Thursday, July 30, 2015

A New Day for Cuba


"We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past.” Those were words spoken by President Obama last month when he announced that the U.S. and Cuba are reopening embassies in each other’s countries after more than a half a century of hostility.
Ten days ago, on July 20, the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., did open after being closed for 54 years. The U.S. embassy in Havana, which was also closed in 1961, was opened that day as well, although the U.S. flag will not fly there until Secretary of State Kerry travels to Cuba to raise the embassy flag on August 14.
Four days ago many Cubans celebrated the 62nd anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, often referred to as the 26th of July Movement. The first revolutionary activity led by Fidel Castro on July 26, 1953, ended in failure, but it was the beginning of the movement that resulted in Castro proclaiming victory and the start of a new day for Cuba on January 1, 1959.
Castro made that victory proclamation from the balcony of the city hall in Santiago, Cuba’s second largest city. That city of about 500,000 residents was the site of this year’s main commemoration activities, headed by President Raul Castro. Santiago (meaning Saint James) was also celebrating its own anniversary: its founding by Spanish conquistadors 500 years ago, on July 25, 1515.
An embargo on exports to Cuba except for food and medicine was imposed by the United States on Cuba in October 1960. In February 1962 the embargo was extended to include almost all imports. Much of the economic problems of Cuba—and Cuba’s embrace of the USSR—was to a large degree due to that embargo.
Since 1992 the U.N. General Assembly has passed a resolution every year condemning the ongoing impact of the embargo and declaring it to be in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. Several human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have also been critical of the embargo.
Since the restoration of relations with Cuba is largely because of the President’s initiative, many Republicans are against it—and perhaps none more so that presidential hopeful Marco Rubio.
In the past Rubio often told audiences that he was the “son of exiles who left an island governed by a ‘thug’ (Castro).” But in 2011, The Washington Post reported that the senator’s parents and grandfather had arrived in the United States in 1956, when Castro was still in exile in Mexico.
On his original Senate website Rubio stated that his parents “came to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover.” It now correctly says that they first arrived in this country in 1956.
Of course, many of the Cubans that fled Cuba in 1959 and afterward are strongly opposed to the new relations also. But whose voice do you listen to, the thousands who lost some of their wealth in the Cuban Revolution or the tens of thousands of the peasants who gained a better livelihood because of that Revolution?
It is also a new day for Christianity in Cuba. In May, Pres. (Raul) Castro visited Pope Francis in the Vatican, and after that visit he said, “When the pope goes to Cuba in September, I promise to go to all his Masses, and with satisfaction.”
It was also announced in January that Cuba’s first Catholic church since the 1959 revolution took power is set to be built over the next two years.
Thank God it’s a new day in Cuba—and no longer imprisoned by the past!
I encourage you to take a look at Thinking Friend (and good personal friend) David Nelson’s article “Ten Observations - Reflections About Cuba” posted at http://humanagenda.typepad.com/ in February.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Are There Bible Prophecies about Contemporary Events?

"Gaza will writhe in agony.”
Gaza shall be abandoned.”
These are two ominous prophecies about Gaza found in the Old Testament (in Zechariah 9:5 and Zephaniah 2:4). Some claim that what has happened in Gaza over the past ten years, or last year, was a fulfillment of those prophecies.
But those who make such claims disregard what else is found in those two verses. Zechariah 9:5 also says, “Ashkelon won’t be inhabited.” And Zephaniah 2:4 declares, “. . . and Ashkelon [will certainly be] destroyed.”
As I wrote in my previous blog article, on the way to the Gaza Strip last month I passed through the outskirts of Ashkelon. While there was some rather minimal damage from Hamas-fired rockets last summer, it still seems to be a thriving city. Here is a picture of Ashkelon used by Reuters this month:

The prophecies mentioned above were fulfilled long, long ago. It is not in the least legitimate to see the destruction of modern Gaza as fulfillment of Biblical prophecies—or as military action that should be supported by the U.S.
Those who claim that biblical prophecies are being fulfilled at the present time are very selective in the verses they use and they tend to completely ignore the historical context of when and where the words were first spoken or written.
Earlier this month a friend sent me an email with the words “The Most Disturbing Documentary of 2015” on the subject line. It was a link to a video, which you can access here. (The transcript and some pictures are found at SurviveTheEndDays.com/tl/.)
The “documentary” begins with these words:
. . . Obama and the leaders of our church have a secret sinister pact to hide from the public the most terrible warning encrypted inside our Holy Bible . . . . because according to the final chapters of the Bible Obama will not finish his second term. He is the 44th and last President of the US.
Based on Daniel 11:36-40, the video asserts, “Vladimir Putin is undoubtedly the king of the north that will guide Russia in the end times.” Further, President Obama, “was born either in Hawaii or Kenya,” south of Jerusalem. That and other clues “prove that Obama is the king of the south as the prophecies foretold.” And these two kings will fight it out before January 2017.
But just as I predicted that the world was not going to end in May 2011 (see here), I now predict that the prophecy about the demise of the U.S. before the next presidential Inauguration Day is mistaken. (If I am wrong, send me an email any time after Jan. 20, 2017.)
Well, this video/transcript and many similar Bible prophesies that can be found on Internet might well be the work of what some people might call the “crazies.” But some Christian authors and politicians who are more “mainstream” hold similar views.
Joel Rosenberg, a New York Times bestselling author of ten novels (whom I referred to in the 5/2011 article), has long linked Iran to end-of-the-world prophecies. It is noteworthy that he has influenced some national politicians. In March of last year Rosenberg and Rick Santorum co-authored a piece about Iran for CNN.com.
Tony Perkins, head of Family Research Council and an ardent supporter of Israel, has announced that FRC will be conducting a tour of Israel this fall, and it will include Rosenberg, Santorum, and Bobby Jindal.
But here is a word to the wise: beware of linking Biblical prophecies to contemporary events.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Gazing at Gaza

About a month ago, on June 22, I got in my trusty little rental car parked at trendy Dizengoff Center in the bustling city of Tel Aviv, drove a few blocks west, and then soon after seeing the Mediterranean Sea straight ahead turned left and pretty much drove due south for about an hour all the way to the Erez Crossing on the north border of the Gaza Strip.
On the way to Gaza, I buzzed through the outskirts of Ashdod and Ashkelon, two of the five main Philistine cities mentioned several times in the Old Testament. Gaza was also one of those five cities that were constantly warring with the Israelites and the Kingdom of Judah.
Gaza is mentioned 22 times in the Bible. It was the city where Samson was imprisoned after he was tricked by Delilah and captured by the Philistines and where he died when he caused the pagan temple to crumble. According to biblical accounts, Gaza came under Israelite rule during the reign of King David in the early 11th century BC.
When I arrived at Erez Crossing, I parked, went through a couple of security gates to the passport control window, and boldly asked for permission to enter Gaza. But as it turned out, it takes a permit requested by the U.S. Consulate for U.S. citizens to enter Gaza. Thus I didn’t get to go in as I wanted to.
So, soon after heading back north, I took the first road to the west and drove toward the Mediterranean Sea again, hoping to get a good view of Gaza. At the crest of a small hill I was able to see tall buildings on the horizon.
As you see in the picture, not very far from the green area in front of me as I looked south, there was a brown area with tall, grey buildings at the top of the hill in the distance. I was clearly gazing at Gaza.
Less than a year before, on July 8, 2014, Israel began a major offensive against Hamas in Gaza. The air raids and ground force of the Israeli army against the Gaza militants who were launching bombs into Israeli lasted for 50 days.
Both sides suffered damage and casualties—but certainly not equally. According to a U.N. report, there were 2,205 Gazans killed, including 1,483 civilians. By stark contrast, there were 71 Israeli deaths, including only five civilians.
Driving through various parts of Tel Aviv, I saw no evidence whatsoever of damage done by rockets launched toward Israel from Gaza. But this 7/7/15 picture from Gaza shows clearly the sad lingering effects from the conflict there.
Mark LeVine, a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California, Irvine, recently referred to the Gaza Strip as “the world’s largest open air prison.” And he writes in opposition to the war cycle, which legitimizes violence against the Palestinians in Gaza.
“The Children of Gaza” by Jen Marlowe, a noted journalist, is a poignant article in the July 20/27 issue of The Nation. She refers to the Israeli attacks in February and December 2008 and in March and November 2012 along with last year’s “Operation Protective Edge” as being “permanent war” in Gaza.
When Marlowe asked a Gazan family what could bring them hope, here is part of what they said: “Open the gates. End the siege. . . . Be permitted to visit Al Aqsa [the holy Muslim mosque in Jerusalem]. Have rights like other people.”
Should that be too much for them to ask—or for us to pray for?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Are Biblical Values Under Attack in the U.S.?

Earlier this month a friend sent me an email that was mainly Dennis Prager’s June 30 article titled “Court Calls an End to Judeo-Christian America.” (That piece on Investor’s Business Daily’s website can be read here.)
Prager, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host and columnist who was born in 1948 to Orthodox Jewish parents, began his article with this assertion: “The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the redefinition of marriage seals the end of America as the Founders envisioned it.”
Prager’s piece is just one of numerous articles declaring that Christianity and/or biblical values are currently under attack in the U.S.—especially by the Supreme Court and by the President.
In a June 16 WallBuilders article, David Barton posted a screed under the title “America’s Most Biblically-Hostile U.S. President.”
Barton lists 96 incidences of President Obama’s “attacks on Biblical persons or organizations,” “examples of the hostility toward Biblical faith that have become evident in the past three years in the Obama-led military,” the President’s “open attacks on Biblical values,” and finally “numerous incidents of his preferential deference for Islam’s activities and positions.”
Prager and Barton of just two of many who think this way. But how can Christians who see things differently respond to such strong charges? Following is the heart of the response I sent to my friend:
The court certainly did not call for an end to Judeo-Christian America, although its ruling was contrary to what many people, such as Prager, think a Judeo-Christian America looks like. There are many Christians, however, who believe that the Supreme Court's ruling makes America more Christian, not less so.
Prager writes, "From well before 1776 until the second half of the 20th century, the moral values of the United States were rooted in the Bible and its God." But were those moral values compromised when freedom and equality were given to former African slaves and their descendants who lived in America? Some thought so. But I believe America became more Christian when freedom and equality were granted to Black people living in the country.
Were those moral values compromised when the right to vote was given to women (50 years after it was given to Black men!) and when there came to be more freedom and equality for all the women in the country? Some thought so. But I believe America became more Christian when freedom and equality were granted to women living in America.
The Constitution had to be changed to make greater freedom and equality a reality for Blacks and women. Was that a change in the moral values of the nation?
In some way it was, for many thought slavery and the subjection of women were taught in the Bible and that being faithful to the Bible meant being for slavery and for the subjection of women. But I think that was an incorrect interpretation of the Bible—and a position used by whites and then by men to maintain their position of power.
In much the same way, the Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage grants freedom and equality to a segment of our society that has been discriminated against, vilified, and treated in many mean-spirited ways.
That decision is in opposition to the position of many Christians—just as the decisions to allow Blacks and women to be free and equal were. But I firmly believe that that decision is not contrary to the will of God or the teaching and spirit of Jesus.
The Gospel is always good news for those who are fettered and mistreated.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Happy Birthday, Senator Graham!

In Japan a person’s 60th birthday is a time of special celebration. I was in Japan in 1998, and numerous people acknowledged my 60th birthday that year in various ways.
Turning 60 means that one has gone around the 12-year zodiac cycle five times. Even though there are many today who go around that cycle two or even three more times, in the olden days five times was considered a noteworthy accomplishment.
Maybe it was because of living in Japan so long, but I took special note when I saw that yesterday was Senator Lindsey Graham’s 60th birthday.
Actually, I don’t know a lot about Senator Graham other than he has been a U.S. Senator from South Carolina since 2003. Even though I once met his immediate predecessor, Sen. Strom Thurmond—who was a S.C. Senator from 1954 until 2003!—I have never met Sen. Graham.
I also know that he is one of the many Republicans running for President—and one of three Southern Baptists who are doing so. He now lives in the small town of Seneca in the very northwest corner of S.C. and is a member of the Corinth Southern Baptist Church there.
Last month I heard Sen. Graham interviewed on one of the Sunday morning news programs (which I recorded to watch that afternoon), and I became more favorably impressed with him by hearing what he had to say on that program.
And recently, even though it was not his initial position, not long after the tragic Charlestown shootings last month Graham commendably stood in agreement with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley when she said it was time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.
Graham is campaigning on a hawkish foreign policy, however, insisting that he would maintain “security through strength”—that is to say, through a further projection of U.S. military power throughout the world.
According to a May 18 Washington Post article, Graham has declared, “If I’m president of the United States and you’re thinking about joining al-Qaeda or ISIL, I’m not gonna call a judge,” Graham said. “I’m gonna call a drone and we will kill you.”
It goes without saying that such extrajudicial assassination would be illegal and unconstitutional. Such “hawkishness” is a major reason why I could not support Sen. Graham.
Although Warren Harding was the first Baptist to be elected President, Harry Truman was the first Southern Baptist to occupy the White House. (Years ago I preached in Truman’s home church in Grandview, Mo., near the Truman Corners shopping center; Truman’s Bible was on display in a glass case in the foyer of the church.)
Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were also Southern Baptists. As a fellow Southern Baptist at the time of their election, I was happy that they were elected—partly because they were SBs.
Sadly, I was not so happy with the Carter administration—he has been a far better ex-President than he was President—or with Clinton’s personal conduct when in office.
There is almost no possibility of Sen. Graham being the 2016 Republican nominee for President or being elected to the high office. And that probably can be said for Sen. Ted Cruz and former governor Mike Huckabee, the two other Southern Baptists running for that nomination.
And that’s the good news.
While Sen. Graham especially may be a good and honorable man, his political ideas are not what the country—or the world—needs. So while sincere in wishing Sen. Graham a Happy Birthday, I cannot and will not be supporting his bid for the White House.