A Woman's Perspective On The Times We Live In


December 19, 2014

The Spirit of Chanukah

   
     As one who embraces the Jewish roots of my faith, I strive to comprehend what it is God would have me understand about His various Feast days and those holidays celebrated by the Hebrew faithful.  And since the holiday of Chanukah began at sundown on the 16th of December, and will continue for eight days, I want to take a look at its historical significance and how I can relate it to my Christian walk in this current age.
     You will get the fullest picture of the origin of Chanukah by reading the First and Second Books of  Maccabees.  You will not find these books in our modern Protestant Bibles.  They were, however, part of the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek language.  This was accomplished in the third and second centuries B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt.  Because Israel was under the authority of Greece for several centuries, the Greek language became more and more common. By the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C., most people in Israel spoke Greek as their primary language.
     As to why the Books of the Maccabees are no longer part of the Biblical canon, and have never been part of the Hebrew Bible, I have no definitive answer.  I am not a Torah scholar, and I am far from all-knowing when it comes to Bible history.  Suffice it to say that for centuries the Books were lost to both the Christian and Jewish faiths due to politics, religious squabbles, and man's interference.  But now there is renewed interest in them for their historical value by both faiths.  Although not considered canon, they are a major contributor to our understanding as to the origin and significance of the holiday Chanukah.  I think you will find fascinating parallels to what we are experiencing today.
     So what do these compelling Books have to say about the time period in which the celebration of Chanukah first began?  Remember, that most people in Israel spoke Greek as their first language.  And there lies a big problem.  How did this happen?  In the wake of Alexander the Great's conquering of the known world, he wanted to "Hellenize" all the vanquished people.  In other words, he wanted to make them as Greek as possible, destroying their native religions and traditions.  After his death in 323 B.C., his empire was split between four of his generals. Two of the ensuing kingdoms (the Ptolemies in Egypt, and the Seleucids in Syria) would greatly influence Jewish history, as the land of Israel found itself situated between these two rival kingdoms.
    Antiochus Epiphanes would become the Seleucid king in 175 B.C., and he was able to take advantage of the division within the Jewish community; between those who wanted to become "more Greek", and those who wanted to maintain "traditional" values and practice their faith according to their covenant with God.  But Antiochus became extremely arrogant, demanding that all peoples unite in a common religion (his), and abandon their traditions and practices according to the Law (teachings) of Moses.
     Not only did the Hebraic Jews, who were faithful to God, find an enemy in Antiochus Epiphanes, but also adversaries among the Hellenized Jews.  To show just how devastating were the policies of the Greek tyrant, Epiphanes, the Jewish religious practices were forbidden; dietary laws were not to be observed; objects associated with Jewish worship were destroyed; the observance of sabbath and feast days was made illegal (punishable by death); circumcision was forbidden; and the Jewish sacred books were burned. In essence, he attempted to destroy the Jewish people and their faith.
      But a recurring theme in the Bible is the fact that God always keeps a remnant who are faithful to Him -- even amidst persecution and apostasy.  At the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, that faithful few can be found in Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons.  They revolt against the Hellenizing policies of the Greek tyrant, as well as the Jewish collaboration of their own people.  When Antiochus orders a pig to be sacrificed on the altar in God's Temple, Mattathias slays the heretical priest who would do so, and flees with his sons to the hills outside of Jerusalem.  With his ragtag army, he vows to defend his nation and his covenant with God.
     For nearly 25 years, a civil and religious war is waged -- Jew against Jew; between those willing to defend God's covenant against those who would compromise their faith to be "politically correct".  In addition, the maniacal rage of Antiochus Epiphanes against the Jews who dared to revolt against him resulted in massive persecution.  "There was a massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of virgins and infants. In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery." (2 Maccabees 5:11-14).
     After the first three years of war, the Maccabees, now led by Judas after his father Mattathias's death, are able to recapture Jerusalem.  When Judas and his supporters arrive at the Temple, they find it desecrated by ungodly pagan sacrifices using pigs, the altar of the Lord destroyed, and a statue of the Greek god Zeus erected in its place.  Judas and his followers tear down the pagan altar and rebuild a new altar, as prescribed by Moses' teachings.  They then purify the Temple and make new sacred vessels; they brought the lamp stand, the altar of incense, and the table of showbread into the temple.  They rededicate the Temple and the new altar to the Lord, on the anniversary of the date it had first been defiled by the Gentile Greeks.
     1 Maccabees 4:56-59 says, "For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered holocausts and sacrifices of deliverance and praise ... Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness on the anniversary every year for eight days ...".  2 Maccabees 10:7 says, "they lighted lamps and celebrated for eight days in the manner of the festival of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles)".
    This is the origin of the eight-day celebration of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. Part of the modern story of Chanukah includes the legend that when the lamp stand (menorah) was lit, the appointed priests discover that there is only one vial of pure lamp oil with the special seal still intact. They use this vial to light the menorah, and miraculously, it stays lit for eight days, by which time fresh pure oil has been pressed and delivered to the Temple.  It is this "miracle" that is also celebrated during the Chanukah festivities.
     Whether or not this "miracle" actually happened is not for me to say.  I would point out, however, that when you read the First and Second Books of Maccabees, you will find no mention of oil being required for the lighting of the "lamps".  And there are some Jewish scholars who will point out that this part of the story didn’t become significant until hundreds of years later. Having witnessed the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD (by the Romans) and two failed rebellions, the Rabbis of the day wanted to de-emphasize the notion of might and fighting – which wasn’t working so well. They added the miracle of the oil to the Oral Tradition to shift the focus toward faith in God.
     I do not wish to take issue with the veracity of the Chanukah "miracle".  It doesn't really concern me or diminish the importance of this holiday.  Much of our Christian "traditions" and holidays have no Biblical foundation, yet can be observed in a way that honors God's Word.  And as I have grown in my desire to know God's Truth (rather than man's interpretation and embellishment), I find myself shunning the commercialization and myths associated with our own Christmas holiday and choosing a "simpler, more honest" celebration of God's great love in sending His Son into our fallen world.
     I know that Yeshua was not born on December 24th, but I can celebrate the fact that He came as an innocent child to bring us salvation.  I do not disparage those who choose to enjoy the lights and glitter and displays of the Christmas holiday; I just look upon those displays differently now -- enjoying them, but without assigning them a heavenly significance.  My emotional response to the holiday is now centered on the "miracle" of my Savior's birth.
     So, too, does the holiday of Chanukah retain it's foundational importance.  I can look upon it as historical fact; when everything that Evil could manifest against God's Holy Temple was washed away; when the Temple was rededicated and created anew.  I can honor the fact that Chanukah mimics an eight-day celebration just like the Feast of Tabernacles, which celebrates when God's presence was with them amidst the Tabernacle in the desert.  I can appreciate it being the "Festival of Lights", noting that the tradition of lighting the menorah celebrates the dedication of a group of faithful Jews to restore their faith, and to protect it against the schemes of the world that would compromise it.  I can celebrate the victory against Evil that Chanukah represents.  Perhaps most importantly, I can celebrate that Chanukah represents religious freedom; to pursue your faith as established by God's holy covenant with all believers.  And I can be thankful that God is connecting the dots for me, and opening the doors to greater understanding of His ways.  There is much to celebrate ... Happy Chanukah!

Revelation 14:12    "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus."


December 18, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas

   
     Today is the twenty-second anniversary of the opening of the first Fisher House at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX.  As we have for the past three years, PLW and I journeyed the couple of hours to serve a Christmas luncheon to our servicemen and women, their family members, and the dedicated staff that helps care for and rehabilitate them.
     As part of a service organization called Angel Chefs, we periodically come into the Fisher House to provide several days of home-cooked meals to give a respite to family members, and to show our veterans that we support and honor their service.  It is a simple, yet heartfelt method to show our gratitude.
     (In case you are unfamiliar with the history of Fisher Houses, let me give you a brief history.  Zachary Fisher was a wealthy New York philanthropist who answered the call for temporary lodging facilities for our wounded veterans and their families while they are recuperating from their debilitating injuries.  In 1990, he and his wife, Elizabeth, began the non-profit Fisher House program, dedicating more than $20 million to the construction of comfort homes for families of hospitalized military personnel -- free of charge. These "home away from home" facilities vary in size, and can accommodate 16 to 42 family members; oftentimes for months on end.  There are currently 64 Fisher Houses located on 23 military installations and 24 VA medical centers, with more planned in the future... and all are built from private donations.  The U.S. government is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the homes.)
     This Christmas at Fisher House was no different, in many aspects.  I don't think I will ever become accustomed to the sight of 19 and 20-year-olds with missing limbs, due to the horrors of IED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I am continually amazed at the acceptance of their condition and the determination with which they work at reclaiming their lives.  But I also see the pain and the weariness that comes from knowing their life is changed forever.  Then there is the disguised emotions on the faces of wives and parents, whose own lives have been altered by the need to care for their loved ones.
     While our Christmas cheer provides a moment of respite from the countless days of rehabilitation, no home-cooked meal can ever repay these veterans and their families for what they have sacrificed on our behalf.  We have so little to give in return for their bravery and commitment to keep our nation safe.  The blessings we receive by being in the company of these heroes is so much greater than any comfort we bestow on them.
     But this year, there was an added poignancy to our Fisher House experience.  Through the years, we have grown to respect and love Inga Godfrey, the Director of Fisher Houses at Fort Sam, and the much-beloved "House Mother" to all the inhabitants.  With her thick German accent, Inga runs a tight ship; but her capacity to watch over her families and love them through the hard times knows no bounds.
     The meal preparations were being well-handled by the group of Angel Chefs, so Inga commissioned PLW and myself to accompany her and Mr. & Mrs. Claus to the vast Medical Center on Post.  We loaded up bags of wrapped toys and proceeded room to room, with a carefully prepared list of children whose day needed to be brightened just a little.

Our littlest heroes, and Santa's elves (Inga and PLW)
     Each of these children had at least one parent on active duty in our military.  Some were cancer patients; others were hematology patients; still more were sick from various infections and viruses.  It broke my heart to see these children suffering, and to think of the worry and anxiety their parents must be feeling.  I watched a staff of military doctors and nurses dedicated to treating them, and was so glad to see that they were being administered to with the best medical care possible.  And this is one use of my tax dollars that I do not begrudge.  We owe this to our military families and I pray that these benefits continue amidst all the efforts to cut the Defense budget.
     I was also glad to see that these children and their families were not just a number to the hospital staff, or to Inga.  She had coordinated with hospital administrators to find out the names and ages of the sickest of the children, and the gift they had requested from Santa.  Even PLW was coaxed into putting on an elf hat and carrying Santa's red bag of presents!  The wonder and the smiles on those little faces made us all forget the state of the world for just a moment; while the smallest of them, an eight-month-old little boy hooked up to tubes nearly reduced me to tears.  We locked eyes through his open door and I was once more aware how fragile this life is, and how every life is important.  His young mother welcomed us and talked of her son's fighting spirit; a fitting representative of the best of our American fighting forces.
     After making our rounds of the hospital, we returned to the Fisher House and served up our meal.  As I contemplated the huge dining room and its tables full of smiling faces, I didn't see missing limbs or devastated lives.  I saw a room full of courageous people; I saw champions and victors over the worst that war can inflict on a person.  And above all else, I saw the commitment, and the grace and mercy, that one person can give to another through the loving Spirit of Christ.  This is what Christmas should be all about!

1 Corinthians 13:7    "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

   

December 17, 2014

Could This Become Our Nightmare?

   
     No more excuses!  Everyone in this country should be fully awake now.  The horrendous massacre of innocent students in Peshawar, Pakistan is to be condemned by every human being on the planet.  But lest we think that this is a nightmare in some far-off land, we need to quit fooling ourselves and pretending that we are somehow exempt from such atrocities.
     We have a real enemy, people! It is an enemy that has broadcast their plans to strike us from within.  And from the 2004 Beslan school massacre, carried out by Islamic terrorists to this one in Pakistan, the surest way to devastate any nation is to harm its children.  So let's not be naive.  It is by the grace of God that we have yet to suffer such a tragedy.
    It is time the American people got real about what we are facing.  It is time we made plans to protect our most innocent citizens.  Read William Forstchen's Day of Wrath, and you will see how easily this threat could be carried out against our politically correct society.  Ignoring the extent of the depravity ... reports of headless children; teachers burned alive in front of students; suicide bombs placed amongst the children ... will not make it disappear, or less likely to occur again.  And we must not make it easy for the terrorists to commit such a horrendous campaign on our soil.
     Do you think they aren't aware that our schools are "gun-free zones"?  And do you think that well-armed and well-trained teachers just might be a deterrent to their evil plans?  When are we going to realize that the Western mindset of civilized and rational behavior is no defense against ancient cultures that celebrate cruel and savage attacks to demoralize their enemy?
      And for all those who, in recent days, have criticized the CIA and their advanced interrogation methods as "torture", I would ask you to consider this ... if you knew that your child was going to be in that Pakistani school this morning when the terrorists stormed through a cemetery to launch their attack, would you approve of a water boarding session -- or a few nights without sleep -- of one of the terrorists in order to gain information to stop the possibility of your child being shot, beheaded, or worse?
     I have heard people referring to the CIA methods as "barbaric" and "diabolical".  While, I absolutely hate the idea of war and what it makes men do to each other, I cannot equate interrogating a prisoner to the merciless and monstrous acts of these terrorists.  It is they, who are the barbarians.  And, unfortunately, what we may be called upon to do to stop Evil incarnate, goes against everything that our faith asks us to do in serving our fellow man.  While I never want to take another person's life, I have decided I must adopt the attitude of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who faced the worst that the devil could throw at him, in the person of Adolph Hitler.
     Pastor Bonhoeffer made the difficult decision to become involved in an assassination plot against the Fuhrer.  As he struggled with his conscience, he came to the final conclusion that God would have to understand that his decision was based on the need to stop such heinous evil.  He would take his chances at the throne of God, instead of living one more day doing nothing to stop Hitler's atrocities.  Have you given thought to the idea that we, too, may soon be faced with similar dilemmas?
     It is time that we come out of our national fog.  It is time that we see our enemy for who he is.  It is time that each individual must decide what he is willing to do to protect himself, his family, and his nation.  And it is time that we turn back to our God in repentance and supplication to "Deliver us from Evil."
     This is more than a matter of law and order; Evil does not respect the rules of a society ... it demands chaos, ruin, and death.  Are we going to wait until it targets our children, or are we going to get mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually ready to defend what's ours?

Psalm 44:5    "Through You we will push down our enemies; through Your name we will trample those who rise up against us. For I will not trust in my bow, nor shall my sword save me. But You have saved us from our enemies, and have put to shame those who hated us. In God we boast all day long, and praise Your name forever."     

December 16, 2014

Securing My Personal Safety

     The title of today's blog post comes from the emergency warning issued by the U.S. consulate in Sydney, Australia, after an Islamist terrorist took hostages in a Sydney cafe yesterday.  American citizens were urged to "maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance [their] personal security".  I would like to suggest that it is a good idea for ALL Americans, EVERYWHERE, to follow that directive ALL THE TIME.  And since the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that our Second Amendment rights are vested in Individuals, I exercised that right this past weekend, and took definitive steps to secure my personal safety.
     It has been awhile since I've written anything about my decision over the last few years to add firearms training to my set of skills.  I've especially encouraged women to think about stepping outside their comfort zone and being responsible for learning how to defend themselves.
     It has not been easy for me.  Besides being among a minority of women in the classes, I am easily one of the oldest students on the range, and I'm not always efficient in the physical requirements of the courses.  But that is no reason to hinder myself from learning skills that could some day save my life.  In the final analysis, I am there for myself, and no one else.  Age, previous experience, or apprehension should not prohibit you from learning these skills.  Your life, that of a loved one, or an innocent person could someday rely on your ability to master a firearm.  If you still think that someone is coming to rescue you, or that nothing harmful will ever happen to you -- that's probably what those good folks in that coffee shop in Sydney thought yesterday morning, too.
     That is the reason why I signed up for my first Defensive Carbine class.  Now, you might think that women have no place in a Carbine class; nor could they possibly be as proficient with an automatic rifle as a man.  But, I'm here to tell you that me and my three women teammates held our own with the other 9 men in the class.  We covered the gamut in platforms -- from AK to AR to Sig 522, and we handled them well.  We matched the men when it came to learning basic skills, such as trigger reset, clearing malfunctions, tactical and combat reloads.  And we definitely kept pace when it came to shooting on the move and the various reactive drills and relays.  We learned to be effective shooters while reacting to a threat, as well as how to work under pressure as part of a team.  At the end of the two-day course, we could hold our heads high when it came to speed, stamina, and accuracy; and we can now be more confident that we can increase our chances of winning a gunfight, should we ever find ourselves in that situation.
     So, I'm sure there are still those who question why women should not simply be satisfied with handgun training.  I'll give you several recent reasons ... Moore, Oklahoma; New York City; Sydney, Australia; and Lower Salford, Pennsylvania  -- all within the last three months; and the latter two in the last 24 hours!  In case, you haven't noticed, the world is not as safe as it used to be.  And the threats come in many different forms ... beheadings, hatchets, "lone wolf" attacks, and random rampages.  The threats are domestic, as well as international.  ISIS is encouraging stateside attacks ... and no one can predict when or where they will occur.
     Yes, my handgun training is beneficial and highly important, but living within a couple hundred miles of the Texas/Mexico border, I can tell you that a handgun may not be enough to stop the potential threats we face.  More often than not, the unknown enemies will use carbines in their attacks; and in that instance, my pistol is not going to be as effective.  As several of our excellent trainers have taught us, "Your pistol is used to fight your way to your carbine."  In order to rise to that occasion and be skilled in defending myself, it only makes sense to learn this weapons platform as well; and learn it to the best of my ability.
     I am very lucky in that I am married to a man that is not only willing to teach me and train me, but he encourages me to know how to defend myself.  I don't want to sound like "Chicken Little", but the instability of the world, and the rise of Evil, demands that we all take the notion of "securing our personal safety" in a very serious manner -- men and women, alike!  Oftentimes law enforcement will only be reactive, and they arrive on the scene after the damage has been done.  It should be obvious that we cannot rely on someone else to come to the rescue; we must prepare and train in order to be proactive when it comes to our personal defense and safety.
     I am also extremely fortunate to have easy access to one of the best firearms training groups in the nation.  They are especially responsive to women wanting to learn defensive firearms training, and they help us develop the necessary mindset to learn these important skills.  It is important to note that these skills are not intuitive; one must train until they become second nature -- and then train some more.
     Unlike the women at the founding of our nation, or those that survived Indian raids on the frontier, Society has taught us that we should lay down and wait for someone to save us; instead, we must learn to save ourselves.  And me and my Sisters-in-Arms have just taken another important step down that road, just as the women throughout our history have done.  Thank God for self-reliant women and the Second Amendment!

Proverbs 31:25    "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come."


   
   

December 15, 2014

It Feels Like The Terminator Is At Our Doorstep!

     It seems that with each day, our future comes closer to resembling a screenplay for the next Terminator movie.  Make no mistake, I applaud the advancement in technology that can aid our Military men and women with the latest in prosthetic development.  I believe that every effort should be made to help them get back to their normal lives, and that being able to connect the device to peripheral nerves that allow for mind control of the prosthesis will help them do just that.  But where does it end?
     According to CBS News, there is an international team from South Korea and the United States that has designed what they call "smart skin".  It will help amputees "feel their environment, whether that be humidity in the air, or a warm, firm handshake."
    This skin has been designed to resemble natural skin, and it also features electroresistive heaters that emulate body heat. In a handshake, or on a baby's tummy, an artificial limb would give off a familiar warmth.  But, now we're getting close to the "creepy factor".  Are we to discern that it won't be long until machines and humans are interchangeable in all areas of our lives?
     One researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas says, "The [next] big challenge is to effectively interface these limbs with the human nervous system."  So, sounds like it won't be long until robots will move and feel like us.  And there is ongoing research and development that has them thinking like us.  Anybody else see Arnold Schwarzenegger waiting in the wings?
     Along those lines of thinking, the U.K.'s Mail Online, reports that "Robots that can think and act without human intervention are fast moving from fiction to reality ... The nuclear, aerospace, manufacturing and agricultural industries are starting to develop autonomous systems that can carry out tasks that are either too difficult or too dangerous for humans, while driverless cars are already with us."
     Then there's this bit of news, that Google has actually set up an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ethics Board to review the possibilities that AI could become a potential threat to humanity.  In fact, Google has purchased a London-based company called DeepMind, whose goal is to create software that tries to help computers think like humans.  (Has Google forgotten their corporate motto to "do no evil?)
     But here's the disturbing part of this new partnership:  Shane Legg, one of the founders of DeepMind, recently said this, in an interview:  "'Eventually, I think human extinction will probably occur, and technology will likely play a part in this."  Among all forms of technology that could wipe out the human species, he singled out artificial intelligence, or AI, as the "'number 1 risk for this century."
     And, so, these wise entrepreneurs and inventors now find themselves faced with developing "ethical" robots.  They want us to believe that we can trust robots; that we will always be safe in their presence, and that we should move forward into this new technological age -- at the same time that they state we need to pay attention to what is called the Asimov Three Laws of Robotics (named after sci-fi author Isaac Asimov):  1.  A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.  2.  A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.  3.  A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
     But the very fact that millions of dollars are being spent on research to convince us that robots can be autonomous, and non-threatening, tells me that there are some very real concerns.  And why the rush to bring robots to this advanced stage of creation?  It seems to be coming at us from all sides, and there are enough voices warning us that there is considerable danger.  This technology seems ripe for exploitation -- not only by man, but the power behind all evil creations, our old Enemy, Satan.  We would do well to listen those sounding the alarm that the biggest event in human history, just might be its last.

1 Corinthians 6:12   "All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything."

December 14, 2014

Jeremiah 6:10

To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.


     The entire Sixth Chapter of Jeremiah is a lament for how far the children of Israel have strayed from God.  The aging prophet speaks the Lord's truth over the nation and Jerusalem; they are full of oppression, violence and plundering.  They have committed abominations against the Lord and are unashamed.  They ignore the teachings of the Prophets and reject the Word of the Lord.  Jeremiah calls them "stubborn rebels", and warns that there is a refining fire coming upon the Land, in which the Lord will no longer protect them.  He asks if there is anyone who will listen to him, but knows that no one will hear because their ears have been closed by God because He is tired of their rebellion.
     How often have we read this same cautionary warning in the New Testament?  How many times did Jesus say, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!"  I will tell you that I am writing about this theme today because my husband had a recurring dream that I was to bring this to your attention, and that we were to pay special attention to exactly what it was that Jesus wanted us to hear.
     A glance at the Bible told me that our Lord spoke these words often, as an ancillary follow-up to His parables.  I found it interesting in Matthew 13, that the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke in parables, and He told them that the mysteries of Heaven had been given to certain people, but not to all.  As Matthew Henry, the 17th Century theologian, so eloquently puts it:  "A parable is a shell that keeps good fruit for the diligent, but keeps it from the slothful." 
     In other words, Knowledge is a gift from God, and through His Grace and Sovereignty, He gives or withholds it at His pleasure.  For the one who diligently wants to grow in his understanding of God, he will find that he hears the hidden message in the parables.  To those who hear God’s word, and see his divine interventions, and yet make no effort to understand and perceive His will, they will receive the teaching of the parables in vain.  The words of the Lord will be wasted on them, because their heart is hardened.
     So, just what did Jesus want us to hear?  In fact, in both Matthew 13, and Mark 9, the Parable of the Sower is repeated.  Apparently, God wants to make sure we get the meaning.  He is trying to teach the Disciples that the Gospel Message will not bear fruit among everyone with whom they share it.  There will be those who hear the Word, and it is easily taken from them because they do not guard it.  Others will embrace it for a time, but it has not pierced their hard hearts because it was laid in shallow ground.  Still others will hear the Word, but they are surrounded by forces that will choke the life out of it, and it cannot survive the sorrows of this world.  But they will have success when the Word is planted in a rich soil, and a yearning heart; it will grow, and spread and produce a harvest far beyond what was planted.  Those are the ones who will hear!
     In Mark, Chapter 4, is the difficult passage in which Jesus compares John the Baptist with the Prophet Elijah.  He reveals that the Spirit of Elijah, who was taken up to God, has now returned as God's Messenger through the Prophet John the Baptist.  When Jesus tells them, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear", He is telling them, in essence, that those things were dark and hard to understand, and therefore needed their attention.  They were of great concern and consequence, and deserved their full scrutiny.  If they were given the gift of hearing and understanding, then they needed to use it to understand that John the Baptist is the one of whom their prophet Malachi spoke; the one who would prepare the way for their Messiah.  It was incumbent upon them to use the gift of understanding that they had been given by God, so that they could share it with others who would hear.
     The same could be said of Christ's repeated command to the Seven Churches in the Book of Revelation:  "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."  This directive is repeated for each of the Seven Churches in Revelation 1-3.  Don't you think He wants us to pay special attention to what is plainly revealed to us in these passages?  The Lord makes it very clear that He holds these Churches in His Right Hand -- they are HIS churches!  
     As He points out the characteristics of each Church, He tells them to hear what He has to say to them.  To the Loveless Church (Ephesus), He tells them to overcome their strict, legalistic heart and return (repent) to exemplifying the Love of Christ that they first demonstrated.  If they will hear what He has to say, they will once again eat of the Tree of Life and exhibit new life in their church.
     To the Persecuted Church (Smyrna) He reveals that He intimately knows the hate and suffering they are experiencing for His sake.  But wants them to hear the encouragement He is offering that they will be rewarded for their perseverance.
     To the Comprising Church (Pergamus), Jesus shows that He is aware that they have slipped in their devotion to Him, and have admitted false doctrine into His Church.  He wants those who will hear to eat only of His sustaining Bread, and to repent of their sins.  In return, they will receive new life in their faith.
     To the Corrupt Church (Thyratira), He appears as the Son of God, with blazing eyes.  He is angry that they have let the immorality of Jezebel overtake the purity of His Church.  He sternly warns those who follow her, that He is able to search hearts and minds, and His justice will be swift.  To those who have ears to understand His teaching, they will need to hold fast until He returns, and they will be given power over the nations.
     To the Dead Church (Sardis), Christ warns that He is not fooled by their good reputation of works, for He knows that their heart is cold and lifeless.  Once again He promises renewal to those who repent and understand the hearing of their ears.  
     It is only to the Faithful Church (at Philadelphia) that Jesus has strong praise.  They are an example of those who have used their ears to hear, and who have not denied His name, but kept His commandments to persevere in the midst of temptation and suffering.  
     And, finally, to the Lukewarm Church (Laodicea), Jesus warns them that their wealth and position will not buy them security in His kingdom.  They choose to hear only what makes them comfortable, and it will be their ruination.  He tells them to repent and seek His Kingdom, not the wealth of this world.  
     So, as you can see, when people shut up their ears, it is usually because the word of God is offensive to them.  It gives them no pleasure and they do not wish to receive the life-giving sustenance and wisdom that God offers them through faith in His Son.  And it is sad to contemplate that there will be some people to whom we cannot teach His Gospel Message, because they refuse to hear.  But we must not be discouraged, and continue to sow the Word upon all the ground before us. Ultimately, whether people hear or not, is the Sovereign decision of God.  But we must all be like Jeremiah and continue to ask "Who will listen to me?"  You never know whose life you will speak the Word into, and how they will respond.  But you can trust God to use it for His glorification! 
     

December 13, 2014

We're Being Played; And It's All There In The Playbook

     If you aren't familiar with Saul Alinksy's Rules For Radicals ... you should be.  Actually, there is more to the title.  A fuller understanding of the Rules is that it is A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.  A true social radical, who wanted complete and thorough social reform, Alinsky was a community organizer from 1939-1971, and his followers are among the most prominent names in politics today.  (Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton viewed him as a mentor before his death in 1971).

     According to his own goals, Alinksy sought to create a guide for future community organizers to use in uniting low-income communities, or "Have-Nots", in order to empower them to gain social, political, and economic equality by challenging the current agencies that promoted their inequality.  The ultimate goal was to successfully unite people into an active organization with the power to effect change on a variety of issues.
     But, now we see that some of these rules have been successfully adapted to divide the nation.  At any one time during the last quarter of a century, some of the 12 rules in Mr. Alinsky's little volume of progressive edicts could be seen in operation.  But I just want to point out that a full onslaught of more than half of them are in plain sight today.

    RULE #5:  "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon."
•  There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions. (Pretty crude, rude and mean, huh? They want to create anger and fear.)  
     We have seen this tactic employed in the same-sex marriage debate, for instance.  Paint Christians as narrow-minded and exclusive; as denying love between two human beings.  By ridiculing the Church, urge change and acceptance within the rank and file members.  And to further taunt them, threaten their livelihoods by bringing lawsuits against businesses who refuse to compromise.
     RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
•  They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones. 
     Who doesn't enjoy the camera on them as they disrupt traffic, businesses, and law-abiding citizens?  Being part of a "cause" gives meaning to meaningless lives, and contributes to that 15 minutes of fame.
     RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”
•  Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new. (Attack, attack, attack from all sides, never giving the reeling organization a chance to rest, regroup, recover and re-strategize.) 
     This has certainly been the strategy with the Affordable Health Care Act, Illegal Immigration, Gun  Control, and a number of other issues.  If you think these radical thinkers are responding with new directions and policy changes in "real time", think again; they have anticipated multiple reactions to their tactics, and their game plan was formulated long ago.
     RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”  
•  Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist. (Perception is reality ... The possibilities can easily poison the mind and result in demoralization.)
     Again, we have seen that with the Obamacare and Illegal Immigration.  Threaten millions with the possibility of fines, no health insurance at all; or with families being split up and deported to Mexico, and you can convince the public that the lesser of two evils is acceptable.
      RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” 
•  Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog. 
     Ferguson, Missouri and New York City are prime examples of how well this rule can work.  If you can make Michael Brown and Eric Garner the underdogs, and push the narrative that the Black race has played victim long enough, you can use the ensuing violence, hatred and division to further your own agenda -- keep the races alienated and isolated, and you can play them off each other to secure and increase your power base.
     RULE 11: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” 
•  Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem. 
     This rule is actually very similar to the Hegelian Dialectic; basically, you create the problem that you have a pre-formulated solution to, and you step in to save the day and solve the (artificial) problem.  Can you see that encouraging race violence might be a way to introduce the militarization of police (never mind that they vigorously deny it, or condemn the police for their actions).  Just a thought...
     Finally, RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
•  Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)
     This strategy has been used against The Tea Party; political figures like Sarah Palin; and military leaders like General Petraeus.  Nothing is too underhanded, too harsh, or too unacceptable.  Whatever it takes to win and take the opposition out of the arena.
     So, as you look back over these rules for social radicals, you will see something they all have in common -- and it is more than their similarities to Socialism and Communism.  They all lack a moral defense.  When mankind seeks to change how a society functions through deceptive and immoral means, it results in corruption, godlessness and chaos... just the conditions the Devil loves (and, by the way, to whom Saul Alinsky dedicated his Rules for Radicals -- see above quote).
     The truly sad thing is that far too many of Mr. Alinsky's disciples are teaching on our college campuses, and too many of his graduate students are in positions of power.  We must regain a sense of who we are meant to be, and follow our own set of 10 rules; those carved on tablets of stone nearly 3500 years ago.  They are the solutions to all of society's woes.

Isaiah 64:6    "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."
   
   
   

December 12, 2014

Congressional Spending Bill: The Wins & Losses For The American People

     I've had a day or so to mull over the spending bill before Congress.  While being touted as a "Bipartisan Compromise", initial reports of the $1.01 Trillion boondoggle reveals where the focus of our elected officials lie.  Remember, these are the representatives that we send to Washington to rule the nation on our behalf -- not to vote for their own ideologies.  Based on an article in The Washington Post,  here is a brief summary of some of the dollars proposed; and it should give us a clear picture of how we will be governed.  Pay close attention to what agencies will be receiving more money, and ask yourselves, "Why"?

Increases In Spending: (You decide if it truly benefits the American people).
•  Campaign Finance:  Through some manipulations and "funny politics", donors can now give $324,000 in campaign donations -- that's a 10% increase over current limits.
•  Centers For Disease Control:  receives an additional $42.7 million, making their budget $6.98 Billion.
•  National Institute of Health:  plus $150 Million in funding.
•  FDA & Food Safety:  an additional $37 million, from last year's budget of $2.68 Billion.
•  Immigration:  There's lots of land mines in this section of the funding bill.  The Department of Homeland Security will only be funded until next February.  (But don't worry, this is probably to throw us off their trail).  Then there's the $80 Million increase for the Department of Health & Human Services for the "unaccompanied children's program" that sees to their health issues.  Add in the $14 Million to help schools absorb new immigrant students, and you can clearly see the priorities.  What about helping the inner city schools, which has been peddled as a contributing factor to the racial unrest in this country?
•  Overseas Military Operations: $1.3 Billion to combat ISIS, and $1.6 Billion to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces; plus an additional $500 Million to train and equip vetted Syrian forces, (who are complaining that they have stopped receiving arms and aid from the U.S.)

Decreases in Spending:
•  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) or ObamaCare:  Congress will try to pull the wool over our eyes by saying that they have decreased the budget by $10 Million for the Independent Advisory Board (so-called Death panels) within the Affordable Care Act; and that there is no new money allocated for ObamaCare.  But I guess they think of us the same way the ACA Architect, Jonathan Gruber, does ... stupid.  But it doesn't take a genius to see that we have been fooled once again.  ObamaCare is still funded, and still exists.  It remains to be seen what the new sworn-in Congress can do to fulfill their campaign promises of defunding it
•  Ebola:  Congress only funded $5.4 Billion, instead of the $6 Billion the President wanted to fight this modern-day plague.
•  Environmental Protection Agency:  Their budget is down to $8.1 Billion, $60 Million less than last year, plus 21% down since 2010.  This budget cut likely means staff reductions.
•  IRS:  Their budget is slashed by $345 Million, and they can't target organizations (such as the Tea Party), based on ideological beliefs.

Wins: (At least from my perspective):  We can take some satisfaction from the following cuts in the budget:
•  Abortion:  There will not be any Federal Funding for most abortions.  I see a Supreme Court case in our future, don't you?
•  Clean Water Act:  Congress has blocked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from applying restrictions to certain farm ponds and irrigation ditches; a definite win for farmers.
•  Palestinian Authority:  There will be no assistance to the PA if it becomes a member of the United Nations, or UN agencies, without an agreement with Israel.  The bill also prohibits funding for Hamas.
•  Common Core:  There is no funding for this Progressive agenda-driven Educational curriculum.
•  Department of Veterans Affairs:  This department will receive more money and more oversight; long overdue.  $209 Million added to address new costs related to additional medical staff and expanding dozens of facilities.  In addition, the VA's inspector general is getting a $5 million budget increase to continue investigating lapses in patient care.
•  Whistleblowers:  Whistleblowers will now be protected from prosecution should they report allegations of waste, fraud or abuse, even if they sign a confidentiality agreement

Losses For The American People:
•  Egypt:  We are still funding this Muslim Brotherhood-influenced nation with $1.3 Billion in military aid, and $150 Million in Economic aid.  How does this benefit us, again?
•  Guantanamo Bay:  Detainees will still allowed to transfer to other countries -- perhaps to fight again another day?
•  Military personnel vs Federal Employees:  Members of the military will see their pay increase cut from 1.8% to 1% (Generals and flag officers receive a pay freeze), while Federal Employees will see a 1% increase in their pay.  And after the embarrassing scandals regarding elaborate conferences and travel perks, Congress has agreed to ban, or at least "put limits on certain conferences, official travel and some employee awards."  Military personnel, on the other hand, are losing their 5% discount on tobacco-related products at military exchanges.

     I don't know if any of you even waded through all the facts and figures of this post -- or, if you even care.  And I can't say that I don't blame you.  Our government is so out of control with spending and their mismanagement of our trust.  There will be further manipulating of the bill, and there's a good possibility that we may never know all that is hidden in it, or even if it will be enacted as it is pronounced.  But one thing we know for sure ... as a nation, we are far from being fiscally sound or good stewards of all the largesse that God has bestowed on us.  It is readily apparent -- to me, at least -- that if we had to defend our management of all that He has given us, there would be a huge payment coming due.  It's time to reconcile the books and balance the budget.

Malachi 3:8-9   "Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you."



December 11, 2014

We're Failing Our Military: The NDAA & Military Morale

     I'm just going to say it ... the failure of the lame duck Congress to give sufficient and appropriate attention to the state of our Military is appalling!  And, apparently, they aren't paying any attention to the mandate they have been given by voters in the latest election.  We can only hope that the new citizen servants coming to Washington after the first of the year will deliver on their promises to our men and women in uniform.
     In case you didn't know it, this Congress is attempting to rush through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is an ill-disguised effort to downsize our military forces, and to "fundamentally change" their objective.  Instead of making sure we maintain the finest fighting force in the world, the military is being hamstrung in an attempt to weaken it.  (I admit it is sometimes difficult to choose between supporting our Military and encouraging the Military-Industrial Complex).
     Besides affecting the national security of the country, Front Page Mag reports these items in the Bill:  "A scheduled pay raise of 1.8 percent will be reduced to one percent; there will be reduced growth in the troops’ Basic Housing Allowance (BHA) for those who cannot be accommodated on military bases; and a $3 copay will be added to the cost of prescription medication."  All these cuts will drastically affect the standard of living for our already strapped soldiers. 
     But never fear ... while the troops suffer forced reductions, there is always room to advance the social agenda of those in the White House and Pentagon.  The NDAA would establish Committees to address feminist-oriented issues, such as "Investigation, Prosecution, and Defense of Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces"; as well as to investigate "gender diversity metrics", which would allow the  more qualified personnel to be replaced by those meeting minimum standards -- laughably referred to as “lower but equal.”
     I just don't understand it.  Why is there this push to make the Military "politically correct" like the American culture?  It is easy to see that this will make our fighting forces less effective and substandard to those in the rest of the world.  Do you think it's time to put on my tin foil hat?
     And just what do you think all this is doing to the morale in the Military?  There is an in-depth article on the Military Times website, titled:  America's Military:  A Force Adrift.  I suggest you read it in its entirety, but for brevity's sake, I will highlight a few of the points that this well-written article makes.  
     I believe, that for the most part, the civilian population misunderstands the mindset of our Military.  Sure, there are those who enlist for the education opportunities and for the job security.  But you might be surprised to find out that the vast majority sign up because they see that going to war and fighting for their nation is a noble cause.  There is a true "warrior spirit" that resides in many of these men, and when their mission is unclear or contradictory, it leads to major morale shifts.
     According to a Military Times survey of 2,300 active-duty troops, morale indicators are on the decline in nearly every aspect of military life. Troops report significantly lower overall job satisfaction, diminished respect for their superiors, and a declining interest in re-enlistment now compared to just five years ago.  Service members say they feel underpaid, under-equipped and under-appreciated.  After 13 years of war, the all-volunteer military is entering an era fraught with uncertainty and a growing sense that the force has been left adrift.
     When speaking about their "Mission", troops seemed to indicate that there is a growing disconnect between the civilian population, who has been groomed to psychologically move on from the wars; to cut their losses, so to speak.  But to the troops, themselves, the mission still matters and is unfinished; and those losses have names and faces attached to them.  
     The Military Times Survey also revealed that morale is down due to the stress related to fiscal insecurity.  There is no longer the promise of long-term job stability, and the budget cuts due to Sequestration have affected more than just salaries.  A Navy aviation machinist's mate first class based in El Centro, California, said operational budget cuts left him and fellow sailors cannibalizing working parts from other aircraft entering phased maintenance so they could repair higher-priority broken jets.  How have we let the preeminence of the U.S. military fall so far?  And how could we expect morale to be anything but in the dumps?
    Furthermore, the potential for more Congressional budget cuts is always hanging over their heads.  A Navy fire controlman chief with 10 deployments said budget fears are contributing to a feeling of distrust and abandonment. "If sailors are worried about not getting paid, how am I supposed to do my job?" he said. And then came the bottom line, as far as I'm concerned ... he went on to say, "I'm not an effective warfighter if I don't have the backing of my government at home."
     And there you have it; that's the real heart of this matter.  In order to have confidence that our nation is secure from outside forces that wish to destroy us, we need to have confidence that our military are "effective war fighters"; and they need to have the confidence that their government is supporting and championing them.  Unfortunately, one of the most effective ways to secure peace at home, is to develop and maintain a strong, forceful and powerful Military.  From where I sit, that is no longer the objective of our elected officials, and it is cause for great alarm.  

For more information on the details and objectives of the NDAA, click here.  If you would like to read about the results of the Military Times Survey, then click here.  Both articles will provide you with a broad overview of the declining state of our Military.  

Psalm 108:12-13    "Oh grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes."

December 10, 2014

Technology Targeting Children; From Tots to Teenagers

     I think only the foolish would deny that we encounter at least a modicum of threat from the advancing world of technology.  Take implantable RFID chips, Transhumanism (and the Singularity), and the integration of man and computer, and you have enough options to put the existence of the human race in jeopardy.
     But even if you think that those developments are unlikely or harmless, I would advise you to consider the following:  both Apple and Google have your children in their sights.  They are targeting children for either marketing purposes, data collection, or to promote cultural influence; and if I was guessing, probably all three at once!
     How many of your kids have cell phones or the latest craze in music, Beats headphones?  In case you are unfamiliar with this particular product, the Beats line is primarily focused on headphones and speakers, marketed under the brand Beats by hip hop songster Dr. Dre; in particular, its headphone line characteristically places a heavy emphasis on bass, which, in advertising material, Dr. Dre stated allows listeners to hear "all" of the music.
     Now, here is where I'm going to take you down a rabbit hole.  Researchers at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University recently conducted a study to see if music could transform the psychological state of the listener.  After watching athletes listening to music on headphones to pump themselves up before a big game, they wanted to know what effect music had on the players, and if they could identify a particular component of the music.  Essentially, they wanted to discover if there was a link between music and a sense of power; if so, they wanted to identify not only the consequences, but also a potential cause of this link.
     What they found out was fascinating.  Those who listened to music with heavy bass levels exhibited a higher sense of power, confidence and dominance.  There was a definite music-power link!  And if you want to descend a little deeper down that rabbit hole, there is the well-known story among fans of heavy metal music in which the members of Black Sabbath actually dabbled in the occult, conjuring up a demonic presence.  That not only affected many of their lyrics, but the actual sounds they made with their music.  They successfully used lower bass tones in conjunction with a musical effect called "the Devil's Interval" to create scary, evil-sounding music.  (In fact, "the Devil's Interval" has a long and troublesome history, even to the point of being banned by the medieval Church in Europe).
     So, what does all this riveting trivia have to do with your children, Apple, and Google?  Starting early next year, Apple plans on pushing its Beats music subscription app to every iPhone and iPad.  Apple will rebrand this music subscription under the familiar umbrella of iTunes, and your kids will have access all of the time, to all of the music, with its deep resonating bass.  Now, I'm not prepared to say that the Devil is in the music -- but I think there is enough evidence that power and dominance are associated with heavy bass undertones, and I do not underestimate the Devil's ability to influence our kids through music -- he has certainly been able to exhibit his control over Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Nikki Minaj.
     Apple's competitor in this market, Google, also has potential to influence your kids.  Not only does it have its own music streaming application (Google Play All Access), but it has announced that it is openly "developing products for the under-13s".  In fact, components such as YouTube, Google Plus and the Chrome browser will now be "child-friendly".  Remember, this is the same corporation whose company motto is "Don't be evil".  They want you, as parents, to have no worries -- they want you to believe that all their services will be "fun and safe".  Make you feel better?
     Here's the way Google looks at it ... kids already understand the technology better than we do; they are online multiple hours of the day, at home and at school.  Why not simply make it easier for the kids to use this technology?   After all, we need to face the fact that all those parental controls don't really stop the kids from accessing things on the net anyway.  Did you know that Facebook, which like other platforms does not allow minors to sign up, was used by 7.5 million under-13s who had concealed their age, according to a 2011 study?  And that's a platform that's not aimed at children!  You can imagine the Pandora's box that will be opened when these corporations actually target kids!!
     But here's the central argument for me -- not only do we need to worry about protecting children from online predators and explicit material, but since when do we want to allow our children to be exploited for gain?  Do you really want your 9-year-old to be marketed to as a consumer?  Why can't we just let them be kids, without exposing them to the preoccupation of adult society for the ever-increasing acquisition of "stuff"?
    And I would like to introduce you to just a few of the games being offered to the modern child:  Club Penguin - A multi-player game aimed at children aged six to 14. Players use penguin avatars and the game takes place in a wintery virtual world. Players buy the game’s currency and spend it on things like clothes for their penguin characters. Moshi Monsters - A website aimed at children aged six to 14 which allows them to choose one of six pet monsters. Children can customize their monster, earn virtual currency, play games and communicate with other users. It has expanded into a multimillion-pound business in Britain.  The Lego Club - A free club and website for children aged 4 to 11. They subscribe to a free magazine, play games and get invited to events. They can also get email newsletters with details of new Lego products.
     So let me close out this warning for the future, with this thought ... Do you really think that you will be able to monitor every minute your child is on one of these sites?  And will you know who will be lurking in that "virtual world" or what influence they will have on your child?  (I'm thinking of the girls who tried to kill a classmate to impress a fictional evil character on the Internet, known as Slender Man).  Will you read and censor all the content in those free magazines, or be aware of the events they are invited to? And will you be able to teach them to be responsible consumers, or will they see it as an entitlement, courtesy of companies that market specifically to them?
     I just can't help but repeat what my spirit discerns ... there have some good outcomes from our increased knowledge via technology; but I would give up a whole lot of our progress for a simpler life and less intrusion.   I fear for our children in the coming years; for their physical and mental safety, and their spiritual health.  God save us from ourselves!

For more information on Google's plans to target your children, click here.  

Proverbs 8:12    "I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions."