Thursday, April 30, 2015

No Longer Slaves: Emmanuel Enid's Refuge Band

Last Sunday morning our Refuge Worship team sang a song entitled No Longer Slaves. During the second verse of that song the words are: "From my mother's womb You have chosen me. Love has called my name." Standing across the aisle from me was a young man whose first memories in life are being in an orphan's home run by Catholic nuns. He knows nothing of his earthly father; he knows nothing of his lineage or heritage before his mother's womb. I reached across and put my arm around him and said, "This song's about you." I could see in his eyes the encouragement No Longer Slaves gave to him. I hope it will you too. Here's a recording of that moment.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Yemen and American Ignorance of the Middle East

The other night I was listening to a national news broadcast when a reporter made a mistake in her reporting on  Yemen. She mentioned Iranian ships had been sent to the Persian Gulf and a possible confrontation with American ships was developing. "Iran," said the reporter, "sent the ships to support the rebels in Yemen, a hot-bed for Al-Qaida terrorism."

It was obvious the reporter believed Iran sent ships and troops to support al-Qaida in Yemen. Little did she know that Iran is about the only country in the Middle East, other than Syria, who is fighting al-Qaida. Al-Qaida is Sunni Muslim. Iran is Shia Muslim. Read previous my previous post for background in the differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

No terrorist group has killed more Americans than Sunni al-Qaida. They brought down the Twin Towers in New York. They've kidnapped, maimed, and killed more Americans around the world than any other terrorist group. Yet--now get this--some Sunni terrorists believe al-Qaida is too soft toward America. Americans know these harder-line Sunni terrorists as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria); or IS (Islamic State); or--as President Obama prefers to call them--ISIL.

Now here is the important question Americans should be asking: Which country is most fiercely fighting America's enemies known as al-Qaida and ISIS in the Middle East?

Is it Saudi Arabia? The Gulf Arab states (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, etc...)? Does our NATO ally Turkey lead out in the fight against ISIS? No. Not even close. In fact, all these  Sunni countries have aided ISIS in its attempt to pull down Assad's Shia government in Syria. Sunni-led Muslim countries in the Middle East have been dragging their feet in helping America fight al-Qaida and ISIS for years.

Yet there are some people (and countries) in the Middle East who are fighting ISIS toe-to-toe.

The rebels in Yemen are an example. They are the Shias and the press calls them Houthis. These rebels in Yemen successfully pulled down the Sunni government of Yemen on January 22, 2015 - just three months ago. The Shias of Yemen are sick and tired of ISIS brutality. ISIS blew up two of the most revered Shia mosques in Yemen, killing 135 Shia Muslims and wounding nearly 400 others. The Houthis are fighting ISIS. Iran was moving its ships to the Persian Gulf to support the Houthis in this fight. So, contrary to what the reporter was saying on national television, the Iranians were in the Persian Gulf to fight ISIS, not to support ISIS.

There are at least five other groups of people or countries fighting ISIS toe-to-toe as well - the Kurds of northern Iraq (who may soon become an independent country), Baghdad's Shia-led government, Iran, Syria, and Russia. But right now, the rebels in Yemen are in the middle of the biggest fight with ISIS.
What is happening in the country of Yemen illustrates American confusion and ignorance of the Middle East. In an outstanding article today by Pat Buchanan, he asks the question Why Is Yemen Our War? Buchannan points out that since the fall of Yemen to Houthi rebels on January 22, 2015, Saudi Arabia--with the aid of America--has attacked Yemen with 1,000 bombing missions. Read Buchannan's penetrating questions:
"What did the Houthis ever do to us? The Houthis' main enemy, AQAP (Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula), is America's worst enemy. Why are we then making ourselves de facto allies of al-Qaida?
Excellent questions, Pat.

For a moment, jump forward several weeks or months in your imagination and think what it might be like in the Middle East if the Saudis defeat the Shia rebels in Yemen. What's next? According to reports from Saudi Arabia, the Saudis are ecstatic with the victories of the Saudi Air Force in Yemen. The Saudis may wish to help the ISIS rebels in Syria as well.

Ask the question how Iran, Iraq, and Russia might respond to a Saudi-led war to overthrow their long-time ally in Syria? Ask yourself what happens in Syria if Bashar Assad and his Shia government falls? Who comes to power?


The Middle East is messed up.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Shia Happens: Differences in Muslim Terrorism

Christians are routinely being beheaded in Lebanon by Sunni Muslim terrorists. President Obama is making a deal with the Shia Muslim government of Iran. Sunni Muslims are executing Shia Muslims in Africa. Sunni Muslim rebels are attacking the Shia Muslim government of President Assad in Syria. Egyptian Sunni Muslim terrorists (i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood) attack their own Sunni government in Egypt. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls the Shia government of Iran "today's Nazis," and says the west is "comatose to the threat." Russia and China are aligning with Shia Iran and Shia Syria; the United States has historically aligned itself with Sunni Saudi Arabia and Sunni Egypt. Yet now, President Obama is making a treaty with Shia Iran over the objections of Israel. What's going on? How can you begin to understand current events without knowing the differences between Sunni and Shia Islam?

You can't.

Since the average American's attention span is shorter than most, I will summarize the five major differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, but urge those who wish to know more to read the article from the Council on Foreign Relations entitled The Sunni - Shia Divide.

Never forget this fact: To be a Muslim is a matter of faith, not ethnicity.

One can be born an Arab, or a Persian, or an African, or an American, or a Chinese - and become a Muslim, for Islam is a matter of faith, not race. A Muslim believes that "Islam is the only acceptable faith to God" and therefore, it will make the world a better place if everyone would "submit" to God and become a Muslim. Islam means "submission" in Arabic.

There are five pillars of the Islamic faith. After acquiescing to the first pillar (see below), one is deemed to be a Muslim convert.

Pillar One: Recite "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His Prophet (or Messenger)." This statement is called the Shahada. Once you say this aloud--with conviction and understanding -- then you are declared to be a Muslim. 
Pillar Two: Pray "five times daily facing Mecca." This is the daily worship of a Muslim.
Pillar Three: Give 2.5% of your wealth ("alms") to the poor and needy.
Pillar Four: Fast during Ramadan, a religious festival that occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a month which also goes by the name Ramadan. Since the Islamic calendar is lunar and eleven days shorter than the solar calendar - with no catch-up lunar months like in the Hebrew calendar - Ramadan migrates through the seasons (summer/fall/winter/spring) from year to year.
Pillar Five: Go to Mecca (Saudi Arabia), the birthplace of Islam, on a personal pilgrimage at some point in your life.

Worth remembering: Not all Muslims are terrorists. Terrorism is defined as "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political or religious purposes." An example of a Sunni Muslim leader who is not a terrorist is former army general and current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He recently called for a reformation within Islam to stamp out "violence and aggression." Sadly, our American President supported the Islamic Sunni terrorist group called the Muslim Brotherhood during the Arab spring of 2010 to 2012. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah ultimately executed the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood for their violence against Egyptian Christians.

Also worth remembering: Muslims who are terrorists believe they represent the true Islamic faith. These 'radical, fundamentalists' of the Islam faith believe that when they "take the sword" and kill infidels, they are fulfilling the will of Allah and are obedient to the Quran. The Sunni and Shia Islamic terrorists who are killing, maiming, subjugating, and ritualistically beheading "idolaters and infidels" are fighting a religious war against encroaching western corruption.  Whether you believe "Islam is a peaceful religion" is not the issue; those who cut the throats of the idolaters and infidels believe they represent true Islam. For an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist his behavior is grounded in his faith.

Now to the important subject of being able to identify the differences between Muslims who identify themselves as Shias and those who identify themselves as Sunnis.

The FIVE MAJOR DIFFERENCES Between Shia and Sunni Muslims

(1). LEADERSHIP - Sunni and Shiite terrorists differ on who should have succeeded Muhammad after his death in 632 AD and who should lead them now

After Muhammad died, some of his followers--later known as Sunnis--elected Abu Bakr to lead them. The Arabic word Sunni means "people of the tradition." Sunnis believe that Islamic leaders should be elected by the popular vote of the people because only the traditions of the Quaran and the prophets are important, not the leaders themselves. .

However, some followers of Muhammad immediately objected to the election of Abu Bakr, believing that Islam should only have leaders (i.e. Prophets) who directly descend from the great prophet Muhammad himself. These followers -- later called Shias - followed the son-in-law of Muhammad, Ali ibn Abi Talib, and Ali's sons (that's why most Muslims named "Ali" are Shia Muslims). Shia is the Arabic word which means "follower."  Most Shia Muslims believe that the 12th Prophet after Muhammad went into hiding in 939 AD,  but will ultimately return at what they call "The Second Coming" when he will restore peace to a chaotic and destructive world. Until then, all authority and power has been invested in "ayatollahs" who are the chief clerics of true Islam (think Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran).

Sunnis and Shias historically lived together and intermarried. However, the friction and divide between Sunnis and Shias has escalated violence toward one another. A similar comparison would be the Catholic/Protestant wars in Ireland during the 1980's and 1990's.  The newly declared Islamic State (IS or ISIS) is a Sunni group and its stated goals are to create a territory run by a caliph and sharia, or Islamic law. Shias do not believe that a true Islamic state or caliph can be created without a Prophet or ayatollah. So Shias reject ISIS. In return, ISIS warriors are rounding up and killing Shia Muslims in ISIS held territory.

(2). NUMBERS - There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. 85 percent (1.3 billion) of these Muslims are Sunni.

Only 250 million Muslims are Shia. The identity of Shia Muslims is rooted in victimization by the majority Sunnis. Only two countries--Iran and Iraq--have a majority Muslim population that is Shia. Though Syria is a majority-Sunni country, the regime of President Assad is a close ally of Shiite-dominated Iran. And though Iraq is majority Shia (also called Shiite) the northern portion of Iraq has a lot of Sunnis. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has made increasing inroads into Shia-dominated Iraq. Neighboring Iran is majority Shiite, while next-door Saudi Arabia is majority Sunni. Yemen, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon have significant Shiite minorities, but are majority Sunni. Turkey is a majority Sunni country.

Sunni Muslim radio and television broadcasters in Arabic countries area now claiming President Obama's family of origin is Shia Muslim and this explains his empathy toward Iran.

(3). TERRORISM - Sunni terrorists will fight their own governments. Since Sunnis believe in "elected leadership," they are always seeking the most qualified candidates to lead Muslims in the one true faith. If these radical Sunnis believe current government leaders are "unfaithful to the Prophet or the Quran" they will revolt from within. This is what happened in Egypt when the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood attacked the Sunni government in 2012, and it is what happened throughout the Arab spring in other Sunni-led countries. It's also why Sunni-led governments (like Egypt and Saudi Arabia) will fight against Sunni-led terrorism (like ISIS). ISIS wishes to disband all state governments and coalesce around a pure, Sharia-law state where Islam is practiced with purity and without the taint of western influence.

On the other hand, Shia terrorists are typically government sponsored. For example, Shia Hezbollah-- the terrorist group stationed in southern Lebanon that has historically attacked Israel--is supported by Iran and Syria, two of the three governments led by Shia Muslims (the other government being Iraq). This is the reason why Israeli Prime Minister is so vocal against Iran. Iran sponsors state-run terrorism. Israel believes Iran is ever expanding its influence and power in the Middle East, and is now pulling Iraq into its sphere of influence, supporting Syria in its war against Sunni rebels, and is now trading oil with China and Russia. Israel believes Iran is the greater terrorist threat.

However, now that Sunni ISIS is taking territory for itself in a bid for power--all the while beheading Christians and Shias, enslaving women and girls as sexual property of ISIS warriors, and recruiting Sunni Muslims from all over the world in its bid for a Muslim Caliphate that rules the world--one wonders if the pendulum has swung and the greater threat in this world is Sunni terrorism?

It could be argued that the Muslim Middle East is about to explode in war with Shia-led Iran (backed by China and Russia) go to war against Sunni-led Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. Speaking as a pro-Israel supporter, I'm not nearly as convinced that Iran is the greater threat to western civilization as is the Sunni-led terrorism of ISIS, and I realize this opinion is in opposition to Israel Prime Minister's views.

(4). PRACTICE - As radical Sunnis (ISIS) target and kill Shia (or Shiite) Muslims, the question must be asked "How can anyone tell the difference between a Shia and a Sunni?" Remember, there's nothing ethnic about being a Sunni or a Shia. It's a matter of faith. The answer to how to tell the difference between a Shia and Sunni in practice is four-fold: (a). Ask for their name. As mentioned earlier, Shias have names such as Ali (or Hussein, Assan, or Abbas). Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali (b). Ask how they pray. Sunnis fold their hands or cross their arms on their stomachs while praying. Shias are taught to pray with palms resting up on their thighs. (c). Ask what music they enjoy. Just as Catholics and Protestants sing different songs, Shias and Sunnis sing and enjoy different music. (d). Ask where they live. Due to growing animosity, in Muslim countries, Shias live in enclaves (neighborhoods) where they can worship, shop, and work together. Similar to the divisions that occurred in Ireland during the Protestant/Catholic wars of the late 20th century.

(5). OTHER TRADITIONS - Shia Muslims feel animosity towards some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, based on their positions and actions during the early years of discord about leadership in the community. Many of these companions (Abu Bakr, Umar ibn Al Khattab, Aisha, etc.) have narrated traditions about the Prophet's life and spiritual practice that Sunnis regard as 'holy writings.' Shia Muslims reject these traditions (called the hadith) and do not base any of their religious practices on the testimony of these individuals. This naturally gives rise to some differences in religious traditions between the two groups which touch on all aspects of Islamic traditions, including prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc...

These are the fundamental differences between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims. The only way Sunni-led ISIS or Shia-led Iran will ever be stopped in their aggressive grab of land, power and people is for people to recognize that this is a religious war, and its not east versus west, but east versus east and the west better think long and hard before choosing a side.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Patriots' Day, April 19, and the Need for Caution

The difference between treason and patriotism is only a matter of dates.
Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Christo.
This Sunday, April 19, 2015, is the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At 9:03 am that morning, a two-ton fertilizer bomb loaded in the back of a Ryder truck parked in front of the Murrah building exploded, killing 168 people and injuring nearly 700 others.  The blast destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a 16-block radius, destroyed or burned 86 cars, and shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings, causing three-quarters of a billion dollars in damage. The Murrah bombing was the deadliest and most costly terrorism act in the history of the United States, only surpassed by the 9/11 New York World Trade Center bombing.
Timothy McVeigh (April 23, 1968 – June 11, 2001) was charged and convicted with the bombing. The United States federal government executed McVeigh for his crime. In the book American Terrorist, the only biography of his life that McVeigh authorized, authors Lew Michel and Dan Herbeck spent 75 hours interview McVeigh in prison. The portrait they paint of the 26-year-old who bombed the Murrah building--according to Salon Magazine--might fit any number of right-wing radicals today.
"He hates and fears the federal government, worships guns, fetishizes "liberty" (defined in almost purely negative terms, as freedom from external interference of any kind), embraces survivalism and sees himself as having acted in a proud American tradition of resistance to tyranny that goes back to the Founders. Throw in belief in the gold standard, certainty that a U.N.-run "New World Order" is poised to take over the world, racial resentment and an obsessive fixation on Ruby Ridge and Waco as proof that federal agents are jackbooted thugs waiting to make their final move, and the ... portrait is complete" Gary Kimaya, Salon
April 19 is Patriots' Day.

McVeigh's choice of that day to bomb the federal building is no accident. Patriots' Day
commemorates the date of the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord which featured "the shot heard round the world" and the beginning of the American Revolution. Patriots' Day is also the date in which first bloodshed of the American Civil War occurred, in the Baltimore riot of 1861, When Patriots' Day was established in 1894, Massachusetts Governor Frederic Greenhalge proclaimed it as "the anniversary of the birth of liberty and union."  The original date of April 19 for Patriots' Day was eventually switched to 'the third Monday of April" to prevent celebrating the holiday on different days of the year. The Boston Marathon has been run on Patriots' Day ever since April 19, 1897, but moved to Marathon Monday when celebrating Patriots' Day was moved to the third Monday of April. Of course, Marathon is the infamous name of the battle in 490 BC when the Greeks defeated Persia and marked the beginning of western civilization and its emphasis on individual liberty and political democracy.

It seems the date April 19 is rapidly becoming the date of choice to attack the United States government, more so than even September 11. Anyone with hostility toward the US government-- including right-wing terrorist groups, IS terror cells, and others who would desire to see the United States government collapse, will choose April 19 or Patriots' Day as their preferential date to attack.

McVeigh chose the federal building in OKC in retaliation for the federal law enforcements' attack and destruction of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas on April 19, 1993. The Murrah Building housed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), three of the agencies that attacked the Davidian Compound in Waco on April 19, 1993. McVeigh regarded the presence of additional law-enforcement agencies at the Murrah Building, such as the Secret Service or the U.S. Marshals Service, as a bonus.

I worked the morgue after the Murrah Bombing and became one of the liaisons between family members gathering at a Christian church north of the bombing, waiting for word about their family members. I will never forget the devastating impact of April 19, 1995 on Oklahoma City and the state of Oklahoma.As we reflect on the 20th anniversary of the bombing, it's a good time for all of us who love the United States to recognize those who hate our country/government care little for the collateral damage they cause through their attacks. This week and next week are both a time for all Americans to be familiar with their surroundings, just as we are on September 11 every year.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

God Doesn't Always Do What I Ask, But He's Already Done Far More Than I'll Ever Grasp

There are few things more gut-wrenching than losing a child to death because of illness or accident. A comparable pain might be the sudden death or unexpected critical illness of a spouse. Losing a parent to death--regardless of age--also brings to us a great deal of emotional trauma.

Precisely because the loss of a loved one is so painful, many turn to God when they begin to "walk through the valley of the shadow of death." Even people unaccustomed to prayer often ask God to heal their loved ones. In some cases, prayer chains are started, all doubt is cast out, and by faith, people claim and believe that God is going to heal those they love.

And yet death still comes.

Often the greater pain becomes my disappointment with God. The hardest question is always "Why?" Why does God not do what I ask? Why does God not answer my heartfelt please and prayers?

There seems to be some encouragement for those of us who ask the "Why" questions from a story in Luke 7:11-15 that involves a widow, her dead son, and Jesus.
Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep.” And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.
You might be thinking, "But I thought this text was supposed to encourage me when God doesn't do what I ask? It looks to me God did precisely what the widow desired--He healed her son. How is that a help to us for whom God doesn't respond with a miracle?"

Let me see if I can't show you something pretty incredible (in my opinion) about the widow from Nain and the resurrection of her only son.

The Parallelism with Christ's Death 

Jesus Christ raised three people from the dead during His earthly ministry--this son of the widow from Nain; the daughter of Jairus; and Lazarus. This resurrection of the widow's son was the first resurrection miracle Jesus performed. On many fronts, this miracle of the resurrected widow's son pictures and parallels God's compassion for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

(1). He was an only son. The Greek phrased used to describe this widow's son -- ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός literally "only begotten son"- is the same phrase used of Jesus in John 3:16. It is used only one other time in the New Testament, describing Abraham's son Isaac in Hebrews 11:17 when Abraham offered his "only begotten son" on the altar - a clear type of God the Father offering His Son as a sacrifice for us.

(2). He was outside the gate.  Both the widow's son and Jesus Christ are dead 'outside the gate' of the city (Hebrews 13:12). The Hebrew Day of Atonement called for two goats to be 'offered' during the ritual; one goat for a blood offering and the other as the scapegoat offering. Israel’s sins were laid upon the scape goat and expelled from the camp; the blood offering goat was sacrificed, the blood offered, and the body burned "outside the gate." (Leviticus 16:20-22).

(3). He was raised for othersThere are two dead people in this Luke 7:11-15 story; the boy and his widowed mother. The boy was physically dead. The mother was emotionally and spiritually dead. Notice that Jesus 'felt compassion for her' (v. 13).  Jesus raised the dead son for the sake of his mother. So, too, God the Father gave us His only begotten Son for the sake of others. "God so loved us" (John 3:16). The Apostle Paul described it this way: "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

(4). He was offered with a command. When Jesus raised the boy from the dead by the word of His power, He gave him back to his mother with this command (to the mother) - "Do not weep."  This word 'weep' means more than tears; its speaks of mourning, lamenting, despairing, and giving up. Why should the mother not weep? This is the key: "Jesus gave him to his mother."  To follow through fully with the type: "Do not mourn, God has raised His Son from the dead and given Him to us!"

The only anecdote against despair during a trying time--including those occasions when our prayers seemingly go unanswered --is the growing comprehension of what God has already done for us in giving to us His resurrected Son.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? But in everything we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:31-32; 37-39).

"But God, begin rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us - even when we were dead in trespasses and sins ... raised us up with His Son and seated us with Him in heavenly places, so that in the ages to come He might show us the surpasses riches of His grace in His kindness toward us." (Ephesians 2:4-7).

(A) The greatest riches in my life are vertical, not horizontal. When I receive, comprehend, and enjoy the love of God for me in Christ Jesus, I no longer need or depend on the love of people in this life. So, even if those I love are gone (or turn against me) I rest in the love of Him who loves me eternally.
(B). To the degree I lack comprehension of the riches of God's kindness, favor, and love for me in Christ Jesus I will be tempted to measure God's love, favor and kindness for me by whether or not God always answers my prayers the way I ask rather than rejoicing in what He has already done for me.

I will spend more time learning about the love of God for me in what He has already done for me through His Son than I will worrying about what God will do for me in the future through meeting a temporal need I have.

Nain is a city in Israel that still exists. It's just to the southwest of Mt. Tabor in the Galilee region of Israel. The modernized spelling of Nain has switched to Nein. I've been there a few times in my trips to Israel, and I never pass through without thinking of "the widow of Nain" and what her story declares about God's compassion and love for me in giving me His Son.

Nein in German means "No.'

If I am praying for God to do something miraculous in my life, but the circumstances play out in such a way that God seems to say "Nein" to my request, I want to remember the widow of "Nein" and learn to "weep not" because God has already given to me His Son. If indeed, I am able by God's grace to remember this principle, I will be able to say with all the saints...

 "I love Nein"