Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

RELIGIOUS DISPUTES DOMINATE THE NEWS

 

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Religion is very much in the news these days.

Donald Trump, the leading contender for the Republican nomination in the US, made a somewhat disparaging remark about Dr. Ben Carson’s religious affiliation.   Carson is the closest rival to Trump. Whereas Trump is a mainstream Presbyterian, Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist.   Mr. Trump said he knew nothing about the SDA’s, but said it in such a way that it made the church and its members decidedly odd.

For the record the Seventh Day Adventists share many beliefs in common with the Presbyterians and other mainstream Christian denominations.   The difference between them is that the SDA’s worship on the seventh day (Saturday) as Jesus did.

Coincidentally, the new President of Fiji is a Seventh Day Adventist. His role is largely a ceremonial role, similar to that played by Queen Elizabeth, who was Fiji’s Head of State until 1987.

Four years ago, in the United States, Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, was a factor in the election.   It was not to his favor.

It’s a pity leaders do not heed the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:12 to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”   Each individual needs to work on his own relationship with God. Christians should be careful not to judge others who may hold to a different Christian tradition.

It’s not just Christian beliefs that have come up in this election. Earlier in the current election campaign the issue of a Muslim president came up.   Neither of the two leading contenders was in favor, but the issue gave the media an opportunity to once again portray both men in a negative light.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the Hungarian Prime Minister has again expressed the fear that the flood of immigrants arriving in Europe will destroy the continent’s Christian (i.e. Catholic) roots.

Europe certainly does have Christian roots, but there is little evidence of those roots these days, as most people have embraced secular humanism.   Only Russia’s leader seems to hold any serious Christian beliefs.   Fortunately, he seems set on saving Christians in the Middle East from Islamic extremism.

In today’s USA Today, an article carries the headline, “Under ISIL’s brutal rule, Iraqis are in constant fear,” written by Kiran Nazish.     A schoolteacher who escaped last month is quoted as observing:   “In more than one year, the Islamic State has created a society where it’s normal for children to watch their elders being murdered by them.”

If you didn’t get it the first time, be sure to read that sentence again.   What it’s saying is that children are watching other children murder adults.  Other articles in recent months have claimed that children not only shoot adults, they are even being trained to behead them. This is the kind of world we now live in.

Fearful of Islam and those refugees from Islamic lands crossing their borders, Poles voted yesterday for a more conservative government.  This is likely to be a trend across Europe as people put security at the top of their concerns.

By far the worst and most serious religious conflict has flared up again in Jerusalem, where Palestinians have been waging a renewed intifada against Israel.   The first intifada was in 1987.   They are trying to drive the Jews out of the West Bank.   If they succeed, it would be a prelude to driving them into the sea.

Palestinians have been angry over the Israelis not allowing young men on to the Temple Mount, which they call Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).   It’s also a part of the general frustration they feel after seventy years of the nation of Israel.

Meanwhile, an old issue has resurfaced – the role of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during World War II.

“Philadelphia, PA – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has drawn criticism for comments about the role of al-Hajj Amin al-Husaini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, in conceiving and perpetrating the Holocaust.   Indeed, leading Nazi aides testified that al-Husaini was one of the instigators of the genocide.  In his 1999 autobiography, a senior Nazi official admitted how he advised Hitler and other leading Nazis, and that he acquired full knowledge of the ongoing mass murder.

Middle East Forum scholar, historian, and author Wolfgang G. Schwanitz added, “It is a historical fact that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem al-Hajj Amin al-Husaini was an accomplice whose collaboration with Adolf Hitler played an important role in the Holocaust.   He was the foremost extra-European adviser in the process to destroy the Jews of Europe.”  (“Mufti Advised Hitler on Holocaust”, Middle East Forum, October 21st.)

The Mufti’s successor, Sheikh Muhammed Ahmad Hussein, is now saying that the Temple Mount never housed a Jewish Temple and that the al-Aqsa mosque has been there “since the creation of the world” (Times of Israel, Monday).

If these words were intended to be the last word on the most disputed piece of real estate in the world, he may be surprised at the reaction.

The latest uprising by Palestinian youth has led to the murder of Jews on the streets of Jerusalem.   The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now allowing Palestinian youths on to the Temple Mount, even though it poses a security risk.

There are increasing calls from religious and regional leaders for international supervision of the Temple Mount.

To think that fifty years ago, when I was a teenager, it was widely thought that religion and religious conflict were things of the past!

 

 

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PEACE IN OUR TIME

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President Obama’s peace deal with Iran brings to mind Neville Chamberlain’s visit to Munich in 1938.   That was when he met with “Herr Hitler” and came back waving a piece of paper, proudly proclaiming “peace in our time.”   One year later he had to declare war on Hitler.   A broken man, he died a few months after that.

When hearing assurances of peace in our time, I am not only reminded of Neville Chamberlain.  I also remember the words of the Apostle Paul in I Thessalonians 5:3.  “For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.   And they shall not escape.”

Whether or not this verse is applicable specifically to the Iran peace treaty remains to be seen.  The Middle East is a very volatile region and the West seems unable to keep its collective nose out of it, so further conflicts are inevitable.

However, involvement by the West is not an essential component of any Mideast conflict.  Regional powers are quite capable of warring amongst themselves.

A root cause of conflict in the region is the Sunni-Shia divide within Islam.  Iran is the leader of the Shi’ite camp, fighting ISIS in Iraq, which is now ruled by Shia Muslims, thanks to western intervention in the country.   Syria’s Assad is another proxy of Iran. Tehran is also supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen against the Saudi backed Sunni Muslims.

The fear of Iran amongst the Sunnis is palpable.   Fear of an Iranian nuclear bomb is inevitably going to lead to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey trying to acquire the same.   Turning to al-Qaeda for help against ISIS is another.  Yes, that’s right – these three countries, allies of the US, are now backing al-Qaeda against the Islamic State! The British  Spectator  magazine has a really good article on this latest development in the current issue.   (“The enemy’s enemy:  how Arab states have turned to al-Qa’eda” by Ahmed Rashid, 18th July).

The other major conflict in the Middle East is the more familiar one between the Jews and the Palestinians.   In modern history this predates Israel’s independence in May, 1948.   The never-ending conflict saw its latest flare up last year when Hamas (supported by Iran) lobbed thousands of missiles at Israeli settlements.   When Israel retaliated to defend itself, world opinion inevitably turned against Israel.

The dispute is not over.  It will flare up again.   As will problems with Lebanese based Hizbollah (also Iranian backed) and the Palestinians on the West Bank.

This can also escalate into a religious dispute.   According to the Israeli Video Network, the Israeli Minister of Housing and Construction, Uri Ariel, called on Friday for the construction of a Third Temple in place of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on the Temple Mount.

“The first Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE, the second Temple in 70 CE, and ever since the Jewish People have been mourning its loss.”

“‘He then went on to say “Al-Aqsa Mosque is currently in place of the temple, despite the temple being much holier than it.   Al-Aqsa Mosque is only the third most holy mosque in Islam.”   “Now that Israel has once again become a Jewish sovereign state, the desire to rebuild the Temple is growing stronger and stronger”, he added.”

Excavations under the Al-Aqsa led to violent demonstrations by Palestinians a few years ago.  Any attempt to replace the Al-Aqsa with a new Temple building would likely provoke World War III!

This does not mean to say that nothing will happen.   As Mr. Ariel said, “the desire to rebuild the Temple is growing stronger and stronger.”

Jerusalem has been fought over more than any other city.   It’s not over yet.   ”When you shall see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that it’s desolation is near” (Luke 21:20).   Jesus said this in response to His disciples asking about future events that would precede His second coming.

These two disputes go back centuries.  Nothing we do today is going to resolve them.   Between them, they daily threaten Mideast peace. If both flare-up at the same time, the whole world could be engulfed in a never-ending conflagration.

A further potential conflict, made more likely by the peace deal with Iran, is a war between Israel and Iran.  Israel’s prime minister has reacted very negatively to the peace treaty.  He is now working on the US Congress to try to get that body to reject the peace treaty.  If that fails, his last option will be to bomb Iran.  An alternative to that is to wait until Iran actually has the bomb and can then attack Israel.

In addition to the three major conflicts that can quickly escalate, there are “minor” conflicts like the civil war in Syria, continuing anarchy in Libya and the possibility of war between Turks and Kurds.

World leaders should be careful proclaiming “peace and safety” (“peace in our time”), lest “sudden destruction “ should come upon them.

TO HELL WE MUST GO

Hell

Williamston and Okemos are two cities that are a part of the Greater Lansing area, where we live.  Whereas we live on the west side of Lansing, they are east and south-east respectively.

I’ve just finished reading a short book on a particularly gruesome murder that took place in Williamston in 1897.   The book told the story of a man who came home for lunch (dinner as it was then), to find his mother’s head on his dinner plate.  His wife had gone crazy and killed her mother-in-law.

The murder is not as interesting as the detailed descriptions of life in Lansing at the time, almost 120 years ago.   In 1897 many people could still remember when the city of Lansing was chosen as the state capital.   The city was served by a number of railway lines, none of which exist now.

What was particularly interesting to me was the fact that the murderer was charged, tried and sentenced within six days.  Yes, six days!   What a contrast to today, where a trial may take more than a year, sentencing months and punishment is often delayed for years. Will Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ever actually be put to death?   His victims died instantly!

Reading the book, I was reminded of the scripture in Ecclesiastes 8:11 which says:  “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”

It’s no wonder that we are seeing more crimes of violence when our legal system is a joke.  The system has little to do with justice.

Another legal issue came up in the book.  Again, the contrast with today is quite marked.

The murderer was sentenced to life in an asylum.   She died about eighteen months later from tuberculosis.

Her husband, meanwhile, turns up again in the historical record, three years after the murder.   He was found co-habiting with a woman in Okemos, a few miles away.  They were both charged with “lewd and lascivious behavior.”  He was sentenced to ten months and she got eight.  That’s curious in itself.   I’m sure they were both equally to blame, so, therefore, why were their sentences different? But they both went to jail.

America today, with less than 5% of the world’s population, has 25% of the world’s prisoners.   Can you imagine what our prisons would be like if all those co-habiting were sentenced to a jail term?   If biblical commands were upheld in our communities, we would need a lot more jails and prisons for long-term offenders.

I was reminded of this last Friday when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states.  Can you imagine what the village elders would have done in 1900 Okemos if they had found two men co-habiting?

It shows how far we have come as a country.   And not just us, other western nations are the same.

Many Christians interpret the latest Supreme Court decision as a sign that the end of the age cannot be far off, that just as God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah when they were beyond being saved, that the US and other nations must face the same.   A number of conservatives said that the decision was a blow to marriage.

But the fact is that Friday’s decision is just the latest blow to marriage.

Marriage laws were progressively weakened throughout the twentieth century and churches said nothing.   In 1971 no-fault divorce became the law across the country, a decision that, arguably, did more harm to traditional marriage than any decision before or since.

The lives of millions of innocent children have suffered needlessly because of this change to the law, which reflected increased selfishness in our society.

Just two years later, abortion became legal.   This decision led to the murders of almost 60 million children in the United States alone.

Same-sex marriage is certainly not approved of in the scriptures. Nor are adultery and fornication, yet churches turn a blind eye to both, or punish them less severely.

The Apostle Paul treated them equally in I Corinthians 6:9.

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived.  Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,  nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.   And such were some of you.  But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”  (verses 9-11)

Clearly, Paul here condemns fornication, adultery and sodomy equally.

If churches had done the same in recent decades, they might not be in the mess they are in now with regard to same-sex relationships.

If churches are to have any credibility at all on moral issues, they need to condemn these sexual sins EQUALLY.   That’s the only way they will be able to turn away same-sex couples who request a church wedding.   Churches need a statement of belief that upholds a biblically sanctioned marriage and only a biblically sanctioned marriage between a man and a woman who have chosen chastity until marriage and are committed to fidelity afterwards.   Divorced church members should be directed toward a civil marriage, not a church wedding.

If churches don’t do this, they are, in effect saying that one sin is worse than the other, just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  In today’s western world that will open them up to charges of discrimination and intolerance.

One final thought before we leave this subject.

The book on the 1897 murder was titled:  “To hell I must go.”  The title came from the murderess herself.  She kept saying that when the police came to arrest her.

When it comes to the morals of the last fifty years, it’s more a case of “to hell we must go.”   Our society is falling apart as a result of our national sins.  Lax laws have destroyed the family.   The latest change to the law is just another nail in the coffin.  Still to come, inevitably, are polygamy, incest, pedophilia, and bestiality.   In England, they have already stopped prosecuting the latter.

It won’t end until we suffer the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah.   We will, but it may be some time yet and more changes are still to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COLOGNE CATHEDRAL MEMORIAL

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It’s Friday morning here in Michigan.   As I write, I’m watching the State Memorial service from Cologne (Koln) Cathedral, for the 150 people killed in the “Germanwings” flight in the French Alps on March 24th.    The German Chancellor Angela Merkel was present, along with the German President Joachim Gauck.   Spanish leaders were also represented.   These were the two countries that lost the most people in the disaster.

The Cathedral is about a thirty-minute drive from Dusseldorf Airport where the plane was due to land after a short flight from Barcelona in Spain.

Koln Cathedral is one of the most magnificent buildings in Germany, an architectural marvel from the Middle Ages, a time of great faith in European history.   At such a time as this, faith is a great help to those who have lost loved ones.   The peace and serenity, together with inspiring music and the presence of 1,500 people, seemed to bring some comfort and closure to the relatives and friends of the victims, who still await burial.

The service is being relayed on BBC World, with occasional interruptions to bring the latest world news.  Religion is a common theme running through the morning’s news program.   Koln Cathedral is a reminder of the religious certainties of the past. Construction of the gothic cathedral began in 1248.   The church remains a Roman Catholic cathedral, in a country divided by Lutheran Protestantism five centuries ago.   The German Chancellor is the daughter of a Lutheran minister and grew up in the officially atheist German Democratic Republic (communist East Germany).  The German president is a former Lutheran pastor who came to prominence as an anti-communist civil rights leader in the former communist state. The professed atheism of the eastern European countries did not bring the utopia that people had hoped for.   I first visited the cathedral as a 16-year-old exchange student.   The German student I stayed with was also an atheist.

Fifty years ago it seemed that religion was a thing of the past. Now, it dominates our news on a daily basis.   This is especially true of news involving the Middle East.

A frequently mentioned news item this morning is the arrest of fifteen Muslim immigrants arriving by boat from Libya.   The men originated from West African countries.   10,000 refugees have landed in Italy in the last seven days.   The fifteen were all on the same boat and had deliberately pushed twelve Christians overboard during a religious dispute, killing all twelve.

Another news item was of regular chlorine bomb attacks on Sunni Muslims by the Shi’ite Alawite government of Syria.   Victims included small children who died agonizing deaths, witnessed by survivors.

Switching for a few minutes to a US based channel, concern was being expressed over a US citizen who had spent two months in Syria training with ISIS, and was arrested on his return to the United States where he was planning terrorist attacks on Americans in uniform.   The concern is that he is the first of many more to come, people motivated by extremist religious views, intent on mass killing.

In such a time of religious confusion, comfort can certainly be drawn from the religious certainties of the past.   But those certainties hide a disturbing reality.   In 1248, when the foundations of the cathedral were laid, beliefs were based more on tradition, on ignorance and superstition than on revealed scripture.

The Bible was not the foundation of the medieval church.   It wasn’t until 1534 that the Bible was first published in German, having been translated by Martin Luther.   It was the revealed truths in the scriptures that divided the medieval church, still clinging to beliefs and traditions that could not be biblically substantiated.

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the truth.   “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).   Jesus Christ is truth.   He is also “the Word.”   (John 1:1, 14)   God’s Word is truth.   (John 17:17)   The Apostle Paul adds: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”  (II Timothy 3:16)

The same Bible also tells us, in this age of great religious confusion, that salvation is only possible through Jesus Christ.   (Acts 4:12)

The solid walls of Koln Cathedral may be a reminder of religious certainties but they also reflect certainties that were wrong.   Today, we should be thankful that we have access to the scriptures, thanks to men like Martin Luther and his contemporary William Tyndale, who died to bring us the Bible in English.

Five centuries later, it was revealed just a few days ago, the Bible has still not been translated into 57% of the world’s languages.

For those of us who are blessed with a translation in our own language, we should renew our commitment to daily Bible Study and remember the importance of working out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12).

Martin Luther showed that it wasn’t the medieval church that could guarantee us salvation.   That remains true today.   Only Jesus Christ can guarantee us salvation.   Our eternal life depends on Him.   The Church can help guide us in the right direction, but salvation depends on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The sister of one of the German victims of the crash prayed a very moving, yet simple prayer before the congregation:  “Lord, please dry our tears.”

This simple request brought to mind a verse in the last book of the bible:   “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.   There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”  (Rev. 21:4)

Understanding the real truth of God brings a peace of mind that truly sets us free.  (John 8:32)

EVOLUTION AND THE GAY DIVIDE

ZachHarrington
Zack Harrington

Exactly seven months after the publication of Charles Darwin’s book On The Origin of Species, a famous debate occurred at Oxford University. A number of people were involved but the two main protagonists were Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, a descendant of William Wilberforce, who led the fight against slavery, and Thomas Henry Huxley.

Wilberforce did not handle the debate very well, trying to ridicule Huxley for believing monkeys were his ancestors.  Sadly, this was typical of churches at the time, who dismissed fossils as being planted by Satan.

Religious belief has been in decline ever since.

I fear conservative churches are about to make a similar mistake in the next few years over the issue of same sex attraction, or homosexuality.

“America Reframed” is a PBS World television series that highlights significant changes taking place in the United States.  Last week’s program focused on Norman, Oklahoma, which soon found itself deeply divided following the suicide of a 19-year-old man who took his life after a Council meeting.  The episode, “Broken Heart Land,” profiled teen Zack Harrington, a young gay man with HIV/AIDS.  The Council meeting discussed a request to commemorate LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered) History Month.  The attitudes shown by people he had known all his life upset Zack and led directly to his taking his own life.

Zack’s parents were conservative Republicans who were suddenly faced with the worst crisis in their lives.

Another significant player was a local pastor running for election.

Without realizing it, the documentary got to the crux of the matter.

Homosexual acts are always a choice and always a sin . . . as are heterosexual acts outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.  But are homosexual feelings always a choice? A great deal hangs on this question and its answer.

And this is where churches are in danger.

In my ministry, I helped a number of people struggling with homosexual feelings. Every single one of them told me they knew they were different as young as 3.  They did not choose to be attracted to the same sex.   Some felt they were born with SSA (Same Sex Attraction); others that it was caused in the first three years of life, within the family dynamic. Either way, the feelings were not their fault.  However, they had to learn how to live with them.

As Christian adults, they wanted to obey God but found themselves struggling with their sexual feelings. They struggled with “Desires in Conflict,” the title of a book by Joe Dallas. This conflict was not easy to resolve. What was particularly hard to accept was the attitude of other Christians, who blamed them for having the problem in the first place. They soon learned to hide, to keep it all to themselves. For many, it was a very lonely existence.

A couple of weeks ago, The Economist cover was titled “The Gay Divide,” showing how divided the world is over this issue. Roughly half the world is accepting while the other half is condemning. It’s a dialogue of the deaf.

It was clear from the documentary on Norman, Oklahoma, that most Christians are convinced people choose to be homosexual. This is the root of the great divide.

It’s not so much that churches will be persecuted for taking a hard line stance; what seems more likely is that churches will be ridiculed for holding to the position that it’s a choice. Again, sexual acts are a choice but should be treated equally with illicit heterosexual acts, something the civil law already does. The Apostle Paul did the same in I Corinthians 6:9-11, listing adultery and fornication in the same passage with homosexual acts. “ Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”

When churches accept that same sex attraction, in most cases, is not a choice, it will at least lead to Christian compassion and love, qualities that were seriously lacking in Norman, Oklahoma.   It may also help the churches avoid becoming like the fossils they ridiculed 150 years ago.