Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten Predictions for 2010

1. The economy will remain sluggish. Reports of a recovery are premature. The economy will recover, it always does, but government spending and uncertainty about government regulation will dampen the recovery. The best-case scenario is that the early 2010s will resemble the 1970s. The worst-case scenario is that government policy under Obama will continue to mirror the policies that caused the recession in the first place, leading to another severe contraction in the economy.

2. A watered down version of healthcare reform will pass. The Democrats have put too much on the line to let healthcare reform fail. Some kind of bill is likely to pass, even if it is heavily watered down. Of course, this bill will make the healthcare problem worse.

3. Cap-and-trade will not pass. After the fight for the healthcare bill, President Obama, Senator Reid, and Rep. Pelosi will have no further political capital to spend on the passage of cap-and-trade. Businesses will breathe a sigh of relief.

4. The Democrats will introduce a value added tax (VAT). The VAT is similar to a national sales tax on all goods and services. This proposal will further anger voters.

5. The Democrats will suffer major losses in the 2010 midterm elections. Voters will be angered by their elected representatives who go against their campaign promises and voter wishes by supporting the present version of healthcare reform. The Republicans will take control of the House and possibly the Senate as well.

6. The US will suffer at least one major terrorist attack.

7. Iran will continue to flout UN resolutions. Iranian dissidents will continue to be brutalized while the country works toward a workable nuclear weapon. Meaningful sanctions will continue to elude passage thanks to Iran’s partnership with Russia. A larger regional war with Iran is likely in the long term, but unless Israel or the US launches an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, I doubt that it will happen in 2010.

8. More cells of home-grown Islamic radical terrorists will be discovered within the United States. The existence of these cells may be discovered through attacks or detection by law enforcement.

9. Unemployment will remain high. Although unemployment numbers may fall in the short term, the unemployment rate is likely to go even higher in the long term. This is due to anti-business government policies and the probability of economic stagnation.

10. President Obama’s approval rating will continue to fall. By the end of 2010, President Obama may very well be less popular than President Bush was when his term expired. This is due to President Obama’s abandonment of bipartisanship and key campaign promises such as tax cuts, fiscal restraint, and vigorous prosecution of the War on Terror.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Gifts of the Magi

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Matt 2:9-12 (KJV)
An integral part of the nativity story is the journey of the Magi, or Wise Men, from the east to visit the young Jesus and His family. Ever since their visit, people have wondered about the nature of the magi and the gifts that they brought. A familiar Christmas carol, “We Three Kings,” describes the journey of the Magi.

The word “magi,” though similar to our word “magician,” referred at that time to philosophers, priests, and astronomers. Many of these Magi were from Persia, modern day Iran, although others lived in Arabia. Both areas would have been to the east of Judea. When the Bible says that they saw the star in the east, it refers to the location of the Magi in the eastern part of the world. The star actually would have appeared in the western sky.

In his research of the Star of Bethlehem, Frederick Larson details the astronomical signs in the sky that would have led the magi to Bethlehem. This can also be found on his website, Larson believes that the Wise Men saw the Christmas Star in the summer of 2 BC from their homes in the east. Their journey apparently culminated several months later in December, 2BC. We cannot determine exactly when or where their journey began.

The Wise Men first visited Herod, one of the several Herods who ruled Judea under Roman authority. The Herod who reigned at the time of Jesus’ birth was likely Herod the Great, who ruled from 40 to 4 BC, or his successor, Herod Antipas, who ruled from 4 BC to AD 39. The Herods were ruthless rulers who jealously guarded their power. Herod asked the Magi to return to him when they found the newborn King of the Jews that they sought. A divine dream warned the Wise Men not to return to Herod, however. When Herod realized that the Wise Men were not coming back, he ordered the murder of all Bethlehem children under two years old.

We do not know whether the Magi visited Jesus while He was still in the Bethlehem stable or whether His family had found a more permanent residence. We do know that their reaction when they saw Him was to fall down and worship Him. After worshipping Him, they presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The gift of gold is self-explanatory. Gold is and always has been of great value. Gold was often given as a gift on the birth of royalty in the ancient Middle East. Gold was also often paid in tribute by royalty to more powerful kings. Even today in the Middle East, it is common to bring a gift when visiting a person of a higher social status.

The gifts of frankincense and myrrh need a little more explanation. Frankincense was produced in Arabia, a possible origin of the Magi. Frankincense is a tree resin that is fragrant when burned. In ancient times, it was used in worship and the Jewish Temple included altars of incense. It is fitting that the Magi brought an implement of worship as a gift to the newborn Messiah because Jesus Himself was destined to assume the role of the preist for all of mankind. Christ is our intercessor and link to God.

Myrrh was also a product of Arabia and, like frankincense, was produced from a tree. The name “myrrh” denotes bitterness. Myrrh had several uses. It was used as an ointment in the purification of women, and thus may have been used by Mary after the birth of Jesus. In some instances it was used as a perfume. Additionally, myrrh was sometimes mixed with wine. In Mark 15:23, Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh while on the cross, but He refused it. Myrrh was also commonly used in embalming because it helped to preserve the body of the deceased and helped to cover the smell of decay. In John 19:38, Nicodemus brought myrrh to bury with Jesus after His crucifixion.

From a practical and economic view, these gifts would have been welcomed by Joseph, a poor carpenter with a struggling family. The gold could be used to buy a house or food. The frankincense could have been sold to help support the family. The myrrh could have been used by Mary for ritual purification or as a perfume.

In addition to their practical utility, in the gifts of the Magi we see a symbolic depiction of who Jesus is and of His future. Gold represents Jesus’ royalty as the Prince of Peace and the King of Kings. Frankincense represents His deity as Immanuel, “God with Us,” the Son of God, and the Word of God who was present “in the beginning” and who will return in the end. It also represents His role as a preistly link between humanity and God. Myrrh represents the willing sacrifice of His life as He died for our sins.

After their visit with Jesus and His family, the Magi departed back to their home country by a different route so that they could no betray Jesus to Herod. We have no way of knowing how meeting the infant Jesus impacted their lives after that.

We cannot know how much the Magi understood of their actions on that first Christmas, but through Divine Providence their journey and the delivery of the first Christmas gifts has become a part of the living history of the birth of Jesus. The story of how they became the first to worship the King of the Jews has inspired countless others to follow their example in making a spiritual journey to worship Christ. Their selfless gifts paint a picture of the life of Jesus the Christ, Yeshua the Messiah, who lived and died and lived again to conquer death and sin on our behalf. This is the true meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!
Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Bible Explorer 4.0, WORDSearch, 2006.
Barnes’s Notes on the New Testament, Bible Explorer 4.0, WORDSearch, 2006.

Boston Massachusetts
December 19, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Enemies Within

It hasn’t been long since Major Nidal Malik Hasan became the most recent jihadist to launch a terror attack on US soil. The unique thing about Major Hasan’s attack, in which he murdered 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas was that he was not only a US army officer, he was a US citizen who was born and raised in the United States. Prior to Major Hasan’s attack, terrorist attacks in the US were primarily carried out by foreign terrorists.

The weeks since the Fort Hood attack have brought the discovery of more American jihadists within the United States. A developing story involves the Somali-American communities in Seattle and Minneapolis. Over the past few years, numerous Somali-American men have disappeared from their homes without a trace. At least three of these men have been turned up dead in Somalia. One of these men, Shirwa Ahmed of Minneapolis, gained the dubious distinction of becoming the first American suicide bomber when he detonated a car packed with explosives in front of the Ethiopian embassy in Somaliland on October 29, 2008, killing 20 people.

The FBI believes that the Somali men are leaving the US to train as terrorists and wage jihad. Some, like Ahmed, ended up in Somalia with al-Shabaab (“the youth”), an al Qaeda affiliated group fighting the Ethiopian presence in Somalia. A second Somali-American is believed to have carried out a suicide bombing against African Union peacekeepers in Somalia on September 15, 200, killing twenty-one.

Another American, David Coleman Headley of Chicago, was recently arrested on charges that he was a spy for the Lashkar, a Pakistani terror group. Headley, whose original name is Daood Gilani, is of Pakistani descent and spent his early childhood in Pakistan. Along with Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Pakistani businessman, Headley is accused of helping to plan an attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons about Mohammed and helping to coordinate the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India that killed more than 160 people.

Finally a group of five American college students from Washington were arrested in Pakistan in early December 2009 as they tried to make contact with Pakistani terrorist groups. The families of the men became concerned after discovering a farewell video in which they stated the need to defend Muslims. A Pakistani report states they “were of the opinion that a jihad must be waged against the infidels for the atrocities committed by them against Muslims around the world” [cnn]. The men had previously tried to contact terror groups through internet sites such as Facebook and Youtube.

Together with Major Hasan, these discoveries show a disturbing trend. They show that American Muslims are increasingly vulnerable to radicalization. In the past, this sort of radicalization has been seen in the Muslim communities of Europe, but has been rare in the US.

The cases have several factors in common. First, the terrorists in all cases come from a Muslim background. All were American citizens. Some were native born, while others immigrated and became citizens later in life. Additionally, a common theme among many of the jihadists is that their friends viewed them as normal Americans and could not believe their association with terror groups.

It appears that the radicalization can be traced to local mosques and religious awakenings. It has been revealed that Major Hasan attended the same Virginia mosque as two of the 9/11 terrorists. Shirwa Ahmed and the other Somalis typically disappear after becoming involved in local mosques. David Headley became heavily involved in Islam after a series of drug arrests in the 1990s and moved to an area of Chicago known for Muslim immigrants. He attended a local mosque with Rana there. Finally, the Washington Five were all members of a youth program at a mosque in Alexandria, Virginia.

While not nearly all Muslim-Americans are at risk for radicalization, we do have to realize that out of the 1-2 million Muslims in America, there could well be thousands who are quietly becoming radicalized via radical internet websites or local mosques. In 2007, Pew Research polled Muslim Americans and found that five percent of American Muslims had a favorable view of al Qaeda. A further 27 percent responded that they did not know or refused to answer the question (Inside the Revolution, p. 144). Further, when asked if suicide bombings against civilian targets were ever justified, thirteen percent indicated that suicide bombings were justified “sometimes (7 percent), often (1 percent), or rarely but not never (5 percent).” An additional nine percent refused to answer the question. The numbers increase for Muslims between 18 and 29 years old. These younger Muslims also tend to be more radical and more religiously observant.

Estimates of the total Muslim population of the United States vary widely, but approximately 1.5 million seems to be an accepted figure []. This means that as many as 75,000 Muslim Americans have a favorable view of al Qaeda and a further 405,000 are unsure or refuse to answer. Additionally, some 195,000 Muslim Americans believe that suicide bombings against civilian targets are justifiable with an additional 135,000 refusing to answer. Other polls show that these percentages are even higher in other countries.

It would be very easy for homegrown terror cells to form and train via the internet and launch terror attacks on their fellow Americans. Timothy McVeigh, the original World Trade Center bombers, and the DC Sniper illustrate how easy it is to use common items for terrorist attacks. Stolen or legally purchased firearms or bombs created from common items with an internet instruction manual could wreak havoc in numerous cities and small towns around the country. Dozens of small-scale attacks scattered around the country would maximize terror.

The good news is that the silent majority of Americans of Muslim faith is beginning to show more support for the US government. In the case of the Washington Five, their families alerted the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization that has often been believed to be an apologist for terrorist groups. In this case, CAIR referred the families to the FBI.

Many, probably most, American Muslims do not share the radical desire for a worldwide Islamic caliphate. They have no desire to live under Sharia Law. They do not want to see suicide bombings and terror attacks become commonplace in the United States.

These arrests underscore the importance of establishing and maintaining close ties between the law enforcement community and the Muslim communities. Counter-terror and law enforcement must become aware of what is happening within the walls of mosques around the country. Likewise, steps should be taken to monitor or shut down websites that recruit and indoctrinate young Muslims into terror groups. The threat is real and cannot be ignored. Neither can the threat be countered without the help of loyal American Muslims.

Rosenberg, Joel C. Inside the Revolution. Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, IL. 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Obama's Birth Certificate

A rumor that won’t die is the myth that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is fake. There are different theories on where Obama was born, if he was not born in Hawaii as he claims. A prevailing belief is that he was born in Kenya, and as a native Kenyan, is not eligible to be President of the United States. Some have also claimed that his full name includes the name “Mohammed,” adding to speculation that Obama is a secret Muslim.

At this point, mountains of evidence are in and they all point to the fact that Barack Obama is a natural born citizen of the United States. As far back as July 2008, Obama had released a copy of his birth certificate. Obama had to release the birth certificate himself because in Hawaii, birth certificates are not public documents and must be requested by the family. Obama’s birth certificate can viewed here.

Almost immediately, the certificate came under attack due to the lack of an embossed seal and signature. The answer to that challenge is that in Hawaii, the seal and signature are on the back of the certificate. The political fact-checkers at emailed the copy of the certificate released by Obama to the Hawaii Department of Health. They were told by a spokesman that the copy was a valid Hawaii birth certificate. The name on the certificate is Barack Hussein Obama II.

According to Snopes.Com, Hawaiian government officials have vouched for the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate twice; once in October 2008 and again in July 2009. Additionally, Snopes also provides the testimony of a Hawaiian school teacher who actually spoke with the obstetrician that delivered the baby Barack.

Politifact also checked Obama’s other public domain records. These other records included his marriage certificate from Cook County, Illinois, his driver’s license records in Illinois, and his attorney registration and public disciplinary record from Illinois. All show that his name is Barack Hussein Obama. He also has no moving violations and has not been disciplined as an attorney.

If that were not enough, Obama’s birth announcements can be seen in both Honolulu newspapers. The Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star Bulletin both record the birth of Barack Hussein Obama on August 4, 1961. The newspaper announcements can be seen here.

In August 2009, a birth certificate surfaced that purported to show that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. This birth certificate was quickly revealed to be a forgery. Among the tell-tale mistakes on the certificate are the phrase “Republic of Kenya,” which did not exist at the time, an incorrect age for Obama’s father, and the claim that Barack Jr. was born in Mombasa, which was located far from where Obama Sr. lived. In fact, Mombasa was so far from where Obama lived that it was not even part of Kenya at the time; it was actually then a part a part of Zanzibar.

A further claim is that US law at the time specified that if only one parent was a US citizen, to pass citizenship along to the child, that parent must have been a US citizen “for at least ten years, at least five of which had to be after the age of 16” [citation]. The claim is that since Obama’s mother was 18 at the time of his birth, she does not meet the requirement to pass along citizenship to Barack Jr. According to Snopes, this law applied only to children born to US citizens outside the US. Since the evidence is that Obama was born in Hawaii, this claim is moot.

There is also the claim that Obama’s Kenyan grandmother claimed to be present at his birth. Since she had never left Kenya, the implication is that Obama must have been born in Kenya. When the entire transcript is reviewed, it seems that there was confusion over the word “present” since Mrs. Obama did not speak English and was relying on a translator. Throughout the conversation, she continues to claim that Obama was born in Hawaii.

Finally, there have been two lawsuits regarding Obama’s birth certificate and citizenship. Suits filed by Philip Berg and Alan Keyes were dismissed as frivolous and without merit. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

While we can easily see that Obama’s does not and has never included the name “Mohammed,” it is not easy to see what is in Obama’s heart. Claims that Obama is a closet Muslim are not easily proved nor disproved. What can be shown is that Obama has long been a member of a Christian church, although one of a far left denomination. Obama’s family heritage includes many links to Islam so it is understandable that he would have sympathy for Muslims around the world. However, neither being a Muslim nor having sympathy for Muslims would be disqualifying for a president.

After having President Obama lead the United States for almost a year, it is easy to understand why wishful thinking could lead people to grasp at straws for reasons why he could not be president. Nevertheless, the evidence is overwhelming that Barack Hussein Obama II is a natural born citizen of the United States, having been born in a Honolulu hospital. To believe otherwise requires belief in a massive conspiracy that includes Obama’s entire family, the Hawaii Department of Health, his birth doctor, and countless others.

It makes more sense to accept the reality of Obama’s citizenship and fight him on the issues. His foreign policy favors dictators and terrorists over democracy. His domestic policy is built on unsustainable spending that must surely be followed by economy-killing taxes and inflation. To effectively fight his policies, Obama’s opponents must ground themselves in reality and facts, which can easily illustrate that Obama’s policies are all wrong for America.


December 7, 2009
Villa Rica GA

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Alcohol and the Bible

Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet."

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."
John 2:7-10

I grew up in a small Baptist church in the country. In this church, and many others like it, we were taught that we should abstain from alcohol. A close reading of the Bible reveals that this is not what the Bible teaches however.

Ironically, instead of prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, the Bible tells us that one of Jesus’ first public miracles was the conversion of water into wine. We also know from the comments of the master of the feast that this was not weak or cheap wine, but was of high quality. Indeed, it was even better than the expensive wine that the groom had bought for his guests originally.

Alcohol, in the form of wine, goes back to the early chapters of the Bible. It is first mentioned in Genesis 9:20-21 when Noah planted a vineyard and promptly got drunk. Numerous other references to drunkenness in the Bible show that wines of Biblical times were intoxicating drinks and not just juices (Isaiah 5:11).

Wine was a part of many aspects of life in ancient times. It was used in feasts and consumed for entertainment as mentioned in Esther 1 and 5, Isaiah 5:12, Daniel 5:1-4, and the wedding feast of John 2. Wine was even used in the worship of the Lord (Exodus 29:40, Numbers 15:5). Wine was also used for medicinal purposes (Luke 10:34, 1 Timothy 5:23).

The Bible refers to abundant wine as a reward for the Israelites (Hosea 2:22, Joel 2:19, 24, Zechariah 9:17). Conversely, when the Israelites were disobedient, among their punishments were droughts, which led to shortages of wine (Isaiah 24:7, 11, Hosea 2:9, Joel 1:10, Haggai 1:11, 2:16). Wine is even referred to as cheering “God and man” (Judges 9:13).

Wine is also used as an illustration in many Bible passages. It symbolized the blood of Christ in Matthew 26:27-29. It shows the Lord’s blessings in Isaiah 25:6. Conversely, numerous passages also present wine as an image of judgment and violence (Psalm 75:8, Jeremiah 25:15, Proverbs 4:17, Revelation 17:2).

The Bible clearly condones the practice of consuming alcohol. If consuming alcohol were a sin and alcohol itself an evil substance, it would not have been allowed to be used in sacrificial rituals because it would have rendered the altar unclean. Likewise, if the consumption of alcohol was wrong, Jesus would not have created it from jars of water.

On the other hand, the Bible does repeatedly warn about the dangers of wine and strong drink. Many, but not all of these passages are found in the book of Proverbs. A well-known passage in Proverbs 20:1 says “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Proverbs 23:29-35 is another famous warning passage that warns that wine “bites like a serpent.”

Warnings against drunkenness are not limited to the legalism of the Old Testament. The New Testament also abounds with calls for sobriety. Jesus Himself warned against drunkenness on multiple occasions (Luke 12:45, 21:34). Additionally, Paul’s letters include drunkenness on a list of “works of the flesh” which are to be avoided (Galatians 5:21). Furthermore, Paul tells us to be sober (1 Thessalonians 5:8) and to be filled with the Spirit of God rather than wine (Ephesians 5:18).

A balanced picture of Biblical attitudes toward alcohol is that the Bible condones its consumption, even for purposes of entertainment. However the Bible is also clear that alcohol should be used in moderation and that drunkenness should be avoided.

Probably the most important lesson that the Bible can teach us about alcohol is that we should not allow our consumption of alcohol to cause others to stumble. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:23-31, “Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive. 24Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others…. So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble….” While the Bible does not prohibit the use of alcohol (although as one pastor confided, “I wish it did”), our enjoyment of alcoholic beverages in moderation is not worth causing a crisis of faith for our friends and neighbors.

“Wine and Alcoholic Beverages in the Ancient World,” NIV Archaeological Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2005, pp. 2015.
New Topical Textbook, Bible Explorer 4, WORDsearch, 2006.
Nave’s Topics, Bible Explorer 4, WORDsearch, 2006.
December 6, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Top 10 Things Obama Won't Say at the Job Summit (But Should!)

From the home office in Villa Rica, Georgia (with apologies to David Letterman):

10. We are delaying healthcare reform until the economy is better. Even then it won't include a public option or a government takeover.

9. We realize that cap-and-trade is a hugely expensive and an ineffective solution to global warming, therefore we are going to table this measure and seek alternatives.

8. The last eight years really weren't so bad.

7. As Henry David Thoreau said, "that government is best which governs least."

6. The stimulus didn't stimulate anything except voter anger, so we won't try another spending bill.

5. The only jobs that the government can create are government jobs, so we are going to get out of the way of business.

4. Like individuals and families, we realize that our nation cannot spend its way to prosperity.

3. I just finished reading Atlas Shrugged.

2. I'm doing my part to create jobs for hardworking Carolina tobacco farmers.

And the number one thing that you won't hear President Obama say at the jobs summit:

1. Read my lips: No new taxes!