Update 669


Better Off Now?

On January 3, 2015, Kalon Mitchell will give the sermon, titled, “Better Off Now?”

The live services are available, over video and audio, at http://eternalgod.org/live-services/ (12:30 pm Pacific Time; 1:30 pm Mountain Time; 2:30 pm Central Time; 3:30 pm Eastern Time; 8:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time; 9:30 pm Central European Time). Just click on Connect to Live Stream.

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Change for Life

by Robb Harris

Many are celebrating this new year with hope that it will be more fruitful. While people promise to make a change for their own betterment, real and lasting transformation often doesn’t occur. The reason? We have become a society that focuses on symptoms instead of fixing the root cause of our problems.

According to one poll, the top resolutions people often make are: get a better job, quit smoking, save money, eat better and drink less. It’s easy to develop unhealthy habits and difficult to remove them from our lives. Do we vow that “This will be the year I make a change!”, but soon fall back into the same comfortable ruts? Jesus warned against this mindset of reliance on our own authority. “But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:34-37).

While changing one’s life isn’t bad, we must ask ourselves “For what purpose am I doing this?” For a Christian, change is essential and must occur in our lives daily—not just once a year.

The willingness to make true change is the basis for living a Christian life. God’s angels rejoice when they see us repent, “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

But true repentance requires God’s Spirit working in our lives. Without the Holy Spirit, we are blind. Jesus warns: “…And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14). Those of us who were properly baptized made a commitment to God the Father with a promise of true change. Let’s be sure we are always found doing just that.

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We report on the deteriorating relationship between Russia and Europe, which might help to bring about a strong unification of the European continent against Russia; speak on Russia’s ambitions to collaborate with “friends” in the Northeast; and address most recent developments pertaining to Greece; the Palestinians; Turkey’s hostile activities against Israel; and Iran’s “suicide” drones.

We bring you articles on the bad history of “Santa Claus” and the refusal of the Protestant Reformation to keep Christmas; report on “Christmas Kitsch” in China; speak on the (unfounded) opposition of Islamic countries to two of Hollywood’s failed “Bible” movies; and quote from two articles on controversial Pope Francis and his religious and political fight with the Vatican and conservative Catholics.

We conclude with pointing out illegal activities of the NSA against American citizens.

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Russia Sees NATO as the Biggest Threat

The Associated Press reported on December 26:

“President Vladimir Putin has signed a new military doctrine that describes NATO’s military buildup near the Russian borders as the top military threat amid Russia-West tensions over Ukraine.

“The document released by the Kremlin on Friday maintains the provisions of the previous, 2010 edition of the military doctrine regarding the use of nuclear weapons. It says Russia could use nuclear weapons in retaliation to the use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, and also in case of aggression involving conventional weapons that ‘threatens the very existence’ of the Russian state.

“For the first time, the new doctrine says that Russia could use precision weapons ‘as part of strategic deterrent measures.’ The document doesn’t spell out conditions for their use.”

According to Die Welt, dated December 27, 2014, the document also states that Russia has enough bunkers to resist and survive a nuclear war.

NATO “Fires” Back…

Deutsche Welle wrote on December 27:

“Within hours of Russian President Vladimir Putin approving a new security doctrine, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu flatly denied that the Western military bloc was a threat to any nation. ‘Any steps taken by NATO to ensure the security of its members are clearly defensive in nature, proportionate and in compliance with international law,’ Lungescu said. ‘In fact, it is Russia’s actions, including currently in Ukraine, which are breaking international law and undermining European security,’ she added in comments posted on her Twitter account…

“The new Russian military doctrine, posted on the Kremlin’s website on Friday, lists 14 security risks to the country, beginning with NATO’s military potential and eastward expansion… However, a statement released by the Russian Security Council said that the doctrine remained defensive in nature, despite the changes.

“Relations between the Kremlin and the West have experienced a major chill since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula back in March. Ukraine and the West have also accused Moscow of stoking the fires of conflict in eastern Ukraine by supporting pro-Russia separatists with weapons and troops. Russia has denied this.”

We hear more and more of rumors from the Northeast (compare Daniel 11:44) which are making Europe very nervous.

“2014: A difficult Year for the EU”… but a Crisis Unites…

Deutsche Welle wrote on December 27, 2014

“For the European Union… the ongoing confrontation with Russia could once again bring unity.

“It was a foreseeable political disaster: discontent had long been seething, and in May it showed its force in the elections for the European Parliament. Almost everywhere, euroskeptic parties, right-wing and even parties openly hostile toward the European Union celebrated strong showings. In France, Britain and Denmark, they even won the election. Their platform: Less Europe, more nation states…

“In 2014, migration was an issue that split the EU more than ever before… The euro crisis was a ‘central factor, at least a catalyst for the feeling that the EU is either too far away or gets too involved’…

“Nowhere in the EU was the discontent as palpable as in Britain, where Prime Minister David Cameron is being pushed around by UKIP… In fact, a British exit has now become conceivable – even though the United Kingdom itself only narrowly escaped its own breakup just a few months ago when 55 percent of Scottish voters rejected independence…

“The economic crisis, with its high unemployment rates in many countries, has not only buoyed fringe parties. How to fight the crisis is still a question that continues to divide Europe…

“The crisis that overshadowed everything else in Europe this year, however, was the confrontation with Russia. In March, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and began destabilizing Eastern Ukraine, a campaign that continues to this day. Several EU states that once belonged to the Soviet Union, including the Baltic countries and Poland, now fear that they, too, may fall victim to Russian aggression.

“Over the course of the year, the EU imposed increasingly harsh sanctions on Russia – but the conflict is anything but solved. As 2014 comes to a close, a return to the former partnership with Russia seems to be more distant than ever. The peaceful European order that has lasted since the end of the Cold War has cracked, and no one knows what’s next.

“At least this bitter experience has taught the Europeans the importance of solidarity. In the dispute with Russia, the EU has presented a unified front like it rarely has before, proof that the 28 EU member states, with their varying positions and relationships with Moscow, were and continue to be able to agree on a common position… The crisis has restored the idea that Europe is ‘stronger united than alone’… That truism seemed long-forgotten in the EU – but 2014 has brought it back to life.”

It might require a crisis of great proportions which will force Europe to unite.

Putin Looks for Friends in the East

The Editorial Board of the New York Times wrote on December 26:

“There was a time when President Vladimir Putin was welcomed, even courted, by governments in the West. Now, as tensions between them grow over the issue of Ukraine, and as Russia’s economy is under stress, Mr. Putin is pursuing new friends, including one of the world’s most noxious leaders, Kim Jong-un of North Korea…

“During the Cold War, the Soviet Union often helped prop up North Korea’s brutal totalitarian regime. This year, after Russia’s invasion of Crimea led to a crisis and the imposition of sanctions by the United States and Europe, Mr. Putin has moved to strengthen those ties as part of a ‘Look East’ policy designed to compensate for the loss of economic and political interaction with the West.

“Russia is interested in North Korea’s mineral resources and needs its help in building a gas pipeline through North Korea to reach the wealthier South Korea. Meanwhile, North Korea sees Russia as a way to reduce dependency on China, its main source of food and fuel…

“Mr. Putin’s courtship of North Korea has not distracted him from his continuing efforts to build closer relationships with China and India. China’s president, Xi Jinping, made Russia his first foreign trip after taking office, and he attended the Sochi Olympics while President Obama and European leaders boycotted them. In May, as the West imposed sanctions on Russia, Mr. Putin completed a $400 billion, 30-year deal providing natural gas to China…

“For decades, people speculated about some kind of China-Russia alliance, but one never really materialized. The gas deal is viewed in Washington as much more favorable to Beijing than to Moscow, and over the long term, China’s economic and political strengths seem certain to ensure that Russia will always be the junior partner — a position that is unlikely to please Mr. Putin.

“As for India, Mr. Putin was warmly welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a visit there this month and given assurances that Russia would remain India’s top weapons supplier. The two sides also signed billions of dollars in nuclear power, oil and defense deals. The outcome was a reminder that expectations in America of more trade and political cooperation with India have fallen short since the two countries signed a nuclear deal in 2008…”

In light of the remarks that Russia will always be China’s junior partner, it is interesting to note that the attack of the Asiatic hordes against Israel at the beginning of the Millennium will be led by Gog, a CHINESE leader over China, Russia and other Far Eastern countries (compare Ezekiel 38:2-3).

Putin Still in Denial

Business Insider wrote on December 27:

“As the year draws to a close, the Kremlin continues to insist that not a single Russian soldier has entered Ukraine to join pro-Moscow separatist militia who have been fighting government forces there since April. During his annual press conference earlier this month, Vladimir Putin, the president, said that all Russian combatants in Ukraine’s Donbas region were volunteers answering ‘a call of the heart’…

“Rights activists have recorded cases of at least 40 serving soldiers suspected of dying in the conflict – many believe the figure is in the hundreds – but prosecutors refuse to open criminal investigations into their deaths, a requirement by law…”

Greece in the News… Again…

The Local wrote on December 31:

“Fears of a potential Greek exit from the eurozone have rattled markets since a political crisis in Athens led to early elections, called for late January, in which a leftist anti-austerity party has good prospects of winning, threatening to unwind painful reforms.

“Michael Fuchs, deputy parliamentary leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, suggested the idea of Greece breaching its commitments to creditors and eventually leaving the single currency bloc was no longer a doomsday scenario. ‘The situation is entirely different than three years ago,’ Fuchs told the Rheinische Post daily. ‘The times when we had to rescue Greece are over. There is no potential for blackmail any more. Greece is no longer of systemic relevance for the euro.’…

“Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warned Tuesday that the financially-stricken nation may be forced out of the eurozone if the election is won by Syriza… German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble was more direct, saying Greeks ‘have no alternative’ to the reform path.”

The Bible indicates a cooperation between Greece and core Europe (ten European nations or groups of nations). It does not say whether or not Greece will be part of core Europe.

U.N. Security Council Resolution Against Israel FAILS

JTA wrote on December 30:

“A Palestinian-backed U.N. Security Council resolution setting a deadline for a peace deal with Israel failed to garner sufficient votes for passage. The resolution, which was voted on Tuesday, was aimed at achieving a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank by late 2017.

“Eight nations on the 15-member council votes yes, two voted no and five abstained. Nine votes were required for passage. The no votes came from the United States and Australia. Had nine votes been obtained, the United States, which voted against the resolution, was expected to exercise its Security Council veto. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, called the draft resolution ‘deeply imbalanced’ and slammed the council for the unusual move of putting the resolution to a vote without any debate… The deadlines in the resolution, Power noted, ‘take no account of Israel’s legitimate security concerns.’”

Abbas Signs Treaty Against Israel

JTA wrote on December 31:

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed an international treaty that will allow the investigation of Israel for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. On Wednesday, a day after the defeat of a Palestinian statehood resolution in the United Nations Security Council, Abbas reportedly signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, or ICC, as well as more than 20 other international treaties.

“Abbas signed the treaties at an emergency meeting of the P.A. leadership in Ramallah that was called in the wake of the Security Council vote held on Tuesday… If the ICC accepts the Palestinian Authority’s request to join the Rome Statute, which brings the Palestinians one step closer to being full members of the court, then the ICC would have jurisdiction for crimes committed on Palestinian territory. The acceptance would allow the Palestinian Authority to petition the ICC to investigate Israel for possible war crimes.

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the move. ‘It is the Palestinian Authority – which is in a unity government with Hamas, an avowed terrorist organization that, like ISIS, perpetrates war crimes – that needs to be concerned about the International Criminal Court in the Hague,’ he said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office…

“Among the other international organizations and conventions that the Palestinians are seeking to join are the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.

“Also on Wednesday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned France’s ambassador to Israel, Patrick Maisonnave, for ‘clarifications’ over his country’s vote in favor of the Palestinian statehood resolution in the Security Council…”

As the New York Times explained in an article on December 31, the ROME Statute is the Hague-based court’s founding treaty: “Created in 2002 to prosecute perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the court currently has 122 member countries, and has mainly dealt with horrors in Africa.” Also, the role of France becomes more and more dubious.

Hamas and Turkey vs. Israel

The Times of Israel wrote on December 27:

“On a surprise visit to Turkey Saturday, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal hailed the country’s leaders and said he hoped to ‘liberate Palestine and Jerusalem’ with them. During a speech to officials and supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Mashaal congratulated the people of Turkey ‘for having [Prime Minister Ahmet] Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’ as heads of state, adding that ‘a strong Turkey means a strong Palestine … Inshallah, God is with us and with you on the road to victory.’…

“The Hamas leader was introduced to the crowd gathered in the conservative Konya Province in central Anatolia for the annual event by Davutoglu himself. His speech was frequently interrupted by supporters shouting ‘down with Israel!’ and ‘God is great!’… ‘God is witness … we will make this red flag a symbol of the innocent. This red flag will fly side by side with the flags of Palestine, free Syria and all other innocents’ flags anywhere in the world,’ he told the congress.

“Turkey and Hamas have seen a rapid rapprochement as Israel’s ties with Ankara continued to deteriorate. The AK Party has had close ties with Hamas since its rise in 2001, led by Davutoglu and Erdogan. The two have been known for their frequent outbursts against Israel over the years…

“Jerusalem has also accused Turkey of allowing Hamas to operate on its soil, a charge Ankara strongly denies… Israel has alleged on several recent occasions that Hamas cells operating in the West Bank and planning major terror attacks were doing so under the guidance and leadership of Hamas’s Saleh al-Arouri, who was deported from the West Bank to Turkey in 2010, while Ankara turns a blind eye to his actions.

“Last month, the Shin Bet security service said members of a Hamas terror ring in the West Bank, run from the organization’s headquarters in Turkey, sought to carry out an array of major attacks, including on Jerusalem’s main soccer stadium and its light rail line. Arouri, they said, built up and funded the network, and has effectively established a Hamas command post in Turkey which is leading terror efforts in the West Bank…

“In October, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Hamas had two command centers: one in the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the Islamist group since 2007, and one in Turkey.

“Israel’s ties with Turkey became strained after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-2009, but nosedived in May 2010 when the Mavi Marmara ferry was boarded by Israeli commandos as it attempted to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the ensuing melee, after the Israeli soldiers were attacked with iron bars and wooden bats, troops opened fire and nine Turkish activists were killed; 10 Israeli soldiers were injured.”

Modern Turkey is identified in the Bible as “Edom” or “Esau.” Its future hostile conduct against Israel is vividly described in the book of Obadiah and strongly condemned by God.

Iran’s Suicide Drones

Gizmodo wrote on December 27:

“Today Iranian military forces tested various unmanned aircraft that some are calling ‘suicide drones.’ Because ‘suicide drone’ sounded more intimidating than ‘model airplane that we could fly into things nearby.’

“Iran has been conducting military exercises for the past week at the Strait of Hormuz near the Persian Gulf. The show of force has involved air, land, and sea maneuvers over 850,000 square miles…

“This week’s exercises are codenamed Mohammad Rasoulallah, meaning Mohammad the Messenger of God… Iran has also been using drones for target practice during this week’s drills… Unconfirmed reports have said that Iran’s Shahed-129 drone can stay in the air as long as 24 hours and has a range of just over 1,000 miles.”

Santa Claus—a Bad Guy

CNN wrote on December 25:

“It’s the early 1800s, and America’s Christian leaders — most of whom were Protestant Reformation-types — had banned religious celebrations of Christmas as unscriptural and paganish. But people still wanted to party… So, on December 25, working-class stiffs got fall-down drunk and stumbled around cities looking for stuff to loot…

“When the Dutch came to the New World in the 1600s, they brought a fellow from folklore named Sinterklaas with them… Sinterklaas, who wore a red bishop’s miter and a snowy white beard, was based on St. Nicholas, a 3rd century Greek who lived in modern-day Turkey… this Nick was a bit of a bad boy… According to one medieval legend, Nicholas punched a heretic in the nose at the Council of Nicea — the meeting in 325 that formed the first consensus on Christian doctrine…

“St. Nick’s feast day, December 6, (the day he supposedly died) was celebrated across Europe for hundreds of years, often by giving gifts to children… But, beginning in the 1500s, the Protestant Reformation swept away the cult of Christian saints, denouncing them as unbiblical and idolatrous. Christmas, too, went pretty much by the wayside for much of Protestant Europe during this time. Some countries, though, such as the Netherlands, kept alive traditions associated with Sinterklaas. And it was these customs that 19th century New Yorkers wanted to revive.

“As they sought to make Christmas more family friendly, the Saint Nicholas Society found the perfect front man in their namesake, who, after all, was known for being nice to children. It was a genius move. The real goal was getting drunks off the street… Now they could do that by turning Christmas into a family event when children — who had it pretty rough back then — would receive gifts for good behavior…”

The first question is: Why do Protestants keep Christmas today, when the Protestant Reformers—their “fathers” in the faith–rejected it as pagan, idolatrous and unscriptural? How has it now suddenly become scriptural and less pagan and idolatrous? And then, even though this “account” of the origin of “Santa Claus” describes him as a pretty bad fellow, it is still not describing the awful truth. In fact, the history of the real “Santa Claus” is even much worse than depicted in the article. To learn more about it, please read our free booklet, “Don’t Keep Christmas.” 

Christmas Kitsch in China

Reuters reported on December 25:

“A university in northwestern China has banned Christmas, calling it a ‘kitsch’ foreign celebration unbefitting of the country’s own traditions…

“An official microblog belonging to one of the university’s Communist Party’s committees posted comments calling for students not to ‘fawn on foreigners’ and pay more attention to China’s holidays, like Spring Festival. ‘In recent years, more and more Chinese have started to attach importance to Western festivals,’ it wrote…

“Christmas is not a traditional festival in officially atheist China but is growing in popularity, especially in more metropolitan areas where young people go out to celebrate, give gifts and decorate their homes…

“Wenzhou, a city in the wealthy eastern province of Zhejiang, has banned all Christmas activities in schools and kindergartens, the official Xinhua news agency reported…”

Even though China’s motives are self-serving and inappropriate, and the Chinese religious holidays are by no means an improvement, the classification of many of the Christmas symbols and celebrations as “kitsch” is very accurate.

“Exodus” Banned in Egypt

Reuters reported on December 26:

“Egypt has banned Hollywood’s big screen biblical epic ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings,’ a 20th Century Fox spokesman said on Friday. The studio owned by Twenty-First Century Fox Inc declined to give a reason for the ban, but films that depict biblical figures have been prohibited before in the Muslim country.

“Paramount Pictures’ Bible tale ‘Noah’ was banned in several countries in the Middle East this year for its depiction of a prophet, which is forbidden in Islam… ‘Exodus’… has come under criticism for casting mostly white actors in the lead roles and some historical anachronisms. Morocco has also reportedly banned the film…”

Variety added on December 26:

“A report from the Egyptian site Mobtada said censors issued the ban due to [the] movie’s ‘historical inaccuracies.’ Those included the film’s depiction of Jews as having built the Pyramids… Egyptian cultural minister Gaber Asfour said the depiction of Jewish slaves as being the builders of the Great Sphinx and Pyramids is inaccurate because the monuments are accepted to have been built around 2540 B.C. — 500 years before Abraham… ‘This totally contradicts proven historical facts,’ Asfour said.”

Many who have seen the movie “Exodus” declared their utter disappointment and disgust with the film, which, among many other problems, portrayed God in the scene with the burning bush as a child. The movie “Noah” was likewise declared to have been a great disappointment, as it included numerous unbiblical scenes which were totally opposed to the Word of God.

This is not to say that Egypt and Morocco, as well as other Islamic countries, banned the movies because of proper reasons. For instance, the Islamic prohibition of the portrayal of a prophet is not biblical. And it is also not correct that the Pyramids were built 500 years before Abraham. There is strong biblical and archeological evidence that the historical Cheops was none other than the biblical Job, and that it was Job who built the Great Cheops Pyramid at Gizeh, apparently with the help of biblical Joseph.

In his article, “Who Built the Great Pyramid?” (The Plain Truth, May 1964), Dr. Herman Hoeh pointed out:

“Cheops lived in Joseph’s time. SO DID JOB! Job lived in the generation after Esau, for one of his friends was Eliphaz the Temanite (Job 2:11). Eliphaz was the father of the Temanites (Gen. 36:11) and the son of Esau, Jacob’s brother (verse 10). Eliphaz and Joseph were first cousins.

“Job lived before the Mosaic law which permitted only Levites to sacrifice. Notice that Job sacrificed to God for his family as was customarily done in patriarchal times (Job 1:5; 42:8). None of the conversation in the book of Job refers to the exodus under Moses. But the flood is still uppermost in the minds of the people (Job 22:17-18).

“Cheops or Job came to the throne in 1726 B.C…. Surprisingly that is the year in which Jacob entered Egypt with his family. A coincidence? Consider this! Coming into Egypt with Jacob in 1726 was a grandson — named Job! ‘And these are the names of the children of Israel who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons … And the sons of Issachar: Tola, and Phuvah and JOB, and Shimron’ (Genesis 46:13).”

Pope Francis—the Superman Pope?

The Guardian wrote on December 27:

“He has been called the ‘superman pope’… In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject [of climate change] to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions. The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions… the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

“According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals…

“However, Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate.

“Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who has been placed in charge of the Vatican’s budget, is a climate change sceptic… Francis will also be opposed by the powerful US evangelical movement, said Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has declared the US environmental movement to be ‘un-biblical’ and a false religion. ‘The pope should back off,’ he said. ‘The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.’”

Pope Flexes Political Muscles; Drives Wedge Between Conservatives and Catholic Church

The Hill wrote on December 31:

“Pope Francis is increasingly driving a wedge between conservatives and the Catholic Church.
The magnetic pope has sparked new enthusiasm around the world for the church and has flexed his political muscles internationally… But Francis’s agenda… is putting him at odds with Republicans, including GOP Catholics in the United States.

“Hours after President Obama announced moves to ease trade and travel restrictions to Cuba, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a practicing Catholic and potential 2016 presidential candidate, criticized the deal and Francis’s role in it… Fellow Catholic Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said he wished Francis would stand up for the Cuban people ‘rather than their oppressors.’…

“‘He’s modeling the church as a place for open disagreement,’ said Vincent J. Miller, who chairs the University of Dayton’s Catholic theology program. ‘In that sense, one of the most important changes he’s making is that conservative politicians are now openly disagreeing with him,’ Miller said… Miller said Republicans are no longer able to use issues like abortion and gay marriage as the defining issues for American Catholics.

“But Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the conservative U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, said that by injecting his beliefs, Francis has alienated Cuban-Americans who are deeply opposed to the communist Castro regime in Cuba…”

Please view our recent StandingWatch program, “Pope Francis’ Fight with the Vatican.” 

How American Citizens Are Illegally Being Spied On

The Huffington Post wrote on December 26:

“…the National Security Agency released hundreds of pages of heavily redacted documents detailing instances of improper surveillance on U.S. citizens in the last 12 years. The batch of documents, stretching from the fourth quarter of 2001 to the second quarter of 2013, was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. While some of the information was already publicly known, the reports shed more light on instances in which NSA employees either intentionally or unintentionally violated the law and collected the private data of American citizens…

“The reports include instances in which analysts conducted unauthorized surveillance on U.S. organizations with the mistaken belief they were authorized to do so; instances in which analysts willfully ignored restrictions on surveillance; and even instances in which analysts intentionally abused the system to gather data on spouses or love interests…

“The USA Freedom Act, which would have ended the NSA’s controversial domestic call tracking program, died in the Senate earlier this year despite support from an unlikely alliance that included Facebook, the ACLU and the National Rifle Association.”

And so, illegal spying on American citizens might go on…

Growing Number of Germans Against “Islamization”

Reuters reported on January 1, 2015:

“One German in eight would join an anti-Muslim march if a rapidly-growing protest movement organized one in their home towns, according to an opinion poll published on Thursday. The survey highlighted growing support in Germany, as in other European Union countries including Britain and Sweden, for parties and movements tapping into voter fears that mainstream politicians are too soft on immigration.

“Some members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc worry that they risk losing support to the euro-sceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has shifted its focus to immigration and includes many who also back the PEGIDA protest movement — Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West. PEGIDA is holding weekly rallies in the eastern city of Dresden, and attracted more than 17,000 people to a Dec. 22 rally…

“In her New Year address, Merkel urged Germans to turn their backs on PEGIDA’s leaders, calling them racists full of hatred, and said Europe’s biggest economy must welcome people fleeing conflict and war… AfD leader Bernd Lucke criticized Merkel’s New Year address in comments due to appear in Friday’s edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) paper, accusing her of disrespecting citizens. A New Year address should unite rather than divide people, he said, accusing Merkel of branding all those who joined PEGIDA marches as anti-immigrant without listening to their views…”

Lithuania Adopts the Euro

The EUObserver wrote on December 31, 2015:

“Lithuania on Thursday (1 January) will adopt the euro with a majority now supporting the currency change amid heightened tensions with their former Russian masters… The former Soviet republic, which joined the European Union and Nato in 2004, is a strategic base for the alliance’s Baltic air policing patrols…

“All EU member states, with the exception of the UK and Denmark, are required to join the euro. Lithuania will become the 19th member of the eurozone.”

Netanyahu Wins Party Nomination

The Associated Press reported on January 1:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the backing of his hard-line Likud party in its primary and will lead it into general elections this March… Israeli media said Netanyahu had won the support of about 75 percent of electors, giving him an unassailable lead over challenger Danny Danon, a former deputy defense minister…

“Early opinion polls ahead of the March 17 general elections show Netanyahu’s Likud party in a neck-and-neck race with a joint list headed by Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of the Hatnuah party.”

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Should Christians wear wedding rings?

Some have advanced the idea that Christians should not wear wedding rings, as this custom is allegedly pagan, and some have even gone so far as to claim that it was adopted from occult practices. We understand that the Bible prohibits us to worship the true God with pagan symbolism or activities which were adopted from the way in which pagans worshipped their gods. But we must be careful that we do not carry this injunction too far and prohibit everything, whether it is used in worship services or otherwise, only because pagans might have engaged in it.

We addressed this issue in a recent Q&A, which answered the question as to whether Christians should use symbols which are used by pagans. Among other symbols, we discussed the symbol of the heart, certain symbols which are being used in sign language, the Star of David and the symbols of stars in general. We also pointed out that the mere fact that pagans and occultists attach a particular meaning and human interpretation to certain symbols should not compel a Christian to refrain from using these symbols.

This same principle applies to wedding rings. Some claim that wedding rings were “invented” by pagans and occultists with certain supernatural applications in mind. At the same time, everything else pertaining to weddings and wedding customs could be—and has been—labeled as pagan and forbidden, including honeymoons, bridesmaids, wedding cakes, kissing the bride, the bride wearing white or carrying flowers, and even a bride wearing a veil, which is allegedly linked to sorcery (compare, Reader’s Digest, “Why in the World?”). It can be clearly seen that such extreme views are not sound and must be rejected.

The website of gotquestions.org published the following article about wedding rings:

“The signet ring is the earliest type of ring mentioned in the Bible… Jeremiah informs us that the Israelites wore the signet ring on the right hand (Jeremiah 22:24)… Pharaoh gave his signet ring to Joseph as a symbol of authority (Genesis 41:42)… Upon his return, the prodigal son received a ring from his father as a symbol of dignity and restored position (Luke 15:22)…

“The custom of wearing the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand is based upon a romantic, although unscientific, Greek fable that the artery from that finger flows directly to the heart. However and whenever the custom of the wedding band developed, it is seen today as a symbol of an unending commitment to the marriage relationship. As such, it certainly has a biblical basis in that marriage is to be a lifetime commitment (Romans 7:2). This is not to say that wearing a wedding ring is a requirement for married Christians…”

There is really no evidence that the custom of wearing wedding rings on the fourth finger of the left hand is BASED on a Greek fable. As we will see, the wearing of a signet ring (which is the ancient equivalent to the modern wedding ring) was NOT based on such a fable at all.

The website of biblicalperspectives.com published an article on the matter, which is strictly written from a Seventh-Day Adventist perspective and addresses the transformation from the view point of the Methodist Church (which rejected wearing of jewelry in all of its forms, including rings) to the understanding of the Seventh-Day Adventist position which basically allows the wearing of wedding rings. Although we would not agree with much which is written in the article, especially when addressing all kinds of unverified “superstitions” about the history of the wedding ring, here are some noteworthy comments:

“The story of the finger ring is in a way like the ring itself, without beginning and without end. No one can tell for certain how far back the ring goes. Finger rings appear to have originated with the ancient Egyptians, evolving from the seal or signet… The reason Christians did not oppose the adoption of the betrothal ring [similar to our modern “engagement rings”] is because they perceived it to be not an ornament but a symbol of marital commitment… The ‘sealing’ function of the ring suggests that it was a signet ring that apparently functioned also as a marital ring.”

The Jews used “betrothal rings” and also wedding rings, as Reader’s Digest, “Why in the World?,” points out, “to seal the bond between husbands and wives.”

We need to note that the Bible does NOT say that the wearing of finger rings ORIGINATED in ancient Egypt. But signet rings are mentioned approvingly in the Bible. Scripture does not tell us on what finger the signet ring was worn; Jeremiah 22:24 associates in that particular passage a signet ring with the “right” hand, but it does not say that this is to be understood exclusively, nor, on which finger the ring was worn. It appears that the signet ring could be worn on any finger, including the fourth finger. At least, the Bible nowhere states that it could not have been worn in that way. As a matter of interest, the engagement ring is worn on the left hand in some European countries, and the wedding ring is worn on the right hand (in the USA, the UK and some other countries around the world, the wedding ring is worn on the left hand).

The Worldwide Church of God, under its late human leader, Herbert W. Armstrong who died in 1986, carefully evaluated the question as to whether Christians can wear wedding rings, and it has concluded the following, as stated in a letter from the Letter Answering Department:

“Exodus 35 records that rings were included with the offering the Israelites gave for the building of the Tabernacle. There is not the slightest indication that God was displeased with their wearing rings.

“The Bible records that God was with Joseph when he was sold into slavery in Egypt. Joseph served God, and God caused him to find favor in the eyes of the Pharaoh. In Genesis 41:41-42, we find that Joseph accepted a ring from the Pharaoh. It is plain from the context that the ring was a symbol of the very high office which had been bestowed upon him. God was not displeased with this, and the next few chapters show that God continued to bless and guide Joseph.

“In principle, the ring given to Joseph served much the same purpose as that of a wedding ring. A wedding ring is merely a symbol of the marriage vows that have been made.

“One further example is the famous story of the prodigal son. Jesus used this parable to illustrate God the Father’s love toward a repentant sinner. The father, who pictured God, ordered a ring to be put on the son’s hand (Luke 15:22).

“All of the evidence is positive. The Bible nowhere criticizes the wearing of rings in general or wedding rings in particular.”

In addition, the hands of a bridegroom or husband are compared with gold rings set with beryl (Song 5:14, Authorized Version). We might also mention Esther 8:2, stating that “the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai; and Esther appointed Mordecai over the house of Haman.”

Another meaningful and conclusive passage, which should settle the question once and for all, can be found in Haggai 2:23: “‘In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ says the LORD, ‘and will make you as a signet ring; for I have chosen you,’ says the LORD of hosts.”

This passage clearly compares the signet ring with a wedding ring, as Zerubbabel had received the Holy Spirit and was already spiritually betrothed to Christ before he died, and when he is resurrected at the return of Christ, he will be spiritually married to Him—the time setting in the above-quoted passage is “in that day”—the time leading to and including Christ’s Second Coming (For the parallel between physical and spiritual betrothal and marriage, please read our free booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound…”).

Inasmuch as the Bible has to be our guide on whatever questions might arise, it is immaterial as to what superstitious meanings pagans and occultists may give to their use of wedding rings. Since the Bible clearly allows the wearing of wedding rings, pagan and occult interpretations are meaningless for us—as long as we do not wear wedding rings with a superstitious understanding of occult practices. Some quote 1 Corinthians 10:19-22 for their refusal to wear wedding rings, claiming that in doing so, we would come in contact with demons. This objection is ill founded. Apart from the fact that there is no credible evidence proving that wedding rings are the invention of occultists, the quoted passage speaks, in context, of worship services and warns against partaking in religious activities which might resemble Passover activities, but which are in fact derived from and directed towards honoring and worshipping demons. But Paul also makes very clear that for us, “an idol is nothing,” and that we can even eat clean meat which was sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8:4), as long as we don’t eat it IN HONOR OF idols (1 Corinthians 8:7).

Some have raised the issue that the wearing of rings or wedding rings—especially by women—allegedly violates biblical injunctions such as 1 Peter 3:3-6 and 1 Timothy 2:9-10. This assumption is wrong. First of all, let us note in general that James 2:2-4 speaks about a “man with gold rings, in fine apparel,” coming into our assembly or church services. James is not saying that the man should stop wearing gold rings or fine clothes; rather, his point is that the brethren should not show favoritism towards him and look down on those in the church who do not possess such fine things. In addition, we have seen that God approves of signet rings. You might also look at Ezekiel 28:13 to see how God adorned Lucifer when He created him.

In regard to women, the Bible does not prohibit them to wear jewelry or wedding rings. In Ezekiel 16:9-13, God describes figuratively how He adorned His Old Testament bride, Israel, by clothing her “in embroidered cloth” and “with fine linen” and “silk”; with “ornaments,” “bracelets on [her] wrists, and a chain on [her] neck”; with “a jewel in [her] nose, earrings in [her] ears, and a beautiful crown on [her] head”; and thus He “adorned [her] with gold and silver…” The passage in Isaiah 3:16-23 does not contradict this. It merely points out that in the end time God will take away all these fine things from Israel, including her bracelets, headdresses, rings and nose jewels, due to her sinful and haughty conduct.

The above-mentioned passages in 1 Peter 3:3-6 and 1 Timothy 2:9-10 do not prohibit women to wear jewelry or fine clothes or rings per se (otherwise, this would be in opposition to the passages mentioned herein), but as we also read in Isaiah 3:16-23, they warn against the overemphasis and misuse of the same for wrong purposes, in order to draw undue attention to themselves and their riches. Notice how the Amplified Bible translates 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Let not yours be the [merely] external adorning with [elaborate] interweaving and knotting of the hair, the wearing of jewelry, or changes of clothes; But let it be the inward adorning and beauty of the hidden person of the heart…”

Likewise, the Living Bible renders 1 Peter 3:3 as follows, by accurately conveying the intended meaning: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on jewelry, or beautiful clothes, or hair arrangement. Be beautiful inside, in your hearts, with the lasting charm of a gentle and quiet spirit which is so precious to God.”

At the same time, these passages do not say that women should dress inappropriately or sloppy, without adorning themselves in some way, when attending Sabbath services. The Sabbath is a holy feast day, and we are appearing in front of God on that day, who is our King. We would not appear before a worldly king with dirty clothes or in a sloppy and casual attire. When God appeared to Israel to give them the Ten Commandments, He insisted that the people were to “wash their clothes” (Exodus 19:10).

We stated the following in our Q&A on proper attendance in Sabbath services:

“We must understand that we are appearing before GOD. God is a great King. God is the Creator of everything that is good and costly and priceless. He is the Creator of beauty. He most certainly is the Creator of quality. He owns all the gold and silver, and it is He who made it all. If we were to be invited by an earthly king, how would we appear in front of him? Would you want to appear in unwashed, dirty clothing, wearing washed-out jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers?

“How much more should we appear before GOD, the KING over His creation, in proper clothes! The famous parable in Matthew 22:10-13 about the king’s wedding feast for his son contains a spiritual lesson, but it also describes a physical principle–that we dress appropriately for the occasion. It DID matter to the king—God the Father—how the guests were dressed for the wedding of His Son, Jesus Christ…

“When God gave instructions for the creation of ‘holy garments’ for the priests of Israel, He specifically wanted them made ‘for GLORY and for BEAUTY’ (Exodus 28:2). Regarding how both men and women dress when attending Church services, we find a meaningful example in the time when the children of Israel were commanded to wash their clothes in advance of appearing before God (Compare Exodus 19:10,14).”

In comparison, we must be aware of our awesome responsibility which we have today, when we appear before God and His heavenly throne and majestic surroundings in Sabbath services, compare Hebrews 12:18-24.

Continuing with quoting from our above-mentioned Q&A:

“Likewise, the priests were to wash themselves when appearing before God (Compare Exodus 30:19-20); and, they were to wear special clothing (Compare Exodus 28).”

Note that we are today a “holy” and a “royal priesthood,” as 1 Peter 2:5, 9 points out, also showing our duty to appear before God during Sabbath services with washed and special clothing.

We make the following observations in our Q&A:

“It has been the practice of the Church of God to recognize that we are appearing before God when we assemble for Sabbath services along with other special commanded assemblies as given by God [such as commanded worship services throughout the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, even though only the first day is a Holy Day]. As such, we do recommend that each person present himself or herself in the best apparel they have available. The foremost idea is to specially prepare to appear before God to honor HIM!”

To conclude, the wearing of wedding rings is most certainly not contrary to biblical injunctions. To believe otherwise would not be in accordance with the Word of God and the binding decision of the Church of God (compare Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18).

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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Preaching the Gospel and Feeding the Flock

Final agreement with the Hilton Garden Inn has been reached for observing the Feast of Tabernacles in Pismo Beach, California, for 2015! We will announce steps for making reservations, shortly–this will also be posted on our website. In addition, for both our US and Templin, Germany, locations, only very modest price changes have been added since last year.

A new AufPostenStehen clip has been produced by Johanna Link. This is presented in German by Mike Link.

“New Year’s Celebrations in Honor of Pagan Gods?,” is the title of a new StandingWatch program, presented by Evangelist Norbert Link. Here is a summary:

Pagans observed New Year’s on January 1 to honor their god Janus and the deified Julius Caesar. Christianity adopted the pagan celebrations in honor of Christ and “Saint Sylvester.” Many pagan rites and superstitions are clearly present in today’s observances. And January 1 has been reserved historically for persecutions of Jews and Sabbath-keeping Christians. So, should we keep New Year’s Day?

“666—Die Zahl des Tieres in der Offenbarung,” is the title of this week’s German sermon. In English, the title is: “666—The Number of the Beast in Revelation.”

A new SW Talking Points program based on our booklet, “The Gospel of the Kingdom of God,” has been presented by Pastor Rene Messier. Here is a summary:

God wants His church to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God in all the world as a witness. But what is the Kingdom of God? Why is it so important that we understand the truth in this matter? What is the Gospel? When you hear the word Gospel, what comes to mind? Do you think of the gospel of grace? Do you think about the four gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Do you think of the gospel about the person of Jesus Christ?

“The Joy of Sin,” the sermon given last Sabbath by Robb Harris, is now posted. Here is a summary:

“We are inundated with the concept that Christmas is the most joyful of all seasons. While many grasp to find some sort of joy, it is at most just a passing feeling. Real and lasting joy can only be understood and experienced while God is involved in our lives.”

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No Exit Doors!

by Aurora Agbayani

In one of our connecting flights on our way to the Feast of Tabernacles, my husband and I were assigned seats by the EXIT doors of the plane. Realizing this, I requested for him to be transferred to a more convenient one and I remained at my assigned seat. As the flight attendant finished with her pre-flight emergency announcements, she approached every passenger seated by the Exit doors and asked if they were willing to help in a time of emergency. Being one of them, I said yes without hesitation, even though I didn’t have a clue of how ready and willing I would be if the situation were to arise. She gave us a brief demonstration of what to do and how to give instructions and guide the rest of the passengers to safety. I just thought to myself, as long as I followed instructions, I’ll be fine.

This reminded me of what we as firstfruits will be doing when Christ establishes His Kingdom here on earth. Under His authority, we will help rebuild the earth as God has initially planned it to be. We will be instructing and guiding the people in following God’s Way of life. We will be ready and will be well equipped for the task.

Tracing back my journey from different churches, this made me realize how much I didn’t know about God’s Word before coming into the true Church of God; what will become of me in the future or even what God’s plan is for me. All I learned before was based on man’s teaching and understanding. I see all of that now as meaningless and just empty words. I can clearly understand now the difference of my way of life and how God really wants me to live. My wayward lifestyle is now being corrected and is following a path laid out by my Creator. I thank God for patiently leading and guiding me and opening my understanding to learn His Word and the true gospel of the Kingdom of God.

I know I still have a lot to learn and I should be careful to not be complacent or even take things for granted. It’s very encouraging whenever I am with the brethren as I continue to learn from them and see how much more I need to change in my life.

My task today is to get ready – I am being trained, taught and prepared for my future role. I am so thankful for having been called out of this world and to be a part of God’s Master plan. I am more inspired to not only be a hearer but most especially – a doer. I can accomplish this by using the tools I have today: prayer, Bible study, meditation and occasional fasting. God knows my heart and my desire to continue to learn with zeal and not to become weary whenever I fall/fail, for He is always there to help me get up and strive to be sure of my calling.

I know that when Christ returns, there will be no exit doors in the Kingdom, as people will be living peacefully, dwelling safely without walls or gates – a time I look forward to and be a part of, knowing that God wants to see me make it into His Kingdom.

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How This Work is Financed

This Update is an official publication by the ministry of the Church of the Eternal God in the United States of America; the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship in Canada; and the Global Church of God in the United Kingdom.

Editorial Team: Norbert Link, Dave Harris, Rene Messier, Brian Gale, Margaret Adair, Johanna Link, Eric Rank, Michael Link, Anna Link, Kalon Mitchell, Manuela Mitchell, Dawn Thompson

Technical Team: Eric Rank, Shana Rank

Our activities and literature, including booklets, weekly updates, sermons on CD, and video and audio broadcasts, are provided free of charge. They are made possible by the tithes, offerings and contributions of Church members and others who have elected to support this Work.

While we do not solicit the general public for funds, contributions are gratefully welcomed and are tax-deductible in the U.S. and Canada.

Donations should be sent to the following addresses:

United States: Church of the Eternal God, P.O. Box 270519, San Diego, CA 92198

Canada: Church of God, ACF, Box 1480, Summerland, B.C. V0H 1Z0

United Kingdom: Global Church of God, PO Box 44, MABLETHORPE, LN12 9AN, United Kingdom

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