Category Archives: America

Random Thought Thursday: July 16, 2015

President Obama is being treated unfairly by the news media.

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Ok.  Now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain why I feel the need to defend the president.  I watched his press conference yesterday on the nuclear agreement he and other countries signed with Iran.  He made a good case for why he agreed to it, and his critics are making a good case why he shouldn’t have.  I have my opinions about this, but that’s not the point of this post.

In addition to being concerned about a rouge nation like Iran having a nuclear weapon, I’m very concerned about the 4 Americans being held as prisoners there, especially American Pastor Saaed Abedini who is being held because of his Christian faith.  So, I watched the news conference, and sure enough, a question about the 4 prisoners was brought up to the president…and this is when things got ugly.

CBS News’ Unfair Question

During the conference, CBS News’ Major Garrett asked the president this question: “Can you tell the country sir why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscious of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?”

It was apparent that the president was annoyed by the question – not just about the words – but about the tone of the reporter’s question.  And I was too.  To insinuate that the president is “content” with these 4 prisoners being in Iran is unfair.  He is not, and his composed response was a far calmer response than I would have given.

The president responded, “I’ve got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I’m content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better.” Then Obama reminded everyone at the conference and viewers that he has met with families of some of the Americans held in Iranian custody, and that his administration is “working diligently to try to get them out.”

Obama explained why tying the release of the Americans to the nuclear deal would not have been an ideal plan, and it made sense to me.  He said, “Nobody’s content. And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try and get them out. Now, if the question is ‘why we did not tie the [nuclear] negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly Iran realizes, ‘you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.'”

Even Pastor Saaed’s Wife Agrees

Naghmeh Abedini House Foreign Affairs Committee FduZZ9VHlYRl
In an interview by Leonardo Blair of the Christian Post,  Naghmeh Abedini, Pastor Saaed’s wife, said that she supported the president’s decision saying it “makes sense” and that she knew all along that her husband’s release would not have been a part of the deal and she also made it clear that she never asked that her husband’s release be a part of the nuclear deal.

She said, “I’ve never asked for Saeed to be part of the deal but I’ve hoped that on the sidelines that his release would have been secured as we still have some leverage with the Iranian government and that has been my hope that his release would have been secured even on the sidelines.”

Fox News Not So Fair and Balanced

Despite the president’s explanation and Naghmeh Abedini’s words, Fox News published an opinion piece by Jay Sekulow entitled: Iran deal: Obama leaves Pastor Saeed, Other Americans Behind.  In it he writes, “The worst case scenario has happened. The Obama administration has signed a deal with Iran – a deal that failed to secure the freedom of American Pastor Saeed Abedini and other Americans who remain imprisoned in Iran. It is unconscionable that the United States would ink a deal and leave Americans behind. But that’s exactly what has occurred.”

Really?  He’s leaving them behind? That’s nonsense.

At the press conference yesterday, Obama said, “That’s why those issues (the prisoners and the nuclear deal) are not connected, but we are working every single day to try and get them out and won’t stop until they are out and rejoined with their families.”

Naghmeh Abedini confirmed this.  She said, “I know they (U.S. diplomats) have also been talking to the Iranian government on the sidelines. Again, it does make sense that he was not part of the deal but I was hoping on the sidelines as they were reaching a deal they were also securing the release of Saeed and the other Americans. But his explanation does make sense. I’ve never wanted my husband to be part of having to give up something, our government and the rest of the world, for their release. And I didn’t want that to be used as part of the deal.”

Why does this bother me?

I’m not a huge fan of the president – nor have a been a huge fan of any president for that matter.  Politics are messy, and truth is hard to find within politics.  There’s so much gridlock and posturing that I’m pretty skeptical and cynical when it comes to politics – especially politics on a national level. So, why go to the hassle of writing this – especially when politics and pastoring are not a good mix?  Because on the issue of Pastor Saaed and the other 3 prisoners, President Obama is being treated unfairly.

I have read how many presidents from the past were ripped up by Americans being held hostage on their watch.  I know that Jimmy Carter was consumed with grief about the Iranian hostages during his presidency, and I believe that President Obama is no different. Sadly, many people will simply watch or read the unfair and hateful things that news outlets like CBS, Fox, and others are saying about the president on this issue and believe it.

But on this one, will you please give President Obama the benefit of the doubt that he actually does want to secure the release of these men – not just because of the political gain it may win him but simply because he’s a human who is genuinely concerned for the welfare of these lives?  And will you please continue to pray for him and for the diplomats that are working to secure the release of these 4 men.  May God bring these men home safely and soon.

Are You Really Pro-Life?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the recent killings of criminals by the police. I’m sure you have too.  You may even have a well-crafted opinion about them like, “The kid in Ferguson was a thug and deserved what he got.  The man in New York City should not have resisted arrest and shouldn’t have been so unhealthy in the first place.”  These are common opinions I’ve heard from many – including some of my Christian brothers and sisters.

Now…I don’t want to get into a debate about whether or not the police were justified in using the kind of force they did.  I don’t want to argue about whether or not those they killed deserved it or not.  I want to speak to my Christian brothers and sisters who claim to be pro-life.

At the most basic of levels, to be pro-life is to oppose abortion and euthanasia.  A person who is pro-life fights to protect the lives of the unborn and the elderly.  It’s a position that claims the “sanctity of human life” as one of its main tenants.  Christians who hold this position quote Bible verses like Psalm 139:13-14 to support their pro-life stance. And rightfully so.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 

However, to REALLY be pro-life means that we value not just life at the beginning and end, but life in-between too.  It means that we value all human lives – including those who have made a mess of theirs.  Being pro-life means that we do not celebrate the taking of one human life by another human.  Being pro-life means we fight for and seek to preserve life from conception forward.

Some may call my position “liberal” – and it is.  As a Christian, I believe that the One we follow calls us to be liberal with our views on and protection of those who live.  Actually, it’s not as much a liberal position as it is a “biblical” position.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:38-44:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth’ but I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Words like these from Jesus, coupled with the fact that God is the creator, giver, and sustainer of all life ought to heavily inform the way in which those of us who follow Him view the issue of life.

While on earth, Jesus claimed to be “the life,” called His followers to love everyone (including their enemies), to live lives of peace, and He even wept over the death of His friends.  And then ultimately, Jesus allowed Himself  to be murdered in order to once-and-for-all defeat death and give life to all mankind.

Therefore, no one who claims to be pro-life should ever celebrate the killing of one man by another – regardless of the scenario.

I do believe that God has established the ruling authorities as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 13.  I’m thankful for our laws that are some of the most just and fair laws in the world, and I’m thankful for our rulers – including the police, who we hire to enforce our laws.  I believe they have one of the most difficult jobs in our society.  When they kill someone in the line of duty – whether we think it’s justified or not – as pro-life Christians, we should mourn.

So, in order to be consistent with what I say I believe, I’m choosing to mourn the deaths of those who have recently been killed by the police.  If you are pro-life, will you join me?

My Thoughts on Ferguson

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I know very little about all of the details in Ferguson. However, I do know quite a bit about serving on a grand jury. I was the foreman for a grand jury for 3 months a few years back.  I served a total of 26 days and heard literally hundreds of cases.

Read about it here.

Very rarely did we ever return a “no bill.” Meaning, very rarely did we ever not decide that there was probable cause (which is the grand jury requirement as opposed to reasonable doubt) and “indict” the person being prosecuted.  The attorneys almost always came in with an air-tight case, and at times, I felt like we were just there as a puppet jury, churning out “true bills” left and right.

However, there were a few times when the facts in the case just didn’t add up.  A few times (maybe 5 out of the hundreds) when the facts were presented and the case was handed over to the 12 of us – and we just knew that the person being prosecuted probably wasn’t guilty of the charges.

In those rare cases, we would call the attorney back in and deliver a “no bill.”  It was very uncommon, and the prosecutors didn’t like it, but for the sake of justice, we just couldn’t indict the person.

The reason why so many indictments are handed down by grand juries is because cases that aren’t airtight don’t usually make it to them.  98-99% of the time, cases that come to grand juries are no brainers – the accused is probably guilty.

But when a “no bill” is handed down by a grand jury like the one in Ferguson, I tend to trust the grand jury.  They’ve decided that there is not probable cause for the accused.  My hunch is that the case against the officer was not airtight at all, but the pressure from the media and the community demanded that it go to the grand jury anyway.

Again, I don’t know much about the details in Ferguson, but I am confident – because of my experience – that the grand jury was correct when they handed down the rare “no bill” and did not indict the officer.  Not because I know the facts – but because “no bills” are so rare and are reserved for only those times when the facts just don’t add up.

Lopsided Missions

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According to an article in the November 2013 edition of Christianity Today, 400,000 Christian missionaries were sent in 2010 from one country to another.  The breakdown of who sent them and who received them is very interesting – and reinforces the missions strategy of my church.  Here are a few interesting and revealing stats:

The top 9 receiving countries received more than 1/3 of the world’s missionaries – but are home to only 3.5% of the world’s non-Christians.

The United States sent 127,000 missionaries and received 32,400 – which reveals that some countries see the United States as their mission field.

32,400 is the most missionaries any country received – making the United States the #1 receiving country of missionaries.

After the United States, the top senders were Brazil (34,000), Spain and France (21,000), and Italy and South Korea (20,000).

After the United States, the top receivers were Brazil and Russia (20,000), Congo (15,000), and South Africa (12,000).

Among other things, these numbers reveal that the large majority of missionaries are still being sent to countries where the gospel of Jesus has already taken root and where an indigenous church already exists.  And this concerns me – and it concerns many others who have a heart for missions as well.

I’m not saying that already-reached countries should not receive any missionaries, but what I am saying is that countries where there are large unreached people groups should be considered first.

The problem with countries like this is that they are difficult places to get into and to live, but the difficulty should not stop mission agencies and missionaries from trying.  At my church, we’ve committed ourselves to spending our mission dollars on and sending our missionaries to the unreached people living in hard to reach areas.

This has come with its set of unique challenges, but we’ve also seen the gospel break-thru among people who have never heard the gospel before.  As a matter of fact, among an unreached people group we targeted 20 years ago, we’ve seen an explosion of the gospel take place – to the point where now over 1000 home churches exist!

If you are a pastor, a missionary, or a Christian with a heart for missions (something every Christian should have, by the way), please consider focusing on the 4 billion people in this world who have not been reached with the gospel rather than focusing on the 3 billion who have.

The World Is Reading!

Jan Visits
The world is reading my blog – well, kind of sort of.  Above is a graphic that shows where my January blog visitors came from.

There were 1,992 visits to my blog with the vast majority coming – of course – from the U.S. (with visits from NM #1 and OH #2).

In all, there were visits from 33 different countries.  Some of these visits are from people I know who live in other countries, but several are from countries were I don’t know anyone.

Usually, these people find me by stumbling across my blog during a search.  Visitors from 16 of the 33 countries only visited my blog once, which says that they probably stumbled across it, didn’t find the blog interesting (or don’t read English), and didn’t return.

OK…to say that the world is reading my blog is a stretch, but I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy the feedback from those of you who read it.  So, thanks!

By the way, I use Google Analytics to track my blog visits.

The Magic Is All But Gone

George_Foster_display_imageTonight is Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. When I was a boy, this game was a magical exhibition of baseballs greatest players that I looked forward to every summer – almost like I did Christmas. All summer long, our radio was tuned to the Cincinnati Reds radio station, and rarely did we miss a broadcast. These broadcasts served as the build-up for me of the one game where I could actually watch all of the stars that I had only heard spoken of on the radio.

By the time this game came around each summer, I was in full baseball card collecting mode (Topps, of course), and leading up to the game, I would gather all of the cards of the All-Stars and set them aside. I would then head down to the local baseball card shop and buy individual cards of the players I didn’t have through buying packs of cards. Come game time, my family would gather around the television, and I would sit on the floor making enough room for an imaginary baseball diamond.  I then put the cards of the players in their proper positions on the field and played out the televised game on my living room floor.

The game seemed so much purer back then.  Most players stayed with the same team their whole careers, so loyalties were built by players and by fans.  Because ESPN didn’t exist yet, there wasn’t an over-saturation of exposure.  This is why the All-Star game was so magical.  It was often the only chance fans had to actually watch their favorite players and the stars from other teams play.

Tonight, players will play who have switched teams (some multiple times), so there’s not nearly as much player/fan loyalty.  Players will play who fans see every night on SportCenter, so the mystery is gone.  And, after tonight’s game, Major League baseball will be passing out suspensions to players who have been discovered using performance enhancing drugs – cheating.

baseball-card-1978-toppsWorse than all of this (in my opinion)…sometime in the late 80’s to early 90’s baseball card collecting went from being a hobby to a business.  More and more companies entered the baseball card market, and instead of one card per player, suddenly each player had multiple cards from multiple companies each year.  Some companies even stopped putting a stick of gum in their packs – a practice that signaled the demise of American culture.  Because of all of this, card prices went up.  A pack of cards that once had 20 cards in it and sold for 25 cents became a pack of 10 for $2.  Kids could no longer afford to collect cards, and baseball card collecting became an adult business.

So, tonight’s game – a game that used to capture and enthrall me – now means nothing to me.  Major League baseball, for that matter, is something I could take or leave now.  It used to be magical, but the magic is all but gone.

A Sudanese Dish Named After George W.

Back in 2001 when the United States invaded Iraq, the economic impact was felt worldwide.  In the Sudan, prices for daily goods went up, and the people there – most of whom are very poor – were forced to make changes. People who were already skimping by had to skimp even more.  During this time, a cheap but filling dish emerged that consists of beans, bread and yogurt.  Because of the actions of the US, and because of the financial implications on Sudan, the people called this dish “Bush” – as in George W. Bush.  The name stuck, and today, Bush is a common food staple throughout the country.

These men got a kick out of showing me their meal named after my president!

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