Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Book, A Visit, and Some Opinions

Before I share some insights into some of the major news items of this past week, I want to do two things.  First, I want to highly recommend a book for your summer reading.  The book is titled, "7 Men" and was written by Eric Metaxas.  (By the way, if you have not read his book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you need to put that on your reading list.  You will thank me later for having read it).  In his newest book, Metaxas seeks to ask what makes some men outstanding.  He has selected seven men, thus the title, whose lives he begins to explore.  The seven men include: George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Chuck Colson.  That is quite a line-up of "Who's Who."  The biographies of each man are very short - 25 to 30 pages in length.  Yet when one finishes each man's story, there is a new appreciation for that particular strength each displayed that made him a man to be remembered.  I highly urge fathers to read this book and perhaps discover that special strength God has placed within them that can be used to help their children and grandchildren walk closer with the Lord.

The second thing I want to also highly recommend is a trip to Springfield, IL, and a visit to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  Marlys and I were there this past weekend with two of our grandchildren.  It was my third visit to the Museum in the past four years.  It is an amazing place.  Every time I am there I learn something new about our 16th President.  What a remarkable man he was!  Of course one needs to also stop in nearby New Salem to hear that side of the Lincoln story.  As we walked through the various open cabins, we remarked how families certainly had a closeness in those days that is missing today.  When you think that a family of six or eight or even ten lived in one room.  That was the kitchen, the dining room, the living quarters, and the bedroom all in the space of a 15 by 15 room, or even smaller.  If we were planted back in that generation, I am not certain that we would survive.  Springfield is a very family-friendly place because Lincoln was a very family-friendly man.  He loved his four boys, although sickness took two of them during his lifetime.  He was estranged from his own father, so I guess Lincoln did not want to experience something similar with his own sons.  Anyway, a great place to visit for a long weekend.

Now from the news of the week.  Unrest with Israel's neighbors continues to escalate.  Over the weekend, six rockets were fired from Gaza into the southern Negev regions of Israel.  No damage or injuries were reported, but the quiet of a near two-month lull in rocket activity was broken.  Israeli warplanes struck several Hamas targets within the Gaza Strip with effectiveness.  The leadership of Hamas had sent a letter to the leadership of Hezbollah in Lebanon inviting them to quit the war in Syria and attack Israel instead.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made it very clear that Israel would not tolerate attacks upon its citizens or upon its soil.  I read this morning in an article on the website that "Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hinted Wednesday that Israel may call up its combat soldiers for a major operation in the near future.  Yaalon spoke as he and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu observed a Golani Brigade drill in the Golan. ...  Golani, like many other IDF combat units, is likely to be called to operational service on short notice.  That's why this exercise, like other drills in recent days, has special meaning at this time and in this place."  The Defense Minister then said, "We will not tolerate violations of our sovereignty or harm done to our soldiers and civilians, whether here, in Gaza or elsewhere.  It's important to clarify to everyone on the other side of the border who may be planning to harm us in some way, that we are prepared and determined to act."  When asked, the Prime Minister said, "Nobody will hurt the State of Israel.  We have a very strong, very decisive response.  We need the will to break our enemies and to put the fear of death into them." 

The first of two long-anticipated rulings by the United States Supreme Court on gay marriage issues has just been handed down.  By a 5-4 margin, the High Court has declared that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.  DOMA, as the act came to be known, was passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996.  DOMA prevented same-sex couples whose marriages were recognized by their home states from receiving the same benefits accorded to other married couples under federal law.  The High Court was split along ideological lines with Chief Justice Roberts being joined by Justices Scalia, Alito, and Thomas in the dissenting opinion.  I believe this ruling is simply another step in the redefining of marriage as it will soon be known within our nation.  It will be interesting to see what the High Court will decide in the case involving California's Proposition 8 where voters overwhelmingly approved a definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.  Will probably share an opinion next week.  For those of us with a sense of traditional, moral, and biblical values, the decision of the Court today represents a another setback. 

As we near the celebration of our nation's Independence, I often wonder what those great men who had a vision for a land of freedom and opportunity would think if they could return to America today.  Would we be what they had envisioned?  Would they stand up and say that we were the fulfillment of their dreams?  Or would they question us as to how we got off track from those principles they embedded deeply within the Declaration of Independence and later in the Constitution?  Will probably never know exactly their response, but I am not certain they would recognize us today.  Times do change: We no longer farm with horses.  Some things should never change: Those principles that were foundational to our nation's birth.  Perhaps it is time we reread the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, just to name a few.  Perhaps it is time we reread the letters from the pens of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Adams.  Not just read, but listen to their voices as we read so as to discern their hearts.  Perhaps that is what Eric Metaxas wants us to know about those seven men.  Perhaps that is what I rediscovered this past weekend in Springfield. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The World - Still Waiting for the King!

What an incredible last few days around the world!  From the election in Iran to the decision by the Obama Administration to arm the Syrian rebels to Russia's determination to continue support for the Assad regime in Damascus to the ongoing sagas of the NSA and IRS investigations.  All are worthy of our attention.

Let's begin with the Iranian election this past Friday.  The surprising winner was Dr. Hasan Rowhani, who, among the Iranian candidates, was considered to be the most moderate.  He is fluent in Arabic, Russian, German, French, English, and Farsi (the native language of Persia).  In a cabinet meeting at the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "We are not deluding ourselves.  We need to remember that the Iranian ruler at the outset disqualified candidates who were not in line with his extreme world view, and from among those whom he did allow, the one seen as least identified with the regime was elected.  But we are still speaking about someone who calls Israel the 'great Zionist Satan'" (The Jerusalem Post, June 17, 2013).  Although Rowhani is President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the real power within Iran continues to be that of the ayatollah, especially Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's Supreme Leader.  He will continue making decisions regarding the Iranian nuclear program.  Perhaps the most that can be said about Rowhani's election is that it might provide for some domestic stability.  You might remember that five years ago, when Ahmadinejad was elected to his second term, the near revolution it brought.  Friday's election resulted in very little, if any, domestic response.  Time will tell if Rowhani will allow a greater measure of cooperation with the West or not.  But, least we forget, when Mohammed Morsi was elected President of Egypt, he was considered to be a moderate.  Yet look at the turmoil Egypt has been in since because this "moderate" has attempted to bring radical Islamic rule into Egypt, even so far as appointing as governor of the Province of Luxor (home to the ancient Egyptian temple at Karnak) a member of the radical Islamist group that murdered 62 tourists in 1997.  Personally, as I read the accounts of the new Iranian President, I am not overly optimistic.  He still has bought into the need for the destruction of Israel and for the continuation of Iran's nuclear program.  I don't have cause for any exuberance. 

Now let's turn our attention to the continued civil war in Syria.  Last week our local Minneapolis paper featured a picture of a group of tourists standing atop Mount Bental on the Golan Heights watching the fighting going on near the city of Kuneitra below.  I have stood on that same mountain many times.  The Syrian civil war has now reached the borders with Israel.  Russian President Putin has indicated that he will continue sending arms to the Assad regime.  The Iranians are sending 4,000 Revolutionary Guards to assist the Syrian army in their battle with the rebels.  And Hezbollah, Iran's proxy, based in Lebanon, is actively supplying soldiers for the conflict.  And, depending upon what news source one reads, it would appear that the Syrian regime is regaining the upper hand in the conflict. 

Now, after nearly a year of saying that if Assad crosses the "red line" on using chemical weapons against his own people, the Obama Administration has now said that he has and is now willing to supply weapons and some training to the Syrian rebels.  But many in Washington are rather hesitant to send weaponry to the rebels because their ranks have been infiltrated by Al Qaeda fighters.  The question is asked if we want our weapons to fall into wrong hands?  (You might remember that we armed the Taliban in their struggle against the Russians in Afghanistan; look what it has caused us).  We also know that presently several thousand US forces are on the northern border of Jordan, joining with British and Jordanian units in military exercises.  Could this be a prelude to American troops entering into Syria?  One would hope there would be some caution exercised before such would happen.  Are we ready to engage in another Middle East war? 

Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has severed all ties with the Assad regime, closing its embassy in Damascus and expelling the Syrian ambassador to Egypt.  One wonders if other Arab states will follow Morsi's example.  This mess in Syria is not going away any time soon.  Could it be merely the prelude to the destruction of Damascus as foretold by Isaiah 17?  Time will tell.

This past weekend riots and demonstrations occurred in several Turkish cities, young people protesting against the Erdogan government.  Turkey is considered to be a secular Islamic state with freedoms not present in most Islamic countries.  Many have felt that Prime Minister Erdogan and his government have been slowly eroding those freedoms while attempting to expand the Islamic teaching in Turkey.  Although still popular, the demonstrations this past weekend show that the secular influence in Turkey is still strong. 

The Middle East continues to be a region that could explode any moment.  Yet we know that that will not happen until the Lord determines that it should.  I have been reading through the prophecies of Isaiah this summer and have once again been excited and encouraged to know that nothing happens ahead of God's timetable.  God has everything planned.  Nothing surprises God!  Nothing sneaks up on God!  God has everything under His control!  And I continue to trust Him with that!  I remember reading these words of promise to the people of Israel, but I believe they have significance for us today as well: "But now, this is what the LORD says - he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mind.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior'" (Isaiah 43:1-3).  God is in control.  We can dare to trust Him! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lessons from History

One of the most interesting apps I have on my iphone is called "Daily History."  I love history so this is an easy way for me to recall those special events that happened on a particular day.  I was drawn to yesterday's statement: "June 11 - 1775- John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Livingston, and Roger Sherman constitute a committee created to write the Declaration of Independence."  Now, we know that Thomas Jefferson created that first draft of the Declaration - a document that was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.  But, have you ever considered how that document came to be.  It really is a compelling story and one that many of our young people never hear any more. 

For nearly 150 years, the American Colonies had been under the governance of Great Britain.  Oh there was some autonomy with regard to local matters, but taxes were paid to the King.  And, for the most part, relations between the Colonies and the Crown were cordial.  The Colonies even helped the Crown achieve a victory in the early part of the 18th century - a war we know as The French and Indian War.  But, following the war, relationships between the Colonies and the Crown began to cool.  Parliament expected the Colonies to help pay a greater share for the costs of the war - for, after all, they were the great beneficiaries of the war.  So, in 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act - a bill that would raise funds to pay war debts.  This was the first internal tax placed upon the Colonies by the British government.  The response from the Colonies was negative.  Yet, more taxes would follow, culminating in the Tea Tax in 1773.  Enough was enough, the colonists declared.  The response was what is known as the Boston Tea Party with its cry, "no taxation without representation."  Britain responded with a punishment upon Boston in the form of the Intolerable Act.  In response to this Act, the colonies convened the First Continental Congress in 1774 with the purpose of drafting a letter of response to King George and Parliament protesting Britain's treatment of the Colonies.  The letter was rejected outright.

On April 19, 1775, the first shots of what became known as the War of Independence rang out on the hills of Lexington and Concord. Years later Ralph Waldo Emerson would declare this as "the shot heard 'round the world."  (His "Concord Hymn" written in 1836).  The Second Continental Congress was convened later in 1775 in Philadelphia.  Some of the greatest leaders this nation has ever produced were gathered in Independence Hall for debate on the Colonies response.  When one reads the list of those men - John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Roger Livingston, Roger Sherman, just to name a few - one stands in awe.  As the historian Joseph Ellis writes in his book titled "The Founding Brothers" the birth of our nation could not have been accomplished at any other time because the leadership simply was not present. 

Friends, the American nation did not accidentally arise.  There was a God-centered purpose at its heart.  It cannot be denied that those delegates to the Second Continental Congress sensed the direction of the Almighty in their deliberations.  Perhaps they were not all Christians, as we know that term today, but they knew that God (whom they often described as Providence) was guiding them.  All one has to do is to read those words that grace that document known as the Declaration of Independence:  "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.."

Friends, I have often, in my teaching, equated America with Old Testament Israel.  Both were born out of adverse times - Israel was enslaved in Egypt; the Colonies felt they were enslaved by Britain.  Both desired to be set free from that enslavement.  God raised up leaders - for Israel, it was Moses and later Joshua; for the Colonies, it were those courageous men who met in Philadelphia, and for an army later led by George Washington.  And for both nations, their foundational documents were centered upon principles of moral right and wrong as received from God.  Yet, as one continues the parallels, Israel certainly had those moments when it abandoned those foundational principles and sought to be independent from God.  The results were disastrous, as the books of Judges and First and Second Kings record.  Israel found solid footing when they returned to God and to those principles they knew were from Him.  America, too, has stumbled.  There have been times when it has sought to be freed from those foundational principles.  The results have been disastrous.  Yet, God was pleased to rekindle the fires through revivals and awakenings. 

Our nation is at a crossroads.  There is a defiance in the face of God these days.  The judgment of God should be expected.  But might we see a time of revival before?  Could there be a Third Great Awakening here in the United States?  May our prayer be so. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The First Week in June - A Look Back

As I write this blog it is June 6, a day whose significance I am afraid many younger Americans have forgotten.  Those of us who grew up in those years immediately following World War II remember June 6 as D-Day.  With your permission I would like to go back in time to two historic events that occurred during this week that changed the course of the world.

Let's begin with June 6, 1944.  For it was on this day that the Allies, under the leadership of General Dwight David Eisenhower, came ashore on the beaches of Normandy, France, and began the process of delivering Europe and the world from Nazi tyranny.  If you have seen the movie, "Saving Private Ryan," you saw Steven Spielberg's graphic description of D-Day.  Thousands of Allied forces gave their lives in those waters as they trudged to those beaches and the surrounding hills.  Yet, as one looks back, D-Day marked the end of Hitler and his tyrannical reign.  Oh the war would continue for  nearly another year and, at times, the Allies would lose some ground but never as much as they would continually gain.  And the war was won.  June 6, 1944, is a date that should never be forgotten by any of us, for that date literally changed the world.  Perhaps it should be required of all American high school students that they view not only those opening moments of "Saving Private Ryan" but also Steven Spielberg's greatest film, "Schindler's List," to understand the reason why it was so imperative that the Allies needed to win.  Let's not forget.  (By the way, there is also that classic movie "The Longest Day" that depicts D-Day in a powerful way.  I would also recommend Michael Shaara's novel, "The Steel Wave.") 

But I also think of another important date, or should I say dates.  Let's move the calendar forward 23 years.  It is now June 5, 1967.  The location is not Europe.  The threat is not Nazism.  The scene has changed to the Middle East, particularly focusing upon Israel.  The threat is pan-Arabism, led by General Gamal Abdel Nassar of Egypt.  During the weeks preceding June 5, Egypt and Syria had prepared themselves for war with Israel.  They boasted with confidence that they would be successful in destroying this tiny Jewish State.  Israel responded with a pre-emptive strike during the early morning hours on June 5, destroying the Egyptian Air Force in a matter of hours.  By June 10, the war was over.  The Egyptians, Syrians, and Jordanians had been sounded defeated in what has become known as The Six Day War.  (By the way, if you want to read a fascinating account of that war, I highly recommend Michael Oren's book, simply titled, "The Six Day War."  Michael Oren is the present Israeli Ambassador to the United States.)  As a result of that war, the map of the Middle East was changed - The Sinai Peninsula was now in Israeli hands (it would be returned by Israel to the Egyptians as a result of the 1979 Camp David Accords); the Golan Heights were captured from the Syrians; the West Bank (Samaria and Judea) was taken from the Jordanians; more importantly, on June 7, Jerusalem became a unified city under Jewish control - the first time since the fall to the Romans in 70 AD.  The consequence of The Six Day War is that the world has used it as a defining moment in the continued dialogue in opposition to a Jewish State. 

Friends, the first week in June has some deep historical roots that should never be forgotten.  Those events have literally changed the course of the world. 

We have so quickly rewritten history to fit our politically correct thinking.  America was no longer founded upon the principals of freedom of religious expression.  Our Founding Fathers were guided by greed rather than freedom; they certainly were not guided by any thoughts of God.  Friends, there are some things that simply should never be forgotten.  The first week of June is one of those times we should never forget.  Our schools are failing in their responsibilities to teach the next generation what it means to be an American citizen.  It is time that Dads and Moms, Grandpas and Grandmas help the next generation know the true story.  If we fail - how will they know?  Perhaps we are already reaping the consequences of such failure.