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Here’s my list of the Top Five most important events in the Mideast in 2013.

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Middle-East-Satellite-View(Washington, D.C.) — It was a dramatic year in the Middle East. Here is my list of the Top Five most important events in the epicenter in 2013:

  1. Syrian death toll keeps climbing amidst horrific civil war & chemical weapons use in Damascus.
  2. Iran beguiles West with “charm offense” as it moves closer to the Bomb.
  3. Saudis preparing to purchase Pakistani nuclear warheads.
  4. Egypt’s counter-revolution brings down the Muslim Brotherhood.
  5. Israeli leader declares Bible prophecies coming true in our lifetime.

What follows is a brief explanation of each development and why I believe they are so significant.

1.) SYRIAN DEATH TOLL KEEPS CLIMBING AMIDST HORRIFIC CIVIL WAR & CHEMICAL WEAPONS USE IN DAMASCUS — Far and away, the greatest tragedy and humanitarian disaster in 2013 in the epicenter was the continued implosion of Syria.

A terrible evil has been unleashed. Syria is collapsing. It is hard to imagine putting the country back together any time soon. Indeed, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the geopolitical nation-state we have long known as “Syria.”

In August, Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that chemical weapons had been used in Syria. “What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality,” Kerry said. “Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable. And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable. The meaning of this attack goes beyond the conflict on Syria itself. And that conflict has already brought so much terrible suffering. This is about the large-scale indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all, a conviction shared even by countries that agree on little else. There is a clear reason that the world has banned entirely the use of chemical weapons. There is a reason the international community has set a clear standard and why many countries have taken major steps to eradicate these weapons. There is a reason why President Obama has made it such a priority to stop the proliferation of these weapons, and lock them down where they do exist. There is a reason why President Obama has made clear to the Assad regime that this international norm cannot be violated without consequences. And there is a reason why no matter what you believe about Syria, all peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again.”

There was a moment when it looked as if the U.S., France and Britain were going to take military action against the Assad regime in Syria. Then President Obama and the Western powers backed down. As the year ends, Assad remains in power.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his security cabinet are mortified by what they are seeing unfold – not in Damascus, but in Washington,” I noted in September. “To be sure, Israeli leaders are concerned but not surprised by the horrific blood-letting that is underway between the evil Assad regime and the demonic forces of al-Qaeda and their radical Islamic partners. But the Israelis are stunned and dismayed by the vacillating, lurching, confused, and chaotic approach to decision-making of President Obama and his top advisers.”

Fortunately, in 2013 we did not see the absolute destruction of the city of Damascus, as foretold by ancient Bible prophecies. Still, interest in those prophecies — notably Isaiah 17 & Jeremiah 49 – grew this year and millions learned about the prophecies that may not have been familiar with them before. This was in part because of my novel, Damascus Countdown, and in part because of media coverage of the prophecies, both positivenegative, and comical.

2.) IRAN BEGUILES WEST WITH “CHARM OFFENSIVE” AS IT MOVES CLOSER TO THE BOMB – The good news in 2013 was that there was no evidence that Iran has yet finished building or deploying nuclear warheads, and war did not break out between Iran and Israel. The bad news is that the West blinked in its effort to derail the Iranian nuclear program, making a Persian Bomb more likely.

In June, Iran held rigged presidential elections. As I noted at the time, 686 candidates registered to run for president, but the regime allowed only eights candidates to actually compete. Then, two of those eight candidates suddenly dropped out of the race. In the end, Iranians had only six candidates to choose from, all of whom were carefully vetted, were deeply loyal to the Ayatollah Khamenei, and were fully committed to advancing Iran’s nuclear program. In the end, Hassan Rouhani was declared the winner. He was certainly no “moderate,” despite what the Western media said. Indeed, this former Iranian nuclear negotiator once boasted about deceiving the West while Iran steadily built its nuclear capabilities. 

What was so stunning and disappointing, therefore, wasn’t that Rouhani launched a “charm offensive” to beguile the West while Iran moved closer to building an arsenal of nuclear weapons. That was fully expected. What was so painful to watch was that the West took Rouhani’s bait — hook, line, and sinker. The Obama administration, along with the rest of the world powers, seemed determined to strike a deal with Iran no matter what the cost. The agreement ostensibly reached in early November was described by the media as “historic,” yet it did not require Iran to stop enriching uranium, or dismantle a single centrifuge, even though economic sanctions on Iran will begin to be eased. What’s more, no sooner was the deal supposedly completed than Iran immediately began to refute the White House as to the substance of the deal. Then, the White House conceded that the agreement with Iran wasn’t actually finished, that there were a number of “technical” details that remained to be ironed out, that no deal had actually been signed in Geneva, and that implementation of the deal — merely an “interim agreement,” at that — wouldn’t begin until early 2014, at the earliest.

Israeli officials at the highest levels were stunned by how much the U.S. and Western powers gave away in the deal. Several leading Mideast analysts said there were real reasons to worry about the deal. As the year ends, Iran is increasingly close to the point of building not just an operational nuclear warhead but an arsenal of them.

3.) SAUDIS PREPARING TO PURCHASE PAKISTANI NUCLEAR WARHEADS – One of the biggest fears in the Middle East is that if Iran actually gets operational nuclear weapons that this will spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Such fears began to be realized in 2013.

As details emerged of the deal the West cut with Iran, Arab leaders were horrified. They deeply fear a nuclear-armed Iran and have long pressed the White House to do everything necessary to stop this from happening. Now they fear they are being betrayed. “A deal with Iran would be like discovering your partner of many years is cheating on you with someone he or she claims they hate,” a senior Arab official from a U.S. ally in the region told the Wall Street Journal.

Then came the news that the Saudis are in the process of purchasing nuclear warheads from Pakistan, so convinced they have become that the Obama administration has no idea how to stop Iran. “Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will,” the BBC reported. “While the kingdom’s quest has often been set in the context of countering Iran’s atomic programme, it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic republic….Earlier this year, a senior NATO decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery. Last month Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, ‘the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring.’ Since 2009, when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned visiting US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross that if Iran crossed the threshold, ‘we will get nuclear weapons,’ the kingdom has sent the Americans numerous signals of its intentions….Gary Samore, until March 2013 President Barack Obama’s counter-proliferation adviser, has told Newsnight: ‘I do think that the Saudis believe that they have some understanding with Pakistan that, in extremis, they would have claim to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan.’”

If that weren’t enough, we began hearing reports that the Saudis are so fearful of an Iranian nuclear arsenal that they have been building a secret alliance with Israel to take military action against Iran if diplomacy fails. “Riyadh has agreed to let Israel use its airspace in a military strike on Iran and cooperate over the use of rescue helicopters, tanker planes and drones,” reported the Times of Israel and the Sunday Times of London. “The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs,” said an unnamed diplomatic source.

4.) EGYPT’S COUNTER-REVOLUTION BRINGS DOWN THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD — One of the most positive developments in 2013 was a counter-revolution in Egypt that crushed the Radical Islamic leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The rise of the Brotherhood to power in Egypt in 2012 caused darkness to fall on the land.

After more than 22 million Egyptians sign petition calling for President Mohamed Morsi to step down, the Egyptian military mobilized troops and tanks, arresting Morsi and top Muslim Brotherhood leadership, outlawing the Brotherhood, and promising new elections and a new constitution. Morsi and his fellow Radicals had come to power after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak calling for the imposition of Sharia law and new hostilities with Israel. Shortly before being elected in 2012, Morsi had given a speech saying, “The Koran is our constitution. The Prophet Muhammad is our leader. Jihad is our path. And death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration….This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic sharia [law].” He adds: “I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the current Egyptian constitution], Allah willing, the text will truly reflect sharia law, as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts. Rejoice and rest assured that these people will not accept a text that does not reflect the true meaning of the Islamic sharia as a text to be implemented and as a platform. The people will not agree to anything else.”

  • Perhaps they didn’t truly understand the Brotherhood’s objectives at first, but as the Egyptian people watched Morsi and his team operate, they were horrified by the direction they were being led and they made their voices heard.
  • The region’s oldest Radical Islamic jihadist organization was toppled in 2013 and the military continues to crack down on the Brotherhood.
  • General Sisi is working hard to fight Islamist terrorism, including launching a major series of offensives against terror groups operating in the Sinai Peninsula.
  • The Egyptian military is also fighting arms smuggling into Gaza, which is putting a stranglehold on Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood.
  • An Israeli think tank reports that “Egypt has finally decided to tackle the security threat from the Sinai Peninsula, a region that was nearly under the control of jihadist organizations with links to al-Qaeda and Hamas. The Egyptian army’s ultimate goal is clear: to recover Egypt’s sovereignty in Sinai. In order to succeed in its mission, the Egyptian supreme command understands that it must neutralize Hamas, which it sees as partly responsible for the security situation in Sinai during the last few years. For the first time since it was founded, Hamas is showing signs of panic. Egyptian newspapers quoted Palestinian sources as saying that 90 percent of the smuggling tunnels along the border with Gaza have stopped functioning as a result of Egyptian measures, leading to the potential loss of nearly 40 percent of Hamas’ revenues. With the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt counting its dead by the hundreds and the campaign being waged by the Egyptian army against them far from over, and with its relations with Turkey and Qatar faltering, Hamas has instructed its spokesmen to avoid making any comments about the crisis in Egypt so as not to evoke the wrath of Egyptian army Commander in Chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Since the Egyptian military ousted President Mohamed Morsi in early July 2013, it has embarked on a punitive campaign against Hamas, the self-declared offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
  • Whether Sisi and his generals will be a positive force in Egypt going forward remains to be seen, but for now they have rescued their country from a Radical Islamist nightmare.

5.) ISRAELI LEADER DECLARES BIBLE PROPHECIES ARE COMING TRUE IN OUR LIFETIME“In our time the Biblical prophecies are being realized,” Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu declared before world leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly in September. “As the prophet Amos said, they shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them,” Netanyahu said. “They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till gardens and eat their fruit. And I will plant them upon their soil never to be uprooted again. Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Israel have come home never to be uprooted again.”

Netanyahu also alluded in the speech to the Biblical prophecies of a Persian king named “Cyrus” that would rise up one day and set the Jewish people free from captivity. “The Jewish people’s odyssey through time has taught us two things: Never give up hope, always remain vigilant. Hope charts the future. Vigilance protects it,” Netanyahu said. “Today our hope for the future is challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction. But I want you to know, that wasn’t always the case. Some 2,500 years ago the great Persian king Cyrus ended the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people. He issued a famous edict in which he proclaimed the right of the Jews to return to the land of Israel and rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. That’s a Persian decree. And thus began an historic friendship between the Jews and the Persians that lasted until modern times.”

Isaiah was the Hebrew prophet who prophesied that a great Persian king named “Cyrus” would emerge one day to bless the Jewish people, release them from captivity, send them back to the land of Israel, and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. (See Isaiah 44:28 through 45:13.)

A Persian king named “Cyrus” did, in fact, emerge to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecies.

  •  See 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 – “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia – in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah – the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord His God be with him, and let him go up!”’”
  • See the Book of Ezra – “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia – in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah – the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may His God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:1-4)

I don’t personally recall a single other Israeli leader in the modern era who has spoken so clearly of the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Netanyahu’s interest in the Scriptures has been growing significantly in recent years, as I have noted on the blog, and are increasingly pronounced in his public statements. At a speech at the Auschwitz death camp in 2009, for example, Netanyahu declared that the prophecies of Ezekiel 37 — the dry bones of the Jewish people coming back together miraculously to form the State of Israel — had come to pass in his lifetime.

The declaration by an Israeli leader of the importance of the Bible to Jewish lives, and to all humanity, in our modern times should not be underestimated.

During the 2013 Epicenter Conference we held in Jerusalem in July, I noted in my opening message that “amidst the terrible geopolitical crises in Syria and Egypt — and the nuclear threat growing from Iran — the Middle East faces a far greater crisis: the absolute disconnect between the people and the Word of God. Israel and the Middle East is the land where the Bible was written. Yet most of the people in the epicenter have never read the Word of God.” How sad.

Only 16% of Israeli Jews say they ever read the Hebrew Bible known as the Tanakh (the five books of Moses, the prophets and the writings), according to a sweeping survey of Israeli attitudes towards faith conducted by the Guttmann Institute and the Israel Democracy Institute in 2009. The vast majority of Arab Muslims have never even seen a Bible, much less read one. Is there really any wonder then that if the half billion people in this region don’t know God’s Word, that they are not experiencing His peace, much less peace between nations and ethnic groups?

This is why the theme of the 2013 Epicenter Conference was, “The Power of the Word.” Only the Bible — the very words of the Living God — has the power to save souls, change lives, bring hope, and bring “peace that passeth all understanding.”

As you begin the new year, I would encourage you to watch or listen to the messages from the conference, all of which are posted online at http://www.epicenterconference.com/.

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Damascus Countdown was 5th bestselling novel of 2013, reports Christian bookstore chain.

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2013 at 2:28 pm

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The geopolitical thriller, Damascus Countdown was the fifth bestselling Christian novel of 2013 in one of the nation’s largest Christian bookstore chains, reports LifeWay.

This was the third and final novel in my trilogy about a nuclear showdown between Israel, Iran and Syria. It was released in hardcover in March 2013, and released in the Fall in softcover. It is also available as an audio book.

LifeWay Christian Resources is “one of the world’s largest providers of Christian products and services, including Bibles, Bible studies, research, church music and supplies, and digital services. The company owns and operates more than 180 LifeWay Christian Stores across the nation.”

The paperback edition is currently #18 on the ECPA’s “Christian Fiction Bestseller List” for December.

Thanks so much to all of you who have read, and reviewed, and blogged, and Tweeted about Damascus Countdown this year. I deeply appreciate your support.

In January, I’ll begin to tell you more about my next novel, which is scheduled to be released in the Spring.

Suicide bombers hit Russia, kill 31, wound over 100. Chechen rebel leader calls for Olympic attacks.

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2013 at 3:14 am
(photo credit: CNN)

(photo credit: CNN)

(Washington, D.C.) – “Two suicide bombings in as many days have killed 31 people and raised concerns that Islamic militants have begun a terrorist campaign in Russia that could stretch into the Sochi Olympics in February,” reports the Associated Press. “Russian and international Olympic officials insisted the site of the games, protected by layers of security, is completely safe.”

The AP noted that “suicide bombings have rocked Russia for years, but the insurgents seeking to create an Islamic state have largely confined their attacks to the North Caucasus region in recent years. The blasts in Volgograd signaled that militants want to show their reach outside their native region. Matthew Clements, an analyst at Jane’s, said Caucasus militants could be targeting major transportation hubs like Volgograd to embarrass the Kremlin and discourage attendance at the Feb. 7-23 Olympics.”

“The attack demonstrates the militants’ capability to strike at soft targets such as transport infrastructure outside of their usual area of operations in the North Caucasus,” he said in a note. “Although the very strict security measures which will be in place at the Sochi Games will make it difficult to undertake a successful attack against the main Olympic venues, public transport infrastructure in Sochi and the surrounding Krasnodar territory will face an elevated risk of attack.”

“Suicide bombers at a train station and on a trolleybus killed more than 30 people within 24 hours in the southern city of Volgograd, raising the security threat less than six weeks before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics,” reports Bloomberg news service.

“At least 14 people died and 27 others were injured when a man detonated a bomb in the trolleybus during rush hour after 8:10 a.m. local time, the Health Ministry said on its website,” Bloomberg noted. “The blast yesterday near a metal detector at the entrance to the city’s train station killed 17 people and injured 45 others, according to the ministry. The twin bombings come as Russia prepares to stage the Olympics in February in Sochi, a Black Sea resort close to the violence-wracked North Caucasus region. Volgograd, which suffered another suicide bombing on a bus in October, is about 700 kilometers (435 miles) northeast of Sochi.”

“If another attack happens closer to Sochi, it will be a catastrophe for the Olympics,” Alexei Malashenko, an analyst on the North Caucasus at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said by phone, Bloomberg reported. “Three bombings in the space of three months means that terrorist activity is becoming systematic.”

The article added that “President Vladimir Putin’s government, which will seal off Sochi, a city of 345,000 people, had planned to beef up security starting on Jan. 7, a month before the games start, according to the state-run news service RIA Novosti.”

Other key points in the Bloomberg article:

  • In July, Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov, who has said he was behind at least three of Russia’s deadliest terror attacks, called on militants to target the Sochi Olympics.
  • Umarov claimed responsibility for organizing the January 2011 suicide bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport that killed 37 people. The self-styled emir of a pan-North Caucasus Islamic state also said he planned the attacks on the capital’s subway system by female suicide bombers in March 2010 that killed 40 people and the November 2009 bombing of the Nevsky Express train between Moscow and St. Petersburg that killed 28.
  • Russian forces killed an ally of Umarov on Dec. 28 in Dagestan, RIA reported. The Foreign Ministry blamed calls from militant leaders including Umarov for inciting the attacks.
  • About 400 Russian Islamic radicals, mainly from the North Caucasus, are currently battling President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria and their return poses a “big threat,” Sergei Smirnov, deputy director of the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet KGB, said in September.

OTHER HEADLINES:

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Thank you for blessing the poor & needy in Israel. Read The Joshua Fund’s 2013 Donor Report online to learn more about the difference you’re making.

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2013 at 4:31 pm

TJF-donorrpt2013

>> If you would like to make a tax-deductible, year-end financial gift to The Joshua Fund, we would be very grateful. You give securely on-line by clicking here.

Dear faithful friend of The Joshua Fund –

Because of you — through your faithful prayers and generous financial support — the Lord has touched the lives of thousands of Jewish and Arab families in the epicenter in real and practical ways with the love of Jesus Christ.

A few examples:

  • By God’s grace, The Joshua Fund provided food and other relief supplies to more than 43,940 poor and needy Jewish and Arab families this year — an increase of more than 4% over 2012.
  • Two new distribution centers have just opened, bringing us to a total of 14 centers distributing relief supplies throughout Israel. We are prayerfully considering opening 2 or 3 new distribution centers in 2014.
  • We have had the honor of helping Christian ministries that are doing relief work among refugees escaping the civil war in Syria.
  • TJF has also planned and funded retreats for pastors and ministry leaders, and provided biblical training, encouragement and refreshment for those serving throughout the epicenter region.

On our website, www.joshuafund.net, we have posted the 2013 Donor Report to give you a sense of the many projects you have helped to fund in 2013, and get a glimpse of the lives the Lord has blessed because of you.

We have also posted a short video message I recently taped sharing some of the highlights of the Donor Report.

I hope you will pour yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee and sit down beside the fireplace and watch the video and read through the report. In the process, I hope you will be encouraged by what God has done through your investment.

From all of us on the Board and staff of The Joshua Fund — both here in North America and in Israel — thank you so much for standing with us. We count it a great privilege to serve you in this work.

Yours for blessing Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus,

Joel C. Rosenberg

Founder and President, The Joshua Fund

>> If you would like to make a generous, tax-deductible, year-end financial gift to The Joshua Fund, we would be very grateful. You give securely on-line by clicking here.

Or, you can send a check in the mail. Please make your check payable to “The Joshua Fund” and send to:

  • The Joshua Fund
  • PO Box 2589
  • Monument, CO  80132-2589

70 Israeli Parliament Members will visit Auschwitz in January to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2013 at 4:18 pm
Main entrance to Auschwitz (photo credit: CC BY-SA Tulio Bertorini/Times of Israel.)

Main entrance to Auschwitz (photo credit: CC BY-SA Tulio Bertorini/Times of Israel.)

“The largest delegation of Israeli lawmakers ever to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is set to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Polish site next month,” reports the Times of Israel. “In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly set the International Holocaust Remembrance Day as January 27, the day in 1945 on which Soviet troops liberated the camp….”

“The MKs will be accompanied by other dignitaries, including State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, scholar Dina Porat and former MKs — and Holocaust survivors — Shevah Weiss and Colette Avital, in addition to some 400 Jewish and other dignitaries from Poland and Russia,” noted the Times, incorporating the report of another Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonoth. “The Israeli delegation itself, including security personnel, is expected to number some 300 people in total. There will also be 30 Holocaust survivors joining the mission. Edelstein reportedly decided to conduct the historic visit in 2014 instead of waiting for the 70th anniversary of the liberation in 2015 due to the fact that with each passing year the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles.”

“The Israeli delegation will only be in Poland for one day, taking off from Israel in two charter planes in the morning and returning at night,” the Times added.

Is the Bible making a comeback? Hollywood blockbusters about Jesus, Noah and Moses set to release in 2014.

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2013 at 5:50 pm

religion-comebackIs Hollywood rediscovering the greatest story ever told?

In a year in which The History Channel’s “The Bible” was the most-watched miniseries on cable TV; the Pope was Time magazine’s “Person of the Year”; Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Jesus, is a New York Times best-seller; and the faith of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson is the talk of the country, perhaps it’s not surprising that major motion picture studios are preparing to release Biblical blockbusters in 2014 about Jesus, Noah, and Moses, to name just a few.

When I took my family to the movies this week, I was intrigued to see trailers for three faith-based films, each one of which was genuinely intriguing in their own way:

  • Son of God will release just before Easter and will re-tell the story of the birth, life, ministry death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. [click on link to see trailer]
  • Noah is a $125 million extravaganza starring Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins and Jennifer Connelly about the catastrophic judgment of mankind recorded in the Book of Genesis and one man and his family who are saved. It releases March 28th. [click on link to see trailer]
  • Heaven Is For Real will release on April 16th, based on the New York Times best-selling non-fiction book about a boy who dies, but after being brought back to life by a team of doctors tells his family that he went to heaven while he was dead and describes what he saw in vivid detail. [click on link to see trailer]

I can’t vouch for the theology of each of these films based solely on the trailers. But I can say their production values are top notch and just seeing these sneak previews (especially amidst trailers for other soon-coming films that are violence- and sex-ridden trash) was both surprising and encouraging. It got our family talking about this intriguing moment in which so much of our culture seems vehemently opposed to Biblical faith, yet man other Americans seem truly curious, and at times even hungry, to know if the Bible has answers to life’s deepest and most important questions.

This was also the topic the other day on the Fox News program, “The Five.” They had an engaging and lively discussion about this question, “Is religion making a comeback in American culture?” They talked about the films that are coming out, but also about their own personal views of the culture and the curiosity and hostility towards Christianity and the Bible. The segment lasted about 12 minutes. I’d encourage you to watch it and discuss it with family and friends. Bob Beckel’s comments were particularly intriguing.

Finally (for now), I read this article in the Telegraph giving the inside scoop on a slew of Bible-based films in production or about to be released. Here are some excerpts, but I commend the entire article it to your attention.

Biblical films’ Hollywood comeback

Superheroes are being elbowed out by Noah and Mary as Hollywood makes 2014 year of the biblical epic

By Nick Allen, The [UK] Telegraph, December 25, 2013

 

  • The saint-like image of a hooded woman looms out from the movie poster, her arms outstretched as a divine light bursts from the sky. A message written above is simple and unambiguous: “You Will Believe.” So goes the promotional campaign for the forthcoming Hollywood blockbuster Mary Mother of Christ….whose title character will be played by Odeya Rush, a 16-year-old Israeli-born actress, is one of a series of unashamedly Christian biblical epics due to appear next year, marking an unprecedented overture by Hollywood to America’s evangelical heartland. 
  • In March audiences will be treated to Noah, a $150 million special effects-laden extravaganza, in which Russell Crowe will build an ark and rescue mankind from the Great Flood. Harry Potter actress Emma Watson will play his adopted daughter, and Sir Anthony Hopkins is portraying Methuselah. The ark was built on Long Island, New York. 
  • Noah will be followed by Sir Ridley Scott’s Exodus, in which Christian Bale,   as Moses, will part the Red Sea. Scenes from ancient Egypt have been   reconstructed in southern Spain, with Bale wielding a bow and arrow and   Sigourney Weaver playing the Pharaoh’s wife.
  • Another movie of Moses’s life called Gods and Kings is also planned. Steven Spielberg was due to make it but has been replaced by Ang Lee, who won the Best Director Oscar this year for Life of Pi.
  • Meanwhile, Son of God will tell the story of Jesus’s life, with Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado in the lead role.
  • Will Smith is said to be planning a film based on the story of Cain and Abel.
  • Brad Pitt is rumoured to be playing Pontius Pilate in a eparate project.
  • There will also be Resurrection, in which a Roman soldier is sent to investigate Christ’s death. It has been likened to “Gladiator, with a mystery bent.”

Phil Cooke, a film-maker and media consultant to Christian organisations, said Hollywood’s epiphany had financial, not spiritual, origins.

“What’s happened is they’ve understood it’s very good business to take Christians seriously, and this is a real serious market,” he said. “For years Hollywood bent over backwards to reach special interest groups, be it feminists or environmentalists. It has finally realised that there are 91 million evangelical Christians in America.”

For their part, studio executives have taken something of a leap of faith that films in which religious figures save the world will bring big box office   receipts. 

That faith is based in no small part on the success of The Bible, a television mini-series shown on the History channel earlier this year, which averaged 11.4 million viewers and became America’s most watched cable show of 2013….

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Is Christmas offensive to Jewish people? It shouldn’t be, says Orthodox Jewish author and radio host.

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Merry-Christmas-mangerHere’s a fascinating column by Dennis Prager, a devoutly religious American Jewish author and host of a nationally syndicated radio program.

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Mazel Tov, Christians! Most Jews wish you a Merry Christmas.

By Dennis Prager, December 24, 2013, National Review

As a Jew, and a religious one at that, I want to wish my fellow Americans a Merry Christmas.

Not “Happy Holidays.” Merry Christmas.

I write, “my fellow Americans” because, as reported by the Pew Research poll released just last Wednesday, nine in ten Americans say they celebrate Christmas.

Apparently, many Americans have forgotten that Christmas is not only a Christian holy day, but also an American national holiday. Just as we wish one another a “Happy Thanksgiving” or a “Happy Fourth,” so, too, we should wish fellow Americans a “Merry Christmas.”

It doesn’t matter with which religion or ethnic group you identify; Christmas in America is as American as the proverbial apple pie. That is why some of the most famous and beloved Christmas songs were written by . . . guess who? Jews.

  • “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin (birth name: Israel Isidore Baline).
  • “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — Johnny Marks.
  • “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” — composed by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn.
  • “Silver Bells” — by Jay Livingston (Jacob Harold Levison) and Ray Evans (Raymond Bernard Evans).
  • “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” — Mel Tormé and Robert Wells (Robert Levinson), both Jews.
  • “Sleigh Ride” — lyrics by Mitchell Parish (Michael Hyman Pashelinsky).

There are many others as well.

The notion that non-Christians are excluded is absurd.

Americans who feel “excluded” are not excluded. They have decided to feel excluded. Which is, of course, entirely their right to do; no one forces anyone to celebrate any American holiday. But attempts to remove Christmas from the public sphere are destructive to our society. It would be as if Jehovah’s Witnesses attempted to remove public celebrations and references to the Fourth of July because they don’t celebrate national holidays.

Why are these attempts destructive? Because the entire society — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists as well as Christians — benefits from the goodness and joy that the Christmas season engenders.

It never occurred to my Orthodox Jewish family not to enjoy this season. It was a tradition in our home to watch the Christmas Mass from the Vatican every Christmas Eve (unless it was a Friday evening, and therefore the Sabbath, when no television watching was allowed). Had you visited our home, you would have seen my mother — and my father, my brother, and me, all wearing our kippot (Jewish skullcaps) — watching Catholics celebrate Christmas.

Nor did it ever occur to my brother, Dr. Kenneth Prager, an Orthodox Jew, not to sing Christmas songs when he was a member of the Columbia University Glee Club. He happily sang not only secular Christmas songs, but religious Christ-centered Christmas songs as well.

So when and why did this pernicious nonsense of non-Christians being “excluded” by public celebrations of Christmas develop?

It is nothing more than another destructive product of the 1960s and 1970s, when the Left came to dominate much of the culture….

>> To read the rest of the column, please click here.

The true story of the ancient Hebrew prophets, the hope of Israel & the story of Christmas.

In Uncategorized on December 25, 2013 at 5:49 pm

nativitystory3What did the ancient Hebrew prophets write about the coming of the Messiah, the much-longed for Hope of Israel? And how do those prophecies relate to the story of Christmas?

I realize that many of my readers are not Christians and don’t know the answer to these questions. Some of you are Muslims. Some are Jewish. Some of you follow other religions, and some of you have no religion at all. Thus, some of you may not know why Christmas is not really about Santa or elves or Rudolph or trees or shopping and gifts and malls and Bing Crosby movies. Some of you may be curious about the relationship between ancient prophecy and what Christians celebrate today.

Rather than have me explain it imperfectly, however, let me share with you what the Scriptures teach. I hope it’s helpful.

If you have questions, please feel free to post them on our “Epicenter Team” page on Facebook, and I will respond in the coming days.

Thanks and may the Lord bless you and your family indeed on this Christmas Day.

Matthew Chapter One

Conception and Birth of Jesus

18 Now the birth of Jesus [Yeshua] the Messiah was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name [Yeshua] Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Matthew Chapter Two

The Visit of the Magi

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by Godin a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

Luke Chapter One

Introduction

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord s with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

The Magnificat

46 And Mary said:

“My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. 51 “He has done ]mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. 53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

John Is Born

57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.

59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60 But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65 Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.

Zacharias’s Prophecy

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, 69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant— 70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old— 71 Salvation from our enemies, And from the hand of all who hate us; 72 To show mercy toward our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, 73 The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, 74 To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. 76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; 77 To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, 78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem

Chapter Two

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Return to Nazareth

39 When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

Israel’s Prime Minister wishes Christians a “Merry Christmas” from snowy Jerusalem.

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2013 at 9:20 pm
Israel's Prime Minister wishes "Merry Christmas" to Christians around the world.

Israel’s Prime Minister wishes “Merry Christmas” to Christians around the world.

From the City of Peace, Jerusalem, I extend the warmest Christmas greetings to all of you — Merry Christmas!” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a short holiday video released on YouTube today.

Speaking to Christians in Israel and around the world, Netanyahu said, “We celebrate Christmas with you, we know the importance you attach to our common heritage, to the State of Israel, and to the city of Jerusalem, where so much of our common history was forged.”

Let us, in turn, pray for the Prime Minister’s family, all Israelis and Palestinians – Jews and Arabs – and particularly the Church in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza that the Lord Jesus Christ may bless them and grant them peace, stability, prosperity, and deep spiritual growth and joy.

As I reported earlier, an estimated 75,000 Christian pilgrims are now in Israel to celebrate Christmas. Many will visit Bethlehem, especially tonight on Christmas Eve.

By the time the Christmas season is over, ”about two million people will have visited Bethlehem in 2013,” which Israeli tourism officials note is “almost double the 2012 figure of 1.18 million” people.

The Prime Minister’s warm relationship with the Christian world notwithstanding, Israelis have mixed views about celebrating Christmas. Many are deeply grateful for the friendship of the international Christian community and supportive of — or at the least tolerant of — the followers of Jesus in the epicenter. Others carry wounds from historical tensions between Christians and Jews and feel uncomfortable with displays of Christmas. In some cases, discussion of Christmas provokes political debates between Israelis and Palestinians. Here are a few articles and columns in recent days on the subject.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II celebrates Christmas and extends good wishes to the Christians of his kingdom.

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2013 at 8:42 pm
His Majesty King Abdullah and HRH Crown Prince Hussein join the Christian community in their Christmas and New Year celebration in Madaba on Monday (Photo courtesy of the Royal Court/Jordan Times)

His Majesty King Abdullah and HRH Crown Prince Hussein join the Christian community in their Christmas and New Year celebration in Madaba on Monday (Photo courtesy of the Royal Court/Jordan Times)

Continuing in the tradition of his father, the much beloved late-King Hussein, Jordan’s King Abdullah II extended his hand of friendship and tolerance to the Christians of the Hashemite Kingdom by attending a Christmas celebration with Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic leaders and extending good wishes to the broader Arab and international Christian communities.

Let us, in turn, pray for the royal family, all the people of Jordan, and particularly the Church in Jordan that the Lord Jesus Christ may bless them and grant them peace, stability, prosperity, and deep spiritual growth and joy.

“His Majesty King Abdullah, accompanied by HRH Crown Prince Hussein, on Monday attended a celebration in Madaba Governorate held by the Christian community in Jordan on the occasion of Christmas and the New Year,” reported The Jordan Times. “King Abdullah extended his good wishes to the Christian community during a lunch banquet he held in Madaba, some 30km southwest of Amman, according to a Royal Court statement. During the ceremony, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem, All Palestine and Jordan Theophilos III commended His Majesty’s efforts to bring about peace in the region.”

“The patriarchate of Jerusalem, which enjoys your noble protection, along with the Church of Holy Sepulchre, Al Aqsa Mosque and the other Islamic and Christian holy sites, holds you in high esteem as you work hard under severely difficult conditions to make peace in the Middle East,” he told the King. The patriarch added that the King has “been following in the footsteps of [his] great father, His Majesty the late King Hussein and [his] Hashemite predecessors, the grandchildren of the noble Prophet”.

“Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin archbishop of Jerusalem, referred to the anticipated ‘historical’ visit of Pope Francis to the Kingdom next year, noting that around 50 years ago, King Hussein received Pope John Paul VI, and ‘we will be celebrating the anniversary of that visit in the coming few days,” the Times noted. “Twal also highlighted the King’s efforts to protect the existence of Christians in the region.”

“We, in cooperation with the Catholic Church in the entire world, share with you your concerns and efforts to protect the Christian presence in the Middle East and its Arab Christian identity,” he said….

“Madaba Mayor Mustafa Maaiaah noted that Jordan has always been a homeland with a ‘message of tolerance, openness and the belief that we are God’s creations and children,’” the Times added. “Also addressing the King, Shadia Haddad, representative of the women in Madaba, said: “We will never forget, Your Majesty, that it was you who made this occasion a national holiday for all to celebrate.. You have not stopped at that. You insist that we meet as one family to exchange Christmas greetings and assert our determination to hold tightly to our genuine brotherhood as Muslims and Christians in this dear homeland.”

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