I need to apologize for being MIA in the blogging department this fall. I have had the busiest season in recent memory and realized the other day I had preached 47 times in 10 weeks… and then I wondered why I had no time for anything else. When I had a colleague rebuke me for my ridiculous schedule, I responded by saying that the English reformer John Wesley (1703-1791) preached 3 times every single day until he was in his 80’s. To which my friend aptly reminded me, “You’re no John Wesley!”

When I was growing up, in the very community in which I pastor today, there was a kid named Allen that lived down the street. He was the terror of the neighbourhood. If there was an incident he was likely at the center of it. When houses would be egged or garbage cans rolled down the street and the like, the police would start the questioning at Al’s door and usually didn’t need to look any further. He was voted most likely to grow up to be dead or in jail.  Instead he ended up as an executive vice president of an oil company. Recent studies have shown that apparently psychopaths are ideally suited for upper management.

Actually Allen wasn’t as bad a kid as our parents all thought, he just enjoyed stirring the pot and getting others in trouble. One day as we were walking home from school together, the neighbourhood bully John decided to join us. He was Al’s friend, not mine. Al began to go on about how John, a year older and half a foot taller, could easily beat me up. Being the proud and not so bright kid that I was, I took the bait and agreed to fight him.  Because I was always paranoid about getting my teeth knocked out (I guess I knew that someday I would need them to be on TV) I insisted that there could be no punching in the face. We started the fight and with one right hook John smacked me in the mouth and I was bleeding all over the place. My front teeth were loose but fortunately still intact. My mother was beside herself when I got home. She told me to stay away from those boys. I only mumbled through my swollen lips and made no promises.

The next day, no joke, the next day I walked home with them again. When Al started in about how I had lost the fight, I argued that I could easily have won but John had cheated and hit me in the face. Al suggested that we should have a rematch. Again I took the bait, this time making an even bigger plea that the rules would be regarded as my teeth were still loose from the day before.  We squared off again and, you guessed it, John punched my right in the mouth again and there was twice the blood of the day before.  My lip was cut and my teeth were pushed back into my mouth, but maybe by the grace of God I didn’t lose them.  I learned a life lesson that day.  Never trust a bully.

I tell this story in reference to the conflicts in the Middle East and Iraq in particular. By now most people realize that the 2003 invasion of Iraq turned out to be grossly misguided under the false pretense of ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ This is not to say that Saddam Hussein was not still a bully, he was, and was not without culpability in provoking the West. Finally after 8 long years the last Western troops pulled out of Iraq in 2011 all the while claiming victory. They insisted that the country was now better off than with Saddam. The problem was, one bully was gone and another had risen up even more illusive and underhanded than the first – ISIL. This is an acronym for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. With its counterpart ISIS ( Islamic State in Syria) it has over 30,000 fighters. It is the most violent and diabolical terrorist group that has ever existed. It is so vile that Al Qaeda, which was responsible for 9/11 and 1000’s of deaths themselves, has disavowed them, calling their tactics too extreme.

Every week or so they release another videotape of a Westerner being gruesomely beheaded. The actual number of beheadings are far worse than most know, possibly in the hundreds, including Kurdish children. The crimes are so horrifying as to be inhuman. I will not post images as I think it is unethical to do so. Unfortunately I was inadvertently exposed to some of the worst pictures and I am still having trouble getting the images out of my mind. They were indescribable. What kind of person could commit such grisly and heinous acts? I don’t know. What I do know is that they are trying to produce a revulsion that will evoke an angry reaction. The objective, in my opinion, is to try to goad the West back into the fight on Arab soil. It is working. But why would ISIL want Western troops back in the Middle East? Because they know the West cannot win a fight on their turf. Why? Remember my story of Al and John; bullies don’t play by the rules. Bullies are also cowards that hide behind masks, lurk in the shadows and pick on innocent people.

Canada and the US have already joined other nations and have dispatched airborne missions into Iraq. Military experts have warned that this alone will not work unless these missions are accompanied by ground troops. Of course it won’t, how do you remove an incendiary terrorist organization from the air? You can’t. Both our governments have repeated that we will not be sending ground troops back into Iraq. Lord, let that be so. This is not a cowardly position. Why would you fight a battle you cannot win? Why would we send more young men in to die needlessly?

In 2 Kings 19 King Hezekiah of Judah was under threat of the Sennacherib king of Assyria (Syria of today). It was an unwinnable situation as Assyria had 185,000 troops at their doorstep. Hezekiah had no possible effective military strategy so he went up to the house of the Lord and prayed. A long story short, the Lord heard his prayer and sent the Angel of the Lord down Sennacherib’s camp and wiped out all 185,000 in one night. Judah did not so much as raise a sword. We serve the same God today and I believe prayer is still our number one weapon against terrorism.

On a human level, I absolutely do not know what we should do about this crisis. I wish I did. I only know what we should not do. And that is to take the bait the second time. It is to that end I also pray because I will always remember the lesson my friend Al taught me on the subject. Bullies can never be trusted. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

– Peter Townsend (The Who)