Saturday, February 27, 2010

What I Read Today - Saturday February 27, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Strength In Weakness

READ: Matthew 20:20-28

Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. —Matthew 20:26No one wants to be weak, so we find ways to appear strong. Some of us use the force of our emotions to manipulate people. Others use the force of personality to control people, and some use intellect to intimidate. Although these create an illusion of strength, they are signs of weakness.

When we are truly strong, we have the courage to admit our limitations and to acknowledge our dependence on God. As a result, true strength often looks a lot like weakness. When the apostle Paul prayed that an affliction would be taken from him, God answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul responded with these troubling words: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v.10).

Toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, some of His disciples were striving for positions of prominence. Jesus used their argument as an opportunity to teach them that in His kingdom things are different: greatness comes when we willingly assume positions of weakness (Matt. 20:26).

This is a hard truth. I prefer the illusion of strength to the reality of weakness. But God wants us to realize that true strength comes when we stop trying to control people and start serving them instead. — Julie Ackerman Link

The life that we live for God’s glory,
Let’s live it in biblical light:
God’s strength is made perfect in weakness;
He alone controls power and might. —Branon

God’s greatest power can be displayed in our biggest weakness.

Friday, February 26, 2010

What I Read Today - Friday February 26, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Under New Orders

READ: Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. —Matthew 22:37Herman Wouk’s thrilling World War II novel The Caine Mutiny contains an excellent illustration of what happens when someone becomes a follower of God.

In the novel, a young man from an influential family has enlisted in the Navy. On the day of his induction, his mother drops him off in her fancy car and then kisses him goodbye. He shakes hands with the guard as he enters the building, and the door closes behind him.

His mother, suddenly worried that he might not have enough money, rushes up to the door. But the guard politely stops her. When she demands entrance, he refuses to let her in. She can see her son standing inside the door, so she reaches for the doorknob. “He’s my son!” she cries. The guard gently removes her hand from the knob and says softly, “I know, Ma’am, but he belongs to Uncle Sam now. He’s a sailor.”

When we believe in Jesus Christ and become His followers, we are under new authority. We are subject to new commands. Now we belong to Him. What was once important to us loses its significance. We evaluate things differently. Our new desire is to love and serve the Lord with all our heart (Deut. 6:5-6). Have you joined His ranks? — David C. Egner

Jesus my Lord will love me forever,
From Him no power of evil can sever;
He gave His life to ransom my soul—
Now I belong to Him! —Clayton

Followers of Christ get their marching orders from Him.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday February 25, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Imagine That!

READ: 2 Peter 1:16-21

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, . . . rightly dividing the Word of truth. —2 Timothy 2:15My friends and I were anticipating a contemplative time looking at a collection of artwork about the prodigal son who returned home to a forgiving father (Luke 15). When we arrived at the information table, we noticed the brochures, books, and a sign pointing to the artwork.

Also on the table was a dinner plate with bread, a napkin, and a glass. Each of us privately pondered what the significance of the plate could be. We wondered if it represented communion fellowship between the prodigal son and his father when he returned home. But as we examined it more closely, we realized simultaneously: Someone had left a dirty plate on the display table. And it wasn’t bread, but leftover cookie bars! Our imaginations had been wrong.

We had a good laugh, but then it made me think about how sometimes we imagine more than what’s really there while reading the Bible. Rather than assuming that our speculation is correct, however, we need to be sure our interpretation fits with the whole of Scripture. Peter said that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). As we depend on the Spirit’s instruction, a careful study of the context, and the wisdom of respected Bible teachers, we’ll avoid seeing things in the Word that aren’t really there. — Anne Cetas

We must correctly hear God’s Word,
Or we will be misled;
We must give careful thought and prayer
To what the Author said. —Hess

A text out of context is often a dangerous pretext.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

more What I Read Today - Wednesday February 24, 2010

From:  The Wall Street Journal - Wednesday February 24, 2010

My Gift to the Obama Presidency


Barack Obama may not realize it, but I may have just helped save his presidency. How? By winning a drawn-out fight to protect his powers as commander in chief to wage war and keep Americans safe.

He sure didn't make it easy. When Mr. Obama took office a year ago, receiving help from one of the lawyers involved in the development of George W. Bush's counterterrorism policies was the furthest thing from his mind. Having won a great electoral victory, the new president promised a quick about-face. He rejected "as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" and moved to restore the law-enforcement system as the first line of defense against a hardened enemy devoted to killing Americans.

In office only one day, Mr. Obama ordered the shuttering of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, followed later by the announcement that he would bring terrorists to an Illinois prison. He terminated the Central Intelligence Agency's ability to use "enhanced interrogations techniques" to question al Qaeda operatives. He stayed the military trial, approved by Congress, of al Qaeda leaders. He ultimately decided to transfer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the planner of the 9/11 attacks, to a civilian court in New York City, and automatically treated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, as a criminal suspect (not an illegal enemy combatant). Nothing better could have symbolized the new president's determination to take us back to a Sept. 10, 2001, approach to terrorism.

Part of Mr. Obama's plan included hounding those who developed, approved or carried out Bush policies, despite the enormous pressures of time and circumstance in the months immediately after the September 11 attacks. Although career prosecutors had previously reviewed the evidence and determined that no charges are warranted, last year Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a new prosecutor to re-investigate the CIA's detention and interrogation of al Qaeda leaders.

In my case, he let loose the ethics investigators of the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to smear my reputation and that of Jay Bybee, who now sits as a federal judge on the court of appeals in San Francisco. Our crime? While serving in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in the weeks and months after 9/11, we answered in the form of memoranda extremely difficult questions from the leaders of the CIA, the National Security Council and the White House on when interrogation methods crossed the line into prohibited acts of torture.

Rank bias and sheer incompetence infused OPR's investigation. OPR attorneys, for example, omitted a number of precedents that squarely supported the approach in the memoranda and undermined OPR's preferred outcome. They declared that no Americans have a right of self-defense against a criminal prosecution, not even when they or their government agents attempt to stop terrorist attacks on the United States. OPR claimed that Congress enjoyed full authority over wartime strategy and tactics, despite decades of Justice Department opinions and practice defending the president's commander-in-chief power. They accused us of violating ethical standards without ever defining them. They concocted bizarre conspiracy theories about which they never asked us, and for which they had no evidence, even though we both patiently—and with no legal obligation to do so—sat through days of questioning.

OPR's investigation was so biased, so flawed, and so beneath the Justice Department's own standards that last week the department's ranking civil servant and senior ethicist, David Margolis, completely rejected its recommendations.

Attorney General Holder could have stopped this sorry mess earlier, just as his predecessor had tried to do. OPR slow-rolled Attorney General Michael Mukasey by refusing to deliver a draft of its report until the 2008 Christmas and New Year holidays. OPR informed Mr. Mukasey of its intention to release the report on Jan. 12, 2009, without giving me or Judge Bybee the chance to see it—as was our right and as we'd been promised.

Mr. Mukasey and Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip found so many errors in the report that they told OPR that the entire enterprise should be abandoned. OPR decided to run out the clock and push the investigation into the lap of the Obama administration. It would have been easy for Mr. Holder to concur with his predecessors—in fact, it was critical that he do so to preserve the Justice Department's impartiality. Instead the new attorney general let OPR's investigators run wild. Only Mr. Margolis's rejection of the OPR report last week forced the Obama administration to drop its ethics charges against Bush legal advisers.

Why bother fighting off an administration hell-bent on finding scapegoats for its policy disagreements with the last president? I could have easily decided to hide out, as others have. Instead, I wrote numerous articles (several published in this newspaper) and three books explaining and defending presidential control of national security policy. I gave dozens of speeches and media appearances, where I confronted critics of the administration's terrorism policies. And, most importantly, I was lucky to receive the outstanding legal counsel of Miguel Estrada, one of the nation's finest defense attorneys, to attack head-on and without reservation, each and every one of OPR's mistakes, misdeeds and acts of malfeasance.

I did not do this to win any popularity contests, least of all those held in the faculty lounge. I did it to help our president—President Obama, not Bush. Mr. Obama is fighting three wars simultaneously in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against al Qaeda. He will call upon the men and women serving under his command to make choices as hard as the ones we faced. They cannot meet those challenges with clear minds if they believe that a bevy of prosecutors, congressional committees and media critics await them when they return from the battlefield.

This is no idle worry. In 2005, a Navy Seal team dropped into Afghanistan encountered goat herders who clearly intended to inform the Taliban of their whereabouts. The team leader ordered them released, against his better military judgment, because of his worries about the media and political attacks that would follow.

In less than an hour, more than 80 Taliban fighters attacked and killed all but one member of the Seal team and 16 Americans on a helicopter rescue mission. If a president cannot, or will not, protect the men and women who fight our nation's wars, they will follow the same risk-averse attitudes that invited the 9/11 attacks in the first place.

Without a vigorous commander-in-chief power at his disposal, Mr. Obama will struggle to win any of these victories. But that is where OPR, playing a junior varsity CIA, wanted to lead us. Ending the Justice Department's ethics witch hunt not only brought an unjust persecution to an end, but it protects the president's constitutional ability to fight the enemies that threaten our nation today.

Mr. Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was a Justice Department official from 2001-03. He is the author, among other books, of "Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush" (Kaplan, 2010).

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more of What I Read Today - Wednesday February 24, 2010

From: The New York Times - February 24, 2010

Op-Ed Columnist
Iraq’s Known Unknowns, Still Unknown

From the very beginning of the U.S. intervention in Iraq and the effort to build some kind of democracy there, a simple but gnawing question has lurked in the background: Was Iraq the way Iraq was (a dictatorship) because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq was the way Iraq was — a collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist?

Alas, some seven years after the U.S. toppled Saddam’s government, a few weeks before Iraq’s second democratic national election, and in advance of the pullout of American forces, this question still has not been answered. Will Iraq’s new politics triumph over its cultural divides, or will its cultural/sectarian divides sink its fledgling democracy? We still don’t know.

In many ways, Iraq is a test case for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum that “the central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

Ironically, though, it was the neo-conservative Bush team that argued that culture didn’t matter in Iraq, and that the prospect of democracy and self-rule would automatically bring Iraqis together to bury the past. While many liberals and realists contended that Iraq was an irredeemable tribal hornet’s nest and we should not be sticking our hand in there; it was place where the past would always bury the future.

But stick we did, and in so doing we gave Iraqis a chance to do something no other Arab people have ever had a chance to do: freely write their own social contract on how they would like to rule themselves and live together.

With elections set for March 7, with America slated to shrink to 50,000 troops by September — and down to zero by the end of 2011 — Iraqis will have to decide how they want to exploit this opportunity.

I met last week with Gen. Ray Odierno, the overall U.S. commander in Iraq, who along with Vice President Joe Biden has done more to coach, coax, cajole and occasionally shove Iraqis away from the abyss than anyone else. I found the general hopeful but worried. He was hopeful because he has seen Iraqis go to the brink so many times and then pull back, but worried because sectarian violence is steadily creeping back ahead of the elections and certain Shiite politicians, like the former Bush darling Ahmed Chalabi — whom General Odierno indicated is clearly “influenced by Iran” and up to no good — have been trying to exclude some key Sunni politicians from the election.

It is critical, said Odierno, that “Iraqis feel that the elections are credible and legitimate” and that the democratic process is working. “I don’t want the campaigning to lead to a sectarian divide again,” he added. “I worry that some elements will feel politically isolated and will not have the ability to influence and participate.”

How might this play out? The ideal but least likely scenario is that we see the emergence of an Iraqi Shiite Nelson Mandela. The Shiites, long suppressed by Iraq’s Baathist-led Sunni minority, are now Iraq’s ruling majority. Could Iraq produce a Shiite politician, who, like Mandela, would be a national healer — someone who would use his power to lead a real reconciliation instead of just a Shiite dominion? So far, no sign of it.

Even without a Mandela, Iraq could still hold together, and thrive, if its rival Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish communities both recognize the new balance of power — that the Shiites are now the dominant community in Iraq and, ultimately, will have the biggest say — and the new limits of power. No community can assert its will by force and, therefore, sectarian disputes have to be resolved politically.

The two scenarios you don’t want to see are: 1) Iraq’s tribal culture triumphing over politics and the country becoming a big Somalia with oil; or 2) as America fades away, Iraq’s Shiite government aligning itself more with Iran, and Iran becoming the kingmaker in Iraq the way Syria has made itself in Lebanon.

Why should we care when we’re leaving? Quite simply, so much of the turmoil in the region was stoked over the years by Saddam’s Iraq and Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, both financed by billions in oil revenues. If, over time, a decent democratizing regime could emerge in Iraq and a similar one in Iran — so that oil wealth was funding reasonably decent regimes rather than retrograde ones — the whole Middle East would be different.

The odds, though, remain very long. In the end, it will come back to that nagging question of politics versus culture. Personally, I’m a believer in the argument Lawrence Harrison makes in his book “The Central Liberal Truth” — culture matters, a lot more than we think, but cultures can change, a lot more than we expect. But such change takes time, leadership and often pain. Which is why, I suspect, Iraqis will surprise us — for good and for ill — a lot more before they finally answer the question: Who are we and how do we want to live together?

What I Read Today - Wednesday February 24, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Being Real

READ: 2 Corinthians 6:3-11

In all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses. —2 Corinthians 6:4An antique dealer thought the wrinkled old baseball card she found might be worth $10. After posting it on eBay, she began to wonder if it might be more valuable than she had thought. She removed the posting and consulted a professional evaluator who confirmed that the photo on the 1869 card showed the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team in the US. The card sold for more than $75,000.

Mike Osegueda’s article in The Fresno Bee said that even though the card was creased and discolored, the most important thing was its authenticity—it was real.

Paul and his companions suffered greatly while spreading the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 6, he listed their outward trials, their inward traits, and their spiritual resources (vv.4-7). Try to imagine the circumstances in which all these things interacted—beatings, patience, prison, kindness, distresses, love. Although broken physically, depleted emotionally, and tested spiritually, the authenticity of their faith in Christ clearly shone through. “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (v.10).

In our walk with Christ, there’s no substitute for spiritual authenticity—being real. — David C. McCasland

O to be like Thee! O to be like Thee,
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart. —Chisholm

There’s no substitute for being real.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday February 23, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Foreign Worship

READ: Acts 17:16-31

“[Paul] seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus. —Acts 17:18During a trip to the Far East, I visited an unusual shrine made up of hundreds of statues. According to our guide, worshipers would pick the statue that looked the most like an ancestor and pray to it.

A few years ago, I read about a student named Le Thai. An ancestor worshiper, he found great comfort in praying to his deceased grandmother. Because he was praying to someone he knew and loved, he found this to be personal and intimate.

But when he came from Vietnam to the US to study, Le Thai was introduced to Christianity. It sounded like a fairy tale based on American thinking. To him, it was the worship of a foreign God (see Acts 17:18).

Then a Christian friend invited him to visit his home on Christmas. He saw a Christian family in action and heard again the story of Jesus. Le Thai listened. He read John 3 about being “born again” and asked questions. He began to feel the pull of the Holy Spirit. Finally, he realized that Christianity was true. He trusted Jesus as his personal Savior.

When friends see Christianity as foreign worship, we need to respect their heritage while sharing the gospel graciously and giving them time to explore Christianity. And then trust the Spirit to do His work. — Dave Branon

Man gropes his way through life’s dark maze,
To gods unknown he often prays,
Until one day he meets God’s Son—
At last he’s found the Living One! —D. De Haan

God is the only true God.

Monday, February 22, 2010

more of What I Read Today - Monday February 22, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread


READ: Romans 5:1-5

Hope does not disappoint. —Romans 5:5I served in the Armed Forces many years ago and have always been thankful that I was able to give those years to my country. I must say, however, that my most memorable time in the service was the brief interval when I was a “short-timer.”

Short-timers are soldiers who have but a few weeks before discharge. They spend their last days “mustering out”—visiting the commissary and the quartermaster’s office to clear accounts and return equipment. What I remember most about that period was my jaunty pace and the happy, carefree spirit with which I carried out my tasks. I had duties but few worries, for I knew I was going home.

Now that I’m an “old-timer,” once again I’m a short-timer. It won’t be long before I’m discharged from my duty here. Again, my pace is jaunty and my spirit is light for I know that very soon I’ll be going home. That’s the outlook that Jesus and His apostles called “hope” (Acts 24:15; Rom. 5:2,5).

Hope, in the biblical sense, means certainty and assurance. It is the firm, unshakable, indomitable belief that we will be raised from the dead (as Jesus was) and will be welcomed into our eternal home. That’s enough to put joy in our heart and a spring in our step this day! — David H. Roper

God has given us a life abundant
As we serve Him in this world below;
Though our time on earth is surely fleeting,
Hope of heaven makes our pathway glow. —Hess

The risen Christ will come from heaven to take His own to heaven.

What I Read Today - Monday February 22, 2010

From: The New York Times - Sunday February 21, 2010

Op-Ed Columnist

The Fat Lady Has Sung

A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: “Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.”

Welcome to the lean years.

Yes, sir, we’ve just had our 70 fat years in America, thanks to the Greatest Generation and the bounty of freedom and prosperity they built for us. And in these past 70 years, leadership — whether of the country, a university, a company, a state, a charity, or a township — has largely been about giving things away, building things from scratch, lowering taxes or making grants.

But now it feels as if we are entering a new era, “where the great task of government and of leadership is going to be about taking things away from people,” said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum.

Indeed, to lead now is to trim, to fire or to downsize services, programs or personnel. We’ve gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks, from the age of companions fly free to the age of paying for each bag.

Let’s just hope our lean years will only number seven. That will depend a lot on us and whether we rise to the economic challenges of this moment. Our parents truly were the Greatest Generation. We, alas, in too many ways, have been what the writer Kurt Andersen called “The Grasshopper Generation,” eating through the prosperity that was bequeathed us like hungry locusts. Now we and our kids together need to be “The Regeneration” — the generation that renews, refreshes, re-energizes and rebuilds America for the 21st century.

President Obama’s bad luck was that he showed up just as we moved from the fat years to the lean years. His calling is to lead The Regeneration. He clearly understands that in his head, but he has yet to give full voice to it. Actually, the thing that most baffles me about Mr. Obama is how a politician who speaks so well, and is trying to do so many worthy things, can’t come up with a clear, simple, repeatable narrative to explain his politics — when it is so obvious.

Mr. Obama won the election because he was able to “rent” a significant number of independent voters — including Republican business types who had never voted for a Democrat in their lives — because they knew in their guts that the country was on the wrong track and was desperately in need of nation-building at home and that John McCain was not the man to do it.

They thought that Mr. Obama, despite his liberal credentials, had the unique skills, temperament, voice and values to pull the country together for this new Apollo program — not to take us to the moon, but into the 21st century.

Alas, though, instead of making nation-building in America his overarching narrative and then fitting health care, energy, educational reform, infrastructure, competitiveness and deficit reduction under that rubric, the president has pursued each separately. This made each initiative appear to be just some stand-alone liberal obsession to pay off a Democratic constituency — not an essential ingredient of a nation-building strategy — and, therefore, they have proved to be easily obstructed, picked off or delegitimized by opponents and lobbyists.

So “Obamism” feels at worst like a hodgepodge, at best like a to-do list — one that got way too dominated by health care instead of innovation and jobs — and not the least like a big, aspirational project that can bring out America’s still vast potential for greatness.

To be sure, taking over the presidency at the dawn of the lean years is no easy task. The president needs to persuade the country to invest in the future and pay for the past — past profligacy — all at the same time. We have to pay for more new schools and infrastructure than ever, while accepting more entitlement cuts than ever, when public trust in government is lower than ever.

On top of that, the Republican Party has never been more irresponsible. Having helped run the deficit to new heights during the recent Bush years, the G.O.P. is now unwilling to take any responsibility for dealing with it if it involves raising taxes. At the same time, the rise of cable TV has transformed politics in our country generally into just another spectator sport, like all-star wrestling. C-Span is just ESPN with only two teams. We watch it for entertainment, not solutions.

While it would certainly help if the president voiced a more compelling narrative, I am under no illusion that this alone would solve all his problems and ours. It comes back to us: We have to demand the truth from our politicians and be ready to accept it ourselves. We simply do not have another presidency to waste. There are no more fat years to eat through. If Obama fails, we all fail.

Monday, February 15, 2010

More of What I Read Today - Monday February 15, 2010

From:  The Wall Street Journal  
January 1, 2010

The Radical Legacy of 1979

If ever one year in recent times was a catalyst for change in the broader Middle East and Muslim world, it was 1979. One ray of bright light in that year of darkness was the signing of the historic Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Conversely, three events had dire consequences with which we live today.

First, there was the overthrow of the shah of Iran by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Second, there was the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, by a group of Islamic extremists. And third, there was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Each event fostered the forces of radicalization with implications far beyond the region's borders.
• Iran becomes a theocracy. Khomeini's revolution in the early months of 1979 established the wilayat al-faqih, or rule by a Muslim cleric who became the Supreme Leader. He, in effect, formed a theocratic system in Iran, a predominantly Shiite country, and declared the new regime to be "God's government," warning that subsequent disobedience was a "revolt against God."

Ayatollah Khomenei called for Islamic revolutions throughout the region. When the deposed shah was admitted into the United States for medical treatment, Iranian students took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran, beginning the 444 day hostage ordeal. Khomeini set Iran on an adversarial course with America that continues to this day.

As a result of U.S.-led military action, two of Iran's enemies have been overthrown—the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Iran has been expanding its influence in the region. It is the most important patron of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it supports Hamas, thereby extending its reach into the Levant and the Arab-Israeli conflict. And, of course, Iran is the focus of international inquiry for its nuclear ambitions.

• Saudi Arabia embraces the Wahhabis. On Nov. 20, 1979, a group of Islamic extremists attacked the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, and held it for two weeks. The extremists included Saudis and Egyptians who were disenchanted with the Saudi regime. They proclaimed that the "Mahdi," the "Guided One," had come to restore righteousness and redeem the world and form a just Islamic society.

The leader of the dissidents was a tribal preacher who opposed the conservative Saudi leadership as impious and in the hands of the West, especially the U.S. The seizure of the Grand Mosque was a blow to the Saudi regime's legitimacy, and to its role as guardian of Islam's holy places. It was only after a bitter armed confrontation and assistance from France's elite Gendarmerie special forces unit that the Saudis were able to defeat these radicals.

In response to this crisis, the Saudi leadership perceived it to be in their interest to bolster their Islamic credentials by binding the regime even closer to the ultraconservative Wahhabis in the kingdom. The Saudi government upped its financial support for the spread of Wahhabi doctrine on a global scale, including assistance to some madrassas, such as those in Pakistan, that teach an extreme view of Islam and have trained militants that later swelled the ranks of al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups.

In recent years, however, and as a result of acts of violence and terrorism directed against targets in the kingdom, the Saudi government has begun to crack down on Islamic terrorist groups inside the country and on its borders—as evidenced by recent military actions against groups based in Yemen.

• The Soviets invade Afghanistan. In late December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded this mountainous, undeveloped nation, in order to maintain a pro-Soviet regime on their border in Central Asia. The invasion mobilized a whole generation of Muslims, and turned Afghanistan into a flashpoint in U.S.-Soviet relations.

I was the head of the political section of the U.S. embassy in Moscow at the time. I accompanied our ambassador, Thomas Watson Jr., who had been asked to come to the Soviet foreign ministry by Foreign Minister Gromyko's deputy. He told us "that the Soviet government wanted the United States to be the first to be informed of the Soviet Union's response to the Afghanistan government's request for humanitarian assistance."

We of course already had clear and timely information about the Soviet military action. Ambassador Watson turned to me and asked, rhetorically, "Is the translation correct" and I replied, "Unfortunately, it is."

Watson glared at the deputy minister and asked in no uncertain terms, "Is this what you want me to report to my president [Jimmy Carter]? Do you understand the consequences of your military action on the relations between our two countries?" The startled man had no answer, and we got up and stormed out of the room.

The consequences were great. Under the Carter and Reagan administrations, a major effort was made to make the Soviets stand down. The U.S. supported the Afghans and the mujahedeen in a way that facilitated the Soviet defeat—a defeat that was a major factor in the demise of the Soviet Union.

There were other unintended consequences. Our support of the mujahedeen, followed by our virtual abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet retreat, helped create a radical fringe of Islamist fighters and radicals, including Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Last year we celebrated the great historic achievements marked by the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent unification of Germany. But we should also remember that events in the broader Middle East of 30 years ago have left, in sharp contrast, a bitter and dangerous legacy.

Mr. Djerejian is the author of "Danger and Opportunity—An American Ambassador's Journey Through the Middle East" (Simon & Schuster Threshold Editions, September, 2008.) A former ambassador to Syria and to Israel, he is the founding director of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.

What I Read Today - Monday February 15, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Defining Failure

READ: Hebrews 11:24-34

Who through faith . . . out of weakness were made strong. —Hebrews 11:33-34During the Great Depression, many people in the US lived in shantytowns made up of plywood, tarps, and blankets. These decrepit dwellings, known as “Hoovervilles,” housed those who had been evicted from their homes. Many blamed President Herbert Hoover for the economic woes.

Ironically, Hoover’s apparent ineffectiveness as a leader was in sharp contrast to his previous record. Earlier, Hoover’s expertise in geological engineering led to successful mining projects in Australia and China. He also effectively spearheaded humanitarian efforts. But when the stock market crashed in October 1929, President Hoover was in circumstances beyond his control. He would be forever tied with the economic depression of the 1930s.

One major fiasco, however, does not mean one’s whole life is a failure. What if we remembered Abraham only as a deceiver (Gen. 12:10-20), Moses as disobedient to God (Num. 20:1-13), or David as a murderer? (2 Sam. 11). Despite their sins, these men are remembered for their persevering faith: “who through faith . . . out of weakness were made strong” (Heb. 11:33-34).

Our life is not a failure if we’ve repented of our sins. God can still use us to serve Him. — Dennis Fisher

The lessons we learn from our failures
Are lessons that help us succeed,
And if we are wise and we heed them,
Then failure is just what we need. —D. De Haan

Success often rises out of the ashes of failure.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What I Read Today - Friday February 12, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Send The Light

READ: Philippians 2:12-18

Become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. —Philippians 2:15American businessman Mark Bent has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture an affordable solar-powered flashlight. Thousands have been distributed free or at low cost to people living in African refugee camps. One daily solar charge provides 7 hours of life-giving illumination for people in homes, schools, and medical clinics where darkness had encouraged crime and violence.

The contrast between darkness and light is a prominent image in the Bible’s presentation of Jesus the Messiah. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined” (Isa. 9:2). “In [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5).

It’s our privilege as followers of Jesus to be His light-bearers today. Paul urged the Christians in Philippi to become “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).

Instead of being afraid or oppressed by the spiritual darkness around us, we can rely on the grace that God gives His children to shine for Him. — David C. McCasland

Lord, may I be a shining light
For all the world to see
Your goodness and Your love displayed
As You reach out through me. —Sper

Jesus came to give light to a dark world.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday February 11, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

The Other Side

READ: James 4:13-17

What is your life? It is even a vapor. —James 4:14When someone said to my friend, “See you in a year,” it sounded odd when he replied, “Yes, see you on the other side.” He meant that he’d see him on the other side of a one-year deployment for the US Navy. But because the phrase is often used of heaven, it made me think about the uncertainty of life. I wondered, Who will be here in another year? Who might by then be on the other side—in heaven?

We certainly don’t know what the next year—or hour—will bring. In his epistle, James wrote about this uncertainty. He rebuked the greedy merchants for boasting about what they would do that day, the next day, or even the next year (4:13). Their sin wasn’t that they were making plans; it was forgetting God and arrogantly boasting about those business plans.

James reminded them: “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (v.14). Commentator Peter Davids says that James was pointing out their foolishness and saying, in essence, “Come now, you who make plans—you don’t even understand how little control you have over life itself.”

No part of life is outside the control of God. So when we make plans, we need to remember, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that” (v.15). — Anne Cetas

Tomorrow’s plans I do not know,
I only know this minute;
But He will say, “This is the way,
By faith now walk ye in it.” —Ryberg

Write your plans in pencil and let God have the eraser.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What I Read Today - Tuesday February 9, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

God Incidents

READ: Hebrews 11:1-10

In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. —Philippians 4:6In the normal course of providence, God works in and through creation, not despite it. For this reason, some answers to prayer are difficult to prove with certainty.

“Only faith vouches for the connection,” C. S. Lewis writes. “No empirical proof could establish it.” We believe a prayer has been answered not because of any scientific criteria proving it, but because we have faith.

Most of the ways we encounter God—nature, the Bible, the Lord’s Supper, the church, other people—include things we can touch. God’s own state, though, is the realm of spirit. Prayer reflects that difference between us.

Although we may ask God to intervene directly, it should not surprise us if He responds in a more hidden way in cooperation with our own choices. An alcoholic prays, “Lord, keep me from drink today.” The answer to that prayer will likely come from the inside—from a stiffening resolve or a cry for help to a loyal friend—rather than from some marvel like the magical disappearance of liquor bottles from a cabinet.

Whether God supernaturally intervenes or is giving us the power to obey Him, we trust His character. We see a true partnership, intimate and intertwined. — Philip Yancey

Help me to walk aright,
More by faith, less by sight;
Lead me with heavenly light—
Teach me Thy way. —Ramsey

An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What I Read Today - Monday February 8, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

In Praise Of Slowness

READ: 2 Peter 3:1-9

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness. —2 Peter 3:9If there were a contest for most popular virtue, I suspect that “fast” would beat “best.” Many parts of the world seem to be obsessed with speed. The “fast” craze, however, is getting us nowhere—fast.

“The time has come to challenge our obsession with doing everything more quickly,” says Carl HonorĂ© in his book In Praise of Slowness. “Speed is not always the best policy.”

According to the Bible, he’s right. Peter warned that in the last days people would doubt God because it seems He is slow (“slack”) in fulfilling His promise to return. Peter pointed out, however, that this seeming slowness is a good thing. God is actually demonstrating His patience by giving people more time to repent (2 Peter 3:9), and also being true to His character, as in patient or slow to anger (Ex. 34:6).

We too must be slow to become angry—and slow to speak (James 1:19). According to James, “quickness” is reserved for our ears. We’re supposed to be quick to listen. Think about how much trouble we could avoid if we learned to listen—really listen, not just stop talking—before we speak.

In our rush to meet goals and deadlines, let’s remember to speed up our listening and to slow down our tempers and our tongues. — Julie Ackerman Link

Dear heart, let perfect patience be thy goal;
It is the way earth’s noblest souls have trod.
’Tis just a calm adjustment of the soul
In all things to the perfect will of God. —Hayward

When you’re tempted to lose patience with another, think how patient God has been with you.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What I Read Today - Friday February 5, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Like A Tree

READ: Ephesians 4:11-16

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water. —Psalm 1:3In the quietness of my final years I plan to watch a tree grow—a birch tree I planted as a tiny sapling over 30 years ago. It stands now in mature splendor, just outside our picture window—beautiful in every season of the year.

So it is with our spiritual endeavors: We may have planted, watered, and fussed over our “saplings” (those we’ve mentored) for a time, but only God can make a “tree.”

Occasionally I hear from those I ministered to years ago, and discover to my delight that they have grown to maturity and have been greatly used of God—with no help from me. It’s a gentle reminder that I plant and water for a while, and help others “grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Eph. 4:15). But only God “gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

German theologian Helmut Thielicke writes, “The man who doesn’t know how to let go, who is a stranger to quiet, confident joy in Him who carries out His purposes without us (or also through us or in spite of us), in Him who makes the trees grow . . . that man will become nothing but a miserable creature in his old age.”

So, at my age, I may yet tend a sapling or two, but mostly I will let go and watch them grow. — David H. Roper

A Prayer: Lord, I want to be used by You in others’ lives. Teach me from Your Word so that I can help others follow You. And enable me to let go and trust You to work in them. Amen.

Those who follow Christ can help others follow Him too.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday February 4, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

A Question Of Values

READ: Colossians 3:1-11

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. —Colossians 3:2On a trip through Chicago, I saw a poster advertising a business management seminar. The poster’s message was intriguing: The Value of a Leader Is Directly Proportional to That Leader’s Values. The accuracy of that statement struck me. What we value shapes our character—and will ultimately define how we lead, or whether we can lead at all. This does not apply only to leaders, however.

For the follower of Christ, values are even more significant. When Paul wrote to the believers at Colosse, he said, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). His point is that only as we allow our values to be motivated and shaped by the eternal (not the temporal) will we be effective ambassadors of Christ in the world. It is in the understanding that we are pilgrims in this world, not tourists, that we can keep a clear perspective and an undistracted heart—and can more effectively serve the Savior.

It has been said that we live in a world that knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing. In this world of the “here and now,” however, followers of Christ are called to build our values around what lasts forever. To say it another way: The Effectiveness of a Believer Is Directly Proportional to That Believer’s Values. — Bill Crowder

O Lord, You see what’s in the heart—
There’s nothing hid from You,
So help us live the kind of life
That’s honest, good, and true. —D. De Haan

Hold tightly to what is eternal, but loosely to what is temporal.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What I Read Today - Wednesday February 3, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

What Will I Do?

READ: James 1:21-25

Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. —James 1:22A man who has been my mentor and friend for many years often says that his goal in studying the Bible is always personal application. I appreciate his emphasis on putting learning into practice, because it’s too easy for those of us who study, discuss, teach, and write about the Bible to take a merely intellectual approach to the Word.

Oswald Chambers said: “There is a danger with the children of God of getting too familiar with sublime things. We talk so much about these wonderful realities, and forget that we have to exhibit them in our lives. It is perilously possible to mistake the exposition of the truth for the truth; to run away with the idea that because we are able to expound these things, we are living them too.”

James reminds us that the person “who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (1:25). The key issue is not what is preached or written, but what is done.

When I study God’s Word, my first question should not be, “What am I going to say about this?” but “What am I going to do about this?” — David C. McCasland

We take delight to teach God’s Word,
We say, “Amen, it’s true!”
But it’s of little use to us
Unless His will we do. —D. De Haan

One step forward in obedience is worth years of study about it. —Chambers

Monday, February 1, 2010

What I Read Today - Monday February 1, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

The Written Word

READ: Romans 15:4-13

Whatever things were written before were written . . . that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. —Romans 15:4Last January, ESPN television ran a compelling feature about Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who had just been named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player. But the feature was not about football. Instead, it explained that for several years, when certain competitors Manning admired were retiring from the NFL, he took time to handwrite a note to them, congratulating them on their careers and their character.

Each recipient who was interviewed expressed deep appreciation that one of the greatest players of all time would do that. It was a great reminder of the power of the written word.

While a written note from a respected athlete such as Peyton Manning has much value, no human’s words can compare with the written Word we have from God in Scripture. Paul wrote, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). In the life-changing wisdom of the Bible, we have a personal message that tells us what God desires for us to be and what He desires to be for us. He has given us His written Word so we “might have hope” as we face the issues of life. Out of gratitude, let’s read God’s written message—and watch it change our lives. — Bill Crowder

Cling to the Bible; this jewel and treasure
Brings life eternal and saves fallen man;
Surely its value no mortal can measure;
Seek for its blessing, O soul, while you can. —Anon.

God speaks through His Word to those who listen with their heart.