Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Are We Getting Closer to Peace in the Middle East?

While the focus of our mainstream media has centered upon the continued investigation into some type of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign - although that very investigation has now ventured into the arena of possible collusion between the Russians and the Clinton campaign, and upon the shocking revelations of sexual assault and harassment both within the entertainment, media, and governmental arenas, silently things have been happening in the Middle East. 


This morning there was a very interesting article, written by Yona Schnitzer and posted on November 14 at: www.worldisraelnews.com/website-leaks-details-Saudi-Israeli-peace-deal.
Allow me to share some of the main points of this article.  "A secret correspondence between the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman reveals the draft of a possible peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Lebanese website Al-Akhbar claimed Tuesday.  Al-Akhbar posted what it said was the full text of the document which lists five basic principles supposedly agreed upon between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which would constitute the framework for a regional agreement and the end of the Arab Israeli conflict.


"The five principles are: Jerusalem - The Annexation of Jerusalem to international sovereignty as per the 1937 and 1947 partition plans - two international agreements which have recommended that the city not be annexed to either the Arab or Jewish entities."  Personally, having been to Jerusalem a dozen times over the past 17 years, I would find it very hard to believe that the Israelis would surrender their capital city to the supervision of an international agency.  The cry after the 1967 Six Day War, following the capture of the Old City from the Royal Jordanian Forces, was "never again," meaning that never again would the city of Jerusalem be anything less than an united city under Jewish rule. 


"Palestinian Refugees - Saudi Arabia affirms its aspiration to settle Palestinian refugees in their countries of residence.  The Kingdom can contribute to this effort by supporting innovative solutions such as cancelling the Arab League's decision from the 1950s by which no Arab nation is to settle Palestinian refugees within their borders, as well as divert efforts to the redistribution and settlement of Palestinians refugees throughout the Arab states."   Friends, this point has been a sticking point in any possible peace-plan.  Immediately after the 1948 War of Independence, the Arab League decided that those Palestinians who had fled Palestine during the 1948 War should remain as refugees - they should not be assimilated into other Arab states.  The demand was that all refugees be granted a return status back into the State of Israel.  This would create a logistical nightmare for Israel.  Those properties that had been abandoned by fleeing Palestinians in 1948 now are in the hands of Israelis.  Should they be dispossessed?  And the number of potential refugees has grown almost exponentially.  So, if this "secretly negotiated plan" is true, then this resolution is a huge one.


"American Mediation and Agreed Upon Principles - The United States and Saudi Arabia will reach agreements regarding the main principles for ending the conflict, after which President Trump would summon the foreign ministers of the region to a summit in order to obtain their agreements, and only after all have agreed to the same basic principals, would the actual negotiations begin."  The mainstream media has been rather silent as to the comings and goings of the Trump Administration within the Middle East.  Yes, they covered President Trumps trip to the Middle East last Spring.  Jarod Kushner has made several trips to the Middle East, acting as President Trump's envoy.  Reports surfaced that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia made a secret visit to Israel in September where he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Undoubtedly there have been behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place. 


"Saudi Influence - Saudi Arabia's most effective and important role is to recruit others to support this deal, which will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity between Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds.  At first, normalization of relations with Israel will not enjoy wide public support throughout the Arab world, but Saudi Arabia believes that the combination of Israeli technology and the Gulf state's economic power and energy markets could bring out the Middle East's full potential and obtain peace, prosperity and stability."  The Middle East is certainly a region filled with resources that could boost any economy.  Israel is the incubator of technological ideas that soon become everyday products affecting life from agriculture to healthcare.  The Arab States still possess massive quantities of energy resources.  If these nations could learn to work-together, they could produce a regional economy that would rival that of the United States or China.


"Iran - The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the longest lasting conflict in the region.  Over the years, it has served as a justification for the actions of extremists, and has also distracted the major players in the region from focusing on the central threat to its stability - Iran.  In accordance to the deal, both Israel and Saudi Arabia must commit themselves to an effective cooperation in order to stop Iran."  Friends, this is a crucial point.  The Saudis are very leery of the actions of their neighbor to the north.  Recently a missile, fired from Iranian-back rebels in Yemen, hit within the Saudi borders.  Many believe that a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is inevitable and even imminent.  Some are inclined to think that the reason for the "secret" meeting between the Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Netanyahu concerned a possible role Israel might play if such a war became a reality. 


The author of this article then states: "The letter opens with a statement that Saudi Arabia is the most powerful and most important entity in the Arab world, and that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be supported by the Kingdom in order to gain legitimacy in the Arab world.  It continued to state that dealing with Israel is extremely problematic in the eyes of the Arab world, and that the kingdom would only take such a risk if America was serious in its intentions to act against Iran, and stop them from destabilizing the region."


Friends, if this report is confirmed by both the Saudis and the Israelis, then some giant steps have been taken forward in the region.  I believe the driving force is the escalating threat of Iran.  It continues moving forward toward the creation of a nuclear weapon and the means for the delivery of such a weapon.  Saudi Arabia and Israel are the two primary countries in the Middle East that stand in Iran's path toward total domination of the Middle East.  Therefore, it would seem to be in the best interests of both the Saudis and the Israelis to work together toward an Iran-Solution.  Will it happen?  I guess time will tell. 


Before I close this week's blog, I want to share some "Profound Thoughts."  These were sent to me by a member of my congregation.  He had received them from someone else.  I do not know the origin of these "Profound Thoughts," but thought they might bless your day.


#1 - "Once all villagers decided to pray for rain.  On the day of prayer all the people gathered, but only one boy came with an umbrella.  That's FAITH.
"2 - "When you throw babies in the air, they laugh because they know you will catch them.  That's TRUST.
"3 - "Every night we go to bed without any assurance of being alive the next morning, but still we set the alarms to wake up.  That's HOPE.
#4 - "We plan big things for tomorrow in spite of zero knowledge of the future.  That's CONFIDENCE.
#5 - "We see the world suffering, but still we get married and have children.  That's LOVE.
#6 - "On an old man's shirt was written a sentence 'I am not 80 years old; I am sweet 16 with 64 years of experience.'   That's ATTITUDE."  (I really liked that last one!)







Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Stunned Nation and a Mocked God

I think we were all stunned with the horrific shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, this past Sunday morning.  From what we have learned, the 26-year old gunman went to that church because he was angry at his mother-in-law who attended services there.  The tragedy was that the mother-in-law was not there last Sunday.  Instead, the shooter entered through the rear doors to the sanctuary and began shooting.  People huddled on the floor between the pews while the gunman walked down the aisles shooting those lying on the floor.  In the end, twenty-six people were murdered and another twenty were wounded.  Eight members from one family were among the victims.  Our thoughts and prayers are focused upon this small church as they mourn the loss of so many.


The first church I pastored was a small church much like the one in Sutherland Springs.  We had a congregation of around 100 or so.  It was a family church with a close bond between those who attended.  How does a church pick up the pieces when a quarter of your congregation is taken so quickly and so needlessly?  I pray for that pastor who not only mourns the loss of so many friends but also the loss of his daughter. 


And, yes we should pray.  What I found almost nauseating were the responses of many within the mainstream media, especially, who mocked those praying.  Jeremy Hunt responded with a posting at www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/11/06/texas-church-shooting-keep-my-thoughts-and-prayers-out-of-your-political-agenda.  He writes: "Yet somehow, as our country mourns the loss of innocent life, there's a new wave of indignation directed at people who dare to pray for the victims.  That's right.  As well-intentioned Americans pray for their countrymen who were just gunned down while worshipping God, gun control advocates are bashing them for their expression of faith."  He then gives a few examples: from John Pavolovitz - "If you pray for victims of gun violence while doing nothing else - your prayers may as well be bullets for the next mass shooting."  From Paula Poundstone - "Dear Pres. Trump + V.P. Pence, If prayers were the answer 2 gun violence wouldn't people at a church service be safe? Pleas make gun laws."  And this from Keith Olbermann - "Speaker Ryan, bluntly: shove your prayers up your a-- AND DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE BESIDES PLATITUDES AND POWER GRABS." 


Mr. Hunt goes one to write: "It's one thing to hold strong opinions about gun control.  But it is entirely different to direct anger towards people of faith after such a horrific tragedy.  Just because you might not believe in prayer, doesn't give you the right to publicly insult those who do. 


"In some ways, this outrage against prayer is emblematic of national trends.  As America grows increasingly hostile to Christianity, inappropriate and insensitive rhetoric regarding expressions of faith has become more acceptable.  It seems the same people who pride themselves on advocating for religious and cultural 'tolerance' are the least tolerant when it comes to American Christians."


The author concludes: "As long as there is evil in this world, Americans should continue to exercise their right to pray for a brighter day.  This is - no doubt - a troubling time for our nation.  But it's times like these that often bring forth the best that our nation has to offer.  Slandering the faithful among us isn't the path to a unified, peaceful America.  We can do better."


The God-deniers are marching strongly and boldly today.  They shake their fists in the face of a God whose existence they deny.  They show open contempt for anyone and anything that reminds them of what they are trying so desperately to deny. 


Let me share another article that reminds us of how far down the slippery slope of immorality we have gone.  The author is Todd Starnes and his article was published on the Townhall website: www.townhall.com/columnists/toddstarnes/2017/11/02/delaware-to-let-students-decide-race-gender.
"White boys could soon self-identify as black girls in Delaware," he begins his column.  "The state Department of Education is considering sweeping regulations regarding discrimination that would allow children to determine their gender and their race.  The proposed 'Regulation 225 Prohibition of Discrimination' could set the stage for a gender-bending, cultural appropriation free-for-all in the nation's first state.  'All students enrolled in a Delaware public school may self-identify gender or race,' the proposed regulation states.  The state educators use a term called 'Protected Characteristics' to describe race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity and other characteristics protected by state or federal law.  And the proposed regulation should scare the living daylights out of every mom and dad in the state.  It clearly states school leaders would not necessarily be required to notify parents if Billy suddenly decides to identify as Sally. ... The Delaware Department of Education believes it is best equipped to handle your child's gender or pigmentation change.  In other words, government knows best."


Starnes continues, "But this is what happens when the government assumes they can do a better job than you when it comes to parenting your child. 'This is a 5-alarm alert for parents,' Theis told me. (Nicole Theis, president of the Delaware Family Policy Council). 'The effects of the deliberate conditioning of children as early as pre-school into believing they can deny biological facts and realities and identify as whatever gender or race they feel, and to what end?'"


Friends, we are living in a world that has lost its moral bearings.  "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes" has become the clarion call of our age.  As a culture we have abandoned the belief in any type of absolute moral truth.  To put it bluntly, we have abandoned God!  God said that He created males and females (Genesis 1:27).  But, because we no longer value what God has said, we have created, at last count according to what I heard yesterday, sixty-two different gender categories.


What is happening in Delaware should frighten us.  Can I be a white male today and tomorrow be a black female?  What if I would then want to be a black male or a white female?  Could I change my gender and race depending upon how I feel when I wake up in the morning, thus resulting in my being gender-confused and racially-confused my entire life?  And then we wonder why so many of these confused people end up taking their own lives.  It is because they have no anchor.  It is because they have no sense of direction or of purpose.  God is never the author of confusion, but the Enemy uses confusion as one of his chief strategies. 


Friends, yes, it is time to wake-up.  Yes, it is time to sound the battle cry!  Yes, it is time to proclaim God's Truth into every avenue of culture today.  I believe there is not much time remaining in this present age, but, until the trumpet sounds, we have a responsibility to be witnesses of God's saving grace. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

An Attack in New York City: What Does It Mean?

The war against ISIS may be nearing an end in Syria and Iraq, but, the event yesterday in New York City shows that ISIS is not destroyed.  The push for a worldwide caliphate may be in its waning days, but the spirit behind that caliphate continues to thrive in the hearts of those who follow diligently that radical ideology.  And always the target is the innocent - those individuals just going about their everyday life.  Yesterday it was those biking along a city street or pedestrians walking on a sidewalk.  Those people were full of dreams and aspirations.  They were loved by a spouse, by a Mom and Dad.  They had careers.  They celebrated life. 


Suddenly, without any warning, eight of those lives were snuffed out.  They did not know the one who perpetrated this hateful act.  They did not even have the opportunity of defending themselves.  In a matter of moments, eight individuals were ushered into eternity.  One can only hope that they were ready to meet God. 


The investigation will continue for weeks, if not months.  The one who used the rented truck to destroy lives will be interrogated.  The content of his computer will be analyzed and re-analyzed looking for a motivation for such a horrific act.  The media will hurl accusations against governmental agencies whom they believe should have done something so this act would have been avoided.  Conversations will be held that will center around the theme of "what did we do that would cause a young man to do something so violent?"  Many will begin to bear the guilt that perhaps, just perhaps, they are responsible for the decisions this young man made. 


But, friends, what happened yesterday in New York City - and what we have seen happen in London, Barcelona, Madrid and countless places elsewhere - is a product of a radical interpretation of Islamic ideology.  Radicalized Islam believes that they are the only conveyors of Allah's will upon the earth.  They further believe that everyone must come to the place of accepting Allah's will, which is a universal Islamic state, known as the Caliphate.  Furthermore, they hold strongly to the belief that it is permissible to destroy any who would oppose their plan.  Innocent bikers on a street - they need to die.  Innocent people on a sidewalk - they need to die.  Innocent people standing on a train platform - they need to die.  Innocent tourists crossing a famous bridge in London - they need to die.  And so the slaughter from these radicalized Islamic terrorists continue worldwide. 


This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the beginning of the practice of a Communist ideology.  And what was the operating mantra of the Communists?  It was the extermination of all those who opposed it.  Thus, tens of millions of Russians perished, many within the Soviet Gulags in Siberia, especially during the Stalin-years.  And what of the tens of millions of Chinese who perished, often after being brutally tortured, under the rule of Chairman Mao?  Hitler also had his own version of eliminating those who opposed Nazism, employing death camps where millions of people perished.


Do you see a common denominator here?  A radical ideology, whether it is Communism, Nazism, or Islam, resorts to programs to destroy those who oppose that ideology.  And the most common form of destruction is to cause people to die.  (By the way, the Church has not been immune from such practices as the Crusades and later Inquisition will attest to).  The philosophy is this: I am right, you are wrong; if you don't agree with me, then you deserve to die. 


How did Jesus instruct us with regard to those who oppose us?  And, yes, He knew that His teachings would create all kinds of opposition.  Jesus even warned His disciples that He would be the reason for divisions within a family (Luke 12:51-53).  In fact, it would almost seem that Jesus guaranteed His disciples that they would encounter opposition (John 16:33 and Mathew 5:11-12).  Was Jesus' instructions to His disciples to go out and retaliate against those who opposed them?  Did He give instructions that they should seek to destroy them?  Listen to these amazing, yet startling, words of Jesus: "I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).  No death camps.  No gulags.  No rented trucks mowing down bikers and pedestrians.  Jesus's command was simply: love them and pray for them.  Now, friends, that is a radical thought! 


And which method do you think will prevail in the end?  The death camps of the Nazis are now museums.  Many of the gulags of the Soviets are now crumbled.  And the terrorist threats from the radicalized Islamic extremists will also fail.  For, as the story of this world comes to a close, the plan of Jesus will prevail.  It is not a kingdom of Nazis, nor a kingdom of Communists, nor a kingdom of Islam, but a kingdom of followers of Jesus Christ that will prevail.  And with that truth I will close with a big "Hallelujah!"