There is no doubt that the return of the Lord is near. Russia is taking centre stage and beginning to assert itself as an aggressive and recalcitrant bully. The Allies, despite the desire of many of their leaders, are locked into defensive positions in the Middle East, just as prophecy would have us to expect. Furthermore, there is a falling away from religion, including the Truth, which reinforces the fact that the times of the Gentiles are fast reaching their end. This article seeks to place the issues before us all—to be observant and proactive, as we watch Yahweh direct the final act of a 7,000 year real life play.

Buoyed by its new found prosperity, Russia is now becoming increasingly assertive, reminiscent of its posturing during the Cold War years.

Russia—The Bear Stirs

During the Cold War, Russia, or the USSR as it was then known, continually taunted the West with its supposed military superiority. Together with poor or non-existent intelligence on the true status of Russian missile programs, the US and other Western countries continually lived in fear of the unknown. It appears that the fears were well founded. The recent release of papers of the Central Committee of the USSR from the Khrushchev era reveal that in May 1961 the world moved closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb in August 1949.1

Remarkably, in a new show of strength Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he was taking Russia out of the pact with NATO. Signed in 1990 and updated in 1999, the treaty limits the number of tanks, artillery, aircraft and helicopters stationed between the Atlantic and the Ural mountains in Russia, as well as in eastern and central Europe.

An Australian Associated Press report on 21 July (“Russia Softens Stance on Weapons”) stated that Russia said the treaty was not effective because NATO countries have failed to ratify the latest version of the treaty. NATO members have declined to ratify it until Russia withdraws all its troops from ex-Soviet Moldova and Georgia, as it pledged to do in 1999 when the pact was signed. The report stated: “Russia has said its decision to suspend compliance was also linked, in part, to a US plan to station elements of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe. Moscow says the shield is a threat to its security. It has proposed an alternative, collective defence scheme that it says would involve it sharing data and infrastructure with the US and other NATO states.”

Whilst the actions of Russia may be seen as simply maneuvering, prior to the upcoming meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Berlin next week, it has raised the alarm in Western Europe.

The Adelaide Advertiser of 21 July (“Icy Chill in Britain’s Relations with Putin”) reported a spokesman for NATO as saying that Russia’s decision to tear up the treaty with NATO was a “step in the wrong direction. The Allies consider this treaty to be an important corner stone of European stability.”

Simultaneously, relations between Russia and the UK have reached an all time low. In the same report in The Advertiser of 21 July, which was one of an unprecedented three in the same edition covering different aspects of Russia’s resurgence, the stand-off between the two countries over the extradition of alleged criminals is discussed in sobering terms. Whilst Putin has tried to play down the disagreement as a ‘mini-crisis’, it is seen openly by the UK as a return to the Cold War era, with each country expelling diplomats in a tit-for-tat diplomatic standoff.

Why has Russia suddenly catapulted on the world stage as recalcitrant and aggressive after years of trying to appease the West?

The third of the three articles that appeared in The Advertiser on 21 July (“Inside the New Cold War”) has the answers. Russia is running on borrowed time. Whilst she has become economically strong, with growth in GDP of 6.8%, compared to that of the US of 0.7%, the fundamentals are not strong. The new mega-wealthy of Russia have little confidence in Russia’s future; so even the slightest political hiccup will see capital leave the country like birds heading south for the winter. Also, the Russian population is shrinking, down four million in the last six years due to increasing infection rates from tuberculosis and HIV, plus a substantial increase in alcohol and tobacco usage. According to The Advertiser report, “a recent UN survey warned that the population could well fall by 40 million in the next four decades.” Finally, Russia is failing to invest in infrastructure, and so its ability to continue to grow will be stymied.

Russia needs to be able to maintain the momentum in terms of ensuring that Europe is tied economically and politically to her objectives. She also needs to make sure that any dissent to her policies inside the country is minimised—and being confrontational has restored confidence in the leadership of the country. The actions of the US with its missile deployments in Poland, and the UK’s demands being seen as a threat to Russia’s sovereignty, had to be rebutted in the strongest of terms to show both Europe and her own people that Russia is strong and determined, when in fact her institutions and economy are quite the reverse.

But there could be more to this! President Putin’s term as President expires in March 2008, and under the constitution he must stand down. However, in the June 13, 2007 edition of the Financial Times (“Moscow Abuzz with Putin Term Talk”), it speculated that Putin may seek a further term. How can this be if it is contrary to the constitution? The Financial Times reported comments from a western banker with good Moscow connections who said: “Putin likes attending the G8 summit,” he says. “But he could never come to the G8 having changed the constitution to be there.” Mr Putin will stay on, he adds, “only if there is a crisis”.

Perhaps he is manufacturing the very crisis that he needs to be able to justify another term. He has already used most unusual language for a statesman aimed at intimidating the European powers to back away from support for the proposed US support shield. In the June 4 London Daily Telegraph, Putin is reported to have said: “It is obvious that if part of the strategic nuclear potential of the United States is located in Europe, we will have to respond. What kind of steps are we going to take in response? Of course, we are going to acquire new targets in Europe.” This type of language is that of war. To “acquire” new targets is tantamount to saying that coordinates for certain European cities are locked into the programs of their missile guidance systems.

The influential and highly respected Forbes magazine of 18 July (“Dealing with a Newly Assertive Russia”) reported: “On three notable occasions since May, President Vladimir Putin harshly criticized the US for ‘hegemonic behavior’, ‘neo-imperialism’ and provoking an arms race. These accusations stand in sharp contrast with Putin’s overtures to the West in the first two years of his presidency. In fact, they are reminiscent of the assertive approach Russia pursued in relation to the US under Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in the late 1990s. Russia’s doctrine of multipolarity, as developed by Primakov, argues that other centers of power should check US global influence.”

All of this is clearly what Joel said we would see. Here is Russia, only having just clawed its way back from economic oblivion with its military capability having been significantly diminished, now making explicit threats against the West. And because the West is so dependent on Russian oil and gas, they are being forced into political submission.

When it makes sense to turn swords into plowshares, Joel 3:10 says that they will do the complete opposite, especially the weak who will say that they are strong.

 

Iraq—Is the Willing Coalition Willing to Stay?

With political leadership in the main countries  supporting the war against terrorism facing the  possibility of wholesale change, will the level of  support be maintained in this far-from-over war?  President Bush faces the end of his term in January  2009 and cannot stand for re-election. Tony Blair  has handed over the reigns of power in the UK to  his Chancellor, Dr Gordon Brown, and Mr Howard  may not have the numbers to form Government  should an election be held later this year.

In the last week of June, Tony Blair handed over  power in the UK to his Chancellor, Gordon Brown.  Dr Brown has immediately focused on internal  issues in the UK, whilst promising to reduce the  troops committed to Iraq.

The interesting point here is that he has not set  a date for the complete withdrawal of the troops.   Even after the reduction of some troops,  5000 will remain on the ground in Iraq.  In the same announcement that appeared  on BBC Online on 19 July it stated that  the UK would boost its commitment in  Afghanistan by sending an additional  troop of Viking armoured vehicles  manned by Royal Marines. Furthermore,  the Queen’s Royal Lancers will be sent  to help existing forces in the country’s  troubled Helmand province.

In the US the position is much the  same. A change in leadership, even if  the Democrats take office in January  2009 means that the withdrawal from the  immediate conflict may take place, but the  total withdrawal from the substantial US  garrisons that have been established in the  Middle East is very unlikely. The US alone  has almost 20 air bases or facilities at air  bases throughout the region, stretching  from Cyprus in the West to Uzbekistan in  the East. In fact, in April last year the UK  Independent reported (2 April 2006 “US  and UK forces establish ‘enduring bases’  in Iraq”) that “the Pentagon says it has  already reduced the number of US bases  from 110 a year ago to a current total of around 75.  However, at the same time, it is expanding a number  of vast, highly defended bases, some in the desert  away from large population areas. More than $280m  (£160m) has already been spent on building up Al  Asad air base, Balad air base, Camp Taji and Tallil  air base, and the Bush administration has this year  requested another $175m to enlarge them. These  bases, which currently house more than 55,000  troops, have their own bus routes, pizza restaurants  and supermarkets.”

In Australia, the ruling Coalition Parties have  declared that it will continue to support the war  efforts for as long as the security situation requires  it, and Labor has been cautiously supporting a  measured withdrawal.

To find the troops of the Anglo-Tarshish powers  so firmly entrenched in the Middle East is no  accident. Prophecy would have us believe that in  the last days they would be engaged in the region.  Brother Thomas in Exposition of Daniel made the  following observations from Daniel 11 (p94–95):  “But the Lion-power of Britain has not yet attained  the full extent marked out for it by the finger of God.  The annexation of Persia and Khush or Khushistan,  to the Gogian empire will doubtless cause England  to strengthen herself in Afghanistan and Dedan by  treaty or otherwise, that she may command the  entrance to the Persian Gulf.”

Remarkably that is what we are seeing before  our very eyes. Persia, or Iran as she is known today,  continues to be very loyal to Russia, who aids and  abets her arrogance towards the West. Russia has  continually flaunted pressure from the West to  desist from assisting Iran build nuclear reactors  and has been a long term supplier of military  hardware to the Islamic republic. Russia continues  to engage in trade that places Iran in debt by almost  US$750million annually.

In other developments to the south, Russia has  been fostering closer links with Sudan. For years  it has supported the corrupt regime with military  equipment to enable serious human rights violations  against its own citizens, and this is now becoming  one of a number of key diplomatic sticking points  that Russia has with the West, as reported in the Washington Post of 12 July (“Analysis: Russia-West  Tensions May Worsen”).

So slowly and surely Russia is closing the  pincers around the Middle East, as shown in the map  of the region. She has worked with undemocratic  and radical regimes to enure that her position in the  last days is one of dominance in the region.

Remarkably, whilst Brother Thomas through the  eyes of the prophetic Word could see this clearly,  Russian interest in the region is a relatively recent  phenomenon. Fursenko and Naftali2 write of the  sales of arms to Egypt in 1955: “The Middle East  was an unexpected place for the Soviets to seek  influence. Britain and Imperial Russia had not  contested the region in the nineteenth century, and  with the exception of Stalin’s brief play for a colony  in Libya after World War II and some short lived  support for the new state of Israel, Soviet regimes  had largely stayed clear of the area.”

So only a short 50 years later, we are sitting  right on the edge of the occasion when Russia will  seek to intimidate and overpower the West in the  Middle East. The position of the nations and the  timing is right.

 

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The release of the results of last year’s national  census has shown some expected and yet unexpected  outcomes when looking at the questions around  religion. As shown in the attached table and as would  be expected, the total number of people professing  Christianity has declined across the nation.

The interesting feature of the result of the census  is the fact that South Australia, with Adelaide (its  capital known previously as the ‘City of Churches’),  recorded greater swings than the national trend.

In all, the total South Australians reporting ‘No  Religion’ was 6% higher than the national average  and is up 8% on the previous Census in 2001,  compared to an increase of only 3% nationally.

When it comes to Christianity, there are now  40,000 fewer Christians in South Australia than there  were in 2001, with only 60% reporting that they are  Christian of some form. The growth in Eastern religions  and Islam cannot account for the size of the drop, and so  it would appear that there are greater numbers turning  their back on religion than ever before.

The Sydney Morning Herald (June 27, 2007  “We are Richer and Lonelier”) which said that we  earn over $200 more per week than was the case  in 1996, also reported: “one million Australian  children are living with only one parent… and 23  per cent of households contain only one person—up  from 22 per cent in 1996. That’s 1.8 million  Australians living alone.”

Whilst the reports on the Census results provided  little analysis, it is not the least bit unexpected that  as prosperity tracks upward, fewer people see the  need for religion.

But is that the only reason for large numbers  walking away from religion whether it is organised  or even a notional attachment?

A good many of the answers are found on the  web site (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/16232.htm)  which summarises the book, “Why people don’t go  to church” (Adelaide: Openbook, 2002). The book  states: “The most commonly stateArticles5.1d reason (42%)  for non-attendance is that church worship services  are too boring or unfulfilling.” The next most  popular reasons were: the beliefs of the churches  (35%); the churches’ moral views (34%); and,  seeing no need to go to church (34%).

Surprisingly, the survey that the book is based  on showed that it is a myth that leisure activities  compete directly with church or that our business  makes much of a difference. However, sexual abuse  by clergy is one of the big reasons for confidence  in the churches to decline.

Quite a few (16% of infrequent attenders and  non-attenders) would go to a regular church service  if invited. This means that it’s worth inviting people  often, and, at the same time, that only a minority will  accept. Many more try to become part of churches  than succeed—churches can be hard to join and  most lack follow-up when people drop out.

Only a third of those who leave churches do so  due to a loss of faith or problem with the church; for  most it is due to life changes. So, more attention to keeping people through life-transitions is important  for churches.

So what are we to conclude from the new survey  result and information that has been in the public  domain for the last three years?

  1. It is going to become increasingly more and more difficult to attract interested friends to lectures and special addresses.
  2. We can also continue to expect that there will be a falling away from the Truth, as the prevailing attitudes and life-issues in the broader community  impact on the brotherhood.

As a community which maintains that it holds the revealed truths of the Living God and is committed to uphold them throughout the ages, our response should be that we are not willing to resign ourselves to the trends. With the strength of God we need to rise to the challenges of these trends and we redouble our efforts in the following areas:

  1. Make a greater effort to invite friends to our preaching efforts. We have known this for years as we have seen dropping responses to traditional approaches in extending an invitation (leaflets). Greater personal invitations need to be extended to friends so that they have a level of comfort by knowing someone there, whilst maintaining our other invitations.
  2. Once we have them there, we need to give serious thought as to how subjects should be approached and best presented so that the Truth can be seen to be exciting and relevant. The author’s experience in radio work demonstrates that when we deal with life-issues, such as family values and the like, or prophecy, we receive a greater number of calls from listeners, and all who have tried different approaches such as seminars and workshops have seen far greater responses than the lectures.
  3. When, by the grace of God, they become members of the community, we should ensure that a proper balance is established between pastoral and spiritual needs. As a community, we have an obligation to care for each other—and this does not necessarily mean that we have to provide endless expositional studies as the answer to challenges which are top of mind. Today, pastoral care has a greater need than was thought necessary in the past.