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 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, "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 -; Arutz Sheva or IsraelNationalNews -; and the daily news briefs from Channel 2 news in Jerusalem -

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.