Islam, Israel and the Middle East

Persecution in the 21st Century

Persecution_logoPersecution towards the church of Jesus Christ is not new, Jesus spoke of it before the church was even formed on several occasions.  In Luke 21:12  "But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name."

Further in John 15:20 he says, "Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also."

The first Christian martyr, Stephen, was not an apostle, but one of the members that served tables (Acts 7.) James was killed shortly thereafter by Herod (Acts 12.) These two deaths give us a working definition of how persecution is generally defined.  While persecution can be defined as being constantly irritated the persecution most commonly spoken of in the Bible is organized, usually involves more than one persecutor and is usually organized, officially or non-officially. When we use the word persecution in this way we are referring to physical abuse, torture, rape, murder and severe violence, not just the critical remarks of others towards faith.

Persecution still happens in the 'modern, enlightened world."  IN the latter half of the 20th century China took center stage as an unprecedented revival encompassed the largest nation on earth. When the Communists took over China, many feared the small struggling church there would be wiped out forever. Instead, a sovereign work of God began and turned into the largest spiritual awakening the world has ever seen.  The revival in China shows no signs of waning.

In the latter half of the 20th what began as a small trickle is beginning to turn into a flood as Muslim nations are experiencing a worldwide revival of their own.  The modern day Islamic revival seems to have begun in 1979 when students -including who many believe to be the current president of Iran- took over the American Embassy. Few then saw it for what it was, the reawakening of Muslim sentiments in the Middle East. In the last 27 years Islam is experiencing dramatic worldwide expansion, influence and power. Along with that has come a renewed wave of persecution in the Islamic nations.  As the list below shows the Muslim and the remaining Communist nations lead the list of persecution nations in order of severity.  The other number shows their ranking last year:

January 2006:                            

January 2005:

1.      North Korea          1
2.      Saudi Arabia 2
3.      Iran 5
4.      Somalia 7
5.      Maldives 6
6.      Bhutan 8
7.      Vietnam    3
8.      Yemen  11 
9.      Laos 4
10.    China 9
11.    Afghanistan 10
12.    Uzbekistan 15
13.    Turkmenistan 12
14.     Eritrea 16
15.     Comoros 14
16.     Pakistan 13
17.     Egypt  18
18.     Myanmar (Burma) 17
19.     Azerbaijan 22
20.     Morocco 23
21.     Brunei    24
22.     Libya  20

Throughout the week we'll tell some of the stories of those that are suffering for their faith right now.

For more information on the suffering church and how you can help visit these websites:

Open Doors

Voice of the Martyrs

Safe Harbor International

Muslims Firebomb Churches to Protest the Pope Calling Them Violent

Angry_muslimsIn response to the Pope quoting an emperor from the Middle Ages saying Mohammad was violent, Muslims violently attacked five churches on the West Bank with guns and firebombs.  Am I missing something? Doesn't this just add to fuel to the fire? Read the Pope's remarks in context here.

Afghanistan Deports Korean Christians

Afghanwoman_1 Afghanistan is at it again.  Some remember when Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry were rescued by U.S. Special Forces in November of 2001, after they had been taken captive by the Taliban.  Mercer, after her release, said it wasn't the Taliban that imprisoned her, but that God had used it and her to spread His message in that country under spiritual bondage.

Now, Afghanistan is at it again.  This week (Aug 4, 2006) the Afghan government, under Hamid Karzai, deported 1,200 Korean Christians, because they were "seeking to undermine Islamic Culture."  The new measures to rid the country of Christians and Christian influence comes as the government there is reinstituting the Vice and Virtues Ministry, which was a symbol of the repressive Taliban regime.

Afghanistan_deports_koreans_1 This is a picture of some of the Korean Christians that are being deported because it is feared they were trying to convert people to Christianity.  The crime of these Christian relief workers, according to a Herat police officer, is that one read a religious reading out loud and another played a song. When the officer was questioned as to what it was they read and sang, he said he didn't know because it was in Korean, but it was "kind of religious."

Many will remember the pictures, like the one above, of Afghan women under the Taliban regime.  Woman were not only mandated to dress in this way, but suffered many other restrictions, such as prohibitions against dealing with male shop-keepers.  Other difficulties imposed on woman by the Taliban included:

(1) Complete ban on women working outside their homes, including teachers, doctors and engineers.  (2) Complete restriction on women's movement outside of their houses without a mahram (father, brother or husband).  (3) Ban on being treated by a male doctor.  (4) Ban on studying at school, university or any other educational institution.  (5) Compulsory wearing of a long veil (Burqa) which covers women from head to toe. (6) Whipping, beating and verbal abuse of women whose Burqa is not worn in accordance to Taliban rules. (7) Whipping of women in public for having non-covered ankles. (8) Public stoning of women for having sex outside marriage (a number of lovers are stoned to death under this rule.)  (9) Ban on all use of make-up (a number of women's fingers have been amputated for having painted nails.)
Pray for Afghanistan. Pray for the brave Christian workers like Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, that have risked all to tell people about the glorious message of freedom in Christ. That the truth still sets us free. Men AND women.
If you would like a free CD of Heather Mercer's testimony, go to our church website and send us an email asking for one. We'll get it right out to you!
Keep your eyes to the sky, your feet on the ground and your heart with people.  and additionally, keep your nose in your Bible and your thumb in the newspaper.

Sunni & Shitte: What's the difference?

Prayer12Muslims are Muslims right? It’s not that easy. 

A few years ago I had the privilege of taking a week-long class on the Koran taught by Muslims.  Honestly, my head was spinning most of the time, but I finally began to figure some of it out. Not all Muslims are the same.

First, let’s look at the similarities between Sunnis and Shiites:

Both believe in the Koran.

Both follow Muhammad

In Iraq leaders like al-Sadr (whose father Sadr City in Bagdad is named after) is Shiite.

Hezbollah (meaning Party of God) who is engaged in the struggle with Israel on the Lebanese border is Shiite..

Al-Qaeda is Sunni.  Osama bin Laden is Sunni.  Saudi Arabia is Sunni.  Iran is Shiite.

Both the Shiites and the Sunnis are committed to the worldwide spread of Islam, meaning all nations everywhere would be subject to Islamic Law.

Both the Sunnis and the Shiites are against Israel and want to see Israel destroyed.

The Sunnis (Iraq) and the Shiites (Iran) were involved in a decade long war against each other in the 1980’s.  Iraq, under  Saddam Hussein, which was predominantly Sunni fought Iran, under the ayatollahs which were Shiite.  Muslims against Muslims, but Sunnis against Shiites is the way they viewed it.  There really was never any clear victor in that war and some say there were upwards to one million deaths. These scars are still very much present in the region today.

Today, July 2006,  those fighting against Israel in southern Lebanon are the Shiites, known in this context as Hezbollah.

So, what happened to make them enemies? It wasn’t their common beginning, but it happened after Muhammad died. There was a struggle for succession. Who would be the leader of Islam.  There were two groups, each believing they were the ones following what Muhammad desired. 

The Sunni faction believed that some kind of ‘election’ or group consensus by Muslim leaders or elders were supposed to pick the right person to lead Islam into the next phase. Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abu Bakr, came out the winner.

The Shiite division believed that Muhammad had already picked his successor before he died, his cousin Ali.   That's what Shiite means: “Followers of Ali” or “The Party of Ali.”

Shiite1_5 _39129209_sword203afp_1                                                                                    That was in 632 AD and they have been fighting ever since with varying intensity through the ages.  One of the most famous battles happened after Muhammad’s death. Once a year this event is remembered by Shiite Muslims who cut their heads in remembrance. Unbelievable really. Pretty gross as the picture shows.  I don't know, is it just me, or does hitting your head a few times with a sword not sound like any fun.  And then hitting your kid's head with a sword? What's the point of all that?

Shia_map_2 Sunnis are the largest group of Muslims, with the Shiites mostly concentrated in a  smaller region. Iran, Syria and parts of Lebanon. Although they are the smaller group, they are strategically located to cause Israel and the world an awful lot of trouble.  The map shows the primary locations of Shiites.

The groups have little in common, outside of their hatred for Israel.  And, oh yea, they for the most part have no great love for the United States either.

The Church: A History of Anti-Semitism

Constatine_1The Emperor Constantine is known as the first Christian emperor of the Rome. I've got my doubts that he was a Christian, but who am I to judge?  That's God's job.  Nevertheless from Constantine on, the church has undoubtedly contributed and been party to anti-semitism throughout history. To my mind this is wrong and we need to own up to our history.  Here are some quotes:

1) The first "Christian" Emperor, Constantine (315 ad), legally branded the Jews a "vicious and perverse sect."

2) Emperor Justinian (527-565) decreed:
"They (the Jews) shall enjoy no honors.  Their status shall reflect the perverse condition they have desired in their souls."  Under Justinian’s Law Code, Jews were not considered credible witnesses against Christians in a lawsuit. Jews were forbidden to teach the prophecies concerning the physical restoration of the nation Israel.

3) "Brothel and theater, the synagogue is also a cave of pirates and the lair of wild beasts...Living for their belly, mouth forever gaping, the Jews behave no better than hogs and goats in the lewd grossness and the excesses of their gluttony...Jews are possessed by demons."   St. John Chrysostom

4) In 1215, Pope Innocent III and the Fourth Lateran Council ordered Jews to wear distinctive Jewish hats and yellow arm badges.  The Jews were ordered segregated into Ghettos in every city. “Jews, against whom the blood of Jesus Christ cries out, although they ought to be slain lest the Christian people forget the Divine law, ought nevertheless to be dispersed over the earth as wanderers so their countenance might be full of shame and they might seek for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ."   Innocent III

5) According to a Papal Bull issued July 12, 1555 by Pope Paul IV:
"In Rome and all the other cities of the Papal States, the Jews shall live entirely separate from the Christians, in a quarter or a street with one entrance and one exit.  They shall build no new synagogue nor own real estate."

6) When the Black Plague of 1348-1349 killed 1/3 of Europe, the Jews were blamed for it.  They were accused of poisoning Christians wells.  They were also accused of using Christian babies for sacrifices.  Angry mobs wiped out hundreds of Jewish Ghettos.

7) Martin Luther  “What then shall we Christians do with this damned, rejected race of Jews?...Let me give you my honest advice. First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that no one may be able to see a cinder or stone of it.  And this ought to be done for the honor of God and of Christianity in order that God may see that we are Christians, and that we have not wittingly tolerated or approved of such public lying, cursing and blaspheming of His Son and His Christians...  Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed.  For they perpetrate the same things there that they do in their synagogues...  Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more."     "Against the Jews and Their Lies”

8) "Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the almighty Creator; by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”     ADOLPH HITLER   Mein Keif

Hitler had many of the clergy of Germany in his pocket going along with him as Germany moved towards the Holocaust.  There were a few notable exceptions, not the least of them being Dietrich Bonhoffer, who we'll talk about at another time.

Mel Gibson's Anti-Jewish Rant

Mel_gibsonWhen Mel Gibson got stopped the other day in Malibu for driving under the influence, he went through a rant against the police, the arresting officer and Jewish people. Since the rant is full of expletives and profanity, I chose not to link to it, but suffice it to say, it was pretty rough.  Among other things Gibson blamed the Jews for all the wars in the world.  To his credit, Mel Gibson offered an apology to the Jewish Community and asked them to help him in his process of rehabilitation as he tries to figure out what is going on inside of him.  I'll give him points for that one. Admitting you're wrong and asking for forgiveness (no less publicly) is hard for most people. 

Was his apology sincere? Should it be accepted? Was it simply written by a publicist?  Only Mel knows the answers to these questions, but somebody just send me this on apologies from Gary Chapman.  Mel's apology seems to touch each of these areas.  Hollywood is threatening to end it for Mel. The apology seems (to me) sincere enough to help him move forward.

The Five Languages of Apology

1. I am able to accept an apology from someone who expresses regret simply by saying, “I’m sorry.”

2. When I am offered an apology, I long to hear the words “I was wrong.”

3. I find an apology most sincere when the person who has wronged me takes action to make it right.

4. I find an apology most sincere when followed by a promise to change, with the offending person saying, “I’ll try not to do that again.”

5. I find an apology most sincere when the other party places great importance on asking for my forgiveness.

Unfortunately for Gibson, this wasn't the first time that accusations of "anti-semitism" came up in his career. Or his first DUI incident.

Hutton Gibson, Mel's father, who is also a member of the breakaway Roman Catholic sect that Mel Gibson is part of, speaking of the Holocaust said in a radio interview on WSNR, one week before the release of the Passion, "It's all -- maybe not all fiction -- but most of it is," he said, adding that the gas chambers and crematoria at camps like Auschwitz would not have been capable of exterminating so many people.  "Do you know what it takes to get rid of a dead body? To cremate it?" he said. "It takes a litre of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million of them? They (the Germans) did not have the gas to do it. That's why they lost the war."   This wasn't the first time his dad made similar remarks, so although this might be only one interview, there are others that are close to the same in content.

Just because Mel's father has an anti-semitic strain, it does not stand to reason that his son follows the same belief structure.  A short time after his dad's remarks Diane Sawyer asked Mel Gibson about them and he said talking about his dad was off limits. I respect that about a son, but it didn't help to clear up the confusion. When he was asked by Peggy Noonan in Reader's Digest if he believed the Holocaust happens, he agreed it did, but gave some qualifiers.

Gibson does draw a hard line. His breakaway sect of Roman Catholicism is quite strict and what some consider at least a little narrow.  It is narrow enough for Gibson to consider that his wife cannot be saved if she is not a member of it.  But thre is no indication that the group is anti-semitic.

The fear that Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" would once again inflame anti-semitism as a blacklash was not necessarily unfounded.  The church has a long history (some of which is listed here) of anti-semiticism.  The fear was that the movie was pointing to the Jews as the ones that killed Jesus.

Did the Jews kill Jesus?  No.  Was it the Romans then?  No.  It was God that sent His Son to die for our sins. John 3:16  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  It was all of us that killed Jesus.  He died for our sins on the cross. Everyone that has ever walked the earth is guilty. Except Jesus. He was God in the flesh, who came to give us eternal life.  To learn how to receive eternal life through Jesus, click here.

When the Bible says God so loved the 'world' it means all people. All nations, all people, all ethnic groups. The pithy little saying is true, "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so!"

Let's pray for Mel Gibson.  Everybody has some strain of weirdness, weakness or prejudice they've picked up over the years. But thankfully, people have an uncanny ability to change, especially when seeking God's help.  People also have long memories.  Mel is asking for a another chance. I think we should give it to him.


This War is Not Ishamel (Arabs) and Isaac (Israel) It's Shiites and Israel

HezbollahThe present war going on in Lebanon is not a war between Isaac (Israel) and Ishmael (Arabs, wandering tribes.) It is between Shiite Islam and the nation of Israel.  In our blog we've been attempting to explain the differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and Arabs and the general Muslim population. (see other articles in the Middle East, Islam and Israel category.)

On July 17th there was a meeting by the Arab League and they refused to make a strong statement concerning Israel's reaction" to the Hezbollah provocation. This went, as far I can tell, largely unnoticed by the news outlets, but is significant in understanding the conflicts and where the sides are being drawn. The Arabs are not protesting this. Why?

Previous, we've said that all Arabs (those speaking Arabic) are not Muslims and that Islam (the religion of Muslims) is divided into two major factions (Sunni & Shiite.) In the present war (if you look at the Sunni Shiite map we provided) you'll see where the Shiites are primarily located. Hezbollah, located in Lebanon, is primarily a Shiite funded and encouraged organization. The Shiites are located in Iran, some in Syria, a good number in Iraq, some in Lebanon (mostly Hezbollah) and some in Gaza. This war is Shiite Islam against Israel and not many of the Sunnis (or perhaps not any) want to join the Shiites. At least not at the moment. They have long standing divisions and this war so far doesn't seem to be enough to unite them. While some of the Sunnis have a historical blood links to Ishmael, most of the Shiites do not. Iran, dominated by Shiites, is ancient Persia, a one time enemy of Israel (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.)

The world could not be any crazier at the moment. But for the Bible believing Christian, we've read the end of the book and we know how it finishes. We don't know everything in between, but we have some clues.  Sooner or later Iran will invade Israel (Ezekiel 38.)  Russia seems to be a likely  accomplice from a study of that chapter. When all these things happen is anybody's guess...  but it is much closer than it has ever been.

So remember what we say, "Keep your feet on the ground, your eyes to the sky and you're heart with people!"  Add to that keep your nose in your Bible and your thumb in the newspaper!

LATE BREAKING NEWS:  Al Queda calls for ALL Muslims to fight Israel.  Al Queda doesn't seem to have much influence with Islamic nations or national leaders, but they do have some very dedicated networks of individuls from Islamic and non-Islamic nations worldwide.  So far the Sunni nations aren't jumping in.  We'll have to see how much sway Al Queda has and 'if' Hezbollah even wants to be associated with them.   The plot thickens! Or Al Queda may be gasping for breath... 

picture courtesy of the New York Times

Iran in the Bible

Iran_president_hostage_taker Is that the Iranian president in a 1979 AP Photo taking an American hostage from the United States Embassy in Tehran?  Some say it is, others say no.  Whether that is actually him or not there is no doubt that he was involved in the uprising against the Shah. He was definitely committed and involved in the philosophy that brought in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Today Iran is flexing it's muscle and making waves on the world scene.  They are an ancient kingdom that believes that they will once again rise.  Iran is in the Bible, but known as Persia or the Medo-Persian kingdom in Bible times.

The Medes were a world governing Empire from 536 B.C. - 330 B.C.  Their rule extended through the Middle East - including the land of Israel - into Afghanistan and into Turkey. For a map of the territory Persia (Iran) once controlled click here.

For the last two thousand years Iran (Persia) has stayed out of the eye of most o f the western world, with occasional forays into the world scene. But they are back and they plan to stay.

There is a day coming soon when Iran (Persia) will align with other nations, including Libya and several nations to the north to invade Israel. Some say Russia is included in this equation to invade the land. You can read the prophecy in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel Chapter 38.  While some controversy exists as to the identity of all of the nations listed in Ezekiel 38 (nations and locations change names through history and following the chain of change can be difficult) but there is no doubt that modern day Iran will one day - some think very soon - invade Israel.

When this invasion happens it will be in the middle of a chain of prophetic events that are related to the soon return of Jesus Christ.  Keep your eyes to the sky and if you are not prepared to meet Jesus, now is the time to do that. Click here to find out how to be saved.

Birth Pangs: A Sign of the Beginning or the End?

Condi_riceCondalezza Rice in at a press conference on July 21 said the Middle East Conflict is the beginning of "birth pangs of a new Middle East." That's an odd expression to use in the context. 

It's not a common phrase, but it is one that Jesus used.  When his disciples came to him on the Mount of Olives outside the city of Jerusalem to clarify some statements Jesus made about the Jewish Temple there being destroyed, he used the phrase.

Speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem, and continuing His explanation going all the way out to Judgment Day, Jesus said, in the Gospel of Matthew 24:6-8 "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. [7] Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. [8] All these are the beginning of birth pains."

No need to make more out of it than what she said. It's just a strange phrase to use about the Middle East.  It is in this part of the world the prophecies of the Bible preceding Christ's return pertain to.  That Indonesia had an earthquake a few days later might not mean anything either.  But anybody that is wise should have their nose in the Bible, particularly those chapters that concern "end time prophecies." 

If you are new to prophecy and the Bible read these chapters:

Matthew Chapter 24 --- Luke Chapter 21 --- Ezekiel 37 -39 --- Acts Chapter 1

I'm fond of saying, "Keep your feet on the ground, your eyes to the sky and your heart with people!"

It's definitely closer than it's ever been before!