Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ISIS, Khorasan, Israel and Shana Tova

Eyes are focused upon the Middle East right now.  Earlier this week, IDF (Israel Defense Forces) shot down a Syrian fighter plane that had strayed into Israeli air space along the Golan Heights.  This was the first time since the 1980's that Israel had actually shot down a manned Syrian fighter.  I believe it was a strong statement by Israel that they will tolerate no one encroaching upon their space. 

And yesterday American warplanes and tomahawk missiles hit ISIS targets within Syria - the first time American planes have actually entered Syrian air space to deliver warheads against ISIS.  They were joined by five other Arab nations (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain) in a coalition whose purpose is to destroy the capabilities of ISIS.  The contributions of these ally nations was not described.  In addition to ISIS targets, American planes also struck targets belonging to another radical offshoot of Al-Qaeda, known as Khorasan.  According to American intelligence, this group was actively engaged in making plans to attack either the United States or a Western European target by blowing up a plane.  Attorney General Eric Holder said, "We hit them last night [Tuesday] out of a concern that they were getting close to an execution date of some of the plans that we have seen.  And the hitting that we did last night, I think, will probably continue until we are at a stage where we think we have degraded their ability to get at our allies or to the homeland."  This comes after repeated declarations by the Administration that the core leadership of Al-Qaeda has been decimated such that they are no longer a threat to the United States. 

President Obama stated yesterday that "the fight will take time."  And I believe he is correct.  ISIS is a formidable foe.  It is well armed, well financed, and well advertised.  Its tentacles reach deep into both Western Europe and the United States.  Dying for a cause is appealing to many young men and women whose lives really have no hope.  They are trapped in poverty in our inner cities.  Many have dropped out of school thus creating a more hopeless situation for them.  So, when the Facebook and Twitter images of the glory of fighting for a cause and dying as a martyr for that cause appear, interest is piqued.  Estimates are that as many as 2,000 Westerners have joined ISIS.  Some are turned away at the border before they cross and they then return home but with a mindset of martyrdom.  And they have as their intent to destroy as many other lives as they can before they themselves are destroyed.

Friends, it will be interesting to read the speeches from many of the world leaders over the course of the next few days as the United Nations opens its fall season.  I am sure there will be the usual "Israel bashing" which almost seems universal these days.  And, of course, there will be dialogue about global warming, or is it climate change.  Don't turn a deaf ear to what these leaders say for they are a barometer of where the world is heading. 

Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  It marks the beginning of the year 5775.  It also marks the beginning of one of the most celebratory months in Judaism.  Rosh Hashanah is followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement which falls on October 4 this year.  It is a day spent in fasting and prayer.  The Feast of Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles begins on October 8 and lasts for seven days.  This Feast commemorates Israel's 40 years of wanderings in the wilderness.  Many Jews will create "booths" or outdoor living quarters for those seven days. 

Some of you may be asking yourself, "I have always wanted to go to Israel and to walk where Jesus walked and to hear the echoes of the voices of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."  I have traveled to Israel 8 times and can honestly say that each time I am in His Land, I grow to have a deeper understanding of the Word of God.  The Bible literally comes alive as one threads his/her way through those winding streets of the Old City.  To sit in quiet in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and view the surrounding countryside and then to read the stories of Jesus and His miracles there brings a new excitement to one's heart. 

I am privileged to be leading another tour to Israel in 2015 - leaving on February 27 and arriving back home on March 8.  We will be visiting such places as Joppa and hear the story of Jonah; Caesarea where Paul was imprisoned for two years; Megiddo and stand look out over the valley of Armageddon; Capernaum, the adopted hometown of Jesus; the Mount of the Beatitudes and reconnect with the Sermon on the Mount; and of course we will take a boat out on the Sea of Galilee.  After our time in Galilee, we will journey down the Jordan Valley, visiting En Gedi, the fortress where David and his men hid from King Saul; Qumran - where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered; and Masada, whose story thrills the imagination.  And, of course, there will be time to take a dip in the Dead Sea - one of the most unique places on this earth.  Then we will conclude with four incredible days in Jerusalem itself.  There will be time for prayer at the Western Wall.  Visits to the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the Upper Room, and the House of Caiaphas will draw us more deeply into those final hours of Jesus' life.  We will traverse portions of the Via Dolorosa and make our way to the Garden Tomb where, with a special Communion Service, we will celebrate our Savior's death and resurrection.  The tour is for 10 days - days that will impact your life forever.  And the cost for the tour is under $4,000 per person, including airfare, hotels, two delicious meals per day, all gratuities, entrance fees, deluxe motor coach and an outstanding guide. 

If you would like to receive an informative brochures detailing this tour, please send me a message via Facebook, including your e-mail address and I will forward to you information.  Registration for our tour closes on November 1, but there are still seats available.  I can assure you, your life will be forever changed and your study of the Word of God will become more special. 

So, I wish you a "Shana Tova."  It means in Hebrew, "The year is good."  And I trust it will be for each of you.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Apology

Yesterday I included at the close of my blog some information regarding an e-mail our church had received asking for urgent prayer for those Christians suffering in Iraq.  The e-mail, purported to be a letter from a Crisis Relief International worker, related about children being beheaded.

That e-mail was a bogus one I came to find out.  The reference is the following web-address:  That website will share the fallacy of the e-mail I related yesterday.

I try to do my best to make sure that all my facts are straight and the e-mail links are vetted as well as I know how to do, but this one just slipped by.  So, please accept my apologies. 

But the message to pray for the suffering believers in the path of ISIS is not a bogus event.  They really do need our prayers for God's strength to be given to them. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Warning That Needs to Be Heeded

I read an article this morning that I found very disturbing.  It was an article written by Chelsea Schilling and posted at "Islamic State terrorists are recruiting women from Western countries to fly to the Middle East, marry jihadists and bear their children in a 'cash-for-babies' scheme.  The depravity of ISIS Muslims already has been well-documented, with their torture and murder of children in Iraq, their crucifixions of adults and their use of women as sex slaves.  But observers are saying the latest report, how ISIS is luring American women by promising money in return for bearing children for militants, takes the jihadist group to a whole new level."  And, once again, Minnesota takes center stage.  The article states, "Female members of at least three Somali families in Minneapolis have gone missing in the past six weeks.  A 19-year-old from the area is known to have flown to Turkey in secret before crossing the border into Syria. ... It was reported one of the missing Somalians from Minnesota 'left home saying she was attending a bridal shower [but] instead flew to Turkey.'"

According to the article, "'They [speaking of ISIS] are selling them [these young girls] this mystical sisterhood of going to the caliphate and being able to be Muslim in this idealized, utopian society,' warned Mia Bloom, a professor at the center for terrorism and security studies at the University of Massachusetts.  'They are targeting these young girls in a very predatory way - the way child sex abusers target young children.'  .. Bloom also expressed concern that ISIS will use the women as suicide bombers.  She said, while most women would stand out on a military installation, in most other public places, people wouldn't expect a woman to carry out a suicide attack.  'If you change your tactics and target mosques or schools, that's when women are really quite ideal,' she explained." 

Friends, I would strongly urge you to read this article.  This is the world we are living in.  The power of radical groups, such as ISIS, is not to be overlooked.  Historically there have always been those who seek to be identified with such groups, whether it is out of the sense of adventure, or just to escape their own problems back home, or to feel that they are part of a new world order. 

Giving our young people today more things does not fill that void within their hearts, yet that is what our society through the tentacles of the media would have us believe.  Every ad on television or on Facebook or on Twitter is a reminder that "things bring happiness."  But they don't.  That ache within the hearts of many of our young people today also cannot be filled with religion.  Young people today are fed-up with the false promises and the hypocrisy they have seen in religious ceremonies and rites and so they have bailed out of organized religious practices by the hundred of thousands. 

That void, that emptiness, can only be filled with the presence of Jesus Christ.  I believe that young people today are truly seeking for truth.  Many are tired of "the game of life" and want to know what life is really about.  As a Christian parent, I have a strong opportunity to influence my children for Jesus.  As a Christian grandparent, I need to use those opportunities to influence my grandchildren for Jesus.  I need to model before them what "Jesus in the flesh" looks like.  I need to share truth with them - not just opinions.  I need to let them know that the Bible is the foundation upon which I make the choices for everyday living.  Friends, this MUST begin in the home.  For too long we have thrust this responsibility upon our schools and upon our churches.  Both have failed - in some cases failed miserably.  In Deuteronomy 6, God instructs Moses to tell the people that "dads, get involved in the lives of your children from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night.  Use those moments to share truth with them."  Yes, I know dads are busy these days - there are a lot of demands upon them.  But, Dad, don't just shower your children with things; shower them with who you are - the real you. 

I believe that if we model this well - and it will take some time because it is a whole new way of parenting and grandparenting than what has been in the recent past - then, perhaps we will not have young girls running off to join radical groups.  We will not have young people abandoning the church as they grow older. 

As I close this blog this morning, I want to share an urgent prayer request my church received from a neighboring church.  They concern e-mails received from missionaries working in the area where ISIS has been active.  "Missionaries who are in the areas that are being attacked by ISIS are asking to be showered in prayer.  ISIS has taken over the town they are in today.  He said ISIS is systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus.  He said so far not one child has.  And so far all have consequently been killed.    But not the parents.  The UN has withdrawn and the missionaries are on their own.  They are determined to stick it out for the sake of the families - even if it means their own deaths.  They are very afraid, have no idea how to even begin ministering to these families who have seen their children martyred.  Yet he says he knows God has called them for some reason to be His voice and hands at this place at this time."

Friends, will you pray for these who are serving Christ in these war-torn places?  Will you pray for those Christians in northern Iraq who are paying the ultimate sacrifice because of their love for Jesus?  Our God is still in control!  Amen!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On the Eve of ... What?

Tonight our President will address the nation on his plans to contain and destroy the Islamic State (IS) or also known as ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).  Perhaps it is no coincidence that this speech comes on the eve of 9/11 - one of the darkest days in our recent past; a day in which we witnessed the boldness and determined face of terrorists committed to a radical ideology that has no respect for life, only for principles.  Over three thousand Americans died that day and a nation that had assumed that the war on terror was "somewhere over there" was rudely awakened to the reality that terror respects no boundaries.  Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, was focused on the destruction of the twin evils of Zionism (Israel) and Western civilization, best represented by the United States.  And so he led his followers to perpetrate acts of horrific destruction around the world, culminating in the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. 

But, as many analysts have written, ISIS is a greater threat than was Al-Qaeda.  Yes, ISIS has a documented history of systematic and horrific violence.  The brutality with which they have attacked Christians in Iraq is well documented.  The pictures of captured Syrian soldiers being marched into the desert and executed are difficult to view.  And the recent beheadings of two American journalists repulsed many in the civilized world, as well they should.  Here is what I find so incredibly sad.  Those images of Christians in and around Mosul being literally butchered by the ISIS soldiers caused little uproar among many in the world; they certainly did not grab the heart of our governmental leaders.  It took the ghastly beheadings of those two American journalists to final awaken our leaders to the imminent threat that ISIS continues to be.  But the greatest threat from ISIS is not what it seeks to destroy, but what it seeks to create - a new world order based upon the radical interpretations of Islam.  The leaders of ISIS envision a world - a caliphate - that is under the rule of radical Islamic law.  They are seeking to recapture those days when the Islamic Caliphate ruled with strength, especially in the Middle East and reaching into Europe. 

Last week Maajid Nawaz, a former radical leader in Egypt who once believed in building an Islamic Caliphate through terrorism, was interviewed on the Fox News Channel's "The Kelly File."  Mr. Nawaz said, "There is absolutely no justification for what they've done.  We must not only condemn ISIS' tactical beheading of innocent people, including journalists from across the world and in particular Sotloff today, but we must go further than that because mere condemnation is not enough.  We've got to actively work to undermine not just them as an organization, but to undermine the ideology, the poisonous ideology that they are based upon.  Calling them psychopaths does kind of let them off too easily.  They bear 100 percent responsibility for their actions.  They subscribe to a dogma that they justify in their own minds what they're doing.  They think somehow they're serving a higher, noble cause and it's that cause, it's that narrative, it's that ideological world view that we need to undermine.  We need to actively work to undermine it on a civil society level so that it becomes unattractive and as unappealing as Soviet Communism has become today."  As the interview closed, Mr. Nawaz compared ISIS and Nazi Germany, stating that we are seeing that same evil now in a different form. 

On September 4, former CIA operative Bob Baer told CNN's Jake Tapper that ISIS is in the United States and capable of carrying out an attack.  He told Mr. Tapper, "The people who collect tactical intelligence on the ground, day-to-day, and this isn't Washington, but people collecting this stuff say they're here, they're capable of striking.  They don't know what their plans and intentions are.  But it's a definite concern.  The people who do this for a living are very alarmed."  Of special concern is that ISIS terrorists could easily enter the United States through our porous southern border. 

It will be interesting to see how President Obama will describe ISIS this evening - will he dare to use the term "radical Islamic terrorists" - a term he has not used in the past?  Will he share with us how a coalition is being formed?  Will he share how his administration is actively courting real help from Middle Eastern Islamic states: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, just to name a couple?  Friends, this war with ISIS cannot be seen as another attempt by the West to thwart an advance of Islam.  The world needs to see that Muslims band together to destroy a group that has radicalized Islam and used it to accomplish terroristic purposes.  The President does not need to give us more "red-lines" that become meaningless.  The President does not need to give us vitriolic rhetoric, for words have little meaning unless they are supported by actions.  The President does need to give the American people a clearly stated action plan for the destruction of ISIS.  Polls show that the American people are willing to support some type of military campaign against ISIS.  But they want clarity and bi-partisan support.  The time for political grandstanding is over. 

Political intrigue continues to plague Israel and its neighbors.  Saturday evening, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas spoke to journalists in Cairo, warning that the unity deal he and his party Fatah reached with Hamas in April, was on the brink of collapse.  Abbas said, "I don't trust Hamas much because they change their words all the time.  There must be a united Palestinian Authority."  He then accused Hamas of smuggling arms into the West Bank, not for the purposes of fighting Israel, but to hold a coup against the Palestinian Authority.  Abbas stated, "Hamas has been trying to cause the Palestinian Authority to fail since the day it was formed."  Abbas then went on to state that while he is in New York to attend the opening week of the United Nations, he will present a plan to have the United Nations set a timeline demanding Israel withdraw from the those territories captured in 1967.  (Friends, the United Nations begins its fall session this coming week.  Look for lots of barbs to be thrown at Israel during the various speeches by world leaders.  It could be a very interesting week).

We are living in a world that is caught in the grips of fear.  Many parents are not sending their children to school tomorrow because of 9/11 and the threat of another attack.  Many employees are staying home from work tomorrow for fear that their building might be attacked.  There is a fear that the world is coming to an end.  There is a fear that the world will just continue as it has in the past.  Recently I have been drawn to those words of Jesus to His disciples: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Friends, isn't that reassuring - Jesus has overcome the world!  He is in complete control!  Nothing happens without His permission!  As  believers we are in the safest place in the world - we are in the hands of Jesus, and nothing can snatch us away.  So, friends, rest secure in the arms of Jesus.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  Pray for wisdom for world leaders as they seek to prevent another holocaust, not just of Jews, but of all those who oppose radical Islam.  And, as you pray, share the love of Christ with those in your neighborhood and in your workplace.  Tell them that the only real hope we can have is found in Jesus.  And keep listening for the trumpet to sound.  Amen!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

So, What Do You Believe About Jesus?

Yesterday I read an article written by Joe Kovacs and posted at the World Net Daily website:  "Michael Gungor, lead singer of the Grammy-nominated worship band Gungor, suggested Jesus may have been wrong about the creation story, or possibly even lied about it to fit in with popular culture."  The article then quotes Mr. Gungor: "I think you're making a lot of assumptions based in a perspective that was handed to you from our culture, and the way we think in the modern world is very different than how people thought in the pre-modern world.   To just see a few words that somebody said, that Jesus said about Noah, and you assume that you can get into Jesus' mind and know exactly how he thought about the whole situation, and how He considered history versus myth versus whatever - how do you know?  And even if He was wrong, even if he did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don't understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ.  The whole idea of the divinity of Christ being fully human and fully God, that God lowered Himself to become a human being with a human brain, in a human culture with human language and human needs and human limitations.  The point is it wouldn't freak me out if He was wrong about it, in His human side. But I still don't see the issue.  If Noah and Adam were mythical ideas, the point of what Jesus was saying still applies to me.   It has very little to do, in my perspective, with Jesus trying to lay out a history of the world for a historical-minded people.  Even if Jesus knew that Noah and Adam were mythical, but knew He was talking to people who thought they were real, that's another possibility.  Jesus was just referring to a story he was part of to these Jewish people that know that story." 

This article came on the heals of a comment by an anonymous responder to my blog from last week.  (By the way, I never post comments from anonymous people to my blog).  That person wrote, "There is not a single piece of historical evidence to prove that Jesus ever existed.  Not one single scholar or historian from the first century AD mentioned even a single word about Jesus. ... The truth is - Jesus never existed." 

Now Mr. Gungor and Mr. Anonymous have a similar problem.  They have a faulty view of Jesus Christ.  For Mr. Anonymous, it is a question of whether Jesus ever lived or not.  And the basis for his refusal to believe in an historical Jesus is that there is no first-century historical evidence for the existence of Jesus.  My response would be - what about Dr. Luke?  Certainly he was an historian and he lived in the first century.  He had access to those people who saw Jesus personally.  Dr. Luke wrote from the perspective of someone outside the inner circle of Jesus' followers.  He also wrote from the perspective of at least two decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  He had access to Peter, to John, to Mary, and to a host of others who had interacted with Jesus.  He had, as a best friend, the Apostle Paul who had an encounter with the resurrected Christ.  And, I think what really captured Luke was the fact that Paul and others were willing to suffer and even to die for the truth of the historical Jesus.  Yes, Mr. Anonymous, there is credible evidence for the historical Jesus.  You deny his existence because you deny the historical-reality of the Bible.  Those accounts that we know as the Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - are as historically reliable as would be any account given by a Cicero or a Plato  or any other ancient writer. 

The problem Mr. Gungor has is that he simply cannot reconcile the divine and human natures of Christ.  Mr. Gungor's problem has deep roots in Gnosticism, a philosophy that became prevalent in the Early Church during the later decades of the first century and onward into the second, third, and fourth centuries.  The Gnostics believed in a form of dualism:  there was a good God, who was spirit; there was an evil god, who was flesh.  They believed that a good God would never inhabit that which was evil, therefore the whole idea of God becoming flesh was repulsive to them.  There was no incarnation.  There was no John 1:14.  By the way, the Apostle John wrote his Gospel and his three epistles as treatises to help the Early Church counter Gnosticism.  Friends, in a way we do not fully understand, there was a complete blending of both the human and divine natures in the person of Jesus Christ.  Could Jesus have lied?  Absolutely not!  Why?  Because He was the Son of God and God cannot lie.  Could Jesus have believed something that was a myth?  Absolutely not!  Why?  Because He was God-in-the-flesh.  Here is where Mr. Gungor has a gap of incredible proportions: if Jesus lied about Noah and Adam, stating that they were real historical figures when He knew they were just mythological imaginations, then how can we trust Jesus when He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me?"  Because of Jesus' claim to be equal with the Father - remember He said, "I and the Father are one" - then either all of Jesus' statements are true, or none of them are true.  We cannot pick and choose which ones to accept as truth and which ones to accept as myths. 

Here is what I find so troubling, especially with the statements of Mr. Gungor.  He is writing music that is being used in worship services across our nation.  But the Jesus he is writing about is not the Jesus I have committed my life to.  Oh the words sound pretty, but my Jesus believed that there was a real Noah who survived a real flood.  My Jesus believed that it was a real Adam and Eve who sinned in the Garden and whose sin was then inherited by all men everywhere.  Perhaps it is time that we simply do not use a song because the words sound good.  Perhaps it is time that we carefully research to know the heart and mind of the song writer.  Is the Jesus they are singing the same Jesus we worship?  Perhaps He is not! 

Friends, there was and is an historical Jesus.  He was and is the eternal Son of God.  He was and is "God in the flesh."  He was and is the embodiment of absolute truth.  The Apostle John was so correct when he wrote, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12).  I have chosen to commit my life to this historical Jesus, and He has made all the difference.  And I look forward to that day when this historical Jesus will return to claim the throne in Jerusalem that is rightfully His and will reign over the earth as no one has reigned over it before.  The angels there upon the slopes of the Mount of Olives were so correct when they announced to a sad group of disciples, "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).  That's my hope!  I trust it is yours as well!