Tuesday, November 26, 2013

News of the Day, 11.26.13

In our never-ending quest to keep our reader apprised of the most significant items in the current news, we here offer our latest installment of "News of the Day."  These are the stories without which no citizen can consider himself or herself truly well-informed.  Draw nigh, and consider the world in which we live.

1. After so many trials and travails, the metropolitan New York City area is once again being invaded by evil-intentioned outlanders.  In this latest case, the offenders are flocks of wild turkeys, which have been terrorizing the citizenry from Staten Island to lower Manhattan.  (Similar invasions have occurred in Brookline, Massachusetts and Glendale, Wisconsin, where these dreadful feathered pests harassed and traumatized a group of schoolchildren.)  Naturally, the brave people of New York are not taking this threat lightly, and are resorting the extreme remedies.  According to the Associated Press:

"'We don't want to kill them. We just want them to leave us alone,' says Barbara Laing, who watched as at least 50 turkeys converged outside her house around sundown one recent evening with a chorus of honks — their own and those of drivers futilely trying to shoo them out of traffic.The turkeys milled on the grass, flew up like cartoon ghosts into a large maple tree, and settled in for the night. It's a sight that charms onlookers and sometimes residents, when the turkeys aren't fouling yards with droppings, devouring gardens, waking up residents with raucous pre-dawn mating sessions, and utterly disregarding dogs and other supposed deterrents.'They really are a beautiful bird ... but they ruined our property,"' says Laing's sister and next-door neighbor, Mary Jane Froese."

2.  In a related story, Minneapolis Dr. Happy Thanksgiving Reynolds, a family practice physician, is preparing to celebrate her birthday.  She was born on the American Thanksgiving Day 43 years ago, she explains, and "I was the child of hippies."  We believe it.

3.  After 31 years of service on the police force in Starkville, Mississippi, and three years of retirement, the long-suffering John Outlaw has been appointed Acting Police Chief after the ouster of former Chief David Lindley.  Lindley's shortcomings have not been divulged in the public prints, but Chief Outlaw is hoping for a brief and peaceful administration.

4. That latest official painting of the Danish royal family, which took artist Thomas Kluge four years to produce, has been roundly denounced as "creepy" by critics and public alike, many of whom claim that it resembles a poster for a horror movie.  Regardless, the painting will hang in the Amalienborg Museum, along with Kluge's other paintings.  Judge for yourself:

5.  In Holly Township, Michigan, the wily and elusive Dolly Llama has been captured without injury.  Ms. Kathy Kuzma, who named the creature after noticing it lurking around her property for six months, enlisted the aid of Lisa Davenport, who owns several llamas in a nearby township but was unacquainted with Dolly, to adopt and care for the wandering beast.

No relation

6. In Montana, the popular Ambrose Trail on Mount Helena is open again after being rerouted to bypass a fence put up by a landowner.

7. Ms. Asma Khan, 22, a three year employee of the Meadowood Mall in Reno, Nevada, has started an online petition protesting the new policy of Meadowood (and other malls) to open on Thanksgiving Day, instead of waiting for the dreaded "Black Friday" crush of shoppers that begins at midnight on Nov. 29. Holiday shoppers have to think of others who work that day,” said Ms. Khan. “If I were to lose my job, it wouldn’t affect me. I can just find another,” said the criminal justice major at the University of Nevada, Reno. “But I’m giving a voice to those who can’t speak out for fear of getting fired.” Ms. Khan's petition can be found here.

8.  One of the latest trends sweeping the ranks of high school and college girls is the so-called "Cotton Ball Diet." This dubious attempt to obtain a thin, waif-like figure involves soaking cotton balls in orange juice (or some other kind of lo-cal sweetener) and eating them, in lieu of a meal.  Theoretically, this keeps the calories at bay; in practice, doctors warn that it can cause severe problems, from malnutrition to unmentionable digestive disorders.  Without passing judgment on these young women, one might comment that they need look no further than between their ears to find all the cotton they need.

10.  In Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, alias Pope Francis, has continued in the tradition of his sub-Christian predecessors by publicly exhibiting, for the first time in history, what are purported to be a few of the bones of the Apostle Peter, claimed by the Roman Catholic Church to have been "the first Pope."  Despite the fact that there is not a hint in the Bible that Peter ever even visited Rome, this preposterous myth has persisted through the ages, despite the fact that one of the Roman Pontiff's titles is "Bishop of Rome."  The handful of small bones were found in a shoebox in 1939, and were declared to be those of Peter by Pope Paul VI in 1968. Thus, Pope Francis is now re-introducing the practice of the veneration of "relics," just as earlier this year he offered "indulgences" to young Catholics who followed his Twitter account.  Scientists, including some within the Jesuit order, have scoffed at the idea that these bones belonged to the Apostle, but Rome has never let facts or truth stand in the way of dazzling the suckers.  The antics of the Roman Catholic heirarchy (not the pew-sitters) would shame a Muslim, if a Muslim could be shamed.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Will you go away?

"Will ye also go away?" --John 6:67 

Many have forsaken Christ, and have walked no more with Him; but what reason have YOU to make a change? Has there been any reason for it in the past? Has not Jesus proved Himself all-sufficient? He appeals to you this morning--"Have I been a wilderness unto you?" When your soul has simply trusted Jesus, have you ever been confounded? Have you not up till now found your Lord to be a compassionate and generous friend to you, and has not simple faith in Him given you all the peace your spirit could desire? Can you so much as dream of a better friend than He has been to you? Then change not the old and tried for new and false. As for the present, can that compel you to leave Christ? When we are hard beset with this world, or with the severer trials within the Church, we find it a most blessed thing to pillow our head upon the bosom of our Saviour. This is the joy we have to-day that we are saved in Him; and if this joy be satisfying, wherefore should we think of changing? Who barters gold for dross? We will not forswear the sun till we find a better light, nor leave our Lord until a brighter lover shall appear; and, since this can never be, we will hold Him with a grasp immortal, and bind His name as a seal upon our arm. As for the future, can you suggest anything which can arise that shall render it necessary for you to mutiny, or desert the old flag to serve under another captain? We think not. If life be long--He changes not. If we are poor, what better than to have Christ who can make us rich? When we are sick, what more do we want than Jesus to make our bed in our sickness? When we die, is it not written that "neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!" We say with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go?"  

- - - Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Morning and Evening

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thea Stilton Destroys Israel

Who, you may ask, is Thea Stilton?  Why, she is merely one of the most beloved mice on God's green earth, at least if you're between the ages of six and twelve.  The younger sister of Geronimo Stilton, a hard-working mouse journalist, Thea and her brother (and numerous associates) are the featured characters in a series of children's books, originally published in Milan, Italy by Edizioni Piemme, which have become a worldwide sensation - - - again, if you're within a certain age range. In addition to the score of books in the series, the adventures of the Stilton mice have been featured in "graphic novels" (a fancy name for expensive comic books), and have even spawned a televised cartoon series in Belgium and the Netherlands.  And now she's destroyed, or more precisely erased, the nation of Israel.

One of the conceits of the books is that they were actually written by the mice, when in fact they were authored by Elisabetta Dami, pictured below, who is certainly as prolific as a mouse, at least in her writing. But that's no problem: children's authors have often employed pseudonyms, from Uncle Remus to Dr. Seuss.  What's more problematic is that, in one of her latest children's books, she has included a map of the Middle East which expands Jordan and erases Israel.  Naughty, naughty, Signorina Dami: one shouldn't use children's literature as a way of promoting one's own political fantasies.  

The offending book, which was published in 2012, tells the story of some "investigative journalists" (the starring mice in the series), on an adventure in Egypt.  Appropriately, the book included a child-friendly map of Egypt and its neighboring countries; inappropriately, it did not include Israel, which of course borders Egypt. This was either an honest mistake which should have been caught by an editor or proofreader (although it's hard to imagine any literate Italian adult being unaware of the existence of Israel), or it was deliberate. The former explanation is most unlikely. Personally, I smell a rat.

As noted, the books have become a worldwide success.  Since the world does, despite Signorina Dami's wishes, include a nation called Israel, the "mistake" was immediately noticed by parents in that nation.  According to the Times of Israel:

"Adina Golombek, a Jerusalem resident who emigrated to Israel from Canada last year, said she was shocked to discover Israel’s absence while reading the book with her 7-year-old son.

“'I wanted to show my son where we lived in the Middle East, but it didn’t say Israel on the map; instead it said Jordan,' Golombek told The Times of Israel. 'I showed him the problem and drew in the border of where Israel is today.'”

The blatant use of a children's book to "erase" Israel (long a commonplace in Arab and Muslim textbooks) was widely noticed when the book was reprinted in English by Scholastic, Inc., the world's largest publisher of children's and Young Adult literature: a company which attained colossal importance in the publishing world when it obtained the rights to the Harry Potter series, and has gone on to dazzle the Young Adult market with such titles as The Hunger Games.  From such a respected company, Thea Stilton's latest shenanigans became somewhat less than amusing.

To its great credit, Scholastic, Inc. has acknowledged the slip-up, and has stopped selling the book until the map is corrected in a subsequent edition.  Granted, someone at Scholastic was asleep at the switch; but these things happen, and company spokesmen have clearly stated that no geographical mischaracterization was intended.

A tempest in a teapot?  Perhaps, if one considers the political socialization of children to be of no importance.  Experts such as Bruno Bettelheim, author of The Uses of Enchantment, have always thought otherwise.  As for Elisabetta Dami, she can now add "propagandist" to "children's author" on her biography.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Urgent Update: Saeed Abedini

In a totally unexpected development, American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been unjustly incarcerated, beaten, and tortured in Iran for over a year, has now been moved to an even more brutal prison, where his life will be in more jeopardy than ever before.  (Pastor Saeed's story can be found here and here; the latter link features a video of various celebrities calling for his release.) Of Iranian heritage himself, Abedini is a citizen of the United States, and was imprisoned, by an Iranian "revolutionary council," for the "crimes" of operating children's homes, and sharing the Christian Gospel. Worldwide protests have had no affect on his captors, and President Obama and John Kerry have actually removed his name from the State Department's list of political prisoners who must be freed.  Apparently, this administration places little value on the life of an American citizen abroad, if that citizen is an outspoken Christian.

This past week, Pastor Saeed, in bad health and having been separated from his wife and two young children since his arrest, was moved from Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, where he was surrounded by "political prisoners" such as himself, to the far worse Rajai Shahr Prison, most of whose inmates are hard-core rapists and murderers.  He is reportedly being held in a 10' by 10' cell, in a prison where, in the words of one authority, "prisoners simply disappear forever."  The fact that an American citizen is being so unjustly used should make any American's blood boil, even if that American is an atheist; the fact that Saeed is our faithful brother in Christ should drive every Christian to his or her knees.

A petition to President Obama, and a petition to the new President of Iran, respectfully asking for Saeed's release, can be found at this site. Please take a moment to sign it; the site asks for your e-mail address, but will not "spam" you unless you ask for regular bulletins.  An appeal is also made for funds, with which to continue the fight for Saeed's freedom, but making a contribution is not necessary.

By the grace of God, however, another imprisoned Christian, Mostafa Bordbar, who had been arrested during a Christmas celebration and sentenced to ten years in Evin Prison, has been released, following an opportunity to plead his case before an appellate court, after serving eleven months.  This is a cause of rejoicing and thanksgiving, and we glorify God on Brother Mostafa's behalf.  It may be that Iran's new President, Hassan Rouhani, is taking a less aggressive policy toward Christians than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; it's too early to tell.  But we thank God for this act of mercy, even as we continue to pray and petition on behalf of Pastor Saeed.

SOURCES: Mohaba NewsNew York Daily NewsAmerican Center for Law and Justice

UPDATE: According to The Washington Post,  President Obama "mentioned" Pastor Saeed in his first telephone conversation with Iran's new President, although the conversation dealt with other matters.  The State Department has also called for his release, but his name has not been restored to the "most critical" list yet.  A bipartisan bill on Saeed's behalf has been introduced by Senators Jim Risch (R-ID), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT),and 23 Senators have referred to his plight as a "death sentence" if swift action is not taken. (11.08.13)

Monday, November 4, 2013

How far can I go?

How far can I go .... before I've gone too far?

If you're a Christian, or even if you're someone who believes in God, but has never actually known Him, this question can haunt you.  When you think about your spiritual standing, and especially your eternal destiny, a lot of questions come to mind: either because you know yourself so well, or because the Enemy of your soul, Satan, is suggesting them to you.  Maybe both.  Questions of doubt, questions of uncertainty, questions of paralyzing fear.  

Because anyone who has enough common sense to draw a breath of air is aware that he or she is a sinner.  Maybe you don't use that word, but instead think of your "mistakes" and "shortcomings:" but few of us think we're perfect.  (If you don't know how God sees you, I suggest you look up and read the tab marked Hey, dummy! It gives the Biblical view of human nature in no uncertain terms.)  Many people delude themselves into thinking that they're "good enough" to get into Heaven, which is an absurd conceit; but at certain times, even they have questions.

For a non-Christian, who has never received Jesus Christ by an act of the will, according to John 1:12, and been born again, according to Jesus' words in John 3:3-7, the question is often: "How far can I go, with actions and thoughts that I know to be wrong, before I'm hopelessly damned?  How far can I go before God cuts me off completely?"

(The Biblical answer, of course, is that if you haven't received Christ, you're damned already, regardless of how far you go, or don't go.  Most people are familiar with John 3:16, but as He continued to refer to Himself, Jesus said: He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil [John 3:18-19]. If you haven't received Christ, it's not a question of "going too far;" in fact, you haven't gone far enough, and received Him as your Saviour.)

There are all kinds of worries.  "I've been unfaithful to her so many times, and hurt my family so badly ... if I do it again, will I be beyond redemption?"  "I've done so many terrible things, and never gotten caught ... but God saw.  Am I lost forever?"  "If I commit suicide, will I end up in Hell?"  Where's the cut-off point?  To put it very crudely, but very honestly, the question boils down to: "How much sin and wrongdoing can I get away with?"

Christians ask themselves the same questions, albeit in a different form.  When a woman or man receives Christ, he or she is saved; they've obtained eternal salvation, a place in Heaven with their Creator, by the sheer grace of God.  But far too many Christians misunderstand the Bible, and think that they can, through some terrible sin, lose that salvation, and be damned after all.  (It doesn't help that this totally unscriptural notion is taught by the largest "Christian" organization on earth, based in Rome, or that too many Protestants preach it.) For such people, whether they're teenagers "making out" at a party, or crooked businessmen, or "church women" gossiping and ruining the reputation of others, the question is, "How far can I go without losing my salvation?"  Again, the matter is really, "How much sin can I get away with?"

But these questions aren't always asked out of a selfish desire to go on drinking or lying or stealing, or whatever one's "pet sin" might be.  Very often, the question is asked in fear and trembling.  Because, as noted earlier, we have an innate sense that we don't deserve Heaven, and we know that the logical and just result of our sins (Christian or non-Christian) would be Hell.  God is righteous and holy, and will not allow sin into His Heaven.

So, we look at the people in scripture.  The Bible is unique, among all the "holy books" of this world, in presenting its characters honestly - - - even the heroes and heroines.  And we see something interesting in the Bible's pages.  Can an adulterer go to Heaven?  (David did.)  Can a whore go to Heaven?  (Rahab did, as well as several others in the Bible.)  Can a cold-blooded, premeditated murderer go to Heaven?  (Moses did, Exodus 2:11, 12.) Can a man who has spent his time persecuting and killing Christians go to Heaven? (The Apostle Paul did.)  This is not to say that their actions were right, of course; but it demonstrates that, as an old preacher said, "There's hope for the vilest."  That includes you; that includes me.

But what about Christians?  Can the genuine followers of Christ betray their Saviour, and still be saved? (Peter was: He walked with Jesus for three years, and then denied Him.)  Can a Christian flatly disobey God, and still be saved? (Again, Paul did: he refused to obey God's instructions to go in a certain direction, and although he lost his freedom and was executed, he went to Heaven.) The examples are found throughout the New Testament.

Because, if you're a Christian, your salvation is not yours: it's God's, and He's in control of it.  (After committing adultery and murder, David prayed, Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, Psalm 51:12.  Not "my salvation;" "thy salvation.") And how were we saved in the first place? For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) If our "good works" can't save us, how could our sins cause us to lose our salvation?

They can't: not if we've truly received Christ, and been born again.  Make no mistake, however: the sins of a Christian or a non-Christian will not go without consequences.  Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7).  A Christian who sins can lose his family, or his health, or even his freedom, in prison; he or she may even lose their earthly life.  But they can't lose their salvation ... because salvation is of grace, and grace alone: God's unmerited favor, given to all those who receive His Son.

If you're not a Christian, you can receive Christ today, simply by confessing your sins and asking Him to save you for Jesus' sake.  (I said it was simple; I didn't say it was easy.  It won't solve all your problems; in fact, you'll have new ones!  But your eternal destiny won't be one of them.) If you are a Christian, but wonder if you've gone too far, or lost your salvation, you need to be reminded: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35-39).

"How far can I go before I lose a chance of being saved?"

"How far can I go before I lose my salvation?"

One step farther than the grace of God!