crossed by the either the Assad or rebel regimes, America failed to take action.  Once again, it was Russia who stepped into the gap.  Because of the failure to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions - and, I believe this agreement will only allow the Iranians to placate their people who have been suffering, and once the people's response is lessened, will continue toward their nuclear objectives - the door has been opened for the Saudis to desire their own nuclear arsenal.  And Israel, caught in the middle, is left with little choice but to "go it alone" - something they are willing and capable of doing.  The Saturday night agreement has done very little - it seems to me - to lessen the tensions in the Middle East and have probably ratcheted them up even more. 

Friends, don't be lulled to sleep.  The trumpet will soon be sounding, I believe, and then we will be where we should be.  Then the fireworks here on earth will begin in earnest.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Two Events That Should Not Be Forgotten

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of one of those moments in history that are unforgettable.  You ask people, "Where were you when you heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot?" and most will readily tell you, almost as if that event had happened yesterday.  I was a junior at Boone (IA) Senior High School.  I had just returned to class after the lunch period.  That day, some friends and I walked the three blocks down to the neighborhood Dairy Queen for a quick burger, fries, and Coke.  I remember it was a cold, dark day with snow flurries lingering in the air.  We had just settled into our seats for History Class when the intercom informed us that an important announcement was to be made.  I remember hearing voices from the radio as it played through the intercom, finally the words of Walter Cronkite saying, "The President is dead!"  A quiet hush fell over the classroom that penetrated even into the hallways for those who were just beginning their lunch period.  Then the Principal announced that classes would be dismissed.  Instead of "war-hoops" of joy as we departed for our lockers, there was a stunned silence.  It was as if we were all in a stupor.  Presidential assassinations were something that we read and studied in history class - first Lincoln, then Garfield, then McKinley.  Now history was repeating itself and those scenes we had only imagined were now a reality. 

I believe the face of television changed forever that weekend.  Networks, really just beginning to realize the powerful potential of news broadcasting, took to the airwaves for an uninterrupted reporting of the events that followed the shooting in Dallas.  It really was the first time the American people participated in a news event.  We sat transfixed in the living room of our home, eyes glued to the tiny screen that showed the images of a nation in mourning.  And we sat transfixed through the funeral that followed early the next week.  Jack Ruby's shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald - we witnessed that firsthand as well. 

Was JFK one of our great presidents?  In the eyes of many, hardly so.  His presidency was marred by personal scandals - the accounts of the women whom he bedded while in the White House is known as fact.  (Here I would strongly recommend Bill O'Reilly's book, "The Killing of Kennedy."  It is an enlightening retelling of the events of Kennedy's brief presidency through the days of the assassination.)  The one strong point in his presidency was the Cuban Missile Crisis - he did keep us out of a war with Russia over Cuba.  But JFK is remembered today for the manner in which he died.  We can only begin to guess at how effective he might have been as a president.

But, tomorrow also marks the 50th anniversary of a person who has had a greater impact upon the world than did JFK.  This man's writings - which number into the dozens - greatly influenced my own thinking, especially about matters of faith.  C.S. Lewis was one of those giants of the faith who dared to challenge our faith and our thinking.  If you have not read "Mere Christianity," I highly recommend that you do.  Lewis will give you insights that will challenge you and yet, at the same time, strengthen your faith.  And, if you have children or grandchildren, encourage them to read "The Chronicles of Narnia," one of the most delightful series of stories ever written.  But then talk with those children or grandchildren about what they read.  Lewis had a purpose for writing those stories - it was his way of retelling the gospel, and he does it well.  The world hardly recognized C.S. Lewis when he died, but the British people are honoring this great man of letters and faith by placing a statue of him in Poets' Corner in Westminster Cathedral.  It is an honor Lewis highly deserved.

Speaking of honor, I cannot fail to share a few words about the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  Many have declared that this quite possibly is the greatest speech in the English language.  Lincoln, in a mere 272 words, did something that the featured speaker that day, a man named Edward Everett - one of the great orators of the day - did not do in two hours.  The Gettysburg Address is a great summation of America's history - including its foundational principles - "our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."  It is also a power statement about the war that had already engulfed the nation for two and a half years, and would continue for another year and a half - "Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation or any nation could long endure."  And Lincoln closed with one of the most powerful statement concerning American republicanism - "that government of the people, by the people, for the people should not perish from the earth." 

When Lincoln finished speaking the response was tepid.  Even Lincoln, within his speech, stated that "the world will little note nor long remember what we say here."  Yet, as reports of the speech began to be published in one newspaper after another, the people began to know that this was a special speech.  One speaks with the same hushed reverence about the Gettysburg Address as one does with the Declaration of Independence. 

This is a week to sit down and reflect upon America's past.  Two events, separated in time by a century, yet whose influence is still felt today.  Both involving men who led America during dark days.  Both involving men whose lives were cut short by the assassin's bullet.  I remember one for what he said.  I remember the other for how he died.  And I remember C.S. Lewis for his impact upon my faith. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Another "Greatest Storm"

Typhoon Haiyan has dominated the news the past few days having wrecked havoc upon the Philippine Islands.  Meteorologist have been hard pressed to find the right words to describe this super-storm, but most have settled upon just stating that it was the largest and most massive storm ever recorded.  Wind speeds exceeded 200 miles per hour with a storm surge over twenty feet.  Initial estimates were that the storm was nearly 500 miles in width.  The satellite imagery showing the storm looked impressive.  Now the clean up begins and the search for survivors.  The threat of disease is becoming the new enemy as sanitation conditions are poor and water quality and availability is even poorer.  Nations from around the globe are sending relief supplies and teams to help with the recovery. 

Is it just me or does it seem that we are seeing too many of these "largest storms?"  This typhoon was the 30th one of the year, yet there has hardly been a hurricane in the Atlantic or Caribbean.  And the tornado count in the States has almost set a record low for the year.  It was not long ago we were talking about Super-storm Sandy that destroyed most of the New Jersey shoreline.  Then there was the massive earthquake and tsunami that brought devastation to Japan.  We have had volcanic eruptions.  Heat and drought.  Rains that have created massive flooding.  Snow storms that have come early.  I know that some would blame these weather phenomena on "climate change."  But I am more inclined to believe that God is trying to get our attention.  Whenever I see these massive storms or weather that is not normal, I am drawn to those words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 - "For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:20-23).  I think the natural world is telling us that the trumpet is about to sound, that its redemption from the curse placed upon it in the Garden is about to be removed and those marvelous days of the Millennium will be ushered in.  (Of course there are some days of tribulation the world must go through first). 

Are you following the 'bouncing ball" that is the Iran Nuclear Negotiations taking place in Geneva?  The talks are between Iran and the P5+1 group (5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - France, Britain, China, Russia, and the United States) plus Germany.  Excitement reigned this past weekend as Secretary of State John Kerry made his way to Geneva as talks were nearing a final stage.  Then suddenly the talks collapsed.  According to Secretary Kerry, the Iranians were not able to accept the proposal.  According to the Iranians the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius halted the talks.  The question upon the minds of many was "is this a good deal, or just another hurry up and get it done?"  From what I read in several Israeli papers, Prime Minister Netanyahu thought it was a very poor deal - Iran getting what it wanted without really giving up too much of its nuclear capabilities.  Now we are in a cooling off phase with talks scheduled to begin again next week.  Fortunately members of our Congress are calling for even greater economic sanctions on Iran.  If you remember my comments last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu believed such economic sanctions were beginning to have a desired effect upon Iran.  Now does not seem to be the time to release pressure from the valve, but perhaps to even increase the pressure more.  Anyway, keep you eye on what is happening in Geneva.  I think it is about to get very interesting.

There is so much happening all around us these days.  Let's be in prayer for God to do a mighty work in the Philippines and that the church of Jesus Christ there will seize this opportunity to be the "hands and feet of Jesus."  And you can help by supporting those organizations who are sending help and helpers to that island nation.  Together we can bring hope to the hopeless.  We can bring encouragement to the downhearted.  Remember those words of Jesus, "As much as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Israel: Important News You Have Not Heard

It is good to be back home.  As you probably noticed, this blogsite has been pretty quiet for the past couple of weeks.  It was not due to the lack of anything of importance happening around the globe; it was just that I took a break from my computer and led a group of 43 people to Israel and Jordan for two weeks.  I never cease to be amazed at how Israel keeps shrinking the desert.  Every time I go back, more land has been reclaimed that had for centuries been barren.  Now date palms, citrus groves, olive trees, flowers and fruits and vegetables of every kind imaginable are growing where desert sands had once ruled. 

Since my return home I have been asked if I felt safe while in Israel and Jordan.  My enthusiastic response was, "Incredibly so!"  Israel, as a country, truly understands matters of security.  I must admit that, at times, it can become stressful.  A simple short trek from Jerusalem to Bethlehem becomes complicated because of several checkpoints along the way.  And the Israeli security fence is certainly not a thing of beauty, in fact, as Amnon, our guide said, "We wish it could come down, but it has done its job in preventing terror attacks upon the Israeli people."  So, yes we felt secure - perhaps more secure there than here in Minnesota, or at least parts of Minnesota. 

I had the opportunity one evening, while sitting along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, of visiting with our guide and our bus driver, both men whom I have known for several years and highly respect.  I asked them about how they saw the future of the ongoing peace process.  One was rather negative and said that he thought nothing would happen because the Palestinians were always changing the rules; the other sounded a little more hopeful.  Both men certainly want peace to come to Israel.  Both would like to live peacefully with their neighbors.  But there is such a spirit of distrust that has been created over the years that has become ingrained into the personalities of the people.  An "open border" like that between the United States and Canada will never happen between Israel and any Palestinian state that might be created.  Reason: lack of trust.  So there will always be check points. 

Speaking of the peace process, I was reading an article from IsraelNationalNews.com Monday that stated, according to IDF Radio, the United States intends to try and force a peace agreement on Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).  "The radio station says the US has informed Israel and the Palestinian Authority that if negotiations between them do not advance, Washington will propose its own solution, that will include a US position on every point that is in contention.  In effect, according to the report, this will be an attempt to force the sides to agree on a solution formulated by the US," the proposal being presented in January 2014.  The Israelis and Palestinians have been meeting for the past three months, but little progress has been made.  The present role of the United States is that of a mediator between the two sides.  The report continued, "The US plan reportedly is similar to the Clinton outline, offered by President Bill Clinton in late 2000, which is based on an Israeli retreat to 1949 Armistice lines, and some swaps of territory.  The Obama Administration is reportedly determined to achieve 'a diplomatic breakthrough' by mid-2014."   (I will try to keep you posted as to how these talks progress, or fail to progress).

On a more positive note, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is giving Israel credit for much of the pressure that has been brought to bear on Iran regarding its nuclear weapons programs.  According to the article in yesterday's issue of IsraelNationalNews.com, "Netanyahu's threats of military action against Iranian nuclear sites, combined with the pressure of sanctions, may have actually encouraged Iran to take negotiations seriously, Hagel explained."  Hagel continued, "It's true that sanctions - not just U.S. sanctions but UN sanctions, multilateral sanctions - have done tremendous economic damage.  Even many of Iran's leaders have acknowledged that.  And I think that Iran is responding to the constant pressure from Israel, knowing that Israel believes them to be an existential threat.  I think all of this, combined, probably brought the Iranians to where we are today.  Whether the Iranians will carry forth on that, we'll see." 

Two reasons to keep you eyes open to what is happening in Israel.  Of course, if you want to follow more closely I recommend the following websites: Jerusalem Post - www.jpost.com; Arutz Sheva or IsraelNationalNews - www.israelnationalnews.com; and the daily news briefs from Channel 2 news in Jerusalem - www.jerusalemonline.com

It is good to be back home, even though we had our first serious taste of winter yesterday.  In the coming weeks I will share some highlights from the tour.  Just remember: Our Lord and Savior and King is coming back to this earth to reign in one specific location - Jerusalem.  So, let's pray for peace to come to that great city through its King. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lessons from Mordecai

I completed reading the Bible through this past week.  Always amazing at how much I learn each time I read the Bible on a regular schedule.  The final book I read was Esther.  This is how the book of Esther closes: "King Xerxes imposed tribute throughout the empire, to its distant shores.  2.  And all his acts of power and might, together with a full account of the greatness of Mordecai to which the king had raised him, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Media and Persia?  3.  Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews" (Esther 10:1-3). 

That last phrase of verse 3 really grabbed my attention when I read it the other morning.  Perhaps it took on new meaning in the light of the political debacle we are witnessing in Washington right now.  Mordecai was help in high esteem because he worked for the good of his people.  Mordecai did not look out for his own political ambitions.  Mordecai did not focus upon what the polls were saying about his administration of Jewish affairs.  Mordecai did not concern himself with how he could better his own position.  No, the text states clearly that Mordecai worked for the good of his people. 

Friends, that is a focus that is glaringly missing today.  Our elected officials often call themselves the "servants of the people."  I wonder if many of them truly understand what that term means.  A servant, by definition, does not look out for his own concerns.  A servant, by definition, does not act on the basis of what is best for himself.  No, a servant, by definition, acts on behalf of those he serves.  Their best interests and welfare are what drive him in his service.  It seems to me that many elected officials today are only interested in how they can keep their jobs.  Many are "party people" rather than "servants of the people."  Many have lost touch with the realities of their constituents.  Many have been in office for so long that there is a disconnect with people back home.  And so we have political gridlock as these supposed "servants of the people" ask themselves, "If I make decision A, what ramifications will it have for me when the next election comes?" 

Somehow I don't envision Mordecai being a poll-watcher.  I don't imagine that Mordecai spent much time thinking about how he could keep his position within the Xerxes administration.  No, Mordecai "worked for the good of his people."  He had a servant's heart.  How we need people in government today who have the true heart of a servant.  Men and women who are willing to take a stand for what is "good for his/her people" back home.  We need men and women who truly understand that it is not about them...it is about what is best for the people of the United States. 

I reminded our staff yesterday, as I shared this verse with them, that our role as leaders in the local church is to be that of servants.  We are not to seek our own welfare.  We are not to seek our own job security.  We are to be so in touch with the people in our congregation that we know and understand their needs and so "work for the good of our people."  We need to remember that it is not about us...it is about Him who is the head of the Church. 

Mordecai is one of those people whose story is told within the Scriptures that I want to spend some time with in heaven.  Mordecai was an effective leader because Mordecai was first a humble servant.  Lord, help me to remember that one who leads others well is first one who serves others well. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Romans 1 Kind of World

Just when you thought that you had heard it all, that the bizarre could never become the normal, there comes this article from the Daily Mail in Britain, dated September 24.  The headlines read, "An adult at 18? Not any more: Adolescence now ends at 25 to prevent young people getting an inferiority complex."  That headline grabbed my attention.  The article reads in part, "Adolescence no longer ends when people hit 18, according to updated guidelines being given to child psychologists.  The new directive is designed to extend the age range that child psychologists can work with from 18 years old up to 25.  It is hoped the initiative will stop children being 'rushed' through their childhood and feeling pressured to achieve key milestones quickly, reports the BBC.  'We are becoming much more aware and appreciating development beyond [the age of 18] and I think it's a really good initiative,' child psychologist Laverne Antrobus from London's Tavistock Clinic told the BBC.  There are now three stages of adolescence, according to the BBC report: early adolescence that ranges from 12 to 14 years, middle adolescence from 15 to 17 years and 18 and over is classed as late adolescence."

Now I realize that every person develops physically, emotionally, and intellectually at different speeds.  Often the physical development far outpaces that of the emotional and intellectual.  The question is when do we reach that age when we make adult decisions.  How long should childhood last?  The Apostle Paul formed the thought this way: "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me" (1 Corinthians 13:11).  We have a family in our church with a family of all boys.  A couple years ago they had a "coming of age" experience for their oldest son.  It was one of those unforgettable moments.  I had the privilege of walking a mile or so with their son, just sharing thoughts on how he could experience and know the will of God for his life.  In a few weeks, the second son will turn 13 and I have been invited, along with several other men, to share in another "coming of age" experience.  At 13 will this young man become an adult?  Absolutely not!  But his family wants him to know that it is time for him to begin casting off the childish ways and childish thinking that had been part of his life. 

Perhaps, instead of lengthening the time of adolescence, we should focus instead on helping our young people understand the realities of life and perhaps provide a "coming of age" experience for each of them.  I am not sure we need to prolong childhood, but we do need to prepare our young people for adulthood, and that is something we have not done well over the years. 

A second article, this one from the October 4 issue of "The Washington Examiner," reported that "the 60,000-strong Thomson Reuters media empire, in an effort to determine its diversity success, is asking its staff of reporters, researchers, marketers and others to pick their sex from nine choices, including 'genderqueer', a category for identities other than man or woman. According to the company's annual employee survey, choosing a sexual identity doesn't have to be based on a worker's actual sex, but instead 'a person's innate, deeply felt psychological identification.'"  Now I know you want to know what the nine choices were.  Here is the question as posed in the survey, along with the nine choices: "Please choose the category that best describes your gender identity.  (Gender identity, as defined by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), refers to a person's innate, deeply felt psychological identification as male or female, which may or may not correspond to the person's body or designated sex at birth.  The categories the HRC uses are listed below):
     1.  Male                                                6.  Transsexual
     2.  Female                                             7.  FTM (female-to-male)
     3.  Transgender                                     8.  MTF (male-to-female)
     4.  Genderqueer/Androgynous              9.  Prefer not to say
     5.  Intersex

Friends, I can assure you that this list of choices did NOT come from the Word of God.  If I remember reading Genesis 1, God made them "male and female."  Okay, that must mean that there are only two choices: I am either a male, or I am a female.  And, furthermore, you know that choice when you are born.  So, why are there 9 choices today?  I believe it is because we have abandoned those principles that God shared with us from His Word.  We have willfully negated the truth and have believed the lie.  And I believe the impact of this lie will continue to grow until it is finally destroyed when Christ comes to claim His throne and Satan is cast into the bottomless pit for one thousand years. 

I have the privilege of leading an early Tuesday morning Bible study this fall and we have begun to go through the Book of Romans verse-by-verse.  We have been in chapter 1 for several weeks.  And the above article really speaks to the scene described in Romans 1:18-32.  How close are we to "being given up" by God?  I don't know, friends.  But I do know that the longer we persist in our giving approval to those who are flaunting sexual perversity, the nearer we get to God's giving us over to the depravity of our sexual expressions and the depravity of our minds.  Psalm 2, which was our focus last week, and Romans 1 are key passages that help us to understand where we are today.  And, friends, the picture is not a pleasant one.  Romans 1:18 states plainly, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness."  To experience the wrath of God will not be a pleasant experience.  Just ask the people of Jerusalem following the destruction of their city by, first the Babylonians, and then the Romans.  Read Revelation 16 where the description is horrific when the wrath of God is poured out upon the earth during the final days of our age. 

It is time for believers to awaken from our slumber.  It is time to put on the whole armor of God.  It is time to take up the shield of faith.  It is time to sharpen the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  It is time to conduct boot-camps where we are trained to ward off the influence of the Evil One.  There still is time, although darkness will soon be upon us when no one can work.  The work load is great.  Let's begin to make our lives count for Christ. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Psalm 2 Speaks to Us Today

Well, how are you doing on this second day of government "shut down," or, as they were saying on the Fox News network yesterday, the government "slim down?"  I am certain that for many who are employed by the Federal Government, these are scary days.  How long will I be out of work?  How am I going to pay my bills?  I understand the anxiety that is occurring right now in many homes across our nation.  And I pray for a speedy resolution. 

But people losing their jobs occurs every day.  Merck Pharmaceuticals has announced that it is laying off several thousand of its employees.  Wells Fargo is laying off several thousand employees in its mortgage banking area.  Other businesses, both big and small, terminate employees almost daily somewhere in our great land.  Many of those laid off find some relieve through the unemployment benefits, but it is not the same as having a job. 

Why do corporations like Merck and Wells Fargo lay off employees?  It is to maintain a good fiscal posture.  If business income drops, one of the first steps to remain fiscally responsible is to lay off employees.  I know of no business person who takes delight in laying off someone in his or her business.  They know the difficulties that will entail for that family and they attempt to ease those difficulties with severance packages.  Yet the viability of the business itself is inherently important.  Our Federal Government has grown out of control.  I just read that our government consumes over 40% of the annual Gross Domestic Product, or to put it in laymen's terms, our government spends over $40 for every $100 that is produced in this country.  And still our government wants more of the money we work so hard to generate, both as individuals and as corporations.  Perhaps it is time for government to do what businesses and families do when finances become critical: for a business, you lay someone off; for a family, you cut your spending.  Government has a difficult time doing either; in fact, it seems to do just the opposite.  But the problem is that it cannot be sustained indefinitely.  Perhaps we are approaching that time. 

We know that during the Tribulation all finances will be controlled by the government.  According to Revelation 13, we know that unless a person has the mark of the beast he cannot purchase anything or sell anything.  There we read: "He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name" (Revelation 13:16-17).  Sounds to me as if the government controls the access to all funds.  You cannot sell anything without the government's permission, nor can you purchase anything without that same government's permission.  It makes no difference how much money you have (the rich) or how meager the resources you have (the poor), the government is in control.  Sort of sounds like 100% control of the GDP to me.  When that time comes, where will you place your confidence?  (I am praying that the Lord will return before that time arrives, but the Bible is not absolutely clear on that fact).  What will you do?  Will you panic and say, "I have to survive," and thus take the mark of the beast so you will live for the moment?  Or will you be like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and say, "Our confidence is in the Lord?"  The time for thinking through such a response is now, not when the time arrives. 

And don't forget the Iranian situation.  We might be mesmerized by the talk of the new Iranian President Rohanni, but, from his speech yesterday before the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has not been mesmerized.  He trumpeted clearly that Israel still sees a nuclear Iran as being trouble in the Middle East.  And, although the Prime Minister did not come out and say that Israel would launch a strike against Iran to shut down its nuclear program, he did not say that Israel would not launch such a strike.  I will be in Israel in two weeks and I want to find out how the Israelis think of the Iranian situation.  Should the West lessen its economic sanctions against Iran in the hopes of a promise to negotiate some kind of nuclear compromise?  Would the Israeli people be willing to go it alone against Iran?  I am looking forward to some interesting dialogues.

When you hear what is happening, aren't you glad that you know who is in control?  I re-read Psalm 2 the other morning with a group of men.  I want to close with a few verses from this great psalm.  "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  (Notice: God already says that anything the nations plan to do will fail, it is futile).  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.  (We know this Anointed One as Jesus Christ).  'Let us break their chains,' they say, 'and throw off their fetters.' (This has been Satan's primary purpose since the Garden, to overthrow the government of God, to free himself from the tyranny of God, as he sees it.  And this purpose has been handed down to governments and peoples controlled by Satan.  Yes, let's get rid of God!)  The One enthroned in heaven laughs (one of the few times in the Bible where we read of God's laughter, and to what do we attribute this laughter - the foolish plans of the nations).  The Lord scoffs at them (sort of "makes fun" of them).  Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath..."  As I shared with that group of men, I believe we are well past God's laughter and even His scoffing.  And, I am fearful that we have surpassed His rebuke - He has warned us again and again of the sinful manner of life we have adopted - and are heading toward God's wrath.  I am grateful for the peace that comes from knowing that God is in control.  And so I put my trust and rest upon Him.  Yet, even as I do that, I am aware that I do have a responsibility to be salt and light before this dark work, telling them of God's love. 

These are very interesting days, don't you think?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

More in Our Troubling Day

An article appeared in Sunday's "Variety" section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The article was entitled "beyond gender."  I think the substance of this article represents the decadence of current American culture.  Let me quote from the article:
     "Gender is a fixed fact of life for most people, from the moment the doctor says, 'It's a boy' or 'It's a girl.'  But a small yet increasingly visible segment of the GLBT community is challenging the idea that every person must live as one gender or the other.  Instead they're choosing to live openly - personally and professionally - as both, or somewhere in the middle.
     "People who experience a blending or alternation of gender states are recognized by the American Psychological Association as a subset under the umbrella term of transgender.  But unlike some transgender individuals, such as recent Wikileaks newsmaker Bradley-turned-Chelsea Manning, who seek to transition to the gender that reflects their inner gender identity, some people prefer not to be confined by 'binary' gender at all.
     "'We live in a culture that's pretty gender-binary,' said Katie Spencer, a psychologist and coordinator of the transgender health services program at the University of Minnesota Medical School.  'There is a lot of pressure on people to pick a box.  Lots of practical things - like restrooms and pronouns - push people to pick one.
     "Pronouns get complicated when 'he' and 'she' aren't options.  Some genderfluid people prefer 'they.' Others advocate new neutral pronouns, such as 'ze.'"

The article is filled with illustrations from individuals who are men one moment and women another moment.  Men and women who vacillate between genders, depending upon the situation.  Now, I don't know about you, but I would find this confusing: Do I dress today as a male or as a female?  Do I display my feminine side today or my masculine side?  Am I a Jim or a Julie?  And how confused would be those colleagues at work: one day you are Jim, the next day you might be Julie. 

Friends, as I read the above article last Sunday afternoon, my thoughts drifted back to that very first chapter in the Bible.  There we read, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).  Did you see what the text clearly states?  God made only two types of people: male and female.  And God so created the sexes that each was clearly distinct from the other.  A look in the mirror told whether one was male or female.  The concept of genderfluid individuals is foreign to Scriptural teachings. 

For centuries the distinction between the sexes was clearly defined.  Little girls grew up playing with dolls and playing house.  Little boys grew up playing with trucks and playing backyard football.  Both were making discoveries of what was expected because of their sexuality.  Along came World War II, and with the men off to war in two theatres, work at home became the responsibility of wives and mothers.  And, following the war, many of those wives and mothers found some satisfaction within the workplace and decided to remain.  More and more women entered the work force.  Some even began doing jobs that had previously only been associated with men.  Then came the clarion call for equality between the sexes.  And the confusion of the roles between the sexes continued to be muddied. 

Now, not only are the gender roles confused, but there is a confusion regarding gender itself.  On some application forms you can check whether you are a male, a female, or other.  Now, friends, I truly do not know what an "other" is.  I don't believe I have ever met an "other."  I have met many males and females, however. 

This article hits home as I am presently meeting with 28 men on Tuesday mornings (6-7:30 a.m.) for a verse-by-verse study in Romans.  Those closing verses of Romans 1 are the subject for next week's lesson.  There the Apostle Paul speaks much of gender confusion.  And he clearly states, in fact he states it three times, that "God gave people over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, to shameful lusts, and to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done" (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). 

There is confusion today because we have abandoned truth found in the Word of God.  Yes, we are to love these people even as Jesus does.  But let us not give acceptance to their gender confusion.  Let's point them to Jesus who can truly set them free to become what God desires them to be. 

Just another sign pointing in the direction of the soon coming of Jesus.  I don't know about you, but I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An Interesting Poll

Last week a new poll, conducted by the Barna Group, was released.  It had been commissioned by Jim Fitzgerald, author of "The 9/11 Prophecy."  One of the featured questions on the poll was: "Do you, personally, believe that the world is currently living in the 'end times' as described by prophecies in the Bible, or not?"

41% of Americans agreed that the end times are here.  Fitzgerald said that he was surprised by the results: "I thought the numbers could possibly be as low as 10 percent for the overall population and maybe 30 percent for Christians in general, or less.  I had no way to know before the survey.  But the response of the overall population was higher than what I expected from Christians, and the evangelicals' response was nearly twice what I thought." 

The poll found that among Protestant responders, one in two believe the end times have arrived.  Among Catholic responders, nearly three out of four said that we were not living in the end times.  Another interesting statistic from the poll was that 54% of the blacks said yes, as did 48% of Hispanics.  Whites were at about 39%. (Taken from an article at www.wnd.com/2013/09/shocking-number-say-end-times-have-arrived).

So, what does this poll mean, if anything?  First, I am excited to believe that nearly half of Americans are waking up to the thought that the world is going out of whack.  That what we are experiencing today is really not normal - at least as measured against the past.  Second, I am thrilled that many are beginning to see the events of the world as having some purpose beyond just the here-and-now.  Perhaps authors such as Jonathan Khan, with his book "The Harbinger," and Joel Rosenberg, with this most recent thriller, "The Damascus Countdown," are causing people to see world events through a different set of lenses - through prophetic and biblical lenses. 

Let me just enumerate a few things that help bring things into perspective:
1.  Syria: Russia's involvement in Syria should not have surprised us.  Syria has been an ally of Russia since the days of Assad's father.  Russia has built a warm water port along the shores of northern Syria.  Syria is a key to Russia's keeping their hands on what is going on in the Middle East. 

2.  Iran: Wasn't it interesting that in the same week that Russian President Putin was declaring to the world that he would go into Syria to destroy their chemical weapons, that he entered into an agreement with Tehran to help them build a new nuclear reactor?  Didn't hear that one?  Thought so...sort of just snuck in there, forgotten by the media in their Syria frenzy.  But remember the words of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the real problem in the Middle East is Iran and its rush toward becoming a nuclear power.

3.  Weather: What a wacky year it has been.  From record heat waves in Alaska this summer to historic floods in Colorado to destructive wildfires in California and other western states to drought once again in the nation's midsection.  Climate change?  I just read where the Arctic ice cap grew by 6 million square miles this year.  Hardly sounds like it is getting too warm.  As someone said recently, "the only thing we can depend upon in the weather department is that it will happen." 

4.  Papal statements: Like so many others I am trying to figure out Pope Francis.  I love his passion for the poor and his more simple way of living.  But he has made a few statements that make me wonder just what his theology is.  Can atheists enter into heaven?  According to Pope Francis, yes they can if they have not violated their conscience.  But my Bible, and I think the Catholic Bible says the same thing, at least the version I have on my study shelf, says that the only way to enter into heaven is by believing on the Son of God, Jesus, and that necessarily means believing in God.  I read the Pope's statement and came to believe that we are rushing down the pathway toward universalism. 

Friends, I, too, believe that we are living in the early days of the end times.  I believe the world will get worse.  I believe persecution of Christians will increase, not just in Syria and Egypt (the stories coming out of those two war-torn nations are gut-wrenching) but here in America as well.  Not looking forward to it, but believe it will definitely happen in my lifetime. 

Many are beginning to be awakened.  That is very good.  But there are many more who simply prefer to sleep and be awakened when it is all over.  How we need to just keep proclaiming the message of God's love, but also of His coming judgment. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Is America A Lost Tribe?

It is tempting to continue talking about the situation in Syria, but let's give it some time.  Perhaps the plan put forth by the Russians to avert another international war will work.  We should know the answer to that question within the next few weeks, if not sooner.

I read an article that was posted on the WND website on August 30, titled, "Glenn Beck: U.S. Identified in the Bible."  You can find it at www.wnd.com/2013/08/glenn-beck-u-s-is-lost-tribe-of-Israel.  As reported by Joe Kovacs, a reporter for the World News Daily network, Glenn Beck has come to believe that Great Britain and the United States are the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.  This teaching is known as "British-Israelism" or "Anglo-Israelism."  The basic premise is based upon the historical and biblical fact that, following the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was divided into two separate nations.  The Northern Kingdom, known in the Bible as both Israel and Samaria (so named after its capitol city), and the Southern Kingdom, known in the Bible as both Judah and Jerusalem (again named after its capitol city), were created because of the sins of Solomon.  The books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles detail the stories of these two kingdoms.  The Northern Kingdom has 19 different kings throughout its 209 year history (931-722 BC) and the Bible indicates that each of those kings followed in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, the Northern Kingdom's first king.  Those sins included the worship of two golden calves - one set up in the northern part of the Kingdom at Dan, the second set up in the southern part of the Kingdom at Bethel.  Although warned by many prophets, including Elijah and Elisha, the nation continued on its bent in sinning.  Finally, in the year 722 BC, God allowed the Assyrians to capture Samaria and the people of the Northern Kingdom were taken into captivity into Assyria.

Meanwhile, the Southern Kingdom continued its existence until 586 BC when, because of its continual bent in sinning, God allowed it to be taken captive into Babylon.  The focus of the remaining historical books in the Old Testament - Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther - focus upon that Judean remnant and their eventual return from Babylon. 

Of course many will exclaim, "But what happened to those from the ten northern tribes who were in captivity in Assyria?  Did they ever return to the Promised Land?"  Beck and others say, "No, they did not.  They fled from Assyria and crossed the Caucuses Mountains into Europe, thus deriving the name Caucasian." 

Friends, this idea that the British and the United States are the lost tribes of Israel is not a new one.  It formed the backbone of the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God.  I want to share a rather lengthy quote from his book titled, "The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy." 
      "The House of Israel is the covenant people.  The Hebrew word for covenant is 'beriyth' or 'berith.'   The Hebrew word for man is 'iysh' or 'ish.'  In the original Hebrew language, vowels were never given in the spellings, so omitting the vowel 'e' from 'berith,' but retaining the 'i' in its Anglicized form to preserve the 'y' sound, and you have the Anglicized Hebrew word for covenant, 'brith.'  The Hebrews, however, never pronounced their h's.  The Jews, even today, in pronouncing the name Shem will call it Sem.  Incidentally, this ancient Hebrew trait is also a modern British trait, so the Hebrew word for covenant would be pronounced, in its Anglicized form as Brit.  And the word for covenant man or covenant people would therefore be Brit-ish.  So the true covenant people today are called the British.  And they reside in the British Isles."

Friends, this is very bad biblical interpretation.  You cannot play with words to proof a point.  You cannot make Hebrew into English.  Hebrew is Hebrew.  Furthermore, the Hebrew word for covenant is 'berith' and it is pronounced that way.  So, the case for British-Israelism falls on linguistic evidence. 

But it also falls on biblical evidence which is more important.  The prophets are emphatic that both the Northern Kingdom as well as the Southern Kingdom would return from the Babylonian Captivity.  We read these words in Jeremiah 50:4 and 5 - "in those days, at that time," declares the LORD, "the people of Israel and the people of Judah together will go in tears to seek the LORD their God.  They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it.  They will come and bind themselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten."  This passage speaks of the captivity in Babylon and the desire on the part of the people to return to Zion or Jerusalem.  And notice Jeremiah includes the people of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and the people of Judah (the Southern Kingdom).  Then there is the passage from Ezekiel 37:18-28 wherein the prophet is told to take two sticks, labeling one of them the stick of Joseph and the other the stick of Judah, and bind them together as one.  The prophet then is instructed to relate, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone.  I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land.  I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.  There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms." 

I have respected Glenn Beck in the past for his stand on some of the great moral issues of our day.  But his belief that America is part of the family of Israel and will inherit the blessings of God because of that fact, is blatantly unscriptural. 

If you are interested in learning more about British-Israelism, I would encourage you to read that section of Walter R. Martin's book "The Kingdom of the Cults" that focuses upon that teaching. 

Meanwhile, stay in the Word of God during these tumultuous days.  Don't be swayed by popular teachings, but incline your heart solely to the Word and be in tune with the Holy Spirit.  Let's sit at the feet of Jesus, not Glenn Beck.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Syria - Whose to Blame?

I hesitated to write once again about the situation in Syria, but it seems like that country is dominating the news right now.  And we know that the Bible has much to say about Syria or Aram as it is sometimes called in the Bible.  So, it is only proper that we should focus attention on it, especially because of its close proximity to Israel.  I have the had the privilege of standing atop Mount Bental on the Golan Heights and look down into the country of Syria; and, the Lord willing, I will be on Mount Bental in a matter of a few weeks. 

Here are the facts as we know them.  First, the civil war in Syria has gone on for over two and a half years.  It began as part of the Arab Spring and the attempt to overthrow the Assad regime as the Egyptians had the Mubarak regime.  But, the military in Syria was firmly behind Assad and the rebels were not well organized.  Second, over the course of the civil war, an estimated 100,000 Syrians have been killed, many of them civilians.  Both the Assad regime and the rebel forces have been guilty of killing innocent civilians, many of them Christians who have been brutalized by the Islamic radicals in control of many of the rebel factions.  Third, that some type of chemical attack occurred on August 21 cannot be denied.  The photos are grizzly that show the dead, primarily children.  And the use of chemical or biological weapons of any type were banished from military arsenals after World War I. 

That is what we know.  Here is what we do not know with clarity: Who was responsible for that chemical attack on those suburbs outside of Damascus?  The world immediately accused the Assad regime of using WMD against its own people.  Perhaps he was responsible, but perhaps not.  Assad is certainly a dictator who rules with an iron fist over his people, much in the manner of his father.  And he certainly would be capable of using chemicals against his own people.  But why would he?  The tide of the civil war has definitely turned in his favor over the summer months.  The rebel forces have often fought among themselves.  They have differing agendas as to how they see a post-Assad Syria, and some of those agendas are not America-friendly.  Assad's military was not in a desperate situation that called for desperate measures.  They held the upper hand.  Would Assad do something of this magnitude just to make a statement before the world?  Yes, it is possible.  I doubt whether Assad's conscience afflicts him any longer as to what is wrong or right.

But, could there be another scenario?  What if the rebels used chemical weapons upon civilians in the hope that the world would blame Assad and come to their rescue?  Possible, indeed it could be.  Yesterday, radio talk-show pundit Rush Limbaugh raised that specter on his radio show.  According to the report by Kathy Shaidle on the WND website, (www.wnd.com/2013/09/rush-syrians-gassed-with-help-from-u-s) "Limbaugh said he base the theory on emails he received from friends over the weekend, both of whom 'have lived in the Middle East' and 'claim to know Bashar.'  The correspondents told Limbaugh that they suspect Assad is 'being framed.'  Limbaugh told listeners he was prepared to brush his friends' opinions aside until he read an article by Yossef Bodansky, former director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, which claims that the chemical weapons attack was carried out by al Qaida terrorists posing as Syrian rebels - and that the U.S. may have had foreknowledge of the attack."

"Limbaugh read the first two paragraphs of Bodansky's World Tribune article on the air: 'There is a growing volume of new evidence from numerous sources in the Middle East - mostly affiliated with the Syrian opposition and its sponsors and supporters - which makes a very strong case, based on solid circumstantial evidence, that the Aug. 21 chemical strike in the Damascus suburbs was indeed a premeditated provocation by the Syrian opposition.  The extent of U.S. foreknowledge of this provocation needs further investigation because available data puts the 'horror' of the Barack Obama White House in a different and disturbing light."

"Limbaugh reminded listeners that back in September 2012, Foreign Policy magazine reported that 'the U.S. has lost track of some of Syria's chemical weapons ... and does not know if any potentially lethal chemicals have fallen into the hands of Syrians rebels or Iranian forces inside the country."

I have been careful not to rush to judgment against Assad even though I do not respect him or his leadership.  If he were losing the war, then perhaps; but Assad is not losing the war.  He had everything to lose and nothing to gain by a chemical attack.  The rebels, on the other hand, had everything to gain by making it look like Assad was responsible. 

So, now the ball of judgment is in the halls of Congress.  They will be the ones to finally decide how America should respond.  If chemical weapons were indeed used, then those responsible should be held accountable - how that should be implemented, well, that is another story.  The frenzy of the crowd often results in wrong choices.  I am praying that wisdom will be deployed so that the response will be targeted to the rightful parties in Syria. 

Someone asked recently if this could lead to the destruction of Damascus that is so strongly reported in the Scriptures.  I believe it certainly is setting the stage for that last time event.  But, if I understand Psalm 83, Syria will play a role in that war, so perhaps this is merely a prelude event.  Stay tuned, friends, this is far from being over.  Perhaps I can give you a first-hand report in a few weeks...right from the front. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria and Egypt - Both Need Watching

Dominating the news these past few days is the continuing deterioration of the civil war in Syria and the ongoing crisis in Egypt.  Personally I am following both stories with great interest; first, because I have studied Middle East history for the past fifteen years and even teach some classes on the History of the Middle East Conflict, and second, because I will be leading a tour to Israel that leaves in seven weeks. 

Let me share about the situation in Syria.  It was a week ago that reports began coming out of Syria concerning a chemical weapons attack that left anywhere from several hundreds of people to over a thousand people killed.  Immediately voices were raised that this was the result of an attack by the Assad regime upon their own people.  Reports of previous chemical attacks had not been verified, but this one was a major incident.  Of course the Assad regime denied any responsibility.  But now the rush to judgment had begun.

Immediately the civilized world condemned the attack and rightfully so.  There is no place for the use of chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons in an attack upon civilians.  Blame was placed...outrage was expressed...plans for a retaliatory punishment were designed.  Even as I write this blog, American naval forces are moving through the Mediterranean Sea closer to the Syrian coast, preparing for a directive to launch missiles aimed at Assad's military establishment.  Britain, under the leadership of Prime Minister Cameron, has written a resolution declaring a military strike against Syria and will present this to the United Nations Security Council.  The French government has indicated that it will increase its support of arms for the Syrian rebels. 

But even as plans were designed, others focused in a different direction.  The Russians, under President Putin, have consistently stood by the Assad regime and have threatened to veto any UN resolution against Syria - something they have done consistently in the past.  The Iranian government has stated that any attack upon Syria will result in an attack upon Israel.  To quote a senior Syrian official, "If Damascus comes under attack, Tel Aviv will be targeted too and a full-scale war against Syria will actually issue a license for attacking Israel.  Rest assured that if Syria is attacked, Israel will also be set on fire and such an attack will, in turn, engage Syria's neighbors."  Then this Syrian official said words that should remind us of Benghazi.  He warned the United Stated that if Syria grows weak, certain irresponsible groups will be formed that will endanger Israel's security.  The official went on to say, "Therefore, weakening the central government in Damascus will actually start growing attacks on Israel and will create insecurity for that regime.  Thus, a U.S. attack on Syria will herald frequent strikes and attacks on Israel, not just by Damascus and it allies in retaliation, but by extremist groups who will find a ground for staging their aspirations."

There are so many unanswered questions when it comes to Syria.  I get articles from an organization called Stratfor which evaluates what is happening in the world.  They had an interesting article this morning that I want to share portions with you.  "Stratfor's job is to analyze the world as objectively as possible, and the situation in Syria is among the most difficult we have seen.  The problem is we really don't know what happened.  The general consensus is Syrian President Bashar Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons against his enemies. The problem is trying to figure out why he would do it.  He was not losing the civil war.  In fact, he had achieved some limited military success recently.  He knew that U.S. President Obama had said the use of chemical weapons would cross a red line.  Yet Assad did it. 

"Or did he?  Could the rebels have staged the attack in order to draw in an attack on Al-Assad?  Could the pictures have been faked?  Could a third party, hoping to blog the United States down in another way, have done it?  The answers to these questions are important, because they guide the U.S. and its allies' response.  The official explanation could be absolutely true - or not."

I hope we proceed with caution.  I do not like chemical weapons used by any side in a war.  I believe that chemical weapons should be outlawed by the civilized world.  But let's not make the mistake by punishing the wrong people.  Let's do our homework carefully, then make the proper decision.  From my study, things in the Middle East are not as they often seem to us.  And we have no clearer picture of that then to look to Egypt.

Who would have believed that the Muslim Brotherhood would so quickly lose its base of support and power in Egypt?  Now a new constitution is being drafted - I think this is the second or third one in the last few years - that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for a political party to have any type of religious foundation, whether that is Muslim, Coptic, or secular.  The military is firmed established once again in power, although they have promised that it is only temporary.  Hopefully new elections will be called for by early next year.  But, according to reports that I have been reading, analysts do not hold much hope that a better Egypt will result.  Perhaps Egypt will be torn asunder by civil war as has Syria.

And, caught in the middle is the little nation of Israel.  It seems that trouble surround her once again.  Are we on the thresholds of another January 1991 when Saddan Hussein, true to his promises, sent one scud missile after another into Israel as American led coalition forces began what is known as the First Gulf War? 

Friends, I am eternally grateful that our God is on control.  And I believe that we are merely seeing precursors to that day when the King will come.  Aren't you glad you have a hope in Christ?  Aren't you glad for the peace that only He can give.  Our trust is not in governments - praise God!  Our trust is not in armies - praise God!  Our trust is in the Lord!