Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Change in the Wind in Iraq?

At long last, perhaps there is a change in the wind in Iraq.

President Bush keeps saying that we will "stay the course" in Iraq. And I agree that it would be a more dangerous world out there if we pulled out of Iraq altogether. But we also need to ensure that our guys and gals on the battlefield have all the tools they need to get the job done.

With the Democrats taking control of the House and perhaps the Senate, hopefully this will initiate some constructive dialogue between the Congress and our commander-in-chief. Perhaps there is some flexibility in staying the course.

The resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield may help us be more flexible and effective in fighting this war. Rumsfelf has been criticized for his handling of the war, and perhaps change will do some good. After all, Lincoln had to fire quite a few generals before he could find one who could effectively fight the Civil War.

In another strange twist, Saddam Hussein - after being sentenced to hang - has called on all Iraqis to reconcile their differences. And Hussein's former VP has ordered former Ba'ath party bosses to end the insurgency.

Obviously a de-escalation of violence in Iraq would be a good thing. It would be nice to bring the troops home.

Election 2006 Commentary

Well, I'm glad that's over! No more annoying calls on my home and cell phone numbers! Maybe it's time to amend the Do Not Call Registry to include political pitches.

Overall, I'm quite pleased to see the results of yesterday's election. I was tickled to see that Joe Lieberman won the Senate race in Connecticut as an independent. Yes, he's technically a Democrat - but he's one of the good ones.

Here in Arizona - to nobody's surprise - our Democrat Governor Janet Napolitano easily won re-election (the AP and ABC news projected her as the winner as soon as the polls closed!). I like Janet. If she has a personal agenda, she hasn't really projected it. She's one of the few who ran a positive campaign, focusing on her accomplishments as governor. She has a clear understanding of the issues facing our state and has really taken good care of it.

John Kyl won re-election over Jim Pederson. This was a rather negative campaign on both sides, but I think Kyl shows his true colors better, and comes off as a much more confident leader.

The big upset was Harry Mitchell's unseating of J.D. Hayworth in one of the congressional races. This one probably came down to personality. Mitchell is a nice guy. Hayworth sometimes comes off as a big jerk. That probably lost it for him. Personally, I don't think either one can address the true issues. As I said in my previous post, I consider Mitchell an incompetent ass. We'll see. At least he's not my congressman.

Then there were the ballot initiatives - 19 in all.

Four of them dealt with the illegal immigrant problem - all passed with at least 70% approval. And when you consider that the [legal] population of the state is roughly 50% Hispanic, it certainly makes it a mandate that Arizona as a whole is tired of the whole illegal immigrant mess. Granted, I felt a couple of the propositions were mean-spirited and I voted against them. But the people have spoken. We move on.

On the other end of the spectrum, two propositions went down in flames in rather spectacular fashion. Arizona will not do voting exclusively by mail, nor will one lucky voter be drawn in the lottery to win a million bucks just for showing up to vote. I thought these two measures were excessively stupid and I'm glad to see that the vast majority of Arizona voters agreed with me.

The gay marriage ban was defeated not because Arizonans support gay marriage, but because this measure went too far in making people believe that certain benefits would be denied if it passed. It was a badly written measure that even faced a court challenge before it went on the ballot. But I'm not worried - Arizona law already prohibits gay marriage, and unlike liberal hot spots like Vermont and New Jersey, I don't think a judge here would be stupid enough to overturn that law.

We also passed the initiative that thumbs our nose at eminent domain. Want my property? Pay me a fair price.

I was undecided about raising the minimum wage until I heard concerns that our privacy was at stake and we would be more prone to identity theft should it pass. So I voted no. It passed anyway.

I was surprised and delighted about the two non-smoking propositions. One of them would still ben smoking except in restaurants and bars that allowed it. This measure was defeated. The other was a stricter ban - no smoking in public places - period. It passed.

Two initiatives dealing with state trust land were defeated. Property taxes can only be raised at a 2% level each year. Pigs and calves raised for meat have to be able to move around in their cages. Children's health will benefit from a hike in cigarette taxes. Cities and towns can better finance civic services such as police and fire protection. First-time meth users will no longer get mandatory probation - they might have to go to jail (what a concept!). And no surprise here - our legislators aren't getting a raise.

On the national scene, perhaps Democratic control of one or both houses of Congress is what's needed to move our country forward. There is definitely a lame-duck mentality amongst Republicans since they seem too absorbed with their own interests. Now they'll all have to talk. President Bush will have have to work harder and be more flexible to push his policies. This might even be the best thing for his presidency.

As for the Democrats, they have stirred us up with a lot of hopes. You thought the campaigns were tough? Now comes the tough part. It's time for the Democrats to put their money where their mouth is. Lest we vote 'em out in two years!

I'm Paul, and I approve this message.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Arizona Ballot Initiatives '06

So here are Arizona's ballot initiatives for this year's election. In my last post I said we had ten propositions; I stand corrected - there's nineteen.

I've copied the wording of each proposition directly from the publicity pamphlet, followed by my own comments.

Prop 100: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of denying bail to persons charged with serious felonies as defined by law if the person has entered or remained in the United States illegally. Absolutely. There was once an illegal alien arrested on drug and weapons charges who made bail, was deported by the Feds while on bail, and he later returned to Arizona. Then he was an accomplice to the cold-blooded murder of a Phoenix Police officer. It was a very impressive funeral procession down the Loop 101 freeway - I was there watching it for a good half hour. My wife teaches in the school district that has a school named after him. Should have never happened.

Prop 101: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of requiring counties, cities, towns, and community college districts to calculate property tax levy limits based on the actual property taxes levied in 2005, and beginning in 2007 the new levy limit would increase by two percent per year plus any new construction. Yes, especially when you consider the out-of-control real estate market we had. My house is now double the value it was when we first purchased it in 1993. I don't see why I have to pay for a windfall I didn't create.

Prop 102: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of denying an award of punitive damages in any civil court action to a person who is present in this state in violation of federal immigration law related to improper entry. I have to say no on this one. If an illegal immigrant is run over by a drunk driver, why should the drunk driver get away with it? Besides, we're not experiencing a flood of lawsuits from illegal aliens as most don't have the means to go out and hire a lawyer to do so.

Prop 103: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of declaring English to be the official language of the State of Arizona, requiring all official actions to be conducted in English, requiring government to preserve, protect and enhance English as the official language, prohibiting discrimination against persons using English, and permitting private lawsuits to enforce the official English amendment to the Arizona Constitution. This was previously approved in 1998 but struck down as unconstitutional. Still, I have to vote yes on this. Hey, my ancestors had to learn the language. And they didn't lose their culture because of it.

Prop 104: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of permitting incorporated cities and towns to include debt for the acquisition and development of public safety, law enforcement, fire and emergency services facilities and streets and transportation facilities in the twenty percent debt limit, upon voter approval. A yes vote for obvious reasons. The publicity pamphlet did not have any opposed to this measure. Should be a slam-dunk.

Prop 105: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of allowing the conveyance for compensation of designated urban land and additional urban land as approved by the Legislature for conservation purposes, permitting the Legislature to designate up to 400,000 acres of non-urban trust land for conservation purposes for conveyance without compensation, allowing urban trust land to be conveyed for conservation without auction, reducing the advertising time for state trust land auctions, allowing rights-of-way of trust land to governmental entities without auction, requiring trust lands set aside for conservation be accessible to the public and restricted from development, and allowing local coordination of commercial trust land use. Say what? What exactly is the problem we're trying to correct? Too complicated. A pro-developer initiative which is not needed as developers have already screwed up the state enough. Things seem fine as they are now. I vote no.

Prop 106: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of setting aside 694,000 acres of state trust land for conservation, permitting the conveyance of Educational and Permanent Reserve lands without auction or compensation, permitting the conveyance of Provisional Reserve lands without auction, requiring local coordination of trust land planning in conjunction with the state, establishing a board of trustees to manage and dispose of state trust land, allowing public rights-of-way over trust land without auction at appraised value, allowing transfer of trust land before revenue-sharing payment and use of some revenues for trust administration. Same as Prop 105 - not needed.

Prop 107: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of amending the Constitution to require that only a union between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage by the state and its political subdivisions and prohibiting the creation or recognition of legal status similar to marriage for unmarried persons by the state or its political subdivisions. Absolutely - I have to go by own convictions. Opponents charge that health and death benefits would be denied for domestic partners. Companies are not currently required to provide these benefits anyway, and this amendment would not take away from those already fortunate to enjoy these benefits.

Prop 200 (Arizona Voter Reward Act): A "yes" vote shall have the effect of establishing a $1,000,000 lottery for voters who vote in the primary or general elections that would be funded by a percentage of unclaimed state lottery prize money and creating the Arizona Voter Reward Commission and Fund. Excuse me? Absolutely not - my vote is not for sale! This is a civic duty. I do not want people out there voting just because they might get lucky. This will only increase voter fraud. Mark Osterloh, chairman of Arizonans for Voter Rewards, has the gall to say, "What does God say? Do what you are supposed to do and I will REWARD you with eternal life in heaven. What are we saying? Do what you are supposed to do, vote, and we will REWARD you with a chance to win a million dollars. If incentives are good enough for God, they are good enough for the voters of Arizona! Oh come on! How can you even compare the two? A chance in a million to win a million? Don't insult my intelligence or mock my religion. A million dollars is nothing in comparison to riches we receive in heaven. Besides, anyone who believes in Christ will enjoy those riches without being entered into a lottery for the mere chance to do so. But, then again, if this measure were to pass and I were to win, it would be a nice way to fund a new organ for the church, or a new retreat cabin up at camp.

Prop 201 (Smoke-Free Arizona Act): A "yes" vote shall have the effect of prohibiting smoking in all public places and places of employment while exempting private residences, tobacco stores, designated hotel/motel rooms, veterans and fraternal clubs, Native American religious ceremonies, and outdoor patios and requiring no smoking signs be posted where smoking is prohibited, imposing a tax of two cents per cigarette pack, continuing to allow additional regulation by cities, towns and counties, and providing for enforcement by the Department of Health Services. This is one of the redundant propositions (see Proposition 207 for the kinder and gentler version of this). There are many municipalities that already have their own public smoking bans; it is inevitable that it becomes statewide. Actually, I'm quite disappointed that our legislature didn't have the balls to make this law without putting it to a public vote. This is an obvious yes for me. Opponents say that the state would be wasting tax dollars to enforce this law, but as you can see, the taxes would be raised by an additional two-cent cigarette tax. So I won't be paying to enforce it.

Prop 202 (Raise the Minimum Wage for Working Arizonans Act): A "yes" vote shall have the effect of raising the minimum wage to $6.75 per hour with certain exceptions beginning January 1, 2007, providing for yearly minimum wage cost of living increases, requiring employers to post notice about employee minimum wage rights, establishing penalties for violations of the law and permitting private lawsuits to enforce the law. I'm undecided on this one. There are good, strong arguments on both sides of this issue, with some definite economic impacts either way.

Prop 203 (Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Initiative): A "yes" vote shall have the effect of [1] establishing an early childhood development health care board and fund, [2] increasing the state tax on cigarettes (.80 cents/pack), cigars and other tobacco products, [3] establishing regional partnership councils throughout the state to identify childhood development and health services needs at the local level and [4] distributing monies and grants to eligible programs that serve children up to five years of age and their families. Another good program to help our children (Arizona doesn't do well in helping kids as it is). And again, with a cigarette tax funding these programs, I won't be paying for it. If I were a smoker, I'd consider quitting.

Prop 204 (Humane Treatment of Farm Animals Act): A "yes" vote shall have the effect of establishing misdemeanor fines and penalties for tethering or confining a pregnant pig or a calf raised for veal for all or a majority of the day in a manner that prevents the animal from lying down and fully extending its limbs or turning around freely but excepts transportation of the animal, rodeo and fair exhibitions, lawful slaughters, research, veterinary purposes and the seven day period before a pig's expected date of giving birth. Opponents are calling this measure (appropriately) hogwash. This is an initiative heavily funded by out-of-state vegans and other radicals. I know some farmers and know that they treat their animals humanely. My vote is no.

Prop 205 (Your Right to Vote by Mail Act): A "yes" vote shall have the effect of requiring a ballot be mailed to every registered voter and all elections be conducted by mail-in ballot, eliminating polling places in each precinct, restricting the use of polling places to a minimum number of countywide locations other than school buildings, and repealing the sample ballot requirement while retaining current early ballot laws. Hey, what about my right to vote at a polling place on election day? I absolutely do not support this initiative - this is certainly the most idiotic of all the propositions (although the lottery drawing for my vote is a real close second). I don't think that even our legislature would be bone-headed enough to propose this. 'Nuff said.

Prop 206 (Arizona Non-Smoker Protection Act): A "yes" vote shall have the effect of prohibiting smoking in all public places and places of employment while exempting bars that prohibit minors and have separate ventilation systems, private residences, tobacco stores, designated hotel/motel rooms, veterans and fraternal clubs, Native American religious ceremonies, and outdoor patios, and will prohibit minors in bars that allow smoking and will require no smoking signs be posted where smoking is prohibited. Even if Prop 201 doesn't pass, but this one does, I'll be happy.

Prop 207 (Private Property Rights Protection Act): A "yes" vote shall have the effect of [1] establishing additional rights for individuals whose property is taken by the government for public use (eminent domain), [2] defining "public use," [3] prohibiting the taking of property for economic development, [4] requiring primary residences taken by eminent domain be replaced by a comparable dwelling, [5] requiring compensation for property values reduced by land use laws, [6] requiring attorneys fees' in eminent domain lawsuits, and [7] allowing attorneys' fees in property value reduction lawsuits. I'm still undecided on this, but I'm leaning toward a yes vote.

Prop 300: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of making only citizens or legal residents of the United States eligible to [1] participate in state subsidized immigrant and adult education classes, [2] receive in-state student or county residency status for community college and university purposes, [3] receive state subsidized tuition/fee waivers and financial assistance, [4] receive state subsidized child care assistance, [5] participate in state sponsored family literacy programs; and requiring the Board of Education, community colleges and universities, and the Department of Economic Security to report the number of ineligible persons applying for these programs and assistance. I'm pretty sure I'll vote no on this. This again is aimed at our illegal aliens, but alas, I don't think that very many have the ability to take advantage of these programs.

Prop 301: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of making a person ineligible for mandatory probation if the person is convicted of an offense involving the personal use or possession of methamphetamine. Yes, absolutely. I'm frankly surprised that meth users do only get mandatory probation. Meth users are very dangerous to society. If your neighborhood has a house used as a meth lab, you might as well invite terrorists to come in and crash a plane.

Prop 302: A "yes" vote shall have the effect of raising State Legislators' salaries to $36,000 per year. Same proposition, different year - and different number (I think). You've got to admire them for their persistence. I might consider paying real money to our legislature when they decide to pass some real legislation (rather than tap-dance around the important issues). I'll vote no - again.

Election Time Again

It's that time - election season. And this promises to be an interesting one indeed.

Here in Arizona there are ten ballot propositions - no state has more. I haven't had the chance to look at them in any detail, but at least a couple of them are redundant and somewhat condradictory, like the two non/anti-smoking propositions. It's too bad our state legislature is too chicken to tackle these issues on their own, but at least the people get to decide. Sounds like true democracy...hmmm...

Unless she does something really stupid in the next thirty days, Governor Janet Napolitano should win re-election with a slam-dunk. I know somewhat of her challenger, Len Munsill - he used to put his opinion out there on a local Christian radio station. While I agree with some of his viewpoints, he's just a bit too conservative for my tastes. He's also taken quite a harsh stand on a few non-issues. Unfortunately he reminds me of a previous governor from way out in right field: Evan Mecham - and he was impeached.

The immigration issue is a hot topic in Arizona, and I think this election will be a mandate as such. Governor Napolitano has already taken the toughest stand amongst all U.S. governors against the illegal immigration problem which is quite prevalent in our state, and crossed party lines in support of President Bush when he signed the latest Federal legislation to deal with the problem.

We have a hotly contested U.S. Senate race between incumbant Republican John Kyl and his Democratic challenger, John Pederson. Hot-button issues in this race include immigration, homeland security, social security, and even abortion. Again, I think that the mandate on immigration will decide this race, and I think Kyl will prevail.

We also have a hotly contested U.S. House race (thank God not in my district!) between the incumbant Republican J.D. Hayworth and Democratic challenger Harry Mitchell. The ads for this race are clearly contradictory and it's hard to see who's really telling the truth. This one may go along party lines, which would favor Hayworth. I remember when Harry Mitchell was mayor of Tempe - I thought he was an incompetant ass then.

So there it is. I need to study the propositions, and I'll get back with you.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Arizona Walk to Emmaus #167

Well, it was a lot of fun. Arizona Walk to Emmaus #167 this past Thursday through Sunday was a success - perhaps the best walk ever (as we always say after each walk).

The weekend went off with only a small amount of hitches - which is always to be expected (just like a big wedding). It pretty much ran on schedule. The meals were always ready on time and we only had to wait on the rest of the group only once - and that was only about 15-20 minutes. That's really good, actually!

Albiet a little more shorthanded than I would have liked, the cook team which I was leading did a fantastic job. The menu planning turned out well, and the meats I had ordered from a local wholesaler were top notch.

One of the most touching moments for all of us was when the pilgrims received a Bible. That part of the weekend is always a moving experience. My most cherished moment of that experience occurred right after that when one of our cooks - a big Pacific Islander dressed in an apron which barely fit him and a chef's hat which barely fit him - stood there wiping his eyes.

I, too, received a new Bible during the weekend from my good friend and lay director, M. He gave me a New King James Version Study Bible with a leather carrying case. A Bible is always a wonderful gift - this certainly was no exception.

It was also very tiring. I slept 14 hours Sunday/Monday and layed around all day Monday. Tuesday was better, and today I'm going to be out about when I go to church tonight. Looking back, it was an incredibly busy time preparing for the weekend as well as participating in the weekend. It's been more than a month since I posted, but I should get back into my routine slowly but surely.

All in all, a great weekend.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

9/11 - Five Years and Counting...

I have to give credit to my pastor for this one. But I'll paraphrase:

Five years ago, nineteen hijackers carried out a plan which was intended to scare the hell out of America. Many innocent lives were lost. But it didn't work. Instead, we became more united than we had been in at least a generation.

Shortly after, and since then, America has attempted to bomb the hell out of those responsible. We've overthrown the governments of two countries in the process. Many innocent lives have been lost. Yet it hasn't worked. Instead, those who seek to destroy us are more united than ever.

The real truth is that both sides have been fanning the flames of hell that burn in our hearts. This certainly is not the fate that God intended for us.

Mercy triumphs over judgement - every time. Isn't it about time to let mercy reign?

Busyness, Reflections, and Opportunities

I seem to be apologizing for my hiatus from posting more than I'm actually posting. So here are some reflections on what's been going on in my busy life lately.

Our new pastor has been with us just over two months. Almost immediately I started to notice a change in our church. It seems more alive and full of the Spirit. The response to him from our congregation has been quite warm - and I truly believe the healing has begun. Now perhaps we can start to focus on growth again.

I had been away from the praise band on Wednesday nights, but I returned shortly after Pastor B started. It's been a blessing to be back, and to watch the attendance at that service grow.

I claimed a new ministry for myself. Our youth director resigned back in mid-July. He was the one who also led the pastoral prayer during our contemporary service. The Lord put it on my heart to volunteer to lead the prayer during that service - hey, I was available - why not? Besides, extemporaneous prayer is not one of my strengths - what better way to develop that skill? It was a step of faith, to be sure, but one that has opened my eyes to new opportunity.

Serving as head cook for the upcoming Walk to Emmaus (just 25 days from now!) has been a tremendous blessing for me. To think I avoided this job for so many years! But I wasn't really ready to be a head cook until now. Whatever concerns I had melted away when we had our first team meeting. I felt I was in my element when I met with the entire cook team, giving out instructions and fielding their questions. I have been blessed to work with an awesome team of men who just do what needs to be done at the moment. I'm not so much a supervisor as I am a teacher and encourager. It really hit me when I was praying with our lay director, M, before he gave his talk to the team. "I'm not here to be head cook - I'm here to be [M's] prayer partner." That was an awesome feeling when I realized that. Currently we have just three more preparation meetings and then the actual Walk itself. It will be here and done before we know it.

Meanwhile, I hit a minor snag with the prayer time during the contemporary service last week. We have had this one gentleman show up at this service who is, well - odd. He's not a member of our church (not that it matters) who shows up with a veil over his head (thereby his odd appearance) and when he shares a prayer, it's long and full of words that the congregation is perhaps not used to (thereby completing his oddness), and then he leaves. At the weekly staff meeting it was decided that he was perhaps too disruptive and that it would be perhaps better if I didn't take the microphone to him. I didn't agree with that decision, but I abided by it. As it turns out, it was more dispruptive not to let him share. I was quite embarrassed with the whole situation, snubbing this man in front of everybody. It reminded me of the passage from James 2:1-4 (which we happened to read today!). I let Pastor B know of my discomfort. He and I agreed to play it by ear, but that it would probably be best to let him share next time.

In the days following, my wife had mentioned the incident and how she thought it was odd that I would do that. Her friends had also mentioned it. But they all agreed it wasn't my own doing. So by all accounts, nobody blamed me. That's nice. But it only made me feel more like I was under a microscope, as well as the church I was representing. I was even more embarrassed. I resolved that in the same situation, I was not going to exclude anyone from this ministry.

I made the decision mid-week that I would not attend the contemporary service today. I felt it more necessary to step away at least just this once while I contemplated not coming back at all. But even before this morning I had decided I'll be back next week.

That decision was in large part due to a conversation I had with one of the men I'm serving with on the Walk to Emmaus. He serves as prayer coordinator at his own church. I described what happened last week (he jokingly and dramatically said, "You let Jesus have the microphone?"). He assured me - whether I agreed with it or not - that I was obeying authority. So, I pretty much shook the dust off of my feet of the whole matter, and I'm ready to move on.

I did get to sleep in an extra hour this morning. And as I got ready for church, the Lord touched my heart and a new ministry opportunity presented itself to me. We have a prayer ministry at church which is okay. But it could be better. And I could facilitate that.

It would eventually involve the following:
  • prayer cards that people fill out during fellowship times
  • having people available to pray with during fellowship
  • having prayer cards read during the contemporary service
  • posting of prayers to a website linked to the church's website
Oh, and the fellowship time? Just today, he administrative board approved a new Sunday worship schedule that would facilitate fellowship time. Is that great timing or what?

So there it is.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

That's So French

As the cease-fire continues to hold between Israel and Hezbollah, a United Nations peacekeeping force is forming in southern Lebanon which will comprise of some 15,000 troops. France, a leading proponent of the UN-brokered cease-fire, announced on Friday that they would be sending another 200 troops, doubling its current contingent to a whopping 400 troops. That's so French.

Meanwhile, click here to see how you can make your own French flag.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Lose/Lose Situation

The recent conflict involving Israel and Hezbollah (the state-within-a-state) is over for now. Both sides claim victory. But both sides lost.

Israel lost because they bowed to international pressure. 157 Israelis - mostly civilians -were killed. Imagine if Hezbollah had made more precise attacks! It became clear that Israel was out to seperate Hezbollah from the world and neutralize them. They nearly did that. Yet stopped short. In the end, Hezbollah still remains a threat to the north of Israel. And remember how this crisis started? With the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers? They have not been returned, and are seldom mentioned anymore.

Hezbollah lost simply because - despite their claims - they did not win. They did not invade Israel. Nor did they inflict the same kind of damage or casualties as was inflicted upon Lebanon. Depending on which side you believe, either 530 or just 80 Hezbollah fighters were killed (I tend to believe the higher Israeli figure as the Muslim press cannot be trusted). Hezbollah also exposed its sponsors, Iran and Syria, with unwanted scrutiny from the global community. And even today, many Lebanese are questioning why Hezbollah has been allowed to operate in Lebanon, just as they have questioned Syrian influence on Lebanese politics. How can Hezbollah possibly say they won? Did they win Palestinian freedom anywhere? Did they even return a single refugee to Palestine? Granted they inflicted some damage, but they certainly did not break the capability of the Israeli military nor break the will and the spirit of the Israeli people. In fact, the Israelis are probably stronger for it. And Israel remains a major and formidable threat to Hezbollah, with the ability to attack with impunity at any time they choose. So Hezbollah won? I don't think so.

Only the United Nations itself can claim a marginal victory in that they somehow were able to broker a cease-fire at all. But Hezbollah has already vowed they will not disarm themselves, and the Lebanese Army certainly won't disarm them, either.

The European Union lost because they never acknowledged Hezbollah as a terrorist organization before this crisis. And they still don't recognize them as such, even though Hezbollah provoked this attack.

The United States lost because they never convinced the rest of the world that Hezbollah was even a viable threat to the security of the Middle East.

Syria has always been a loser, and this conflict didn't help their image any.

The events surrounding this crisis have also lifted high the veil that has covered the Islamo-facist regime of Iran; even a lot of Arab nations are growing nervous over a Persian-dominated Middle East.

But the biggest loser in all this is Lebanon, a country caught in the cross-fire. Estimates place civilian casualties there at 1130 dead, 3600 wounded, and one million displaced. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses are destroyed. When a state-within-a-state is targeted, there is much collateral damage upon the state. It's not unlike treating an agressive cancer - you risk losing the patient.

The environmental cost has been high, too. Israeli ordinance includes depleted uranium warheads, the very nature of which constitute a health risk. There is an oil spill in the Mediterranean resulting from an Israeli airstrike on a power station. It covers an extensive area along the shores of Lebanon and Syria, and is drifting toward Cyprus and Turket. If not contained soon, it will rival the Exxon-Valdez spill of 1989. And in Israel, firefighters are busy with forest fires in the Naftali mountain range which were sparked by Hezbollah rockets.

Thankfully the truce is holding. But I don't hold much faith in it.

Keep watch, my brethren. Be vigilant.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Please forgive me for my brief hiatus from blogging; it's been busy around here.

Well, the crisis continues between Israel and Hezbollah. As I type this, air raid sirens are once again sounding in northern Israel. And about 1000 IDF troops are actually pulling out of Lebanon. Meanwhile, rumors are flying that there may be a ceasefire in the works starting as early as tomorrow.

Looking at the past week's news, though, you wouldn't think that the war was cooling down. Israel continues to strike against strategic targets, including transportion routes in and out of Beirut. Hezbollah has intensified its rocket attacks against Israel, and are managing to reach deeper into Israel. Attacks on both sides are getting deadlier as the body count mounts.

One of the more distressing events occured when Isreal shot down an explosive-laden drone flying offshore. Its most likely target was Tel Aviv.

Israeli television was reporting yesterday that amongst some Hezbollah guerillas killed in action, there were also members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Hmmm.

Meanwhile the Israeli Air Force is getting pretty good at finding rocket launch sites. Whenever a rocket is launched, it leaves a tell-tale sign of the launch site - which can immediately be attacked with an air-to-surface missile. Good for Israel. Bad for Hezbollah.

A cease-fire would be a wonderful thing. But I just don't see how it's realistic at this time. Hezbollah is not a sovereign entity that can be negotiated with, and any UN-brokered agreement would not be binding upon them. Hezbollah is the party that started this conflict, and they've not made any indication that they care to stop. Even with a cease-fire in place, I wouldn't be surprised to see them lobbing rockets into Israel anyway.

Sending Lebanese troops to the south of the country sounds like a solution, but it's not. Where have they been all of these years? Shouldn't they have been there already? It's their country, isn't it? Fact is, Hezbollah is part of the political structure of Lebanon, where they even hold seats in Parliament. The Lebanese Army trying to disarm Hezbollah would amount to nothing less than civil war. And from what we've seen from Hezbollah, I doubt the Lebanese Army is a match for them.

My solution? I would have Israel and Lebanon agree to link up along a line running well to the north of the Lebanon-Israel border, essentially allowing Israel to occupy southern Lebanon and neutralize Hezbollah. As the IDF mops up in southern Lebanon, a substantial international force of peacekeepers who are truly sincere about keeping the peace (not the French!) would be brought in. Then the IDF could withdraw back to Israel. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army would be bolstered and eventually be allowed to re-occupy their own territory. And of course, there would be absolutely zero-tolerance for Hezbollah to operate anywhere in southern Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Israel is prepared to escalate this crisis as more troops have massed along the border. Their planned offensive is on hold - for now.

Keep watch, brethren. Be vigilant.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Escalation VI

We have always said that in our war with the Arabs we had a secret weapon - no alternative. - Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel (1969-74)

The past several days have seen events that don't bode well for the cessation of hostilities along the Israel-Lebanon border any time soon.

Efforts to commence a cease-fire are going nowhere; various nations have offered various proposals, but no one seems to agree on a definitive plan. I think everyone - even Israel - pretty much agrees that the poor Lebanese are the ones most hurt in this terrible crisis. (although I believe the regime in Iran could care less as long as Israel gets hurt). Israel contends that they need to neutralize the threat from Hezbollah. That seems to be the official stance of the Bush administration as well.

This week's innocent victims include four United Nations observers who were evidently in the wrong place at the wrong time during an Israeli bombing. Quite surprising when you consider UN peacekeepers tend to leave an area when hostilities erupt. Quite surprising when you consider how quickly the UN abandoned Iraq when their base of operations in Baghdad was bombed by terrorists. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (a corrupt lameduck if you ask me) was quite angered by the incident and claimed it was a deliberate attack by Israel. Hey, if you're at a baseball game, you might get hit by a foul ball or even a broken bat. It's not the stadium's fault or the team's fault. You need to be aware a of what's flying around you. Same goes for a war zone. You might get hurt if you stay in one! These guys were there to observe a war. Well, duh! They found one!

Now the pigs of al-Qaeda have decided they should get involved, and called upon all Muslims to come fight against Israel. And Hezbollah doesn't even want them there.

Israel is halting further advances into southern Lebanon - for now. Meanwhile they're busy calling up 30,000 more reserve troops.

The missiles keep flying. One struck an Israeli chemical plant. Cute. And now Hezbollah is firing missiles with longer range, reaching targets 10 miles farther than Haifa. These missiles are known to be manufactured by Iran. Both sides are claiming these missiles have been deployed.

The veil of evil in the Middle East is being lifted, and the guilty parties are being revealed. Iran has shown they are very much committed to this conflict. Although they seem to lack the courage to engage Israel directly, Iran has no problem putting their weapons in the hands of privateers (namely Hezbollah) and hiring them to do their dirty work, and exploiting the Lebanese in the process.

Syria has exploited the Lebanese for generations now. Their designs against Israel are no secret. The massive flow of Iranian arms into the hands of Hezbollah can only flow one way - through Syria. If al-Queda makes good on its promise, they can only do so mostly by going through Syria. At some point, Syria is going to have to pay the price. President Bush today urged Syria to get out of this conflict. I doubt they will heed. If this conflict degenerates to the point where WMDs are used against Israel, I can almost guarantee that Damascus will be wiped off of the map.

Hezbollah, too, has exploited the Lebanese, to the point where they have usurped Lebanese sovereignty in the south. In parts of Lebanon, Hezbollah is Lebanon. And the Lebanese military is no match for them.

While much of the world displays its victim mentality, let us remember a few things: Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza and the West Bank. This was a gesture of good faith. The Israelis even looked the other way when some minor terrorist attacks were executed against them. How does Hamas and Hezbollah reciprocate? By crossing the border, kidnapping soldiers, and firing missiles into Israel. There is only one word for that kind of response: Evil.

Keep watch, my brethren. Stay vigilant.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Escalation V

So here's the latest on the on brewing crisis in the Middle East (which only a few are calling a war):

There doesn't seem to be any let up on either side. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that they will fight on until attacks end and the kidnapped soldiers are returned. And to underscore that point, IDF troops have entered southern Lebanon.

Strangely enough, though, the Arabs in general seem to be getting fed up with Hezbollah, and Syria is being urged to influence Hezbollah to stop attacking Israel. However, Syria is now vowing to join the fight if Israeli forces approach the Syrian border

Meanwhile Iran is now boasting that no part of Israel is safe from Hezbollah attack. Cute. Jerusalem Newswire is reporting that Hezbollah is poised to fire dirty bomb warheads, using spent nuclear reactor fuel rods as their payload (hmmm, where did they get those?) Elite Israeli commandos are supposedly deep in Lebanon searching for these weapons with orders to document what they find before destroying them. And remember all of those WMDs that Saddam Hussein supposedly had? Perhaps some of those have ended up in the hands of Hezbollah.

Jerusalem Post is reporting that Hezbollah sleeper cells are standing by for activation for attacks against Israeli (and perhaps American) interests around the world

Diplomats are still scurrying about the Middle East; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Lebanon today to help negotiate a US-backed cease-fire. The Lebanese government rejected our proposal, though.

The most compelling news now is that Isreali troops in Lebanon are now focused on a Hezbollah stronghold, believed to be a missile launch site and to hold a large cache of weapons. That could turn out to be quite interesting.

Keep watch, my brethren. Stay vigilant.

Another Day at Mayo

Well, we spent a good part of the day at Mayo. Nothing unexpected, though. This was an ERCP that had already been scheduled for my wife.

The procedure was supposed to begin at 8:00. But there was a hitch - they couldn't get an IV started. Finally a PICC nurse got one in at about 10:45 (that was the first time I ever saw ultrasound used to find a vein!). Finally, after waiting for a patient that took S's place, she went in at 11:30 and was done by 1:00.

The doctor said everything looked fine and the procedure went without a hitch. We go back in October. At that time the doctor will remove the stents and we'll hope and pray that the biliary duct doesn't constrict ever again.

It was a longer day than expected, but I did get to listen to some music, watch TV, snooze, eat lunch, listen to some more music, get a snack, and read some magazines and newspapers. I probably would have done even less if I had stayed home today.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Escalation IV

The headlines seem to be a bit less bolder, but the missiles are still flying over the border between Israel and Lebanon.
Israel says they won't accept a cease-fire unless the two IDF soldiers are returned and Hezbollah is made less than a threat. It appears now that Israel is systematically going after Hezbollah targets. They're even attacking some elements of the Lebanese military as well (no surprise as they hold Lebanon responsible for not handling the terrorist situation).

The most troubling news perhaps came yesterday. A truck loaded with long-range missiles was attacked during an Israeli airstrike. The truck was believed to be operated by Hezbollah. And the missiles are believed to come from Iran. Isn't that special?

An interesting plot twist - now even the Arab League has condemned Hezbollah for their rocket attacks on Israel. Sounds like they don't want war. But the Iranians are not Arab.

Evacuations from Beirut began today. Israel can't guarantee anyone's safety within Lebanon. Then again, Israel's not exactly safe, either.


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Escalation III

Here are some of the events transpiring the last few days in and around Israel:
  • Israel continues to hit strategic targets inside Lebanon, including Hezbollah offices, weapons-storage facilities, airports, bridges, and roads. There are considerably more attacks within the Beirut area itself. Israeli strikes are also occuring deeper into Lebanon.
  • The Lebanese ports of Tripoli, Sidon, and Tyre are blocked by Israeli warships.
  • Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah announced that they were prepared for "open war" against Israel. "You wanted an open war, you will have an open war," Nasrallah said. By the way, Nasrallah's home in southern Beirut was destroyed the same day.
  • A missile struck an Israeli warship offshore, killing four Israeli soldiers.
  • Hundreds of rockets have struck inside northern Israel, as well as deeper into Israel; there are concerns that they may soon hit Tel Aviv. Although denying that they launched the rocket that hit Haifa on Thursday, Hezbollah claimed resposibility for the rocket that struck a train depot in Haifa today and killed eight Israelis. Israel pounded the southern suburbs of Beirut in response.
  • IDF troops have re-entered northern Gaza.
  • Israeli warplanes have again bombed the Palestinian Foreign Ministry in Gaza.

As the ordinance and accusations continue to fly over both sides of the border, it is apparent that things will likely get worse before they get better. As one side ratchets up the conflict, the other side also ratchets up in response/retalation. Sadly enough, civilian casualties are beginning mount, especially in Lebanon where the Israeli response is especially harsh.

One reason this is not considered an actual war yet is because Israel is the only sovereign nation supposedly involved. It's just a matter of semantics. Iran and Syria claim they're not involved, but I'm not buying it by virtue that they're sure sticking their necks out for the Palestinians. Somebody is helping them - it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. A couple hundred rockets lobbed into Israel should be plenty of evidence.

For a mere terrorist group/political party (by virtue of holding seats in the Lebanese Parliament), Hezbollah is throwing a hell of a lot of firepower at Israel. Somebody has to be helping them. Israel claims that these rockets are Iranian-made (of course Iran denies that claim). If the IDF could manage to capture a Hezbollah weapons cache, they may just be able to prove that claim. The claim could also be proven if one of these rockets turns out to be a dud and lands more-or-less intact (I don't know if that's even possible). In fact the Jerusalem Posts claims that an Iranian military source told an Arab newspaper that Iran provided 11,500 rockets to Hezbollah. Hello!

Consider also the missile that hit the Israeli warship. Hezbollah's rockets were characterized in the media as a "point-and-shoot" weapon where the launching party is happy if it happens to land on a nice target. The hit on that ship is evidence enough that the weapon was considerably more sophisticated - along with the training required to launch and successfully hit its target. That's not rocket science, either (and Israel has confirmed it was a missile hit). One reason the ship was hit was because they weren't expecting a missile launch and didn't have their missile defenses up.

As I stated in my previous post, Israel's mission in Lebanon appears to be to isolate Hezbollah from the rest of the world. I think the IDF in so many words has since made that clear and has been demonstrated through their tactics. Nothing in, nothing out. Except, of course, the imminent airlifts of foreign civilians out of Lebanon.

I also find it interesting that Syria has lifted its requirements to present a visa to cross its border (at least the border with Lebanon). That's to help facilitate those leaving Lebanon. What a clever way to get militants and soldiers across the border into Lebanon!

It will be interesting to see the reaction if/when Iran and/or Syria are proven to be directly involved in this conflict (like rocket parts labeled in Farsi or some actual troops found in Lebanon). It's hard to blubber with egg on your face.

Meanwhile, keep watch, my brethren. Be vigilant.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Escalation II - Israel Was Deliberately Drawn Out

That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness...
- Zephaniah 1:15

Okay, it's been about three weeks now since this whole mess started. I'm willing to bet that Hamas didn't think that the IDF would react as severely and as swiftly as they did when they nabbed Corporal Shalit. But they did.

But let's face it. When Hezbollah fired a rocket into Israel from Lebanon the other day, they were kind of hoping Israel would react as they did in Gaza. In fact, they were counting on it. Israel was deliberately drawn out into this conflict.

Retribution by Israeli forces against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon has been swift and harsh. Attacks are being made by land, sea, and air. Beirut's port has been blockaded by Israeli naval forces. Beirut International Airport has been shut down after all three runways have been damaged.

Another major escalation occurred today after a Hezbollah rocket successfully reached Haifa, Israel's third largest city. Hezbollah has threatened to attack Haifa, but oddly enough, they deny this latest attack. What? They don't have the capability? Then who the hell did? Maybe the Syrian military carried out this attack? Or Iran?

Today the Iranian president made a rather provocative statement by warning Israel not to attack Syria. So, Iran has now committed itself to a Middle East war.

Meanwhile, Israeli jets have now bombed the main highway between Beirut and Damascus. They have dropped leaflets warning Lebanese civilians to stay away from Hezbollah centers. It looks like Israel intends to cut Lebanon - Hezbollah's base of operations - off from the rest of the world. Pretty good strategy. Israel can accomplish its mission against Hezbollah without having to attack Syria directly. The ball will be in Syria's - and Iran's - court.

There's also rumors that the kidnapped soldiers are being transferred to Iran. Of course, Iran is denying it - that would only further prove Iran's complicity in this affair.

But we may soon see that Israel is indeed being deliberately drawn out directly by Syria and Iran. Already battle lines are being drawn. It looks like the alliance prophesied in Ezekiel 38 is lining up already.

Jesus said there would be wars and rumors of wars as we approach the Last Days. One would think that the current conflict is only a rumor of war since the media is not yet calling this a war (although CNN did go out on a limb by calling it an undeclared war). I wonder what it will take to classify this as a war. Perhaps when another sovereign state (like Syria) decides to fight back? Or if Israel attacks Syria?

I often wonder now if this is it - the beginning of the end. Are we about to witness more fulfillment of prophecy? What a terrible and awesome sight! That can only mean one thing - we're one step closer to seeing the return of the Christ! [see also this article from]

Keep watch, my brethren. Stay vigilant.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


An oracle concerning Damascus: "See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. - Isaiah 17:1

Well, it would seem that the news concerning Israel is getting hotter. Sure, the IDF incursion makes it to the top of the news headlines for a little while before all the other news takes center stage again (granted there have been some doosies with the bombings in Mumbai and with North Korea behaving badly).

The military operations continue in Gaza with a spectacular airstrike that severely damaged the Palestinian Foreign Ministry building. Other airstrikes and bombings have been targeting key members of the ruling Hamas party.

But what really took the cake is when Hezbollah militants crossed into Israel from Lebanon and killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two others. Calling it an "act of war," Israel has kept its promise of harsh retaliation and crossed into southern Lebanon, where the IDF is now targeting Hezbollah assets. There have even been airstrikes hitting the Beirut airport.

Naturally Iran and Syria, who support Hezbollah, are crying out in anger. The U.S. is pointing fingers at Iran and Syria. Diplomats are scurrying all over the Middle East trying to broker a peaceful resolution to this latest conflict.

Israel right now is only going after Hamas and Hezbollah targets. They're not interested in engaging Syria - yet. But my gut feeling tells me this isn't going to get better any time soon, and this will continue to escalate (I think this time the skittish folks who set prices on oil futures may be right).

One interesting thing to consider is that Damascus holds an interesting piece of the puzzle of Biblical prophecy - as in they won't be there anymore (see also Jeremiah 49:26-27). Everyone suspects that Israel has the bomb. If Syria is as tangled up in this whole mess as we think they are, or more importantly - as Israel thinks they are - Israel may find themselves in a position where they feel it necessary to deploy that bomb. There are many targets to consider - Tehran being one of them. But Damascus is the most logical. And that could be the hook that turns Russia and the Arab world against Israel as prophesied in Ezekiel 38. Then again, only God really knows how it will all go down.

Keep watch, my brethen. Stay vigilant.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Why We Shouldn't Build Homes and Businesses Near Military Installations

I heard about this story from an email I received from two friends. Turns out to be a true story.

The complaint:

A letter to the Editor;

Question of the day for Luke Air Force Base: Whom do we thank for the morning air show?
Last Wednesday, at precisely 9:11 a.m., a tight formation of four F-16 jets made a low pass over Arrowhead Mall, continuing west over Bell Road at approximately 500 feet. Imagine our good fortune!

Do the Tom Cruise-wannabes feel we need this wake-up call, or were they trying to impress the cashiers at Mervyns' early-bird special?

Any response would be appreciated.

Tom MacRae, Peoria
[source: The Arizona Republic. "A Wake-Up Call from Luke's Jets." Letters to the Editor. 23 June 2005]

The response:

Regarding "A wake-up call from Luke's jets":

On June 15, at precisely 9:12 a.m., a perfectly timed four-ship of F-16s from the 63rd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base flew over the grave of Capt Jeremy Fresques.

Capt. Fresques was an Air Force officer who was previously stationed at Luke Air Force Base and was killed in Iraq on May 30, Memorial Day.

At 9 a.m. on June 15, his family and friends gathered at Sunland Memorial Park in Sun City to mourn the loss of a husband, son and friend.

Based on the letter writer's recount of the flyby, and because of the jet noise, I'm sure you didn't hear the 21-gun salute, the playing of taps, or my words to the widow and parents of Capt. Fresques as I gave them their son's flag on behalf of the president of the United States and all those veterans and servicemen and women who understand the sacrifices they have endured.

A four-ship flyby is a display of respect the Air Force pays to those who give their lives in defense of freedom. We are professional aviators and take our jobs seriously, and on June 15 what the letter writer witnessed was four officers lining up to pay their ultimate respects.

The letter writer asks, "Whom do we thank for the morning air show?"

The 56th Fighter Wing will call for you, and forward your thanks to the widow and parents of Capt. Fresques, and thank them for you, for it was in their honor that my pilots flew the most honorable formation of their lives.

Lt. Col. Scott Pleus
Luke Air Force Base

[source: The Arizona Republic. "Flyby Honored Fallen Comrade." Letters to the Editor. 28 June 2005.]

The apology (this was not published until just today. In Mr. MacRae's defense, I feel compelled to share this):

Regarding "Flyby honoring fallen comrade" (Letters, June 28):

I read with increasing embarrassment and humility the response to my unfortunate letter to The Republic concerning an Air Force flyby ("A wake-up call from Luke's jets," Letters, June 23).

I had no idea of the significance of the flyby, and would never have insulted such a fine and respectful display had I known.

I have received many calls from the fine airmen who are serving or have served at Luke, and I have attempted to explain my side and apologized for any discomfort my letter has caused.

This was simply an uninformed citizen complaining about noise.

I have been made aware in both written and verbal communications of the four-ship flyby, and my heart goes out to each and every lost serviceman and woman in this war in which we are engaged.

I have been called un-American by an unknown caller and I feel that I must address that. I served in the U.S. Navy and am a Vietnam veteran. I love my country and respect the jobs that the service organizations are doing.

Please accept my heartfelt apologies.

Tom MacRae, Peoria

[source: The Arizona Republic. "An Apology from the Heart to the Airmen of Luke." Letters to the Editor. 9 July 2005.]

Any one of us can appear insensative at any time. Let's give Mr. MacRae some slack.

I forgive you, Tom.

More Israel in the News - Sort Of

I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army—your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords. Persia, Cush and Put will be with them, all with shields and helmets, also Gomer with all its troops, and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its troops—the many nations with you. - Ezekiel 38:4-6

This is a continuation of my previous post on this topic.

Israeli forces have continued their incursion into the Gaza Strip. In fact they have now invaded the northern portion of the Gaza Strip in an effort to halt rocket attacks originating there.

Meanwhile, Corporal Gilad Shalit is still in Palestinian hands, even after the passing of a deadline where Israel was to meet the militants' demands "or else" (another demonstration of Arab/Palestinian bravado).

And now comes an opinion poll showing that 77% of Palestinians surveyed support the kidnapping of Corporal Shalit. Good grief! No wonder these people don't deserve their own country!

But the most provocative - and perhaps prophetic - statement this week came from Iranian (Persian) President Mahmoud Ahmadinejed. He called on all Islamic countries to mobilize against Israel and "remove" the "Zionist regime." Wait, isn't Islam a peaceful religion? That's the spin I keep hearing! He then goes on to say, "The biggest threat today for the region is the existence of the fake Zionist regime."

And remember, this is the same Iran with which the EU has been trying to talk out of developing nuclear weapons. The same Iran who denies they're doing this, but won't let anyone in to verify they're not doing this, and whom everyone knows they really are doing this (otherwise why would the EU so desperately try to talk them out of it?).

I have just two questions for Mr. Ahmadinejed: First, if the Zionist regime in Israel is "fake" (your words, not mine), then what are you worried about? You should be more concerned about a real Zionist regime. Second, if you were to attack Israel, what if the Zionist regime turns out to be real? Hmmm.

What gets me is the UN's condemnation of Israel for trying to protect themselves. Excuse me? I think I recall that the United Nations Charter even says that a nation has the right to protect its own integrity.

If Mexico decided to launch rockets and send suicide bombers into the U.S., wouldn't we be justified to respond with military force? Do you think illegal immigrants would be safe in the U.S.? Fortunately, Mexico is counted amongst civilized nations. (NOTE: In 1916, Mexican rebels under Pancho Villa did actually raid U.S. border towns and caused some real damage. The U.S. did respond militarily with its own incursion into Mexico).

So there's the current score - Israel vs. the World. Keep watch, my brethren. Be vigilant.

Walk #167, Leaders' Meeting #4

Yesterday's meeting was the last leaders' meeting before we start meeting as a full team next month. We still don't have a full team, but we're getting closer. We have some more phone calls to make. But it will come together in God's time.

We went over the agendas for the first two team meetings and ironed out the few bugs we had. We also toured the host church.

I must say that as lay director, M has been truly blessed. His organization is impeccable. He is clearly aware of his role as a leader and teacher. And he's definitely been touched by the Spirit.

Healing Moments

Well, Pastor B preached his first Sunday with us last week. We had quite a spectacular church service - perhaps a little more high church than some are used to. But nonetheless, a good Sunday. His message was one of healing and reconciliation, something our church needs to hear. I especially was impressed with his message that if we keep Christ in the center and move toward Him, we not only will be closer to Christ, but be closer to each other.

Another healing moment came on Thursday. My wife's cousin was the dean of the junior high camp up at Camp Mingus last week. Since I work half a day on Thursdays, I thought it might be fun to go up for the afternoon and visit. Well, S expressed her desire to go up with me. I thought that was a great idea (I had already thought of her coming up with me before she even mentioned it). S had not been up to camp in ten years. So she hadn't seen the new retreat cabins or any of the other improvements made to the camp. So off we went.

It was a nice afternoon. We drove out of the oppressive heat of Phoenix and entered into cool mountain air, and even enjoyed some rain. At camp we got to see some old friends who happened to be working there also and take part in an afternoon worship service. Dinner was also wonderful - it was roast turkey night.

Whenever I go to Mingus Mountain, I always manage to get at least a little spiritual healing each time (if nothing else). But what S got out of our little excursion was nothing short of miraculous healing. I don't think I've seen her this energized since she was first downed by her series of pancreatitis attacks. What I've seen is some definite emotional and spiritual healing - and perhaps even a little physical healing. It's amazing how the body can be affected by the spirit.

The healing continued throughout the week. At our Emmaus leaders' team meeting, I shared how my own self-doubt had been taking its toll on me. It turns out that I was not alone, that most of my brothers (and sister) in Christ were experience the same feelings of inadequacy. But there is healing when share these burdens together. It's nice to know that God uses broken vessels to carry His Word.

Today's church service was a continuation of the healing from last week. I got to see one of my new little friends from camp; her enthusiastic greeting was healing in itself.

I may be broken, but it is well with my soul.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Reading Material That's Still Relevant

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Cat

It's amazing how easy it is to make your cat happy. S was preparing tuna sandwiches for our church luncheon tomorrow. We had five cans just like this. Snoopy is enjoying one here. Princess got to enjoy her own can.

Israel in the News - Sort Of

And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it. - Zechariah 12:3

Perhaps the most significant news story right now that's not grabbing huge headlines is the military incursion of Israeli forces into the Gaza Strip portion of Palestine.

The spark igniting the latest wildfire in the Middle East was set off last Sunday when some Palestinians tunneled under the border and abducted an Israeli soldier. Just who is responsible is not clear as there are three groups claiming responsibility (which means there are two or three wannabe's and one actual responsible party).

Regardless of who's really responsible, Israel has placed responsibility on the Hamas Party-led government of the Palestinian Authority. Israel has called upon the PA for unconditional release of Corporal Gilad Shalit. Since that didn't happen, Israel sent troops into southern Gaza on Wednesday and began airstrikes and shelling against key targets in the Gaza Strip, including several bridges, suspected Hamas training camps, and a power plant. A planned invasion of northern Gaza has been postponed, but IDF troops remain massed at the border there.

In addition, eight Palestinian cabinet members have been detained by the IDF, and four senior Hamas officials have had their Jerusalem residency rights revoked.

In another interesting twist, Israeli fighter jets buzzed the summer residence of Syria's president in an effort to influence that country to use it's influence on the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has appealed to the United Nations Security Council to condemn Israel's actions. Fortunately, Israel tends to ignore the UN when its own security is threatened.

And now the Palestinian militants are demanding the release of 1,000 prisoners and a halt to military action in Gaza. While they still have one prisoner in custody. After Israel has demanded the unconditional release of that same prisoner. While the IDF is currently occupying so-called Palestinian territory. Yeah, like that will happen.

Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza last year after a 38-year occupation. This was a condition of the peace accord drawn up between Israel and the PA. It was doubtful that this peace could last, given the Palestinian blood-lust. The Palestinian wingnuts have proven me correct.

When the Palestinians violated the terms of these peace agreements, did they really expect Israel to ignore these transgressions? Hello!!!

It's no secret that the Palestinians and many Arabs would like to see Israel wiped off the map. In fact, it has been government policy. But since its rebirth in 1948, Israel has proven to be too formidable, even now within Gaza where the IDF is able to seek and destroy known military/para-military/terrorist assests with impunity. Regardless whether Corporal Shalit is returned safely, the PA will be that much weaker when this is over, and the PA may have no choice to further abandon their ways and come to the peace table.

But I don't see much promise in that. We're not dealing with the superficial here. These are strong beliefs and a philosophy that is not too quickly abandoned. Arab governments have largely conceded to Israel and the peace process because they have been bloodied by Israel. The Arab governments got bloodied because they tried to fight Israel individually. It will take a concerted effort - dare I say? - a coalition of many Arab governments - to realize their dream of eliminating Israel. In fact, the Bible even predicts it [Ezekiel 38].

Perhaps this latest crisis in Gaza will escalate to that. Perhaps not. Keep watch, my brethren. Be vigilant.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Kind of Like Advent

This morning our choir director preached; his sermon sounded kind of like advent, giving us a new hope that should arrive along with our new pastor next week. He even quoted the same hymn I quoted when I first posted an article about our new pastor.

We as a congregation are being encouraged to bring as many family and neighbors as we can. And perhaps some of our old members who have disappeared in the years past. There is definitely a new excitement in our church. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And I get to be liturgist next week!