Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Bad" Art from Powerline

Scott, at Powerline, posted a brief comment and some links drawing attention to the sad state of the "art" world these days. The picture below was next to the article. At first I thought it was an example of what Scott was talking about. It turned out to be a graphic from one of Powerline's advertisers!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Proof positive . . . and a self-fulfilling prophesy from Powerline!

Monday, November 20, 2006

US Military Oaths

All entering US military service (with the exception of National Guard troops who include obedience to state governors in their oath) affirm the following:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
In addition, Officers, upon commission, swear to the following:
I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

My Response to Dr. Jack Rogers' New Book--"Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality"

Here is my response to published excerpts from Dr. Jack Rogers’ new book, “Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality.”

But first, allow me to introduce you to Dr. Jack Rogers, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly, retired Vice-President of San Francisco Theological Seminary, Southern California, and currently an avid supporter of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians (CNP). Along with the Covenant Network, Dr. Rogers endorses advocacy for the full inclusion of otherwise qualified sexually-active gay and lesbian persons to all ordained offices in the Church (Elder, Deacon & Minister of the Word and Sacrament). Such persons have been denied ordination in and for the Church both by historical understanding of the Word of God, the Authoritative Interpretation of the General Assembly and an explicit statement to that effect placed in the text of the denomination’s Constitution, Part II, the “Book of Order.”

Excerpts from his new book, “Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality,” were published in the Spring edition of “The Covenant Connection,” the newsletter of the CNP.

The claims and assertions made in these excerpts are so brazen and outrageous that I could not restrain myself from making some sort of a response. Accordingly, I more or less randomly chose four statements and have limited myself to them for my response as illustrative of the quality (or lack) of scholarship represented in Dr. Rogers’ arguments.

The entire text of Dr. Rogers’ article can be found at here (beginning on page 2).

The quoted statements by Dr. Rogers are numbered 1-4 and highlighted in bold.

Excerpt 1. “However, Genesis 1-2 contains no reference to homosexuality, or marriage.”

My Response: Jesus seems to disagree with Dr. Rogers as he is cited in both Mark 10:6-7 and Matthew 19:4-5 as quoting Genesis 2:23-25 in support of God’s creative plan for marriage.

Paul also view Genesis 2:23-25 as relating to marriage as he quotes it in the context of his discussion of the mutual submission of husband to wife and wife to husband in Ephesians 5:31.

I cannot but wonder how Dr. Rogers can present himself as a better interpreter of scripture than either Paul or Jesus. Perhaps Jesus was not familiar with a politically correct “historical-critical” reading of the Word of God?

Indeed, it is the expressed view of the Reformed Faith that “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” Westminster Confession of Faith 6.009

Excerpt 2. “Indeed, Furnish (here quoting another author) asserts that Genesis 2:23-25 neither commands nor presumes a ‘monogamous’ relationship between man and woman and…it offers no comment on ‘marriage’ as such.”

My Response: On the contrary, Jesus (cited above) clearly sees this passage as a comment on marriage. As for ‘monogamy’ the phrase “two become one flesh” is clearly a statement of male/female unity. Can three people become “one flesh?” Can four? Or is Genesis 2:23-25 simply referring to sequential sexual acts between one man and a variety of women, each act making them “one flesh” for the moment?

To answer “Yes” to any of these questions makes a mockery of the New Testament’s association of this passage with the unity of the church with Christ (Ephesians 5:31).

To answer “Yes” to any of these questions would make Christ but one of perhaps many lords with whom the Church might share spiritual commitment or “intercourse.”

Conversely, to answer “Yes” to any of these questions would perhaps make the Church but one of many “brides” for whom Christ died.

Excerpt 3. “Moreover, Old Testament heroes of the faith certainly did not model monogamy, but rather followed the patterns of their culture with multiple wives, concubines, and slaves as sexual partners. The Bible not only approves, but appears to mandate such behavior.”

My Response: The Old Testament heroes of the faith did indeed follow “the patterns of their culture with multiple wives, concubines, and slaves as sexual partners.” That is the entire problem with Dr. Roger’s arguments. Simply because somebody in the Bible does something does not mean that it receives God’s blessing or is consistent with God’s original intent in creation.

Culture is generally at odds with God’s holiness. Culture, along with each of us as individuals, is consumed by the corruption of sin. Just because God works within culture and through culture does not mean that God endorses or blesses the culture in which God works.

God’s blessing on monogamous, covenanted male/female sexual relations is, from the beginning, above and beyond and beside the mores of fallen, sinful, human culture. Cultural norms shift and change, come and go, but “the word of the Lord is flawless, his truth endures forever and of his law not one jot or tittle will be unfulfilled in Jesus Christ.” (2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 117:2; Matthew 5:17-18)

One could point to the pattern of Genesis wherein Adam & Eve are monogamous as is their son, Seth. It is the doubly-fallen “marked man” Cain whose great great great-grandson becomes the first biblical man who marries “two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.” (Genesis 4:19)

The long genealogy of Seth makes no mention of polygamy at all.

Through the story of the flood and the ensuing story of Babel there is no mention made of polygamy. Indeed, even Abraham and Isaac were monogamous insofar as they were only married to one wife. And they lived in a culture that celebrated polygamy and held it in esteem as a mark of wealth, influence and alliance between different clans, tribes and family groups. (Note: It is true that Abram’s wife, Sarai, give her servant, Hagar, to her husband as a second wife. see Genesis 16:3. But it is also clear that this was contrary to both God’s will and his covenanted promise with Abram. God’s will and promise required but one wife, Sarai; and one son, Isaac.).

It in not until we come to the deceitful liar and cheat named Jacob that we find the first evidence of polygamy in the lineage of Seth. As far as it goes, Jacob did not even want Leah as his wife and did not even realize that he had married her until after the wedding! It is clear from the way that he treated her throughout their lives that he considered her more of a legal obligation than a beloved wife. This relationship he reserved for the one he believed to be his only true wife, Rachel.

There are many things in Jacob’s life that cannot and must not be lifted up as evidence of God’s favor. Polygamy must certainly be one of these.

It is not until we come to the royal households of David, Solomon and their successors that we encounter polygamy once again. The political requirements and the unbridled power of royalty to “do what they want” is hardly a setting for claiming this as evidence of God’s favor.

In any case, polygamy can be best identified as an exception to the general pattern of the “Old Testament heroes of faith.” Even more than that, an argument could be made that monogamy was the clearly preferred ideal of every “godly” polygamist cited in the Old Testament.

Indeed, the Semitic word for “second wife” is (according to the “Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible”) a derivative from a root meaning, “show hostility
toward” or to “vex.”

The New Testament reaffirmation of monogamy as God’s created context for sexual human relationships can be found most clearly in the qualifications for the office of elder/overseer as cited in I Timothy 3:2. “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife.” None of the other qualifications for this office are morally “optional” or unrelated to God’s clearly revealed will for us. Why should Dr. Rogers consider being “the husband of but one wife” to be the biblical exception?

Where Dr. Rogers finds God’s blessing or mandate in this matter is beyond me.

Excerpt 4. “We need to return to a biblical understanding of God, creation, sin, salvation, and love. Those who rely instead on natural law and biased cultural assumptions, twist and distort the fundamental message of the gospel.”

My Response: Three points . . .

Point One: Is Dr. Rogers suggesting that “natural law” is somehow in conflict with the God of creation? Is nature so fallen as to be unreliable as a guide to the creative purposes of God?

Dr. Rogers derides “natural law” and dismisses it out of hand. This is far from the case with scripture where we find Paul, in the first chapter of Romans verses 18-20, telling us that

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s divine nature—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has bee made, so that men are without excuse.”

It is a prima facie that the one who created the universe with his word included the laws of physics and the so-called “law of nature” in that word. Those things which are contrary to the laws of physics are in opposition to the reality of creation. Those things which are contrary to the law of nature are also in opposition to the reality of creation.

It is true that we have not yet discerned all things concerning the laws of physics. New discoveries are being made and new theories are being formulated every day.

But such is not the case with the “law of nature.” Such “law” is not only readily observable (such as one species cannot reproduce with another and two men or two women cannot “become one flesh” in the same way as can a man and a woman) but wonderfully confirmed by the word of God in scripture.

The law of God and the law of nature are of one piece. The one cannot contradict the other lest the universe be deemed to function contrary to the will and order of God who created it and who sustains it.

Point Two: It would appear that “biased cultural assumptions” are the unique talent of Dr. Rogers. It is he who is determined to “twist and distort the fundamental meaning of the gospel.”

Without a trace of embarrassment Dr. Rogers can claim that for thousands of years, from the days of the Old Testament and God’s Covenant with Moses through the New Testament, the teachings of Jesus, the presentation, interpretation and application of the Gospel through the Apostles and the consistent, unwavering witness of the Church throughout all history everyone has been wrong except for him and those who desire to believe as he does in these matters.

For millennia, the Word of God has resisted the “biased cultural assumptions” of one culture after another. The Church has steadfastly said “No” to the things of this world. And now, Dr. Rogers tells us that the time has come at last to reclaim the truth of the gospel that has been lost and corrupted in the world for over two thousand years! It appears that it is a truth that has been revealed in these latter days to him and to those who share in this “truth.”

This sounds remarkably like the premise upon which Joseph Smith built the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Point Three: Dr. Rogers states, “We need to return to a biblical understanding of God, creation, sin, salvation, and love.”

Here, at least, I find that I can agree with Dr. Rogers completely. The only difference between us is that I do not believe that the Church has ever wandered away from “a biblical understanding of God, creation, sin, salvation, and love.”

The burden of proof falls on Dr. Rogers’ shoulders to convince us that the Church, the Saints and Apostles, the Fathers and Mothers of the Faith and those who “reformed” her back to a central reliance on the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, were and are the ones who have wandered and strayed from these things and need to return to the correct, new and improved “biblical understanding” of what it all means.

I’m sorry, Dr. Rogers. I am not convinced. I must conclude that it is you and those who endorse your view (that God has, from the beginning of creation, blessed any form of homosexual practice) who have strayed and ought to return to the fold.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Peter, John & the Great Easter Race - Easter Sermon

Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006
John 20:1-18

I want you to do some “Let’s pretend” with me this morning. I want you to use your imagination and, for just a few minutes, close your eyes and travel back in time one thousand, nine hundred and seventy-six years.

You are a street merchant in the crowded, dusty and holy city of Jerusalem. It is early morning on the first day of the week. As a Jew you have kept the previous day as the Sabbath day of rest; at least until sunset when the Sabbath and the day came to a close.

By coincidence, that same sunset had marked the end of the Feast of Passover. Tens of thousands of Jews had come from all around the Roman Empire to perform the rituals of sacrifice in the Temple and the eating of the Passover meal.

Today, however, the Passover and the Sabbath were over. Today was just another day of work.

You had wakened, dressed and eaten a light breakfast in the light of dawn. Now, the fresh-risen sun was sending long cool shadows across the streets and byways of the ancient city.

Along with other early risers you step quietly out of your small, one-story stone house and turn the corner onto one of the larger streets in your area of the cit.. You are on your way to the nearby bazaar where you will be selling the exquisitely-woven baskets that you, along with the help of your three children, spend most of your waking hours weaving from the dried fronds of date palms gathered from the Kidron Valley.

You have already sent your children off to gather more fronds. Fronds will be easy to find today, you think, since so many had been broken off to celebrate the many pilgrim-processions that had crossed that valley during the previous week. One group after another had started their procession at Bethany on the tall ridge opposite and a bit south of the Holy Temple. The processions had then dropped low into the valley only to begin climbing again as they approached the gates leading to the vast Temple area on Mt. Zion.

Local people would wave the palm branches in praise of God and as a sign of welcome to those who had traveled so far to worship. Children had especially enjoyed the processions, tirelessly waving their palm branches and chanting “Hosanna!” meaning, “Praise the Lord!” over and over again.

The biggest crowds had gathered for the arrival of the rich and famous. Who knows? Perhaps the rich would toss a few coins into the crowd! As for the famous, it was not everyday that one could see in person and up close the noted rabbis and other religious scholars from places like Alexandria, Damascus, Antioch and Babylon.

Jesus of Nazareth had drawn a fairly good-sized crowd himself when he had arrived one week ago today.

As with the others, the children had waved their palm branches and shouted “Hosanna!” as he entered Jerusalem sitting on a donkey.

But there were other, older men and women in the crowd, who had welcomed him as the new King of Israel, a descendent of the great King David himself. There was great excitement surrounding this Jesus. The news had spread everywhere that he had recently raised Lazarus of Bethany from the dead. Some in the crowd seemed to hope that a man with such power from God might be the Christ himself—the long-awaited Messiah who would restore the Kingdom of Israel to its former glory.

But there were also rumors that the religious leaders of Jerusalem had put a price on his head and were determined not only to arrest him but, if possible, put him to death as well.

As it turned out, these rumors had sadly turned out to be true. After teaching publicly in the Temple day after day, Jesus had finally been arrested late Thursday evening while gathered in prayer with his disciples in an olive grove called Gethsemane.

After a brief, secret trial by the Jewish leaders, Jesus was condemned to die. Permission to execute him was then sought from the Roman-appointed Jewish King Herod and, later on Friday morning, from the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate himself.

In the end, permission had been granted and Jesus, along with two thieves, was publicly crucified at Noon on Friday. He died just three hours later. Because the Passover Sabbath began at sunset the two other men were killed outright and all three bodies removed by the Roman soldiers who had executed them.

Jesus’ body had been taken and placed in a tomb owned by one of the few Jewish leaders who had spoken in Jesus’ defense during his late-night trial.

“Dead and buried.” That was Jesus. One more failed hope. The excitement was over. The children would be collecting the dead and drying remains of broken palm branches to be woven into more baskets. Life was back to normal.

The holiday was over but there is still money to be made from shrewd bargaining with the many pilgrims who remained.

As you turn the corner, a young man, his robes girded up around his waist, brushes past you. He is clearly a man in a hurry, running as if for his very life. His lean body and beardless face have hardly registered in your mind when a second man, bearded, stocky and gasping for breath, rushes past, as if in pursuit of the first.

“Strange,” you think to yourself, wondering if the first man was a thief being chased by his victim.

“No matter,” you decide. There’s work to be done.

You have barely taken another stop before a woman, also breathing heavily, trots past you, headed in the same direction as the men. Her “trot” is little more than a fast walk and you see her stop twice to catch her breath. After a moment’s hesitation you call out to see if she needs any help.

“No thank you,” she says. “But come…come with me as I…I will show you a wonder…he’s gone…he’s not there…the stone…it’s…the tomb…empty.”

Mystified, you follow along behind her…but at a discrete distance. You follow her out of both concern and curiosity.

It is but a short distance to the edge of the city. You follow the woman through the city gate and down a ways to a small garden.

There you see the young man who had rushed past you just a few minutes before. He is standing alone, as if deep in thought. The woman approaches him and stands quietly, searching his face without speaking a word.

You hear a sound like a muffled roar coming from inside what is obviously a rich man’s tomb. The sealing stone has been pushed to the side and from the darkness of the tomb a bearded man appears, the other man who had hurried past you in such haste. He is still breathing heavily, his face covered in sweat.

Suddenly, you feel somehow exposed, as if you were the first man, Adam, who had suddenly discovered that he was naked in his own garden.

Like Adam, you step back into the shadows, surprised to suddenly feel the burden of your sins weighing very heavily on your spirit.

The bearded man gasps out, “She’s…Oh, there you are…You were right. He’s gone! But how? Who took him? . . . John, go in and see for yourself and tell me what you think.”

Still without speaking a word, the young man, apparently named John, disappears into the tomb. He is there for only a few moments before reappearing. His face has changed from one of questioning to that of someone who has found an answer; or someone who has just thought of something important or, perhaps, someone who has remembered something that they had forgotten.

Still not saying a single word, this man called John breaks into a small trot of his own, heading back to the city. With a soft groan, the second man follows, his face creased with puzzlement, tinged with wonder.

The woman, now left alone, is weeping. You suppress the urge to step forward and comfort her, wondering if, perhaps, this was the tomb that had been “loaned” to Jesus for his burial on Friday. The men were clearly Galileans, Rough, solid men with broken nails and weathered faces. Fishermen, perhaps. Perhaps two of Jesus’ own disciples.

You had only seen Jesus once during the previous week. You had been on your way to the Temple for mid-day prayer when you entered a crowd of people gathered around a rabbi, or teacher of some sort. The man was saying, “Now is the time for judgment on this world, the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

You had heard some in the crowd snort and mutter, “Blasphemy,” under their breath. Others had stepped forward to ask questions. But you had little time to waste and moved on to offer your prayers to God.

Although you had hurriedly left, the words of the teacher, Jesus, had stayed with you. You had found yourself offering a different prayer than usual that day.

“Almighty and merciful God,” you had begun. As you prayed you were on your knees with your head touching the stone pavement in total submission to the power and majesty of the Lord.

“If today is the day of judgment as this Jesus has said,” you continued, “then I ask you to have mercy on me, a poor sinner. I beg you to cast out Satan from the earth and restore your Kingdom—not just the Kingdom of Israel but the Kingdom of Paradise for all who love you with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.”

Your prayer had stopped abruptly as you recalled Jesus’ prophecy that he would be “lifted up” and that “all men” would come before him.

In that quiet moment in the Temple you had, for a brief moment, wondered if Jesus might actually be the Christ, the Messiah, come at last to restore God’s Kingdom and to prepare the world for the Day of the Lord, the great and terrible day of the Last Judgment.

But, four days later when you had heard that Jesus had been crucified, you had let that idea drop like a hot stone.

Now, however, as you stand in the garden on this first day of the new week, you find yourself wondering…”What if…? Could Jesus be alive? What would that mean?”

While you were lost in thought the woman had slowly walked over to the tomb and is now leaning inside, as if afraid to take even one step over some invisible line drawn across the entrance.

Once again you hear muffled words from the tomb, as if a conversation is being carried on.

Behind the woman, just outside the cave, you see what you can only later describe as a “bright shadow,” shimmering with an increasing intensity and brightness that forces you to turn your eyes away.

After blinking away the discomfort, you look again and see a man standing next to the woman. She turns towards him, still weeping and sobbing. The man’s lips move slightly and the woman suddenly stiffens, dropping to her knees like a gazelle stopped dead in its tracks by a well-placed arrow.

Her face is buried in his feet; her arms in a tight embrace around his legs.

With a gentle gesture that you can only describe as “love” the man raises the woman to her feet, speaks a few words to her and, with a sudden shimmer, is gone.

Without hesitation the woman runs across and out of the garden. As she disappears out of sight you hear what you assume to be her voice, high-pitched and shrill, “He’s alive! I have seen the Lord!”

It is clear that she is no longer weeping!

But what about that man in the garden? Surely it had been Jesus . . . it must have been Jesus . . . looking like a living spirit or an angel of God shining with the glory of heaven! Jesus . . . risen from the dead? Is such a thing possible?

The Pharisees teach that the resurrection of the dead would not come until the Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment at the end of history.

Could it be that Jesus’ prophecy about himself had come true? He had been lifted up from the earth as he predicted—on a cross. And, if he had risen from the dead, then the Day of Judgment had arrived, just as he said. Could it be possible then, that Satan, the prince of this world, has been driven out at last?

As if to answer your own questions you find yourself filling with a hope, a joy that you have never felt before. The burden of your sins, so heavy on your soul only a few minutes before, seem lighter now—or are they gone completely? What does it matter? All you want to do is to be with Jesus; to hear his voice.

You feel as if you are being drawn to him by some invisible power, at work deep within your most innermost being.

No longer do you feel the need to hide in the shadows, embarrassed and ashamed. You feel refreshed, renewed, even reborn! You are stunned to discover that you would be so bold as to stand in the very presence of God himself, as if you yourself were suddenly holy and acceptable to God; worthy of his love . . . because of Jesus!

You rush to the tomb and, after hesitating only long enough to take a deep breath, you step inside.

When you come out a few moments later, all doubt is gone.

“He is risen!” you say to yourself. “He is alive! He is the Christ! He is the Messiah!”

All thought of baskets have left your mind. Your only thought, the only desire of your heart, is to search for Jesus until you find him. Even if it should take a thousand lifetimes!

Suddenly, your mind clears enough to think, “The woman! I must follow the woman! And those men, the one called ‘John’ and that other one! I’ve got to find them!”

Now it is your turn to run from the garden and through the streets of Jerusalem. You have no idea where your running will take you but, somehow, you know that you will see that woman again. You will greet the men with joy and, together with them, you will find Jesus!

And what was true for you then, is true for you today. Amen.

“Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!”

--by Jim Tweedie, Pastor
Mililani Presbyterian Church

Very Early In the Morning - Easter Sunrise Sermon

EASTER SUNRISE—April 16, 2006
“Very Early In the Morning”
Luke 24:1-11

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that on Easter morning the women went to the tomb “at dawn on the first day of the week”

The Gospel of Mark tells us that it was, “Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise.”

The Gospel of Luke also tells us that it was “very early in the morning.”

Lastly, the Gospel of John says that the women started out, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark”

The four Gospels all agree that women from among Jesus’ disciples woke up in the early morning darkness of that first Easter day and headed off to the tomb where the body of Jesus had been placed two days earlier.

Why, I wonder, did they go to the tomb so early? It’s not as though they were worrying that Jesus might be going somewhere!

No, Jesus was dead and he would have been just as available to the women at 11:00 am as he was at 6:00 am!

What was the hurry?

During the Sabbath the day before, they had quietly collected oils and spices to place around Jesus’ body. This ritual was customary at burials in those days but there had not been enough time to do things right when Jesus had died so late on Friday afternoon.

The sooner the women got to Jesus’ body the better, of course. One of the main reasons for the spices, after all, was to cover up the smell of death and decay that would have already begun.

Although the women headed out with this task in mind, we read in Mark’s gospel that the women wondered how they were going to get inside the tomb at all.

They knew that they were not strong enough to move the stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb by themselves.

It is not clear whether they even knew that the tomb entrance had been sealed and that guards had been posted to keep anyone from looting the grave or from stealing Jesus’ body.

I have given this all a great deal of thought this past week and I’d like to share with you why I think these women disciples went to the tomb so early and so eagerly on that Sunday morning.

1. First of all, they were motivated by FAITH. They believed that they were responsible for making sure that Jesus was buried properly. The element of faith is obvious in the fact that they clearly believed, or at least hoped, that God would bless their efforts by providing them a way to enter the tomb.

Have you ever faced a difficult situation that you were not sure how to handle?

I remember once climbing 20-30 feet up a granite cliff while backpacking in the Touolome River Canyon in Yosemite National Park. Why did I do this? I really have no idea. It just seemed to be a fun thing to do at the time.

Well, up I went until I could go no further. It was at that point that I realized that I did not have a clue how to get back down without simply letting go and falling onto the sharp rocks far below. I had gone off by myself and there was no one nearby to call to for help.

Now I’m sure that none of you would ever be so foolish as to ever start something you did not know how to finish! Or are you? Of course you are!

You may not have ever climbed a granite cliff but I bet you have started at least one thing in your life that you really were not completely prepared for.

How about repairing a leaky toilet or a faucet?

Out comes the wrench; the water line is turned off to the house. The nuts and bolts are unscrewed. The broken part is identified and then . . . Well, of course you do not have the part you need to replace it. So, off to City Mill you go, hoping, hoping, hoping that they have the part you need in stock because you know that there is no way in the world that you are ever going to be able to put the whole thing back together without it!

My friends, you have stepped out in faith!

I have so much faith that I once had the opportunity to make four different purchases from three different hardware stores before finally finding at some obscure corner knick-knack repair shop in Wahiawa the one simple part I needed!

Meanwhile, for most of the day, the water in my house had been shut off and not even the toilets were working! I can assure you that my family was not pleased by my efforts!

After having this experience once or twice we will never again try to start anything until we have all the possible parts fully researched, purchased and lined up next to us before we even think about turning off the water!

So it is that we learn to plan every detail of every task, whether it be a party, a vacation trip or church building campaign so that we will be in complete and total control of it all.

But this is not faith! Where do we allow God any opportunity to work his will when we have predetermined everything that will happen ourselves?

Faith means taking control of what you can do and then stepping out boldly, trusting in God to do the rest!

When Psalm 127 says that, “Unless the Lord build the house, they who build it labor in vain,” the Psalm really means what it says!

We must always leave room in our plans for God to complete the work according to his plans!

On that first Easter morning, those women stepped out in faith. They had done all that they could have done and then went to the tomb anyway, leaving it to God to somehow roll that stone away for them.

Their faith was, of course, rewarded. For when they arrived at the tomb they found that the stone had already been rolled away!

If they had spent the morning running around and getting all the necessary permits to open the tomb and had taken time to get permission from the tomb’s owner and hired men who knew how to move the stone they would have had everything under their control but they would have missed out on being the first to discover the empty tomb and to meet the risen Jesus!

It is only faith that gives us the opportunity to experience miracles and other signs and wonders of God. If we do everything ourselves without including God in our plans then that is what we will get: Our own work and none of God’s!

So, the women were, first of all, motivated by faith.

2. Second, the women were also motivated by COURAGE.

HAve you ever wondered why the men didn’t get up early and heaD for the tomb instead of the women? It was because the men were afraid. They were afraid that they might be recognized and identified as Jesus’ disciples. They were afraid that they, too, would be arrested, beaten, stoned or crucified. So they stayed hidden, locked safely away in the Upper Room.

The women knew that even if they were recognized as being followers of Jesus they would most likely have been left alone. Besides, with their head covering and veils they would have been hard to recognize anyway!

Still, it took courage for these women to step out into the open and mingle with people who had, just two days before, called for the death of their teacher and friend.

What would you have done if you had been in the disciples’ place?

Have you ever hesitated to state your opinion or to take a stand on some controversial issue because you were afraid of what others might think of you? Have you ever kept quiet about something important because you didn’t want to “rock the boat” or get on the wrong side of your boss, your employer or your commanding officer?

I remember once when I failed to do what I knew to be the right thing to do. I failed to act because I was afraid that I would damage a friendship, betray a confidence and make a difficult situation even more complicated than it already was.

Because of my fear, because of my lack of courage, I did nothing. And because of that someone almost died. That day was one of the most awful days of my life.

Since then I have decided, that insofar as I am able, I will always try to do the “right thing” no matter how afraid I might be of the consequences.

I want to be like those women on Easter morning who stepped out in courage to go to the tomb.

They were rewarded for their courage by being trusted with the most important message given to humanity since the creation of the world! The resurrection of the Son of God from the bonds of death.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for having done the right thing!” Sometimes the suffering and blessings come together. But it is always the blessing that we should hunger for! The blessing that come from having chosen to do the right thing. And that takes courage.

3. Thirdly, the women went to the tomb early in the morning because they were motivated by CURIOSITY.

Now it has been said that “curiosity killed the cat” but that is not what I am trying to say to you this morning!

What I mean by curiosity is that God has placed us in a wonderful, amazing universe which he has personally designed and constructed for our benefit.

It is God’s desire that we be curious about what God has made and what God is doing.

I, for one, am particularly curious about current events, the unfolding of contemporary history and the amazing recent and ongoing discoveries of science, especially in the area of astrophysics.

By keeping up with the news, by seeing the big picture of world history and current events and by putting them all in the larger context of the whole of creation I believe that, guided by God’s word in the Bible, I am busily engaged in the observing the work of God’s Holy Spirit and the unveiling of God’s plan of redemption and salvation for fallen humanity.

What are you curious about? It is good for you to follow up your curiosity and there are many ways to do this. One of your highest priorities, however, is to be curious as to how God is at work both in your own life as well as in the world around you.

A person without curiosity is a person who has ceased to learn.

Such a person is as good as dead to God!

One of the basic biological criteria for life is that it must be growing, reproducing . . . constantly replacing dead cells with new, living cells, and always adapting to change.

Without curiosity we might as well be vegetables!

So the women were motivated by curiosity. They wanted to see what had happened to Jesus. They wanted to see what was going on that very morning. They wanted to see what God had “up his sleeves” and they were ready to be surprised and amazed!

They were ready to be changed and ready to grow into the people God had created them to be. They wanted to know the truth—the very truth of God that would set them free from sin and death.

So, they stepped out in FAITH, COURAGE and in CURIOSITY.

4. Last of all, they stepped out into the Jerusalem streets early that Easter morning because they were motivated by LOVE.

They were motivated by their love for God.

They were motivated by their love for Jesus.

They were motivated by their love for their spiritual family that Jesus had created from among his faithful disciples.

Lastly, they were motivated by their love of others who had never known Jesus, had never felt his healing touch, had never heard his words of life and had never seen the glory of God shining in his face.

The love that moved them to action that morning was, in fact, not from themselves at all, but from God. It was God’s love that motivated them, the same love that brought Jesus to earth in the first place; The same love that led him to lay down his life for his friends, and, as the women were soon to discover, it was the same love of God that had conquered death and raised Jesus to life that very morning!

A good Boy Scout should be “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

A good Christian, however, should always be motivated by FAITH, COURAGE, CURIOSITY and LOVE.

Without these there would have been no Easter and without these there would have been no one to discover the empty tomb or to meet the risen Christ face to face.

Let these Easter women be role models for your own life.

Christ arose, but he chose these women to be the first witnesses to the greatest event in the history of the world.

If you want to experience the creative and healing power of God in your life; if you want to experience what it is like to be refreshed, renewed and reborn; if you want to experience the forgiveness of your sin and receive the assurance of God that you have been saved to live with him forever; then I invite you this morning to:

--Step out in faith, trusting that God will complete any good thing that you have begun for his glory;

--Step out with courage, risking everything on Jesus Christ and the salvation that he has won for us.

--Step out in curiosity, asking questions, seeking answers, peeking around corners and looking for God in every place and in every thing and in every idea.

--Step out in love in response to the love God has shown to you in Jesus Christ. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Love others as Christ has loved you.

Step out and walk . . . no, I mean run to the tomb of Jesus! If you do you will find that it is empty this morning. If you do you will be filled with wonder and fear and joy all at the same time. If you do you will return a different person than you were when you left.

But if you do not step out in faith, courage, curiosity and love like those women disciples of Jesus then nothing in your life will change. It will all remain the same. Forever. The women knew better. And they were proven to have been right all along.

Follow them this morning. Follow them so that, like them, you, too, will become a follower of Jesus. See? The tomb is empty. He is not here! He is risen! The power of Death to hold you has been destroyed! With Jesus you are free! You are free! Alleluia! Amen!

--by Jim Tweedie, Pastor
Mililani Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Palestinian Christians Suffer & Die Under Palestinian Authority (Cont.)

These are acutely trying times for the Christian remnant residing in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority. Tens of thousands have abandoned their holy sites and ancestral properties to move abroad, while those who remain do so as a beleaguered and dwindling minority Christians, who used to comprise the vast majority of the residents in the Bethlehem area, will fall past a critical point—and their community will no longer be viable.

Palestinian Christian leaders who should be protecting their co-religionists are instead abandoning them to the forces of radical Islam. Muslim religious law (Sharia) is an enormous influence on the inner workings of the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, the Palestinian Constitution states, "the Sharia will be the paramount source of legislation." By granting Islamic law primacy over every other legal source, including international human rights conventions, the minorities living in the Palestinian Authority are denied proper redress via the courts.

In fact, the Christians have little protection at all from any source, and have faced virtually uninterrupted persecution during the decade since the Oslo peace process began. They live amid a dominant (greater than 98 percent) Muslim population that is increasingly agitated and xenophobic. Intimidation is directed at Christians who dare question the political, economic and social agenda of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist groups.

Some of the patterns of persecution include denial of employment, wide-spread sexual harassment resulting in some Christian women adopting the modest Muslim dress code, boycotting and taking over of Christian businesses, and rape and forced marriages between Muslim men and Christian women.

In this environment, it's not surprising that Canada. granted religious asylum to Jamal Rashid (a pseudonym used to protect his identity) and eventually his entire family, after he escaped a Palestinian jail. Following an investigation, the Canadian embassy in Israel concluded that Rashid was being tortured, while in custody, based solely upon his voluntary conversion to Christianitv. Even the Palestinian Authority police were unable to explain why he had been in jail in the first place.

Unlike nearly all of the other interviewed Christian victims, Ahmad El-Achwal no longer needs his identity protected by a pseudonym. His six-year ordeal ended in 2004 when masked Hamas gunmen shot him to death.

El-Achwal was a Muslim who converted to Christianity after being arrested on trumped-up charges. After being acquitted, the Palestinian Authority went after El-Achwal without mercy. In their attempts to force El-Achwal to revert to Islam, they tortured him so severely that he required lengthy hospitalization.

His Achilles tendon was cut open. Cigarettes were extinguished all over his body; he was beaten with electric cables and scalded by burning torture implements on his back and buttocks. Hiding out in Jerusalem, El-Achwal returned to visit his wife and eight children at his apartment in the Askar Refugee Camp near Nablus on the West Bank. El-Achwal was soon identified and beaten by a group of men whose faces were covered with keffeyahs. They also threatened his life. His car was torched and his apartment firebombed.

El-Achwal was promised that if he reverted to Islam, he would be freed from prison and appointed to a high-ranking Palestinian Authority job with a large office.

Despite all of this intimidation, El-Achwal continued to operate a makeshift church out of his apartment.

The human rights campaign must continue until the abuses listed above are no longer practiced. Wider support for this campaign should be forthcoming not only from Christians, but also from anyone and everyone who cares about human rights. Thanks to the International Religious Freedom Act, enacted with bipartisan support in 1998 by the U.S. Congress, a wide range of diplomatic, political and economic tools are available to the U.S. president and the State Department in fighting religious persecution. Pursuant to this statute, arrest, torture and murder on religious grounds are deemed "persecution."

It's too late to do anything for Ahmad El-Achwal, but the remaining Palestinian Christians should be able to practice their religion freely and live normal lives. It is inconceivable that in this day and age, with the global emphasis on individual rights, that Palestinian Christians are left defenseless at the mercy of their oppressors.

Justus Reid Weiner is a scholar-in-residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a Jerusalem-based institute for policy research. He is also the author of "Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society. "

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Thoughts On God's Forgiveness #4

Kasham asks, So, if I am forgiven by Jesus of all my sin then I can do anything I want and it won't matter, I'll still enter Paradise.

Some of the first Christians also were confused on this very matter and actually claimed what you say to be true. They were severely chastised and rebuked for this. In Romans 6:1-6 we read,

1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

"5If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--
This is very simple for a Christian to understand. It is what our faith is built on. This why the New Testament declares of Jesus, "that there is no other name in heaven and on earth by which we must be saved."

A good, sincere and faithful Christian will, by their free choice, try to please God in all be obedient to his commandments (especially the command to Love God and Love Neighbor)...and to avoid the things that might tempt them to turn astray.

Christians need not do this in order to enter Paradise....but because they have already received the promise of God that Jesus Christ has saved them from their sin. Christians live good lives out of gratitude for what God has already done for them.

This is why Christians are not "fatalists" (at least not as regards salvation). Christians are, or ought to be, optimists as regards to their eternal destination because, as the Bible tells us, our hope is "certain." Why? Because,

"God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" (Numbers 23:19)
Through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God has promised me eternal life. (John 3:16) I, for one, am happy to hold God to his Word!

Thoughts On God's Forgiveness #3


The Muslim and Christian view of God/Allah is, in fact, very similar. The names of God as recited in your faith (a traditional list with commentary can be found here) are all acceptable to Jews and Christians as descriptive of God's nature.

Yes, of course God is a merciful and a forgiving God. But God is also a holy God; pure and spotless and perfect in righteousness. None of us come close to this. We all fall short of the glory of God. This is what Christians call sin...falling short of the holiness that we were created to enjoy.

Besides the nature and person of Jesus Christ, one of the biggest differences between Muslims and Christians is how we believe God deals with our sin.

You, Ghazan, and Kashan before you, have described the relationship between our sin and the attitude of our heart towards God. Christians agree with this, too. When we turn away from our sinful nature and set our eyes on loving, serving and pleasing God, this is what we call "repentence." For Christians, this is the first step a person takes in is a step that is necessary for a person to receive the assurance of God's forgiveness and salvation.

The difference between us is that you state that God can forgive who he pleases.... God declares that he will forgive the sins of a man or woman whose heart is inclined towards him......whose goodness and righteousness exceeds their sin.

Chrisitians also believe this. But we also recognize something more. Our sin may have been forgiven but we are still sinners. No matter how good and righteous we may be, we will still carry that sinful part of us into Paradise where we will, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, begin the fall of humanity all over again by sinning again.

This raises an interesting question: If Adam and Eve were righteous prophets and yet sinned against God, why did God expel them from his presence. Why did God not simply forgive them in the same way that you believe God will forgive you and let them back into the garden?

The reason is that, once back in the garden, they would have sinned again.....and again....and again....

Sin was imbedded in Adam and Eve in the same way it is embedded in us a malignant tumor that eats at us and eventually brings death to us....even if 80-90% of the rest of our body is healthy and fit.....Yet because of the tumor, we will still die, just as a mostly righteous man will also die because of the sin that is in him. No matter how small the sin, it will still be enough to kill him.

Forgiveness was not enough. God's holiness and perfect righteousness requires that we also be holy and righteousness if we are to ever stand in his presence in Paradise. Holy and unholy, righteous and unrighteous cannot stand side by side.

This is why Christians believe that Jesus is the Savior of the World. At the time of his baptism, John the Baptist prophesied of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Note that Jesus does not just take away the sins of the world, the bad things that we do....John declares that Jesus takes away the SIN of the world....Sin itself is taken away.

Forgiving a sin is like treating a symptom of a disease. What Jesus did was to remove the disease itself. Jesus cured us of sin. He removed it from us. Where did the sin go? The Injil tells us that Jesus took our sin upon himself and died with it.

When, in resurrection, we stand before God in judgement, the risen Jesus will stand alongside us and declare us to be not only forgiven but cleansed and purified totally and completely so that in holiness and righteousness we can live with God forever.

You ask, If Jesus took our sin, then he died a sinner and therefore he was neither a prophet nor was he sinless. How can this be?

My answer: Being righteous and holy, Jesus was immune to sin. He could embrace it and take to himself but it could not infect him. When he died on the cross, the sin, along with his body, died and was buried with him in the tomb. When he arose from the dead, the sin remained in the tomb (so to speak) dead and buried forever.

How can Jesus be righteous and holy? No human being can be righteous, holy and good. Jesus himself said so. When someone once called him, "Good teacher," Jesus replied by saying, "Why do you call me 'good?' There is only One who is "good." (meaning God). It is important to note that nowhere in this teaching does Jesus tell the man that he was wrong to call Jesus "good." He just wanted the man to know what he had unwittingly done, he had declared Jesus to be holy, righteous and good as only God can be holy, righteous and good.

Either Jesus was a sinner like you and me, and therefore could not bear our sin on the cross (in which case we are not saved) or else he was holy, righteous and good as only God can be holy, righteous and which case he is not only our Savior but is also our Lord. This is exactly what Jesus taught his followers when he said, "I and the Father are One." And again, "He who has seen me has seen the Father."

This is what every Christian confesses to believe when they claim Jesus to be their Lord and Savior.

Islam, however, does not offer a Savior.

God may indeed forgive your sins in the final judgement, Ghazan, but that forgiveness will not make you holy, righteous or spiritually clean. How do you think you can enter Paradise in the presence of God and take sin along with you? Is Paradise populated by millions of people who are "mostly good" but still doing "just a few" evil things against God and one another from time to time? How can a holy and righteous God tolerate such rebellion within his people. Surely they all will be cast out just like Adam and Eve were in the beginning.

Thoughts On the Doctrine of the Trinity

(On a more serious note, it seems that the concept of the Trinity is the major stumbling block between Christians, Jews and Muslims.)

Here is a thought about the concept of the Trinity. First of all we must dismiss the argument that the idea of the Trinity is absurd or illogical.

Pretend I am holding a dime in my hand. There is just one dime. Yet it also has a "heads" and a "tails" as well. One dime yet two surfaces. How can one dime be two different things? This would easily fit in with the Torah and Prophets who teach that God is present with us by the Holy Spirit. Clearly God cannot be present with us in his fullness lest be be destroyed, yet, by his Spirit, that which is truly God can indeed be "with us."

The coin is both heads and tails. But the coin has one more surface as well: its edge. How can one coin have three parts? Well, it is obvious that it does. If you remove any one of the parts you are left without a coin. The three parts are inseparable from the coin. As long as the coin has existed there have been these three parts. The "heads" is just as much the "coin" as is the "tails" and the "edge." Each part is fully and only composed of the unique essence of the coin.

Yet each of the three parts is unique and distinct from the other two parts.

This is what Christians mean when we say that we believe in One God in Three "Persons," Father, Son & Holy Spirit. The Father is God; the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. Yet each is distinct in their own right.

The prophets teach us that "God is not a man." This means that God is not to be thought of as we would think of a person. God is somehow more than singleness. Genesis tells us that God created Man in the image of God...not "Man" in the sense of one person, but in the combined sense of "Male and Female God created them."

The word often used for God in Hebrew is "el" which is singular. "One God." But the word is also used in its plural form, "elohim," to describe God. Not that there are more than one God but that the very nature and substance of God is somehow plural.

Islam denies this. Christianity affirms it. We also affirm that the eternal person of God that we call "the Son" entered this world in human flesh ("incarnate") and, in his human form, suffered and died for our sins and rose again to life to demonstrate God's power over sin and death, assuring us those who believe that we, too, shall experience resurrection and the gift (not earned, but given) of eternal life.

Folks are free to reject the idea that God is a Trinity of Persons but it would be a clear mistake to insist that the concept is illogical or absurd. It is, in fact, more illogical and absurd to require that God's nature be, of necessity, a singularity in some anthropomorphic sense. The very nature of God is shrouded in mystery. We can only glimpse God as God chooses to reveal himself to us. Everything else is guessing.


PS I am not debating or trying to prove anything here...just explaining.

Thoughts On God's Forgiveness #2

Kashan says "it is not true" that Jesus took our sins because we must bear our own burdens.

In the Christian faith this is not true. And it is not because of Paul. Jesus himself says, "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Here Jesus clearly tells us that when we are yoked with him he will bear the burden that we are not able to carry ourselves. This burden is, of course, sin.

The prophet Isaiah prophesied that a day would come when there would be one of whom it would be said,

"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53

The holiest day in Judaism is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On this day, God commanded that the blood of a sacrificed goat be sprinkled on the people as a sign of the forgiveness of their sin (the goat symbolicaly suffered on the people's behalf for their sins.) On a second goat, by the laying on of hands, the sins of the people were symbolically laid upon the animal, which was then set loose to carry the sins away into the wilderness.

God teaches us clearly that we are not able to carry the burden of sins by ourselves. For our sins to be forgiven God requires "atonement" or the payment of a price by means of suffering or sacrifice. No mere animal is sufficient for this, of course, and no mere human can endure the suffering or, in righteousness, pay the price for the atonement of the sins of the world. God alone, who is Life and Light is able to bear that suffering and provide the righteousness needed to satisfy the forgiveness of sin.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ was without sin (something that God and his prophets have taught us is not possible for any mere human to accomplish) and took our sins upon himself on the cross so that we might be relieved of the unbearable burden of them.

Jesus himself "forgave sin" during his ministry....something that no "prophet" has ever done before or since. Only God can forgive sins that offend God.

Christians believe that in Jesus Christ, God revealed his very self to us. Jesus was, as the Injil itself tells us (again quoting from Isaiah), that Jesus was Immanuel...a title that means, "God with us."

When asked if he was the "Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Most High God," Jesus replied, "I AM." A response that not only affirms the answer to the question but also claims for himself the Divine name of God revealed to Moses.

I suppose the the prophets, the Injil and Jesus, himself, were completely wrong on this point...which would mean that they were not prophets at all. The alternative is that Jesus was who he was prophesied to be and that he was who he claimed to be.

If Jesus does not fulfill God's requirement for the atonement of our sins by a sinless "other" then who does? If there is no one to fulfill this requirement then we are still in our sins and as righteous as a bunch of "filthy rags" (Isaiah again).

That does not bode well for a final judgement.

This post is too long already. I'll add something on the Trinity shortly and separately.


Thoughts On God & God's Forgiveness #1

I wrote the article that started this thread. I am a Christian Pastor in Hawaii. I have Muslim friends. I am part of the Hawaii Multi-Faith Leadership Forum that includes the President of the Hawaii Muslim Association/Mosque President and am friends with the Muslim School Headmaster who I have twice invited to share what Musllims believe with my adult Sunday School class (he as also proofed the Islam portion of my World Religions material and affirmed it as accurate). I correspond on matters related to Islam with a Muslim Professor at a Major American University. I have read the Qur'an twice(yes, I spell it Qur'an...sorry Noanchor...just like I spell Aqaba and Qatar properly) in two English translations and refer to it in study often. I do not believe that I have the integrity to speak about another person's faith unless I personally know it as well or better than most believers.

Having said that, I must express my personal belief that the God of Islam is distant, impersonal and unreachable. The God revealed to us in the Old Testament and more clearly in the Injil is near to us by his Holy Spirit, personal in his desire to love and be loved and reachable through the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascention of his eternal Son, Jesus Christ.

From this I conclude that either the Muslim concept of God is a regressive one (such as is found in American Unitarianism) or is simply a different God altogether from the God of Abraham, David and Jesus.

The Christian God is both perfectly merciful (in forgiving our sins) and perfectly holy and just (in requiring penalty for our sin).

The Muslim God can neither be perfectly merciful mor perfectly holy or just. For at judgment, Allah only forgives the sins of those whose righteousness exceeds their sin (refusing to extend mercy to those whose sins exceed their righteousness) and also fails to impose any penalty for the sins committed by those whose righteousness exceeds their sin.

This is as though a Judge in a court of law told a convicted child molester, "Well, you have done more good things than bad things in your life so I'm going to let you go free. Your sin? Forgetaboutit. No Penalty. Next case."Such a God may be merciful to some but, in so doing, makes a mockery of justice and permits the unchanged sinner into Paradise along with their sin.

For the sake of brevity, one final thought. If Islam is so willing, open and confident in its intellectual, historical and spiritual superiority, why are other faiths banned, restricted or persecuted in Muslim countries? What are they afraid of? If Islam is so "open" and "civilized" why does it impose the death penalty (shirk) on those who, of their own free will, desire to convert to another faith?

I find it ironic that this dialogue on the relative merits of Islam and Christianity are taking place in a forum and a country where the freedom to do so is grounded in the Christian principals of individual live, freedom and the pursuit of happiness and truth.

This dialogue could not even take place in a Muslim nation, especially one governed by Sharia.In this manner the superiority of Islam is demonstrated by its denial of the very rights that we are here enjoying.Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by me.

He also said, You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

May it be so. Insha Allah. Salaam.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Badlands of Al Anbar

The Badlands of Al Anbar
Cutting the ratlines and quashing the insurgency in Western Iraq
By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

Insurgencies are not put down in a fortnight. But considering the successes in the recent counter-insurgency sweep in Iraq's Al Anbar Province, one fact becomes obvious to anyone with so much as a sliver of an understanding of ground combat operations: Eliminating the insurgency in Iraq is best left to those who best know how to do it.

Not the White House: Americans learned the hard way in both Vietnam and the Iranian desert that the Oval Office should never call the tactical shots once forces are committed to action. President Bush understands this, and thus — to all of our benefit — does not micromanage his commanders in the field.

Certainly not the House and Senate: Many on Capitol Hill seem more concerned about scoring points with their stateside constituencies than they are the Marines and soldiers who must battle the enemy on the ground. And make no mistake, the ground along the Euphrates River valley and up along the Syrian border has been the stage of an ongoing series of running gun-battles between insurgents and coalition troops for months.

Therein lies the obvious: The troops on the ground, taking the fight to the enemy, are the ones who best know how to quash the insurgency. They are doing so systematically. The proof is in the results of their work (whether opponents of the war want to believe it or not), and the vast majority of those troops express no intention of abandoning that country with work to be done.

Much of the most recent "work" is within the realm of Operation Steel Curtain, launched Nov. 5 against a string of villages and townships along the Iraqi-Syrian frontier. Steel Curtain is a subordinate operation to the larger, ongoing Operation Hunter, which began in July when U.S. and Iraqi forces began sweeping the Euphrates River valley with the dual-goal of cutting the insurgent ratlines from Syria and establishing a permanent Iraqi military presence in the Al Qaim region.

Success has been achieved in both cutting the lines and bolstering the presence. Additionally, nearly 40 weapons caches have been discovered and destroyed in just over two weeks, and civilian residents of the region are now leaving displacement (refugee) camps and returning to their homes.

But what makes Steel Curtain different from previous actions is that an increasing number of al Qaeda senior leaders are being captured or killed (a sign that the number of insurgent junior leaders and foot soldiers is decreasing), more outlaw towns and villages are being liberated (thanks to human-source intelligence from residents disgusted by what the insurgents are doing to their country), and a greater number of Iraqi soldiers are taking the lead in both scouting operations and offensive actions.

The biggest problem remains the porous borders.

"The Syrian border is full of active smuggler routes that have been in use for centuries," says Lt. Col. Bryan P. McCoy, who commanded 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines in the Al Anbar Province during the invasion phase as well as the spring 2004 Fallujah operations. "During Saddam's era, they were used by black marketeers and Bedouin nomads. Now they are used by the insurgents."

McCoy, who currently serves as operations officer for the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, tells National Review Online, the smuggling routes are connected by a network of way-stations covering a vast region: Some border stretches are rural and isolated. Others are developed and populated.

Of course, such an environment is conducive to the infiltration of foreign fighters and weapons, as well as the exfiltration of terrorists, regrouping guerrilla units, weapons merchants, and, yes, any type of weapon or weapons system Saddam Hussein might have wanted out of Iraq in 2003.

The question is not so much how to shut down the border crossings — there are simply too many — but how best to interdict the border crossers.

"The issue becomes persistent surveillance and a persistent presence over a very large area," McCoy says. "Meanwhile, you have to have a presence in the towns and cities, which — due to the dense and dissected nature of that terrain — requires a lot of people."

It's a simple question of numbers, he adds: "You're either in one place or you're in the other. The insurgents and the smugglers know where you are, and where you are not.And they use that information to their advantage."

Nevertheless, Steel Curtain has freed the towns of Husaybah, Karabilah, and — as I write this — Coalition forces are rooting out the insurgents in Ubaydi. And with more Iraqi infantry companies coming online, a permanent security presence is being established in the region. "We have taken out a significant chunk of the al Qaeda leadership in these areas," Capt. Patrick Kerr, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Division in Ramadi, tells NRO. "We believe these operations out west and the frequent disruption operations we are conducting throughout the province — such as in Ramadi and Fallujah — have severely impacted the insurgents' ability to fight."

The insurgents operating in the Euphrates River corridor are a mixed bag. Though reports vary from think tank to agency to commanders on the ground, most agree that many of the guerrilla leaders are al Qaeda Sunnis, whom U.S. forces officially refer to as al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The AQI guerrillas are led by Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. Others are al Qaeda or AQI-sympathizing foreigners from various points throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Some are Hezbollah. Some Hamas. Some are Chechen, considered by many Marines and soldiers to be the toughest fighters in the insurgency. Many bad guys are simply poorly trained locals who have been whipped into a frenzy by older, more seasoned terrorists. Unfortunately, most of the young locals wind up as suicide bombers or as opium-pumped members of "sacrifice squads."

Insurgent tactics run the gamut from Banzai-like suicide charges launched by the small "sacrifice squads" screaming "Allahu Akbar!" as they attack Marine riflemen — suicide indeed — to wiring houses and other buildings with bombs, taking families hostage (specifically using women and children as human shields), kidnapping children to force parents into compliance, and detonating bombs in civilian crowds.

In all cases, weapons are plentiful: Assault rifles, light machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), mortars, and the biggest casualty producer of them all, the improvised explosive device (IED). The bad guys also have laptop computers, portable GPS receivers, cell and satellite phones, but almost no night-vision equipment.

Further east, toward Baghdad, the insurgency is similar in terms of weapons and tactics — as evidenced by Friday's horrific mosque bombings and Saturday's attack on a funeral procession — but has its roots stretching north into Iran.

Despite the dangers encountered in operations like Steel Curtain, U.S. and Iraqi forces are also enjoying what they see as desperate, even "comical," incidents on the part of AQI-insurgents, whom the Marines have dubbed "the mighty jihadi warriors."

In more than one instance — and to the delight of American and Iraqi troops — insurgents have been caught attempting to flee the battlefield dressed as women: Considered a particularly disgraceful act among Iraqis.

"They've proven to be cowards," says Kerr. "We found a number of them skulking among a flock of sheep trying to escape in Ubaydi, and there have been several instances of insurgents dressing up as women trying to escape."

In one instance, Iraqi soldiers discovered three foreign fighters dressed as women trying to enter an Iraqi displacement camp. "The Iraqi soldiers wound up killing them after the insurgents revealed their identity and tried to engage the Iraqi soldiers with AK-47s hidden under their dresses," says Kerr.

Currently, the Iraqi security forces are comprised of more than 200,000 Iraqi soldiers and paramilitary policemen. Of that number, some 15,000 Iraqi soldiers are operating in Al Anbar, and approximately 1,000 of those soldiers have been fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with 2,500 U.S. Marines, sailors, and soldiers in Steel Curtain. That's 10-times the 100 Iraqi soldiers who participated in Operation Spear, also in Al Anbar, in June.

Many of the current numbers have been recruited locally where insurgents are now losing both face and ground. And many of the new recruits are serving in specially trained Scout Platoons (also known as "Desert Protectors"), hearkening back to the 19th-century American plains Indians who served as scouts with U.S. Army cavalry units. Like the Native American scouts in the Wild West, Iraqi scouts in Al Anbar are prized by U.S. forces for their courage, navigational skills, ability to relate with tribal leaders, and an understanding of local customs and dialects.

According to Kerr, the scouts and Iraqi infantry have had a huge impact on the success of Steel Curtain. "They have been the biggest difference between this operation and past operations in the area," he says. "They see things that U.S. forces just do not see. They recognize those who do not belong, and they are every bit as committed to eliminating the insurgency as their coalition counterparts."

Steel Curtain is the first operation in which Iraqi Scout Platoons have been deployed.

A surge in recruiting numbers in untamed regions like the Al Anbar Province is not the only measure of progress American commanders are seeing within the Iraqi military. Iraqi units are performing well operationally, and Iraqi soldiers are now almost always the vanguard units kicking down the doors on any given mission. Still there are challenges for U.S. forces standing up the Iraqi units.

"My biggest frustration is that they still operate under a centralized decision-making process," U.S. Army Col. Michael Cloy, a Fort Jackson, S.C.-based brigade commander and the senior military advisor for the 2nd Iraqi Army (Light) Infantry Division in Mosul, tells NRO. "Many of their subordinate leaders, even at division level, are tentative in their decision making for that reason. They will always look up for permission as opposed to operating on initiative. That's due to the fact that they've been beaten down for years. If anybody was seen as displaying initiative in the past, they were usually done away with."

Cloy says he and his officers are effectively coaching the Iraqi military officers on the various particulars of leadership — especially when poor examples of decision-making are witnessed — but with a gentle hand.

"We will pull the officer off to the side, but we have to be careful," says Cloy. "In this culture of shame and honor, you do not want to embarrass anybody. Sometimes we have to step back and repair the relationship."

Iraqis are learning to fight for themselves, and they're proving their worth as combat soldiers daily in operations like Steel Curtain. But the learning process is "slow and deliberate," says Cloy. "These things take time."

Of course many — who, again, don't understand the complexities of ground combat — rail against President Bush for not conceding "defeat" and withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. But how could we responsibly withdraw from a fight — that terrorists and terror-sponsoring nations fear we will win — when we have the enemy on the ropes? Why should we shut down operations in Al Anbar and elsewhere in Iraq when we continue to glean solid intelligence from captured foreign fighters in that country about terrorist activities, worldwide? Why should we abandon a new nation and its people who we've made promises to, and they've responded in kind with their own enormous sacrifices and courageous votes? And why should we abandon a growing and remarkably developed military force that we've stood up from scratch in less than three years?

And despite what the cut-and-run crowd would have us believe, American troops on the ground are not deceptively recruited pawns in some unfortunate military adventure. U.S. soldiers and Marines in Al Anbar and elsewhere in Iraq know exactly what they are doing, and why. They also see the fruits of their labors, which, to their consternation, are rarely reported.

Speaking before a group of U.S. airmen in South Korea, Saturday, President Bush said, "There are some who say that the sacrifice is too great, and they urged us to set a date for withdrawal before we have completed our mission. Those who are in the fight know better."

Indeed, says Capt. Kerr, "We have the initiative and we intend to keep driving hard against these guys [insurgents]. Our goal is to stay on the offensive and capitalize on the considerable momentum we have."

The author— A former U.S. Marine infantry leader and paratrooper, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans and on the West Bank. He is the author of four books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications.