Thursday, August 03, 2006

Where Do We Turn? and What Can We Do?

Today I read Psalms 120-122. In the midst of the emotional turmoil of these days, as I watch Israel attacked both physically and diplomatically, as I watch our media turn a blind eye to their real suffering and instead focusing on the imagined suffering of those who might be offended by President Bush's statements or Mel Gibson's unfortunate demonstration of his sinfulness, I found comfort in Psalm 121.

I lift up my eyes to the hills -
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
The Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip -
He who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor
(Verses 1-4, NIV)

When I am in emotional desperation, I must turn to the Lord, who knows all that is happening and is in control of all of it. And it's fascinating to me that He not only comforts me; He also lets me know in this passage that He is looking out for Israel too. So as I wonder and question what on earth He is doing in Israel today, I am reminded that He is still in charge, and will do what is needed to care for them and draw them to Himself.

Immediately after this Psalm comes Psalm 122, and it also spoke to me this morning:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.
For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, "Peace be within you."
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God
I will seek your prosperity.
(Verses 6-9, NIV)

Just in case we needed it, the psalmist gives us a prayer to pray for Jerusalem - a prayer for that peace which she so desperately needs.

When I was ten years old, there was a very serious earthquake in the nation where I was living, my "adopted home," Guatemala. I discovered then that the best thing American Christians can do as they read the news is to pray for the people involved in that news. We can pray for believers caught in the midst of the chaos - that they will remain firm in their faith, that they will sense God's comfort in their suffering, and that they will have opportunities to share the gospel with those around them. We can pray for unbelievers, also caught - that they will have contact with believers and see the difference in their lives, that their hearts will be opened as a result of what they are experiencing, and that they will turn to the Lord and find Him to be sufficient. We can pray for the leaders of the nations involved, that they will have wisdom and will act quickly to bring what relief they can to their people. And we can pray that God's Name will be glorified as a result of the events we are reading about.

If you, like me, are grieved over what we are seeing happen in the Middle East today, won't you join me in earnest prayer? Together, our prayers can make a difference and perhaps have a role in bringing about "the peace of Jerusalem."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How Do We Respond to Evil?

Ever since I started listening to Hugh Hewitt and reading his blog (about two years ago now), I have found myself wondering: How should a Christian respond to all the evil we see around us? The wicked do evil blatantly, flaunting it before the whole world, bragging about it, showing off how bad they really are. It doesn't matter whether they are in the mainstream media, the blogosphere, the United States Congress, the European Union, or the Islamic world - it seems everywhere I look I see the same picture of wicked people turned against God and against His people, both Israel and the church. So how do I respond? I get angry, I grieve, and too often I feel helpless to do anything about it. I was surprised in my reading this morning to find that Psalm 119 offers some answers to how godly people should respond to the wickedness around them.

Verse 53, for example: "Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law." It is natural and normal for those who love righteousness to get angry at what's happening in the world! In fact, the one time God gives us permission to be angry (and the one time He gets angry Himself) is when we see wickedness. In our anger, we are not to sin - but we are to hate evil and to be angry at those who willingly flaunt God's laws.

Another response is illustrated in verse 136: "Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed." Grief is also a normal, natural, godly response to evil. We should be sad and grieve when we see the wicked prosper and the weak suffer.

Verse 158 says: "I look on the faithless with loathing, for they do not obey your word." It is OK to feel angry and disgusted with those who refuse to obey God even though they know His truth.

Besides telling us how to respond emotionally to evil, the psalmist also gives us an example of what to DO about evil. Throughout the Psalm, he cries out to God to act against the wicked and redeem the righteous and the weak who are suffering. Verse 126: "It is time for you to act, O Lord; your law is being broken." We, too, are to cry out to the Lord when we see His law being broken and His Name being despised.

Almost at the end of the Psalm, he shows what we will experience when we respond to evil this way. Verse 165: "Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble." I don't know about you, but I desperately long for that "great peace" that comes from dealing with evil the way God wants us to deal with it.

Father, as I see evil in the world around me, I get angry. I grieve to see the weak and helpless led astray and abused. I am disgusted by the conduct of many, some who even claim to be Yours, who willingly flaunt their disobedience and ignore your truth. "It is time for You to act, O Lord!" I turn to You to judge wickedness, to redeem Your people, and to bring glory to Your Name. Give me Your "great peace," I pray.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What Am I Seeking?

I've been reading the Psalms for the past couple of months, and today I finally arrived at Psalm 119. What a reality check! I didn't get farther than the second verse before it hit me right in the face: "Blessed are they who . . . seek Him with all their hearts." Ouch! And I thought Psalm 119 was about the Bible. I'm pretty good at reading my Bible daily - it's become a habit after some 25 years - but this verse makes it clear the issue is not just reading the Bible or even obeying it. The real issue - the most important one - is what I am seeking.

And as I continued reading, I found it over and over again: the laws, the statutes, the precepts, are there to draw us to seek God! Verse 7 - "I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws." Verse 10 - "I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands." Verse 15 - "I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways." Verse 32 - "I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free." Verse 41 - "May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise." And on and on it goes, stating clearly and repeatedly that God's Word exists to keep us seeking Him. And this was when the extent of God's Word was the first five books of the Old Testament! How much more, then, does my heart need to turn to the Bible, not for its own sake or so I can check that item off my list, but in order to know God better.

Father, "turn my heart toward your statutes . . . turn my eyes away from worthless things" (vv. 36-37), and help me to seek You with all my heart!

A Slight Change of Focus

Blogging has been light the past few days due to an important family birthday - Sweet Pea turned ten yesterday. Double digits - where did the time go?!

It's been almost a month since I started this blog. I've done a lot of thinking since I did - maybe more than I have in the past 10 years. It's funny how writing makes you really think about what you believe and about what's important to you. In the process of all this thinking and writing, it has occurred to me that making this primarily a political/news blog is not the best use of my time and talents. I need to leave that to the many experts on the area, and focus more on things that I know more about and do well. Of course, I'm sure I will have many posts on politics and the news; but I need to focus more on issues relating to education, home schooling and other topics I'm gifted to discuss.

I'd like to begin this new phase of my blog by dedicating this blog, along with everything I do, to the glory of God and the building up of His people.

In God We Trust

On July 28, President Bush issued a proclamation on the anniversary of our national motto, "In God We Trust." Here is what he said:
On the 50th anniversary of our national motto, "In God We Trust,"we reflect on these words that guide millions of Americans, recognize the blessings of the Creator, and offer our thanks for His great gift of liberty. From its earliest days, the United States has been a nation of faith. During the War of 1812, as the morning light revealed that the battle-torn American flag still flew above Fort McHenry, Francis
Scott Key penned, "And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust!'" His poem became our National Anthem, reminding generations of Americans to "Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation." On July 30, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the law officially establishing "In God We Trust" as our national motto. Today, our country stands strong as a beacon of religious freedom. Our citizens, whatever their faith or background, worship freely and millions answer the universal call to love their neighbor and serve a cause greater than self. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of our national motto and remember with thanksgiving God's mercies throughout our history, we recognize a divine plan that stands above all human plans and continue to seek His will.

And Another Even More Amazing!

If you thought the previous article by Daniel Pipes was interesting, wait until you read this one by Youssef M. Ibrahim! This would represent a significant turnaround on the part of more modern Arab nations. We can only pray that he is right - that the silent Arab majority will in fact at last find a voice, and speak out against those who would impose Islamic sharia law on not only their own people, but the rest of the world as well.

The Arab majority may not stay silent

By Youssef M. Ibrahim
The New York Sun
Published July 19, 2006

Yes, world, there is a silent Arab majority that believes that 7th Century Islam is not fit for 21st Century challenges.

That women do not have to look like walking black tents. That men do not have to wear beards and robes, act like lunatics and run around blowing themselves up in order to enjoy 72 virgins in paradise. And that secular laws, not Islamic Shariah, should rule our day-to-day lives.

And yes, we, the silent Arab majority, do not believe that writers, secular or otherwise, should be killed or banned for expressing their views. Or that the rest of our creative elite--from moviemakers to playwrights, actors, painters, sculptors and fashion models--should be vetted by Neanderthal Muslim imams who have never read a book in their dim, miserable lives.Nor do we believe that little men with head wraps and disheveled beards can run amok in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, making decisions on our behalf, dragging us to war whenever they please, confiscating our rights to be adults, and flogging us for not praying five times a day or even for not believing in God.

More important, we are not silent any longer.

Rarely have I seen such an uprising, indeed an intifada, against those little turbaned, bearded men across the Muslim landscape as the one that took place last week. The leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, received a resounding "no" to pulling 350 million Arabs into a war with Israel on his clerical coattails.

The collective "nyet" was spoken by presidents, emirs and kings at the highest level of government in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco and at the Arab League's meeting of 22 foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday. But it was even louder from pundits and ordinary people.

Perhaps the most remarkable and unexpected reaction came from Saudi Arabia, whose foreign minister, Prince Saud bin al-Faisal, said bluntly and publicly that Hezbollah's decision to cross the Lebanese border, attack Israel and kidnap its soldiers has left the Shiite group on its own to face Israel. The unspoken message here was, "We hope they blow you away."

The Arab League put it succinctly in its final communique in Cairo, declaring that "behavior undertaken by some groups [read: Hezbollah and Hamas] in apparent safeguarding of Arab interests does in fact harm those interests, allowing Israel and other parties from outside the Arab world [read: Iran] to wreck havoc with the security and safety of all Arab countries."

As for Hezbollah and its few supporters, who have pushed for an emergency Arab summit meeting, the response could not have been a bigger slap in the face.

Take a listen:

Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, the general manager of Al-Arabiya television, possibly the most influential Arab opinionmaker today, was categorical: "We have lost most of our causes and the largest portions of our lands following fiery speeches and empty promises of struggle coupled with hallucinating, drug-induced political fantasies."

As for joining Hezbollah in its quest, his answer was basically, "you broke it, you own it."

Tariq Alhomayed, editor in chief of the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, stuck the dagger in deeper: "Mr. Nasrallah bombastically announced he consulted no one when he decided to attack Israel, nor did he measure Lebanon's need for security, prosperity and the safety of its people. He said he needs no one's help but God's to fight the fight."

Mr. Alhomayed's punch line was, in so many words: Go with God, Sheik Nasrallah, but count the rest of us out.

Several other Arab pundits, not necessarily coordinating their commentary, noted that today Sheik Nasrallah has been reduced to Osama bin Laden status, a fugitive from Israeli justice, sending out his tapes from unknown locations to, invariably, Al-Jazeera, the prime purveyor of bin Laden's communications.

All in all, it seems that when Israel decided to go to war against the priestly mafia of Hamas and Hezbollah, it opened a whole new chapter in the Greater Middle East discourse. And Israel is finding, to its surprise, that a vast, not-so-silent majority of Arabs agrees that enough is enough.

To be sure, beneath the hostility toward Sheik Nasrallah in Sunni Muslim states lies the deep and bitter heritage of a 14 Century Sunni-Shiite divide, propelled to greater heights now by fears of an ascendant Shiite "arc of menace" rising out of Iran and peddled in the Sunni world by Syria.

The sooner this is settled the better.

Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former senior Middle East correspondent for The New York Times and energy editor of The Wall Street Journal, is managing director of a political risk-assessment group.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Arabs Disavow Hezbollah?

This article by Daniel Pipes provides an excellent perspective on how the "traditional" Arab nations are responding to what is happening in Israel now. It would seem the fear of Iranian power is not limited to Americans and Israelis.

Arabs Disavow Hizbullah

by Daniel Pipes
Jerusalem Post
July 26, 2006

The current round of hostilities between Israel and its enemies differs from prior ones in that it's not an Arab-Israeli war, but one that pits Iran and its Islamist proxies, Hamas and Hizbullah, against Israel.

This points, first, to the increasing power of radical Islam. When Israeli forces last confronted, on this scale, a terrorist group in Lebanon in 1982, they fought the Palestine Liberation Organization, a nationalist-leftist organization backed by the Soviet Union and the Arab states. Now, Hizbullah seeks to apply Islamic law and to eliminate Israel through jihad, with the Islamic Republic of Iran looming in the background, feverishly building nuclear weapons.

Non-Islamist Arabs and Muslims find themselves sidelined. Fear of Islamist advances – whether subversion in their own countries or aggression from Tehran – finds them facing roughly the same demons as does Israel. As a result, their reflexive anti-Zionist response has been held in check. However fleetingly, what The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh calls "an anti-Hizbullah coalition," one implicitly favorable to Israel, has come into existence.

It began on July 13 with a startling Saudi statement condemning "rash adventures" that created "a gravely dangerous situation." Revealingly, Riyadh complained about Arab countries being exposed to destruction "with those countries having no say." The kingdom concluded that "these elements alone bear the full responsibility of these irresponsible acts and should alone shoulder the burden of ending the crisis they have created." George W. Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, a day later described the president as "pleased" by the statement.

On July 15, the Saudis and several other Arab states at an emergency Arab League meeting condemned Hizbullah by name for its "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts." On July 17, Jordan's King Abdullah warned against "adventures that do not serve Arab interests."

A number of commentators began to take up the same argument, most notably Ahmed Al-Jarallah, editor-in-chief of Kuwait's Arab Times, author of one of the most remarkable sentences ever published in an Arab newspaper: "The operations of Israel in Gaza and Lebanon are in the interest of people of Arab countries and the international community." Interviewed on Dream2 television, Khaled Salah, an Egyptian journalist, condemned Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbullah: "Arab blood and the blood of Lebanese children is much more precious than raising [Hizbullah's] yellow flags and pictures of [Iran's Supreme Leader] Khamene'i."

A leading Wahhabi figure in Saudi Arabia even declared it unlawful for Sunni Muslims to support, supplicate for, or join Hizbullah. No major Arab oil-exporting state appears to have any intention of withholding its oil or gas exports out of solidarity with Hizbullah.

Many Lebanese expressed satisfaction that the arrogant and reckless Hizbullah organization was under assault. One Lebanese politician privately confided to Michael Young of Beirut's Daily Star that "Israel must not stop now … for things to get better in Lebanon, Nasrallah must be weakened further." The prime minister, Fuad Saniora, was quoted complaining about Hizbullah having become "a state within a state." A BBC report quoted a resident of the Lebanese Christian town of Bikfaya estimating that 95 percent of the town's population was furious at Hizbullah.

The Palestinian Legislative Council expressed its dismay at these muted Arab reactions, while a women's group burned flags of Arab countries on Gaza's streets. Nasrallah complained that "Some Arabs encouraged Israel to continue fighting" and blamed them for extending the war's duration.

Surveying this opinion, Youssef Ibrahim wrote in his New York Sun column of an "intifada" against the "little turbaned, bearded men" and a resounding "no" to Hizbullah's effort to start an all-out war with Israel. He concluded that "Israel is finding, to its surprise, that a vast, not-so-silent majority of Arabs agrees that enough is enough."

One hopes that Ibrahim is right, but I am cautious. First, Hizbullah still enjoys wide support. Second, these criticisms could well be abandoned as popular anger at Israel mounts or the crisis passes. Finally, as Michael Rubin notes in the Wall Street Journal, coolness toward Hizbullah does not imply acceptance of Israel: "There is no change of heart in Riyadh, Cairo or Kuwait." Specifically, Saudi princes still fund Islamist terrorism.

Arab disavowal of Hizbullah represents not a platform on which to build, only a welcome wisp of reality in an era of irrationality.

What About Andrea Yates?

On July 26, Andrea Yates was found not guilty yesterday of murdering her five children. This is such a difficult case - not at all as cut-and-dry as many (on both sides) would like us to think.

I've heard people say, "Well, I have mental illness and I wouldn't kill my children." When probed further, though, it turns out their mental illness is usually major depression, sometimes bipolar disorder, but never with psychotic features.

The problem I see with that comparison is that while major depression clearly makes life very difficult, it doesn't have the potential for explosion that a psychosis has. Unless your depression has psychotic features, you are FAR less likely to murder your children than Andrea Yates was. She DID have "a secret, scary life." She heard voices in her head telling her God wanted her to murder her children. She apparently literally believed she was saving her kids from hell by sending them to heaven. This is a very serious level of mental illness. It is amazing, and sad, to me that her doctor felt she didn't need the medication any longer. Her children might still be alive if the doctor had continued to treat her correctly.

For some time we attended a large church in our city in which a similar situation had happened - the wife had killed two children due to post-partum psychosis. While we were there, she was allowed to come home - perhaps 10 or 15 years after the crime. She was grieving and repentant over what she had done; at the time she had believed it was what God was calling her to do, but now she understands that she was mentally ill. Her husband has been through tremendous heartache and grief, and losing his wife to a mental institution for years was part of that grief. We had very mixed feelings at the time, and continue to wonder about it, but postpartum psychosis is a strange thing, and recovery IS possible.

Even the argument that "she knew it was wrong" is questionable in a case like this. The trouble lies in the definition of "wrong." In a psychotic disorder, everything becomes twisted, including right and wrong. Does she know society says it's wrong? Certainly. Does she know it's morally wrong? Probably. Does she think it's the right thing for her to do even if it is morally wrong? Perhaps. Does she feel compelled - really compelled, even against her own wishes - to do it regardless of whether it's right or wrong? That's where the big question comes in. Her mind was so confused at this point that it's difficult to know what she was thinking or feeling.

I'm not absolving Andrea Yates of guilt - I agree with those who have said the verdict should have been "guilty, but insane," but there is little doubt in my mind that she was a very sick woman and desperately needed help. Can she be held responsible for what she did, believing God was telling her to do it? I don't know - it's a VERY difficult situation and I think something that must be dealt with individually based on a close knowledge of the situation, not by making blanket statements.

Where Is the Outrage?

Yoni's blog a few days ago reproduces this article, I believe from the Jerusalem Post, on the number of rockets Hezbollah has launched into Israel and the number of casualties. Since the war started 15 days ago, Israel has been hit by 1,402 rockets - that's almost 100 per day! And large numbers of innocent civilians have been injured by these rocket attacks: 19 civilians have been killed and 1,262 wounded!

The news media eagerly trumpets the news of civilian casualties inflicted by Israel - casualties caused primarily by the fact that Hezbollah deliberately hides its weapons and its soldiers in civilian areas. But where have you heard the numbers of innocent Israelis injured or killed? Do they somehow not count? In many Israeli cities, people have been holed up in shelters ever since the war began.

Why is it that the American media and American liberals are saying nothing while Hezbollah intentionally involves both Lebanese and Israeli citizens in this conflict? It would seem they lack the courage to stand up for what is truly right; instead, American liberalism prefers to attack the victims of aggression.

Famous Homeschoolers

It always amazes me to read about the well-known people who have been homeschooled. Here is a partial list:

George Washington
James Madison
John Quincy Adams
Woodrow Wilson
William Henry Harrison
Abraham Lincoln
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Benjamin Franklin
Patrick Henry
William Penn
Winston Churchill

Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark)
William Clark

Soldiers and Generals
Robert E. Lee
Douglas MacArthur
George C. Patton

Leonardo da Vinci
George Washington Carver
Alexander Graham Bell
Cyrus McCormick
Thomas Edison
Andrew Carnegie
Orville and Wilbur Wright
Charlie Chaplin
Pierre Curie
Albert Einstein

Artists, Musicians, Authors
Johann Sebastian Bach
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Irving Berlin
Hans Christian Andersen
Charles Dickens
George Bernard Shaw
Noel Coward
Claude Monet
Andrew Wyeth

Eleanor Roosevelt
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Agatha Christie
Helen Keller
Florence Nightingale
Pearl S. Buck

It's an inspiration to me to realize how many of our most well-known people have been homeschooled. Homeschoolers are far over-represented among the "best and brightest."