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Academic Fascism

 
‎15 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎03:07:24 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Student protesters on the campus of the University of Missouri react to news of the resignation of University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe (Photo: David Eulitt/TNS/Zuma Press)

The son won’t bear the punishment of his father’s sin and the father won’t bear the punishment of his son’s sin.

Ezekiel 18:20 (ISV)

I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the iniquity of the parents, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.

Exodus 20:5 (ISV)

Ezekiel says clearly God does not punish the sons for their fathers’ sins. However, in Exodus 20:5 we are informed God visits “the iniquity of the parents, to the third and fourth generations.” These seem contradictory.

Ezekiel is speaking of the guilt of the father’s sin never being held against the sons, but Moses was referring to the consequences of the parent’s sins being passed on to their children. Unfortunately, if a father is a drunk, the children can suffer abuse and even poverty. Likewise, if a mother has contracted AIDS from drug use, then her baby may be born with AIDS. But, this does not mean the innocent children are guilty of the sins of their parents.

Further, even if the Exodus passage implied that moral guilt was somehow also visited on the children, it would only be because they too, like their parents, had sinned against God. Noteworthy is the fact God only visits the iniquities of “those who hate” Him (Ex. 20:5), not on those who do not (see also Rom. 5:12).

Nowhere has the concept of the consequences of sin being passed on been more evident recently than on some college campuses, where students have run amok. A generation of coddled kids, raised by helicopter parents, has come into full flower. These students, many children of privilege, are railing against university teachers and administrators because they do not feel “safe”. They feel victimized. They believe that a college campus is not a place for learning; it is a place where they are to feel “at home”.

The University of Missouri

Last month on the University of Missouri campus, a graduate student, Jonathan Butler, went on a hunger strike demanding the removal of university system President Tim Wolfe. Wolfe’s transgression? Butler, objected to President Tim Wolfe’s lack of response to “racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., incidents that have dynamically disrupted the learning experience” at Missouri, as he wrote in a letter.

Students at Missouri also complained of inaction on the part of school leaders in dealing with racism on the Columbia campus. Black student leaders have conveyed their displeasure over students openly using racial slurs and other incidents. (It should be noted neither specific incidents of slurs being used nor any individual has been accused of uttering such comments.)

The protestors wanted a “comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum throughout all campus departments and units, faculty, staff and administration.”

The final straw came when a few dozen other students weighed in: the University of Missouri football team, which announced it would not play until Wolfe left his position.

The players who were boycotting then released the following statement regarding the incidents on campus:

The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe “Injustice Anywhere is a threat to Justice Everywhere.” We will no longer participate in any football related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experiences. WE ARE UNITED!!!!!

With this, Wolfe abruptly stepped down. (The school’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, later announced he would step down in January 2016.)

Had he not done so and Missouri canceled its upcoming game against Brigham Young University, Mizzou would have to pay BYU $1 million.

Such is the power of “amateur” college football… and today’s college students.

Such an action is certain to draw a certain amount of media scrutiny, but in today’s “liberal” society, freedom of the press is not to be tolerated. After at first welcoming the press, a sign went up in “the quad” saying NO MEDIA ALLOWED. When a reporter for the campus newspaper arrived on the scene to report on the story, he was told by an instructor in the communications department that he had no right to be there and had to leave. The instructor even asked for “some muscle” to come over and forcibly remove the reporter. The confrontation was recorded and uploaded to YouTube.

Yale University

While this was going on, Yale University had a dustup of their own.

On Wednesday, Oct. 28, Yale Dean Burgwell Howard sent an email to all Yale undergraduate students. The email, titled “Halloween and the Yale Community,” asked students to be thoughtful about the cultural implications of their Halloween costumes. He wanted them to think about whether their costumes could convey inappropriate “cultural appropriation and/or misrepresentation.” The email cited examples such as feathered headdresses, turbans and “war paint.”

The email also contained a list of questions students should ask themselves before deciding upon a costume as well as links to websites educating students about common racial stereotypes. There were also links to several Pinterest boards curated by Yale’s Community & Consent Educators—one with a collection of acceptable, school-sanctioned costume ideas and the other with a collection of “costumes to avoid.”

Erika Christakis’ Response

On Friday, Oct. 30, Yale lecturer (Associate Master) Erika Christakis sent an email of her own to the students of the Silliman College of Yale University in response to Howard’s message… Christakis explained she and her husband Nicholas heard from a number of students who were frustrated by the seeming implied control the university was trying to exert in the Howard email.

Christakis drew on her experiences as a child development specialist to question whether a university should dictate what students should and shouldn’t wear on Halloween:

I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community. I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.

Besides complaining about how policing students’ costumes can limit the exercise of imagination, free speech and free expression, Christakis asked:

Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.

The Aftermath

The response to Christakis’ email was tectonic. More than 740 Yale undergraduates, graduate students, alumni, faculty, and even students from other universities signed an open letter telling Christakis stating her “offensive” email invalidates the voices of minority students on campus:

The contents of your email were jarring and disheartening. Your email equates old traditions of using harmful stereotypes and tropes to further degrade marginalized people, to preschoolers playing make believe. This both trivializes the harm done by these tropes and infantilizes the student body to which the request was made. You fail to distinguish the difference between cosplaying fictional characters and misrepresenting actual groups of people. In your email, you ask students to “look away” if costumes are offensive, as if the degradation of our cultures and people, and the violence that grows out of it is something that we can ignore.

Christakis and her husband Master Lecturer Nicholas Christakis (who supported her position) invited all Silliman signatories of the letter, to a lunch the following Sunday. The invitation was sharply rejected by some, including one student who criticized the invitation and argued Nicholas Christakis “needs to stop instigating more debate.”

Two days later, about 100 students gathered to protest Christakis’ email. Nicholas Christakis, who decided to meet with the student protesters, was soon encircled and accused of racism and insensitivity, with many demanding an apology for his wife’s email.

Students also demanded mandatory diversity training for faculty and staff, plus an orientation program that “explores diversity and inclusion.”

Christakis engaged with the students and listened to their concerns for several hours. Finally, Christakis told the crowd, “I apologize for causing pain, but I am not sorry for the statement. I stand behind free speech. I defend the right for people to speak their minds.”

This was not the “apology” the students were demanding. They said such comments make Yale an “unsafe space” and called again for Erika’s Christakis’ resignation.

Nicholas Christakis was then subject to the taunts of the crowd and had one student scream at him that college was not a place for education it was a “home” and the comments her wife made did not make the student feel safe.

The “shrieking girl’s” rant was also captured on YouTube and quickly went viral. (warning: strong language used in video clip.)

Since then, Erika Christakis has resigned from her position at the college.

Ms. Christakis has made a “voluntary decision not to teach in the future,” according to a statement from the university Monday. Her husband, Dr. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and a professor of sociology at Yale, will take a one-semester sabbatical, the university said. The statement said the administration hoped Ms. Christakis would reconsider.

Erika Christakis is a well-regarded instructor, and the university’s leadership is disappointed that she has chosen not to continue teaching in the spring semester, the statement said. “Her teaching is highly valued, and she is welcome to resume teaching anytime at Yale, where freedom of expression and academic inquiry are the paramount principle and practice.

Yale also announced it would change the administrative title both Nicholas and Erika Christakis held, as the word “master” evokes imagery associated with slavery. (Harvard and Princeton plan to do the same.) “The word ‘master’ can evoke thoughts of slavery and other forms of subjugation, and it has made me at times quite uncomfortable to be referred to as ‘master,’” Nicholas Christakis said in a letter to students at the beginning of the year.

A Growing Movement

These are not isolated incidents.

  • Anonymous online threats against Kean University’s black students led to calls for the school’s president to quit. And when it turned out a black student was behind the threats, the demands.. . continued. The coalition of black ministers behind the calls for Dawood Farahi’s ouster says the threats still “arose from a climate of racial intolerance” — no matter they were bogus.
  • Students protesting “microaggressions” took over an administrative building at Occidental College in California. Some of their demands were: “Hire physicians of color to treat physical and emotional trauma associated with issues of identity,” and the creation of a fully funded and staffed Black Studies program.
  • Students are demanding commencement speakers be uninvited from graduation ceremonies if they hold views contrary to their own. Also, other campus speakers that may hold controversial positions have compelled universities to provide “safe rooms” equipped with “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma” of “microaggressions” and “trigger words.”

What is Really Going On

What has happened is leftists now control the humanities departments in America’s colleges and universities.

They are teaching students who grew up being taught everyone is a winner and there are no losers. Everyone is exactly equal. Society has made a switch from equal opportunities to equal outcomes. If the outcomes are not equal, then someone or something is to blame. Hence they are victims. They have been taught victimhood. Students learn they are victims of America’s racism, sexism, homophobia, income inequality, etc. So why is it surprising when they begin to act like victims?

Nothing New Under the Sun

Ecclesiastes teaches there is “nothing new on earth” and this is certainly true with what we are seeing on college campuses. What is different in many cases is the response of the college administration.

College campuses experienced this same type of turmoil in the 60s, mainly over racism and the war in Vietnam. The students doing the protesting back then are now the college administrators of today.

Educators of the type such as S. I. Hayakawa are long gone.

Hayakawa was a renowned semanticist who defied striking student radicals at San Francisco State University in the late 1960s and later was elected to the U.S. Senate.

At the time he was one of the most popular public figures in the state, a hero to multitudes of Californians outraged by student militants and Vietnam War demonstrators.

Hayakawa ripping cables out of a sound truck (CBS)

 

Hayakawa ripping cables out of a sound truck (CBS)

He made a name for himself on Dec. 2, 1968, when as acting president of San Francisco State, he was confronted a howling, jeering mob of striking students. When he could not make himself heard over a blaring sound truck, “Samurai Sam” leaped to the top of the truck and ripped the wires from the sound system—all recorded on live television.

Hayakawa was a man born of a different time. He was a child of the Depression and suffered discrimination as a Japanese-American. He wrote he had an upbringing that taught self-reliance and a strong work ethic.

In contrast, many of the people in charge of universities today were raised in the era “If it feels good, do it.” Their progeny, the students in those same universities, reflect the upbringing of those administrators.

Those in authority in many of our institutions of higher education are reaping what they sowed as students. As a society, we are seeing the result of several generations of a population who have been raised with a worldview devoid of God, His precepts and His commandments.

What we are seeing are the consequences of the actions of previous generations being visited upon their progeny.

Further Reading

 

COP21: Another UN Power Grab

 
‎15 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎03:06:37 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
On Dec. 12, representatives of nearly 200 different nations approved the Cop21 Climate Change Agreement in Paris. The agreement aims to limit the extent of climate change in the coming decades. The main accomplishments appear to be the inclusion of most nations and the new goal of reducing the rise of the earth’s temperature to 1.5°C instead of 2°C of pre-Industrial Age temperature.

One analyst observing the talks have called it “all show and no go.” The talks are high on aspirations but as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” Even with the agreement, there is contention not only between the developed and developing countries, but among the developed countries themselves.

Debate Still Rages

The developing countries believe it is unfair for them to have to make any moves to curtail greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), the villain in the anthropogenic climate change debate. These countries believe that the developed countries have developed their standard of living and they should have a chance to catch up. The only way they can compete is with CO2 emitting wood and hydrocarbon energy sources. The same position is taken by some of the more developed countries. China and India are two of the top five emitters in GHG. Both countries are reluctant to curb their fossil fuel use due to the time and expense to develop alternative forms of energy.

Top 10 Emitters

These two countries as well as many of the other signatories have signed the agreement, but their commitment to follow through is debatable. Other countries have a different view on agreements than the United States. The U.S. takes these agreements seriously and the Obama administration will go to great lengths to comply. Other countries, China and India among them look at these agreements as merely goals or suggestions.

A Look under the Hood

The agreement itself is one that is filled with legalese and is almost incomprehensible to a person not well-versed in diplomatic language.

In one example, the signatories to the agreement:

also requests the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice to undertake a work programme under the framework for non-market approaches to sustainable development referred to in Article 6, paragraph 8, of the Agreement, with the objective of considering how to enhance linkages and create synergy between, inter alia, mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity-building, and how to facilitate the implementation and coordination of non-market approaches.

Much of the terminology in the agreement is telling. The term “non-market” appears five times and the term “market” is never used. This would indicate that this agreement is looking to governments to solve the issue rather than the free market system. This in the face of the advances capitalistic nations have already reduced GHG while socialist nations have gone in the opposite direction. (Before the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing some factories were shut down and the driving restrictions were imposed to try to lower the smog levels in the city. The measures did not work.)

One of the major reductions in GHG in recent years has come from competition between natural gas and coal in the U.S., while nations like China and India still rely heavily on coal for power generation and restrain the development of their native natural gas resources.

The agreement also gave nods to the pet causes advocated by left-wing environmentalists. The COP21 document may ignore native resources but not native peoples (five mentions of “indigenous peoples”.)

Also, gender equality is given a nod in the concordat. “Gender balance” occurs five times in the document and “empowerment of women” twice but “price” is remarkable for its absence.

Fossil fuel subsidies didn’t warrant a mention, nor does access to commercial energy. Access to information, technology, etc., is a frequent buzzword, although the typical villager without electricity probably can’t access information on their energy impoverishment.

There were also national pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the 2020s. Before of the start of the Paris summit, 158 countries have made so-called “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) — pledges setting out how they plan to limit their greenhouse gas emissions during that decade. These pledges covered over 90 percent of current global emissions. These pledges became Nationally Determined Contributions at the time each country ratified the agreement.

The agreement also includes a mechanism designed to make countries pledge deeper emissions cuts in the future. The non-binding text asks countries to come back before 2020 and to revisit the pledges they have made, and then make new pledges every five years thereafter. The binding part of the agreement, covering the period after 2020, also commits countries to “communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years.”

Wealth Redistribution Provision

Another section has a provision for the “developed” nations — as defined by the U.N. Framework in 1992 — to continue to help developing countries mitigate their GHG to the tune of $100 billion a year, a target set in 2009.

The draft Paris decision says they “intend to continue their existing collective mobilization goal through 2025” — in other words continue the $100bn a year, and then by 2025 set a new goal “from a floor of $100bn.” This provision is non-binding, a fact that the poorer nations do not like. (They argue that developed nations haven’t even met their $100 billion pledge).

COP21 also sets out plans for a new framework to see whether countries are carrying out their pledges. Signatory countries will have to publish an inventory of their emissions and information to track their progress while developed countries should also give information on the funds they are providing to the poorer countries. They will also be subject to a “technical expert review” to check their progress and highlight areas where improvement is needed.

How Will All This be Financed?

If one wants to find the real root of an issue, it is always good to follow the money. There is a range of options for financing all the GHG plans. These include carbon taxes, financial transaction taxes (such as the ‘Robin Hood tax’), levies on aviation and bunker fuel, the redirection of fossil fuel subsidies, a reallocation of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR), and emissions trading schemes.

All of these things need to be administered and enforced. This means global governance and enforcement.

Continuation of Global Governance

The Power Elites have continued to work toward a one world government and have used many agreements to achieve it. The list is long: climate change, international trade, management of the oceans, monetary policy and peacekeeping to name a few.

In many ways, the Paris agreement seems like just one act in a drama where the actors (the Elites) are acting out a pre-defined script to the pre-written conclusion. That conclusion is an ultimate goal of global control of the world’s infrastructure and commerce.

It will eventually bring us to the finale — a one world government spoken of in scripture.

Further Reading

 

Active Shooter Situation

 
‎15 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎03:05:41 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

John Loeffler

If you are involved in an active shooter situation, would you know what to do? Jim Sporleder, Senior Advisor with the Center for Personal Protection, shows a list of steps that includes pushing past the disbelief and responding intelligently to what’s happening.

Jim was a guest no John Loeffler’s Steel on Steel broadcast talking about what you do if you are involved in such a situation. His advice is:

  1. Figure Out – Figure out what is going on;
  2. Get Out – Get out safely if you can;
  3. Hide Out & Keep Out – Hide out & keep out if you can’t get out;
  4. Spread Out – Spread out if you are with others in the room;
  5. Take Out – Take out if you are directly confronted;
  6. Call Out – Call out when you can do so safely;
  7. Help Out – Help out others, if possible.
CPPS Active Shooter Response Summary Card

Active Shoot Response Card (Center for Personal Protection and Safety)

These steps and other tips are available on a card-sized information sheet as a PDF on the center’s website or at the Steel on Steel website for this week’s broadcast.

Jim also has a Ministry Security Video available for download or you can order a physical copy.

Related Articles

 

Pearl Harbor – Lessons for Today

 
‎08 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎01:52:49 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese Air Force launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and forced the United States into World War II. Two hundred years ago Hawaiians called the harbor Wae Momi, “Water of Pearl.” In 1861 the United States Navy constructed a fueling station in Honolulu. By 1916 it was the 10th most important naval base in the world. Eventually it became the 14th Naval District, the center of Pacific operations.

Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo led a 33 ship strike force which steamed under cover of darkness to within 230 miles of Oahu. His carriers launched 360 airplanes against the American Pacific Fleet.

The surprise was complete.

The Day of Infamy

The attacking planes came in two waves; the first hit its target at 7:53 a.m., the second at 8:55 a.m… By 9:55 a.m. it was all over. Eighteen U.S. ships were sunk or severely damaged, approximately 170 planes destroyed, and American forces suffered about 3,700 casualties. By 1 p.m. the carriers were heading back to Japan.

President Roosevelt described it as “a day which will live in infamy,” and the motto “Remember Pearl Harbor!” became a rallying cry for the rest of World War II.

In Britain, Prime Minister Winston Churchill received the news of Pearl Harbor differently. Though deeply sympathetic with American losses, he understood that this fatal mistake by the Japanese in underestimating American resolve would now force full-scale U.S. involvement in the war. Upon grasping this enormous consequence, Churchill reportedly said, “Now we will win.”

The attack on the U.S. naval installation in the Hawaiian territory brought the United States into a global conflict that not only redrew the map of the world and governments, but changed the fabric of civilization. The consequences of Japan’s attack on the eventual culmination of the conflict set in motion other events that are still influencing geopolitics today.

Throughout human events we find such history changing moments, decisions which move things in a different direction. In another example, God’s plan to take the gospel west into Europe rather than north into Asia changed the face of global evangelism and the march of the church for hundreds of years. When we think of Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, we remember Europeans ultimately were influenced by the decision Paul made to follow God’s leading against his own personal preferences.

Lessons for Us Today

There are three lessons from the Pearl Harbor attack that serve us well today:

First, God still changes history in directing the efforts of his people. We thought the Berlin Wall impregnable and expected the Cold War to go on forever. Who could have predicted in 1985 a united Germany and frenetic missionary activity all across Eastern Europe, especially throughout the old Soviet Bloc countries?

God’s timing often differs from what we would have planned and often makes little sense to us. Of course, our reasoning, so dimmed by sin and the limitations of mortality, has no way to grasp the historic impact of immediate decisions. Like Paul, we must trust the leading of God’s Spirit day by day in living our lives, raising our children, making decisions for a business or ministry. In every arena of life we must serve him with a constant alertness to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Second, within 72 hours after Pearl Harbor, the FBI sprang into action. Thousands of “suspicious enemy aliens” were arrested, many of whom were interned without cause. In the following months, an underground war was waged against spy rings in the United States and abroad. Many war plants might have exploded and the coastal cities of America could have been invaded if we had not uncovered the enemy’s strategy.

Know your enemy. In spiritual conflicts, we must know and understand our adversary, or we’ll be the victims of surprise attacks. Most of us do not realize that while we may see the threat from earthly enemies, there is an unseen warfare being waged in the heavens. In the war of the universe, good and evil struggle for supremacy. We need to not only be prepared to fight that unseen enemy, but also pray for discernment to determine who the enemy truly is.

Third, at Pearl Harbor, the consequences for not being ready for an enemy attack were devastating. There were signs that went unheeded. Had the U.S. military been ready to spring into action, the losses at Pearl Harbor might have been greatly reduced.

The element of watchful waiting also applies to the return of Christ. For the believer, being ready for Christ’s return involves more than not just being caught by surprise. It also involves living a life in faithful obedience to God, investing our resources in the kingdom of God. Jesus will someday return. Those who are found faithful and living in obedience to God will be rewarded.

Are you among the ready?

Related Reading

 

Happy Hanukkah

 
‎08 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎01:51:17 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
Last night, (Sunday) at sunset Jewish families all over the world celebrated Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and lasts eight days. The word Hanukkah means “dedication” and the holiday commemorates the re dedication of the Temple in 165 B.C.. Because of its Biblical and prophetic importance, we thought it would be right to explore the origin and history of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה) (Dedication) is the eight-day festival that begins on the 25th of Kislev. It is the only major Jewish festival that does not originate in the Hebrew Bible. Hanukkah commemorates the victory of Judah Maccabee and his followers over the army of the Syrian ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes. In the fourth century B.C., Greek forces under Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world, including the Near East and Israel. When Alexander died in 320, leaving no sons to succeed him, a bitter 20-year power struggle between his two leading generals resulted in Ptolemy ruling Egypt and Seleucus controlling Syria. The Land of Israel, the crossroads of the ancient world, came under Seleucid domination.

The historical basis of Hanukkah is found in the two Books of the Maccabees. These are part of the Apocrypha, a group of 14 books of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Bible) that Judaism did not include in the Bible but were accepted by the Catholic Church. In 168 B.C., King Antiochus Epiphanes attempted to Hellenize (make Greek) all the peoples under his rule. He outlawed the practice of such Jewish rituals as Sabbath observance and circumcision and converted the Temple into a pagan shrine by instituting the worship of Greek gods and the sacrifice of pigs on the altar. Many Jews enthusiastically accepted the Greek customs while others resisted Hellenism and died as martyrs.

When a Jew in the village of Modi’in prepared to perform the idolatrous act of pig sacrifice, Mattathias, a respected elderly priest (Kohen), became so furious he slew him. With his five sons, Mattathias retreated to the mountains and fought a guerilla war against the Syrian-Greeks and their Jewish allies. After Mattathias’s death, the leadership of the band passed to his third son, Judah, who waged a brave and brilliant campaign that eventually led to the defeat of the Seleucids.

Judah was given the name “Maccabee,” which may have derived from the Hebrew word “makav” (hammer) and therefore have been a testament to his imposing strength. Another explanation is that Maccabee is an acrostic for the first letters of the Hebrew words Mi kamocha ba’elim Adonai (“Who is like You, O Lord, among the mighty”; Exod. 15:11), which is recited daily.

Judah and his comrades finally liberated Jerusalem and began to purify the Temple. The defiled altar was demolished and a new one built, and new holy vessels were prepared. On the 25th of Kislev, the third anniversary of the harsh decrees that sparked the uprising, the Temple was rededicated and its sacrificial service renewed. According to the Mishnah, this task took eight days, and therefore the festival is observed for that long. Another explanation is that the eight days of dedication ceremonies were modeled after the consecration of the Temple of Solomon during Sukkot (2 Macc. 12), a holiday the Maccabees could not observe while they were still fighting as fugitives in the mountains of Judea (2 Macc. 10:6–8). The Torah portion for Hanukkah (Num. 7:1–8:4) describes the same sacrifices brought by the princes of the 12 tribes at the dedication of the sanctuary as well as the kindling of the menorah. The haftarah reading (Zech. 2:14–4:7) for the Sabbath of Hanukkah has the verse “Not by [military] might, nor by [physical] power, but by My spirit, said the Lord of Hosts”—a prophecy of the spiritual victory of God in every generation. On this festival, a full Hallel is recited on each of the eight days, Tachanun (prayers of supplication) is not said, and fasting is prohibited; in traditional communities, it is forbidden to eulogize the dead.

Ironically, the ritual is now most closely associated with Hanukkah—the kindling of lights—is not mentioned in any of the historical works describing the rededication of the Temple. Only later in the Talmud is there the first mention of the legend that, when the Maccabees entered the Temple, they discovered the Syrian-Greeks had defiled all the jugs of oil for lighting the menorah. After much searching, they found a single small cruse of oil still bearing the unbroken seal of the Kohen Gadol. However, this cruse contained only enough oil to keep the menorah burning for a single day.

Miraculously, the menorah flame continued to burn for eight days until new pure oil could be prepared. To commemorate this event, the Rabbis decreed the holiday would be observed annually by kindling lights for eight days, and Hanukkah became known as the Festival of Lights.

The Talmud focuses completely on the miracle of the oil, omitting all references to the incredible military victory of Judah the Maccabee and the Hasmoneans, the family name of the Maccabees and their descendants. This may reflect the fact it was composed after the disastrous revolts against Rome in 70 A.D., when the Second Temple was destroyed, and in 135, when the Bar Kokhba rebellion failed. By censoring the story of how a few Jews successfully overcame a powerful enemy, the Rabbis hoped to discourage any thoughts of another doomed attempt at overthrowing Roman rule. Also, the Hasmonean dynasty had quickly become corrupt and Hellenized, opposing and even persecuting the Rabbis. Furthermore, the Rabbis condemned the re-establishment of the monarchy by the Hasmoneans after their victory over the Syrian-Greeks. According to Jewish tradition, only members of the House of David (descended from the tribe of Judah) could legitimately lay claim to the throne of Israel, and the Hasmoneans did not have that lineage.

Nevertheless, the tale of the Maccabees never totally disappeared from Hanukkah. On each day of the festival, Al ha-Nissim (For the miracles) is recited in the Amidah and during the Grace after Meals. This summary of the story of Hanukkah emphasizes the military victory, mentions lighting the Temple menorah only incidentally, and makes no reference to the miracle of the oil. In Israel, Hanukkah has become a symbol of national liberation and the triumphant Jewish spirit. This view is reflected in a torchlight marathon from Modi’in, where the rebellion broke out and the Hasmoneans are buried, to Jerusalem.

Work is permitted on Hanukkah, and there is no special synagogue service. However, influenced by the winter Christmas season in contemporary America, Hanukkah has assumed the status of a major holiday, in which gift giving has become a central focus.

“Judea will live forever”

In modern times comes another Hanukkah miracle. From the website Rare Historical Photos (and the story behind them…) comes this inspirational story:

It was the eighth night of Hanukkah in Kiel, Germany, a small town with a Jewish population of 500. That year, 1931, the last night of Hanukkah fell on Friday evening, and Rabbi Akiva Boruch Posner, spiritual leader of the town was hurrying to light the hanukkiah (often referred to incorrectly as a menorah) before the Shabbat set in.

Directly across the Posner’s home stood the Nazi headquarters in Kiel, displaying the dreaded Nazi Party flag in the cold December night. With the eight lights of the hanukkiah glowing brightly in her window, Rabbi Posner’s wife, Rachel, snapped a photo of the hanukkiah and captured the Nazi building and flag in the background.

A Jewish menorah defies the Nazi swastika, 1931

 

A Jewish menorah defies the Nazi swastika, 1931. Photo: Rare Historical Photos

She wrote a few lines in German on the back of the photo. “Hanukkah, 5692. ‘Judea dies’, thus says the banner. ‘Judea will live forever’, thus respond the lights.”

The image, freezing in time a notorious piece of the past, has grown to become an iconic part of history for the Jewish community. But until just recently, not much was known about the origins of the photo.

Both the menorah and photo survived World War II, with the hanukkiah finding its way to Yad Vashem through the loan of Yehudah Mansbuch.

Mansbuch is the grandson of the woman who took the picture, and he retains the original snapshot. When Yad Vashem was putting together its plans to open the Holocaust History Museum, a team of researchers set out to learn more about this famous photo. Their inquiries led to Mansbuch, who explained how his grandmother and grandfather had lived under Nazi oppression in Kiel, Germany, eventually fleeing to then-Palestine in 1934.

Yehudah Mansbuch, the grandson of the family who took the photo, remembers:

It was on a Friday afternoon right before Shabbat that this photo was taken. My grandmother realized that this was a historic photo, and she wrote on the back of the photo that ‘their flag wishes to see the death of Judah, but Judah will always survive, and our light will outlast their flag.’

My grandfather, the rabbi of the Kiel community, was making many speeches, both to Jews and Germans. To the Germans he warned that the road they were embarking on was not good for Jews or Germans, and to the Jews he warned that something terrible was brewing, and they would do well to leave Germany. My grandfather fled Germany in 1933, and moved to Israel. His community came to the train station to see him off, and before he departed he urged his people to flee Germany while there was still time.

The couple’s prescience saved an entire community; only eight of its five hundred Jews perished in the Holocaust, with the rest fleeing before the systematic slaughter began.

Today, Yehudah Mansbuch lives in Haifa (Israel) with his family. Each Hanukkah, Yad Vashem returns the now famous hanukkiah to the family who light the candles for eight nights before returning the piece of history back to the Holocaust trust.

Hanukkah in the New Testament

Hanukkah is mentioned directly only once in the New Testament when the festival coincided with Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem:

Now Hanukkah was taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter.

John 10:22 (ISV)

In the end, though, Hanukkah looks forward to the day the Messiah Himself will rebuild His temple, which never will be destroyed, and to the return of His shekinah glory that never again will depart.

Ezekiel was privileged to envision that return of God’s glory to the temple:

And the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. His voice sounded like roaring water, and the land shimmered from his glory… while the glory of the LORD entered the Temple through the east-facing gate… “Son of Man,” the Lord GOD told me, “This is where my throne is, where I place the soles of my feet, and where I will live among the Israelis forever. The house of Israel will no longer defile my holy name—neither they nor their kings—by their unfaithfulness, by the lifeless idols of their kings on their funeral mounds,”

Ezek. 43:2, 4, 7 (ISV)

Christ’s glory will first return above the earth, His destruction of the earth’s wicked, and will then come to live permanently in the temple, “the place of My throne… where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever.”

This is the grand and ultimate scene Hanukkah depicts—the scene will be fulfilled when Christ returns to Jerusalem to rule on the first day of the Millennium, when “The LORD will be king over all the earth at that time. There will be one LORD, and his name the only one.” (Zechariah 14:9, ISV)

Related Articles

 

Scrolls for Sale

 
‎01 ‎December ‎2015, ‏‎01:49:14 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

The Shrine of the Book (Wiki Commons)

Some important stories don’t make the news.

Seventy years ago, November 29, 1947, headlines around the world proclaimed that the United Nations had voted to set up two separate states in Palestine, one Jewish and one Arab.

Three Bedouins

However, another event happened that day that was to influence biblical studies forever. The story begins about a year earlier, when three Bedouin teenagers—Muhammed Ahmed el-Hamed, Jum’a Muhammed Khalib, and Khalil Musa—found three scrolls covered with strange writing, while exploring a cave near the Dead Sea.

In April 1947, an uncle of one of the boys took the scrolls to Bethlehem and showed them to a Muslim sheikh who sent them to a Bethlehem shoemaker and part-time antiquities dealer, known as “Kando.”

One of the clay jars that held the Dead Sea Scrolls (Logos)

 

One of the clay jars that held the Dead Sea Scrolls (Logos)

Meanwhile, Khalil Musa and the other Bedouins brought George Isaiah, a Syrian Orthodox merchant from Jerusalem, to see the cave. They found four more scrolls. Isaiah told the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan in Jerusalem about the scrolls, and he offered to buy them. In July, when Jum’a, Musa, and Isaiah tried to bring the four scrolls to the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan, they were mistakenly turned away. Instead they sold the four scrolls to Kando, the Bethlehem merchant, who in turn sold them to the Metropolitan for $97.20. One expert the Metropolitan consulted regarding his purchase was Eleazar Sukenik, a noted professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

When Sukenik learned that an antiquities dealer was offering ancient scrolls for sale, he made a secret trip to Bethlehem. He purchased two of the scrolls November 29, 1947, the day the United Nations voted to create the modern Jewish state. A month later he purchased a third.

The Scrolls Stay in Israel

In 1954, the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal, offering his four scrolls for sale. Sukenik’s son, Yigael Yadin, an Israeli general and leading archaeologist, was in the United States when the ad appeared. Yadin was able to buy the scrolls for $250,000. Those four together with the three purchased by his father now reside in an exhibit in the Israel Museum called The Shrine of the Book.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from 250 B.C. to A.D. 68, are considered by many to be the most important archaeological discovery of all time.

They apparently were the library of the Essenes, a Jewish sect that had lived at nearby Qumran. When the invading Roman armies reached southern Judea in AD 68, the Essenes hid their library in caves.

Great Isaiah Scroll (Wiki Commons)

 

Great Isaiah Scroll (Wiki Commons)

The scrolls range in length from the complete book of Isaiah to thousands of small fragments. At least one fragment from every Old Testament book except Esther has been found. Evidence shows that originally about three hundred books were hidden, a third of them portions of the Old Testament. To date, all Old Testament books except Esther have been represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Nonbiblical Scrolls

Some of the scrolls found among the 11 caves of Qumran by the Dead Sea that are not copies of biblical books. These scrolls date approximately to 250 B.C.–A.D. 50.

The nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls have had a large impact on our understanding of the language, literature, and history of Judaism in Israel in the first centuries BC and AD. The richness and variety of the collection, despite its fragmentary nature, can hardly be overstated. They can be divided into three major categories:

  1. Previously known noncanonical texts;
  2. Previously unknown parabiblical texts;
  3. Previously unknown sectarian texts.

Previously Known Noncanonical Texts

Some of the scrolls contained the text of works from outside the Hebrew canon of Scripture that were previously known only in translation. For example, the book of Tobit, which Roman Catholics consider to be canonical and Protestants consider to be part of the Apocrypha, is attested in five manuscripts—four in Aramaic (4Q196–4Q199) and one in Hebrew (4Q200). This text had previously only been available in the Greek translation found in the Septuagint.

(Ed. Note: Each manuscript of the Dead Sea Scrolls is identified by a manuscript number. For example, the manuscript number 4Q196 designates the 196th manuscript cataloged from Qumran Cave 4.)

Likewise, the book of Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach or Ben Sira), which is also among the Apocrypha and part of the Roman Catholic canon, is attested in one fragmentary Hebrew manuscript (2Q18) containing part of Chapter 6.

Two of the ancient books classified as pseudepigrapha (meaning their authorship is fictionally ascribed to Old Testament figures) were found at Qumran: the book of Enoch and the book of Jubilees. Enoch is not canonical (except for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) but was very important in early Judaism and is quoted in the New Testament (Jude 14–15; 1 Enoch 1:9); however, until the Qumran finds, it was known only in Greek and Ethiopic translation.

The Qumran scrolls (4Q201–202, 4Q204–207, 4Q212) contain about 15 percent of the original Aramaic text, as well as parts of other works from the Enoch literature—the book of Giants (1Q23–24, 2Q26, 4Q203, 4Q530–533), and the so-called Astronomical Enoch (4Q208–211), which deals with the movements of the sun and moon. Additionally, 15 Hebrew copies of the book of Jubilees, a 50-chapter retelling of the Genesis narratives from a sectarian viewpoint, were found at Qumran (1Q17–18, 2Q19–20, 3Q5, 4Q216–224, 11Q12). Like Enoch, the complete text had been known previously only in Ethiopic translation, as it is only canonical for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Finally, the Hebrew text of the extracanonical Psalm 151, previously known only in Greek, was found in the Cave 11 scroll of the book of Psalms.

Previously Unknown Parabiblical Texts

The term “parabiblical” refers to texts that are based on biblical stories or personages but contain expansions, extra material, or narrative reworkings that go beyond the biblical text. A prominent example of a parabiblical text is the Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon from Cave 1 (1QapGen), of which 22 mostly fragmentary columns survive. It contains pseudonymous, first-person retellings of some of the patriarchal narratives, including a long section on Abraham.

Also of major importance is the Cave 11 Temple Scroll, the longest of the Qumran scrolls (parts of 66 columns in 11Q19; 11Q20 also contains part of the work). This text is a reworking of the legal material from the Pentateuch claiming to contain first-person utterances of God to Israel.

Other Hebrew texts in this parabiblical category are:

  • The Vision of Samuel (4Q160);
  • The Pseudo-Ezekiel texts (4Q385–386, 4Q385b, 4Q388);
  • The Apocryphon of Joshua (4Q378–79);
  • The Apocryphon of Joseph (4Q371–373) and a related fragment tentatively titled the Apocryphon of David (2Q22).

Other Aramaic texts in the genre include:

  • The Pseudo-Daniel text (4Q243–245);
  • The so-called Birth of Noah texts (4Q534–536; also known as the Elect of God texts);
  • The Testament of Jacob (4Q537);
  • The Testament of Joseph (4Q539);
  • The Visions of Amram (4Q543–549);
  • The Testament of Kohath (4Q542);
  • The Apocryphon of Judah (4Q538).

The label “vision” denotes a vision that purports to come from an Old Testament personage. The label “testament” denotes the last words and instructions purporting to come from an Old Testament personage. Besides those listed above, a lengthy text that belongs to the testament genre is known as the Aramaic Levi Document (4Q213–213ab–214–214ab, 1Q21). This text deals with the patriarch Levi and is apparently a source of the later Greek Testament of Levi.

There are also a couple manuscripts of targums (Aramaic translations) of the book of Job; these are more closely related to the Hebrew biblical text than the other parabiblical texts are. They are distinct from the Rabbinic targums of Job.

Previously Unknown Texts, Mainly Sectarian

The majority of the nonbiblical texts were religious documents composed or collected by a Jewish sect. The identity of the sect is disputed, but the most common guess is that they were Essenes. These sectarian documents are of various types.

Rules and Religious Law

Several texts are “rules” (Hebrew serek) that present the sectarian view of Jewish law and ritual and describe the community’s organizational regulations. The most important texts in this category are:

  • The Rule of the Community (1QS[erek], 4Q255–264, 5Q11; also known as the Manual of Discipline);
  • The Rule of the Congregation (1QSa);
  • The Damascus Document (4Q266–273, 5Q12, 6Q15), a medieval copy of which (referred to as CD, the Covenant of Damascus) had been discovered in the Cairo Geniza in 1895;
  • The Rule of War (1Q33), usually known as the War Scroll which describes the regulations for the order of battle between the “sons of light” and the forces of evil, the “sons of darkness,” in the last days.

The Rule of the Community has received considerable attention because some of the community practices it describes are similar to Essene practices described by Josephus. It also contains details of the sect’s dualistic deterministic theology, describing how the “sons of light” are ruled by the “Prince of Light” and the “sons of darkness” by the “Angel of Darkness.” The Damascus Document contains many of the same laws as the Rule of the Community but specifies that it is for members of “the new covenant in the land of Damascus,” possibly a separate group. The Rule of the Congregation which was an appendix to the Rule of the Community, provides rules for the membership of the community in the “last days” (1QSa 1:1) and describes an eschatological banquet over which the High Priest and the Messiah of Israel are to preside.

Biblical Interpretation

The Qumran sect found prophecies of themselves and figures of their times within the Scriptures of Israel. Many of their biblical commentaries introduce these interpretations using the phrase pesher ha-davar ( “the meaning of the matter”) or pishro ( “its meaning”). For this reason, their approach is known as the pesher method, and their commentaries are known as pesharim (plural of pesher). The pesharim can be thematic (i.e., dealing with different passages of Scripture) or continuous (i.e., dealing with a complete book in order). The most notable continuous pesharim are:

All of these mention various historical figures under code names such as the “Teacher of Righteousness,” possibly referring to the founder of the sect (also known from the Damascus Document), and “Flattery-Seekers,” referring to an opposing group. Other code names include the “Wicked Priest,” the “Man of the Lie,” and the “Lion of Wrath.” In its comments on Nahum 2:11, the Nahum Pesher names a Gentile ruler—Demetrius III Eukairos, who invaded the land in 88 BC. This has enabled us to pinpoint more exactly the historical era of the scrolls. There are also pesharim on Genesis (4Q252–254a) and other books.

Included among the thematic pesharim are:

  • 4QFlorilegium (4Q174), interpreting various texts from Deuteronomy, 2 Samuel, and Psalms as referring to the last days;
  • 4QCatena (4Q177, 4Q182), which provides eschatological keys to passages from the Psalms and Prophets;
  • 11QMelchizedek (11Q13), a fragmentary pesher that interprets Scripture passages about the Jubilee as eschatological in intent, with an exalted Melchizedek (Gen 14:18) as angelic messenger.

Calendrical Texts

The Qumran sect favored a 364-day solar calendar instead of the lunar calendar used by other Jews (which is still in use). A large number of Qumran texts deal with efforts to synchronize this calendar with various other ways of dividing time. For instance, the Hebrew text 4QSigns (4Q319) tries to synchronize the solar and lunar calendars with the periodic Jubilee years. The Hebrew Mishmarot texts (4Q320–326, 4Q328–329) synchronize the solar and lunar calendars with the 24 priestly courses (Hebrew mishmarot) serving in the temple (1 Chr 24:7–18), and also mention festivals or major events. Another Hebrew text, 4Q317, deals with phases of the moon. The Aramaic text 4QBrontologion (4Q318) gives a method for divination based on the connection between thunder, the moon phases, and the signs of the zodiac. The book of Enoch and book of Jubilees (mentioned above) also prescribe the solar calendar.

Wisdom Texts

Some of the texts are of the same genre as Wisdom books such as Proverbs or Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira). An important one is known as the Instruction (or Mûsar le-Mēvîn, “Instruction for the Understanding”), which appears in six copies (4Q415–418, 4Q423). Like Proverbs, it contains wise sayings addressed by an ideal teacher to an ideal pupil concerning the right way to live. Another work, the book of Mysteries (1Q27, 4Q299–300), stresses the hiddenness of true wisdom and the necessity of God’s revelation. The scroll called Wiles of the Wicked Woman (4Q184) takes its inspiration from Prov 7:1–27 and presents Folly, the opposite of Wisdom, as a seductress who seeks to lure people into deception. 4QBeatitudes (4Q525) presents a series of beatitudes, not unlike those of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3–11), proclaiming the blessedness of those who follow wisdom. The untitled scroll 4Q424 is more prosaic in its advice, and its maxims could sit comfortably next to the biblical proverbs. All of these texts are written in classical Hebrew.

Poetry

Many of the scrolls contain original poetic compositions, continuing in the scriptural traditions of Hebrew poetry. The most notable is the collection called the Thanksgiving Scroll (Hebrew Hodayot), which exists in several copies (1QHa, 1Q35, 4Q427–432); originally it contained at least 34 psalms, many of which are introduced with the phrase “I thank thee, O Lord.” The personal and intimate tone of these hymns and prayers, as well as various sectarian allusions, suggest that they may have been written by the Teacher of Righteousness himself. Another group of psalms, less personal in nature, are the Barkhi Nafshi ( “Bless, O my soul”) texts (4Q434–438). Lamentations in the biblical style (Lam 1–5) are found in 4Q179 (mourning the destruction of Jerusalem) and 4Q445.

Liturgy

Closely allied to the poetic hymns are works containing prayers and hymns apparently for use in public ceremonies. Very striking are the Songs for the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400–407, 11Q17), which are 13 psalms and blessings for the weekly sacrifice that invoke the presence of angels (under the name “gods”) and describe the heavenly temple and the throne of God. Another collection of prayers, the Words of the Heavenly Lights (4Q504–506), may have been recited throughout the week. The work called Festival Prayers (1Q34, 1Q34bis, 4Q507–509) has prayers to be recited on the Day of Atonement and other festivals. Other texts contain psalms that imitate biblical styles by celebrating God’s creative power and His choice of Zion (so-called “noncanonical psalms,” 4Q380–381). Some of the Qumran copies of the biblical Psalter (11Q5, 11Q6, 4Q88) contain otherwise unknown psalms that the sect included with the canonical psalms.

Narrative/History

The Scrolls are deficient in narrative genres. There are no historical texts besides the biblical ones, but there are a few Aramaic stories about nonscriptural figures. The fragmentary Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242) tells how God healed Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, from a “severe inflammation” through a Jewish diviner whose name is not preserved. Some scholars believe this story was part of the Daniel cycle and influenced the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s healing in Dan 4. Another Aramaic story, sometimes called “Proto-Esther” (4Q550), is set in the Persian court and relates how a certain Bagasrava—probably a Jew—rose to success and was rewarded by the king. It has some distant parallels to the canonical book of Esther. A fragmentary Hebrew text (4Q332–333) related to the* Mishmarot* calendar texts is not a narrative, but it mentions historical figures of the first century BC, such as Queen Salome (Shelamzion), King Hyrcanus II, and the Roman general Aemilius Scaurus. This is as close as the Scrolls came to writing straightforward history.

Apocalyptic and Demonology

The Scrolls include a rich variety of eschatological texts in the apocalyptic mode. The War Scroll (mentioned above) is a rule for the “faithful” during the final war against evil at the end of days. There are also several copies of the Aramaic Description of the New Jerusalem (1Q32, 2Q24, 4Q554–555, 5Q15, 11Q18), wherein an angel relates in a vision the dimensions and layout of the Jerusalem to come. This text is similar in some ways to Ezekiel’s vision in Ezek 40–48. Another Aramaic visionary text is the Four Kingdoms (4Q552–553), in which a seer sees the successive ruling powers symbolized by four trees. The so-called Son of God text in Aramaic (4Q246) is a fragmentary vision of an unnamed seer (possibly Daniel) who sees the coming of a figure who many will call the “son of God,” followed by the final war in which the people of God shall prevail. Other texts are unknown Hebrew pseudepigrapha with heavy eschatological content, such as the Apocryphon of Jeremiah (4Q383) and Pseudo-Moses (4Q385a, 4Q387, 4Q387a, 4Q388a, 4Q389–390). The Hebrew poem 4Q521 (Messianic Apocalypse) describes the coming age of the Messiah.

Almost all the scrolls presuppose that the powers of evil include demonic forces and hostile supernatural beings. Some minor texts deal directly with the world of evil spirits. The Hebrew Incantation of the Sage (4Q444) and the Aramaic Exorcism (4Q560) were intended to protect against or expel demons. A collection of noncanonical Hebrew psalms (11Q11) has the overall theme of resisting demonic attack.

Nonliterary Texts

Some of the texts are not literary. For example, 4Q477 (or Rebukes of the Overseer) is a fragment recording the punishment of some sect members. Also among the scrolls are several scribal exercises (4Q234, 4Q360, 4Q341) and lists or accounts (4Q346, 4Q348, 4Q351–358; some of these may have been discovered elsewhere). The most notable of such texts is the Copper Scroll (3Q15), a lengthy scroll describing caches of buried treasure. Instead of being written on parchment with ink, this document is composed of Hebrew text punched into the surface of a long copper sheet. It was written in a dialect resembling later rabbinic Hebrew rather than classical Hebrew.

Archaeology Confirms the Bible

In his article “Is the Bible True?,” Jeffery L. Sheler reports how archaeological finds confirm the Bible: During the past four decades, spectacular discoveries have produced data corroborating the historical backdrop of the Gospels. In 1968, for example, the skeletal remains of a crucified man were found in a burial cave in northern Jerusalem… There was evidence that his wrists may have been pierced with nails. The knees had been doubled up and turned sideways and an iron nail (still lodged in the heel bone of one foot) driven through both heels. The shinbones appeared to have been broken, perhaps corroborating the Gospel of John.

A hidden burial chamber, dating to the first century, was discovered in 1990 two miles from the Temple Mount. One bore the bones of a man in his 60s, with the inscription “Yehosef bar Qayafa”—meaning “Joseph, son of Caiaphas.” Experts believe this was Caiaphas, the high priest of Jerusalem, who was involved in the arrest of Jesus, interrogated Him, and handed Him over to Pontius Pilate for execution.

A few decades earlier, excavations at Caesarea Maritima, the ancient seat of Roman government in Judea, uncovered a stone slab whose complete inscription may have read: “Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius.”

The discovery is significant, establishing that the man depicted in the Gospels as Judea’s Roman governor had the authority ascribed to him by the Gospel writers. Sheler writes, “In extraordinary ways, modern archeology is affirming the historical core of the Old and New Testaments, supporting key portions of crucial biblical stories.”

Following the 1993 discovery in Israel of a stone containing the inscriptions “House of David” and “King of Israel,” Time magazine reported:

The writing—dated to the 9th century B.C., only a century after David’s reign—described a victory by a neighboring King over the Israelites. Some minimalists tried to argue that the inscription might have been misread, but most experts believe Biran and Naveh got it right. The skeptics’ claim that King David never existed is now hard to defend.

According to Dr. Nelson Glueck:

It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries.

For example, the Scriptures make more than 40 references to the great Hittite Empire. However, until one hundred years ago there was no archaeological evidence to substantiate the biblical claim that the Hittites existed. Skeptics claimed that the Bible was in error, until 1906 when Hugo Winckler uncovered a huge library of 10,000 clay tablets, which documented the lost Hittite Empire. We now know that at its height, the Hittite civilization rivaled Egypt and Assyria in its glory and power.

Dr. Joseph P. Free stated:

Archaeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts… Yet archaeological discoveries have shown that these critical charges… are wrong and that the Bible is trustworthy in the very statements which have been set aside as untrustworthy… We do not know of any cases where the Bible has been proved wrong.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the caves in Qumran have given us new insights into the Old Testament and shows, once again, that the Bible is an actual accounting of God’s plan for us that was fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

Further Reading

 

A Season for Thanksgiving

 
‎24 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎01:40:28 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
Colossians 2-7

While retailers like to start the Christmas season early (as early as before Halloween), America usually marks the start of the holiday season with Thanksgiving.

With all that is going on in the world, the threats from terrorism, persecution of Christians and other innocents, and a changing worldview, we need to be especially mindful of the many blessings God has still chosen to give this country.

Historical Roots of Thanksgiving

While colonists gave thanks to God for their very survival from the time they first arrived on these shores over four centuries ago Cape Henry, Virginia as early as 1607, it is from the Pilgrims that we derive the current tradition of Thanksgiving. This “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. This feast lasted three days, and it was attended by 90 Native Americans (as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow) and 53 Pilgrims. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”—days of prayer, thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.

Governor Kieft proclaimed a public thanksgiving, to be held in February 1644, on account of a victory over the American Indians; and again in 1645, because of the making peace with the tribes.

Thanksgivings were appointed in several colonies, and early in the Revolutionary War the Continental Congress adopted the practice. During the Revolutionary War Thanksgiving Day was declared on a year-by-year basis by the Continental Congress, in the form of recommendations to the executive heads of the several state governments. General George Washington issued a proclamation for a general thanksgiving by the Continental Army on Thursday, Dec. 18, 1777; and again, at Valley Forge, May 7, 1778.

The first national Thanksgiving occurred in 1789. According to the Congressional Record for Sept. 25 of that year, immediately after approving the Bill of Rights: Mr. Elias Boudinot said he could not think of letting the congressional session end without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining with one voice in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings He had poured down upon them. With this view, therefore, he would move the following resolution:

Resolved, That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer…

Mr. Roger Sherman justified the practice of thanksgiving not only as a praiseworthy one in itself but also “as warranted by a number of precedents in Holy Writ… This example he thought worthy of a Christian imitation on the present occasion.”

The resolution was delivered to President George Washington, who agreed with the congressional request, declaring:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor… Now, therefore, I do appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789… that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection.

National Thanksgiving proclamations occurred sporadically after this one, and most official Thanksgiving observances still occurred only at the state level. Much of the credit for the adoption of an annual national Thanksgiving may be attributed to Mrs. Sarah Joseph Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. For thirty years, she promoted the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day, contacting president after president until Abraham Lincoln responded in 1863 by setting aside the last Thursday of November, declaring:

We often forget the Source from which the blessings of fruitful years and healthful skies come… No human wisdom hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God… I therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States… to observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

For the next 75 years, Presidents followed Lincoln’s precedent, annually declaring a national Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving Becomes a National Holiday

In 1939 the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. Concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a presidential proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. For two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving — the President and part of the nation celebrated it on the second to last Thursday in November, while the rest of the country celebrated it the following week.

To end the confusion, Congress decided to set a fixed-date for the holiday. On Oct. 6, 1941, the House passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November to be the legal Thanksgiving Day. The Senate, however, amended the resolution establishing the holiday as the fourth Thursday, which would take into account those years when November has five Thursdays. The House agreed to the change, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution Dec. 26, 1941, therefore establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.

The Biblical View of Thanksgiving

Seven texts are scattered throughout the four chapters of Colossians, using the words thank, giving thanks, thanksgiving, thankful and gratitude. These give Colossians an unmistakable aroma of thanksgiving, and each passage makes a distinct contribution to the total emphasis on thanksgiving. Each instance and the composite even more so, models a pattern of thankfulness from which contemporary Christians may take lessons:

We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, praying always for you, because we have heard about your faith in the Messiah Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints, based on the hope laid up for you in heaven. Some time ago you heard about this hope through the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and spreading all over the world, so it has been doing among you from the day you heard it and came to know the grace of God in truth.

Colossians 1:3–6, (ISV)

We are called to thank God for individual lives and for corporate life, for what the Gospel is producing in them (quite apart from asking God to fix, change or help them).

“You are being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, so that you might patiently endure everything with joy and might thank the Father, who has enabled us to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. God has rescued us from the power of darkness and has brought us into the kingdom of the Son whom he loves, through whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Colossians 1:11–14 (ISV)

Thanks can stem from reviewing God’s actions in the style of Psalms that rehearse God’s saving deeds, including specific instances up to the present.

So then, just as you have received the Messiah Jesus the Lord, continue to live dependent on him. For you have been rooted in him and are being built up and strengthened in the faith, just as you were taught, while you continue to be thankful.

Colossians 2:6–7 (ISV)

Let thanksgiving arise out of a personal inventory of life in Christ, roots and growth, responding out of what has been experienced.

Let the peace of the Messiah also rule in your hearts, to which you were called in one body, and be thankful.

Colossians 3:15 (ISV)

The church needs to acknowledge and celebrate that Christ is making community possible. Specific instances of Christ’s personal intervention in our lives are reasons for responses of thanks.

Let the word of the Messiah inhabit you richly with wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and singing to God with thankfulness in your hearts.

Colossians 3:16 (ISV)

With the word of Christ within, voice and heart, mind and spirit engage in a concert of praise and gratitude. Without that inner source, outward expressions lack integrity.

And whatever you do, whether by speech or action, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17 (ISV)

Thanksgiving is not to be separated from faithful living. In addition to individual praise-living, communal worship is the counterpart of the scattered witness.

Devote yourselves to prayer. Be alert and thankful when you pray. At the same time also pray for us—that God would open before us a door for the word so that we may tell the secret about the Messiah, for which I have been imprisoned. May I reveal it as clearly as I should!

Colossians 4:2–4 (ISV)

Thanksgiving in the church is rightly coupled with recognition of privileges and opportunities, with acceptance of God’s help, with acknowledgment of dependence, and with affirmation of those witnessing for Christ.

The True Meaning of Thanksgiving

As people begin to get ready for the secular “Christmas rush” and all that goes with it, we need to remember we have a season of spiritual Thanksgiving as well.

Thanksgiving should be more than a “one day a year” holiday recognition on which we eat too much then settle down for a game of football on TV… or whatever happens to be the Thanksgiving tradition for a particular family. As Christians we should have a spirit of thankfulness on a daily basis throughout the year and if we stop and think about what the Lord has done for us, it should not be difficult to do.

As Paul wrote in Philippians:

Never worry about anything. Instead, in every situation let your petitions be made known to God through prayers and requests, [and] with thanksgiving.

Philippians 4:6 (ISV)

May God add His richest blessings to your life during this Thanksgiving season as you continue to look to Him as the source of all blessings.

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JV Team Goes Pro

 
‎17 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎01:36:34 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Police and rescuers working in Paris’ 10th arrondissement. (Photo:Kenzo Tribouillard/Agence France-Presse)

When you hear of wars and revolutions, never be alarmed, because these sort of things must take place first, but the end won’t come right away.

Luke 21:9 (ISV)

In a case of what can best be called incredibly bad timing. Just hours after U.S. President Barack Obama called the terror group he described as a “JV team” as “contained,” ISIS claimed responsibility for the devastating attacks against the nation of France.

As of this writing, at least 129 people were killed in a series of simultaneous assaults Nov. 13, attacks that were claimed by the terror group ISIS. Several venues were besieged at the same time in the French capital and near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility Saturday for the catastrophic attacks in the French capital, calling them “the first of the storm” and mocking France as a “capital of prostitution and obscenity,” according to statements released in multiple languages on one of the terror group’s encrypted messaging accounts. The remarks came in a communique published in Arabic, English and French on the Islamic State’s account on Telegram, a messaging platform, and then distributed via its supporters on Twitter, according to a transcript provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadist propaganda.

The statement read in part:

Eight brothers, wrapped in explosive belts and armed with machine rifles, targeted sites that were accurately chosen in the heart of the capital of France, including the State of France during the match between the Crusader German and French teams, where the fool of France, François Hollande, was present. Let France and those who walk in its path know that they will remain on the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State.

ISIS said the attacks were in response to airstrikes against militants in Syria and Iraq and insults to Islam’s prophet.

Several ISIS supporters celebrated the terror attacks using the hashtag #ParisIsBurning.
While many of the tweets have been deleted, one said: “God is great and thank God for these lone wolf attacks. At least 100 hostages and countless wounded.”

Among the other tweets (tweets shown as written):

  • #ParisIsBurning.This tweet was sent from the Kuwait port of Mina Abdulla, according to Twitter’s location settings.
  • Oh God, burn Paris as you burned the Muslims in Mali, Africa, Iraq, Syria and Palestine.
  • Some even boasted London, Rome and Washington DC would hit by the next horror attacks.
  • #ParisIsBurning today and Palestine has been burning since years
  • #France and the french ppl didnt seem to think twice about joining the kill campaign led by the US, why should I care when #parisisburning

A suspended Twitter account affiliated with the Islamic State allegedly tweeted about the Paris terrorist attacks before they began and said that Rome, London and possibly Washington, D.C. are next.

French President Francois Hollande speaks at the Elysee Paris Saturday

 

French President Francois Hollande speaks at the Elysee Paris Saturday. (Photo: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP)

French President Francois Hollande said the attacks were organized from abroad “by Daesh,” a pejorative Arabic acronym for ISIL, “with internal help.” He described them as “an act of war.” The attacks were the deadliest to occur in France since the Second World War and the deadliest in the EU since the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

President Hollande has also declared a three-day period of national mourning and convened Parliament for Monday in Versailles. One of the perpetrators of the assault on the Bataclan Concert Hall has been identified as a 29-year-old native-born Frenchmen. (Eighty-nine of the 129 people killed in the multiple attacks were killed in the concert hall.) His father and his brother were placed Saturday night in custody.

Sequence of Events

A Night of Terror – Paris Map

The series of highly coordinated attacks, took place in several locations, involving different methods. At least five locations were targeted by gunmen and suicide bombers. Paris Police said the attacks occurred at the following locations:

First, two suicide bombers self-detonated near the Stade de France, where a soccer match between France and Germany was taking place where President Hollande was in attendance. At the same time, several gunmen armed with Kalashnikov rifles fired on a crowded Cambodian restaurant in a drive-by shooting. Shots were also fired at the Bataclan concert hall, which later turned into a hostage situation.

About 30 minutes later, gunmen also fired on the Rue de Charonne. Attacks by other terrorist cells took place at the Louvre and Les Halles about one hour after the first attacks.

An Expected Outcome

In retrospect, these attacks are not surprising. As with other countries, France has had many individuals travel to Syria to join extremist groups there. As can be seen with the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack, Europe has always been at risk from terror attacks.

While recent arrests suggest that homegrown terror was a significant factor in the assaults, other factors also seem to indicate that recent refugees from Syria may have also played a part in the events in Paris. The discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one suicide attacker seems to show some of the assailants might have entered Europe as part of the huge influx of people fleeing Syria’s civil war.

Greek and Serbian authorities have confirmed the passport was issued to a man who registered as a refugee in October on the island of Leros and applied for asylum in Serbia a few days later.

But, surprisingly, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has urged EU countries to take in more refugees, said there was no need for a complete look at of the bloc’s policies. “Those who organized, who perpetrated the attacks are the very same people who the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite,” he said.

This attitude flies in the face of the citizens of the host countries who have to absorb the almost 700,000 asylum seekers from Syria streaming into Europe since 2011.

The announcement of a timetable for Syrian peace talks (under Russian auspices) by U.S. Secretary of State Kerry on the heels of the Paris attacks also lend credence to the idea that peace in Syria may also lead to a dampening of further violence in Europe by slowing down the refugees coming into Europe who also give cover for ISIS terrorists coming in as well.

Also while addressing his nation, French President Hollande said that the country will close off its borders. The French government will also begin locking down the city, protecting civilians and capturing the attackers. France will also close down its transportation system and borders to prevent any of the perpetrators from escaping the country. Notably, Hollande has officially declared a state of emergency.

By Sunday, Belgian officials said they had arrested seven people in Brussels. But one of the people who had hired the cars slipped escaped arrest. He was pulled over on the French-Belgian border Saturday, but later released. He is being hunted by French and Belgium police as well as Interpol. Police named the man they were seeking as Salah Abdeslam, saying the 26-year-old was “dangerous.” Although he was born in Brussels, French authorities said he was a French national.

The Aftermath

During his address to the nation, President Hollande vowed:

“We will lead the fight and we will be ruthless, and we had to be here among the people who were subject to these atrocities because when the terrorists are capable of doing such acts they must know that they will face a France very determined — a France united.”

The attacks have political and military consequences. They come five days before France’s only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is due to set sail for the Persian Gulf for actions against ISIS. The Islamic State taking credit for the attacks will most likely deepen France’s involvement in Syrian operations at a time when the world seems to be united in destroying this terror group.

Some wonder how serious Paris is about their military commitment in the region. France has long been the butt of frequent jokes about its military prowess, or lack of it. People seem to forget that it was France that gave the world Napoleon, the French Foreign Legion, not to mention the French Underground during the Second World War. They also need to recall the Frankish leader Charles Martel who defeated a massive invading Islamic army led by Emir Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi Abd al Rahman, near the City of Tours, France in 732 A.D. This battle stopped the northward advance of Islam from the Iberian Peninsula, halting the Islamic conquests, and preserved Christianity in Europe, during a period when Islam was overrunning the remains of the old Roman and Persian Empires.

French Jet Fighters Prepare to Attack ISIS in Syria

 

French Jet Fighters Prepare to Attack ISIS in Syria. (Reuters)

The immediate response from Paris was sending French warplanes to bomb Islamic State positions in Syria as police in Europe widened their investigations into the attacks. A dozen warplanes dropped 20 bombs on ISIS targets in the Islamists’ stronghold of Raqqa, signaling the French government’s resolve in its fight against the group.
The strike destroyed an ISIS command post, jihadist recruitment center, a munitions depot and a “terrorist” training camp, according to defense ministry sources.

From a political perspective, the attacks are a reminder of France’s longstanding ethnic frictions after several months in which the focus has been on neighboring Germany. High numbers of migrants have been entering Germany from the east and south, with very few moving on to France. As a result, France has kept a relatively low profile in the attempts to stem the flow of migrants. Nevertheless, the events in Paris can be expected to strengthen the argument the groups that have been calling for a halt of the flow of immigrants and the closing of borders in countries such as Germany, Sweden and much of Central and Eastern Europe.

Also, right-wing politicians, such as Marine Le Pen and her National Front party could see their popularity rise. Le Pen kept a low profile after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January and still experienced an increase in her party’s popularity because of its longstanding anti-immigration message. Hollande also had a brief uptick in popularity after the Charlie Hebdo attack because of his reaction to the events, but a repeat of this trend is not expected because people will now question whether the anti-terrorism measures that were approved this year worked. The leader of the center-right Republicans Party, Nicolas Sarkozy, also has a history of taking a strong stance on security issues; he was campaigning on the subject only last week. He is expected to battle the milder Alain Juppe for his party’s nomination in the 2017 elections, and voters may swing to his side in the wake of the attacks.

End of the Beginning?

In a speech in 1942, Winston Churchill said that a recent British victory against the Nazis in North Africa was “not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Might the attacks in Paris so congeal world opinion against ISIS that the Western powers along with Russia and Saudi Arabia combine against ISIS and eventually destroy the organization?

Recently, coalition forces have scored two important tactical victories against the Islamic State. The first are the reports of the assassination of “Jihadi John” the notorious British terrorist, who starred in many of ISIS’ beheading videos. U.S. officials now say they are “reasonably certain” that he was killed in a drone strike. The second tactical victory against ISIS will likely have far greater significance; it is the seizure of the town of Sinjar in Iraq by Kurdish forces. Sinjar sits along the road that connects Raqqa with ISIS’ de facto capital in Iraq, the City of Mosul. The seizure of Sinjar will help put pressure on ISIS in both Mosul and Raqqa as ISIS forces in these cities can no longer easily reinforce each other.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, ISIS has lost significant territory in northern Syria, so that it now controls only some 60 miles of the Syrian-Turkish border, down from the 600 miles of border that the group once controlled. Coalition forces’ gains against ISIS have significantly hurt the ability of the group to move foreign fighters through Turkey into Syria, which is how most foreign fighters travel to reach the group. Also, some 40 countries have also introduced new laws to prevent the recruitment of fighters to ISIS or have launched criminal investigations of militants who have joined the group. These developments are surely having some effect on ISIS’ ability to recruit foreign fighters to its ranks.

Even if these developments do mark “the end of the beginning,” the campaign to wrest from ISIS control Raqqa and Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, as well as much of Anbar province—which comprises about one-third of the land mass of Iraq—is still in the future.

Even if ISIS is vanquished, another evil will take its place. It will join the countless other evil entities that inhabit the earth.

The Bible tells us that things will not get better before Christ returns. In fact, they will get exponentially worse.

As Chuck Missler notes in his book, Behold a Red Horse:

People around the globe hope that the world’s going to keep getting better. They look forward to “peace for our time” but will be as disappointed as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after Hitler invaded Poland. Jesus tells us clearly that things will get progressively worse:

You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See to it that you are not alarmed. These things must take place, but the end hasn’t come yet, because nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. But all these things are only the beginning of the birth pains. Matthew 24:6–8, (ISV)

That’s the reality with which we’re confronted. All attempts at world peace have failed. International bodies like the United Nations and its forerunner, the League of Nations, have proved wholly inadequate to handle international criminals, and wars continue to rage in hot spots across the planet. What’s more, we are told that these are merely the beginning of the birth pangs. Man expects to win the battle against disease, famine and hardship. No. There will be continued wars, and the next two horses — Famine and Death — are still on the horizon. In fact, Jesus tells us that unless the time was cut short, no flesh on earth would survive the things that must soon come to pass.

We will continue to hear of “wars and rumors of wars” for some time to come.

Maranatha

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Letter to a Veteran

 
‎09 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:50:21 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

We have faith that as He does all His sacred children, the Lord will bless you and keep you, the Lord will make His face to shine upon you and give you peace, now and forevermore.

President Ronald Wilson Reagan in remarks given November 11, 1988, at the Veteran’s Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Veteran’s Day in America

Americans celebrate Veterans Day every year on Nov. 11 to honor those who have served in the armed forces and fought to protect our way of life. Today is filled with commemorative events, parades and, as is the custom in an ever increasing commercial world, some shopping deals across the country.

There is, however, a historical significance behind why Veterans Day is celebrated on November 11. The Allied nations and Germany signed an armistice, or a temporary halt in hostilities during World War I, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Nov. 11, 1918.

President Woodrow Wilson declared Nov. 11, 1919, the first Armistice Day in the U.S., and the name was changed to Veterans Day June 1, 1954, to honor veterans of all wars.

However, the U.S. is but one of many countries with armed forces and the desire to honor them.

United Kingdom and the Commonwealth

The United Kingdom has some of the more elaborate celebrations to honor those who have fought for their country. From late October up to Armistice Day Nov. 11, the Royal British Legion distributes 40 million poppies that people wear to commemorate those who have served in the armed forces. The celebrations are split into two days. The first is Remembrance Day, which takes place on the second Sunday of November each year. It is a day to recognize those who have lost their lives protecting the U.K. It’s basically the U.K. version of Memorial Day. The U.K. also celebrates Armistice Day on Nov. 11 with a two-minute moment of silence observed at the 11th hour throughout the country.

Armistice Day or Remembrance Day, as it is called in some places, is observed throughout many of the 52 other member countries of the Commonwealth, a political association of mostly former territories of the British Empire. These include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka, just to name a few. Like the U.K., these countries also incorporate the poppy into their celebrations.

France

France also celebrates Armistice Day on Nov. 11 and last year it was an even more special occasion. President Francois Hollande opened the new international memorial of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette in Ablain Saint Nazaire northwest of Arras called the “Ring of Remembrance.” It is a huge, bronzed stainless steel, elliptical monument that includes the names of the nearly 580,000 men who died in northern France during World War I. President Hollande was joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron to officially open the memorial.

Belgium

The Belgians is also host to one of the biggest Armistice Day ceremonies. Every year since 1928, the country has put on the Last Post Ceremony. The Last Post is the name of a bugle call played in the British Army and other armies to mark the end of the day. Now the day is used to remember fallen soldiers. The Last Post Ceremony takes place at Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium, and it also includes a release of red poppies from the roof of Menin Gate.

To the Veterans

To all these veterans we owe a debt of gratitude.

When their country called, they answered. While time goes by and many people seem to go on with life with little or no regard for the sacrifices of their veterans, there are many that still hold them in high esteem.

We know that we live in a world filled with “wars and rumors of wars” as the Bible shows would be the case in the last days before the return of Jesus Christ. We also know that true lasting peace will only be known when Jesus Christ establishes His millennial reign, but until then to experience peace, some have to “make the peace” through standing up to enemies of what is good and right around the world.

He will judge between the nations, and will render verdicts for the benefit of many. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations will not raise swords against nations, and they will not learn warfare anymore.

Isaiah 2:4 (ISV)

While these people served, mothers continued to kiss their children goodbye as they boarded the school bus, and as they served, fathers continued to go to their boys baseball games and girls band recitals. While they served, workers continued to go to work and couples in love continued to get married on Saturdays. While they served, we continued to gather in freedom to worship the God we love.

We wish to take this time to thank all of those who served and continue to serve for all they have done, and may God continue to richly bless you and all you set your heart to do.

No one shows greater love than when he lays down his life for his friends.

John 15:13 (ISV)

 

Controlling Commerce

 
‎02 ‎November ‎2015, ‏‎11:48:47 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

The second beast forces all people—important and unimportant, rich and poor, free and slaves—to be marked on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that no one may buy or sell unless he has the mark, which is the beast’s name or the number of its name.

Revelation 13:16–17 (ISV)

This newsletter has been warning about a cashless society for some time, and now the theory is looking more like a reality. Just last month, Sweden announced it is well on its way to becoming the world’s first cashless society. They are getting ready to start a payment system called the Swish.

“Cash is still an important means of payment in many countries’ markets, but that no longer applies here in Sweden. Our use of cash is small, and it’s decreasing rapidly,” according to Niklas Arvidsson from Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Why are countries working so hard to develop a cashless society?

A Matter of Control

The reason can be summed up in one word: Control.

When money is issued, it is issued by central authorities, but once it’s in our hands, we are free to use it as we see fit. But that leaves a lot of things in the economy outside the control of the government and the central banks. So as things start unraveling, they want to take that control we have with cash away. They will want to be able to control every aspect of money — not just the issuance of money and credit, but limiting the ways we can transact business with that money.

The official explanation for why they want to restrict cash or even eliminate it is to better plan a national economy. Keynesian economists believe cash is a useless relic of the past and has outlived its usefulness. They also say eliminating cash is “for our own good” since cash is the primary vehicle of exchange used by drug dealers and terrorists. If they can eliminate cash, they can eliminate these people’s source of funding. A corollary to this is if you’re using cash, especially in large amounts, you must be a) a terrorist or b) a drug dealer. (This was the reason for the push behind civil forfeiture, which is the subject of a future article.) What is left unsaid is going electronic for money transfers would allow a government to better track individuals and their spending habits.

Countries around the world have warmed to this idea and have implemented restrictions on cash transactions (called capital controls) over the past few years. Italy, for example, made cash transactions over 1,000 euros illegal. That is a country that’s heavily into cash, just for cultural reasons. Approximately 7.5 million Italians are not in the banking system at all.

Switzerland has proposed banning cash payments in excess of 100,000 francs. Russia banned cash transactions over 10,000 euros (700,000 rubles). Spain banned cash transactions over 2,500 euros.

This is not a right-wing conspiracy theory. This is actually taking place.

These countries are implementing these measures not only for the reasons listed above, but also to try to keep their struggling economies going. One tool they are using that depends on electronic spending is negative interest rates.

Negative interest rates, means it costs you to keep cash in your bank. The bank can simply charges you a fee for holding cash. In other words, instead of paying you 2 percent interest that you would earn, it takes a 2 percent fee away from you every month, and this puts pressure on anybody with cash to just go ahead and spend it now. This is what the authorities want, because they fear a recession, which could lead to deflation and the end of their credit bubble. So they want anybody with any kind of cash to spend it now, but they want us to spend it through official channels where it can be taxed.

Negative interest rates are one tool that central governments have to influence us to spend the money we have, rather than save it and potentially invest it in productive resources. When a person holds cash, they can either save it to invest it or spend it.

That’s the other part of pushing you into the banking system. If there is no cash, every transaction you conduct will be visible to the government. It also can be taxed. In the Keynesian School of Economics, developed by John Maynard Keynes, cutting interest rates always spurs growth because it spurs credit activity and lending and entrepreneurial activity. By that line of reasoning, negative interest rates would be even better than positive ones.

Supposedly, Keynes solved the Great Depression by his insight that when people are nervous about the economy, then they hoard their money. And that this is a self-fulfilling cycle. Where the more we hoard our cash, because we’re concerned about the financial circumstances that we find ourselves in, then spending goes down, and the economy spirals down, because nobody’s spending, and so people can’t hire more employees. So his solution was to force everybody into spending all the money they had on hand, and that would create a surge on spending, which would then boost the economy out of its recession. That Keynesian thinking is still extremely influential, globally. So the central authorities’ idea is if they can keep us from hoarding our cash, the economy will boom, and everybody will be happy.

In today’s society with high deficits and high inflation, a government’s fiscal policy is eroding one’s purchasing power month after month. So the incentive is to spend immediately, because if you save, the value of what you save is eroded over time, especially if you are charged for keeping the money in the bank (that’s the negative interest rate.) So this will force you to go out and spend. That’s what they want to do, and they know if people have cash as an option and they see t banks are doing this to them, they’d j take the money out of the banks. But if there is no cash, you can’t do that.

A system like Sweden’s would look like a banking system with checking accounts but no cash. You would live off your ATM card. Your earnings would be transferred automatically to a bank account of some kind, which you then spend using your credit card or ATM card, your debit card. That is the ideal system for the authorities, because they can try to force you to spend money by negative interest rates on the money you have.

They can also access that cash in extreme circumstances with bail-ins. In other words, when the authorities say the bank has failed, they could take the depositors’ money to make the bank whole. That has been the blueprint that occurred in Cyprus and elsewhere. So they start that process as another reason why they want people to be banked, is so they can take people’s cash, their assets and cover the bank’s losses.

Financial Privacy

Cash also gives you financial privacy, but money in the bank does not, because they can follow every single transaction.

Even if one attributes the war on cash to the best intentions, there are unintended consequences to this. Even if someone believes that the war on cash is a good way to fight money laundering, drug lords and terrorism, the unintended consequences are incredibly large in terms of civil liberties. A cashless economy introduces a whole level of control that there’s not only snooping, but there’s easy access for governments to take one’s money under one pretext or another.

Academia Joining In

Economists have joined in called for a cashless society.

The idea first gained traction during the 2008, 2009 financial meltdown. They are saying we could have overcome that by simply imposing a 5 percent fee on all cash immediately. In other words, forcing everyone that has two nickels to put together to spend it, or else they’re going to lose 5 percent. This kind of draconian action of forcing people to spend whatever cash they might have has another very negative effect. It would take away one’s ability to plan long-term and make productive investments. If one has to spend every cent they have constantly before it’s eroded by negative interest rates or bail-ins, then one can’t build up any productive assets.

A cashless society makes for a perfect storm-type of policy, when you look at all the potential effects. They’re financial, they involve privacy and they involve liberties. Another aspect of all this involves fractional reserve banking.

Fractional Reserve Banking

Fractional reserve banking is a system in which the banks want to lend more money than they have in reserve. It’s tricky to do in a free market, because people will want their money and sooner or later you’ll have problems – a run on the bank. So what bankers want is a system like they have now, where there is a central bank (Federal Reserve) that more or less coordinates the process of money creation, so the various redemption claims cancel each other out and the system works fairly well. However, if ones uses cash, and it is pulled out of the bank, the bank now has a smaller base of money to use to create additional money. The less money it has, the less additional money it can create out of thin air in the form of loans.

Today in the United States, for example, when a bank takes in a dollar of deposits they can create $19 in new money by issuing loans. The power to create money is concentrated in the few mostly too-big-to-fail banks. So cash removes the deposits that they need to leverage into vast new amounts of debt, which, of course collects interest.

A Tipping Point

The world economy is coming to a tipping point and it has started in the EU. The EU initiated the bail-ins, like that happened in Cyprus. They have started with very large sums at first. In other words, we’re going to take money from rich people who don’t “deserve” whatever money they have, and the average person will say, “Oh, well, they’re only taking accounts above $100,000, so that’s OK; it’s just rich people.” Then they move it down to $50,000 and $20,000, and that’s the pattern.

Governments are looking for more sources of cash to feed their money train. Governments are looking at bank deposits and they are also looking at private retirement accounts. These accounts are the largest source of unencumbered cash available today and there are several legislators wanting to seize these funds in the name of “keeping them safe.” In today’s time it would be prudent to seek some professional financial advice to find ways of protecting your assets from this kind of government control.

We know in the end times, the beast will require people to receive a mark with either his name or number, which is the famed “6–6–6.” No one will be able to buy or sell without this mark.

While having a debit card or going cashless is not taking the mark of the beast (the number here in question is the number of the beast and signifies an allegiance with him,) This move toward a cashless society will make controlling commerce all the easier.

Related Articles

 

A New Party for Israel

 
‎26 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎11:45:44 PM | Avi LipkinGo to full article
(Note: Dennis Avi Lipkin, alias Victor Mordecai, was born in Flushing, New York, grew up in the Greater New York City area and moved to Israel at age 19 in August 1968. Avi has appeared in over 1,000 churches and synagogues in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, UK, Norway, Finland, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece as well as in Israel. Avi has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV shows worldwide. He has spoken at several Koinonia Institute Strategic Perspective’s Conferences.)

Therefore, the promise is based on faith, so that it may be a matter of grace and may be guaranteed for all of Abraham’s descendants—not only for those who were given the Law, but also for those who share the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

— Romans 4:16 (ISV)

The idea for a Judeo-Christian political party in Israel’s political system came to me (I believe from God) at a David Allen Lewis Eschatology conference in March 1998 in Springfield, Missouri.

After seeing and witnessing the massive influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union during the period after its collapse in 1989, I realized that 30 percent of the 1 million new immigrants were not considered Jewish by the rabbinic authorities. They were allowed to immigrate to Israel either because they were married to Jews or had a close relative who was Jewish such as one or more Jewish grandparents.

Since all these people now were Israeli citizens, paid taxes, voted, served in the Israel Defense Forces and were part of nuclear Jewish families; I remembered my early days in American schools where I was taught the famous maxim: “No taxation without representation.”

Since the Arabic speaking Christian population in Israel remains steady at 2 percent of the population, and the emigrants from the former Soviet Union now total 6 percent Christian and 6 percent Jewish married/related to Christians, I saw a constituency of 14 percent not represented in our political system in Jerusalem. Also, there are no Bible-believing Christians represented at all in our Knesset.

My idea is that the candidate list will give Christians representatives to the Knesset a 50 percent representation. Since I am the leader and founder of this party, I will be #1. A Christian will be #2. A Jew will be #3 and a Christian #4. And so forth and so on. Every 45,000 votes gets the next man or woman on the list into the Knesset.

So in 2005, I hired the services of Advocate Calev Myers in Jerusalem to help put together a petition to the Knesset to be recognized as a legal entity — a political party that would give representation to those new and old-timer citizens who were not represented.

The party is now at 94 signatures out of the 100 needed (really 120 needed after signatures of deceased and other disqualified signatures are discounted). We expect to complete this process by early November. We also need to pay $36,000 to cover the lawyer’s expenses and the Knesset bond every party must post. We are now at $26,000.00 and hope to raise the remaining $10,000 by early November.

We are also allowed to raise funds from outside Israel until 45 days after the petition and $36,000 payment have been submitted. So if I submit this on Nov. 7, I have until Dec. 21 to raise the millions of dollars necessary for a real operating budget. This would include staff salaries, vehicles, offices, accountants, lawyers, insurance but most important of all: radio, TV and newspaper advertisements. All these things are necessary to help us get elected to the Knesset in the upcoming elections which could take place at any time because of Israel’s fragmented proportional representation system. (This system has a tendency to bring down governments in less time than the 4 1/2 years government terms should last.)

After the 45-day window closes, we can only raise monies from Israeli voters within Israel. If we don’t have these funds, I must continue writing books, working as a volunteer and paying out of my own pocket which is what I have been doing for the last 10 years.

Besides the 14 percent constituency of Jews and Christians that we already have and I believe could vote for our party, I am expecting a very serious wave of new immigration of Jews and their Christian spouses and relatives. These people would come from the West due to those Muslims fleeing the Middle East’s instability and civil war. For many Muslims it is sacrosanct to kill Jews Saturday and Christians Sunday and this will be seen increasingly in the U.S. and other Western countries very soon as the millions of Muslims pour into the U.S. and other Western countries.

I cover this in my seven books as well as CD’s and DVD’s produced by Koinonia House over the last 15 years.

So I believe that a Judeo-Christian Western Civilization and Democracy Party such as the one I am creating could become the biggest political party in Israel after five to ten million Western immigrants move to Israel and Israel’s population grows from 6 1/2 million Jews and Christians to 16 1/2 million.

It’s now only a matter of prophecy being fulfilled of the ingathering of God’s people to the Holy Land; it is a clear writing on the wall for all those who have eyes to see. Together, Jews and Christians will receive the Messiah on the Mount of Olives in the near future.

Further Reading

 

Ten Years Later: The Gaza Pullout Was a Mistake

 
‎26 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎11:42:52 PM | Aviel SchneiderGo to full article
(Ed Note: This is a reprint of an excellent article from Israel Today Magazine. Aviel Schneider is Editor-In-Chief of Israel Today)

Before the dismantling of 21 Jewish settlements and the evacuation of 8,000 Jewish residents of Gaza, Israeli leaders assured the public that the “disengagement” would improve security and “ease friction” with the Palestinian s. “I want you to understand that Ashkelon will not become a front line, nor will any other town in the South,” said then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Sharon, who faced harsh opposition in his own right-wing Likud party, had the full backing of the dovish Labor Party and others on the Israeli left as well as some security hawks:

Shimon Peres: “The evacuation of the Gaza Strip will save Jewish lives.”

Meir Sheetrit: “There are claims that the pullout is going to create a threat to towns in the South. I have never heard anything more absurd.”

Isaac Herzog: “The disengagement is a historic move to save Israel from the Gaza quagmire.”

Yair Lapid: “The Gaza pullout is our only chance for a normal life.”

Former General Shaul Mofaz: “The pullout will improve security for Israeli citizens and ease the burden on the army.”

Peace Now: “The evacuation of the settlements is a choice for peace.”

180 former generals and senior intelligence officials: “The disengagement serves Israel’s security interests.”

On the 10th anniversary, the withdrawal was a hot topic in the Israeli media—and a different consensus emerged.

“The pullout was a mistake,” said Herzog, who is now the leader of the Labor Party. “Back then we told the settlers: ‘We will disengage from 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and peace will come. Then we will turn this land into a Hong Kong in the Middle East.’ The truth is, this hope is upside down and we have not achieved this vision.”

Two senior officers in charge of the disengagement have now done an about face: Former general Gershon Hacohen said, “I wish there would have been no evacuation,” while former police commander Uri Bar-Lev declared that “it was nothing more than a mistake.”

However, others insist that 8,000 Jews living among 1.5 million Palestinians was untenable. “It was simply impossible to remain in the Gaza Strip,” said former General Amram Mitzna. “We have only forgotten how bad things were before the pullout.”

Every Month a Rocket

In the year since the “cease-fire” was declared at the end of August 2014, 12 Palestinian rockets from Gaza were fired across the border. Israel responded with 14 airstrikes on terror targets in the Strip.

Israel holds the Hamas regime responsible, even though the Islamic terrorist group is not behind every rocket attack. In fact, Palestinians loyal to ISIS have fired rockets in an attempt to bring Israeli retaliation on the rival Hamas, which is seen as too “moderate.”

In the 12 months after the first Gaza war (Operation Cast Lead in 2008), 217 rockets were fired at Israel despite a cease-fire. In the 12 months after the second Gaza war (Pillar of Defense, 2012) there were 36 rockets. Hamas is becoming more careful after each war with regard to cross-border attacks, a sign that Israel’s strategy of deterrence is working.

However, people in Israeli towns and kibbutzim along the Gaza border don’t accept that. They say that as long as rockets are crashing into their communities and endangering their lives, deterrence does not exist.

In addition, residents have been alarmed by the sound of digging underground, and the army confirms that Hamas is rebuilding its terror tunnels. The group has even boasted about it, showing the construction on videos posted on YouTube.

Donations Do Not Reach Gaza

On the Palestinian side, not much has changed in the last 12 months. Gaza is still largely in ruins. Some 18,000 homes have been destroyed, and more than 100,000 Palestinians do not have a proper roof over their heads. Of $3.5 billion promised to Gaza by the international community, only $340 million have arrived.

Therefore, resentment is growing. For instance, Gaza corn merchant Mohammed Abu Asi tried to commit suicide because of despair over harassment by Hamas. This sparked a lot of criticism in Gaza and even protests against the government.

According to Palestinian sources, only 12 percent of those in need have received permits to rebuild their houses. These documents are issued by a joint commission of the U.N., the Palestinian Authority and Israel to insure that cement is used for civilian purposes and not for the reconstruction of tunnels.

The commission reported that only 720 Palestinian families, or 4 percent, were able to buy cement for the construction of their homes. At the same time, 37,000 tons of cement have been diverted by Hamas for rebuilding its tunnel network.

Even Hamas admits that Israel is not to blame for the delays.

“Israel has done what it promised, to deliver cement to us,’’ Hamas Construction Minister Mufid Al-Husayneh said on Palestinian radio.”Israel allowed 2,000 Palestinians to rebuild houses in the Gaza Strip with supplied cement. But the money promised by the international community is still missing. Qatar has only transferred $6 million so far, even though they promised us $so million for l,000 houses. Kuwait promised $75 million but nothing has arrived … Of 115 planned reconstruction projects like schools, hospitals and streets, only 15 were completed so far.”

The main reason why international donors have not transferred the pledged money for reconstruction is the rivalry between the Hamas regime in Gaza and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The money is supposed to be funneled via the PA, but Hamas sees that as a challenge to its sovereignty.

The impoverished and suffering Palestinian civilians of Gaza are caught in the middle of this power struggle. But this impasse is not in Israel’s interests. Israeli generals have urged the government to speed up reconstruction so that the Palestinians have something to lose. The fear is that continued inertia could spark yet another war.

The scenes of mass destruction in Gaza give the false impression that Israel wants to maintain the status quo, and the international media are eager to promote that narrative. It is less known that donor nations do not trust the corrupt Palestinian governments in Gaza and Ramallah, and those rival regimes do not trust each other. Therefore, they are the ones who are keeping Gaza in ruins.

Further Reading

 

A New Wave of Terror

 
‎19 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎11:41:31 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Pray for peace for Jerusalem: “May those who love you be at peace! May peace be within your ramparts, and prosperity within your fortresses.” For the sake of my relatives and friends I will now say, “May there be peace within you.” For the sake of the Temple of the LORD our God, I will seek your welfare.

Psalm 122:6–9 (ISV)

A new wave of violence erupted across Israel in recent weeks. Violence ramped up in Jerusalem this week after two Israelis were stabbed to death by a Palestinian; that spurred further violence and other stabbings. In the past month, eight Israelis died in 30 attacks involving knives and other weapons, with many more being wounded. Palestinian officials have said more than 30 Palestinians have been killed in the past month. More than 1,100 have been injured, mostly in fighting with Israeli forces.

Why Now?

What happened? Why did the violence erupt now?

What happened was nothing happened. For almost 10 years, Judea and Samaria were amazingly quiet. For over four years the Arab chaos did not penetrate the Promised Land. Israel experienced unprecedented prosperity. The West Bank experienced relative prosperity.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not launch a bold plan to divide the land. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas did not adopt the Barak plan or the Olmert plan or the Clinton plan.

Some observers are tying the recent spate of violence with the 10 year anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Where Israel was trying to trade land for peace, some jihadists want more land and less peace.

Others believe that the recent attacks can be traced back to one issue – a controversy over a small but important area in Jerusalem’s Old City: the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third-holiest site in Islam. The mosque sits near the Dome of the Rock where Muslims believe Muhammad rose to heaven.

Both landmarks sit on the Temple Mount in the Muslim quarter of the Old City; however, the Temple Mount is also the holiest place in Judaism. Control of the site is ultimately up to the government of Israel, a non-Muslim state, and so Palestinians fear that Israel might limit their access to it, or even destroy it.

Their fear culminated Oct. 4, when two Palestinians stabbed to death five Israelis near the site, leaving two Israelis dead. This incident was followed by a series of stabbings and other attacks. Because of those later attacks, Israel restricted access to the Old City for 48 hours.

Increasingly in recent years, Jewish activists have demanded greater access to the Temple Mount and others have called for rights of Jews to pray there.

This has sparked widespread concerns among Palestinians that the status quo is being violated, and will end in the division of the Temple Mount.

Over the past few years, tensions have coincided with the Jewish High Holy Days in the autumn. This year, the holiday coincided with the Muslim’s Eid-al-Adha holiday and tensions rose even higher.

IDF Response

Six companies of Israeli soldiers were deployed in Jerusalem Oct. 14 to help police secure the city in light of a recent escalation in violence. Seven Israelis and at least 30 Palestinians have died in two weeks of street attacks and subsequent crackdowns, raising regional concerns of a third Palestinian intifada. The Israeli Cabinet passed a series of measures overnight Oct. 13 aiming to prevent further street attacks, including giving police authority to seal off Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and demolish the homes of those carrying out the attacks. The Knesset also approved a call-up of 1,400 reservists in the Border Police. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Oct. 13 that he plans to travel to the Middle East to calm the violence.

Fire at Joseph’s Tomb

Palestinians set fire to a Jewish holy shrine in the West Bank Friday morning, and clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli military flared throughout the day after the militant Islamist group Hamas called for a “day of rage.”

The blaze at the Tomb of the Prophet Joseph, on the outskirts of the northern West Bank city of Nablus, was brought under control by Palestinian ­forces, who also dispersed hundreds of protesters. There were no reports of injuries, but the Israeli military said the structure was seriously damaged.

The incident underscored the runaway tensions across Israel and the West Bank amid a series of attacks and clashes­ that have claimed lives on both sides and brought the Israeli army into residential areas in Israel for the first time in more than a decade.

In an unusual move, Mahmoud Abbas denounced the attack as “irresponsible.” He said he would appoint a committee to investigate the incident, local media reported.

Palestinians Set Fire to a Jewish Holy Shrine

Israeli leaders have accused Abbas of failing to intervene in the latest unrest — which was triggered by confrontations at another holy site, Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The site is considered holy by Muslims, who refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and by Jews, who call it the Temple Mount.

The tomb, which has been the site of clashes in the past, is often visited by Jewish pilgrims escorted by the Israeli military. The site is patrolled by Palestinian security services, but some Israelis are now calling for Israeli soldiers to be present, too.

“The burning and desecration of Joseph’s Tomb last night is a blatant violation and contradiction of the basic value of freedom of worship. The IDF will take all measures to bring the perpetrators of this despicable act to justice, restore the site to its earlier condition and make sure that the freedom of worship returns to Joseph’s Tomb,” IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement Friday morning.

White House Calls for Order

At a White House news conference, President Obama said his administration was “concerned about the outbreak of violence” and said people in Israel should have a basic expectation of law and order. But he also pointed a finger at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

We also believe that it’s important for both, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli elected officials and President Abbas and other people in positions of power, to try to tamp down rhetoric that may feed violence or anger or misunderstanding and try to get all people in Israel and in the West Bank to recognize that this kind of random violence is not going to result in anything other than more hardship and more insecurity.

(It is interesting that despite the calls for jihad and the images of rioters waving Palestinian and jihadi flags, the Obama administration is branding what is going on in Israel as “random violence.” It is strangely reminiscent of President Obama calling the jihad at Fort Hood that resulted in the deaths of 13 Americans in Texas “workplace violence.”)

Israel has bolstered its troop presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank in the wake of the violence. As in previous weeks, only women, of all ages, and men over the age of 40 may enter the Temple Mount for Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

No End in Sight

Senior Israeli defense officials admit that even if a way is found to stop the knife attacks or if they stop of their own accord, there isn’t much hope that the security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which had held up well over the past seven to eight years, will ever return to what it was. The current outburst is taking place because the PA’s restraining mechanisms have eroded, and now the violence is eroding what’s left of them.

Further Reading

 

China’s Schindler

 
‎19 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎11:39:47 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Righteous Gentiles

In Jerusalem, there is a museum dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Nazis. It is the world’s largest repository of information on the Holocaust. The main building contains an enormous archive of artifacts, maps, diaries, personal belongings, firsthand testimonies, and other information on World War II, displayed chronologically. Video monitors show survivors telling their miraculous stories. Outside of the museum there is the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations. It pays tribute to Righteous Gentiles. The term originates with the concept of “righteous gentiles,” a term used in rabbinical Judaism to refer to non-Jews, as ger toshav and ger tzedek, who abide by the Seven Laws of Noah.

People such as Oskar Schindler, Nicholas Winton and Raoul Wallenberg are well known for their exploits. Most are not. As of Jan. 1, 2015 there are 25,685 individuals designated with this honor. Poland has the highest number of individuals so honored with 6,532, Netherlands has 5,413 people recognized. France is third with 3,853. On and on the list goes with the numbers dwindling. Toward the bottom of the list comes one of the most populous nations on earth. They are remarkable for the incredibly small number of individuals recognized.

China has a grand total of two.

One of those two people is the subject of this story.

Dr. Ho Feng-Shan

Dr. Ho Feng-Shan was Consul-General of China to Austria from 1938 to 1940 Ho had probably never met or seen a Jew before he arrived in Vienna. His journey from China, to Austria, to becoming one of the Righteous Gentiles is both a testament to the greatness of God and how, through his strength, ordinary men can do extraordinary things.

Ho Feng-Shan was never recognized for this in his lifetime by neither the Republic of China nor Chinese Communist Party, but Israel honored him as Righteous posthumously in 2001.

Humble Beginnings

Dr. Ho was born in the Hunan province of China in 1901. When Ho’s parents died, Norwegian Lutheran missionaries took him in and gave him an education at their school.

Ho proved a bright and hardworking student. He later attended Yale University’s extension college in China and then traveled to Germany to earn a doctorate in political economy in Munich.

Then came a career in China’s diplomatic corps. He was stationed in Vienna and became a popular speaker on the culture and customs of China among the city’s elites.

Annexation

In March, 1938, Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany and that country’s embassy became a consulate. Ho then became Consul General in Vienna, answering to the Chinese ambassador in Berlin.

The Nazis began intense persecution of the more than 185,000 Austrian Jews, arresting many and sending them to concentration camps. Ho, watching this in horror, became convinced that he had to do something to help them. He later wrote that he “secretly kept in close contact” with American religious groups that were attempting to rescue them.

Visas by the Thousands

One tool Ho had at his disposal was his ability to issue visas. At that time the Nazis allowed Jews to leave Austria only if another country were willing to accept them. But tragically, most countries, fearing the wrath of German leaders, refused to do so. China, however, allowed Ho to issue visas to those wishing to travel to Shanghai. In his article on Ho in “Christians Who Changed Their World,” Dr. Glenn Sunshine explains, “the real purpose of these visas was not so much to allow Jews into Shanghai, but to get them out of Austria.”

Word quickly spread through Vienna’s large Jewish community that China’s consulate would give them visas out of the country. Ho feverishly issued visa after visa, often for large families.

Many of those helped by Ho did indeed reach Shanghai, either by boat from Italy or overland via the Soviet Union. Many others made use of their visas to reach alternate destinations, including Palestine, the Philippines, and elsewhere, such as the parents of Secretary-General of the World Jewish Congress and Vice Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Dr. Israel Singer, who traveled to Cuba.

Eric Goldstaub, who had immigrated to Canada, related how, in July 1938, he received Chinese visas for his entire family after spending “days, weeks, and months visiting one foreign consulate or embassy after the other trying to obtain visas for [himself, his] parents and [their] near relatives, numbering some 20 people.”

Doing this life-saving work was not without risk. Once, Ho “faced down an armed Gestapo officer to protect a Jewish family,” Sunshine writes. Ho also lived in constant fear that, his diplomatic standing notwithstanding, the Gestapo might put a permanent end to his activity.

Ho also refused to abide by the instructions of his superior, the Chinese ambassador in Berlin, Chen Jie. Chen Jie, hoping to ingratiate himself with the Nazi authorities and cement closer ties between China and Germany, had forbidden Ho to issue visas on such a large scale, estimated to run into the hundreds, perhaps even thousands.

By the time Ho was recalled to China in May of 1940, he had issued more than 4,000 visas.

After a long diplomatic career, Ho retired in 1973. Many years later, Ho and his family moved to San Francisco, where Ho spent his remaining years working on behalf of his church and community, and writing his memoirs. Dr. Ho died in 1997, at the age of 96.

Why Would He Do It?

Whenever someone risks his life, his career, or his safety for others, it’s natural to ask, “Why? Why did he do it when so many others would not?” Dr. Ho’s answer was, “I thought it only natural to feel compassion and to want to help. From the standpoint of humanity that is the way it should be.”

Ho’s pastor, the Rev. Charles Kuo, elaborated on his answer. Ho “knew he had received many gifts from God. He felt that they were not given to him solely for his own benefit, but to do for others, for his fellow man.”

It was only after his passing that evidence by survivors who benefited from Ho’s aid began to reach Yad Vashem. After carefully evaluating the case, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous decided in the year 2000 to award Ho Feng-Shan the title of Righteous Among the Nations for his humanitarian courage in issuing Chinese visas to Jews in Vienna in spite of orders from his superior to the contrary and great danger to himself personally and to his family.

On September 12, 2015, President Ma Ying-Jeou of Taiwan posthumously awarded the President’s Citation Award to Dr. Ho Feng Shan, honoring for the first time a man whose courage and compassion had saved thousands of innocent lives in the years leading up to World War II.

Related Readings

 

Orwell Was an Optimist

 
‎13 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎01:35:27 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

The second beast was allowed to impart life to the image of the first beast so that the image of the beast could talk and order the execution of those who would not worship the image of the beast. The second beast forces all people—important and unimportant, rich and poor, free and slaves—to be marked on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that no one may buy or sell unless he has the mark, which is the beast’s name or the number of its name.

Revelation 13:15–17 (ISV)

Much has been written about this verse. In the last 10 years the Islamic implications of this verse have also been put forth.

However, whether the beast the world would identify with would have an Islamic, European, or Assyrian origin, there is another aspect to Revelation 13 that has not been discussed very much. That is the technology behind being able to enforce this restriction on commerce.

The Technology Behind Prophecy

To stop all transactions unless a person has the Mark of the Beast would need high surveillance on all aspects of a person’s life. The government would have to watch everyone’s movement 24 hours a day and also enforce a ban on transactions if someone tried.

The technology to make this a reality is here today and its ability to control every aspect of a person’s life is so advanced and so pervasive it makes the world George Orwell created in his book “1984” seem utopian by comparison. Absolute power and control breeds absolute evil. The books of Daniel and Revelation describe this final world order and ultimate evil that will come together under the reign of the Antichrist just before the return of Christ (Daniel 2 & 7, Revelation 13)

The surveillance society predicted in Orwell’s book is now becoming a stark reality in every country of the world. At all levels of government, the use of video monitoring is becoming widespread. In high crime areas, at major intersections, attached to downtown buildings and light poles, inside sports arenas and public facilities, along interstate highways, and mounted on every police vehicle, the constancy of surveillance is being felt by everyone. Virtually all public buildings and private commercial properties have mounted video cameras to watch your comings and goings. This is now true in every country around the globe, from the most advanced to even Third World emerging economies.

Combine this video surveillance with facial recognition technology and rapid license plate reading software and your movements are being tracked everywhere you go whether you like it or not. No earlier governments could have come close to the level of control now possible – not even the most extreme totalitarian regimes had this ability.

We have seen the Enemy

The outlook for civil liberties grows bleaker by the day, from the various government’s embrace of indefinite detention for its citizens and armed surveillance drones flying overhead to warrantless surveillance of phone, email, and Internet communications and prosecutions of government whistle-blowers. Meanwhile, countries are increasingly coming under the influence of a police-industrial controlled complex. The line between local and federal law enforcement is being blurred. We have seen the enemy of the State and it is us. And if true, as governments assert their technological advantage, its citizens are at an ever increasing disadvantage.

Seek and Destroy

Even more troubling, the technology used to spy on its citizens is being paired with technologies to kill them as well.

In the United States, the Sixth Amendment to its Constitution was intended to not only make sure of a “speedy and public trial,” but it was also supposed to prevent the government from keeping someone in jail for unspecified offenses. That too has been a casualty of the War on Terror. Between the National Defense Authorization Act’s (NDAA) indefinite detention clause and the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) legislation, which has been used to justify killing American citizens with drones without a court trial, the Sixth Amendment’s guarantees have become meaningless.

Other countries have followed the United States’ lead.

In August 2015, the British government authorized an RAF drone attack in Syria that killed two Britons fighting with Islamic State. This was the first acknowledged assassinated via drone strike against a British national by that country. ‘There was a terrorist directing murder on our streets and no other means to stop him.’ said David Cameron the British Prime Minister.

“Those of us who have criticized the Obama administration’s targeted killing policy have long warned that other states cite it to attempt to justify their own legal violations. The concerns were, however, over Russia, China and North Korea, not the United Kingdom,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Drone strikes by surveillance craft are becoming more frequent and are being launched by more countries as the technology improves and costs go down. It is often becoming the assassination instrument of choice by many countries.

Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said countries like Pakistan that face ongoing threats from extremists threatening to overrun the central government see drones as “just another tool for them to use in that campaign [against militants].”

Rights are Disappearing

Due to rapid advances in technology and a heightened surveillance culture, the burden of proof has been shifted so the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty has been usurped by a new norm in which all citizens are suspects. Where once the police were expected to catch criminals and bring them to justice. Now, they are expected to stop crime before it happens. It is a noble goal, but the only way to stop a crime from happening is to watch all the people, all the time. This is exemplified by police practices of stopping and frisking people who are merely walking down the street and where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Likewise, by subjecting innocent civilians to full-body scans and license-plate readers without their knowledge or compliance and then storing the scans for later use, the government state has erected what has amounted to the police-industrial complex. In such an environment, we are all potentially guilty of some wrongdoing. If someone is watched closely enough, they will be caught doing something wrong.

Data Overload

All of this surveillance requires someone to process it. This job for humans is impossible. Enter the computer. Computer software is becoming more sophisticated and inexpensive as time goes on and has become an important tool in a surveillance state.

Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public (or stays in their home) is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for the government to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all the individuals present. People who are identified in the scan can be cross matched with a database to see if they are on anyone’s watchlist. They may of interest to the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Secret Service, National Security Agency, Interpol, Local, County or State law enforcement, or a host of other agencies that are watching people.

If they are on the list, those individuals can have their cellphone conversations bugged and their movements isolated and stored for later review. They can even have the cameras and microphones in their smartphones turned on and monitored, even if the device is turned off. (At many intelligence briefings, attendees are required to surrender their phones and sometimes remove the batteries.)

Computer algorithms have been developed that allow supercomputers to sift through the exabytes of data that are being harvested as text, audio and visual data.

A machine that harvests large amounts of data, analyzes it, and decides on what is important and what is not is a machine with something approximating human capacities. It is a machine that some would describe as having artificial intelligence (AI).

Take AI, add to it the advances in robotics and you have something akin to transhuman.

I, Golem

In researching this article, the author came across something interesting. In the Oxford Concise Dictionary, an alternative definition for the word “golem” is “robot.” I asked Dr. William Welty a research analyst in Advanced Communication Technologies and Executive Director of the ISV foundation, why “robot” would be an alternative definition. His answer was simple. “Because the Brits have a better knowledge of the English language than we do.”

The title of the popular Will Smith movie, “I, Robot,” could have well been called “I, Golem.”

A golem is a legendary creature made of clay and dust by human hands in a magical, artificial way to serve its creator. The word appears only once in the Bible where it refers to “unformed limbs (or embryos)” (Ps. 139:16). The Talmud relates the Sages could create living beings through their knowledge of Kabbalah. In describing the first 12 hours of Adam’s existence, the Talmud calls him a golem, a “shapeless mass” fashioned into a body that did not yet own a soul (Sanhedrin 38b). It also observes that “if the righteous desired it, they could [by living a life of absolute purity] be creators… Rava created a man and sent him to Rabbi Zera, who spoke to him and, receiving no answer, said to the man: ‘You are a creature of the magicians. Return to your dust’” (Sanhedrin 65b).

In the Middle Ages arose the belief in the possibility of infusing life into a clay or wooden figure of a human being, which figure was termed “golem” by writers of the 18th century. The golem grew in size, and could carry any message or obey mechanically any order of its master. This sounds very much like the characteristics of what people conceived of early robots.

Building an artificial intelligence is like building a golem. It is a creature made from dust and clay (sand, i.e., silicone) by human hands. Being made by humans, it would also have man’s sinful nature programmed into it. As the programming became more sophisticated, an AI would also grow in power. It would soon reach a point where its intelligence would exceed man’s. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Stephen Hawking may be right in saying the efforts to create thinking machines could have a capability that would pose a threat to man’s existence.

Is the Beast a Robot?

All the above leads to a very interesting hypothesis. There is a line of reasoning that the Beast spoken of in Revelation is actually a sentient AI, a working prototype or a robot so sophisticated that it comes alive.

A Fallen Man would have programmed the AI, but in the process, also programmed his sinful nature into the machine. The intelligence would eventually be faster and smarter than man’s “wet brain” and would become sentient and come to life. But since only God can create life, the “life” exhibited by this intelligence would be an imitation of life.

It would be demonic.

This Beast would merely be a manifestation of Satan pretending to be a living being. The Beast would be the culmination of the progression of man’s sinful nature taken to its logical conclusion.

Some believe it is after this intelligence “comes alive” Christ would return in His Second Coming and put an end to it.

The second beast was allowed to impart life to the image of the first beast so that the image of the beast could talk and order the execution of those who would not worship the image of the beast.

Revelation 13:15 (ISV)

In the Book of Revelation, the False Prophet is allowed to give “life” to this first beast. If the first beast is an AI, who is the false prophet? Will the surveillance technologies combined with killing capabilities (decapitation?) play a part in enforcing the ban on buying and selling? And what is the significance of “6–6–6”? Is it a mark or is it a mistranslation in the text?

One thing is sure, advanced predictions about prophecy are almost always wrong. Ezekiel 12:13 is a prime example:

But I’ll throw my net over him. As a result, he’ll be captured with my net, and with it I’ll bring him to Babel, the land of the Chaldeans. He won’t see it, though he’ll die there. (ISV)

Ezekiel’s prophecy about Zedekiah made no sense before it was fulfilled. After it was fulfilled, it made perfect sense:

They executed Zedekiah’s sons in his presence, blinded Zedekiah, bound him with bronze chains, and transported him to Babylon [where he died].

2 Kings 25:7 (ISV)

The interpretations of prophecies found in Revelation may be the same way. They may make little sense now or be plain wrong. They will however be clear once they are fulfilled.

One thing we can be sure of. We need to trust in Him who has given us salvation and peace.

I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 5:13 (ISV)

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A New Agenda

 
‎13 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎01:34:16 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Whatever has happened, will happen again; whatever has been done, will be done again. There is nothing new on earth.

— Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ISV)

Agenda 21 Redux

With all the time given to the pope’s visit to the United States and to the United Nations, scant attention is being paid to an old agenda being repackaged and foisted on the world community.

This new initiative is a reintroduction of the old Agenda 21. It is called Agenda 2030.

The representatives in the U.N. enthusiastically adopted Agenda 21 in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, but when it came time to carry out the plan, some of the signatory countries balked at the more onerous elements of the initiative.

Facing this opposition, the forces behind using the Agenda as a vehicle for world governance, hence world government, are trying a different tack and set up a new plan they are calling “The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.” The preamble to the plan is:

This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which we are announcing today demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. They seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what these did not achieve. They seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. They are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.

The U.N. met several times to push both Agenda 21 and the Millennium Development Goals.

Rio+5 – Also known as the Earth Summit was a special meeting held in New York in 1997, to appraise the status of Agenda 21 and show the progress of globalization. The participants came away from the meeting disappointed. They suggested that “through crisis new strength can be found for future action.” They also felt that due to the inactions of governments, progress on Agenda 21could be made by NGOs (non-governmental organizations.)

“This is an occasion when the non-governmental organizations should come to the rescue.”

— General Assembly President Razali Ismail

Therefore there was a rise of NGOs fanning out into local communities promoting “smart growth” and “sustainable growth” to advance Agenda 21 in ways national governments could not.

Then came Rio+10. This meeting was also called Earth Summit 2002 and included both government and non-governmental organizations. It also issued a status report on the progress of Agenda 21. It also issued several agreements including the Johannesburg Declaration as well as several other international agreements. Instead of new agreements between governments, Rio+10 was organized mostly around almost 300 “partnership initiatives” known as Type II private partnerships, as opposed to Type I Partnerships between nations. These were to be the key means to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. These agreements and the progress made on them are kept in a database of Partnerships for Sustainable Development.

In 2012, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the 180 attending members reaffirmed their commitment to Agenda 21 in their outcome document called “The Future We Want.” They also produced a political document designed to shape global environmental policy. A few key global leaders—mostly G–20 leaders and namely United States President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron—did not come to the conference and blamed their absence on the ongoing European sovereign-debt crisis. Their collective absence was seen as a reflection of their administrations’ failure to make sustainability issues a priority.

Seeing interest in Agenda 21 wane, global environmental activists repackaged the program and rebranded it Agenda 2030. The direction the United Nations is heading in this initiative is troubling. In his opening address to the General Debate of the 70th session of the United Nations, Mogens Lykketoft, used some very interesting phraseology:

With the Sustainable Development Goals, however, we acknowledge that eradication of poverty in all its forms is only possible with a much more complex transformation of the entire global economy, the environment and social structures.

Incredible and unsustainable inequality in income, wealth, access to resources and to quality education and health services must be overcome.

We acknowledge also that people in developed countries cannot continue to consume and produce in the manner they are used to.

Agenda 2030 and the Vatican

During his address to the United Nations, Pope Francis gave his support to the U.N. and its Agenda 2030 program:

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable ­Development at the World Summit which opens today is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.

However, the Vatican Curia must have read the fine print of Agenda 2030 after the pope’s address, because shortly after the pope’s speech, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, backed away from the “verbatim inclusion of the U.N. sustainable development goals and targets” in the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

Subgoal 5.6 under “Gender Equality” of Agenda 2030 ensures “universal access to sexual and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the 1994 Program of Action, which states that “prevention of unwanted pregnancies must always be given the highest priority…. In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe.”

However, in a Sept. 1 revision, the Archbishop Auza expressed “reservations,” about the document’s use of the terms “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights,” stating that “the Holy See does not consider abortion or access to abortion or abortifacients as a dimension of these terms.”

Hopefully, other countries and private organizations will also back away from this rebranded attempt at global government before it is too late.

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A Pope for Which Season?

 
‎06 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎03:30:45 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
(Ed. Note: Steve Elwart was raised a Roman Catholic and studied to be a Catholic priest. He had a self-described “Martin Luther moment” and later left the seminary and Catholicism. Steve went on to pursue a Ph.D. from Louisiana Baptist University and is now an ordained minister. He continues to have contacts with members of the Catholic clergy both inside and outside the Vatican and has obtained insights in the current workings of the Roman Curia.)

“More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. He is a man of many excellent virtues; I know not his fellow. For where is the man (in whom is so many goodly virtues) of that gentleness, lowliness and affability and as time requires, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes and sometime of steadfast gravity — a man for all seasons.”

Robert Whittington, 1520

In his stage play about Thomas More (later made into a movie of the same name), Robert Bolt used “A Man for all Seasons” as a title because he believed Thomas More remained a man of principle, acting only as his conscience dictated. He remained constant in his belief and did not bend to the political winds of the time. He was constant “in all seasons.” He stayed true to his beliefs even though it cost him his life.

Please note, the following is not meant to be an apologetic for the head of the Roman Catholic Church; it is to merely serve as a guide to help explain some of the goings on during his stay in the United States. Some of the things written about the Papal visit in the United States were written out of ignorance and out of context and can serve as a disservice to the writer. We as Christians need to be discerning in our discussions. When the information we spread is inaccurate or uncharitable it can tarnish the larger message of the love and salvation brought to us by Jesus Christ.

Instead, exalt the Messiah as Lord in your lives. Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you to explain the hope you have. But do this gently and respectfully, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak evil of your good conduct in the Messiah will be ashamed of slandering you.

— 1 Peter 3:15–16 (ISV)

Now that Pope Francis has completed his tour of the United States it may be a good time to look at his visit and look at his words and his actions and put them in the context of his life, his culture and his Church.

Many try to compare the current Roman Catholic Pontiff Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) to Thomas More because they feel, he too, stays true to his beliefs. A more accurate summary of his visit may be one of vacillation and trying to be all things to all people.

Pope Francis himself believes that Thomas More is a good role model for these times. (Francis has said he prays to More every day.) The times in which More lived mirror today’s time. The early 16th century saw the break up of Christianity, a loss of central authority and a fragmentation of European society. Where the 1500s saw a schism between Catholicism and Protestantism, primarily over who was the temporal head of the Church, today’s fracture is much deeper. Our war rages over the collapse of traditional virtues across the entire West — along with the rise of moral indifference and a cheerful nihilism.

As there are many parallels between the two eras, there are also parallels between the two men. While More was a religious man, he was also a prominent lawyer and judge. Pope Francis is not only the religious head of a Church, he is also the secular head of a state. It is that duality that colored the pontiff’s statements during his visit.

It is said that a key to understanding the Bible is to “think Jewish.” So too, the key to understanding Pope Francis is to “think Catholic.” Pope Francis’ style of communication differs greatly from his predecessors and this has caused confusion within the Church. Many of the things he said while in the United States were very nuanced and while some of what he said may not have made much of an impression on many people who heard his words, they sent shock waves to many others. In one example of papal persuasion, days after Francis permanently removed a German bishop for his lavish spending on a renovation project, the Atlanta archbishop apologized for building a $2.2 million mansion as his residence. He moved out of his 6,000 square foot Buckhead residence and turned it into a rectory for priests.

At almost every utterance, people took to the airwaves and blogosphere and opined on the pope’s political persuasion. One statement would label him a liberal while the next sentence in the same statement would label him an arch conservative.

Pope Francis himself is a charismatic man. A writer for the Huffington Post has written that America has a “man crush” on Pope Francis. He has been called “The People’s Pope.” When he was elected pope, he appeared before the crowd for the first time without papal finery. He chose a simple white cassock and zucchetto (cap). While traveling in the United States, he traveled in a Fiat automobile rather than the “Popemobile.” After delivering an address to a joint session of Congress, Francis went directly to the homeless at Catholic Charities — an itinerary designed to send the message that his priority, and that of the Church, is the people who live at the margins. (Francis was heeding the warning whispered to him by a Brazilian cardinal just moments after he was elected pope: “Don’t forget the poor.”)

Liberal or Conservative?

While conservative Catholics in the U.S. maintain the pope affirms traditional Church teaching on homosexuality, several Catholic gay advocacy groups claim the pope is paving a new path and hope this visit will be a step toward the Church accepting openly gay and lesbian Catholics.

One homosexual who praised him for his “who am I to judge” comment in an informal interview later wrote, “So much for my respect for Pope Francis. He’s just lost a lot of respect here in the USA,” when the Vatican confirmed he met with Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis. Davis was jailed in early September for refusing to sign the marriage license of a homosexual couple who wished to have their civil marriage certified by the state of Kentucky. (Davis and her husband had come to Washington for another purpose — Mrs. Davis was to receive a “Cost of Discipleship” award on Sept. 25 from The Family Research Council.)

Even in this case, one has to go beyond the sound bite to get the true flavor of the story. If one reads the entire interview from an informal news conference on the papal flight returning from Buenos Aires, translated into English at Zenit.org, Francis was speaking of those with a homosexual orientation, and not approving of any behavior:

A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will—well, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, Wait a bit, as is said and says: “these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society.” The problem isn’t having this tendency, no. We must be brothers, because this is one, but there are others, others. The problem is the lobbying of this tendency

With Kim Davis, the meeting needs to be taken with a grain of salt as well. The Davis meeting was between two people with only Mrs. Davis’ version of the meeting being publicized. While the Vatican has since distanced the pope from the meeting, given the pope’s repeated statements on religious freedom, his comments to Mrs. Davis, “Stay strong!” and “Thank you for your courage,” may have been meant more along those lines than alluding to her stance on same-sex marriage, a theme he avoided during the other parts of his trip.

John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group, said Francis’ intent was not to escalate America’s culture wars but to illustrate the contradictions within them.

Part of the Francis effect is making the left and the right a little bit uncomfortable, and, mission accomplished. I think Pope Francis affirms religious liberty, and he rejects the culture wars. That’s something we need to grapple with.

Either way, neither the ad hoc interview nor the meeting with Mrs. Davis can define the pontiff’s position on homosexual marriage.

Is He Godless?

On Pope Francis’ second day in the United States, he addressed a joint session of Congress. Much has been made of him not mentioning Jesus’ name during his hourlong address. Nor did he invoke Christ’s name when speaking at a White House reception. While it is incomprehensible to many that the man who is called the Vicar of Christ would not invoke His name, the Roman pontiff also serves another role. He is also a Head of State. (He was introduced to Congress formally as “the Pope of the Holy See.”) Those in the Catholic Church would also say that the main message he wanted to convey was one of religious freedom. The argument goes that if he would have invoked Christ’s name, it would have diluted his main message and alienated non-Christians.

Given all the above, Francis still claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ and there was a huge missed opportunity to invoke Jesus name, head of state of not. As Paul said:

And whatever you do, whether by speech or action, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

— Colossians 3:17 (ISV)

Is He Even Christian?

The Internet exploded when Francis spoke at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. In his homily, he made the statement “Jesus Christ and his life, … ended in failure, the failure of the cross.” His comments called into question whether he even believed in the divinity of Jesus Himself. Many of those that traffic in professional outrage left out part of the quote. The pope’s comments, in context, reads:

Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.

Even some of those that left in the critical phrase “humanly speaking” missed the point. John Loeffler in his Oct.3 “Steel on Steel” broadcast called this “theological sniping.”

What Francis was saying was during the time of Jesus, people expected the Messiah to lead a triumphant rebellion against the Romans and reign as a Davidic king. Instead, the Romans killed him, and they did so in a particularly painful and humiliating way. From the perspective of most people of the day, based on their expectations of what the Messiah would do, he looked like a failed political revolutionary.

We know, however, as Chuck Missler often says, “The death of Jesus Christ was not a tragedy; it was an achievement.”

The pope’s use of the phrase, “humanly speaking” told his audience that the pope is setting up precisely this kind of contrast between the human and the divine perspective.

Is He a Communist?

The pope spoke a lot about “economic justice” while he was in the United States. His comments made many conservatives in the United States very uncomfortable. Francis’ remarks triggered a debate about his political leanings. His U.S. speeches, combined with statements made in South America have led right wing pundits to place him politically somewhere between a neo-socialist to an outright Marxist.

A look at his papal encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (Gospel of Joy), gives insight into his thinking on economic systems.

In the encyclical the pertinent section is “The economy and the distribution of income.” In it, he makes statements, such as, “Inequality is the root of social ills,” and “We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market.” These statements harken back to the socialistic slogans of the liberation theology, developed mainly by Latin American Roman Catholics in the 1970s. It emphasized liberation from social, political, and economic oppression as an anticipation of ultimate salvation. It has rightly been called Christianized Marxism.

The thrust of what he was saying was that we are living in a global economy and economic decisions now affect the entire world. People who know the pope have voiced his concerns for the poor such as the people that work for pennies a day making garments and electronic components in places such as China and Thailand for export for Western nations. It is that perspective Francis had when authorizing the letter.

He is also a product of his times. From 1976 to 1983 Francis’ home country of Argentina was in the grip of the military dictator Col. Jorge Rafael Videla. This was a man responsible for the torture, murder and disappearance of thousands of political opponents and other political opponents. He also dispensed favors and government contracts to businesses and political cronies who grew rich at the expense of the vast majority of the Argentine population. What the then Fr. Bergoglio experienced was not capitalism, but “crony capitalism” and fascism.

Climate Change

In one area the Roman pontiff broke new theological ground was in climate change. In remarks to the largest gathering of world leaders in U.N. history — close to 200 prime ministers, presidents and potentates, Pope Francis blamed environmental degradation on “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity” that causes untold suffering for the poor who “are cast off by society.” This address follows his 180-page encyclical he wrote on the subject “Laudato Si’” (On Care for Our Common Home). Among other issues was a moral call for action for phasing out fossil fuels.

His comments, a repeat of what he said the previous day at the White House admonished against:

… a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity [which] leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.

Francis called on the world’s rich nations to pay their “grave social debt” to the poor and take concrete steps on climate change, saying failure to do so presents an undeniable risk to a “common home” that is resembling a “pile of filth.”

While the pope’s comments and papal letter may have been birthed from the best of intentions, there are enough wide openings that have been inserted into them by those pushing for global control over climate change to the benefit of their scheme.

One needs to remember that these papal encyclicals are not written by the pope himself, but by a team of writers, many of them with their own agendas. They may reflect the pope’s overall intent, but other agendas may hide in the details of the letter.

Former Vatican observer and child rights attorney Elizabeth Yore stated she was “shocked at the leftist number of experts [the Curia] brought in to the Pontifical Academy,” citing population control advocates Jeffrey Sachs and Hans J. Schnellnhuber, who helped co-author the Vatican’s April 2015 climate change encyclical.

This begs the question of whether the pope is being used for a larger agenda of which he may not be aware.

A Danger to Avoid

There are many things in the pope’s theology of which to be critical. The errors in the doctrines of transubstantiation, sacraments, conditional salvation by works, Mary’s place in the Church, prayer to saints, etc. are all deep and significant. We need to be discerning when critiquing the words and actions of others, be it laymen or religious leaders.

We all have the obligation to reach out to Roman Catholics. We should love our neighbors of whatever faith they hold. We should befriend them and spend time with them. By doing so, we earn the right to lovingly critique their views.

When we critique them, however, we need to be accurate in our criticism and do so in a spirit of love without resulting to ad hominum arguments.

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On Waters Above – Why NASA’s Announcement About Water on Mars Contributes Nothing to the Creation Science Debate

 
‎06 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎03:28:44 AM | William Welty, Ph.D.Go to full article
Ed. Note: Dr. William Welty, is the Executive Director of the ISV foundation and also serves as a research analyst in Advanced Communication Technologies and Adjunct Professor of Middle Eastern Studies on the faculty of Koinonia Institute. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Koinonia Institute.

Then God said, “Let there be a canopy between bodies of water, separating bodies of water from bodies of water!”

— Genesis 1:6, (ISV)

I read with interest Monday, some Internet news reports that screamed with almost delirious joy an announcement released by NASA that, at long last and after decades of scientific speculation, flowing water has been observed as a present (if not seasonal) reality on the planet Mars. Writing for The Associated Press, Marcia Dunn pontificated:

Mars appears to have flowing rivulets of water, at least in the summer, scientists reported Monday in a finding that boosts the odds of life on the red planet.

Hale Crater streaks

 

Dark, narrow streaks on Martian slopes such as these at Hale Crater are inferred to be formed by seasonal flow of water on contemporary Mars. (NASA)

Garni Crater Dark narrow streaks

 

Dark narrow streaks, called “recurring slope lineae,” emanate from the walls of Garni Crater on Mars. (NASA)

“Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science for NASA.

Conspiracy Theory Responses

NASA’s press release did not come without controversy, however. At virtually the same time that it posted news about NASA’s announcement, The Drudge Report also posted rumors that NASA timed the announcement to coincide with release of director Ridley Scott’s latest science fiction thriller, “The Martian”, which had been slated for release the very week of the announcement by NASA. The next day, writing for Breitbart News, John Nolte observed:

Keep in mind that NASA’s big announcement is NOT that water has been found on Mars. The news is that NASA has found only SIGNS of water on Mars. And now, probably by accident, “Martian” director Ridley Scott has confirmed that NASA timed the release of this bombshell maybe-news for the week of the movie’s release.

Production still from The Martian

 

Production still from 20th Century Fox press release for The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon. (Breitbart)

On one level, “The Martian” may be functioning as a giant advertisement for NASA, but the close collaboration between the space agency and Ridley Scott’s film-making team has resulted in the director remaining blasé about the dramatic announcement of evidence of flowing water on Mars. “I knew that months ago,” he said in response to the news. …

Scott said he had seen the photographs of water flows “about two months ago” – meaning that it was too late to incorporate the revelation into the film’s narrative.

NASA knew this months ago .

Personally, I don’t take much stock in conspiracy theories. And no, I don’t think the timing of the announcement has anything to do with the so-called Blood Moons nonsense or the currently occurring retrograde motion of the planet Mercury. If there’s any conspiracy going on at NASA, it’s more likely that senior management is posturing their announcements about finding signs of flowing water on Mars in order to boost the likelihood as we approach the end of the federal government’s fiscal year that their NASA space exploration budget remains intact or is even increased.

The Genesis Record

With all due respect to the commendable work that NASA has accomplished to bring the Mars Orbiter images back to earth for processing, nothing in NASA’s announcement comes as a surprise to those who take the message of Genesis seriously.

For example, if one examines what Moses wrote circa 1,400 BC in Genesis 1:6–10, this is what you’ll learn about what happened on the second and third days of God’s creation week activities:

(6) Then God said, “Let there be a canopy between bodies of water, separating bodies of water from bodies of water!” (7) So God made a canopy that separated the water beneath the canopy from the water above it. And that is what happened: (8) God called the canopy “sky.” The twilight and the dawn were the second day. (9) Then God said, “Let the water beneath the sky come together into one area, and let dry ground appear!” And that is what happened: (10) God called the dry ground “land,” and he called the water that had come together “oceans.” And God saw how good it was. (ISV)

Observe, if you would please, how the creation text informs an observant reader that when God created the universe, he placed water throughout His universe. What God did with this water is described in the passage from Genesis that we’ve cited above: During the second day of the creation activities described in the Genesis creation narrative, the text informs us that God separated the water that he had created into two distinct portions.

  • First, he made a boundary that placed water that existed beneath the visible canopy of the sky, as verse 6 informs us. This reference to water designates the water content contained in and limited to the atmosphere of the earth, on the earth’s surface, or beneath it.
  • Second, Moses distinguished water that would be native to earth from water that lay beyond or above the sky canopy, as verse 7 informs us.

To sum up the implications of the Genesis narrative, creationists say NASA’s announcement that signs of flowing water have been sighted on Mars is old news, and it comes as no surprise. Quite the opposite, the Jewish and Christian communities observe the NASA announcement with a sort of bemused detachment.

We respond by saying to NASA, “Congratulations! You’ve finally concluded what Moses told the ancient Israelis in the fifteen century BC!” After decades of space exploration, NASA scientists finally climb to the top of the mountain of solar system knowledge about Mars—only to find the giver of The Torah sitting there on the top of that mountain. Personally, I visualize the man sitting next to a big pile of bagels and cream cheese with a sly grin on his face while he informs NASA that God knew there was water on Mars all along. In short, the NASA announcement is a big “Ho-hum! That’s boring!”

Did Life on Mars Start There? Or on Earth? Or Somewhere Else?

Here’s what’s really behind the NASA announcement: Anybody who is desperate to keep a knowledge of God out of their life is going to try to keep even the possibility of divine intervention or activity on a non-existent level. For these people, if life is unique to earth, then maybe the earth and its living species really are extraordinary. And they don’t want to contemplate that reality. So they speculate that life must have originated from a place other than earth. In their view, this kind of logic leads to the possibility of life existing on Mars on the one hand, or on the other hand, it can lead extremists to think life was planted on earth by someone or something else. But the creationist community suggests that both possibilities have very simple explanations. As to the first possibility that there exists microbial life on Mars, conservative evangelicals who take the Bible seriously suggest that if it’s ever found, it’s more likely that it arrived there from earth. Either:

  • It arrived within the last few decades on a human-engineered planetary lander that wasn’t quite as sterile as their builders thought that they had made it; or,
  • Life on Mars may have existed in the dim and ancient past, when it was brought there by antediluvian, but entirely human, astronauts who lived before the earth was first destroyed by the flood of Noah’s day; or,
  • An ancient catastrophic meteor strike on earth may have sent portions of the earth’s surface into orbit, where the orbital detritus intersected with Mars, thus infecting Mars with earth-generated microbes.

Now as to this last possibility, it has been widely suggested that a number of meteorites discovered (particularly in the earth’s arctic regions) have come from Mars in the ancient past. We wonder if the trip could not have been two-way?

The Origin of Earth’s Life: The Ultimate Off-Earth Event

Then there’s the question of whether life originated on earth or from beyond earth. It will doubtlessly come as a surprise to many evangelicals that, strictly speaking, the Bible does not claim that earth’s life originated on earth. It only claims that life on earth was crafted there by a supreme Intelligence who visited His own creation from his origin/home in another dimension in order to craft the plants and animals and then to breathe His own Spirit of life into those creations. This supreme Intelligence is the God of the Bible. His name in Hebrew (transliterated from the Hebrew language into English as YHWH) is also referred to as the eternal and uncreated creative Word of God. In the New Testament, the Apostle John identifies this being with more specificity: He identifies him as Jesus the Messiah, the Angel of the LORD who created the entire Universe, who fashioned the first human beings from the dust of the ground, who brought them to life, and who eventually became one of them in the Incarnation through his Jewish mother Mary, a descendant of King David.

In short, creationists do believe that all life on earth originated off planet, so to speak. That’s because we say the transcendent God and creator, the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus the Messiah, who was the creative agent who brought the entire Universe into existence, personally visited earth to fashion all life, including the origin of human life, on a young earth. In a limited way, then, creationists can say that life on earth originated from off planet, so to speak, when God invaded his own creation to fashion our first parents from the dust of the earth.

Now as to the implications of flowing water having been discovered on Mars, we’re happy to congratulate NASA: well done, ladies and gentlemen. Do keep up the good work. But keep your science honest. If you do, you’ll doubtlessly discover that the more you study God’s creation, the more your findings square with the writings of the man who wrote, “In the beginning, God created the Universe.” (Genesis 1:1, ISV).


About the Holy Bible: International Standard Version

The ISV, version 2.0, produced by the ISV Foundation, is quoted exclusively herein. It was produced by a team of conservative professional biblical and lay scholars drawn from the international Christian community. It is published in a variety of electronic formats Visit http://isv.org to learn more.


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Historic Agreement of Historic Mistake?

 
‎06 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎03:27:09 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
(Note: Aviel Schneider is the Chief Editor of Israel Today, a Jerusalem Messianic magazine. This is a reprint of a cover story that first appeared in the August 2015 issue of the magazine.)

From the Israeli perspective, the world powers were outsmarted and duped by Shiite Iran. Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the Persian Gulf states agree. This deal means “the end of the Arab world as we know it,” said Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

Arab Affairs expert Ehud Yaari quoted commentators from the Arab world who see the agreement as a disaster. As one Saudi newspaper put it: “Washington behaves toward Iran just as it did toward Nazi Germany before World War II.”

Saudi analyst Jamal Khashoggi warned of an atomic arms race in the Middle East, saying, “This will whet the appetite of Saudi Arabia to develop its own nuclear program.” Others in the Arab press wrote that the West is naïve.

“Israel is not bound by this deal… because Iran continues to seek our destruction,” said Netanyahu. “The world is a much more dangerous place today than it was yesterday.”

Underscoring the deep rift between Jerusalem and Washington, President Barack Obama said the exact opposite at a news conference: “This deal will make America and the world safer and more secure.”

Defense analyst Ron Ben Yishai says the agreement puts the military option back on the table. “Israel must prepare for a potential preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities,” he wrote on the Ynet website.

Others took a more sober approach.

“There is too much hysteria,” said Amos Yadlin, a former general who headed military intelligence. “The nuclear deal is a very bad one, but we should not get into a panic over it.”

Military expert Alex Fishman agreed, saying it is not a catastrophe and that Israel must tread carefully. “If Israel torpedoes the agreement, it will endanger relations between Jerusalem and Washington,” he cautioned.

Netanyahu compared the situation to President Bill Clinton’s agreement with North Korea in 1994, “This agreement will help to achieve… an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula,” Clinton said at the time. Twelve years later, North Korea exploded a nuclear device in an underground test.

The agreement was useless and the parallel with Iran is clear. “This is a bad deal,” Netanyahu said. “It is not less bad, in my opinion, it is worse than the deal … that led to a nuclear arsenal in North Korea.”

In the end, it was not about Israel’s security, but business deals worth billions of dollars which western companies could not cash in because of the sanctions. Journalist Itamar Eichner quotes an Israeli government source who says that Iran will earn $600–700 billion from oil and other sales in the next 15 years. “It can be said with certainty that
the money will be transferred to support terrorism and proxy states (like Hezbollah
in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza),” said the source.

In fact, “60 percent of the 160 pages in the agreement are about the lifting of sanctions,” Yaari explained on Channel Two TV. “Iran insisted that every specific Iranian company be listed in the agreement, so there won’t be any misconceptions.” He added that sanctions will even be lifted against Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Force in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, which exports terror to the Middle East and worldwide.

“Some 30 percent of the agreement is about curbs on the Iranian nuclear program, which does not stop research and development,” Yaari said. “Only 10 percent clarifies how international monitoring of the Iranian nuclear facilities will work.”

The agreement is also full of contradictions. For instance, it talks about “snapback” sanctions if Iran violates the deal, but it also says that signed business contracts must be honored.

History will be the judge of whether this deal was a historic breakthrough or a historic mistake.

 

The Dangers of Moral Relativism

 
‎29 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎03:21:07 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

How terrible it will be for those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute what is bitter for what is sweet and what is sweet for what is bitter!

— Isaiah 5:20, (ISV)

You Have Your Truth, We Have Ours

General Sir Charles James Napier (1782–1853) was a general of the British Empire. For a time in the late 1840s he was commander of all British forces in India.

A story for which Napier is often noted involved Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of Sati by British authorities. This was the custom of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. As first recounted by his brother William, he replied:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

Napier practiced a concept of moral absolutism. He believed in a single, triune God — an absolute Lawgiver. If there is an absolute Lawgiver, there must be an absolute law. Hindus, on the other hand, do not have a concept of one God. To them, God is utterly beyond form and definition; he is both unknown and unknowable. Their concept of god is more attune with the forces of nature, therefore there are many gods. If there are many gods, then there are many “truths.” That means “the truth” is relative. Your truth is different from my truth. All truth is valid.

Today, it seems the moral relativism that is insinuating itself into society is making its way into the American armed forces. Recent actions by the United States Army against a decorated soldier have exposed a long-standing stance the military has taken of looking the other way toward atrocities committed by foreign nationals in countries where American troops are stationed.

It has come to the attention of at least one U.S. Congressman that the U.S. Department of Defense is discharging Sergeant First Class (SFC) Charles Martland after a distinguished 11-year career in the Special Forces. His crime? Confronting a man who was sexually assaulting a youth while Martland was serving in Afghanistan.

The incident occurred in 2011 during the sergeant’s second deployment in Afghanistan. After learning an Afghan boy was raped and his mother beaten while attempting to stop the rape, Sgt. Martland and his team leader confronted a local police commander. This was the same man they trained, armed and paid with U.S. taxpayer dollars. When the man laughed off the incident, they physically assaulted him.

They were punished by the Army at the time — but exactly why Martland is now being discharged is a matter of dispute. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is looking into the case. With regard to the incident, Hunter told Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: “To intervene was a moral decision, and Sargent Martland and his Green Beret team leader felt they had no choice but to respond.” Martland is described by many of his teammates as the finest soldier they have ever served alongside.

Why did Martland believe he had to respond? Apparently, “don’t ask, don’t tell” wasn’t a policy that applied only to homosexuals.

Homosexual abuse of young boys in Afghanistan is a practice called bacha bazi(boy play), and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records. When troops reported such abuse, they were instructed to look the other way.

This was a practice abhorrent to Martland who could not sit idly by and allow it to happen.

A Career Cut Short

Martland was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions. According to one evaluation, he also was “praised” by Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. Among his other honors was being named runner-up for 2014 Special Warfare Training Group Instructor of the Year from a pool of 400 senior leaders in the Special Forces.

In part because of his skill in training, he was assigned to train Afghan forces during his deployment. Once there, he realized there was a problem with the men he was training to become local police officers. “We had been hearing for months about raping in our province, not just in Afghanistan,” said Daniel Quinn, a fellow trainer, U.S. Military Academy graduate and the team leader of the detachment sent to Kunduz.

One day in early September 2011 at their remote outpost, a young Afghan boy who was limping and his Afghan-Uzbek mother, visibly bruised, showed up at camp. The 12-year-old showed the Green Berets marks on his hands where he had been tied. The mother explained one of the Afghan police commanders in the area, Abdul Rahman, abducted her son and forced him to become a sex slave, chaining him to a bed. She explained that since “her son was such a good-looking kid, he was a status symbol” coveted by local commanders. When she sought her son’s return, she herself was beaten. Her son eventually had been released, but she was afraid it would happen again.

A medic took him to a back room for an examination with an interpreter and confirmed the mother’s story.

After learning of the meeting, Rahman allegedly beat the boy’s mother for reporting the crime. It was at this point, the Green Berets had enough. Quinn and Martland went to confront Rahman. “He confessed to the crime and laughed about it, and said it wasn’t a big deal. Even when we patiently explained how serious the charge was, he kept laughing,” Quinn said.

According to Quinn, “I picked him up and threw him onto the ground.” Sergeant Martland joined in, he said. “I did this to make sure the message was understood that if he went back to the boy that it was not going to be tolerated,” It was the only way to get their point across, according to Quinn. “As a man, as a father of a young boy myself at the time, I felt obliged to step in to prevent further repeat occurrences.”

Rahman walked away bruised from getting shoved and thrown to the ground, but otherwise OK, according to teammates. But Rahman quickly reported the incident to another Army unit in a nearby village. The next day a U.S. Army helicopter landed and took Quinn and Martland away, ending their work in Kunduz Province.

Both men were relieved from their positions and sent home. Their war was over. Then effective Nov. 1, 2015, the U.S. Army ordered Martland to be involuntarily discharged from service.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, an Army colonel last week was quoted as saying of Martland and Quinn, “They put their team’s life at risk by doing what they did, by risking catastrophic loss of rapport” with local Afghan officials.

Representative Hunter responded: “To say that you’ve got to be nice to the child rapist because otherwise the other child rapists might not like you is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard — totally insane and wrong. … It’s sad to think that a child rapist is put above one of our elite military operators. Sergeant Martland was left with no other choice but to intervene in a bad situation. The Army should stand up for what’s right and should not side with a corrupt Afghan police officer.”

Part of a Reoccurring Theme

This was not the first time this had happened, nor was it the only time the Army was made aware of the problem.

In 2012, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. called his father from his bunk in southern Afghanistan. He said he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought onto the base.

“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

This is the logical outcome to moral relativism.

Moral Relativism is Not Moral

Followed to its logical conclusion, relativism will ultimately lead to moral anarchy and the disintegration of civilization. If we were free to decide our own standard of morality, laws would be meaningless and human rights could not exist.

Laws are standards that govern behavior—more accurately, standards that restrict behavior. Laws are byproducts of absolutism. They apply to everyone equally and are not open to private interpretation. They tell people how to act whether they want to or not.

Relativism leads to moral anarchy on a broad, cultural scale just as readily is it does on an individual scale. This is especially clear in the modern world where cultures bump up against one another. In a relativistic world, international peace is impossible. If standards of right and wrong were culturally controlled, one nation could never condemn the actions of another nation.

One nation could never condemn the actions that another nation takes even against its own people. The systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust of World War II would have been allowed because it was not “against the law” in Nazi Germany. The Nazis believed the Jews were vermin to be exterminated.

Relativism is Illogical

Moral Relativism also fails to correspond to reality because is that it flies in the face of the laws of logic. For example, the law of non-contradiction is foundational to all rational thought and communication. All truth depends on this necessary first principle. But relativism violates the law of non-contradiction. Like pluralism as a whole, it takes blatantly contradictory truth claims and states that both are correct. This is logically impossible.

Christianity and pantheism cannot both reveal the true nature of God because their respective Gods are conspicuously different. Indeed, they are mutually exclusive. Likewise, if a man justifies adultery and his wife condemns it as sin, both opinions can’t be correct. It’s either sin, or it’s acceptable behavior: it can’t be both at the same time. Logically, relativism does not make sense.

Relativism is inconsistent

No one lives the philosophy of relativism consistently. In daily life, all people live and behave according to the same understanding of what makes up reality. One of the clearest examples of this is in the area of ethical behavior.

For example, adultery may be acceptable in some societies, but no society allows a man to just take any woman he wants. Stealing may not be a sin if carried out against another tribe, but you do not steal from your neighbor. Lying may be acceptable in certain situations. Killing may be permitted in warfare. But all people agree that it is wrong to steal from, lie to or murder just anyone. The concepts of stealing, lying, and killing are universally recognized as evil, and such acts are strictly controlled in every culture. People may claim ethics are relative, but all people enforce a universal moral code.

Many people believe that truth is relative and that people should be free to behave as they believe. However, people who preach relativism practice absolutism. The best example this author likes to use when one says “you have your truth and I have mine” is, “Fine, I’d like to have my money that’s in your wallet.” Their reaction demonstrates that relativism is inconsistent with the real world. Relativists simply do not practice what they preach.

If ethics were relative, there would be no moral or philosophical grounds for condemning the thief who believes stealing a car is acceptable or for being upset when one’s spouse commits adultery. As Christian apologist Francis Beckwith wrote:

In order to stay consistent, the ethical relativist cannot criticize intolerable moral practices, believe in real moral progress, or acknowledge the existence of real moral reformers. For these three forms of moral judgment presupposes the existence of real transcultural, nonrelative, objective values [i.e., the kind of absolute moral standards we receive from God]

By appealing to the police, relativists acknowledge a universal code of behavior that applies to both them and the thief (remember, laws point to absolutism, not relativism). By feeling pain, the woman is acknowledging that adultery is wrong even if she accepts moral relativity. In both cases, they are acknowledging a standard of right and wrong that applies to other people. This is absolutism.

People talk the talk of relativism but live the life of absolutism. Relativism is a philosophy, a worldview. To be valid, it must work in any and all situations. Otherwise it cannot represent truth. You can’t pick and choose where relativism applies and where is doesn’t. You either live with it or reject it. If you think stealing and adultery are wrong for all people, you are an absolutist.

An Erosive Worldview

This erosive worldview of moral relativism is becoming an ever-increasing threat to Christianity. Thousands of Christians are unwittingly assimilating this philosophy into their thinking, causing them to compromise their behavior, reject the uniqueness of Christianity by embracing religious pluralism, and dismissing Bible precepts in favor of religious experiences.

No matter what “truth” a person subscribes to, as the saying goes, “Reality always votes last.”

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Fall Feasts: Feast of Tabernacles

 
‎29 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎03:19:22 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Celebrate the Feast of Tents for seven days after you harvest from your threshing floor and your wine press. Rejoice in your festival—you, your son, your daughter, your male and female slaves, the descendants of Levi, foreigners, orphans, and widows who live in your cities. For seven days you are to celebrate in the presence of the LORD your God at the place where the LORD will choose; for the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in everything you do, and your joy will be complete. “Every male must appear in the presence of the LORD your God three times a year at the place where he will choose: for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Seven Weeks, and the Feast of Tents. He must not appear in the LORD’s presence empty-handed, but each one must appear with his own gift, proportional to the blessing that the LORD your God has given you.

— Deuteronomy 16:13–17 (ISV)

Yesterday, Sunday Evening, Sept. 27 through Monday Evening, Oct. 5 marks the Feast of Tabernacles for this year.

The Meaning Behind the Feast

The Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of Unleavened Bread, was one of the three compulsory feasts that required faithful Jews to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem. Its name, Sukkot, means “booths” and these seven festive days during which the Jews construct temporary shelters make for a very colorful visit to Israel. The temporary family-sized tabernacles are built nearly anywhere — on rooftops and in backyards, on balconies and anywhere one will fit. The huts must have three sides and have a part of the roof open to the sky, and they can be built with a variety of materials. Palm leaves are a popular choice for the requirement that they include something that grew from the earth but is disconnected from it.

From inside these temporary shelters the Jews must be able to see the stars at night and the wind must be able to blow through the walls. This is to remind them of Israel’s long encampment in the wilderness under Moses. For one week the people of Israel are to live out in these structures, rejoicing and enjoying themselves. Sometimes it rains, and many eat and relax in the booths, but go sleep inside at night whether or not that was the original intent of the Law. At the end of Sukkot, they leave those temporary dwellings for their permanent homes. This is all done with great color and celebration.

In the days of the Temple the feast opened and closed with convocations of the people. There were daily sacrifices. The final day of the feast may have had the same rules against working as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The remembrance of the wilderness wandering was considered an occasion of joy, connected to God’s saving work on Israel’s behalf. A large number of sacrifices were offered during the week’s celebration (Num. 29:12–38).

Other elements of this feast include remembering the pillar of fire that the Jews followed in the wilderness and the water gushing out of the rock at Moses’ command. Typically, participants waved palm branches and recited Psalm 118:26 — “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” This was also a time for celebrants to welcome and expect special guests.

The climax of the Gospel of John occurs at a celebration of Tabernacles (John 7, 8). Jesus identified himself as the light of the world (referring to the pillar of fire) and the giver of living water. We also see elements of this feast take place when Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, even though it was not the season for this feast. The palm branches, shouting the words of Psalm 118:26, and welcoming a holy visitor to Jerusalem are elements of Tabernacles and identify Jesus as the Messiah.

The Three Chief Features of the Feast

Three things specially marked the Feast of Tabernacles: its joyous festivities, the dwelling in “booths,” and the peculiar sacrifices and rites of the week.

The first characteristic was a “feast of ingathering:”

Celebrate the Feast of Tents for seven days after you harvest from your threshing floor and your wine press. Rejoice in your festival—you, your son, your daughter, your male and female slaves, the descendants of Levi, foreigners, orphans, and widows who live in your cities. For seven days you are to celebrate in the presence of the LORD your God at the place where the LORD will choose; for the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in everything you do, and your joy will be complete. “Every male must appear in the presence of the LORD your God three times a year at the place where he will choose: for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Seven Weeks, and the Feast of Tents. He must not appear in the LORD’s presence empty-handed, but each one must appear with his own gift, proportional to the blessing that the LORD your God has given you.

— Deuteronomy 16:13–17 (ISV)

Votive, freewill, and peace offerings would mark their gratitude to God, and at the meal which ensued the poor, the stranger, the Levite, and the homeless would be welcome guests, for the Lord’s sake. When the people saw the treasury chests opened and emptied at this feast for the last time in the year, they would remember their brethren at a distance, in whose name, as well as their own, the daily and festive sacrifices were offered. so their liberality would not only be stimulated, but all Israel, however widely dispersed, would feel itself renewed before the Lord. There was, besides, something about this feast which would peculiarly remind them, if not of their dispersion, yet of their being “strangers and pilgrims in the earth.”

The second characteristic was that during the seven days of its continuance “every native born of Israel is to live in booths; in order for your future generations to know that the Israelis lived in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:43, ISV)

The festival of Sukkot in Israel

The festival of Sukkot in Israel (Yahoo News)

The Booths

As the saying goes, if you have two Jews, you have three opinions. There was a controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees over the interpretation of this part of the Law. The Torah said:

On the first day, take branches from impressive fruit trees, branches from palm trees, boughs from thick trees, and poplars from the brooks. Then you are to rejoice in the presence of the LORD your God for seven days.

— Leviticus 23:40 (ISV)

The Sadducees (as do the modern Karaite Jews) took this to mean the materials that made up the booths, while the Pharisees applied it to what the worshipers were to carry in their hands.

The latter interpretation is, in all likelihood, the correct one; it seems borne out by the account of the festival at the time of Nehemiah (cf. Nehemiah 8:15, 18), when the booths were constructed of branches of trees other than those mentioned in Leviticus 23 and it was universally adopted in practice at the time of Christ. The Mishnah gives most minute details as to the height and construction of these “booths”, the main object being to prevent any evasion of the law. Therefore it must be a real booth, and constructed of boughs of living trees and only for the purposes of this festival. Therefore it must be high enough, yet not too high: at least ten handbreadths (about 90 cm or 36 inches.), but not more than 30 feet. Three of its walls must be of boughs; it must be fairly covered with boughs, yet not so shaded as not to admit sunshine, nor yet so open as to have not enough shade, the object in each case being neither sunshine nor shade, but it should be a real booth of tree boughs.

It is needless to enter into further details, except to say that these booths, and not their houses, were to be the regular dwelling of all in Israel during the week, and except in very heavy rain, they were to eat, sleep, pray and study; in short, entirely to live in them. The only exceptions were for those absent on some pious duty, the sick and their attendants, women, slaves and infants who were still depending on their mothers. Finally, the rule was “whatever might contract Levitical defilement (boards, cloth, etc.), or whatever did not grow out of the earth, might not be used” in constructing the booths.

Lulav Æthrog Set

Lulav Æthrog Set (Boulder Jewish News)

The Fruit and Palm Branches

It has already been stated that, according to the view universally prevalent at the time of Christ, the direction on the first day of the feast to “take branches from impressive fruit trees, branches from palm trees, boughs from thick trees, and poplars from the brooks.” was applied to what the worshipers were to carry in their hands. The Rabbis ruled “the fruit of the goodly trees” meant the œthrog, or citron, and “the boughs of thick trees” the myrtle, provided it had “not more berries than leaves.”

The œthrogs must be without blemish or deficiency of any kind; the palm branches at least three handbreadths high, and fit to be shaken; and each branch fresh, entire, unpolluted, and not taken from any idolatrous grove. Every worshiper carried the œthrog in his left hand, and in his right the lulav, or palm, with myrtle and willow branch on either side of it, tied together on the outside with its own kind, though in the inside it might be fastened even with gold thread.

The lulav was intended to remind Israel of the different stages of their wilderness journey as represented by the different vegetation. The willow has no fragrance and bears no fruit. The myrtle is fragrant, but has no fruit. The palm on the other hand has no fragrance but does yield fruit. Finally, there’s a fourth branch called an œthrog. It looks like a lemon but is as large as a grapefruit. The œthrog is very, very fragrant with an intense taste. It was to remind them of the fruits of the good land which the Lord had given them. A variety of sermons might be pulled from the potential symbolism here, and it might even be tied to the four soils of Matthew 13: 18–23 when Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower.

The lulav was used in the Temple on each of the seven festive days, even children, if they were able to shake it, being bound to carry one. If the first day of the feast fell on a Sabbath, the people brought their lulavs on the previous day into the synagogue on the Temple Mount, and fetched them in the morning, so as not needlessly to break the Sabbath rest.

The Offerings

The third characteristic of the Feast of Tabernacles was its offerings. These were altogether peculiar. The sin offering for each of the seven days was “one kid of the goats.” The burnt offerings consisted of bullocks, rams and lambs, with their proper meat and drink offerings. But the number of the rams and lambs remained the same on each day of the festival that of the bullocks decreased every day by one—from 13 on the first to seven bullocks on the last day, “that great day of the feast.” As no special injunctions are given about the drink offering, we infer that it was usually, 1 ¼ of a hin of wine for each lamb, 1/3 for each ram, and 1/2 for each bullock (the hin = 1 gallon, 2 pints). The “meat offering” is fixed at 1/10 of an ephah of flour (about 3/5 of a bushel), mixed with 1/4 of a hin of oil, for each lamb; 2/10 of an ephah, with 1/3 hin of oil, for each ram; and 3/10 of an ephah, with 1/2 hin of oil, for each bullock.

Three things are remarkable about these burnt offerings:

First, they are evidently the characteristic sacrifice of the Feast of Tabernacles. As compared with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the number of the rams and lambs is double, while that of the bullocks is fivefold (14 during the Passover week, 5 × 14 during that of Tabernacles).

Second, the number of the burnt-sacrifices, whether taking each kind by itself or all of them together, is always divisible by the number seven. We have for the week 70 bullocks, 14 rams and 98 lambs or altogether 182 sacrifices (26 × 7), to which must be added 336 (48 × 7) tenths of ephahs of flour for the meat offering. It is interesting to note the number 7 appeared at the Feast of Unleavened Bread only in the number of its days, and at Pentecost in the period of its observance (7 × 7 days after Passover). The Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days and took place when the seventh month was at its full height and had the number 7 impressed on its characteristic sacrifices.

It is not so easy to account for the third peculiarity of these sacrifices—that of the daily decrease in the number of bullocks offered. The common explanation was that it was intended to show the decreasing sanctity of each successive day of the feast, while the number 7 was still to be reserved for the last day, is not more satisfactory than the view offered in the Talmud that these sacrifices were offered, not for Israel, but for the nations of the world: “There were seventy bullocks, to correspond to the number of the seventy nations in the world.” It is difficult to imagine that the Rabbis would embed the prophetic character of this ritual into this feast. Clearly, there is something inspired going on here.

On the day before the Feast of Tabernacles—the 14th of Tishri—the festive pilgrims had all arrived in Jerusalem. The “booths” on the roofs, in the courtyards, in streets and squares, as well as roads and gardens, within a Sabbath day’s journey, must have given the city and neighborhood an unusually picturesque appearance. The preparation of all that was needed for the festival—purification, the care of the offerings that each would bring, and friendly communications between those who were to be invited to the sacrificial meal—no doubt sufficiently occupied their time. When the early autumn evening set in, the blasts of the priests’ trumpets on the Temple Mount announced to Israel the advent of the feast.

The Feast of Tabernacles in the New Testament

In Mark 9 and Matthew 17 Christ’s transfiguration seems to take place during the Feast of Tabernacles. The Gospels recount that Jesus went up to the Mount of Transfiguration ((which many scholars believe was Mount Hermon) where He was transfigured in front of the three “insiders,” Peter, James and John. Peter wanted to make three booths, which is why some people think this was in the fall: it was around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. (Peter will allude to this heavily in his second letter.)

Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. His appearance was changed in front of them, his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Then Peter told Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here! If you want, I’ll set up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when a bright cloud suddenly overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with him. Keep on listening to him!”

— Matthew 17:1–5 (ISV)

After healing a possessed boy, Jesus went back to Capernaum. Jesus went down to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles where He declared Himself to be the Living Water:

On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have rivers of living water flowing from his heart.”

— John 7:37–38 (ISV)

Later, in John 8, He forgave the woman taken in adultery, and returned to Galilee.

The Fulfillment of the Feast

It’s been suggested that of the three feasts held in the seventh month (Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles), this one represents the Millennial Kingdom. There the people of God will live until it is time to leave their temporary shelters and enter into their permanent home. Sukkot suggests a temporary delay before receiving our permanent habitation, as alluded to by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:2, “For in this one we sigh, since we long to put on our heavenly dwelling.”(ISV)

Most scholars agree the spring feasts — the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Firstfruits — are predictive of the first coming of Christ. All the elements of those first three feasts were fulfilled and not only that, they were fulfilled on the very days they are observed. That fact is both fascinating and potentially enlightening as well. This leads many to expect the Fall Feasts anticipate Christ’s Second Coming. One should study and review the details of the Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles on your own and pray for understanding so that you can make your own conclusions accurately.

(With excerpts from Chuck Missler’s and Dan Stolebarger’s book The Feasts of Israel and Alfred Edersheim’s book The Temple, Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ)

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Syrian Refugee Crisis

 
‎21 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎11:27:12 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Give us advice; reach a decision! Cast your shadow as if night had come at high noon. Shelter the fugitives, And don’t betray a single refugee.

— Isaiah 16:3 (ISV)

Europe is facing an existential crisis that not only threatens the EU, but the national sovereignty of the member countries themselves. Whatever immigration problems North America faces, it pales in comparison to what is happening in Europe.

Why Now?

A question many are asking is “Why now?”

This is a problem that has been brewing for a while. It came to Europe in four stages:

  1. The first step of the refugee crisis was the persecution that forces refugees to flee their homes in the first place. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad deliberately targeted Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, civilian and rebel alike, for slaughter. His goal was to polarize the conflict on religious lines, to turn what began as a broad-based uprising against a dictator into a sectarian war, with religious minorities on his side. Some are fleeing war, some political persecution, and some other kinds of violence.
  2. The second step is what happens to those refugees once they are forced out of their homes: Often, though not always, they end up in camps. Life in the camps is often difficult, cramped and unsafe, with few prospects for work or education. This is a crisis for the refugees as well for as the countries that house them; for instance, host countries like Lebanon and Turkey are struggling to manage their camps for refugees and to absorb the thousands of people who live in them.
  3. The third step is what happens when refugee families, perhaps after seeing that the camps offer them little hope or protection, seek safety from persecution farther afield, often in developed countries, particularly in Europe.
  4. The fourth step is the one that many Western countries are experiencing now: what happens when large numbers of refugees show up. Often, they face systems that are badly broken — the squalid overcrowded camps in Greece, for example — or are overtly hostile to refugees. This is changing, but most European countries are still trying to keep refugees out and refusing to accept even a remotely sufficient number of them for resettlement, which means the families who make it to Europe end up in camps, sleeping in train stations, or living in fear of deportation.

A Problem Has Come Home to Roost

Hungary had been warning its fellow EU members for months that refugees and illegal migrants were crossing its border in increasing numbers. The only response Hungary got back from Brussels was to “shut up and take it.” The Hungarians were criticized and ridiculed by Brussels for even being concerned about this.

In the past weeks, however, the good-sized trickle of humanity crossing their border turned into an absolute flood with thousands of people crossing the border from Serbia into Hungary every day. Even under the most ideal economic conditions could handle such a massive influx of people and Hungary is not a wealthy country. Even Germany, the wealthiest of the EU member countries (Gross domestic product=2.9 trillion euros) will have a difficult time taking in hundreds of thousands of people. This has caused the EU countries to take actions they feel is in their national interest, but is against the EU charter.

Germany, for example has just recently decided to take a go slow approach to immigration and rigidly enforce the EU Dublin Agreement on immigration where refugees are to be fingerprinted in the EU country where they first enter. In the past this rule was not enforced and refugees were fingerprinted in their destination country. Now, refugees are deported back to the first EU country they entered, often Italy or Greece, which have the worst welfare provision for these people. Also, Germany is implementing stricter border control to slow down the flow of immigrants into their country. This has caused a backflow of immigrants in Austria, Hungary and Italy. In turn, the Hungarian government is enforcing their border controls, which is putting more pressure on Serbia.

And so it goes.

European Union

A Look Back

Looking back the vast majority of those who are escaping are coming from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. All of these countries have been ripped apart by warfare and civil strife. The situation in these countries, particularly in Syria, is so dire it seems like now is the time to get out, especially since there is a vehicle for them through the EU to escape.

A Different Kind of Refugee

If one would visit Munich and see the people coming into the train station there, they do not have the look of a stereotypical refugee. They are well dressed; they are in Western clothes; they have smart phones. One trait that does identify them as refugees is a look of dejection.

On the whole, these people come from the middle class. After all, these people are paying smugglers to get to Europe. A lot of them are leaving from Turkey. The family of the little boy whose picture captivated the world was leaving a refugee camp in Turkey.

This boy’s family was leaving a refugee camp in Turkey.

This boy’s family was leaving a refugee camp in Turkey.(CNN)

They’re paying smugglers, up to $2,000 a person to be smuggled into Greece. Many times, the payment gets them passage on a craft that is barely seaworthy and in many cases; these unfortunates don’t even get that. (Because most Westerners don’t even have $1,000 in emergency funds, one can imagine only the well-heeled can afford passage to Europe.) It is the middle class, even the upper middle class that is leaving these countries. These are the very people that are needed to rebuild these countries if any kind of normalcy returns to their homelands.

A Failure of Foreign Policy

Those that believe this is all because of President Assad are missing the point. If this is the case why in 2009 weren’t people streaming out? Why not in 2010?

It was only after the West announced Assad had to go, fomented an uprising, and then pulled out that the problems started. Power abhors a vacuum and when the West left the region without leaving a stable, viable government behind, the Islamic State was able to fill that void and begin their brand of vicious jihad.

The West’s Response

Maybe since they realize they are partly to blame for the current crisis, the West has said they are willing to take in some of the refugees. They have a daunting task on their hands. More than 500,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean so far this year, and about 3,000 of them have died. With 4,000 people arriving on the Greek islands daily, the crisis is growing.

While not an official number, sources say German officials have stated they will take in up to 800,000 refugees into the country, though the German people may have a much lower figure in mind. It won’t take long to reach that figure. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated up to 3,000 people a day are coming into Hungary.

Numbers of internally displaced people (in Syria), Syrian refugees (in neighboring countries), and Syrian registered asylum-seekers (in Europe)

Numbers of internally displaced people (in Syria), Syrian refugees (in neighboring countries), and Syrian registered asylum-seekers (in Europe) — Focus on Syria

Hungary, which shares a border with Serbia, is facing a mini-insurrection. It is trying to get these people into refugee centers so they can be documented, which is required by EU law. The refugees are afraid they will be turned back so are breaking out of the centers. Many of the refugees are men of army age, look healthy and are very unruly. These people will be tough to contain.

The people who do make it out of the warzones into Europe are serving as an example to those back home who want to leave. Those who make it to Europe want to get to Germany since those who are arriving would be eligible for state welfare benefits. These benefits are incredible compared to Syria that has nothing to offer but despair.

The Coming Demographic Shift

Some politicians in the destination counties, such as Germany think this an ideal situation for them. While their economy may take a hit in the short term in welfare payments to these people, many politicos believe the influx of refugees will solve their demographic problem. They also think these low-wage refugees are the answer to their skyrocketing labor costs.

One thing Western and Central Europe has been suffering is depopulation as the birth rate declines.

Europe is dying.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the last time the countries of the EU were reproducing at replacement levels (that is, slightly more than two children per woman) was the mid–1970s. In 2014, the average number of children per woman was about 1.6. That is up a bit from the nadir in 2001, but has been falling again for more than half a decade. Imagine a world where many people have no sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts or uncles. That is where Europe is heading in the coming decades. There are exceptions. France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce? (Russia has also resorted to bribing their citizens by declaring a national “Day of Conception” for people to take a day off from work to reproduce.)

The one bright spot seems to be immigration. In 2012, the median age of the national population in the EU was 41.9 years, while the median age of foreigners living in the union was 34.7. So many Europeans are pleased there will be new arrivals to work and pay taxes when the locals retire.

Many, however, are not. Anti-immigrant sentiment is surging across the Continent. Nativist movements performed alarmingly well in European Parliament elections last year and the anti-immigrant movement is growing.

Mainstreaming

Just as with the illegal immigrants in the United States, the refugees in Europe are there to stay. The problem now becomes not how to deport them, but how to bring these people into the economy. How, for example, do you bring in people that have very, very different religious backgrounds, experiences and perspectives on life into a rural German village of 1,200 people who have lived there for tens of generations? What happens to a local (and national) society when there is an influx of another 1,000 people in a village of 1,000 who share none of the history with these people? It’s difficult to quantify these things, but these are real things people face.

Just like many decisions politicians make, the immigration decisions being made now could well have unintended consequences.

While the large majority of refugees are Christian, an estimated 25 percent of people coming into Europe are Sunni Muslims who were driven out of Syria by Assad. The Muslims who have come to Europe before them have shown little inclination to assimilate into the culture and have been a source of sectarian violence their adoptive countries. They also offer a fertile recruiting ground for extremist Muslim factions already in the country. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution is monitoring 30 mosques and about 1,900 Islamists in the state, according to authorities.

Muslim clerics also realize Europe has a demographic problem. Sheikh Muhammad Ayed gave the speech at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem urging Muslims to have children with westerners so they could “trample them underfoot, Allah willing.”

Throughout Europe, all the hearts are enthused with hatred toward Muslims. They wish that we were dead, but they have lost their fertility, so they look for fertility in our midst. We will give them fertility. We will breed children with them, because we shall conquer their countries.

This tactic did not originate with the mullahs. Stalin wanted to import ethnic Russians into the Baltic States. It wasn’t so the Baltic States could enjoy Russian culture. It was to convert the Baltic countries into Russian states.

Importing Terror

There is another dimension to the refugee crisis. The Islamic State is boasting they are planting terrorists among the refugees coming into Europe. Part of ISIS’s plan is to smuggle in terrorists and create still more turmoil in Western Europe. Whether this is true or merely propaganda will probably not be known until it is too late.

This seems to be more fact than boast.

As we have learned recently, a lot of information can be gleaned from social media. Analysts have seen pictures of jihadists coming into Germany and pictures of those same people have been found carrying rifles fighting for al-Nusra.

The refugee crisis should be seen as the warning signal that the world is seeing a series of compounding crises.

The signs are everywhere.

The Middle East is in flames, refugees are pouring into Europe; countries are straining under the pressure of absorbing them. With the refugees also comes the increased threat of terrorism. The West seems impotent in the face of this threat.

Nations are morally adrift. The peoples of the world are looking for someone who will rescue them from their problems. The past and present presidential races in the United States are examples of people gravitating to candidates on the left and right who offer platitudes without programs and appeal to a brand of populism that has its perils. Some have already been held up potential and elected candidates as modern-day messiahs. Israel is being increasingly isolated. It is truly becoming a millstone around the neck of anyone who supports them.

The prophecies of the Bible are being fulfilled before our eyes.

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Yom Kippur

 
‎21 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎11:26:07 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons when they had approached the LORD and died. The LORD told Moses. Remind your brother Aaron that at no time is he to enter the sacred place from the room that contains the curtain into the presence of the Mercy Seat on top of the ark. Otherwise, he’ll die, because I will appear in a cloud at the Mercy Seat. Aaron is to enter the sacred place with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering… He is to take two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a whole burnt offering from the assembly of the Israelis. Then Aaron is to bring the bull as a sin offering for himself and make atonement for himself and his household… Aaron is to cast lots over the two male goats—one lot for the LORD and the other one for the scapegoat. Aaron then is to bring the male goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and offer it as a sin offering. The male goat on which the lot fell for the scapegoat is to be brought alive into the LORD’s presence to make atonement for himself. Then he is to send it into the wilderness. Aaron is then to bring the bull for a sin offering for him, thus making atonement for himself and his household… Then he is to make atonement on the sacred place on account of the uncleanness of the Israelis, their transgressions and all their sins… This will be a perpetual statute for you as you make atonement once a year for the Israelis on account of all their sins. So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded him.

— Leviticus 16:1–34, (ISV)

This year Yom Kippur begins in the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 22, and ends in the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 23. Yom Kippur [yôm hakkippurîm “day of the covering over (or propitiation)”] is also known as the Day of Atonement.

From Leviticus 16 it appears that even the high priest could not enter the Holy of Holies at all times and without special ceremonies; he and his household needed reconciliation as did the people of Israel and even the sanctuary itself. The Day of Atonement was proclaimed a fast, reminding the Israelites of Yahweh’s holiness and their own sinfulness (including the most holy persons). A number of sacrifices were offered, 15 altogether (16 counting the goat of Azazel): 12 burnt offerings and three sin offerings (Lev. 16:5–29; Num. 29:7–11). Including the ram (mentioned separately at Num. 28:8), there were 13 burnt offerings and four sin offerings. The Israelite sacrifices of reconciliation were similar in function to the purification ceremonies of the ancient Babylonians, Greeks and Romans.

The Atonement

The Day of Atonement was “a Sabbath of solemn rest” (Lev. 16:31), which included a purification ceremony in the tabernacle as well as a general fast. After the high priest had bathed and had put on his linen clothes (rather than his sacred vestments; v. 4), he chose for himself and his house a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. From the congregation he took two goats as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering. He then had the two goats placed at the entrance of the tent of meeting where he cast a lot, assigning one goat for Yahweh and “one for Azazel.” The goat assigned by lot to Yahweh was to be sacrificed as a sin offering, but the other goat was placed before the Lord alive in order to reconcile, i.e., to be dedicated as a scapegoat (vv. 20–22) and subsequently to be driven into the desert, bearing the guilt of Israel’s sins.

After lots were cast between the two goats, Aaron killed the bull of the sin offering for himself and his house. Taking next a pan of glowing coals from the altar of burnt offering, he placed ground up incense on the fire before the face of Yahweh—inside the veil while a cloud of smoke from the incense covered the mercy seat. Then with his finger he sprinkled blood of the bull seven times on the front side of the mercy seat and seven times in front of it, killed the goat of the sin offering, and added the blood of that animal to that of the killed bull, sprinkling the holy place and the horns of the altar of burnt offering.

An indispensable detail of the ceremony was the placing of the live goat before the altar of burnt offering. Leaning with his two hands on the head of the animal, Aaron confessed all the iniquity of the Israelites as well as their transgressions, symbolically placing them on the head of the goat. After this act an appointed person took the animal to the wilderness outside of the camp where he was to free it (cf. Ps. 103:12). (In later years the person customarily threw the goat from the cliffs so that it died.)

Finally, the high priest went to the tent of meeting, took off his linen clothes, bathed himself, put on his regular vestments, and offered the two rams as a burnt offering in the court, thus reconciling himself and the people. The bull and the goat of the sin offering were placed outside the camp, to be burned totally, including skin, flesh and dung (Lev. 16:27; see Heb. 13:11). Like the person who had sent the live goat to the wilderness, the one who burned the animal had to wash his clothes and bathe himself. It may have been that the feast offering prescribed at Num. 29:7–11 was given.

The only fast day prescribed in Mosaic law, the Day of Atonement (cf. Exod. 30:10) gained particular importance in postexilic times (cf. Neh. 9:1). Although the fast retained significance in New Testament times (cf. Acts 27:9), the event came to be reinterpreted among Christians in terms of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest (Heb. 9:11).

The End of the Ritual

Since the loss of the Temple in A.D. 70, the God-centered observances of the Torah have tragically been replaced with a man-centered, good works system of appeasement through prayer, charity and penitence.

The story of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Joshua Ben Hananiah illustrates the void left by the destruction:

[T]hey beheld the Temple ruins. “Woe is us!” cried Rabbi Joshua, “that the place where the iniquities of Israel were atoned for is now laid waste!” “My son,” replied Rabbi Yohanan, “do not be grieved. We have another atonement as effective as this. And what is it? Acts of loving-kindness.”

Ritually, the power of atonement was now vested in the Day of Atonement itself. As always, teshuvah (repentance) was required before any sin could be atoned, but for the most severe sins atonement was “suspended until the Day of Atonement which then atones.” But it was now made clear that sins between human beings could only be atoned if “one pacified one’s fellow” first.

It was during this post-destruction period that the liturgy of Yom Kippur was developed, including the recitation of five daily services, something that was done on other fast days and that may reflect practices already in existence before the destruction (Mishnah Taanit 4.1). Rabbinic teaching also spelled out the specific prohibitions of Yom Kippur for each individual. Although fasting remained the basic method of “afflicting one’s soul,” prohibitions were added against washing, anointing with oil, wearing shoes and having sexual relations (Mishnah Yoma 8.1)—prohibitions that are also associated with mourning practices. Thus, the Sages were attempting to eliminate all pleasures on that day, for Yom Kippur, like all fasts, is considered a time of mourning.

Even though the temple has not been used in over 2,000 years for Yom Kippur sacrifices, it appears that a return to the traditional ways is on the horizon with the plans to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Last March a news report came out of Jerusalem from the Temple Institute that the Altar of the Lord has been reconstructed.

The Institute, based in the Old City of Jerusalem, announced it has finished building an altar that is essentially “ready for use” in sacrificial services. The altar is the most ambitious project to date toward the goal of rebuilding the Jewish Temple. The massive outdoor altar, which took several years to build, can be operational at little more than a moment’s notice, reported the Israeli magazine Matzav Haruach.

Bible scholars say the rebuilding of the ancient temple is predicted throughout Scripture, starting with Daniel’s vision in Daniel 9:27. Jesus echoed Daniel’s warning about an abomination standing in “the holy place” in the last days in Matthew 24:15, followed by the Apostle John’s vision of the Temple in Revelation 11:1–2. Paul mentioned it in 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4.

A Yom Kippur of Great Significance?

There has been a lot of speculation that this year’s Yom Kippur will be one of great significance. Some even claim that the Rapture has to occur this year Wednesday, Sept. 23.

These types of predictions are not new:

  • Harold Camping predicted that the Rapture and devastating earthquakes would occur May 21, 2011, with God taking approximately 3 percent of the world’s population into heaven, and that the end of the world would occur five months later Oct. 21. When his original date failed to come about, Camping revised his prediction and said that May 21, a “Spiritual Judgment” took place, and that both the physical Rapture and the end of the world would occur Oct. 21, 2011.
  • Ronald Weinland stated Jesus Christ would return Sept. 29, 2011. He prophesied nuclear explosions in U.S. port cities by July 2008 as the blowing of the Second Trumpet of Revelation. After his prophecy failed to come true he changed the date for the return of Jesus Christ to May 27, 2012.
  • A writer, using the pen name “Ted,” in Deadline 1981, Mockers Beware, Vol. 1, declared that the rapture was about to arrive in August 1980, or at the latest by June 20, 1981.
  • According to Dr. Charles Taylor, the rapture was to take place Sept. 25, 1975.
  • Oct. 28, 1992, was the predicted date for the rapture, according to an undated tract, not attributed to a named author, titled Mission For The Coming Days, Orange County Division, Orange County, CA.
  • The founder of the Mormons, Joseph Smith, predicted that the second coming of Jesus would take place before the end of 1891.
  • The Seventh Day Adventist, William Miller, predicted that Jesus would finally return between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.

To our best estimation, these predictions have not come true.

It is easy to be taken in by the enthusiasm of false prophets. Paul once described the misplaced enthusiasm of the Jews: “For I can testify on their behalf that they have a zeal for God, but it is not in keeping with full knowledge.” (Romans 10:2, ISV)

Jesus said, “At that time, if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’, don’t believe it,” (Matthew 24:23, ISV)

Jesus went on to say and made it very clear, “No one knows when that day or hour will come—not the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” (Matthew 24:36, ISV)

We are not to be date setters; we are not to put God in a box. Rather, we should follow Peter’s advice:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep a clear head, and set your hope completely on the grace to be given you when Jesus, the Messiah, is revealed.

— 1 Peter 1:13, ISV

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No Refuge for Pakistani Christians

 
‎14 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎11:24:20 PM | Carol LoefflerGo to full article
Note: The author Carol Loeffler is the Executive Producer of Steel on Steel Productions and Editor of Facebook’s “Praying for Persecuted Christians” page. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute.

Then they will hand you over to suffer and will kill you, and you will be hated by all the nations because of my name.

— Matthew 24:9 (ISV)

Persecution of Christians has finally bubbled to the top of main stream media news, even though it has been steadily growing in frequency and brutality for many decades. While sensational stories like beheadings and kidnappings grab headlines, many serious incidents of persecution are largely ignored. One such case involves the plight of the Pakistani Christians who, when forced to flee their homeland to save their lives, find themselves in countries where they are treated very badly.

The Pakistani blasphemy law, prohibiting speaking or acting against the Prophet Mohammed, the Quran, or any Muslim holy place, was modified in the early 1990s to require the death penalty in blasphemy cases even if the offense was unintentional. While the harshness of this law is extreme, even worse is that the mere accusation of blasphemy brings mobs of angry Muslim extremists down on the accused with violence or threats of violence. Those caught are often brutally killed, while those that escape flee the country, leaving everything behind.

Many Christians who have left Pakistan under these circumstances have fled to Thailand, which as a secular state seems friendlier than Muslim countries or their traditional enemy India. Thailand, instead of being the desired haven, has become a very difficult place to live.

Many Pakistanis there have applied with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but are told that they must wait from three to five years for a second interview to determine if they are legitimate refugees. Without a refugee stamp on their passports, they cannot travel to more friendly countries to find asylum.

Those that enter Thailand legally as tourists find that they can only stay for three months. After that they have to pay about $1,000 for a visa and cannot work without a work permit. Being unable to work to earn money or not having family or friends to send money for the visas, anyone who stays is considered “illegal.”

These “asylum seekers” then go into hiding, trying to avoid being arrested by the Thai police. They are afraid to leave their small apartments for anything but the most basic necessities, but in many cases they lack food and medicine. Their children cannot go to school or even play outside. This miserable existence is punctuated by Thai police pounding on doors at all times of the day or night looking to arrest illegals.

Thailand’s Black Hole

Pakistani Christian refugees

March 2015: Approximately 100 Pakistani Christian refugees sleep in one room in Thailand’s Immigration Detention Center. (British Pakistani Christian Association)

If arrested, they are taken first to jail and then to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC). There they are packed like sardines into rooms. Sleeping in these rooms is done in shifts because not everyone can lie down at once. Young women have been raped by the guards in this center and there is nothing anyone can do to rescue them.

Until recently it was possible to bail people out from the IDC with about $1,500 and the police would back off for a time. However, in the last couple of weeks, the Thai government has refused to grant bail for Pakistani prisoners. No one knows how long the ban will remain in place, but the police continue to terrorize asylum seekers with constant raids in refugee neighborhoods.

Please pray for the country of Thailand, God’s intervention into this situation, and that these Christians will be able to find a country where asylum will be granted.

(Note: Carol and John Loeffler are leading an effort to get “Pastor X” and his family out of Thailand and to a friendly country. You can hear more about it on YouTube.)

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We’ll Party Like It’s 5776

 
‎14 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎11:20:52 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

You are to hold a sacred assembly on the first day of the seventh month of each year. No servile work is to be done. It’s a day of blowing trumpets for you.

— Numbers 29:1 (ISV)

This year the Jewish feast of Rosh Hashanah (ראֹשׁ הַשָׁנָה) (Feast of Trumpets) began the evening of Sunday, Sept. 13 and ends tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 15. It marks the beginning of the Jewish year 5776.

Rosh Hashanah (literally, “head of the year”) the Hebrew new year, ushered in the Feast of Trumpets with the blowing of the ram’s horn. It was the first of the high holy feast days and looked forward to the solemn Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) which occurred ten days later.

Rosh Hashanah is one of the most eventful days in history. Traditionally, it was the day on which Adam and Eve were created, so it can be thought of as a birthday party for all of mankind.

The Rabbis taught that the world was created on the first day of Tishrei. This is supported by the fact that the letters in the Hebrew word “b’reishit” (when God began to create [the heaven and earth]) can be rearranged to spell alef b’Tishrei (the First of Tishrei). The theme of praying that God will inscribe a person in the Book of Life is featured prominently throughout the Rosh Hashanah liturgy.

Not until late biblical and rabbinic times did Rosh Hashanah take on the character it has today—as the Day of Judgment (Yom ha-Din), when the deeds of each person over the past year are weighed, and his or her fate is decided for the coming year.

Rosh Hashanah was also the day when it was decreed that three different barren women would be allowed to bear children—Sarah, Rachel and Hannah. It was also the traditional day on which Joseph was released from an Egyptian prison. Rosh Hashanah was also the day on which the Israelites were released from slavery and allowed to leave Egypt for the Promised Land. According to the Jewish traditions, Rosh Hashanah will also mark their final redemption as a people.

The term “Rosh Hashanah” occurs only once in the Bible (Ezek. 40:1), where it simply means the start of the year and does not refer to this specific festival. In fact, the Torah counted the months from Nisan, the month of Passover, so that what is now called Rosh Hashanah is called the festival of the seventh month (Num. 29:1), a sacred occasion commemorated with the blast of the shofar. (It is interesting to note that the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets is going to be the Rapture of the Church.)

Although originally a one-day holiday, in the Diaspora a second day was added to Rosh Hashanah because of the difficulty in determining when the new moon actually appeared. After the calendar was set, Jews in Israel continued to observe only one day until the Middle Ages, when the practice of observing two days became universal.

Sound the Trumpet

The blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, occupied a significant place on several occasions, such as the monthly new moon and the Year of Jubilee, but especially so at the beginning of the new year, hence its name—Feast of Trumpets.

When the shofar was blown on Rosh Hashanah, there were three different sounds made. The first was one long continuous blast. The second consisted of a series of three shorter blasts. The third was a set of nine short staccato notes. These two latter sounds were supposed to be the sounds of sorrow—sighs and short piercing cries. In contrast, the long continuous note was a sound of joy and triumph. The trumpets were blown throughout the month before Rosh Hashanah, but not on the last day. The silence was to prevent Satan from noticing the arrival of this day, which was “The Hidden Day” and therefore to be concealed.

The High Holy Days

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the High Holidays, Awesome Days or Days of Awe, Yamim Noraim. These 10 days begin with Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur and are the most important Jewish holy days of the year.

Even many laxly observant Jews attend synagogue for the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, crowding synagogues to bursting. (The same way many Christians darken church doors only on Christmas and Easter.) People wish one another “a good and sweet year,” and at Rosh Hashanah meals it is customary to dip bread in honey (rather than salt) and to invoke the hope for a good and sweet year. It is believed that “On Rosh Hashanah all the inhabitants of the world pass before God [in judgment] like a flock of sheep.”

All are judged on Rosh Hashanah, and the verdict is sealed on Yom Kippur. The worthy are written into the Book of Life, the unworthy blotted out or entered into a Book of Death (sometimes a third book for undecided cases is mentioned).

Now, if you will, forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of your book which you have written.” The LORD told Moses, “Whoever sins against me, I’ll blot him out of my book.

— Exodus 32:32–33 (ISV)

During these days worshipers face God in eternity, for He rules past, present and future. Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the seventh month, was the first Sabbath day of creation, the rabbis taught. The blowing of the shofar recalls the horn-blasts at Sinai when the Torah was revealed.

The service is dense with historical references. As a Day of Judgment, Yom Hadin, and Day of Blowing the Shofar, Yom Hateruyah, Rosh Hashanah also prefigures the end of days, the Last Judgment, when all souls shall appear before God. The Amidah liturgies on Rosh Hashanah have added to them prayers given entirely over to the praise of God. These prayers center on Malchuyot, celebrating God as creator and king of the universe, Zichronot, recalling God’s mighty judgments in history, and Shofarot (Shofar verses), which celebrate God as future messianic redeemer. The blasts of the ram’s horn are expressed in the Musaf Amidah service.

The shofar is blown at regular intervals throughout these prayers, as if awakening the soul to and symbolizing in its sounds all the implications of Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofarot. In the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, or on the second day if the first day falls on a Sabbath, it is a custom, called Tashlikh, “Casting,” from the Middle Ages to go to the banks of a river, lake or ocean, and recite appropriate verses while emptying pockets and symbolically “casting all their sins into the depths of the sea”:

He will again show us compassion; he will subdue our iniquities. You will hurl all their sins into the deepest sea.

— Micah 7:19, (ISV)

The experience of nature at this time adds greater depth to the services and relates them to the cosmos.

In Israel, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days, with the second day spent mostly in the synagogue in a repetition of the first day. Work is then permitted during the days that follow up to Yom Kippur. But on these days, regular synagogue services are longer than usual, with penitential prayers recited every morning before regular morning prayers.

It was once customary to fast on each of the 10 days until the evening, but the day after Rosh Hashanah is the Fast of Gedaliah, mourning the death of the Governor of Judah whose assassination by a fanatical Jew set in motion the final destruction of the First Commonwealth (the reign of King David):

Nevertheless, seven months later Nethaniah’s son Ishmael, the grandson of Elishama from the royal family, came with ten men and attacked Gedaliah. As a result, he died along with the Jews and Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah.

2 Kings 25:25 (ISV)

This fast therefore presages the coming winter fasts and feasts. However, during the hours just before the evening start of Yom Kippur, the Talmud states, one should eat well, in preparation for the twenty-four-hour fast and the strenuous praying.

The Sabbath that falls during the intermediate days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance, and the Haftorah begins with the exhortation, Shuvah Yisrael, “Return, O Israel.”

A Call to Repentance

Return, Israel, to the LORD your God,
for you have fallen due to your own iniquity.

Bring a prepared speech with you
as you return to the LORD. Say to him:
Take away all our iniquity,
and accept what is good.
Then we will present the fruit of our lips.

Assyria won’t save us;
we won’t be riding on horses,
Nor will we be saying anymore to the work of our hands,
“You are our God.
Indeed, in you the orphan finds mercy.

I will correct their apostasy,
loving them freely,
since my anger will have turned away from them.

I will be like the dew to Israel;
Israel will blossom like a lily,
growing roots like the cedars of Lebanon.

Israel’s branches will spread out,
and its beauty will be like an olive tree,
with its scent like that of Lebanon.

Those who live under its protection will surely return.
Their grain will flourish;
they will blossom like a vine,
and Israel’s scent will be like wine from Lebanon.

Ephraim, what have I in common with idols?
I have listened and will pay attention to him.
I am like a flourishing cypress;
in me will your fruit be found.

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things.
Whoever is discerning, let him know them.
For the ways of the LORD are right:
the righteous follow his example,
but the rebellious stumble in them.

— Hosea 14:1–9 (ISV)

Clashes on the Temple Mount

Clashes on the Temple Mount (Photo: Israeli Police representative)

No Time for Celebration

While Rosh Hashanah is supposed to be a time for celebration before Yom Kippur, violence is marring this year’s celebration in the Holy Land.

Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem Sunday morning to clear Muslim stone throwers who had taken refuge in the compound amid allegations they planned to disrupt Jewish worshipers on the eve of the holiday.

According to the Israeli news site Ynet News, Police had to use tear gas and stun grenades to clear the Palestinian protesters from the mosque. The rioters threw fireworks and stones at the police as they entered the site. Border Police forces then blocked entry to the Temple Mount., the Israeli news site Ynet News reported.

Police entered the mosque compound at about 7 a.m. after receiving reports that protesters were prepared to disrupt visits to the area by Jewish worshipers, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, according to The Associated Press.

The mosque compound overlooks the open pavilion at the Western Wall where Jews gather for prayers.

Radwan Amr, an official at the Al-Aqsa mosque, said 32 of the shrine’s windows were damaged or destroyed, a door was shattered and the carpet burned in 12 places.

Israeli police Maj. Gen. Moshe Edri said the demonstrators intended to disrupt Rosh Hashanah festivities, and his officers’ goal is “to allow the freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas term the confrontation an “Israeli attack,” and condemned Israeli police as committing a terrorist act themselves.

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Most Likely Most Dangerous

 
‎08 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎11:12:22 PM | Jeremy RichardGo to full article
Note: The author Jeremy Richard is a retired U.S. Army Intelligence Analyst. During his last assignment, he was an Intelligence Observer/Coach/Trainer at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, LA. He has 2 combat tours to Baghdad with the 82nd Airborne Division. He worked for the Deputy Chief of Staff, Strategy, Plans, and Assessment (C–5) Multinational Force Iraq HQ and also had one tour to the Sinai, Egypt with the Multinational Force and Observers Peacekeeping mission. Jeremy works as an Intelligence Staff Technical Trainer. He is a member of the Koinonia Institute and is a Bronze Medallion holder. He also operates the website “Most Likely Most Dangerous.”

The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute.

In the Tactical Operations Center

“Attention in the TOC! 60 Taliban just walked through a Red Falcon ambush and are about to contact the rest of Charlie Company!” I yelled out in the 407th Brigade Support Battalion TOC (Tactical Operation Center) which only elicited a slight head raise from the Assistant Operations Officer. About twelve hours earlier I had given a briefing to the command and staff where I had assessed the enemy would attack our TWPS (Tactical Water Purification System) site which I based off of three different indicators my analysts had found during the previous day. The TWPS was a huge target because it was the only source of water for the entire 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division ever since we had jumped onto the small island where we were now operating. We wouldn’t be able to just drive down the street to Walmart and buy some bottled water if the enemy destroyed that piece of equipment.

I had been really excited 45 minutes earlier when a report came in that a collection asset had eyes on 60 military age males with rifles and two trucks. They were standing in a semi-circle around one individual who was pointing around to people. I had yelled out:

Attention in the TOC! 60 military age males with rifles and two trucks spotted 1.5 clicks (kilometers or ~0.9 miles) away from the TWPS site! I assess the individual in the middle is either taking roll or giving instructions.

At that point both the Operations Officer and Intelligence Officer walked over to where I was sitting and scolded me for calling out “attention in the TOC” because that was only to be used when urgent information needed to be broadcast for the entire tent to hear. I didn’t respond to them other than to look at my All American combat patch on my right shoulder and give them a shrug. I had been in the first unit deployed for “The Surge” ordered by President Bush and had already spent 15 months as an intelligence analyst in combat. I considered it urgent. They did not.

And even now, there was no urgency as Charlie Company was about to get slammed. The ambushing platoon didn’t initiate the ambush because you weren’t supposed to if the element walking through your ambush was numerically superior, which I knew from days in the infantry. I also knew the situation was not only bad for the Red Falcons, but for us as well because the TWPS site was about 600 meters (~650 yards) south of that location. In short order, gunfire erupted and the radios started going crazy with the Red Falcons coordinating their defense and asking for support. Not two minutes into the fight, I heard a call that 30 of the bad guys had broken off and were headed south. That was great news for the Red Falcons, but bad news for our dozen people down by the lake at the TWPS site. I called out again that 30 enemy had broken off and were headed down to that position. The Operations Officer calmly picked up the radio, called the TWPS site and said, “Hey, you guys might get contact.”

And that was it. That was all the warning they were to receive. In short order, the shots rang out louder and the entire site was overrun, the TWPS and 2 gun trucks were destroyed, and one of our soldiers was captured. The good news is this was only a training exercise on Sicily Drop Zone at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Observer Controllers (OCs) from the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) out of Hohenfels, Germany were on hand to evaluate the unit to help us be prepared for the upcoming Global Response Force mission. The Task Force OC and the JMRC Commander both presented me with their coins for the Most Likely Most Dangerous courses of action predictive analysis assessments which turned out to be correct.

MLMD Coins

MLMD Coins

Most Likely Most Dangerous

What is Most Likely Most Dangerous (MLMD) and how could this intelligence method be applied to biblical prophecy? I’ve been studying biblical prophecy for about 25 years and I’ve noticed when it comes to our individual views on prophecy, science, theology, or philosophy we tend to get emotionally attached to whatever position we’ve taken on a given subject. Often times, so much so that it can impede our critical thinking when information comes along that may challenge a particular view. We tend to pick our camp, plant our flag, and play king of the emotional mountain while potentially pushing away valuable information that ends up rolling down the hill only to land in the swamp of condemnation-before-investigation.

But maybe there’s a better way.

Before we jump into MLMD, let’s examine courses of action and indicators. Take a look at the example below. There are three different paths in the graphic. For this illustration, the paths represent avenues of approach that must be used by a Russian Tank Brigade to maneuver through the mountains and each path is a “course of action.” We need to confirm or deny tanks are moving on a given path by looking for indicators. One way to do that would be to send an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) out to Path 1 to look for indicators of tanks moving on that path. Each path is very long, so we want to focus our search into a search box, or named area of interest (NAI) because we don’t have the time to examine every mile of the path. So, we send our UAV out to look for Russian tanks, but it doesn’t find anything. There isn’t a trace or indicator that Russian tanks are moving through the area. Have we wasted our time? Certainly not. We know they must come down one of the paths, but we have now “denied” that path one is the course of action being used by the enemy. That takes away an option, and leaves us free to examine paths 2 and 3. Once we start seeing some indicators tanks are moving along path 2, we can confirm path 2 is the course of action being taken.

Named Area of Interest

Example 1 – Named Area of Interest

With our courses of action and indicators established, let’s move on to MLMD. Put simply, the enemy’s Most Likely course of action is the one that he will Most Likely take based on historical patterns, past indicators, analysis, and reporting. This is what we expect the enemy to do. On the other end, Most Dangerous is the course of action the enemy takes that is Most Dangerous to us and the mission. What could the enemy do that would really damage our mission, throw us off our game, and bring things to a grinding halt. An example of this would be a remote Combat Outpost (COP) in Afghanistan. On any given day, the Most Likely course of action would be a couple of Taliban fighters firing mortars from the nearby mountains and maybe taking a couple of pot shots with small arms fire.

The Most Dangerous course of action would be 200 Taliban fighters in a coordinated, complex attack involving multiple maneuver elements, mortar fire from the mountain, all initiated by a suicide bomber at the gate to the COP. Such an attack could overrun the entire COP, and these have happened before, such as the Battle of Wanat, where then Sergeant Ryan Pitts fought and was later was awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions. Sometimes the Most Likely and the Most Dangerous course of action can be the same, such as the case in the JMRC exercise where the enemy overran our position and destroyed our TWPS site.

MLMD is a good method to use because predictive analysis is pretty tricky to get right, especially when predicting human behavior. The intelligence process is half science and half art. And in that aspect, biblical prophecy is like military intelligence. You aren’t making an assessment that an event WILL happen at a certain time or in a certain way, but instead the assessment is about an event that will MOST LIKELY happen in a certain way or at a given time. That leaves you free to accept other indicators and may very well change your assessment if more information is later introduced. The most obvious application of this, in my opinion, is the pre-trib and post-trib views about the Rapture. This event is in a special category because there won’t be any indicators if the pre-trib view turns out to be correct and there will be many, many indicators if the post-trib view ends up being correct.

In the pre-trib view, the Rapture happening before the Tribulation (or Great Tribulation) is Most Likely to happen based on the many indicators given in scripture. Those who believe the post-trib view will not agree with this, of course. But both pre-trib and post-trib believers can agree the Most Dangerous course of action is the post-trib view, because that means Christians are still here when the Antichrist takes power and starts to wage war on the saints. Thus, I assess the pre-trib view is Most Likely, but the post-trib view is Most Dangerous and both pre and post should agree on the latter. It doesn’t hurt to be mentally, spiritually, and physically ready for both. I wouldn’t pull a Harold Camping, set dates, and sell my house; but it would be wise to be prepared for the worst because at the end of the day, we simply don’t know the timing of the Rapture. If you don’t need all of the stuff you’ve prepared because the Rapture happened, then God could use those items for other people’s benefit who will go through the Great Tribulation. So it is a win either way.

MLMD and Ezekiel 38/39

Now let’s examine the Ezekiel 38/39 Magog Invasion of Israel since it is one of my favorite topics and there are many indicators in the news on this subject every day. With regard to the identity of Magog, there are really only two options considered by most scholars. Either Magog is Russia or Turkey. In essence, we only have two paths we need to examine for indicators since nobody is out there advocating that Swaziland or Paraguay is Magog, which makes our job easier. The advantage and brilliance of biblical prophecy is we already know the course of action. We know what will happen. In the case of The Magog Invasion, we know the what, the where, and the why. The only questions left are who and when.

The What – The invasion of Israel by 5 countries ends with the utter destruction of those countries’ armies by God in a supernatural event.

The Where – In or near the current state of Israel.

The Why – The “hook in the jaw.” To take spoil and plunder.

The Who

Now to address the who. Most scholars believe Magog is either Russia or Turkey. Since I believe it is Russia, I will cite examples that are indicators Russia fits the description better than Turkey does. For example, I opine in one of my commentaries on a story from Fox News titled, “Why US must keep a close eye on Russia’s plans for the Arctic” with the following analysis.

But the key indicator I want to highlight is Ezekiel 39:2 and I’ll use several Bible versions to compare the texts.

I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. — NIV

I will turn you around and drive you toward the mountains of Israel, bringing you from the distant north. — NLT

And I will turn you about and drive you forward, and bring you up from the uttermost parts of the north, and lead you against the mountains of Israel. — ESV

and I will turn you around, drive you on, take you up from the remotest parts of the north and bring you against the mountains of Israel. — NAS

Here we have several descriptions of where Gog, the Prince of Magog, will originate from at the time of the invasion. The descriptions are the far north, the distant north, the uttermost parts of the north, and the remotest parts of the north. Since I believe every phrase, every word, and every letter in the bible is there by deliberate design, then I can’t ignore the text here as it relates to the Turkey/Russia debate. Back in Ezekiel’s day, Turkey would indeed be a long way north of Israel. But Russia matches the description here better than Turkey does, which leads me to the story below. It doesn’t get any more north or uttermost parts of the north than the Arctic Circle. In fact, Magnetic North, not to be confused with Grid North or True North, is slowly migrating to Siberia. That, in my opinion, is certainly a fantastic indicator that helps confirm Russia as Magog.”

This is just one example from one news article. There are hundreds to choose from, and that isn’t an exaggeration. Consider the following two products that list the highlighted news articles for these two days:

Daily Highlights Summary, September 2

Daily Highlights Summary, September 2

Daily Highlights Summary, September 3

Daily Highlights Summary, September 3

What has shocked me the most when making these products is these are not weekly summaries, but each of these news stories in their respective slides all happened the same day! I’d like to highlight one more indicator that identifies Russia as a better candidate for Magog over Turkey. Here is a story from the Jerusalem Post titled, “Cheney: Iran Deal Likely to Lead to First Use of Nuclear Weapon Since WWII.

From my commentary:

Ezekiel 39 describes NBC (Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological) weapons and their use so accurately that the details could be taken out of a modern military NBC handbook. This is a solid indicator that confirms the coming Magog Invasion.

In verse 11 they bury the dead in the Valley of Hamon Gog. (Downwind)

NBC 3 Warning of Predicted Contamination Report.

The NBCC uses NBC 1 reports and wind information to predict downwind hazard areas” (FM 3–7 p1–14)

In verse 14 they have to bury them and they hire professionals to do it, i.e. Hazmat crews.

After 7 months verse 15 says anyone who sees a bone will have to place a marker beside it so the professionals can come clean it.

NBC 5 Actual Contaminated Areas Report – Once the NBC 4 reports are posted on the situation map, an NBC 5 report is prepared showing the contaminated area.

NBC 5 reports usually are prepared by division. The preferred method of dissemination is by map overlay (FM 3–7 p1–14)

Derive the location of the attack from NBC:

  1. Chemical report and plot the location on a map or template.
  2. Draw a 1-km radius circle around the point of attack.
  3. Determine the maximum downwind hazard. (FM 3–7 p5–2)

Actual NBC Markers to be used:

NBC Markers

NBC Markers (GlobalSecurity.org)

In this example we see Israel will burn the weapons for their fuel. I will suggest this is describing nuclear weapons as I don’t think burning smallpox will run anyone’s iPad. With this opinion in mind, which country better fits the identity of Magog? Certainly Russia has nukes. Turkey does not, although it does host U.S. nukes so there is a window of opportunity there, in theory at least (but not “Most Likely”).

I could go on with several more sub-topics, but you get the idea and there are even more questions to ask and products to make to help lift the fog. What are the political relations like between Russia/Turkey and Persia (Iran), Gomer (Germany), Phut (Libya), and Sudan (Cush)? Does Turkey or Russia supply arms to the other 4? Does Russia or Turkey exert more political influence? Are there business ventures links?

Be an Intelligence Berean

The point is if you think Turkey is Magog, then search for indicators that help confirm your suspicion. But be critical in your research and also use the same context of your search to find out if Russia is meeting or exceeding the requirements for which you are searching.

What do I mean by confirm?

Look at the example below. On the right you will see a small box called “Index of Civil Conflict” with a green to red bar and a few arrows highlighting points on the line.

Iraq: I&W of Civil Conflict

Example 2 (Intellectual Capital Group)

This graph is just to illustrate the fact that finding one indicator does not make for a complete assessment. The more indicators you confirm, the more solid your conclusion. Using the green to red bar I can tell you Russia positively identified as Magog is almost to the green, if not there yet. Now, if indicators start rolling in that confirm Turkey as Magog, then I will have to reassess the total picture.

The Sum of the Matter

In conclusion, my goal with the MLMD method and the website is not necessarily to present my views on a given eschatological subject. My goal is empower you with some “best practices” and a database of news articles so you can look for indicators to help confirm or deny your views. The problem with information and intelligence is there’s way too much out there for any one individual to handle. The point of all of this is to show to the world that the bible tells history in advance, and every detail is there by deliberate design. When we do this accurately, we might get stares or rejections, much like the Operations Officer in the opening story, but we just might have people watching in the background who admire our work and might force themselves to challenge their own worldviews. Each interested observer is a possible soul saved.

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Questions to Ask About the “State of Palestine”, Part Two

 
‎08 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎11:07:16 PM | William Welty, Ph.D.Go to full article
Ed. Note: This is part two of a two part article originally titled, “Eighteen Questions to Ask the Next Secretary of State.” The author Dr. William Welty is the Executive Director of the ISV foundation and also serves as research analyst in Advanced Communication Technologies and Adjunct Professor of Middle Eastern Studies on the faculty of Koinonia Institute. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute.
* * *

10. Was Palestine ever recognized by any country whose existence, at that time or now, leaves no room for interpretation?

The short answer is “No.” Okay, we’ll acknowledge the Vatican endorsed “Palestine,” and The New York Times claimed it had done so in late June 2015 to serve as “a development the church hopes will lead to improved relations between Israel and the Palestinians.” One can view the Vatican’s motives with deep suspicion, given its provably anti-Semitic behavior over the centuries and its history of anti-Zionist policies and actions since the early days of the Zionist movement in general and the formation of Israel in 1948 in particular. On 30 October 2014, The New York Times noted Sweden had recognized Palestine, an action which drew harsh criticism from Israel because Sweden’s actions could be interpreted as a green light for more anti-Israel activity by the U.N. and by other members of the EU.

11. What was the language of Palestine?

Modern Israelis speak Hebrew, the language of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with a few modern refinements helped along by Eliezer ben Yehuda a 19th century rabbi who singlehandedly was responsible for the resurrection of biblical Hebrew from the academic graveyard of forgotten scholarship into its modern status as a living language. The language of Palestine? There isn’t a native language. Non-Israelis speak Hebrew, English, Arabic, and sometimes a little French thrown in to confuse things a bit. The Arabic dialects used to be distinctively Egyptian and/or Jordanian, but today the language reflects the syncretistic nature of the diverse cultures that have invaded Israel since 1948.

12. What is the name of Palestine’s currency?

This one’s really a trick question. That’s because there isn’t one. Never has been. (Ed. The currency generally used in both Israel and Palestine is the New Israeli Shekel.)

13. Pick any date in history, what was the approximate exchange rate of the Palestinian monetary unit against the U.S. dollar, the European euro, the British pound, the Japanese yen, the Chinese yuan?

OK. This is a trick question, too. Since “Palestine” has no currency today, and never has had a currency, there has never been an exchange rate against which to compare the relative values of the currencies.

14. Since there is no country of “Palestine” today, when did its demise occur?

The closest one can get to crafting an answer to this question is to assume the term “Palestine” was defined from the ancient Romans, who invaded and destroyed Israel in 70 A.D., renamed the area Palestinia, and renamed Jerusalem as Aeolia Capitolina. But then again, the only thing left in the land by that time was destruction.

15. Since there is no country of “Palestine” today, what caused its demise?

Palestine never had a cause for its demise because it never got started as a country. The closest one can get to defining the cause of its demise, as noted above, is the destruction of the land in 70 A.D. by the Romans.

16. If “Palestinians” are only generic Arabs collected from all over — or thrown out of — the Arab world, and

17. If “Palestinians” really have a genuine ethnic identity that gives them the right for self-determination, then …

18. Why did the “Palestinians” never try to become independent until Arabs suffered their devastating defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War?

These final three questions have a single basic root answer common to each question. Jordan was created under the Hashemite kings following World War I, when a country full of Arab Muslims was created from the remains of the Ottoman Empire. Today, they are deemed not to be Palestinians, but Jordan is full of “Palestinians.” In the decades after the end of World War I, Jordan seized parts of Israel and annexed them. Today, this incontrovertible fact of history has to be denied because otherwise the mandate for a “Palestinian State” collapses. However, sometimes the truth slips out. For example:

  • Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has described Jordanian and Palestinian Arabs as “one people living in two states,” during a meeting with the head of the Jordan Football Association.
  • Bethlehem-based Maan News cited the Jordanian al-Ghad newspaper as saying Abbas arrived in Jordan from Doha, along with several other senior PA officials, including its intelligence chief Majid Faraj.
  • The Arabic-language Al-Quds (Ed. The Arabic name for Jerusalem) news outlet directly quoted Abbas, who “stressed that the relationship between Jordan and Palestine is the relationship of ‘one people living in two states.’”
  • Abbas added, “This relationship will not be affected by anything.”

Hamas Foreign Minister Fathi Hammad has been quoted as observing:

Personally, half my family is Egyptian. We are all like that. More than 30 families in the Gaza Strip are called Al-Masri [‘Egyptian’]. Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis. Who are the Palestinians? We have many families called Al-Masri, whose roots are Egyptian. Egyptian! They may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta, from the North, from Aswan, from Upper Egypt. We are Egyptians. We are Arabs. We are Muslims. We are a part of you.

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Hurricane Katrina: Ten Years Later

 
‎31 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎07:47:58 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
(Please note: this article deals with adult themes and may not be suitable for young children.)

Once a year, during the month of August, this author and his bride take a trip to New Orleans. The trip has been an annual tradition for over three decades. This year marks the 35th anniversary in the city, staying at the same lodging that served as a honeymoon hotel.

This year was special for another reason. This year is the 10th anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina made landfall near the city and ravaged the American Gulf Coast. It was the nation’s costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. The hurricane took at least 1,833 lives and caused $108 billion (2005 dollars) in damage. We left the city only hours ahead of the storm.

Aerial view of the flooding in part of the Central Business District. (Wikipedia Commons)

 

Aerial view of the flooding in part of the Central Business District. (Wikipedia Commons)

While not personally experiencing the hurricane, this writer had a part in evaluating the effects of the storm to gain some lessons learned about how to prepare, endure, and come back from such a disaster.

Do not Place Your Trust in Governments

One of the lessons learned can be summed up in a few verses from the Bible:

It is better to take shelter[a] in the Lord
than to trust in people.
It is better to take shelter[b] in the Lord
than to trust in princes.

Psalm 118:8–9 ISV

also:

Do not look to nobles, nor to mere human beings who cannot save.

Psalm 146:3 ISV

In short, people who place their trust in government will always be disappointed, but those who place their trust in God will never be ashamed (Romans 10:11).

Photo collage of aftermath

A Hard Lesson

Many people in New Orleans learned this lesson the hard way. Pictures flooded the airwaves showing people on top of their houses with their rooftops painted with the words, “Save Us!” Some crawled up the attic of their homes to escape the floodwaters only to drown there. (To this day, people in New Orleans keep axes in their attics in case the city floods again and they have to chop their way out to the roof.)

Many of the people trapped in the Superdome were stranded there because they had no money to buy transportation out of town. Many more were waiting for the city or state governments to come and get them out. Those that made it to the Superdome risked being robbed, raped, and assaulted there. Some felt safer out in the storm rather than confront the horrors inside.

In one nursing home, the elderly and infirmed drowned in their beds because there was no way to get them all to higher ground. Some patients were euthanized in a city hospital with rescue helicopters just minutes away. The exhausted staff had lost hope that help would come and sought to relieve the suffering of their sickest patients.

These people found out that when there is a disaster of such size, the government was of little help.

Once the “thin veneer of civilization” was scraped away, man’s true nature came out. Looting was rampant. People used that opportunity to rob local stores of such things as televisions, clothes, computers, and beer. Rescue helicopters were fired on by those they came to rescue for reasons known only to the perpetrators and to God.

Man’s “better angels” also became clear.

There was the case of Jabbar Gibson, an 18-year-old who commandeered an abandoned bus and drove 70 people to the Houston Astrodome to seek refuge.

In one particularly ridiculous story a group of four families carpooled to a relief center to get ice for home medicines that required refrigeration. When they arrived, they were told they could only receive one bag of ice since the rule was “one car, one bag.” When they returned from their run, the local sheriff deputized an armed group of men. The group then returned to the center and explained the situation to the army reservist “a little more clearly.” After the storm, the sheriff was indicted for interfering with a Federal Officer (the reservist). The jury was out about 10 minutes and returned a not guilty verdict. One local paper said the only thing the Federal Government accomplished was to “assure the sheriff a position for life.”

The most poignant story this author found was of yet another looter. This man was so brazen that he took a shopping cart and looted local stores of everything he could find. He took his haul back to the Superdome and went back out many times and stole even more. What did he steal? He looted stores of such things as baby formula, diapers, and first aid supplies. What made this story moving was that this man was a 75-year-old Christian and knew no one in the Superdome. He did it out of pure love for his fellow man. His actions exemplified showing love not only in “words and manner of speech, but in action and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

Ten Years Later

Now, ten years later, the city is recovering, but not completely healed. How well the city has healed depends on your point of view. According to a survey conducted by the Public Policy Research Lab, nearly 80% of white New Orleans residents believe that the city has mostly recovered while only 40% of the black residents think the city has come back. Either way, the city has had a daunting task in rebuilding their communities.

To this author, what the inhabitants experienced was the closest thing to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the Vietnam War. Residents fighting to save the city were caught in a three-way trauma. Many were trying to find temporary lodging since losing their homes. They also were trying to rebuild their places of employment while also working to repair their flood-damaged homes. A typical day would comprise of driving into the city, sometimes a 90 mile one-way trip, and go to their full-time job. At the end of their day, usually entailing overtime, they would then head to their home and try to clean there. Afterwards, the residents would head back to their temporary housing, only to do the same thing the next day.

Everyone had a story to tell. One of the victims said the only thing they wanted was to talk to someone who would “listen and give a d__m”. He said everyone they talked to would say, “Yeah, but do you know what I had to deal with?”

Some Things Never Change.

While parts of the city are still facing new challenges, some areas are combating long standing problems.

In the heart of the city is the French Quarter, known as the “Vieux Carré” (Old Quarter). A drive through The Quarter will reveal things the way they have been for decades. There are the ubiquitous tourists, the “locals”, and the homeless. The different hours of the day will bring out each of these groups and they do not mix well. In the morning come the locals, out to their places of business and to run their errands. Starting in the late afternoon come the tourists. Most of them are on vacation and have saved up the entire year to come. In the early morning hours, as the tourists head back to their hotels, come the homeless. Few of them are seen during the day. The police sweep them from the streets — they are bad for business.

Many of the homeless are there by choice. They care not to work, but would rather drift through the day panhandling to make enough money to get by. There are others, the addicts and prostitutes, making money by plying their trade, begging or robbing. Still others are the mentally and emotionally handicapped. The city cannot jail them and the state has no place to put them. Their families either don’t know where they are or have dumped them in The Quarter to fend for themselves, much like an unwanted pet.

Vieux Carré Baptist Church

One way or another they make their way to the Vieux Carré Baptist Church. Tom Bilderback and his wife Sonja are there to meet them. Tom is the pastor of the Church and has been there since 2007. He was the youth pastor of a church who came to New Orleans to help with the post-Katrina rebuilding and was called back later to serve.

In the seven years Tom and Sonja have been here, they have seen it all. Theirs is an example of true “shoe leather faith.” They feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked. (This last fact is not hyperbole. Tom said that at one service, a man wandered in clad only in his underwear. One member thought it would be a good idea to give him some pants. Tom thought so too.)

Above all, Tom and his flock witness to them through the Word and with love.

This is Christianity at its most basic and best form. Tom said that all these people know about the Bilderbacks is that they Christians. “They wouldn’t know the difference between a Baptist and Episcopalian,” according to Tom.

The members of the Vieux Carré church are firm believers in prayer. Prayer teams walk The Quarter. Every Tuesday night is prayer night. “We never miss prayer night,” says Tom, “we will miss Sunday services before we miss prayer night.”

One night part of the ceiling of the church fell in. We had no money to repair it. I told the church we needed to get an estimate. They said, “Why get an estimate if we have no money?” I told them at least we ought to know how much money we don’t have. We prayed hard for guidance that night. When the estimate was done, it came to $4,000. The day before the next prayer meeting, I got a letter in the mail from a couple in Texas. The letter read, “We don’t know what’s going on there, but the Lord told us to send you this.” Inside was a check for $5,000.

— Tom Bilderback

Tom related several cases where the Word and much love changed people’s lives. One young man strode into the church and yelled “Hail Satan!” Rather than tossing him out of the church, they loved him. The man turned out to be a preacher’s son, but was completely turned off of religion. Tom said he didn’t hail Satan, he felt he wasn’t loved and was looking for something.

Tom said that they have their share of prostitutes, but they don’t look like most would think. Most of the prostitutes he encounters are young men, mostly runaways. They are taken in by homosexual men and then are turned out when they are no longer wanted. These men then prostitute themselves outside the clubs that permeate The Quarter. They begin to hate themselves for what they have become and look for ways to ease their pain. The heroin dealers can take care of that too. Now these young men (and kids) face another type of pain — drug addiction.

They then come to Vieux Carré Baptist Church, for a meal and healing.

Every Friday is Shower Day from 10:30 am until 1:30pm. The church opens its doors to the homeless to give them some respite. The homeless are brought in twenty-five at a time to have a meal, clothes if needed, and a shower. The church used to be a laundromat so people can also have a clean set of clothes during the week. The church services about 175 people each Friday and the homeless will line up beginning at 5:30 AM to get one of the highly prized tickets.

The lucky ones who are trying to turn their lives around have the chance to be an intern at a diary. The owner takes these people in for a year. At the dairy, they work the farm, do chores, and regularly attend Bible Study. While they are there they get paid a stipend and have their room and board provided. At the end of a year, they will have accumulated $15,000, enough to get a fresh start in life.

In the Middle of Good and Evil

New Orleans has a reputation of being an evil city, a den of iniquity. That is entirely true. It has its share of bars, strip joints, and Voodoo shops. It also has museums, shops, and a history that is found nowhere else in North America.

America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.

— Tennessee Williams

While the evil is very real in this city, as can be found in many cities, there are also islands of good as well.

Just as God made His presence known in Nebuchadnezzar’s court though Daniel, the Lord’s power shines through the evil in a magnificent and majestic way.

Shadow of Christ behind the Saint Louis Cathedral

 

Shadow of Christ behind the Saint Louis Cathedral

The Vieux Carré Baptist Church is one of those places where Christ makes His presence known.

Note: The interview with Tom Bilderback that forms the basis of this article can be heard on YouTube.

If you would like to contact Tom and Sonja Bilderback they can be reached at:

Vieux Carré Baptist Church
711 Dauphine St.
New Orleans, Louisiana, 70116
866–868–5905
Website: http://www.thevieux.com/

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Questions to Ask About the “State of Palestine”

 
‎31 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎07:45:38 PM | William Welty, Ph.D.Go to full article
Ed. Note: This is part one of a two-part article originally titled “Eighteen Questions to Ask the Next Secretary of State. The author, Dr. William Welty, is the Executive Director of the ISV foundation and also serves as Research Analyst in Advanced Communication Technologies and Adjunct Professor of Middle Eastern Studies on the faculty of Koinonia Institute. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Koinonia Institute.
* * *

Ever since President Jimmy Carter left the White House, the conservative, evangelical Christian community in the United States has experienced one frustration after another about the so-called Two State Solution being proposed as a misguided means to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict in the Middle East. “The Palestinians need their own home!” say the pro-Palestinian factions, who also just happen to be virulently anti-Zionist (read that “anti-Israel”, or more accurately, “anti-Semitic”) in their true nature.

All of the discussions about a so-called “Two State Solution” for the “Palestinian Problem”—all of them!—are founded on a single presuppositional error. That error concerns the very definition of the term “Palestinian” with respect to the people and the term “Palestine” with respect to the land. So let’s try to shed some light on both of these terms by asking some fundamental questions that could have been asked and should have been answered decades ago by just about any entry-level Department of State bureaucrat who fancied himself on a career track to diplomatic stardom. The way America’s foreign policy has degraded since President Carter left office makes me wonder if anybody has ever bothered to ask the questions that we’ve posited below.

For example, if the term for the people called “Palestinians,” and if the term being used to describe the piece of real estate now being called “Palestine”, have any existential validity on any level of discussion at all, then…

1. When Was Palestine Founded?

By way of contrast, anybody who has completed even just an entry-level education in all things related to the Middle East knows that Israel came into existence on 14 May 1948. Muslims throughout the area celebrated this happy event by invading the nascent country in a heartbeat. But God intervened and Israel’s defense forces beat the tar out of the invaders. But can anyone name the date on the calendar on which Palestine came into existence? America has its July 4, 1776. Israel has its May 14, 1948. Nobody can point to a specific date when Palestine was founded. That’s because it never was.

2. By Whom Was Palestine Founded?

America has its Founding Fathers. So does Israel in its modern status. But can anyone tell us who the founding fathers of Palestine were?

3. What Were Ancient Palestine’s Borders?

Some modern states come into existence as a result of military alliances or treaties following international conflicts. America’s northern border was largely determined by a parallel of latitude a couple hundred years ago. Its southern border largely follows the Rio Grande for part of its length. North and South Korea are separated at a specific parallel of latitude, as will be Israel’s territorial borders during the future Millennial Reign of Christ. (You can read about the future borders of Israel in chapters 40–47 of the book of Ezekiel in the Bible.) But can you name the borders of Palestine? The most common answer you’ll hear is the duplicitous response, “Palestine consists of the territories illegally occupied by Israel.”

4. Where was the Capital of Palestine?

The anti-Semitic press has reported for years that the Arabs claim Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Trouble is, no Arabs living there before Israel got control of the city after the six-day war in 1967 ever bothered to make that claim. Now Jerusalem is claimed as the Palestinian capital as a means to create a bargaining position to solicit concessions from the Israeli and American governments.

5. What Are Palestine’s Major Cities?

Name a single major city of Palestine…just one! I can name several Israeli major cities. Like Tel Aviv and the port at Haifa. Caesarea and Tiberius come to mind, too. But I challenge you to name even two major Palestine cities.

6. Upon What Was Palestine’s Economy Based?

Israel’s economy is broad-based. For one thing, it’s the bread basket of the Middle East. Its technology sector is second only to Silicon Valley for being state-of-the-art. In fact, as a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of this rivalry, Israel’s technology sectors are concentrated in an area of Israel its residents have labeled “Silicon Wadi,” a sly reference to the seasonal rivers or brooks that are scattered throughout the land. But on what industry (other than fomenting rebellion and murder) is Palestine based?

7. What Is Palestine’s Form of Government?

Does Palestine have a constitution such as America has? Or even a set of Common Laws such as characterized England of years past? Other than imitating western-style governments by creating the appearance of democracy while incubating graft and corruption to make these crimes involve from petty larceny into an elegant art form, I defy to you write me a cogent description of Palestinian governmental authority other than that the guy with the most guns and suicide vests wins the election debate.

8. Antecedent to Yasser Arafat, Can You Name Even One Palestinian Leader?

The closest you can come to naming even a post-Arafat Palestinian leader is to name the mayor of a “Palestinian”-controlled enclave within Israel, if you don’t count that sham of a Parliament that passes for Muslim-style democracy in “Palestinian”-controlled areas of Israel.

9. What was the prevalent religion of the country of Palestine?

Israel’s is Judaism, in its multi-faceted complexity. But the rest of “Palestine” is an uneasy symbiotic relationship between Catholic traditions, Eastern and Greek Orthodox traditions, with not a few Christian groups, along with various sects of Islam.

(This article will be continued next week in its second and final part.)

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A Coming Sino-Philippine War?

 
‎24 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎07:44:11 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
When people in the West think about China, they think about China — United States relations. The possibility of China being one of the Kings of the East mentioned in Revelation 16 also comes to mind in terms of eschatology. There is an additional concern, a real fear, coming from another quarter.

One needs to look to the southeast — to the Philippines.

A recent conversation on the KI Manila Issachar Facebook group brought this fear into sharp focus. One thread centered on disaster planning. As several scenarios were discussed, it became clear an eventual conflict with China was on their minds.

They have good reason to worry.

China’s recent moves to expand its territorial ambitions have encroached into the Philippine backyard.

The Nine-Dashed Line

 

The Nine-Dashed Line

According to a 2013 Reuters report, China’s state media warned a “counterstrike” against the Philippines was inevitable if it continues to provoke Beijing in the South China Sea, potentially Asia’s biggest military trouble spot.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves. The countries of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan all lay claim to parts of the sea where about $5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year.

Territorial Disputes

During one meeting of regional countries held in March 2015 in Manila, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario accused China of accelerating its expansionist agenda by changing the size, structure and physical attributes of land features in the South China Sea. (China had been expanding the size of some of the disputed islands by dredging soil from the sea bottom and building up the islands with the soil. (In early August Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced China has stopped construction work in disputed waters in the South China Sea at a meeting of foreign ministers of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

China and the Philippines have been in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea for decades, but tensions have reached a new level with China’s recent international ambitions. China is reaching out beyond its boundaries, seeking to find its place in the world. Besides the South China Sea, China has developed a significant presence in Africa, South America and the Middle East. They are also building a blue water navy and are sailing to places they have not visited in 500 years.

One milestone in the conflict between the two nations came in January 2013 when the Philippines sued China saying that country violated Philippine sovereign rights. The Philippines claimed those rights were violated through China’s claims of a “9-dashed line.” The Philippines took its case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, which was established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982.

The Philippines provided the Court with 3,500 satellite images and aerial photos along with a 1,700-page document charging China with violations of the international law.

Manila requested a Court ruling on five issues:

  • That China does not have the right to do what they call “historical rights” over the waters, seabed and subsoil beyond the limits of their rights under the Convention.
  • That the so-called “9-dashed line” China is using to decide its territorial limit as an “historic right” has no basis under international law.
  • That the large-scale reclamation of some of the islands by China cannot change the legal character and original nature of these entities.
  • That China has violated the UN Convention by preventing the Philippines the free-exercise of its right of sovereignty and jurisdiction.
  • That China has caused irreparable damage to the marine environment around the disputed islands, through the destruction of the coral reefs in the South China Sea including areas within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines, by the fishing in a reckless and destructive way, as well as the hunting various endangered species.

Del Rosario has also claimed Chinese vessels have rammed Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea, endangering the lives of fishermen. Earlier this year, Chinese Coast Guard forces allegedly rammed three Philippine boats navigating close to the Scarborough Shoal. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei tried to deflect criticism by accusing the Philippine fishermen of aggressive maneuvers while indirectly placing the blame on the Philippine government by urging it to “enhance supervision and allocation of its own fishermen to prevent such an incident from happening again.”

Along a parallel track, China has demanded the Philippines withdraw their complaint as a precondition to resuming bilateral talks regarding the sovereignty issue. Del Rosario has called these terms presented by China as unjustified and illegal, terms Manila will never accept.

Paul S. Reichler, a partner at Foley Hoag LLP and co-chair of their International Litigation and Arbitration Department in Washington, DC is representing the Philippines. Reichler said he expects the court will issue a decision on whether they have jurisdiction in the case within 90 days, but a final ruling could take several years.

Senior Chinese officials have identified protecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as a “core interest,” and PRC (People’s Republic of China) officials have repeatedly stated China’s opposition to actions they perceive as a challenge to this core interest.

With this dispute comes the risk it could spiral out of control and result in conflict as these countries stake their claims.

A Caricature of the confrontation between the Philippines and China

 

A Caricature of the confrontation between the Philippines and China comparing it to a fight between David and Goliath. (Petrotimes)

Should a Conflict Arise

Should a conflict in the South China Sea erupt, China would quickly win such a conflict, at least on the sea.

China has been building a navy that would quickly vanquish any neighbor that would choose to confront them.

In early August, China caused an uproar when it released a recruitment video for its navy on YouTube, which is said to be “flaunting” its naval capabilities and modernization. In the four minute twenty-three second video, the Chinese had featured an aircraft carrier, a new generation of submarine, as well as hospital ships and fighter jets.

The video seems to be meant to signal how serious they are about their military ambitions.

In May, Beijing unveiled plans to expand its navy’s ability to project power from coastal waters into open seas. The video looks as though it is to reinforce those plans, presenting a potent picture of a 21st century fighting force.

The video ends with images of Chinese armed forces saluting the Chinese flag and dozens of jets flying over more than 30 warships, including China’s only aircraft carrier the Liaoning. (This is the former Soviet carrier Varyag).

The video also prominently features the disputed islands in the South China Sea at the end of the video.

The tagline at the end of the video is translated “In whichever corner of the globe, where there is azure [blue water], we will stand guard,” the video declares, vowing a staunch defense for the three million square kilometers of ocean Beijing claims.

But what of the United States? Would the United States choose to confront a modern, technologically sophisticated navy?

A Permanent Aircraft Carrier

China’s moves have touched a nerve in Washington. Former ABC News Beijing bureau chief and China expert Chito Sta. Romana best summed up the U.S. attitude toward China’s activities:

The Americans saw it as the building of an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the middle of the South China Sea …

It has affected their strategic interest…intensifying the geopolitical rivalry between the two on whom will control the South China Sea… which the U.S. has almost controlled since the Second World War.

The United States have given a diplomatic response to China’s forays beyond that country’s shores, but it has yet to present an overt response.

Some in the Philippines wonder if they will.

One member of the KI Manila Issachar Group, Phillip Pastoral, stated it best:

The problem with Filipino policy-makers/politicians is that many still have a fixated view that Washington is always right (vis-à-vis China or Russia) and the U.S. is invincible and ready to take on another war. It’s a perception embraced by most of media and the public. …

[The question is] can the U.S. enforce its mutual defense treaty with the PH (the Philippines) and other countries? Pragmatically, the health of these alliances rest on that question. U.S. projects its naval power to assure its members and preserve the U.S. dollar as reserve currency. China seems bent on demonstrating U.S. weakness by picking on the weakest link of the alliance (The PH). The U.N. influence stands to gain most as countries look to it for resolving the regional conflict.

Since the Korean War, the U.S. has conducted a confusing foreign policy at best. Some would argue the U.S. has had little or no foreign policy. On many, the U.S. has promised support for an ally, then turned and left that country to fend for itself. Vietnam, Iran. Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Ukraine are just a few of the countries to experience this.

Many countries are now wondering if the U.S. will stand by commitments. Saudi Arabia is one of them, the Philippines is another.

For its part, the United States has to think long and hard before committing substantial resources to a conflict with China.

Will We Return?

Douglas MacArthur landing on Leyte

 

Douglas MacArthur landing on Leyte (Wikipedia Commons)

One can look to the past for advice in this matter. In the last years of his life, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur would be asked by many U.S. officials what he thought about a United States involvement in the South China Sea, specifically Indochina. Addressing the newly inaugurated President John Kennedy, the man who was called, “Protector of Australia, Liberator of the Philippines, Conqueror of Japan and Defender of Korea” said anyone who committed American forces to a land war in Asia “ought to have his head examined.”

By sea, the United States could contain China, at least for a while. While China has an aircraft carrier to project power, it is not yet very effective. China has an aircraft carrier, but they don’t have a full complement of trained pilots nor sailors to operate it. They also do not have enough ships to service a carrier. It really is no more than a training ship for the new aircraft carriers and crews China is developing now.

However, the Pentagon’s Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) released an unclassified assessment of the Chinese navy’s new capabilities and missions in the years ahead. China’s Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) can boast 300 ships and has rolled out a new class of guided missile destroyers, the LUYANG III, with China’s most advanced supersonic anti-ship missile, the YJ–18 ASCM, the so called “Carrier Killer.” These vertically launched missiles could take out a carrier group with a single shot. The U.S. has extremely good defensive measures, but the hard reality is the U.S. would have to successfully defend itself against attack 100 percent of the time. China would have to be successful only once.

PLAN plans to commission 10 more such vessels by 2017 and also plans to deploy the missile on Type–093G and Type–095 submarines.

According to the report, “In 2013 and 2014, China launched more naval ships than any other country and is expected to continue this trend through 2015–16,” according to the study. In 2013, the PLAN laid down, launched and commissioned more than 60 ships, although the emphasis overall is on quality rather than size. Looking at just numbers, Beijing already fields a formidable naval force:

As of this publishing, the PLA(N) consists of approximately 26 destroyers (21 of which are considered modern), 52 frigates (35 modern), 20 new corvettes, 85 modern missile armed patrol craft, 56 amphibious ships, 42 mine warfare ships (30 modern), more than 50 major auxiliary ships, and more than 400 minor auxiliary ships and service/support craft.

The PLAN’s submarine fleet now deploys 66 boats — five nuclear attack submarines, four nuclear ballistic missile submarines, and 57 diesel attack submarines, although the report does not suggest how many of the vessels are operational. Additionally, “by 2020 the submarine force will likely grow to over 70 submarines,” ONI assesses.

Furthermore the paper notes “[m]ajor qualitative improvements are occurring within the naval aviation and submarine forces, which are increasingly capable of striking targets hundreds of miles from the Chinese mainland.”

A sea war against China today is seen as problematic at best. What about a land war? Putting aside the logistical problems of trying to execute a land war and supplying troops from bases thousands of miles away, the key is the local population.

More Advice from the General

It might seem odd the man who was ready to expand the Korean War into China would counsel against fighting a land war in Asia, but his advice came with a caveat. It should be remembered he well understood the problems an invading army in Asia experiences when the local population is against it.

Harkening back to World War II, one reason the United States successfully executed the war in the Pacific Theater was because Filipino guerrilla forces were a major reason in the fight against Japan in the 1940s. In Vietnam in the 1960s, the United States would be in the same position as Japan and it would be termed “Ugly Americans.”

The Philippine alliance is a key to America’s view of Geopolitics.

A Strong Ally

Today the Philippines has been the United States’ strongest ally in the region. However, many officials in the Philippines view their country as a pawn in a larger game between the United States and China, and are wondering how to secure their own interests in the contested Scarborough Shoal and across the South China Sea.

While the mutual defense accord says the United States or the Philippines would support the other if one came under attack, it doesn’t necessarily apply to the Philippines’ ongoing troubles with the Chinese in the South China Sea. As a result, government officials in Manila have been patiently waiting for the United States to bring diplomatic and military pressure on Beijing to solve the problem. But time may be running out.

The increasing belligerence between Beijing and Washington suggests what was once a conflict between China and a host of smaller countries is now transforming into a standoff between two superpowers and Manila may find itself caught in the crossfire.

Roilo Golez is a former naval officer and chair of the committee on national defense in the Philippines’ House of Representatives. The U.S. Naval Academy graduate has said he expects Washington to do more than it has. He also said the United States has contributed a mere “scrap” to the Philippines’ military that is “almost incongruous to what we need,” a reference to the two Vietnam War-era Coast Guard cutter ships the United States sold to Manila for about $10 million each, under the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s Excess Defense Articles program. This allows the United States to transfer arms and equipment to partner nations for a reduced price. Though these ships have been converted by the Philippines to perform as frigates, they have no missile-firing capacity.

They’d be sitting ducks in an actual shooting encounter in the South China Sea. In spite of our supposed “closeness” to the U.S., we have the weakest navy and air force in the region. There are secondhand mothballed fast frigates and multirole fighters the U.S., if it wants to, can turn over to the Philippines and give us a modest defense upgrade overnight.

These comments aside, the United States has begun to re-engage militarily with the Philippines, most notably through 2014’s Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines, a 10-year accord allows U.S. ships to rotate through Philippine naval bases. Washington also allocated $50 million in military aid to Manila for fiscal year 2014, and $40 million for 2015, up from $25.5 million in 2013.

Ups and Downs in Relations

It is in the strategic interest of the United States to support the Philippines. The country has some very valuable military bases, namely the naval base at Subic Bay, and Clark air base. These bases, when they were still owned by the United States, proved to be of enormous use in the Cold War, supporting operations in the Korean War, then in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. They could prove again to be valuable in any conflict involving China.

These bases grew enormously in size, with millions of Americans passing through or flying missions from there. In fact, the bases became small American towns, with schools, movie theaters and ballparks. But anticolonial feelings remained strong in the Philippines. Protests broke out from time to time, and a lot of negative publicity surrounded the red-light districts that flourished outside the U.S. bases.

In 1991, the U.S. bases were devastated by the eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano, just as a typhoon hit. At the same time, the Philippine Senate voted to block the renewal of a lease agreement for the bases. Within a year, the wrecked bases were abandoned. U.S. forces relocated to Guam and elsewhere. These events were a source of national pride for the Filipino people, but were considered damaging to America’s ability to project power in the western Pacific.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, US-Philippines relations entered a new phase, with U.S. forces being sent to help the Philippine military combat a Muslim insurgency in the South with ties to al-Qaida.

In the most recent phase, Manila became increasingly alarmed by the newly resurgent China and its territorial claims. This coincided with President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” policy, and in April 2014, the United States and the Philippines signed a 10-year defense agreement. It was one of the clearest signs of renewed American engagement in the region.

So the U.S. is back in the Philippines, but this time as an ally and guest rather than as a colonial power.

The Right Thing to Do

While smaller than the United States, the Philippines has won the respect of the United States.

While the Philippines were once looked on by the United States as a weak nation that could not survive on its own; that attitude has changed. The real turning point in the relationship between the two countries was World War II, when Americans and Filipinos fought side-by-side against the Japanese, who attacked the Philippines immediately after Pearl Harbor. Japan conquered the island, but General MacArthur vowed to return. He came ashore with four U.S. Army divisions on the island of Leyte in late 1944, not far from where Typhoon Haiyan came ashore on 2013.

The common effort against the Japanese greatly increased the American level of respect for the Philippine people, and led to independence for the Philippines in 1946.

The U.S. admiration at the time was reciprocated by the Philippine people and it can be summarized by one incident.

Present in Spirit

World War II ended with the Allied Powers accepting the surrender of Japan aboard the USS Missouri on Sept. 2 1945. General MacArthur represented the allied forces and countersigned Japan’s surrender document.

Letters of congratulations and honors were bestowed on the General after the war, but two letters from the Philippine Congress were especially prized. The first letter granted him honorary citizenship to the Philippines, and the second informed him that:

… his name [will] be carried in perpetuity on the company roll calls of the Philippine Army, and at parade roll calls, when his name is called, the senior noncommissioned officer shall answer ‘Present in spirit,’ and during the lifetime of the General he shall be accredited with a guard of honor composed of 12 men of the Philippine Army…

MacArthur noted in his memoir “[i]t made me weep, something I had not done since my earliest childhood.”

The ties that bind the Philippines and United States together have cycled between attachment and distance. In today’s world, when a close ally and friend of the United States is threatened, these ties need to be strengthened.

The prayer of many on both sides of the Pacific that:

I [pray] that a merciful God will preserve and protect each and every one of you and will bring this land peace and tranquility always.

— Douglas MacArthur

A Matter of Loyalty

The Bible has a lot to say about loyalty. In personal relationship, we are called to steadfast loyalty. Paul speaks of his “my true partner” in Philippians 4:3. This unknown person is possibly Titus or Silas, but whoever it was, he was one who labored faithfully with Paul. Ruth is another example. She showed absolute loyalty to her mother-in-law as is written in Ruth 1:16:

Stop urging me to abandon you and to turn back from following you. Because wherever you go, I’ll go. Wherever you live, I’ll live. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God.

— Ruth 1:16 ISV

For all the military, diplomatic and political implications, relations between countries are reduced to relationships between friends and foes.

Loyalty between nations should echo the loyalty we, as Christians, are to have with others. As Peter has said:

Whoever speaks must speak God’s words.[a] Whoever serves must serve with the strength[b] that God supplies, so that in every way God may be glorified through Jesus, the Messiah.[c] Glory and power belong to him forever and ever! Amen.

— 1 Peter 4:11

It makes good geopolitical sense to support the Philippines and the other countries in the South China Sea. It not only makes good sense, it’s the right thing to do.

(Note: while this article presented a geopolitical background on the precariousness of the Philippines situation vis-à-vis China, a follow-up article will concentrate more on the prophetic aspects of events in the South China Sea Region.)

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Orwell Was an Optimist

 
‎13 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎01:35:27 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

The second beast was allowed to impart life to the image of the first beast so that the image of the beast could talk and order the execution of those who would not worship the image of the beast. The second beast forces all people—important and unimportant, rich and poor, free and slaves—to be marked on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that no one may buy or sell unless he has the mark, which is the beast’s name or the number of its name.

Revelation 13:15–17 (ISV)

Much has been written about this verse. In the last 10 years the Islamic implications of this verse have also been put forth.

However, whether the beast the world would identify with would have an Islamic, European, or Assyrian origin, there is another aspect to Revelation 13 that has not been discussed very much. That is the technology behind being able to enforce this restriction on commerce.

The Technology Behind Prophecy

To stop all transactions unless a person has the Mark of the Beast would need high surveillance on all aspects of a person’s life. The government would have to watch everyone’s movement 24 hours a day and also enforce a ban on transactions if someone tried.

The technology to make this a reality is here today and its ability to control every aspect of a person’s life is so advanced and so pervasive it makes the world George Orwell created in his book “1984” seem utopian by comparison. Absolute power and control breeds absolute evil. The books of Daniel and Revelation describe this final world order and ultimate evil that will come together under the reign of the Antichrist just before the return of Christ (Daniel 2 & 7, Revelation 13)

The surveillance society predicted in Orwell’s book is now becoming a stark reality in every country of the world. At all levels of government, the use of video monitoring is becoming widespread. In high crime areas, at major intersections, attached to downtown buildings and light poles, inside sports arenas and public facilities, along interstate highways, and mounted on every police vehicle, the constancy of surveillance is being felt by everyone. Virtually all public buildings and private commercial properties have mounted video cameras to watch your comings and goings. This is now true in every country around the globe, from the most advanced to even Third World emerging economies.

Combine this video surveillance with facial recognition technology and rapid license plate reading software and your movements are being tracked everywhere you go whether you like it or not. No earlier governments could have come close to the level of control now possible – not even the most extreme totalitarian regimes had this ability.

We have seen the Enemy

The outlook for civil liberties grows bleaker by the day, from the various government’s embrace of indefinite detention for its citizens and armed surveillance drones flying overhead to warrantless surveillance of phone, email, and Internet communications and prosecutions of government whistle-blowers. Meanwhile, countries are increasingly coming under the influence of a police-industrial controlled complex. The line between local and federal law enforcement is being blurred. We have seen the enemy of the State and it is us. And if true, as governments assert their technological advantage, its citizens are at an ever increasing disadvantage.

Seek and Destroy

Even more troubling, the technology used to spy on its citizens is being paired with technologies to kill them as well.

In the United States, the Sixth Amendment to its Constitution was intended to not only make sure of a “speedy and public trial,” but it was also supposed to prevent the government from keeping someone in jail for unspecified offenses. That too has been a casualty of the War on Terror. Between the National Defense Authorization Act’s (NDAA) indefinite detention clause and the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) legislation, which has been used to justify killing American citizens with drones without a court trial, the Sixth Amendment’s guarantees have become meaningless.

Other countries have followed the United States’ lead.

In August 2015, the British government authorized an RAF drone attack in Syria that killed two Britons fighting with Islamic State. This was the first acknowledged assassinated via drone strike against a British national by that country. ‘There was a terrorist directing murder on our streets and no other means to stop him.’ said David Cameron the British Prime Minister.

“Those of us who have criticized the Obama administration’s targeted killing policy have long warned that other states cite it to attempt to justify their own legal violations. The concerns were, however, over Russia, China and North Korea, not the United Kingdom,” said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame.

Drone strikes by surveillance craft are becoming more frequent and are being launched by more countries as the technology improves and costs go down. It is often becoming the assassination instrument of choice by many countries.

Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said countries like Pakistan that face ongoing threats from extremists threatening to overrun the central government see drones as “just another tool for them to use in that campaign [against militants].”

Rights are Disappearing

Due to rapid advances in technology and a heightened surveillance culture, the burden of proof has been shifted so the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty has been usurped by a new norm in which all citizens are suspects. Where once the police were expected to catch criminals and bring them to justice. Now, they are expected to stop crime before it happens. It is a noble goal, but the only way to stop a crime from happening is to watch all the people, all the time. This is exemplified by police practices of stopping and frisking people who are merely walking down the street and where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Likewise, by subjecting innocent civilians to full-body scans and license-plate readers without their knowledge or compliance and then storing the scans for later use, the government state has erected what has amounted to the police-industrial complex. In such an environment, we are all potentially guilty of some wrongdoing. If someone is watched closely enough, they will be caught doing something wrong.

Data Overload

All of this surveillance requires someone to process it. This job for humans is impossible. Enter the computer. Computer software is becoming more sophisticated and inexpensive as time goes on and has become an important tool in a surveillance state.

Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public (or stays in their home) is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for the government to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all the individuals present. People who are identified in the scan can be cross matched with a database to see if they are on anyone’s watchlist. They may of interest to the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Secret Service, National Security Agency, Interpol, Local, County or State law enforcement, or a host of other agencies that are watching people.

If they are on the list, those individuals can have their cellphone conversations bugged and their movements isolated and stored for later review. They can even have the cameras and microphones in their smartphones turned on and monitored, even if the device is turned off. (At many intelligence briefings, attendees are required to surrender their phones and sometimes remove the batteries.)

Computer algorithms have been developed that allow supercomputers to sift through the exabytes of data that are being harvested as text, audio and visual data.

A machine that harvests large amounts of data, analyzes it, and decides on what is important and what is not is a machine with something approximating human capacities. It is a machine that some would describe as having artificial intelligence (AI).

Take AI, add to it the advances in robotics and you have something akin to transhuman.

I, Golem

In researching this article, the author came across something interesting. In the Oxford Concise Dictionary, an alternative definition for the word “golem” is “robot.” I asked Dr. William Welty a research analyst in Advanced Communication Technologies and Executive Director of the ISV foundation, why “robot” would be an alternative definition. His answer was simple. “Because the Brits have a better knowledge of the English language than we do.”

The title of the popular Will Smith movie, “I, Robot,” could have well been called “I, Golem.”

A golem is a legendary creature made of clay and dust by human hands in a magical, artificial way to serve its creator. The word appears only once in the Bible where it refers to “unformed limbs (or embryos)” (Ps. 139:16). The Talmud relates the Sages could create living beings through their knowledge of Kabbalah. In describing the first 12 hours of Adam’s existence, the Talmud calls him a golem, a “shapeless mass” fashioned into a body that did not yet own a soul (Sanhedrin 38b). It also observes that “if the righteous desired it, they could [by living a life of absolute purity] be creators… Rava created a man and sent him to Rabbi Zera, who spoke to him and, receiving no answer, said to the man: ‘You are a creature of the magicians. Return to your dust’” (Sanhedrin 65b).

In the Middle Ages arose the belief in the possibility of infusing life into a clay or wooden figure of a human being, which figure was termed “golem” by writers of the 18th century. The golem grew in size, and could carry any message or obey mechanically any order of its master. This sounds very much like the characteristics of what people conceived of early robots.

Building an artificial intelligence is like building a golem. It is a creature made from dust and clay (sand, i.e., silicone) by human hands. Being made by humans, it would also have man’s sinful nature programmed into it. As the programming became more sophisticated, an AI would also grow in power. It would soon reach a point where its intelligence would exceed man’s. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Stephen Hawking may be right in saying the efforts to create thinking machines could have a capability that would pose a threat to man’s existence.

Is the Beast a Robot?

All the above leads to a very interesting hypothesis. There is a line of reasoning that the Beast spoken of in Revelation is actually a sentient AI, a working prototype or a robot so sophisticated that it comes alive.

A Fallen Man would have programmed the AI, but in the process, also programmed his sinful nature into the machine. The intelligence would eventually be faster and smarter than man’s “wet brain” and would become sentient and come to life. But since only God can create life, the “life” exhibited by this intelligence would be an imitation of life.

It would be demonic.

This Beast would merely be a manifestation of Satan pretending to be a living being. The Beast would be the culmination of the progression of man’s sinful nature taken to its logical conclusion.

Some believe it is after this intelligence “comes alive” Christ would return in His Second Coming and put an end to it.

The second beast was allowed to impart life to the image of the first beast so that the image of the beast could talk and order the execution of those who would not worship the image of the beast.

Revelation 13:15 (ISV)

In the Book of Revelation, the False Prophet is allowed to give “life” to this first beast. If the first beast is an AI, who is the false prophet? Will the surveillance technologies combined with killing capabilities (decapitation?) play a part in enforcing the ban on buying and selling? And what is the significance of “6–6–6”? Is it a mark or is it a mistranslation in the text?

One thing is sure, advanced predictions about prophecy are almost always wrong. Ezekiel 12:13 is a prime example:

But I’ll throw my net over him. As a result, he’ll be captured with my net, and with it I’ll bring him to Babel, the land of the Chaldeans. He won’t see it, though he’ll die there. (ISV)

Ezekiel’s prophecy about Zedekiah made no sense before it was fulfilled. After it was fulfilled, it made perfect sense:

They executed Zedekiah’s sons in his presence, blinded Zedekiah, bound him with bronze chains, and transported him to Babylon [where he died].

2 Kings 25:7 (ISV)

The interpretations of prophecies found in Revelation may be the same way. They may make little sense now or be plain wrong. They will however be clear once they are fulfilled.

One thing we can be sure of. We need to trust in Him who has given us salvation and peace.

I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 5:13 (ISV)

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A New Agenda

 
‎13 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎01:34:16 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Whatever has happened, will happen again; whatever has been done, will be done again. There is nothing new on earth.

— Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ISV)

Agenda 21 Redux

With all the time given to the pope’s visit to the United States and to the United Nations, scant attention is being paid to an old agenda being repackaged and foisted on the world community.

This new initiative is a reintroduction of the old Agenda 21. It is called Agenda 2030.

The representatives in the U.N. enthusiastically adopted Agenda 21 in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, but when it came time to carry out the plan, some of the signatory countries balked at the more onerous elements of the initiative.

Facing this opposition, the forces behind using the Agenda as a vehicle for world governance, hence world government, are trying a different tack and set up a new plan they are calling “The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.” The preamble to the plan is:

This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets which we are announcing today demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal Agenda. They seek to build on the Millennium Development Goals and complete what these did not achieve. They seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. They are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.

The U.N. met several times to push both Agenda 21 and the Millennium Development Goals.

Rio+5 – Also known as the Earth Summit was a special meeting held in New York in 1997, to appraise the status of Agenda 21 and show the progress of globalization. The participants came away from the meeting disappointed. They suggested that “through crisis new strength can be found for future action.” They also felt that due to the inactions of governments, progress on Agenda 21could be made by NGOs (non-governmental organizations.)

“This is an occasion when the non-governmental organizations should come to the rescue.”

— General Assembly President Razali Ismail

Therefore there was a rise of NGOs fanning out into local communities promoting “smart growth” and “sustainable growth” to advance Agenda 21 in ways national governments could not.

Then came Rio+10. This meeting was also called Earth Summit 2002 and included both government and non-governmental organizations. It also issued a status report on the progress of Agenda 21. It also issued several agreements including the Johannesburg Declaration as well as several other international agreements. Instead of new agreements between governments, Rio+10 was organized mostly around almost 300 “partnership initiatives” known as Type II private partnerships, as opposed to Type I Partnerships between nations. These were to be the key means to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. These agreements and the progress made on them are kept in a database of Partnerships for Sustainable Development.

In 2012, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the 180 attending members reaffirmed their commitment to Agenda 21 in their outcome document called “The Future We Want.” They also produced a political document designed to shape global environmental policy. A few key global leaders—mostly G–20 leaders and namely United States President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron—did not come to the conference and blamed their absence on the ongoing European sovereign-debt crisis. Their collective absence was seen as a reflection of their administrations’ failure to make sustainability issues a priority.

Seeing interest in Agenda 21 wane, global environmental activists repackaged the program and rebranded it Agenda 2030. The direction the United Nations is heading in this initiative is troubling. In his opening address to the General Debate of the 70th session of the United Nations, Mogens Lykketoft, used some very interesting phraseology:

With the Sustainable Development Goals, however, we acknowledge that eradication of poverty in all its forms is only possible with a much more complex transformation of the entire global economy, the environment and social structures.

Incredible and unsustainable inequality in income, wealth, access to resources and to quality education and health services must be overcome.

We acknowledge also that people in developed countries cannot continue to consume and produce in the manner they are used to.

Agenda 2030 and the Vatican

During his address to the United Nations, Pope Francis gave his support to the U.N. and its Agenda 2030 program:

The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable ­Development at the World Summit which opens today is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.

However, the Vatican Curia must have read the fine print of Agenda 2030 after the pope’s address, because shortly after the pope’s speech, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, backed away from the “verbatim inclusion of the U.N. sustainable development goals and targets” in the UN’s 2030 Agenda.

Subgoal 5.6 under “Gender Equality” of Agenda 2030 ensures “universal access to sexual and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the 1994 Program of Action, which states that “prevention of unwanted pregnancies must always be given the highest priority…. In circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe.”

However, in a Sept. 1 revision, the Archbishop Auza expressed “reservations,” about the document’s use of the terms “sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights,” stating that “the Holy See does not consider abortion or access to abortion or abortifacients as a dimension of these terms.”

Hopefully, other countries and private organizations will also back away from this rebranded attempt at global government before it is too late.

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A Pope for Which Season?

 
‎06 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎03:30:45 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
(Ed. Note: Steve Elwart was raised a Roman Catholic and studied to be a Catholic priest. He had a self-described “Martin Luther moment” and later left the seminary and Catholicism. Steve went on to pursue a Ph.D. from Louisiana Baptist University and is now an ordained minister. He continues to have contacts with members of the Catholic clergy both inside and outside the Vatican and has obtained insights in the current workings of the Roman Curia.)

“More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. He is a man of many excellent virtues; I know not his fellow. For where is the man (in whom is so many goodly virtues) of that gentleness, lowliness and affability and as time requires, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes and sometime of steadfast gravity — a man for all seasons.”

Robert Whittington, 1520

In his stage play about Thomas More (later made into a movie of the same name), Robert Bolt used “A Man for all Seasons” as a title because he believed Thomas More remained a man of principle, acting only as his conscience dictated. He remained constant in his belief and did not bend to the political winds of the time. He was constant “in all seasons.” He stayed true to his beliefs even though it cost him his life.

Please note, the following is not meant to be an apologetic for the head of the Roman Catholic Church; it is to merely serve as a guide to help explain some of the goings on during his stay in the United States. Some of the things written about the Papal visit in the United States were written out of ignorance and out of context and can serve as a disservice to the writer. We as Christians need to be discerning in our discussions. When the information we spread is inaccurate or uncharitable it can tarnish the larger message of the love and salvation brought to us by Jesus Christ.

Instead, exalt the Messiah as Lord in your lives. Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you to explain the hope you have. But do this gently and respectfully, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak evil of your good conduct in the Messiah will be ashamed of slandering you.

— 1 Peter 3:15–16 (ISV)

Now that Pope Francis has completed his tour of the United States it may be a good time to look at his visit and look at his words and his actions and put them in the context of his life, his culture and his Church.

Many try to compare the current Roman Catholic Pontiff Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) to Thomas More because they feel, he too, stays true to his beliefs. A more accurate summary of his visit may be one of vacillation and trying to be all things to all people.

Pope Francis himself believes that Thomas More is a good role model for these times. (Francis has said he prays to More every day.) The times in which More lived mirror today’s time. The early 16th century saw the break up of Christianity, a loss of central authority and a fragmentation of European society. Where the 1500s saw a schism between Catholicism and Protestantism, primarily over who was the temporal head of the Church, today’s fracture is much deeper. Our war rages over the collapse of traditional virtues across the entire West — along with the rise of moral indifference and a cheerful nihilism.

As there are many parallels between the two eras, there are also parallels between the two men. While More was a religious man, he was also a prominent lawyer and judge. Pope Francis is not only the religious head of a Church, he is also the secular head of a state. It is that duality that colored the pontiff’s statements during his visit.

It is said that a key to understanding the Bible is to “think Jewish.” So too, the key to understanding Pope Francis is to “think Catholic.” Pope Francis’ style of communication differs greatly from his predecessors and this has caused confusion within the Church. Many of the things he said while in the United States were very nuanced and while some of what he said may not have made much of an impression on many people who heard his words, they sent shock waves to many others. In one example of papal persuasion, days after Francis permanently removed a German bishop for his lavish spending on a renovation project, the Atlanta archbishop apologized for building a $2.2 million mansion as his residence. He moved out of his 6,000 square foot Buckhead residence and turned it into a rectory for priests.

At almost every utterance, people took to the airwaves and blogosphere and opined on the pope’s political persuasion. One statement would label him a liberal while the next sentence in the same statement would label him an arch conservative.

Pope Francis himself is a charismatic man. A writer for the Huffington Post has written that America has a “man crush” on Pope Francis. He has been called “The People’s Pope.” When he was elected pope, he appeared before the crowd for the first time without papal finery. He chose a simple white cassock and zucchetto (cap). While traveling in the United States, he traveled in a Fiat automobile rather than the “Popemobile.” After delivering an address to a joint session of Congress, Francis went directly to the homeless at Catholic Charities — an itinerary designed to send the message that his priority, and that of the Church, is the people who live at the margins. (Francis was heeding the warning whispered to him by a Brazilian cardinal just moments after he was elected pope: “Don’t forget the poor.”)

Liberal or Conservative?

While conservative Catholics in the U.S. maintain the pope affirms traditional Church teaching on homosexuality, several Catholic gay advocacy groups claim the pope is paving a new path and hope this visit will be a step toward the Church accepting openly gay and lesbian Catholics.

One homosexual who praised him for his “who am I to judge” comment in an informal interview later wrote, “So much for my respect for Pope Francis. He’s just lost a lot of respect here in the USA,” when the Vatican confirmed he met with Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis. Davis was jailed in early September for refusing to sign the marriage license of a homosexual couple who wished to have their civil marriage certified by the state of Kentucky. (Davis and her husband had come to Washington for another purpose — Mrs. Davis was to receive a “Cost of Discipleship” award on Sept. 25 from The Family Research Council.)

Even in this case, one has to go beyond the sound bite to get the true flavor of the story. If one reads the entire interview from an informal news conference on the papal flight returning from Buenos Aires, translated into English at Zenit.org, Francis was speaking of those with a homosexual orientation, and not approving of any behavior:

A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will—well, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, Wait a bit, as is said and says: “these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society.” The problem isn’t having this tendency, no. We must be brothers, because this is one, but there are others, others. The problem is the lobbying of this tendency

With Kim Davis, the meeting needs to be taken with a grain of salt as well. The Davis meeting was between two people with only Mrs. Davis’ version of the meeting being publicized. While the Vatican has since distanced the pope from the meeting, given the pope’s repeated statements on religious freedom, his comments to Mrs. Davis, “Stay strong!” and “Thank you for your courage,” may have been meant more along those lines than alluding to her stance on same-sex marriage, a theme he avoided during the other parts of his trip.

John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group, said Francis’ intent was not to escalate America’s culture wars but to illustrate the contradictions within them.

Part of the Francis effect is making the left and the right a little bit uncomfortable, and, mission accomplished. I think Pope Francis affirms religious liberty, and he rejects the culture wars. That’s something we need to grapple with.

Either way, neither the ad hoc interview nor the meeting with Mrs. Davis can define the pontiff’s position on homosexual marriage.

Is He Godless?

On Pope Francis’ second day in the United States, he addressed a joint session of Congress. Much has been made of him not mentioning Jesus’ name during his hourlong address. Nor did he invoke Christ’s name when speaking at a White House reception. While it is incomprehensible to many that the man who is called the Vicar of Christ would not invoke His name, the Roman pontiff also serves another role. He is also a Head of State. (He was introduced to Congress formally as “the Pope of the Holy See.”) Those in the Catholic Church would also say that the main message he wanted to convey was one of religious freedom. The argument goes that if he would have invoked Christ’s name, it would have diluted his main message and alienated non-Christians.

Given all the above, Francis still claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ and there was a huge missed opportunity to invoke Jesus name, head of state of not. As Paul said:

And whatever you do, whether by speech or action, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

— Colossians 3:17 (ISV)

Is He Even Christian?

The Internet exploded when Francis spoke at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. In his homily, he made the statement “Jesus Christ and his life, … ended in failure, the failure of the cross.” His comments called into question whether he even believed in the divinity of Jesus Himself. Many of those that traffic in professional outrage left out part of the quote. The pope’s comments, in context, reads:

Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.

Even some of those that left in the critical phrase “humanly speaking” missed the point. John Loeffler in his Oct.3 “Steel on Steel” broadcast called this “theological sniping.”

What Francis was saying was during the time of Jesus, people expected the Messiah to lead a triumphant rebellion against the Romans and reign as a Davidic king. Instead, the Romans killed him, and they did so in a particularly painful and humiliating way. From the perspective of most people of the day, based on their expectations of what the Messiah would do, he looked like a failed political revolutionary.

We know, however, as Chuck Missler often says, “The death of Jesus Christ was not a tragedy; it was an achievement.”

The pope’s use of the phrase, “humanly speaking” told his audience that the pope is setting up precisely this kind of contrast between the human and the divine perspective.

Is He a Communist?

The pope spoke a lot about “economic justice” while he was in the United States. His comments made many conservatives in the United States very uncomfortable. Francis’ remarks triggered a debate about his political leanings. His U.S. speeches, combined with statements made in South America have led right wing pundits to place him politically somewhere between a neo-socialist to an outright Marxist.

A look at his papal encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (Gospel of Joy), gives insight into his thinking on economic systems.

In the encyclical the pertinent section is “The economy and the distribution of income.” In it, he makes statements, such as, “Inequality is the root of social ills,” and “We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market.” These statements harken back to the socialistic slogans of the liberation theology, developed mainly by Latin American Roman Catholics in the 1970s. It emphasized liberation from social, political, and economic oppression as an anticipation of ultimate salvation. It has rightly been called Christianized Marxism.

The thrust of what he was saying was that we are living in a global economy and economic decisions now affect the entire world. People who know the pope have voiced his concerns for the poor such as the people that work for pennies a day making garments and electronic components in places such as China and Thailand for export for Western nations. It is that perspective Francis had when authorizing the letter.

He is also a product of his times. From 1976 to 1983 Francis’ home country of Argentina was in the grip of the military dictator Col. Jorge Rafael Videla. This was a man responsible for the torture, murder and disappearance of thousands of political opponents and other political opponents. He also dispensed favors and government contracts to businesses and political cronies who grew rich at the expense of the vast majority of the Argentine population. What the then Fr. Bergoglio experienced was not capitalism, but “crony capitalism” and fascism.

Climate Change

In one area the Roman pontiff broke new theological ground was in climate change. In remarks to the largest gathering of world leaders in U.N. history — close to 200 prime ministers, presidents and potentates, Pope Francis blamed environmental degradation on “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity” that causes untold suffering for the poor who “are cast off by society.” This address follows his 180-page encyclical he wrote on the subject “Laudato Si’” (On Care for Our Common Home). Among other issues was a moral call for action for phasing out fossil fuels.

His comments, a repeat of what he said the previous day at the White House admonished against:

… a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity [which] leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged.

Francis called on the world’s rich nations to pay their “grave social debt” to the poor and take concrete steps on climate change, saying failure to do so presents an undeniable risk to a “common home” that is resembling a “pile of filth.”

While the pope’s comments and papal letter may have been birthed from the best of intentions, there are enough wide openings that have been inserted into them by those pushing for global control over climate change to the benefit of their scheme.

One needs to remember that these papal encyclicals are not written by the pope himself, but by a team of writers, many of them with their own agendas. They may reflect the pope’s overall intent, but other agendas may hide in the details of the letter.

Former Vatican observer and child rights attorney Elizabeth Yore stated she was “shocked at the leftist number of experts [the Curia] brought in to the Pontifical Academy,” citing population control advocates Jeffrey Sachs and Hans J. Schnellnhuber, who helped co-author the Vatican’s April 2015 climate change encyclical.

This begs the question of whether the pope is being used for a larger agenda of which he may not be aware.

A Danger to Avoid

There are many things in the pope’s theology of which to be critical. The errors in the doctrines of transubstantiation, sacraments, conditional salvation by works, Mary’s place in the Church, prayer to saints, etc. are all deep and significant. We need to be discerning when critiquing the words and actions of others, be it laymen or religious leaders.

We all have the obligation to reach out to Roman Catholics. We should love our neighbors of whatever faith they hold. We should befriend them and spend time with them. By doing so, we earn the right to lovingly critique their views.

When we critique them, however, we need to be accurate in our criticism and do so in a spirit of love without resulting to ad hominum arguments.

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On Waters Above – Why NASA’s Announcement About Water on Mars Contributes Nothing to the Creation Science Debate

 
‎06 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎03:28:44 AM | William Welty, Ph.D.Go to full article
Ed. Note: Dr. William Welty, is the Executive Director of the ISV foundation and also serves as a research analyst in Advanced Communication Technologies and Adjunct Professor of Middle Eastern Studies on the faculty of Koinonia Institute. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Koinonia Institute.

Then God said, “Let there be a canopy between bodies of water, separating bodies of water from bodies of water!”

— Genesis 1:6, (ISV)

I read with interest Monday, some Internet news reports that screamed with almost delirious joy an announcement released by NASA that, at long last and after decades of scientific speculation, flowing water has been observed as a present (if not seasonal) reality on the planet Mars. Writing for The Associated Press, Marcia Dunn pontificated:

Mars appears to have flowing rivulets of water, at least in the summer, scientists reported Monday in a finding that boosts the odds of life on the red planet.

Hale Crater streaks

 

Dark, narrow streaks on Martian slopes such as these at Hale Crater are inferred to be formed by seasonal flow of water on contemporary Mars. (NASA)

Garni Crater Dark narrow streaks

 

Dark narrow streaks, called “recurring slope lineae,” emanate from the walls of Garni Crater on Mars. (NASA)

“Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science for NASA.

Conspiracy Theory Responses

NASA’s press release did not come without controversy, however. At virtually the same time that it posted news about NASA’s announcement, The Drudge Report also posted rumors that NASA timed the announcement to coincide with release of director Ridley Scott’s latest science fiction thriller, “The Martian”, which had been slated for release the very week of the announcement by NASA. The next day, writing for Breitbart News, John Nolte observed:

Keep in mind that NASA’s big announcement is NOT that water has been found on Mars. The news is that NASA has found only SIGNS of water on Mars. And now, probably by accident, “Martian” director Ridley Scott has confirmed that NASA timed the release of this bombshell maybe-news for the week of the movie’s release.

Production still from The Martian

 

Production still from 20th Century Fox press release for The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon. (Breitbart)

On one level, “The Martian” may be functioning as a giant advertisement for NASA, but the close collaboration between the space agency and Ridley Scott’s film-making team has resulted in the director remaining blasé about the dramatic announcement of evidence of flowing water on Mars. “I knew that months ago,” he said in response to the news. …

Scott said he had seen the photographs of water flows “about two months ago” – meaning that it was too late to incorporate the revelation into the film’s narrative.

NASA knew this months ago .

Personally, I don’t take much stock in conspiracy theories. And no, I don’t think the timing of the announcement has anything to do with the so-called Blood Moons nonsense or the currently occurring retrograde motion of the planet Mercury. If there’s any conspiracy going on at NASA, it’s more likely that senior management is posturing their announcements about finding signs of flowing water on Mars in order to boost the likelihood as we approach the end of the federal government’s fiscal year that their NASA space exploration budget remains intact or is even increased.

The Genesis Record

With all due respect to the commendable work that NASA has accomplished to bring the Mars Orbiter images back to earth for processing, nothing in NASA’s announcement comes as a surprise to those who take the message of Genesis seriously.

For example, if one examines what Moses wrote circa 1,400 BC in Genesis 1:6–10, this is what you’ll learn about what happened on the second and third days of God’s creation week activities:

(6) Then God said, “Let there be a canopy between bodies of water, separating bodies of water from bodies of water!” (7) So God made a canopy that separated the water beneath the canopy from the water above it. And that is what happened: (8) God called the canopy “sky.” The twilight and the dawn were the second day. (9) Then God said, “Let the water beneath the sky come together into one area, and let dry ground appear!” And that is what happened: (10) God called the dry ground “land,” and he called the water that had come together “oceans.” And God saw how good it was. (ISV)

Observe, if you would please, how the creation text informs an observant reader that when God created the universe, he placed water throughout His universe. What God did with this water is described in the passage from Genesis that we’ve cited above: During the second day of the creation activities described in the Genesis creation narrative, the text informs us that God separated the water that he had created into two distinct portions.

  • First, he made a boundary that placed water that existed beneath the visible canopy of the sky, as verse 6 informs us. This reference to water designates the water content contained in and limited to the atmosphere of the earth, on the earth’s surface, or beneath it.
  • Second, Moses distinguished water that would be native to earth from water that lay beyond or above the sky canopy, as verse 7 informs us.

To sum up the implications of the Genesis narrative, creationists say NASA’s announcement that signs of flowing water have been sighted on Mars is old news, and it comes as no surprise. Quite the opposite, the Jewish and Christian communities observe the NASA announcement with a sort of bemused detachment.

We respond by saying to NASA, “Congratulations! You’ve finally concluded what Moses told the ancient Israelis in the fifteen century BC!” After decades of space exploration, NASA scientists finally climb to the top of the mountain of solar system knowledge about Mars—only to find the giver of The Torah sitting there on the top of that mountain. Personally, I visualize the man sitting next to a big pile of bagels and cream cheese with a sly grin on his face while he informs NASA that God knew there was water on Mars all along. In short, the NASA announcement is a big “Ho-hum! That’s boring!”

Did Life on Mars Start There? Or on Earth? Or Somewhere Else?

Here’s what’s really behind the NASA announcement: Anybody who is desperate to keep a knowledge of God out of their life is going to try to keep even the possibility of divine intervention or activity on a non-existent level. For these people, if life is unique to earth, then maybe the earth and its living species really are extraordinary. And they don’t want to contemplate that reality. So they speculate that life must have originated from a place other than earth. In their view, this kind of logic leads to the possibility of life existing on Mars on the one hand, or on the other hand, it can lead extremists to think life was planted on earth by someone or something else. But the creationist community suggests that both possibilities have very simple explanations. As to the first possibility that there exists microbial life on Mars, conservative evangelicals who take the Bible seriously suggest that if it’s ever found, it’s more likely that it arrived there from earth. Either:

  • It arrived within the last few decades on a human-engineered planetary lander that wasn’t quite as sterile as their builders thought that they had made it; or,
  • Life on Mars may have existed in the dim and ancient past, when it was brought there by antediluvian, but entirely human, astronauts who lived before the earth was first destroyed by the flood of Noah’s day; or,
  • An ancient catastrophic meteor strike on earth may have sent portions of the earth’s surface into orbit, where the orbital detritus intersected with Mars, thus infecting Mars with earth-generated microbes.

Now as to this last possibility, it has been widely suggested that a number of meteorites discovered (particularly in the earth’s arctic regions) have come from Mars in the ancient past. We wonder if the trip could not have been two-way?

The Origin of Earth’s Life: The Ultimate Off-Earth Event

Then there’s the question of whether life originated on earth or from beyond earth. It will doubtlessly come as a surprise to many evangelicals that, strictly speaking, the Bible does not claim that earth’s life originated on earth. It only claims that life on earth was crafted there by a supreme Intelligence who visited His own creation from his origin/home in another dimension in order to craft the plants and animals and then to breathe His own Spirit of life into those creations. This supreme Intelligence is the God of the Bible. His name in Hebrew (transliterated from the Hebrew language into English as YHWH) is also referred to as the eternal and uncreated creative Word of God. In the New Testament, the Apostle John identifies this being with more specificity: He identifies him as Jesus the Messiah, the Angel of the LORD who created the entire Universe, who fashioned the first human beings from the dust of the ground, who brought them to life, and who eventually became one of them in the Incarnation through his Jewish mother Mary, a descendant of King David.

In short, creationists do believe that all life on earth originated off planet, so to speak. That’s because we say the transcendent God and creator, the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus the Messiah, who was the creative agent who brought the entire Universe into existence, personally visited earth to fashion all life, including the origin of human life, on a young earth. In a limited way, then, creationists can say that life on earth originated from off planet, so to speak, when God invaded his own creation to fashion our first parents from the dust of the earth.

Now as to the implications of flowing water having been discovered on Mars, we’re happy to congratulate NASA: well done, ladies and gentlemen. Do keep up the good work. But keep your science honest. If you do, you’ll doubtlessly discover that the more you study God’s creation, the more your findings square with the writings of the man who wrote, “In the beginning, God created the Universe.” (Genesis 1:1, ISV).


About the Holy Bible: International Standard Version

The ISV, version 2.0, produced by the ISV Foundation, is quoted exclusively herein. It was produced by a team of conservative professional biblical and lay scholars drawn from the international Christian community. It is published in a variety of electronic formats Visit http://isv.org to learn more.


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Historic Agreement of Historic Mistake?

 
‎06 ‎October ‎2015, ‏‎03:27:09 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
(Note: Aviel Schneider is the Chief Editor of Israel Today, a Jerusalem Messianic magazine. This is a reprint of a cover story that first appeared in the August 2015 issue of the magazine.)

From the Israeli perspective, the world powers were outsmarted and duped by Shiite Iran. Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the Persian Gulf states agree. This deal means “the end of the Arab world as we know it,” said Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.

Arab Affairs expert Ehud Yaari quoted commentators from the Arab world who see the agreement as a disaster. As one Saudi newspaper put it: “Washington behaves toward Iran just as it did toward Nazi Germany before World War II.”

Saudi analyst Jamal Khashoggi warned of an atomic arms race in the Middle East, saying, “This will whet the appetite of Saudi Arabia to develop its own nuclear program.” Others in the Arab press wrote that the West is naïve.

“Israel is not bound by this deal… because Iran continues to seek our destruction,” said Netanyahu. “The world is a much more dangerous place today than it was yesterday.”

Underscoring the deep rift between Jerusalem and Washington, President Barack Obama said the exact opposite at a news conference: “This deal will make America and the world safer and more secure.”

Defense analyst Ron Ben Yishai says the agreement puts the military option back on the table. “Israel must prepare for a potential preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities,” he wrote on the Ynet website.

Others took a more sober approach.

“There is too much hysteria,” said Amos Yadlin, a former general who headed military intelligence. “The nuclear deal is a very bad one, but we should not get into a panic over it.”

Military expert Alex Fishman agreed, saying it is not a catastrophe and that Israel must tread carefully. “If Israel torpedoes the agreement, it will endanger relations between Jerusalem and Washington,” he cautioned.

Netanyahu compared the situation to President Bill Clinton’s agreement with North Korea in 1994, “This agreement will help to achieve… an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula,” Clinton said at the time. Twelve years later, North Korea exploded a nuclear device in an underground test.

The agreement was useless and the parallel with Iran is clear. “This is a bad deal,” Netanyahu said. “It is not less bad, in my opinion, it is worse than the deal … that led to a nuclear arsenal in North Korea.”

In the end, it was not about Israel’s security, but business deals worth billions of dollars which western companies could not cash in because of the sanctions. Journalist Itamar Eichner quotes an Israeli government source who says that Iran will earn $600–700 billion from oil and other sales in the next 15 years. “It can be said with certainty that
the money will be transferred to support terrorism and proxy states (like Hezbollah
in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza),” said the source.

In fact, “60 percent of the 160 pages in the agreement are about the lifting of sanctions,” Yaari explained on Channel Two TV. “Iran insisted that every specific Iranian company be listed in the agreement, so there won’t be any misconceptions.” He added that sanctions will even be lifted against Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Force in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, which exports terror to the Middle East and worldwide.

“Some 30 percent of the agreement is about curbs on the Iranian nuclear program, which does not stop research and development,” Yaari said. “Only 10 percent clarifies how international monitoring of the Iranian nuclear facilities will work.”

The agreement is also full of contradictions. For instance, it talks about “snapback” sanctions if Iran violates the deal, but it also says that signed business contracts must be honored.

History will be the judge of whether this deal was a historic breakthrough or a historic mistake.

 

The Dangers of Moral Relativism

 
‎29 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎03:21:07 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

How terrible it will be for those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute what is bitter for what is sweet and what is sweet for what is bitter!

— Isaiah 5:20, (ISV)

You Have Your Truth, We Have Ours

General Sir Charles James Napier (1782–1853) was a general of the British Empire. For a time in the late 1840s he was commander of all British forces in India.

A story for which Napier is often noted involved Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of Sati by British authorities. This was the custom of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. As first recounted by his brother William, he replied:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

Napier practiced a concept of moral absolutism. He believed in a single, triune God — an absolute Lawgiver. If there is an absolute Lawgiver, there must be an absolute law. Hindus, on the other hand, do not have a concept of one God. To them, God is utterly beyond form and definition; he is both unknown and unknowable. Their concept of god is more attune with the forces of nature, therefore there are many gods. If there are many gods, then there are many “truths.” That means “the truth” is relative. Your truth is different from my truth. All truth is valid.

Today, it seems the moral relativism that is insinuating itself into society is making its way into the American armed forces. Recent actions by the United States Army against a decorated soldier have exposed a long-standing stance the military has taken of looking the other way toward atrocities committed by foreign nationals in countries where American troops are stationed.

It has come to the attention of at least one U.S. Congressman that the U.S. Department of Defense is discharging Sergeant First Class (SFC) Charles Martland after a distinguished 11-year career in the Special Forces. His crime? Confronting a man who was sexually assaulting a youth while Martland was serving in Afghanistan.

The incident occurred in 2011 during the sergeant’s second deployment in Afghanistan. After learning an Afghan boy was raped and his mother beaten while attempting to stop the rape, Sgt. Martland and his team leader confronted a local police commander. This was the same man they trained, armed and paid with U.S. taxpayer dollars. When the man laughed off the incident, they physically assaulted him.

They were punished by the Army at the time — but exactly why Martland is now being discharged is a matter of dispute. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is looking into the case. With regard to the incident, Hunter told Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: “To intervene was a moral decision, and Sargent Martland and his Green Beret team leader felt they had no choice but to respond.” Martland is described by many of his teammates as the finest soldier they have ever served alongside.

Why did Martland believe he had to respond? Apparently, “don’t ask, don’t tell” wasn’t a policy that applied only to homosexuals.

Homosexual abuse of young boys in Afghanistan is a practice called bacha bazi(boy play), and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records. When troops reported such abuse, they were instructed to look the other way.

This was a practice abhorrent to Martland who could not sit idly by and allow it to happen.

A Career Cut Short

Martland was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions. According to one evaluation, he also was “praised” by Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. Among his other honors was being named runner-up for 2014 Special Warfare Training Group Instructor of the Year from a pool of 400 senior leaders in the Special Forces.

In part because of his skill in training, he was assigned to train Afghan forces during his deployment. Once there, he realized there was a problem with the men he was training to become local police officers. “We had been hearing for months about raping in our province, not just in Afghanistan,” said Daniel Quinn, a fellow trainer, U.S. Military Academy graduate and the team leader of the detachment sent to Kunduz.

One day in early September 2011 at their remote outpost, a young Afghan boy who was limping and his Afghan-Uzbek mother, visibly bruised, showed up at camp. The 12-year-old showed the Green Berets marks on his hands where he had been tied. The mother explained one of the Afghan police commanders in the area, Abdul Rahman, abducted her son and forced him to become a sex slave, chaining him to a bed. She explained that since “her son was such a good-looking kid, he was a status symbol” coveted by local commanders. When she sought her son’s return, she herself was beaten. Her son eventually had been released, but she was afraid it would happen again.

A medic took him to a back room for an examination with an interpreter and confirmed the mother’s story.

After learning of the meeting, Rahman allegedly beat the boy’s mother for reporting the crime. It was at this point, the Green Berets had enough. Quinn and Martland went to confront Rahman. “He confessed to the crime and laughed about it, and said it wasn’t a big deal. Even when we patiently explained how serious the charge was, he kept laughing,” Quinn said.

According to Quinn, “I picked him up and threw him onto the ground.” Sergeant Martland joined in, he said. “I did this to make sure the message was understood that if he went back to the boy that it was not going to be tolerated,” It was the only way to get their point across, according to Quinn. “As a man, as a father of a young boy myself at the time, I felt obliged to step in to prevent further repeat occurrences.”

Rahman walked away bruised from getting shoved and thrown to the ground, but otherwise OK, according to teammates. But Rahman quickly reported the incident to another Army unit in a nearby village. The next day a U.S. Army helicopter landed and took Quinn and Martland away, ending their work in Kunduz Province.

Both men were relieved from their positions and sent home. Their war was over. Then effective Nov. 1, 2015, the U.S. Army ordered Martland to be involuntarily discharged from service.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, an Army colonel last week was quoted as saying of Martland and Quinn, “They put their team’s life at risk by doing what they did, by risking catastrophic loss of rapport” with local Afghan officials.

Representative Hunter responded: “To say that you’ve got to be nice to the child rapist because otherwise the other child rapists might not like you is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard — totally insane and wrong. … It’s sad to think that a child rapist is put above one of our elite military operators. Sergeant Martland was left with no other choice but to intervene in a bad situation. The Army should stand up for what’s right and should not side with a corrupt Afghan police officer.”

Part of a Reoccurring Theme

This was not the first time this had happened, nor was it the only time the Army was made aware of the problem.

In 2012, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. called his father from his bunk in southern Afghanistan. He said he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought onto the base.

“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”

This is the logical outcome to moral relativism.

Moral Relativism is Not Moral

Followed to its logical conclusion, relativism will ultimately lead to moral anarchy and the disintegration of civilization. If we were free to decide our own standard of morality, laws would be meaningless and human rights could not exist.

Laws are standards that govern behavior—more accurately, standards that restrict behavior. Laws are byproducts of absolutism. They apply to everyone equally and are not open to private interpretation. They tell people how to act whether they want to or not.

Relativism leads to moral anarchy on a broad, cultural scale just as readily is it does on an individual scale. This is especially clear in the modern world where cultures bump up against one another. In a relativistic world, international peace is impossible. If standards of right and wrong were culturally controlled, one nation could never condemn the actions of another nation.

One nation could never condemn the actions that another nation takes even against its own people. The systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust of World War II would have been allowed because it was not “against the law” in Nazi Germany. The Nazis believed the Jews were vermin to be exterminated.

Relativism is Illogical

Moral Relativism also fails to correspond to reality because is that it flies in the face of the laws of logic. For example, the law of non-contradiction is foundational to all rational thought and communication. All truth depends on this necessary first principle. But relativism violates the law of non-contradiction. Like pluralism as a whole, it takes blatantly contradictory truth claims and states that both are correct. This is logically impossible.

Christianity and pantheism cannot both reveal the true nature of God because their respective Gods are conspicuously different. Indeed, they are mutually exclusive. Likewise, if a man justifies adultery and his wife condemns it as sin, both opinions can’t be correct. It’s either sin, or it’s acceptable behavior: it can’t be both at the same time. Logically, relativism does not make sense.

Relativism is inconsistent

No one lives the philosophy of relativism consistently. In daily life, all people live and behave according to the same understanding of what makes up reality. One of the clearest examples of this is in the area of ethical behavior.

For example, adultery may be acceptable in some societies, but no society allows a man to just take any woman he wants. Stealing may not be a sin if carried out against another tribe, but you do not steal from your neighbor. Lying may be acceptable in certain situations. Killing may be permitted in warfare. But all people agree that it is wrong to steal from, lie to or murder just anyone. The concepts of stealing, lying, and killing are universally recognized as evil, and such acts are strictly controlled in every culture. People may claim ethics are relative, but all people enforce a universal moral code.

Many people believe that truth is relative and that people should be free to behave as they believe. However, people who preach relativism practice absolutism. The best example this author likes to use when one says “you have your truth and I have mine” is, “Fine, I’d like to have my money that’s in your wallet.” Their reaction demonstrates that relativism is inconsistent with the real world. Relativists simply do not practice what they preach.

If ethics were relative, there would be no moral or philosophical grounds for condemning the thief who believes stealing a car is acceptable or for being upset when one’s spouse commits adultery. As Christian apologist Francis Beckwith wrote:

In order to stay consistent, the ethical relativist cannot criticize intolerable moral practices, believe in real moral progress, or acknowledge the existence of real moral reformers. For these three forms of moral judgment presupposes the existence of real transcultural, nonrelative, objective values [i.e., the kind of absolute moral standards we receive from God]

By appealing to the police, relativists acknowledge a universal code of behavior that applies to both them and the thief (remember, laws point to absolutism, not relativism). By feeling pain, the woman is acknowledging that adultery is wrong even if she accepts moral relativity. In both cases, they are acknowledging a standard of right and wrong that applies to other people. This is absolutism.

People talk the talk of relativism but live the life of absolutism. Relativism is a philosophy, a worldview. To be valid, it must work in any and all situations. Otherwise it cannot represent truth. You can’t pick and choose where relativism applies and where is doesn’t. You either live with it or reject it. If you think stealing and adultery are wrong for all people, you are an absolutist.

An Erosive Worldview

This erosive worldview of moral relativism is becoming an ever-increasing threat to Christianity. Thousands of Christians are unwittingly assimilating this philosophy into their thinking, causing them to compromise their behavior, reject the uniqueness of Christianity by embracing religious pluralism, and dismissing Bible precepts in favor of religious experiences.

No matter what “truth” a person subscribes to, as the saying goes, “Reality always votes last.”

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Fall Feasts: Feast of Tabernacles

 
‎29 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎03:19:22 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Celebrate the Feast of Tents for seven days after you harvest from your threshing floor and your wine press. Rejoice in your festival—you, your son, your daughter, your male and female slaves, the descendants of Levi, foreigners, orphans, and widows who live in your cities. For seven days you are to celebrate in the presence of the LORD your God at the place where the LORD will choose; for the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in everything you do, and your joy will be complete. “Every male must appear in the presence of the LORD your God three times a year at the place where he will choose: for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Seven Weeks, and the Feast of Tents. He must not appear in the LORD’s presence empty-handed, but each one must appear with his own gift, proportional to the blessing that the LORD your God has given you.

— Deuteronomy 16:13–17 (ISV)

Yesterday, Sunday Evening, Sept. 27 through Monday Evening, Oct. 5 marks the Feast of Tabernacles for this year.

The Meaning Behind the Feast

The Feast of Tabernacles, Feast of Unleavened Bread, was one of the three compulsory feasts that required faithful Jews to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem. Its name, Sukkot, means “booths” and these seven festive days during which the Jews construct temporary shelters make for a very colorful visit to Israel. The temporary family-sized tabernacles are built nearly anywhere — on rooftops and in backyards, on balconies and anywhere one will fit. The huts must have three sides and have a part of the roof open to the sky, and they can be built with a variety of materials. Palm leaves are a popular choice for the requirement that they include something that grew from the earth but is disconnected from it.

From inside these temporary shelters the Jews must be able to see the stars at night and the wind must be able to blow through the walls. This is to remind them of Israel’s long encampment in the wilderness under Moses. For one week the people of Israel are to live out in these structures, rejoicing and enjoying themselves. Sometimes it rains, and many eat and relax in the booths, but go sleep inside at night whether or not that was the original intent of the Law. At the end of Sukkot, they leave those temporary dwellings for their permanent homes. This is all done with great color and celebration.

In the days of the Temple the feast opened and closed with convocations of the people. There were daily sacrifices. The final day of the feast may have had the same rules against working as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The remembrance of the wilderness wandering was considered an occasion of joy, connected to God’s saving work on Israel’s behalf. A large number of sacrifices were offered during the week’s celebration (Num. 29:12–38).

Other elements of this feast include remembering the pillar of fire that the Jews followed in the wilderness and the water gushing out of the rock at Moses’ command. Typically, participants waved palm branches and recited Psalm 118:26 — “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” This was also a time for celebrants to welcome and expect special guests.

The climax of the Gospel of John occurs at a celebration of Tabernacles (John 7, 8). Jesus identified himself as the light of the world (referring to the pillar of fire) and the giver of living water. We also see elements of this feast take place when Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, even though it was not the season for this feast. The palm branches, shouting the words of Psalm 118:26, and welcoming a holy visitor to Jerusalem are elements of Tabernacles and identify Jesus as the Messiah.

The Three Chief Features of the Feast

Three things specially marked the Feast of Tabernacles: its joyous festivities, the dwelling in “booths,” and the peculiar sacrifices and rites of the week.

The first characteristic was a “feast of ingathering:”

Celebrate the Feast of Tents for seven days after you harvest from your threshing floor and your wine press. Rejoice in your festival—you, your son, your daughter, your male and female slaves, the descendants of Levi, foreigners, orphans, and widows who live in your cities. For seven days you are to celebrate in the presence of the LORD your God at the place where the LORD will choose; for the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in everything you do, and your joy will be complete. “Every male must appear in the presence of the LORD your God three times a year at the place where he will choose: for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Seven Weeks, and the Feast of Tents. He must not appear in the LORD’s presence empty-handed, but each one must appear with his own gift, proportional to the blessing that the LORD your God has given you.

— Deuteronomy 16:13–17 (ISV)

Votive, freewill, and peace offerings would mark their gratitude to God, and at the meal which ensued the poor, the stranger, the Levite, and the homeless would be welcome guests, for the Lord’s sake. When the people saw the treasury chests opened and emptied at this feast for the last time in the year, they would remember their brethren at a distance, in whose name, as well as their own, the daily and festive sacrifices were offered. so their liberality would not only be stimulated, but all Israel, however widely dispersed, would feel itself renewed before the Lord. There was, besides, something about this feast which would peculiarly remind them, if not of their dispersion, yet of their being “strangers and pilgrims in the earth.”

The second characteristic was that during the seven days of its continuance “every native born of Israel is to live in booths; in order for your future generations to know that the Israelis lived in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:43, ISV)

The festival of Sukkot in Israel

The festival of Sukkot in Israel (Yahoo News)

The Booths

As the saying goes, if you have two Jews, you have three opinions. There was a controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees over the interpretation of this part of the Law. The Torah said:

On the first day, take branches from impressive fruit trees, branches from palm trees, boughs from thick trees, and poplars from the brooks. Then you are to rejoice in the presence of the LORD your God for seven days.

— Leviticus 23:40 (ISV)

The Sadducees (as do the modern Karaite Jews) took this to mean the materials that made up the booths, while the Pharisees applied it to what the worshipers were to carry in their hands.

The latter interpretation is, in all likelihood, the correct one; it seems borne out by the account of the festival at the time of Nehemiah (cf. Nehemiah 8:15, 18), when the booths were constructed of branches of trees other than those mentioned in Leviticus 23 and it was universally adopted in practice at the time of Christ. The Mishnah gives most minute details as to the height and construction of these “booths”, the main object being to prevent any evasion of the law. Therefore it must be a real booth, and constructed of boughs of living trees and only for the purposes of this festival. Therefore it must be high enough, yet not too high: at least ten handbreadths (about 90 cm or 36 inches.), but not more than 30 feet. Three of its walls must be of boughs; it must be fairly covered with boughs, yet not so shaded as not to admit sunshine, nor yet so open as to have not enough shade, the object in each case being neither sunshine nor shade, but it should be a real booth of tree boughs.

It is needless to enter into further details, except to say that these booths, and not their houses, were to be the regular dwelling of all in Israel during the week, and except in very heavy rain, they were to eat, sleep, pray and study; in short, entirely to live in them. The only exceptions were for those absent on some pious duty, the sick and their attendants, women, slaves and infants who were still depending on their mothers. Finally, the rule was “whatever might contract Levitical defilement (boards, cloth, etc.), or whatever did not grow out of the earth, might not be used” in constructing the booths.

Lulav Æthrog Set

Lulav Æthrog Set (Boulder Jewish News)

The Fruit and Palm Branches

It has already been stated that, according to the view universally prevalent at the time of Christ, the direction on the first day of the feast to “take branches from impressive fruit trees, branches from palm trees, boughs from thick trees, and poplars from the brooks.” was applied to what the worshipers were to carry in their hands. The Rabbis ruled “the fruit of the goodly trees” meant the œthrog, or citron, and “the boughs of thick trees” the myrtle, provided it had “not more berries than leaves.”

The œthrogs must be without blemish or deficiency of any kind; the palm branches at least three handbreadths high, and fit to be shaken; and each branch fresh, entire, unpolluted, and not taken from any idolatrous grove. Every worshiper carried the œthrog in his left hand, and in his right the lulav, or palm, with myrtle and willow branch on either side of it, tied together on the outside with its own kind, though in the inside it might be fastened even with gold thread.

The lulav was intended to remind Israel of the different stages of their wilderness journey as represented by the different vegetation. The willow has no fragrance and bears no fruit. The myrtle is fragrant, but has no fruit. The palm on the other hand has no fragrance but does yield fruit. Finally, there’s a fourth branch called an œthrog. It looks like a lemon but is as large as a grapefruit. The œthrog is very, very fragrant with an intense taste. It was to remind them of the fruits of the good land which the Lord had given them. A variety of sermons might be pulled from the potential symbolism here, and it might even be tied to the four soils of Matthew 13: 18–23 when Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower.

The lulav was used in the Temple on each of the seven festive days, even children, if they were able to shake it, being bound to carry one. If the first day of the feast fell on a Sabbath, the people brought their lulavs on the previous day into the synagogue on the Temple Mount, and fetched them in the morning, so as not needlessly to break the Sabbath rest.

The Offerings

The third characteristic of the Feast of Tabernacles was its offerings. These were altogether peculiar. The sin offering for each of the seven days was “one kid of the goats.” The burnt offerings consisted of bullocks, rams and lambs, with their proper meat and drink offerings. But the number of the rams and lambs remained the same on each day of the festival that of the bullocks decreased every day by one—from 13 on the first to seven bullocks on the last day, “that great day of the feast.” As no special injunctions are given about the drink offering, we infer that it was usually, 1 ¼ of a hin of wine for each lamb, 1/3 for each ram, and 1/2 for each bullock (the hin = 1 gallon, 2 pints). The “meat offering” is fixed at 1/10 of an ephah of flour (about 3/5 of a bushel), mixed with 1/4 of a hin of oil, for each lamb; 2/10 of an ephah, with 1/3 hin of oil, for each ram; and 3/10 of an ephah, with 1/2 hin of oil, for each bullock.

Three things are remarkable about these burnt offerings:

First, they are evidently the characteristic sacrifice of the Feast of Tabernacles. As compared with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the number of the rams and lambs is double, while that of the bullocks is fivefold (14 during the Passover week, 5 × 14 during that of Tabernacles).

Second, the number of the burnt-sacrifices, whether taking each kind by itself or all of them together, is always divisible by the number seven. We have for the week 70 bullocks, 14 rams and 98 lambs or altogether 182 sacrifices (26 × 7), to which must be added 336 (48 × 7) tenths of ephahs of flour for the meat offering. It is interesting to note the number 7 appeared at the Feast of Unleavened Bread only in the number of its days, and at Pentecost in the period of its observance (7 × 7 days after Passover). The Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days and took place when the seventh month was at its full height and had the number 7 impressed on its characteristic sacrifices.

It is not so easy to account for the third peculiarity of these sacrifices—that of the daily decrease in the number of bullocks offered. The common explanation was that it was intended to show the decreasing sanctity of each successive day of the feast, while the number 7 was still to be reserved for the last day, is not more satisfactory than the view offered in the Talmud that these sacrifices were offered, not for Israel, but for the nations of the world: “There were seventy bullocks, to correspond to the number of the seventy nations in the world.” It is difficult to imagine that the Rabbis would embed the prophetic character of this ritual into this feast. Clearly, there is something inspired going on here.

On the day before the Feast of Tabernacles—the 14th of Tishri—the festive pilgrims had all arrived in Jerusalem. The “booths” on the roofs, in the courtyards, in streets and squares, as well as roads and gardens, within a Sabbath day’s journey, must have given the city and neighborhood an unusually picturesque appearance. The preparation of all that was needed for the festival—purification, the care of the offerings that each would bring, and friendly communications between those who were to be invited to the sacrificial meal—no doubt sufficiently occupied their time. When the early autumn evening set in, the blasts of the priests’ trumpets on the Temple Mount announced to Israel the advent of the feast.

The Feast of Tabernacles in the New Testament

In Mark 9 and Matthew 17 Christ’s transfiguration seems to take place during the Feast of Tabernacles. The Gospels recount that Jesus went up to the Mount of Transfiguration ((which many scholars believe was Mount Hermon) where He was transfigured in front of the three “insiders,” Peter, James and John. Peter wanted to make three booths, which is why some people think this was in the fall: it was around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. (Peter will allude to this heavily in his second letter.)

Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. His appearance was changed in front of them, his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Then Peter told Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here! If you want, I’ll set up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when a bright cloud suddenly overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with him. Keep on listening to him!”

— Matthew 17:1–5 (ISV)

After healing a possessed boy, Jesus went back to Capernaum. Jesus went down to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles where He declared Himself to be the Living Water:

On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have rivers of living water flowing from his heart.”

— John 7:37–38 (ISV)

Later, in John 8, He forgave the woman taken in adultery, and returned to Galilee.

The Fulfillment of the Feast

It’s been suggested that of the three feasts held in the seventh month (Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles), this one represents the Millennial Kingdom. There the people of God will live until it is time to leave their temporary shelters and enter into their permanent home. Sukkot suggests a temporary delay before receiving our permanent habitation, as alluded to by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:2, “For in this one we sigh, since we long to put on our heavenly dwelling.”(ISV)

Most scholars agree the spring feasts — the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Firstfruits — are predictive of the first coming of Christ. All the elements of those first three feasts were fulfilled and not only that, they were fulfilled on the very days they are observed. That fact is both fascinating and potentially enlightening as well. This leads many to expect the Fall Feasts anticipate Christ’s Second Coming. One should study and review the details of the Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles on your own and pray for understanding so that you can make your own conclusions accurately.

(With excerpts from Chuck Missler’s and Dan Stolebarger’s book The Feasts of Israel and Alfred Edersheim’s book The Temple, Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ)

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Syrian Refugee Crisis

 
‎21 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎11:27:12 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Give us advice; reach a decision! Cast your shadow as if night had come at high noon. Shelter the fugitives, And don’t betray a single refugee.

— Isaiah 16:3 (ISV)

Europe is facing an existential crisis that not only threatens the EU, but the national sovereignty of the member countries themselves. Whatever immigration problems North America faces, it pales in comparison to what is happening in Europe.

Why Now?

A question many are asking is “Why now?”

This is a problem that has been brewing for a while. It came to Europe in four stages:

  1. The first step of the refugee crisis was the persecution that forces refugees to flee their homes in the first place. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad deliberately targeted Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, civilian and rebel alike, for slaughter. His goal was to polarize the conflict on religious lines, to turn what began as a broad-based uprising against a dictator into a sectarian war, with religious minorities on his side. Some are fleeing war, some political persecution, and some other kinds of violence.
  2. The second step is what happens to those refugees once they are forced out of their homes: Often, though not always, they end up in camps. Life in the camps is often difficult, cramped and unsafe, with few prospects for work or education. This is a crisis for the refugees as well for as the countries that house them; for instance, host countries like Lebanon and Turkey are struggling to manage their camps for refugees and to absorb the thousands of people who live in them.
  3. The third step is what happens when refugee families, perhaps after seeing that the camps offer them little hope or protection, seek safety from persecution farther afield, often in developed countries, particularly in Europe.
  4. The fourth step is the one that many Western countries are experiencing now: what happens when large numbers of refugees show up. Often, they face systems that are badly broken — the squalid overcrowded camps in Greece, for example — or are overtly hostile to refugees. This is changing, but most European countries are still trying to keep refugees out and refusing to accept even a remotely sufficient number of them for resettlement, which means the families who make it to Europe end up in camps, sleeping in train stations, or living in fear of deportation.

A Problem Has Come Home to Roost

Hungary had been warning its fellow EU members for months that refugees and illegal migrants were crossing its border in increasing numbers. The only response Hungary got back from Brussels was to “shut up and take it.” The Hungarians were criticized and ridiculed by Brussels for even being concerned about this.

In the past weeks, however, the good-sized trickle of humanity crossing their border turned into an absolute flood with thousands of people crossing the border from Serbia into Hungary every day. Even under the most ideal economic conditions could handle such a massive influx of people and Hungary is not a wealthy country. Even Germany, the wealthiest of the EU member countries (Gross domestic product=2.9 trillion euros) will have a difficult time taking in hundreds of thousands of people. This has caused the EU countries to take actions they feel is in their national interest, but is against the EU charter.

Germany, for example has just recently decided to take a go slow approach to immigration and rigidly enforce the EU Dublin Agreement on immigration where refugees are to be fingerprinted in the EU country where they first enter. In the past this rule was not enforced and refugees were fingerprinted in their destination country. Now, refugees are deported back to the first EU country they entered, often Italy or Greece, which have the worst welfare provision for these people. Also, Germany is implementing stricter border control to slow down the flow of immigrants into their country. This has caused a backflow of immigrants in Austria, Hungary and Italy. In turn, the Hungarian government is enforcing their border controls, which is putting more pressure on Serbia.

And so it goes.

European Union

A Look Back

Looking back the vast majority of those who are escaping are coming from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. All of these countries have been ripped apart by warfare and civil strife. The situation in these countries, particularly in Syria, is so dire it seems like now is the time to get out, especially since there is a vehicle for them through the EU to escape.

A Different Kind of Refugee

If one would visit Munich and see the people coming into the train station there, they do not have the look of a stereotypical refugee. They are well dressed; they are in Western clothes; they have smart phones. One trait that does identify them as refugees is a look of dejection.

On the whole, these people come from the middle class. After all, these people are paying smugglers to get to Europe. A lot of them are leaving from Turkey. The family of the little boy whose picture captivated the world was leaving a refugee camp in Turkey.

This boy’s family was leaving a refugee camp in Turkey.

This boy’s family was leaving a refugee camp in Turkey.(CNN)

They’re paying smugglers, up to $2,000 a person to be smuggled into Greece. Many times, the payment gets them passage on a craft that is barely seaworthy and in many cases; these unfortunates don’t even get that. (Because most Westerners don’t even have $1,000 in emergency funds, one can imagine only the well-heeled can afford passage to Europe.) It is the middle class, even the upper middle class that is leaving these countries. These are the very people that are needed to rebuild these countries if any kind of normalcy returns to their homelands.

A Failure of Foreign Policy

Those that believe this is all because of President Assad are missing the point. If this is the case why in 2009 weren’t people streaming out? Why not in 2010?

It was only after the West announced Assad had to go, fomented an uprising, and then pulled out that the problems started. Power abhors a vacuum and when the West left the region without leaving a stable, viable government behind, the Islamic State was able to fill that void and begin their brand of vicious jihad.

The West’s Response

Maybe since they realize they are partly to blame for the current crisis, the West has said they are willing to take in some of the refugees. They have a daunting task on their hands. More than 500,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean so far this year, and about 3,000 of them have died. With 4,000 people arriving on the Greek islands daily, the crisis is growing.

While not an official number, sources say German officials have stated they will take in up to 800,000 refugees into the country, though the German people may have a much lower figure in mind. It won’t take long to reach that figure. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated up to 3,000 people a day are coming into Hungary.

Numbers of internally displaced people (in Syria), Syrian refugees (in neighboring countries), and Syrian registered asylum-seekers (in Europe)

Numbers of internally displaced people (in Syria), Syrian refugees (in neighboring countries), and Syrian registered asylum-seekers (in Europe) — Focus on Syria

Hungary, which shares a border with Serbia, is facing a mini-insurrection. It is trying to get these people into refugee centers so they can be documented, which is required by EU law. The refugees are afraid they will be turned back so are breaking out of the centers. Many of the refugees are men of army age, look healthy and are very unruly. These people will be tough to contain.

The people who do make it out of the warzones into Europe are serving as an example to those back home who want to leave. Those who make it to Europe want to get to Germany since those who are arriving would be eligible for state welfare benefits. These benefits are incredible compared to Syria that has nothing to offer but despair.

The Coming Demographic Shift

Some politicians in the destination counties, such as Germany think this an ideal situation for them. While their economy may take a hit in the short term in welfare payments to these people, many politicos believe the influx of refugees will solve their demographic problem. They also think these low-wage refugees are the answer to their skyrocketing labor costs.

One thing Western and Central Europe has been suffering is depopulation as the birth rate declines.

Europe is dying.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the last time the countries of the EU were reproducing at replacement levels (that is, slightly more than two children per woman) was the mid–1970s. In 2014, the average number of children per woman was about 1.6. That is up a bit from the nadir in 2001, but has been falling again for more than half a decade. Imagine a world where many people have no sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts or uncles. That is where Europe is heading in the coming decades. There are exceptions. France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce? (Russia has also resorted to bribing their citizens by declaring a national “Day of Conception” for people to take a day off from work to reproduce.)

The one bright spot seems to be immigration. In 2012, the median age of the national population in the EU was 41.9 years, while the median age of foreigners living in the union was 34.7. So many Europeans are pleased there will be new arrivals to work and pay taxes when the locals retire.

Many, however, are not. Anti-immigrant sentiment is surging across the Continent. Nativist movements performed alarmingly well in European Parliament elections last year and the anti-immigrant movement is growing.

Mainstreaming

Just as with the illegal immigrants in the United States, the refugees in Europe are there to stay. The problem now becomes not how to deport them, but how to bring these people into the economy. How, for example, do you bring in people that have very, very different religious backgrounds, experiences and perspectives on life into a rural German village of 1,200 people who have lived there for tens of generations? What happens to a local (and national) society when there is an influx of another 1,000 people in a village of 1,000 who share none of the history with these people? It’s difficult to quantify these things, but these are real things people face.

Just like many decisions politicians make, the immigration decisions being made now could well have unintended consequences.

While the large majority of refugees are Christian, an estimated 25 percent of people coming into Europe are Sunni Muslims who were driven out of Syria by Assad. The Muslims who have come to Europe before them have shown little inclination to assimilate into the culture and have been a source of sectarian violence their adoptive countries. They also offer a fertile recruiting ground for extremist Muslim factions already in the country. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution is monitoring 30 mosques and about 1,900 Islamists in the state, according to authorities.

Muslim clerics also realize Europe has a demographic problem. Sheikh Muhammad Ayed gave the speech at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem urging Muslims to have children with westerners so they could “trample them underfoot, Allah willing.”

Throughout Europe, all the hearts are enthused with hatred toward Muslims. They wish that we were dead, but they have lost their fertility, so they look for fertility in our midst. We will give them fertility. We will breed children with them, because we shall conquer their countries.

This tactic did not originate with the mullahs. Stalin wanted to import ethnic Russians into the Baltic States. It wasn’t so the Baltic States could enjoy Russian culture. It was to convert the Baltic countries into Russian states.

Importing Terror

There is another dimension to the refugee crisis. The Islamic State is boasting they are planting terrorists among the refugees coming into Europe. Part of ISIS’s plan is to smuggle in terrorists and create still more turmoil in Western Europe. Whether this is true or merely propaganda will probably not be known until it is too late.

This seems to be more fact than boast.

As we have learned recently, a lot of information can be gleaned from social media. Analysts have seen pictures of jihadists coming into Germany and pictures of those same people have been found carrying rifles fighting for al-Nusra.

The refugee crisis should be seen as the warning signal that the world is seeing a series of compounding crises.

The signs are everywhere.

The Middle East is in flames, refugees are pouring into Europe; countries are straining under the pressure of absorbing them. With the refugees also comes the increased threat of terrorism. The West seems impotent in the face of this threat.

Nations are morally adrift. The peoples of the world are looking for someone who will rescue them from their problems. The past and present presidential races in the United States are examples of people gravitating to candidates on the left and right who offer platitudes without programs and appeal to a brand of populism that has its perils. Some have already been held up potential and elected candidates as modern-day messiahs. Israel is being increasingly isolated. It is truly becoming a millstone around the neck of anyone who supports them.

The prophecies of the Bible are being fulfilled before our eyes.

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Yom Kippur

 
‎21 ‎September ‎2015, ‏‎11:26:07 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons when they had approached the LORD and died. The LORD told Moses. Remind your brother Aaron that at no time is he to enter the sacred place from the room that contains the curtain into the presence of the Mercy Seat on top of the ark. Otherwise, he’ll die, because I will appear in a cloud at the Mercy Seat. Aaron is to enter the sacred place with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a whole burnt offering… He is to take two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a whole burnt offering from the assembly of the Israelis. Then Aaron is to bring the bull as a sin offering for himself and make atonement for himself and his household… Aaron is to cast lots over the two male goats—one lot for the LORD and the other one for the scapegoat. Aaron then is to bring the male goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and offer it as a sin offering. The male goat on which the lot fell for the scapegoat is to be brought alive into the LORD’s presence to make atonement for himself. Then he is to send it into the wilderness. Aaron is then to bring the bull for a sin offering for him, thus making atonement for himself and his household… Then he is to make atonement on the sacred place on account of the uncleanness of the Israelis, their transgressions and all their sins… This will be a perpetual statute for you as you make atonement once a year for the Israelis on account of all their sins. So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded him.

— Leviticus 16:1–34, (ISV)

This year Yom Kippur begins in the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 22, and ends in the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 23. Yom Kippur [yôm hakkippurîm “day of the covering over (or propitiation)”] is also known as the Day of Atonement.

From Leviticus 16 it appears that even the high priest could not enter the Holy of Holies at all times and without special ceremonies; he and his household needed reconciliation as did the people of Israel and even the sanctuary itself. The Day of Atonement was proclaimed a fast, reminding the Israelites of Yahweh’s holiness and their own sinfulness (including the most holy persons). A number of sacrifices were offered, 15 altogether (16 counting the goat of Azazel): 12 burnt offerings and three sin offerings (Lev. 16:5–29; Num. 29:7–11). Including the ram (mentioned separately at Num. 28:8), there were 13 burnt offerings and four sin offerings. The Israelite sacrifices of reconciliation were similar in function to the purification ceremonies of the ancient Babylonians, Greeks and Romans.

The Atonement

The Day of Atonement was “a Sabbath of solemn rest” (Lev. 16:31), which included a purification ceremony in the tabernacle as well as a general fast. After the high priest had bathed and had put on his linen clothes (rather than his sacred vestments; v. 4), he chose for himself and his house a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. From the congregation he took two goats as a sin offering and a ram as a burnt offering. He then had the two goats placed at the entrance of the tent of meeting where he cast a lot, assigning one goat for Yahweh and “one for Azazel.” The goat assigned by lot to Yahweh was to be sacrificed as a sin offering, but the other goat was placed before the Lord alive in order to reconcile, i.e., to be dedicated as a scapegoat (vv. 20–22) and subsequently to be driven into the desert, bearing the guilt of Israel’s sins.

After lots were cast between the two goats, Aaron killed the bull of the sin offering for himself and his house. Taking next a pan of glowing coals from the altar of burnt offering, he placed ground up incense on the fire before the face of Yahweh—inside the veil while a cloud of smoke from the incense covered the mercy seat. Then with his finger he sprinkled blood of the bull seven times on the front side of the mercy seat and seven times in front of it, killed the goat of the sin offering, and added the blood of that animal to that of the killed bull, sprinkling the holy place and the horns of the altar of burnt offering.

An indispensable detail of the ceremony was the placing of the live goat before the altar of burnt offering. Leaning with his two hands on the head of the animal, Aaron confessed all the iniquity of the Israelites as well as their transgressions, symbolically placing them on the head of the goat. After this act an appointed person took the animal to the wilderness outside of the camp where he was to free it (cf. Ps. 103:12). (In later years the person customarily threw the goat from the cliffs so that it died.)

Finally, the high priest went to the tent of meeting, took off his linen clothes, bathed himself, put on his regular vestments, and offered the two rams as a burnt offering in the court, thus reconciling himself and the people. The bull and the goat of the sin offering were placed outside the camp, to be burned totally, including skin, flesh and dung (Lev. 16:27; see Heb. 13:11). Like the person who had sent the live goat to the wilderness, the one who burned the animal had to wash his clothes and bathe himself. It may have been that the feast offering prescribed at Num. 29:7–11 was given.

The only fast day prescribed in Mosaic law, the Day of Atonement (cf. Exod. 30:10) gained particular importance in postexilic times (cf. Neh. 9:1). Although the fast retained significance in New Testament times (cf. Acts 27:9), the event came to be reinterpreted among Christians in terms of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Great High Priest (Heb. 9:11).

The End of the Ritual

Since the loss of the Temple in A.D. 70, the God-centered observances of the Torah have tragically been replaced with a man-centered, good works system of appeasement through prayer, charity and penitence.

The story of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Joshua Ben Hananiah illustrates the void left by the destruction:

[T]hey beheld the Temple ruins. “Woe is us!” cried Rabbi Joshua, “that the place where the iniquities of Israel were atoned for is now laid waste!” “My son,” replied Rabbi Yohanan, “do not be grieved. We have another atonement as effective as this. And what is it? Acts of loving-kindness.”

Ritually, the power of atonement was now vested in the Day of Atonement itself. As always, teshuvah (repentance) was required before any sin could be atoned, but for the most severe sins atonement was “suspended until the Day of Atonement which then atones.” But it was now made clear that sins between human beings could only be atoned if “one pacified one’s fellow” first.

It was during this post-destruction period that the liturgy of Yom Kippur was developed, including the recitation of five daily services, something that was done on other fast days and that may reflect practices already in existence before the destruction (Mishnah Taanit 4.1). Rabbinic teaching also spelled out the specific prohibitions of Yom Kippur for each individual. Although fasting remained the basic method of “afflicting one’s soul,” prohibitions were added against washing, anointing with oil, wearing shoes and having sexual relations (Mishnah Yoma 8.1)—prohibitions that are also associated with mourning practices. Thus, the Sages were attempting to eliminate all pleasures on that day, for Yom Kippur, like all fasts, is considered a time of mourning.

Even though the temple has not been used in over 2,000 years for Yom Kippur sacrifices, it appears that a return to the traditional ways is on the horizon with the plans to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Last March a news report came out of Jerusalem from the Temple Institute that the Altar of the Lord has been reconstructed.

The Institute, based in the Old City of Jerusalem, announced it has finished building an altar that is essentially “ready for use” in sacrificial services. The altar is the most ambitious project to date toward the goal of rebuilding the Jewish Temple. The massive outdoor altar, which took several years to build, can be operational at little more than a moment’s notice, reported the Israeli magazine Matzav Haruach.

Bible scholars say the rebuilding of the ancient temple is predicted throughout Scripture, starting with Daniel’s vision in Daniel 9:27. Jesus echoed Daniel’s warning about an abomination standing in “the holy place” in the last days in Matthew 24:15, followed by the Apostle John’s vision of the Temple in Revelation 11:1–2. Paul mentioned it in 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4.

A Yom Kippur of Great Significance?

There has been a lot of speculation that this year’s Yom Kippur will be one of great significance. Some even claim that the Rapture has to occur this year Wednesday, Sept. 23.

These types of predictions are not new:

  • Harold Camping predicted that the Rapture and devastating earthquakes would occur May 21, 2011, with God taking approximately 3 percent of the world’s population into heaven, and that the end of the world would occur five months later Oct. 21. When his original date failed to come about, Camping revised his prediction and said that May 21, a “Spiritual Judgment” took place, and that both the physical Rapture and the end of the world would occur Oct. 21, 2011.
  • Ronald Weinland stated Jesus Christ would return Sept. 29, 2011. He prophesied nuclear explosions in U.S. port cities by July 2008 as the blowing of the Second Trumpet of Revelation. After his prophecy failed to come true he changed the date for the return of Jesus Christ to May 27, 2012.
  • A writer, using the pen name “Ted,” in Deadline 1981, Mockers Beware, Vol. 1, declared that the rapture was about to arrive in August 1980, or at the latest by June 20, 1981.
  • According to Dr. Charles Taylor, the rapture was to take place Sept. 25, 1975.
  • Oct. 28, 1992, was the predicted date for the rapture, according to an undated tract, not attributed to a named author, titled Mission For The Coming Days, Orange County Division, Orange County, CA.
  • The founder of the Mormons, Joseph Smith, predicted that the second coming of Jesus would take place before the end of 1891.
  • The Seventh Day Adventist, William Miller, predicted that Jesus would finally return between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.

To our best estimation, these predictions have not come true.

It is easy to be taken in by the enthusiasm of false prophets. Paul once described the misplaced enthusiasm of the Jews: “For I can testify on their behalf that they have a zeal for God, but it is not in keeping with full knowledge.” (Romans 10:2, ISV)

Jesus said, “At that time, if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’, don’t believe it,” (Matthew 24:23, ISV)

Jesus went on to say and made it very clear, “No one knows when that day or hour will come—not the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” (Matthew 24:36, ISV)

We are not to be date setters; we are not to put God in a box. Rather, we should follow Peter’s advice:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep a clear head, and set your hope completely on the grace to be given you when Jesus, the Messiah, is revealed.

— 1 Peter 1:13, ISV

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