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! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Horrific Story That Represents Our Culture Today

A horrific story comes out of Duncan, Oklahoma, where yesterday three young blacks decided that they wanted to kill someone because they were bored with life.  Their target - a 22-year old Chris Lane, an Australian athlete attending a nearby college on a baseball scholarship.  Lane was jogging down a street when a car with the three teens pulled alongside and one shot ended Lane's life.  The three teens, ages 15, 16, and 17, were arrested as they sat in a car.  According to Duncan Police Chief Danny Ford, "the teens had no motive other than to 'make a name for themselves,' and were on their way to another house to murder a second, unrelated victim when they were arrested.  I think they were on a killing spree.  We would have had more bodies that night if we didn't get them." 

As the authorities examined the Facebook pages of these three teens - James Edwards, Chancey Luna and Michael Jones - they noticed photos of Black Power, and references to rappers such as the 17-year old rapper Chief Keef from Chicago who is known for relentless references to guns, violence, drugs, and sex in his popular music videos. 

Friends, violence has become an epidemic in America.  One of the breeding grounds for violence lies in America's inner-cities.  Just look at a typical weekend in Chicago - 6 to 10 murders per weekend.  Mostly it is blacks killing blacks.  The music of the inner-city culture stimulates this violence.  Listen to the words of today's favorite rap songs and violence and death are central themes.  The is a lack of parental authority in most inner-city homes; fathers have abdicated their responsibilities.  Oh they know how to impregnate their girl friends, then slap them around or push them down the stairs and threaten their kids, but don't ask them to be a dad.  They don't know how and they don't care to know.  So the children of the inner-cities of America grow up with an anger that often finds expression through violence. 

But wait, this killing of Chris Lane did not happen in inner-city America.  It happened in a town of 24,000 - rural Oklahoma.  Friends, what has characterized the inner-cities of America for decades has become, unfortunately, the new culture of rural America as well.  The music and entertainment from Hollywood glorify sex and violence and disrespect toward one another.  We no longer respect someone's home or life.  And the video games that are most popular glorify those same themes. 

I admit that violence has been a part of life since the time of the fall.  We have to only reach the fourth chapter in the Bible and we find an act of violence - Cain rising up and murdering his own brother Abel.  And from that point onward, violence became cultural.  David's family was troubled by violence: brother raping sister, brother killing brother, son violating father.  Yet the Bible commands that we are to respect one another.  Jesus said that we were to "love our neighbors as we love ourselves."  But here is where the difficulty lies: we have no respect for ourselves any longer, therefore there is no respect shown to another.  And why is that?  It is because we have failed to teach people that God loves each of us.  When the message of the Gospel is removed from culture, all that remains is anarchy, violence, hatred, and ruin.  It is the Gospel that holds a society together.  It is the principles of truth found in God's Word that guide a society toward a common goal.  Take away those principles and we become like the nation of Israel during those dark days of the Judges, where "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." 

Friends, if we are going to reclaim America, we have to begin reclaiming one home at a time.  We have to focus on reclaiming the presence of fathers in the home.  We have to focus on teaching young men today to have respect for women, beginning with their mothers, sisters, and then girl friends.  We have to teach them skills of being dads: how to discipline their children without provoking them; how to love their wives as Christ loved them; how to serve their family, yet be the head of the family.  Inner-city Chicago needs this.  Rural Duncan, OK, needs this.  Small town Buffalo, MN, needs this.  Any-town, America, needs this.  It is not going to be easy.  In fact, it will be a battle because Satan has had control of the family for decades.  Yet, this is a biblical battle.  It is God's will that families be His ambassadors.

Another story I am still processing is the account of Syrian forces using chemical weapons against rebels and civilians.  Reports vary as to the number of casualties - from "tens of people" to over 1,100.  There has been no confirmation yet from any credible source.  If the report is verified, it has the potential of swinging international opinion in favor of the rebels.  Syria is still a country we need to keep our eyes on.

We also need to do the same with Egypt.  Interesting that former President Mubarak might soon be released from prison.  Don't expect him to become engaged in the politics of Egypt as he is now 85 and in very ill health.  The deposed President Morsi is now in prison awaiting charges.  How the tide does turn quickly in the Middle East.  Joel Rosenberg quotes an interesting article, written by Bret Stephens of the "Wall Street Journal."  (You can link to the article through Joel's website:  According to the article: "restoring the dictatorship-in-the-making that was Morsi's elected government is neither desirable nor realistic; bringing the Brotherhood into some kind of inclusive coalition government in which it accepts a reduced political role in exchange for calling off its sit-ins and demonstrations is not realistic; what is realistic and desirable is for the military to succeed in its confrontation with the Brotherhood as quickly and convincingly as possible.  And it beats the alternatives of outright civil war or victory by a vengeful Muslim Brotherhood; and politics in Egypt today is a zero-sum game: either the military wins, or the Brotherhood does.  If the U.S. wants influence, it needs to hold its nose and take a side."  Will keep an eye on Egypt as well.

Keep looking up, my friends, Jesus is coming...and I hope soon!  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Is There Any Sanity Left?

As I was wakened this morning the first words that greeted me were of the violence that occurred earlier this morning in Egypt where Egyptian security forces, with armored vehicles and bulldozers, entered into two protest camps in Cairo.  Clashes with pro-Morsi supporters ensued leaving more than 50 people dead and hundreds injured.  The protesters, many of them aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, had occupied many of the parks and squares of Cairo following the overthrow of President Morsi on July 23.  At first the protest camps were merely a collection of tents, but over the weekend, those tents were becoming more permanent structures, thus inviting the action of the security forces.  Although not directly involves, Egyptian military helicopters flew over the area. 

Will this be the beginning of another civil war in the Middle East?  There certainly seems to be a clash of ideologies in Egypt between those who strongly favor a more radical Islamist government as represented by the Brotherhood and President Morsi, and those who favor a continued secular Islamist approach, as represented by the deposed President Mubarak.  Perhaps the future of Egypt will be determined in the coming weeks, although I must say that the Bible indicates that the distant future for Egypt looks bright.  Just read those closing verses of Isaiah 19:16-25.  Ultimately, Egypt will be blessed by God.  But Scripture also indicates that Egypt will suffer incredibly first.  Daniel 11:36-45, a passage most Bible scholars attribute to the time of the Antichrist, makes reference to the king of the South which is Egypt.  So, friends, as we await the return of Christ, we need to keep eyes focused upon what is happening in Egypt for there is prophetic significance there.

Today, in Jerusalem, peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel officially begin.  To declare their "good will" toward the talks, Israel released 26 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom had been in Israeli prisons for several decades for acts of violence and, in at least two instances, murder of Israelis. Interesting to note: the Palestinians were not asked to show any "good will" moment toward Israel.  We are now on a nine month journey that is to lead to a resolution of a problem that has a long history and deep roots.  The history of previous "peace negotiations" is of resolute intransigence on the part of the Palestinians - for them it is "all or nothing;" and a firmness of principles with the Israelis, especially as concerns Jerusalem.  Will these talks be any more successful?  Personally, I am not very optimistic.

A couple of items from the homefront.  On Monday, California governor Jerry Brown signed AB1266 which, according to an article by Fox News reporter, Todd Starnes, is "seen as a landmark decision for transgender Americans.  The new law gives students the right 'to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities based on their self-perception and regardless of their birth gender.' ...  Karen England, executive director of the Capital Resource Institute said the law forces 'San Francisco values on all California schools.'  'This is a very radical idea,' she said.  'You're going to have first-grade boys going to the restroom next to first-grade girls without any supervision.' "  The article continues, "England said parents or students who feel uncomfortable with their daughters showering next to boys - are being accused of being bigots.  'And now if a girl doesn't want to shower with a boy, there's something wrong with you,' she said."  San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's office provided a statement acknowledging that some parents and students may be uncomfortable with the law. 'Discomfort is not an excuse for discrimination,' he said in a statement."  Friends, did you ever think you would see this happen?  I am concerned for my grandchildren and for the world my great-grandchildren will grow up in, should the Lord continue to tarry His coming.  I can see a growth of home-schooling parents and a growth of private schools.  If our public schools would spend as much time making sure that "Johnny and Susie" can read as they do with making sure their "rights" are not violated, perhaps our country might change.  By the way, you can read the full article at:

One final item worth noting.  You might remember a couple weeks ago I wrote about an Air Force Chaplain in Alaska who had written an article that was posted on the base's website.  The Chaplain was called to task because he had used the phrase, "no atheists in foxholes."  Now comes word of another incident in the Air Force.   The American Family Association, on its website, reported that "according to Fox News, the U.S. Air Force confirmed a well-known drag queen group was invited to perform on base during 'Diversity Day' because drag is a 'symbol of gay pride and unity.'  But the performance sparked outrage among some airmen who called the drag show 'totally offensive and    inappropriate.'  ... This performance occurred on August 8 at the Los Angeles Air Force Base.  ... An airman, who asked not to be identified, said it was ironic that the Air Force is cracking down on Christians being able to openly share their faith but they would allow individuals to dress in drag.  'We can't even have Bibles on our desks,' he said.  'This base is not a platform for political agendas.  It is a military installation.  The (Diversity Day) display was totally inappropriate and offensive.'" 

Friends, go back and reread Genesis 19 and then ask yourself this question: What were the great sins of Sodom and Gomorrah that caused God to totally wipe them off the face of the earth?  Then ask yourself this question: How much longer will God spare this nation for its blatant, open sin against God?  I remember Jesus' condemnation of Capernaum when he uttered these words, "But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you" (Matthew 11:24).  I grieve for the judgment that will be meted out upon our nation by God because our sins are more abominable than were those of Sodom because we have the warnings of God through His Word.  We have His truth.  Yet we have turned deliberately and willfully away from that truth. Judgment delayed does not mean judgment deferred.  Let us use these days of grace to sound the alarm like watchmen on the wall.  Let us stand for truth no matter the consequences.  Let's be salt and light that truly makes a difference.  We will not reach all, but we will reach some - and that will make it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Sad Day for Baseball

When I was a kid growing up I loved to play baseball.  Now I was never very good at it; as I have shared with many, I was always the last kid chosen on those pick-up teams during school recess; in fact, I was once offered for trade to another team - no takers.  But I loved baseball.  I remember those Saturday Games of the Week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese doing the play-by-play.  Dizzy would open the broadcast with, "Welcome, partner, what a great day for baseball."  And I remember going to the local "mom and pop" store to spend twenty-five cents to buy baseball cards - never chewed the gum.  And I had my heroes: Henry "Hank" Aaron, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Harmon Killebrew, just to name a few.  I remember sitting on the grass along the inside of the outfield fence at old Sec Taylor Stadium in Des Moines one afternoon - the bleachers were filled for an exhibition game between the Cleveland Indians and the New York Giants.  I was within 20 feet of Willie Mays, star of the Giants. 

But over the years my interest in baseball has waned.  Perhaps it is because I am a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan and, to be quite honest, we have not had a lot to cheer about through the years - guess it is the curse of the goat.  But part of it has been the incredible rise in salaries and the lack of loyalty of a player to a team.  It is all about the money - there is no fan loyalty any longer.  I simply could not imagine Ernie Banks playing for any team but the Cubs, or Hank Aaron wearing any other uniform but that of the Braves. 

This past week baseball began to do something that has needed done for many years.  You might remember a few years ago the initial scandal involving Bobby Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and others who were accused of using steroids to improve their playing ability.  Sure Bonds broke Hank Aaron's home run record, but there will always be a taintedness to that record.  That scandal opened the eyes of many baseball lovers to see the corruption that had infiltrated a sport that kids loved to play on every sandlot across America.  Halos disappeared from heroes.  They mystique that was baseball began to fade.  Yet the rumors of deeper involvement with performance enhancing drugs persisted.  This time the baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, took action that was both necessary and urgent.  Thirteen players were suspended, without pay, for the remainder of this baseball season, and one player - Alex Rodriquez - was suspended also through the 2014 season.  Only A-rod appealed his suspension; the others accepted the guilt of their actions.  Heroes no longer.  Value to a team now called into question.  Idolized by young kids on America's sandlots - a thing of the past. 

These players tried to hide their involvement with drugs.  I am reminded of that passage of Scripture, found in Numbers 32:23 - "and you may be sure that your sin will find you out."  Was a few extra percentage points on a batting average or a few more home runs worth the humiliation of being discredited before your family, team-mates, and fans?  I believe that each of these players believed that they would not get caught.  That is one of the age-old lies of Satan - no one will know.  But sin is never done in secret.  As David wrote so powerfully, after his betrayal of a friend by committing adultery with his friend's wife and than covering up the sin by having his friend murdered and then being exposed by God, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge" (Psalm 51:4).  David tried to play the "no one will know" game, but lost. 

So, there is a lesson we can learn from the sad stories coming out of the baseball world this week.  Cheating to get ahead is not a recommended avenue for success; it is the highway to exposure and failure.  Remember these words from the heart of God: "you can be certain that your sins will be exposed and you will fall."  Guess those words of advice fit any vocation or avenue of life - not just baseball.