Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Confused World

So much is happening around the world that it is difficult to keep up, but I am glad that God is keeping up, in fact, He is in control.  For that fact, we should all be eternally grateful.

Well, yesterday, in Washington D.C., after a lapse of four years, negotiations were begun to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a conflict that has been waged since those days before Israeli Independence in 1948.  Chief negotiator for the Israeli's is Tzipi Livni, former Israeli Foreign Minister (the equivalent to our Secretary of State), while the PA is represented by Saeb Erekat, who was responsible for the Oslo Accords, signed during the Clinton years.  Initially, the meeting yesterday, called by Secretary of State John Kerry, was to talk about what needed to be talked about.  But, according to reports this morning, the participants agreed to negotiate a final settlement, hopefully reached within the next nine months. 

The questions asked by many, both in the United States and in Israel, are these: Will these negotiations accomplish what those since 1993 have not?  Will Israel relinquish East Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital?  How will the matter of the Israeli towns and villages within Samaria and Judea (known today as the West Bank) be resolved?  Will there be a disengagement in Samaria and Judea as there was in 2005 from Gaza?  How can Israel be guaranteed security and safety?  Will some type of permanent international force be needed to ensure Israel's viability from attacks from a Palestinian state?  The Israelis have fresh images of the thousands of rockets that have been launched from Gaza into Israeli communities and the trauma that many of its citizens have endured.  (Interesting to note, that as the peace-talks began yesterday, a rocket was fired from the Gaza into southern Israel.  Do you think that sent a message that Hamas is not particularly interested in a peace process?)  Will the Palestinian Authority be required to give up anything, or will the onus be entirely upon Israeli concessions?  That has been the history of past negotiations - it has been an "all or nothing" approach by the PA, and usually they leave with "nothing", then cast blame upon Israel.

This past Monday, while in Cairo, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters, "In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli - civilian or soldier - on our lands."  President Abbas has made it abundantly clear that there will be no Jews in a Palestinian State...period, end of statement.  However, he still wants Israel to repatriate those Arabs who were dispelled during the 1948 War of Independence.  Israel cannot be a Jewish only state...but Palestine can be an Arab only state.  Presently many of those living in Samaria and Judea find their employment provided by Israeli businesses.  Israeli hospitals provide care for many Palestinian residents, with care being provided through Israeli taxes.  If the Israeli Prime Minister would say to reporters, "In a final solution, we would not see the presence of a single Arab on our lands," you know what the press would say, the riots that would ensue, the buildings that would be burned.  What a double standard in these negotiations. 

Now on to Egypt where the American government is caught in a rather embarrassing position.  In January 2011, it gave support to the "Arab Spring" and the overthrow of one of our strongest Arab allies in the Middle East, President Mubarak.  The end result of that "Arab Spring" was the ascension to power of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ascendance of radical Islam, resulting in the election of Mohammed Morsi as president.  Now the people have risen up against the Muslim Brotherhood and have allied themselves with the military leadership.  Now, who do we support?  In a report, written by Daniel Pipes, one of the leading authorities today on the Middle East, Pipes related that an anonymous Obama Administration official said, "Trying to break the Muslim Brotherhood is not going to be good for Egypt or for the region.  Pipes then says, "The thinking behind this view is that (1) it's better to have Islamists in the political process than violently rebelling and (2) participating in civil society has the potential to tame Islamists, making them see the benefits of democracy and turning them into just another interest group."  But Pipes strongly disagrees with these beliefs.  He writes, "No tolerance for the intolerant.  Just as fascists and communists are not legitimate players in a democracy, neither are Islamists.  No matter how smooth talking, they remain autocrats who disregard the popular will.  Better that they be excluded entirely from participatory politics."  (You can read the entire article at the Daniel Pipes Middle East Forum website: 

Finally, on Saturday, there will be change in leadership in Iran.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will step down as President of Iran (and just when I was beginning to learn how to pronounce his name).  The new Iranian President is Hassan Rouhani.  But we need to remember that Iran is still run by the council of clerics with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the "Supreme Leader", as head.  But what is interesting is that the first state visit to the new Iranian President will be Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Reuters news service reports, "Russian leader Vladimir Putin will meet Iran's newly elected president in Tehran next month to discuss restarting talks on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program."  Could this be a strengthening of that tie we know from Ezekiel 38?  It sure does seem to bring that passage into more clarity. 

Just a final thought.  Tonight, at the stroke of midnight, Minnesota becomes the 13th state to recognize same-sex marriage.  The mayor of Minneapolis is performing ceremonies for 42 couples at 12:01 tomorrow morning, and I have read reports that 10,000 licenses have been filed in Minnesota for gay-weddings.  There was a very interesting article in today's "Star-Tribune" where those who have opposed gay-marriage indicated that they were not bitter, but just experiencing sadness.  I know many of the readers of this blog will join me in such sadness.  Sadness that we have taken a concept that has biblical, cultural, and historic foundations that transcend all creeds, cultures, and even civilizations, and changed it to fit our own whims and wishes.  Just as the word "gay" has taken on a whole new meaning since the days of my boyhood, so we can add "marriage."  The term has forever changed.  A new definition will be found in the next edition of the Dictionary.  No longer will the definition be that of a committed relationship between a man and a woman, but it will say a relationship of those in a love-relationship. 

I was asked yesterday what I thought of Pope Francis' seeming toleration of gays within the Roman Church.  To be honest, I was stunned.  Still trying to make sense of those words.  Is this a new direction for the Roman Church who has stood as a bulwark in the sanctity of marriage fight?  I am sure that Pope Francis will give clarity in the coming weeks. 

The Lord reminds us that when we see these things happening, and they are happening at almost lightning speed these days, then we are to look up because our redemption draws nigh.  How grateful I am for the upward look and for the incredible hope we have in the return of Jesus.  With John I pray, "Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Royal Birth

On Tuesday the long awaited birth announcement was made in London, written on a simple easel board, that an heir to the throne had been born.  Instantly the news was flashed around the globe by those journalists who had waited for days in anticipation of this much heralded event.  People, not only in Britain, but around the world celebrated the birth of the new prince, who is as at yet unnamed.  And yesterday, when Prince William and Kate left the hospital, they had to first stop at a bevy of microphones to share their feelings about the birth of their first child.  And we were stunned to learn that Prince William had changed his first diaper.  Amazing!  (By the way, from what it seems at present, Prince William and Kate want to be normal parents.  I applaud them for this and hope that they will keep that focus and determination). 

Maybe it was just me, but I was struck by the fanfare that this little baby boy received, even before he was born.  Every night there was a special segment on the news titled, "Baby Watch."  There was almost a frenzy the morning Kate and William arrived at the hospital. 

Let's compare this royal birth to another royal birth that occurred many years before.  The parents were a couple unknown outside of the little village in which they lived.  In fact, the news of the young girl's pregnancy brought no delight, but scorn and derision, even causing the husband to consider divorcing the one whom he loved.  There was no limousine to take the young mother to a hospital for the delivery of her firstborn.  No, instead the family was forced to take a long journey back to the homeland of the husband - an arduous journey even for someone who was in good physical condition, let alone for one who was nine-months pregnant.  No room with the proper equipment for a delivery greeted them upon their arrival. No, they were allowed to stay in the only place available, a cave where animals had been stabled.  "And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

No attending physician.  No medications to help alleviate the pains of childbirth.  No equipment monitoring the vital signs of mother and child.  No one there to wash the newly born child except the hands of the supposed father.  No soft blanket to wrap him in.  No clean bed upon which the child could lay his head.  Yet, this baby born that night was royalty...even greater royalty than the son born to William and Kate this past week.

The birth announcement was not delivered on an easel board, but delivered via an angelic choir to a group of shepherds.  This was the most amazing birth announcement ever delivered - "Fear not, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. ... Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." 

Friends, when Jesus came, the world was not awaiting him with bated breath.  There were no journalists there in Bethlehem with stylus in hand waiting to interview the young couple coming from Nazareth.  There were no advance preparations made to ensure that the entrance of the King into this world was filled with everything the young mother would need for a safe delivery.  The world had a fascination for the birth of the heir to the throne of Britain; the world had no fascination for the birth of the Son of God.  Even those who had knowledge that the birth was impending displayed only a ho-hum attitude when news reached them of the child's birth. Information they had...excitement they did not have.

The new-born prince will grow up and someday maybe hailed as King of England.  When he dies, his name will go into the history books and join a long line of other kings who have sat upon England's throne - many of whom have been forgotten, except for those pages of history.  That child born that night in Bethlehem grew into manhood, had no throne upon which he was placed, yet, through his death provided a way that has changed the lives of men and women down through the centuries.  Yes, William and Kate's son might be a king someday, but Jesus Christ is the King.  Oh that the world might get excited over Jesus!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Trials and a Challenge to the Church

It has been a couple weeks since my last posting.  Last week I had the privilege of spending a week with three of my grandkids in Iowa.  I got some needed study time in the morning while they slept in, then had the afternoons and evenings to share with them.  Their mother, our daughter-in-law, has a severe form of MS and Barry, our son, and the kids were unable to continue caring for her and her special needs.  So, Carol was placed into a nursing home in early June.  Needless to say, the summer has been a different one for the entire family, but God has been answering prayers.  It was a joy just to get to spend time with the kids - lots of ladder golf, browsing at Barnes and Noble, shopping for school supplies, and reading.  Marlys will be down with them next week for a few days.  Sort of breaks the routine for them. 

Meanwhile, things continue in our world that need to be addressed.  I had at first thought I would not make any comment on the George Zimmerman trial held in Sanford, FL.  But I did follow it with great interest.  I have to be honest that, at the very beginning, I was concerned that Mr. Zimmerman would not get a fair trial.  There had been so much media publicity about the case that I wondered if an impartial jury could ever be found, especially in Sanford.  But as the trial began and continued, I was intrigued by the lack of a case the prosecution presented.  I must admit that I know very little about the law, but when the witnesses for the prosecution presented evidence that seemingly favored the defense, I was taken-back.  Then, as the trial was winding down and the prosecution team requested that the additional charge of manslaughter be added to the charges, and then attempted to add the charge of felony child abuse, I realized that even the prosecution team knew that the outcome would probably not be favorable to their side.  As the jury members have now indicated, although they had concerns for the death of Trayvon Martin, they had to follow the law, thus the verdict of acquittal. 

Now the nation is in an uproar.  Many don't like the verdict.  Many are now saying that the trial was a racial one - perhaps it was for I wonder if the media would have cared if Mr. Zimmerman had been a black.  I know the answer to that question because it happens almost daily in places like Chicago.  Or, would we have cared if Mr. Martin had been a white youth?  Probably not deserving of the airtime that the trial received.  Yes, there are questions that this trial should raise, such as, what are the limits to the authority that a neighborhood watch guard has?  But what I find disconcerting is the lack of a national voice by members of the black community regarding the known facts that 93% of black young people murdered in America today are murdered by other blacks.  Now that is a national tragedy that needs addressed.  That is the debate that needs to be presented.  Will this verdict in the George Zimmerman case prompt that dialogue?  I highly doubt it, I am saddened to say. 

The strife in Syria continues.  Now it seems that there is a civil war in the midst of a civil war as those factions fighting against the Assad Regime are now fighting also among themselves as to who will claim the power.  Some of the factions within the rebellion have been commandeered by Al Qaeda while others remain loyal to the initial desires to merely throw off an oppressive regime.  Such infighting allows those forces loyal to President Assad to regroup and to regain some of the ground lost in the past few months.  As one reporter related, "It now appears that President Assad is in a position to win the conflict." 

And the situation in Egypt continues to amaze me.  The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood - that group that appeared to have been the big winner in the 2011 "Arab Spring" and the overthrow of President Mubarak - now appears to have become the big loser in the 2013 "Arab Summer" (at least that is what I am calling it).  According to reports in today's newspaper, there are no representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood in the new government created by the Egyptian military.  Will this last?  And what will be America's role?  After all, we wholly endorsed the overthrow of President Mubarak and applauded the first democratic elections in Egypt that resulted in Mohammed Morsi becoming the new President.  Now he has been deposed by a decision of the Egyptian military leaders based upon strong demonstrations by Egyptians who demanded the ouster of President Morsi.  How fickle are the whims of men!  The people did not like the totalitarian dictates of President Mubarak, so demanded a change - democracy and freedom.  Now, two years later they rise up against the President they elected through a democratic process because they do not like the changes the Muslim Brotherhood was bringing about for Egypt. 

As I have thought about the Zimmerman trial and its outcome and the situation in Egypt, two passages of Scripture came to my mind.  The first is found in Isaiah 2:22 where the prophet writes, "Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils.  Of what account is he?"  Pretty amazing verse, don't you think?  Our confidence should be in God who never changes, not in the opinions of men who are as the shifting sands along the seashore.  The second text is found in John 2:24-25, which reads: "But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.  He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man."  The context for these verses is the account of the first cleansing of the Temple by Jesus.  Afterwards, Jesus did many miracles in Jerusalem that caused many to believe in Him.  But, Jesus knew that the minds of men are easily swayed and diverted.  Again, just a reminder that our anchor for our beliefs and convictions must be grounded in the Word of God, not in the fleeting opinions of men. 

There is an urgency for the Church today to get Dads and Grandpas into the Word.  There is an urgency for the Church to get Moms and Grandmas into the Word.  There is an urgency for the Church to get families into the Word of God.   Last Sunday I shared this passage in my message: It is among the final words of Paul to Timothy - "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:14-15).  Friends, Timothy began his Bible training while an infant.  Perhaps he learned to read using the Bible.  Perhaps those conversations around the dinner table centered on the stories of Abraham, David, and the prophets.  Friends, there is an urgency to get our families back into the things of God.  I heard a statement this past week that alarmed me: If the Church fails to act now, only 2% of the children in our Sunday schools now will walk with the Lord in their adult lives - 2%!  The Church has failed the home!  The home has failed its children!  Oh what an accounting awaits us!  But there is still time - however, it is fleeting - to get back to the basics.  Friends, if your church is doing something significant in the area of helping families get back into the Word of God, where Dads and Grandpas are discipling their children and grandchildren, where aunts and uncles are getting involved with nieces and nephews, would you please let me know.  I would love to hear from you and I will be sharing with you what our church is doing in that area as well.  Working together we can make a difference with God's help. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Lessons from the Past Should Prepare Us for Today

What an incredible week this has been!  The "Arab Spring" is merely two years old and already it is coming apart at the seams.  That which began in Egypt in January 2011 and led to the overthrowing of President Mubarak and to a quasi-democratic government of now President Morsi is under attack.  Thousands of Egyptians have once again occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo demanding another change in government.  The promises of the Muslim Brotherhood that looked so promising two years ago, have been shown to be empty of the hope that was promised.  Egypt's economy teeters on the brink of total collapse.  Unemployment has sky-rocketed.  Tourism, once a mainstay in Egypt's economy, has become almost non-existent because of the continued unrest within the country.  Egypt's Coptic community has experienced nothing but persecution since the "Arab Spring" occurred.  The people are wanting something better.  They have discovered that all the "Arab Spring" did for them was to change the title and form of the autocratic dictatorship under which they had lived.  Sharia Law and the Muslim Brotherhood certainly did nothing to help improve the plight of most Egyptians - in fact, they made it worse.  Today is the deadline that the Egyptian military leaders have imposed upon President Morsi to come up with a plan to resolve the crisis, or they will issue their own plans. 

The American government is now caught in a bind.  We supported the "Arab Spring" two years ago.  Although President Mubarak had been among a handful of those Arab leaders with friendly ties to the United States, we cast our lots with the crowds in Tahrir Square and demanded a change.  And the change occurred.  Now a new "Arab Spring" has arrived and there is hesitancy as to how to proceed, which side to cast our lots with this time. 

And the strife continues almost unabated in Syria.  I read a report in the paper this morning that any type of peace-conference between the Assad Regime and the various rebel factions will not occur until at least sometime in September, at the earliest.  And so the bloodshed continues.  The American government is now providing weaponry of some type to the rebels, but there is little knowledge that these rebels might not turn around and use those weapons to attack Israel or even American interests in the region.  Israel stands with forces ready should anything happen on their northern doorstep on the Golan Heights. 

The world continues to be filled with unrest.  Riots and demonstrations in Hong Kong as they clamor to be separated from the Beijing government.  Unrest in Turkey as many grow uneasy with the possibilities of an increased Islamic presence within the government of Turkey.  For years, Turkey has prided itself on its secular Islamic government.  It seems that almost everywhere you look, people are unhappy and dissatisfied.

Then I began to think through the pages of history past.  In the late 1760's the colonists grew unhappy with the way that King George III and the British Parliament were making demands upon them.  Many of those colonists had made the perilous voyage across the Atlantic in the hopes of securing an independent way of life, absent the constraints that had been placed upon them.  Now those constraints had finally found them in the forms of taxes and fees that they found unnecessary.  And, so a rebellion occurred.  We call it the War of Independence.  And we will celebrate an important date in that War tomorrow - the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  At the heart of the American cry for independence were those principles that were found within the Bible.  Jefferson stated as much in the Declaration when he wrote these words: "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  Here was a biblical call for liberty.  And, as one reads the records of that Second Continental Congress as they debated whether to issue such a Declaration or not, one certainly can ascertain that those delegates sought the leading of God.  (By the way, an excellent book on this topic is "Founding Brothers" written by Joseph Ellis; a book I highly recommend.) 

Now, the "elephant in the room" there within the hallowed halls of Independence Hall was the issue of slavery.  All the delegates knew that the slavery question had to be dealt with - but, as with so many politicians today, they simply "kicked the can down the road" to let another generation deal with it.  And, 80 years later, that issue of slavery reared its ugly head such that it could no longer be ignored. 

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Fall of Vicksburg.  Such simultaneous victories marked the beginning of the end of the Confederacy and their dreams of perpetuating slavery as a way of life in the South.  Over a million homes and lives were forever changed because of the Civil War.  Yet, slavery was abolished.  Another step was taken toward the realization of those principles that the "founding brothers" had declared in Philadelphia three-quarters of a century before.  Oh there would still be years before those principles would find solid ground into which to root, but the Civil War prepared the ground for those seeds to be sown. 

As I look out over the world today, I see people and nations struggling with similar issues that those colonists experienced nearly two and a half centuries ago.  But with this difference - I do not see those national struggles today drawing upon God for wisdom in the pursuit of their dreams.  I do not see the influence of the Bible upon the hearts of those seeking for change.  I believe, friends, that God blessed our nation because our nation sought God's heart at the very beginning.  Oh we can argue whether they used the same spiritual words we use today, but the fact remains that those brave men who met in Philadelphia on a hot July day in 1776, believed in their hearts that God had led them to this moment and so committed themselves and their new nation to Him.  Oh if we could only go back and grasp that spirit today!