2015: A Year in Review

Welcome to 2015. Where man-buns are a thing and more deaths are caused by taking selfies than shark attacks. Deaths by selfies gone wrong: 12. Death by shark attacks: 8. There have been an estimated 105 billion photos taken by Americans this year and 104.9 billion of them were seflies! We have definitely become a more selfish and self-centered generation this year – with the Kardashians leading the charge on this one! Kim Kardashian (in)famously “broke the internet” this year with her butt. [I cannot believe I just wrote that sentence.] But I guess Ariana Grande wanted a piece of the limelight so she took to donut licking to find it. She may have taken it a bit too far when she said she hated America and Americans because her stunt backfired and people began to realize they’d have one less “Problem” without her so she eventually apologized and now all is right with the world.

Yes, 2015 was indeed a busy year. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest stories from this past year.

Politics and the Fight Against Terror
We started off 2015 with the attacks by two brothers with ties to Al-Qaeda, against Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in Paris who had published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. They killed 11 people and injured 11 others. A massive manhunt for the two terrorists led to an altercation with police two days later. The terrorists were found hiding in a printworks factory. They emerged from the building firing at police. Both suspects were killed. Meanwhile, two other terrorists with connections to the brothers had taken hostages inside a Jewish supermarket. In total, 17 people were killed in the course of three-days.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress this year in March speaking against the nuclear deal with Iran. President Obama was busy golfing or something and subsequently couldn’t find time to meet with our “strongest ally in the Middle East.”

In May, the U.S. along with several other world leaders struck a nuclear agreement with Iran. Supporters of Israel and common sense all over the world urged their leaders to oppose the deal. In his address to the country, President Obama gave us some information about the really bad deal.

An arms embargo would be in place for 5 years while a ballistic missile embargo would be in place for 8 years. The deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior or acting like a civilized nation. We are hoping this deal will lead to future talks in hopes that they will lessen their violence and take a more constructive path — but we’re not betting on it.

It does not give me pause the others in Tehran or Mr. Assad are praising this deal as victory against America. The facts are the facts. I’m not concerned with what others say about it.

We have huge differences with Iran. Israel has significant concerns with regards to its security. Iran has a military, they deny the holocaust, they have called for their destruction and have missiles pointed at [Israel]. For all the objections of Netanyahu and republicans no one has given me an alternative.

24/7 monitoring of the “known” and “declared” facilities. What if they try to develop a covert program? The benefit of sophisticated monitoring throughout the entire process is that it’s hard to create a covert program. But if they are so determined, the IAEA has the authority to declare they want to inspect the suspicious areas. If Iran wants to object to any inspections, we can override that decisions. This is the most vigorous inspection process ever negotiated. The only argument you could make against it is that Iran is no intent that no inspection team would ever be sufficient. At that point, the only alternative is to go to war with Iran.

We didn’t make the release of hostages part of the deal because we didn’t want Iran thinking they could get more out of this deal by using the hostages as leverage. If we had walked away from the negotiating table we’d still be pushing hard to get them out of prison.

There are quite a few sketch details in this nuclear deal with Iran. I’m sure we will hear about this in 2016.

The world was rocked again when terrorists carried out attacks in the capital of France. Terrorists executed at least 158 people in coordinated attacks around Paris. The terrorists were heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” and “this is for Syria” before opening fire. French President Francois Hollande closed the French borders and declared a state of emergency. The terrorists involved were killed.

ISIS took more ground in Syria and Northern Iraq. More people were brutally murdered by the terrorist group which also led to the height of the refugee crisis facing the world. For years, Syrians had been fleeing their country because of the devastating civil war taking place. But now with ISIS being added to the mix, the number of refugees was becoming almost overwhelming. The debate reached its height in America this year after it was discovered that at least one of the terrorists involved in the Paris attacks had snuck in with the Syrian refugees.

While most American were having Turkey for Thanksgiving, so was Russian President Vladmir Putin. After ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks against Russians and around the world, Putin ordered attacks against the terrorist groups and many Americans day-dreamed about impeaching Barack Mom-Jeans Obama and replacing him with Vladmir I-Wrestle-Bears-With-My-Bare-Hands Putin to be our next President.

And just when we all thought the Greek economy couldn’t get any worse, it did. Throughout the year, we’ve watched as the Greek economy collapsed – again…again.

2015 was also the year of Ben Carson and Donald Trump. Both entered the Presidential race this year and both have lead the ratings as the two front-runners in the GOP party. I think this shows that people are ready for some real change – not more politicians promising the world and then delivering none of it. Although, I still think Ted Cruz is the best candidate. Anyhow, this should make for an interesting election this coming year!

Race Issues
After the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, two weeks of protests erupted in downtown Baltimore. The incident reignited the debate about police brutality and brought the Black Lives Matter movement back to the forefront of American’s minds.

On June 17, a gunman opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine people. In the subsequent investigation, photos of the gunman posing with a Confederate flag emerged which sparked a debate on the Confederate flag. South Carolina representatives voted to remove the Confederate flag.

Rachel Dolezal came under fire this year after city officials investigated her claim that she was African-American only to find out she was actually white. She claimed that she “identified as African-American” because apparently in 2015 we became a society that made it ok to just “feel” whoever we wanted to be. Which leads us to one of the top social stories of the year.

Social Issues
Bruce “Call Me Caitlyn” Jenner made waves in April 2015 when he announced he identified as a woman and would be making the official change from Bruce to Caitlyn.

In a 5-4 decision this June, the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal in all 50 states. However, many questioned the validity of the ruling and whether or not the Supreme Court, who cannot make laws but only enforce existing laws, had the authority to make such a decision.

Pope Francis made headlines this year when he visited the United States. He also addressed Congress on his September visit – becoming the first Pope ever to do so. In his speech, he advocated on behalf of the poor and Mother Earth and lambasted greed.

On April 25, the world jumped into action after an 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal and destroyed thousands of homes. The earthquake triggered a massive landslide on Mount Everest and killed approximately 9,000 people.

But the earthquake in Nepal wasn’t the only reason thousands of people died this year. Planned Parenthood earned themselves national criticism when undercover videos revealed the horrifying truth behind Planned Parenthood. While most of us already knew that Planned Parenthood doesn’t actually care for women or children, it seemed their depravation goes even further than any of us thought possible. Planned Parenthood officials were caught on video selling aborted baby parts for thousands of dollars. It seems that their procedures even took special precautions to ensure the parts were as intact as possible to ensure the highest price. Little was done in response to prevent this from happening again and many even bolstered their support for Planned Parenthood in spite of national criticism. Meanwhile, the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion in a small African village drew public outcry and even received death threats while the villagers in Africa went on with their lives as normal.

Meanwhile, college students across America whined that they needed “safe-spaces” on campuses so that no one would feel marginalized or have their feelings hurt. Because 2015 was the year of the cry-baby. In generations before us, young adults fought wars and built a life for themselves and their families but today, they cry for their blankies and safe-spaces. What is America coming to?!

Mass Shootings
Charleston, Oregon, San Bernardino. This year, it seemed as if there were too many mass shootings. It seemed like every day there were alerts of gunmen on a college campus, or walking down the street, or at their job. While the liberal left were crying for their blankies and more gun control (which is obviously the solution), common-sense thinkers recognized that it won’t take more gun control, it will actually take less government intervention to help keep America safe. Bad guys will find a way to murder and kill. The delay in time it takes a police officer to respond to a 911 call could mean the difference between life and death. And that means that if the bad guys are the only ones with guns, there will be no one to protect innocent civilians – especially with the wave of distrust arising against police officers.

Undefeated UFC champion Ronda Rousey was defeated by New Mexico native Holly Holm and Americans across the nation engaged in a throwdown of their own when that stupid dress came on the scene. You know which one I’m talking about. The gold and white one. Or was it the blue and black one? Either way, people almost died over that controversy.

We also saw, or at least learned, about the Gilmore Girls reunion! Fans all over the world pulled out their “Babette Ate Oatmeal” shirts, drank gallons of coffee, and practiced saying “Oy with the poodles” hundreds of times fast in preparation for the big day. We also saw Star Wars make a HUGE comeback this year. In what is the eighth highest-grossing film of all time, Disney takes us to a galaxy set 30 years after Return of the Jedi. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it yet, but, seriously, SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

And then there was the sad news that oldest Duggar son Josh, had not only molested some of his younger sisters and family friends growing up but that he had been unfaithful to his wife, Anna, as well.

New Year, New Start
As 2015 comes to a close, its easy to look back at this last year and see only the negative. But in the midst of the bad there are stories of good. Stories of people helping others. Stories of lives being changed forever. Stories that restore our faith in humanity.

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, but just think what would happen in 2016 if we all resolved to be a force for good this year. If we stopped and helped someone in need. If we thought of others first and gave of ourselves. We could be the light in a very dark world. We could give others hope in a world of despair. So let’s charge into 2016 ready to face all the challenges that lay ahead knowing that God is the Light that goes before us!

Be blessed and be a blessing in 2016!

Hineni. “Here Am I. Send Me.”

Note Before You Read: I know I’m a little late in publishing this, but what can I say…sometimes life gets in the way and some things fall off the plate.

I originally began writing this right after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris and continued working on it for a few days…until “life” happened. Even though I put it off and it might seem a little late to post this, I think there is still an important lesson for each of us to hear from these events.

So as you read this, keep in mind that the timetable may seem off from where we are currently. Enjoy!

By now I think most people have heard about the terrorist attack in Paris, France this week. It all started when two terrorists with links to Al Qaeda in Yemen stormed the office of a controversial magazine in Paris killing 12 people, including the magazine’s editor, and wounding many others.

The terrorists were on the run for several days, hiding out in a massive forest outside Paris and in a small nearby town. Then early this morning (Friday, January 9, 2015) we received word that the terrorists were hiding in a small printing office where they had one hostage and that not far away two more Islamic terrorists, believed to be part of the same terror cell in France, were holding hostages at a Jewish Kosher deli.

At the time of this writing on Friday, January 09, 2015, the media is reporting that three of the suspects were killed and that the fourth suspect (the only female) had escaped and that all hostages from both locations were freed, except for two hostages who were reportedly shot and killed. UPDATE: As it turns out, authorities now believe the female suspect may not have been with the other suspects as originally thought and may have left for Syria immediately following the attack at Charlie Hebdo.

This senseless violence is all very sad and heartbreaking. Initial reports say the motive of the attack against the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Monday was the magazine’s repeated irreverent depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. The magazine has also caricaturized prominent figures of other religions and, yet, I can’t recall the last time I saw a Buddhist monk wearing a suicide vest and taking hostages…but hey, that’s beside the point, right?

As I read accounts and reports of the ongoing manhunt for the two radical Islamist brothers, I came across several reports that other European countries were also bumping up their terror threat levels in light of the attacks in Paris. Spain, Britain, and Germany were among these countries to bolster their security. In addition, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned that extremists could attack Europe and the U.S. if there is not a strong international response against terrorism in Iraq and Syria.

But where were these countries when Israel was warning of the terrorist threat in the world? The people now sporting #jesuischarlie, where were they when Hamas was launching hundreds and hundreds of rockets into Israel this summer? Why is it that the world always waits to act against the threat of evil in the world until it touches their own lives? Why not stop it before it takes the lives of so many innocent people? Before families lose sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and beloved friends? Why do we think we won’t be touched by the evil in the world?

Why do we believe that somehow this evil will be stopped before it reaches our doorstep?

And how do we think it will be stopped if no one stands up to fight it?

Why didn’t France do something before now? Before this heinous attack took the lives of 16 and forever changed the lives of countless others? France has long been the European Mecca for Muslim immigrants and has had to face new concerns in dealing with this influx of Muslim immigration. Several years ago I read an article detailing the legal battle over outlawing the burqa (the head-to-toe covering Muslim women wear) in parts of Europe. With the surge of Muslim immigrants coming into France and the dozens of security alerts that French citizens are returning from fighting in Syria and Iraq with ISIS, could the government not see this threat coming?In fact, the two brothers who carried out the attack at Charlie Hebdo and the man who held hostages at the Kosher deli were all French citizens who had recently returned from fighting alongside terrorists.

I have even read of France’s “no-go zones,” as they are called, in predominantly Muslim areas. They are areas in France that tourists, locals, and even police do not go into because of the violence and criminal activity that takes place in these areas. And even though the city of Paris is trying to sue Fox News for their report, there are indeed European no-go zones.

And now Spain sees the looming threat on its borders. But what will be done to stop it?

Today there was a Unity March in Paris that was led by dozens of world leaders in a stand against terrorism (it should be noted that the highest ranking person to represent the U.S. was the ambassador to France and not the President or Vice President, but hey, who has time to stand against terrorism, right?). But why did it take so long for the world to unite against terrorism? Why did it take so long for the leaders of the world to unite in this type of stand? Why didn’t world leaders unite when Hamas, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood were united against Israel? Where was the unity march when ISIS invaded Iraq and Syria? Where was the outcry and hashtags when dozens and dozens of Christians were beheaded, impaled, burned alive, or kidnapped by ISIS?

What makes the terrorist attack in Paris so different? Why did the attack on journalists affect so many more people than the deaths of Jews and Christians?

The response to the attack at Charlie Hebdo reminds me of the words spoken in 1946 by concentration camp survivor Pastor Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

The words of Pastor Niemöller should serve as a reminder to us that we are not invincible. None of us should think that we are somehow immune to the evils of this world. Yes, it is true that God is our strong tower, but does that give us license to hide our heads in the sand? Does that give us reason to look away from the wrong happening in the world; to not speak out against the injustice?

Since I began writing this two weeks ago, another terrorist attack has been carried out. This time in Tel Aviv. Once again, terror was brought to the streets of Israel. It was a stabbing attack on a city bus during the morning rush hour. At least a dozen people were stabbed in this horrific attack.

Immediately following the attack, stories of heroism and bravery emerged. The bus driver remained in control of the bus even after he was stabbed, possibly saving lives from not crashing into cars or pedestrians on the sidewalk. Then he wrestled the attacker and tried to fight him off before he could attack the other passengers. When the attacker moved toward the passengers, the bus driver slammed on the brakes of the bus causing the attacker to lose his balance, allowing the passengers precious seconds to run for their lives, possibly saving dozens more. When the bus driver could no longer fight, he called a friend and co-worker, told him about the attack and asked him to take care of his children. This man is a hero. He put thoughts of others before himself during this entire attack. If only we could all be this selfless.

Then there was a 13-year old boy on his way to school. He saw the attacker leave the bus driver and start walking toward him and the other passengers in the back of the bus. He threw his backpack at the attacker and bought himself a few more precious seconds. Then, in order to help the other passengers escape, this young boy broke the window with his elbow and helped others crawl out as well. This alerted the bus driver who then opened the doors allowing more passengers to escape. Would I be this brave and selfless in a situation like this? To risk my life for others? For strangers?

If we could save just one life from our actions, is that not the same as saving the entire world? Each life is precious and valuable. It doesn’t mean that we have to go to Syria or Iraq and fight ISIS ourselves or that we should pick up guns and fight in the war. But are guns the only way to fight?

Ideas, thoughts, words…aren’t these weapons in war as well? After all, aren’t battles won or lost in the hearts and minds of men? We have a responsibility to speak out against injustice; to do what we can for those in need. It will look different for everyone, but each of us has something to offer. Each of us has a part to play.

Then I heard YHVH asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?”

I said, “Here I am. Send me.” Isaiah 6:8

The word hineni in Hebrew is translated as “here I am.” But, as with most Hebrew words, the meaning goes so much deeper than that. Hineni carries the connotation of urgency. It reflects a completely open and willing heart to the urgent call of YHVH. When you use the word hineni, what you’re essentially saying is, “Here I am…with all of my heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit ready and willing to do all that You have called me to do.” It’s the response you give when you are fully present in the moment and you aren’t holding anything back from Him. It’s the response you give when you are fully prepared to do all that He has asked of you; even if it means sacrificing of yourself and putting your desires on hold.

The question is, will you be willing to go where He sends? Will you be willing to speak the words He puts in your heart? Will you be willing to go where He sends? Will you be able to stand up when He says, “Arise! The time has come.”

YHVH has a purpose and a calling for each one of us. There is a part in His plan that we each can play. But it won’t just happen or fall into our laps. We must have ears to hear His call and a heart that is willing to take that first step into the battle. It won’t be easy. We can’t hold anything back. It will require everything we have; it will require all of us.

So…how will you answer His call?