Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Spiritual Battle Heats Up in the Middle East

I am deeply troubled by what is happening in Iraq right now.  It would appear that all the American men and women who gave their lives so sacrificially, while many others gave of their arms, legs, eyes, and ears for the cause of Iraqi Freedom, may have done so with futility.  Let's be clear about one thing: this is not a struggle for the control of Iraq, but for the establishment of an Islamic Empire in the Middle East, patterned like those of the Caliphates of old.

The major antagonist is known as ISIS - The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  However, it is also known as ISIL - The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.  Now the word Levant refers to the area that exists between Egypt and Iraq; in other words, if one looks at a map, the Levant includes all the lands of the ancient Assyrian Empire.  Today that would include: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, parts of Turkey, and Egypt.  The goal of ISIL is not just the creation of an Islamic Caliphate within the borders of Syria and Iraq, but to also include all of the Middle East. 

Just today we have learned that ISIL or ISIS - no matter the name, they are one in the same - has captured control of the main border crossing from Syria into Jordan and from Syria into Iraq.  It is that crossing from Syria into Jordan that presents some huge concerns, not only for King Hussein and the people of Jordan, but also for Prime Minister Netanyahu and the people of Israel.  Since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and exemplified by Jordan's treaty with Israel in 1994, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has achieved relative stability - at least by Middle East standards.  If one looks at a map of the Middle East, three of Israel's neighbors have either gone through or are going through times of civil war and/or unrest: Lebanon - has been in a state of civil war for the past three decades; Syria - has been riled by civil war for the past three years; and Egypt - where, only through military intervention, was a civil war prevented.  That only leaves Saudi Arabia and Jordan as neighbors of Israel with relative stability. 

Now, we know that the intent and purpose of radical Islamic extremists is the destruction of Israel.  That is clear from the charter of Hamas (Gaza) and Hezbollah (Lebanon).  Few remember that it is also clearly stated in the charter of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) of which the present PA (Palestinian Authority) is a part.  Although promised during the Oslo Accords, that phrase within the PLO charter has never been removed. 

An article, written by F. Michael Maloof today at the WND website, is most alarming.  The article can be found at www.wnd.com/2014/06/iraq-invaders-threaten-nuke-attack-on-israel.  "The well-organized army of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, claims it has access to nuclear weapons and a will to use them to 'liberate' Palestine from Israel as part of its 'Islamic Spring,' according to a WND source in the region.  Franklin Lamb, an international lawyer based in Beirut and Damascus, said the move is part of the ISIS aim of creating a caliphate under strict Islamic law, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Iraq. ... Lamb said ISIS can do what no other Arab, Muslim or Western backers of resistance have been able to accomplish.  He quoted the ISIS member as saying, 'All countries in this region are playing the sectarian card just as they have long played the Palestinian card, but the difference with ISIS is that we are serious about Palestine and they are not.  Tel Aviv will fall as fast as Mosul when the time is right.'"  And from where would these ISIS fighters get their nuclear weapons?  According to the article, one source might be Pakistan, home to more than 30 terrorist groups; a second source might be Saudi Arabia, which has threatened to get its own nuclear weapons if Iran has those same weapons. 

Friends, if Baghdad falls to the ISIS rebels, I believe a greater threat will hang over the entire Middle East region than when Saddam Hussein was in power.  ISIS will not stop with Baghdad.  They will want Amman.  They will want Beirut.  They will want Damascus.  And their eventual target will be Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  They view themselves as preparing the way for the Twelfth Iman whose coming will initiate a new Islamic Caliphate throughout the region.  Dedicated Muslim fighters from around the world are joining ISIS fighters there in Syria and Iraq.  And, should they return to their home countries, they will carry with them that hatred for anyone that will not willingly bend to their Islamic intentions. 

This is not the time to be lulled into sleep.  This is not the time to be apathetic and pretend that what is happening half-a-world away will not impact you. except for perhaps at the gas pumps.  Friends, this is a battle between the spiritual forces that seek to control this world.  In the Book of Daniel, this is seen as the battle between Michael and the Prince of Persia (read Daniel 10).  Paul describes it in Ephesians as the struggle with the spiritual forces of darkness (read Ephesians 6).  Whatever you call it, it is representative of that final battle that will occur at the end of the age where the forces under the Antichrist will march defiantly against Jerusalem and the Messiah Himself (read Revelation 19).  It is time we have our spiritual houses in order, for the coming of the Lord is drawing ever closer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why Is Democracy Such a Struggle in the Middle East?

The Middle East has always seemed to teeter on the brink of destruction.  Historically, the Middle East has been the battle ground of countless armies clashing in the rush to become world powers.  The armies of Israel and its neighbors clashed on the hillsides of what is known today as the Golan Heights.  The armies of Egypt and Babylon clashed on the plains of northern Syria.  The armies of Persia marched across the deserts of the Middle East on its way to becoming one of the greatest empires the world had witnessed, until it was confronted with the armies of Alexander the Great, who then became the world's greatest ruler, only to see his kingdom fractured after his death.  Then the Middle East became the battle ground between the powers resident within Egypt and those within Syria, leading to what we know as the Maccabean War.  Then the Romans arrived and the Middle East was constantly in a state of chaos under their heavy-handed leadership. 

Then came the advent of Islam and the clash between three religious theologies: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  The clashes were bloody and deadly, resulting in Islam taking control of the Middle East, a control they maintained until the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.  And, since that date, the Middle East has been as if sitting on a powder keg, often with a short fuse waiting to be lit.

Today the Middle East has become even more embroiled.  The civil war in Syria is now several years old and has seen the destruction of countless lives.  Refugees by the tens of thousands have flooded across its borders into neighboring Jordan.  And now the nation of Iraq, that nation for which over 4,000 American soldiers gave their lives to help set them free, is under attack by one of the most brutal vestiges of radical Islam: ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  Just this past week we read of the execution of nearly 1700 captured Iraqi soldiers by ISIS.  They now control some of the major cities within Iraq and have commandeered control of one of the largest oil refineries within Iraq.  Its sites are set upon Baghdad and the complete takeover of the Iraqi people.  Will Iraq fall back into a situation even more desperate than those days of Saddam Hussein?  It is quite possible.  There seems to be a lack of resolve on the part of the rest of the world to reenter into the fray within Iraq.  The costs were too high in the previous attempt.  And there seems to have been a lack of resolve on the part of the Iraqi leadership to fully commit to the democratic process.

I need to restate something I wrote in a blog several years ago.  Its truth is now being realized.  It concerns the survival of a democratic way of life in the Middle East.  Yes, the American ideal would be for all the world to enjoy what we have enjoyed for over 250 years - freedom of expression, freedom of access, freedom to worship as one is led.  Now those principles did not just happen in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia.  No, the foundation for those principles were laid within the pages of Scripture and were taught to generation after generation in England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Holland, and Portugal.  Now, to be sure, there were different ways to interpret those principles, but the foundations were there.  So, when the American colonies were created and came together to form a new nation, the principles for a democratic republic were already there.  This nation was founded upon a Judaic-Christian foundation.

The history in the Middle East does not have those same foundations.  Since the 8th century, the Middle East has been govern by principles established upon the Koran.  These principles, as seen in the history of the Islamic world, better fit a government ruled by the power of a few rather than the many.  I am not stating that this is a wrong way to govern, for even within a Christian Europe, totalitarianism was tried, but rejected by the people.  So, given this history, how does someone set about creating a democratic foundation?  Well, our first thought is to have free elections.  But, friends, elections are not democracy.  Elections are a result of democracy.  Elections do not create democracy.  As our Founding Fathers knew, democracy is the result of generations of teaching.  We became excited when the Arab Spring happened, first in Tunisia, then Egypt, then throughout the Middle East.  Ah, we said, now we will have democracy in the Middle East.  So, we helped to establish elections.  And, we were shocked at the consequences: Hamas wins in the West Bank, the Muslim Brotherhood wins in Egypt, other radical groups win in Tunisia and Libya.  How could this have happened? we asked ourselves.  The answer is rather clear - because there was no foundation for the creation of a democracy.  Democracy is not caught; democracy is taught. 

I have been asked if I believed a democratic government would work in the Middle East.  And my answer is "yes" it can and it does.  Just look at Israel.   But upon what is the democracy in Israel based?  Upon those values inherent within the Judaic-Christian beliefs.  yes, there is a form of democracy in Turkey, but that is because the nation of Turkey was created to be a secular state.  But, there are forces within Turkey that are threatening that fragile democracy. 

What is going to happen in Iraq?  I don't know for the immediate future.  But I do know about its distant future.  Babylon will rise once again and become the most powerful city in the world.  It will be the seat of the government of the Antichrist.  Yet, I believe the Scriptures indicate that God will bring a remnant of believers out of Iraq (ancient Assyria) and they will join with believers from Egypt worshiping the God of Israel in Jerusalem.  Read Isaiah 19:23-25.  That should get you excited.

Friends, God is in control.  We can fully trust Him.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Modern Day Daniel

We are now in the season where commencement speakers and their addresses are viewed through critical filters.  Some speakers are even "uninvited" because there is a fear of what that person might say.  Of course, we do not want to upset the "politically correct" band-wagon these days.  Every speaker, every commencement address must tow the line of what is acceptable.  Gone are those days when a commencement speaker was empowered to share truth about life and to give a measure of hope to those students he or she was addressing.  I remember having the privilege twice of delivering a baccalaureate message (most schools don't even have those any more) to graduating seniors and their families in the small community where I served as pastor.  My desire, on both occasions, was to share truth with those students about the purpose of their lives and to help them discover a hope through Christ.  Was I "politically correct?"  Probably not, at least not by standards of today. 

Fox News reported last week on a commencement address held at Lebanon High School in Missouri.  You can find the article at: www.foxnews.com/us/2014/06/04/missouri-principal-wow-crowd-angers-atheists-with-guarded-god-references." "A Missouri High school principal who garnered thunderous applause and a starring role in a viral video for a commencement speech in which he repeatedly invoked God in ways to dodge First Amendment objections has atheists seeing red.  Lebanon High School Principal Kevin Lowery can be seen on a 3-minute YouTube clip reminding graduates that the nation's motto of 'In God We Trust' can be found on U.S. currency and in Francis Scott Key's original version of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'  Lowery also wryly noted during the May 23 commencement that even though 'God is reflected in the very fabric' of the nation, it would be inappropriate to mention The Almighty at a secular ceremony.  'So while it would not be politically correct for us to have an official prayer this evening, I would like for us to have a moment of silence in honor of tonight's graduates.  Thank you.  And just in case you're interested, during my moment of silence, I gave thanks to God for these great students, their parents, their teachers and for this community.'"

Immediately, a spokesman for the American Atheists, David Muscato, blasted the address.  He said, "I find this extremely objectionable.  I think it's clear that Kevin Lowery violated the spirit of the First Amendment separations of religion and government.  This was an underhanded and dishonorable way for him to forcibly inject his personal religious views onto his students and the others present and into his role as a government official."  In other words, according to Mr. Muscato, there is no place for the expression of one's faith, or lack of faith in Mr. Muscato's case, within the public arena.  And yet, friends, such an expression and dialogue of faith within the public arena was foundational in our nation's history.  It was the expression of faith that guided those men who wrote first our Declaration of Independence and then our Constitution.  It was the expression of faith that guided President Lincoln as he addressed that sober audience in Gettysburg. 

According to Brian William's on last night's "NBC's Nightly News", there have been a documented 74 deadly attacks on schools within the past 18 months resulting in the deaths of dozens of students, faculty, and administrators.  The moral foundations of our young people are noticeably absent.  Compromise and conformity are their watchwords.  Could these facts be attributed to a Supreme Court's decision decades ago that removed the Bible from the classroom?  Or of more recent decisions that have stipulated that prayers could not be made in school settings?  (Of course, we applaud those teachers who pray while their students are under the attack of a madman with a gun, but would condemn them if they prayed during the routine of a normal day).  And, for the most part, the Church has been silent.  Somehow the Church rolled over as if what happened in our schools did not make that big a difference.  And, now we are finding out that it does...and it is too late to do anything. 

I am grateful to men like a Kevin Lowery who will take a stand for foundational principles.  They remind me of one of my favorite heroes in the Bible - Daniel.  A man who had "purposed in his heart" that he would serve God faithfully, no matter the costs.  And that purpose carried him through decades of public service and through a lions' den in his later years.  How we need more "Daniels" today.  Will you commit yourself to being one?  You are needed!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Science Fiction is No Longer Just Fiction

I will be quite honest, I am not one who has a strong passion for things of the science-fiction genre.  I have only seen one of the Star Wars films.  I hardly saw any of the episodes of Star Trek on television.  And the science-fiction trilogy by C.S. Lewis is my least favorite of his writings.  I usually find things of the science-fiction genre pretty bizarre. 

But I was intrigued when I read the following headline: "Humans could colonise space by sending DNA to distant planets and 'printing' a new civilization, experts claim."  The article was posted at www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2646257/Humans-colonise-space-sending-DNA.
"The 100-year starship project is a joint endeavor run by Darpa, Nasa, Incarus Interstellar and the Foundation for Enterprise Development.  Through the project Darpa has previously suggested that 'printing' humans on distant planets is a possibility for colonizing the Milky Way galaxy.  Announced in January 2012, the project has an overall goal of achieving manned interstellar travel by 2112.  To do so it is evaluating a number of different technologies, including 'warping' space time to travel great distances in short time frames at faster-than-light speeds."

The proposal, offered by Nasa Engineer Adam Seltzner, which is somewhat radical, is built on "work by other researchers, would see humans launched as bacteria to distant planets before being 'printed' by methods unknown, perhaps a machine. ... 'Our best bet for space exploration could be printing humans, organically, on another planet,' he said.  'Maybe we will colonize other worlds not with astronauts in space suits, but with bacteria.' Seltzner continued."

"The idea was first dreamed up by Harvard biologists Dr. Gary Ruvkun and Dr. George Church, as reported in a Harvard Medical School release.  They suggest that fractions of the human genome could be sent to distant worlds in bacteria.  Upon arrival, the various segments would then be reassembled into a human genome."

"Quite how these bacteria would grow into humans is up for debate.  They could simply be left to evolve, as life did on Earth, seeding another planet with our own organisms.  Alternatively, an autonomous machine capable of creating cellular life could be sent thousands of years in advance to a habitable exoplanet outside the solar system.  Upon arrival, information on how to genetically construct a human would be beamed to the machine.  Of course, these proposals are something that will only be possible for humans hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of years in the future.  But many scientists are of the belief that we will one day be able to create multicellular life - and it stands to reason this could include an organism as complex as a human."

What an article!  Friends, did you ever think you would live to see the realm of science-fiction become a reality?  There are a lot of questions concerning life that originated via a machine.  Would such a life have an eternal soul?  Would such a life have the ability to understand right from wrong?  Would such a life be able to reason through problems?  These are all things that humans are able to do now because every life is a creation of God, not of a machine.  The slippery slope is becoming more complex.  It is time that, as believers, we rediscover a Christian worldview, or, perhaps, make that discovery for the first time.  What does the Bible say about such matters?  We had better know.  And we had better let our children and grandchildren know as well.