Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Cease-Fire, But Only Until...

I awakened this morning to news that Israel and Hamas have agreed on an open-ended cease-fire.  Several cease-fires have been declared before, but each was broken by rocket fire from Gaza into those Israeli communities along the Israel-Gaza border.  Each cease-fire infraction was met by an Israeli response with air-strikes upon Hamas targets.  Now there is a cease-fire of an undeclared duration.  I am not holding my breath that this will last long.


What is the purpose of a cease-fire?  It is a declaration by both sides that fighting will stop, at least temporarily.  It was a cease-fire that brought Israel's War of Independence to an end.  It was another cease-fire that brought both Israel's Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 to an end.  The stated purpose for this cease-fire is to provide humanitarian relief to the people living in Gaza.  An estimated 100,000 Palestinians were left homeless in Gaza.  And thousands of Israelis living along the border were forced to evacuate from their homes.  According to news sources, under this Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, Israel agreed to ease some of its import restrictions to Gaza, including materials needed for reconstruction of infrastructure and homes.  Israel also agreed that, after thirty days, they will meet in talks aimed at some of the major issues - Hamas' demand to construct a seaport and an international airport in Gaza.  Israel's only demand is that Hamas and Gaza become a demilitarized zone - a demand that Hamas has consistently said it would not do.   I keep wondering why Hamas gets to call all the shots when clearly they were the losers.  Sometimes I have to admit that I simply do not understand politics.


I was reading in the paper this morning a quote from Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader , who promised to rebuild homes that had been destroyed in this seven-week old war.  He then said, "We will build and upgrade our arsenal to be ready for the coming battle, the battle of full liberation."  Other reports indicate that the government of Qatar is sending money to help Hamas rearm itself.  Hardly sounds like Hamas is intent on this being a long-lasting cease-fire or that they are very interested in improving the lot of the people living in Gaza.


I was troubled with the statement this past week from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. He stated rather strongly that he was not inclined for the United States to do too much against IS (the Islamic State - formerly known as ISIS or ISIL) because he did not see them as a threat to the American homeland.  To me, that is head-in-the-sand thinking.  Making the front page of this morning's "Minneapolis Star-Tribune" was an article about a 33 year old, Douglas McCain, a graduate from Cooper High School in Robbinsdale, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis) who was killed in Syria fighting for IS.  He is the first known American to die fighting for this terrorist state.  And, from all indications and intelligence reports, he is not the only American fighting for IS. 


Back to General Dempsey's statement.  If you remember back in the late 1990's, Americans thought that al-Qada would never reach the homeland.  Bin-Laden was just some crazy terrorist there in the mountains of Afghanistan.  But then 9-11 happened and suddenly Americans took a deeper interest in Bin-Laden and al-Qada.  Is it going to take another 9-11 event for us to wake-up and realize that IS is a real threat to America and the civilized world?  Are we prepared for another 9-11 event and for the response that will be necessary afterwards?  In a recent conversation I had with a retired colonel, he sadly shared with me that the status of America's armed forces today would make any type of response nearly impossible.  Instead of strengthening our military, this administration has chosen to reduce its strength both in numbers, in leadership positions, and in armaments.  We have forgotten those words from President Theodore Roosevelt - "speak softly, but carry a big stick."  Instead we draw lines in the sand and then take away the "big stick." 


Recently, while listening to a talk-show while driving home from the office, I heard an expert on terrorism make the statement that America's inner-cities are the perfect breeding ground for terrorist recruiting.  Pretty scary!


But there is hope - it is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not in Washington politics.  Not in cease-fires.  Not in armed forces.  Only in Jesus.  And that is the message the Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5 that we are to take to a lost world: there is reconciliation between sinful man and a holy God, but only through the Lord Jesus.  So, let's not be children filled with despair or fear.  Let us be ambassadors of reconciliation, of love, and of hope.  Remember: we are on the winning side!



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ferguson and the ISIS Threat

If American concerns about the intentions of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) were not focused on the images of the slaughter of Christian refugees fleeing from Mosul and other northern Iraqi villages (and I must admit some of the images are almost too awful to view), then news that an American photo-journalist, James Foley, was beheaded by militants belonging to ISIS should.  One can only wonder about the possible fate of the remaining 25 journalists that are missing in Syria. 


We sit here in our little corner of the world, thousands of miles removed from Mosul and the Kurdish border and say to ourselves, "Well, why should I get involved?  Why should I care?  After all, they are so far away?"  It is time to wake-up.  Did you see the sign that appeared among the protesters in Ferguson, MO?  The sign read "ISIS here."  And, did you see the photos of the new Islamic State flag held in front of the White House last week? 


In an article written by Bob Unruh and posted on the wnd website - www.wnd.com/2014/08/isis-terrorists-were-here-in-ferguson - the author begins: "A sign carried by a protester in Ferguson, Missouri, declaring the presence of the Islamic State or ISIS, is an act of intimidation, warning Americans they should fear the Middle Eastern Islamic jihadist group even in their own homes, according to an expert.  Islam analyst Robert Spencer, whose Jihad Watch website (www.jihadwatch.org) monitors Islamic jihad worldwide, said the sign, which says, "ISIS here," is 'in line with supporters of the Islamic State taking photos of the Islamic State flag held in front of the White House and other landmarks.'  'The object is to "strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah" (Quran 8:60) and to emphasize the desire of Islamic State jihadis to strike within the U.S.,' he said.  'The fact that they have supporters here in the U.S. who can hold the banner in Missouri and the sign at the White House shows that that is a very real possibility,' he warned."


The article then quotes from several sources cited in an article published by The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom.  I share several of these with you, but I must warn you, they are frightening:
"I believe that all #IS members in America should travel to Ferguson and prepare to establish a revolutionary Islamic state." - Amarka Al-Ahlam.
"It's time to strike fear into the hearts of the oppressors.  #FergusonUnderIS." - Amreeki Witness.
"Any and all #IS members in the kufar lands - I urge you to travel to #Ferguson and form brigades there, to take the unrestful land Inshallah." - another social media jihadist.


Are these just smoke-screen threats?  One cannot discount the intense hatred these people have for the Western world.  One cannot discount the intense hatred these people have for Christianity and for the civilized world.  These people have only one goal in mind: to see the entire world under the rule of Sharia Law.  And, they will stop at nothing in order for that goal to be realized.  They are efficient and effective murderers of any and all who stand in their way - whether it be Iraqi Christians or a photo-journalist.  These people are not the JV-team, as our President once proclaimed.  They are the varsity.  And here is what is so amazing, ISIS strikes fear within the hearts of many in the Muslim world.  Do you think the Jordanians are fearful of this neighbor on their doorstep?  Do you think the Lebanese have real concerns?  What about the Saudis whose influence in the region is threatened by this Islamic State? 


Friends, there is a seriousness to ISIS that I have not yet seen realized in our nation.  During the offertory song used this past Sunday at our Church, our Worship Leader shared pictures from the mountaintop there in Iraq where Christians have taken refuge.  It was so powerfully effective - reminding us that those people are our brothers and sisters in Christ - reminding us that what has happened to them could easily happen to us here.  Those unnamed faces spoke volumes to our hearts.  The time for apathy is gone.  The time for being na├»ve is gone.  It is time to wake up and realize that we are in a battle that has profound spiritual implications.  But, praise God, we know who will win in the end!

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Postscript to Death: Remembering our Daughter-in-law Carol

I just wanted to share how much our family has appreciated prayers during these past few days.  On Thursday, August 7, our daughter-in-law,  Carol Frazier, went home to be with the Lord after a nearly 12 year battle with MS.  Although we will greatly miss her, we rejoice in the freedom she now has in the presence of the Lord.  For the past nearly two years, Carol had been a prisoner in her own body - being unable to do anything for herself.  Her mind was still pretty strong and she was able to communicate with Barry and her children up to the final couple of months, when even that ability to communicate was taken from her.  Our entire family was able to be together for a couple of days to celebrate her life.  And how we appreciate the strong support Barry and his family have received from their church family at Westchester Evangelical Free Church there in Des Moines. 


Carol was only 44, having just celebrated that birthday on July 28.  Certainly not old by today's standards.  Her death raises a myriad of questions which simply cannot be answered this side of glory.  Why was she stricken with such a debilitating form of MS?  Why was she taken so soon from her husband and children?  Why didn't God answer the many prayers raised on Carol's behalf for her healing?  Oh the many questions.  I sometime feel as did Job - always asking questions, never receiving any answers.  And yet we all have that peace that God was in total control.  Carol belonged to Him.  She was His child.  He only loaned her to our family for a short time of 20 years.  And when she breathed that final breath that Thursday afternoon, she was set free to enjoy that eternity that God had provided for her through Jesus Christ. 


Friends, death takes no account of age or position or power.  We are not promised a certain number of days upon this earth.  The only guarantee that comes with our birth is the certainty of our death, unless the Lord returns for His Bride.  Only God has numbered our days.  Only God sees the end from the beginning.  Only God knows.  We are instructed to be ready when that day comes for us.  Carol was ready, having trusted Christ as her Savior when she was a child.  And, as we gathered around her casket there in that cemetery this past Tuesday morning, there was a confidence that can only be described as the presence of Jesus Christ.  Yes, there were tears - but we did not sorrow as do those who have no hope.  Pastor Dave kept reminding us that Carol was not there in that casket; she was in heaven with Jesus.  And someday we will have a sweet reunion with her. 


Yes, there is a finality about death, but it does not have to be the victor over you.  Jesus tasted all of death for you when He died upon the cross.  The Apostle Paul was right when he wrote to the Corinthians, "Death is swallowed up in victory."  Carol knew that victory.  And so can you.  You just need to acknowledge your need for a Savior and believe that Jesus Christ died in your place.  When you confess your sins and invite Him to be part of your life, then you, too, will know that peace.  You, too, will have that victory when God summons you to His home.  I urge you to not put it off - remember, only God knows how many are your days. 


Before closing, I just want to make a brief comment about the still-holding ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.  Negotiations are ongoing in Cairo with Egypt acting as the chief negotiator.  America's role in the Middle East has become secondary.  I remember those days when Israeli leaders would think of doing nothing without first consulting their American allies.  I think the Israeli Prime Minister summed it up well when, speaking of President Obama, he said, "Don't ever second guess me again!"  And the exclamation point was indeed just that - an exclamation point filled with anger and almost disdain.  Will there be some type of truce achieved?  I believe it is highly unlikely.  Israel will not accede to the demands of Hamas and Hamas certainly will not acquiesce to recognizing the legitimacy of the State of Israel.  So, the fighting will stop, at least for awhile.  Hamas will seek opportunities to rearm and reposition itself.  And Israelis will rest easier for awhile, yet always being alert to the potential for rockets from Gaza.  The role of the United States will continue to be lesser than in the past, at least until a new Congress is convened in January after the midterm elections - a Congress that will hopefully be more favorable to Israel. 


I will write about IS next week.  What a monstrosity that is becoming!  And we are seeing what its intentions really are as they persecute those minority groups, including Christians, living in Iraq.  And their eyes are set upon Lebanon and Jordan.  They are like a cancer - and the only way to treat a cancer is to remove it.  Meanwhile, keep praying for "the peace of Jerusalem."  God is in control.