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from Alistair Matheson:

Every Christian seems to know Matthew 11:28-29 – you know, the bit where Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weak and heavy laden … My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

But how many could tell you what He said immediately before it (- this one’s had me for weeks now)?:

“… No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

Jesus is still, by the Holy Spirit, revealing the Father to people.

But not just to anyone.

Only to His friends. Yes, only His friends. Ipse dixit (He said it Himself).

But first, what is a friend?

Your friend is the one you disclose things to. We can’t go around sharing our deepest, most tender thoughts with all and sundry. Depending on the thought, we may just be asking for a kicking!

We share our deepest secrets and closest treasures with our best friends. In fact, how deeply we’re willing to go with someone is probably a measure of how close a friend they are.

Jesus was – and is – willing to go all all the way … with His friends. And His friends are those who are willing to go all the way with Him.

This is how He put it:

“… I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (Jn.‬ ‭15:15‬)

“All things.”

Now that’s all the way! Sharing everything the Father had told Him. These night-time walks up the hills, the pre-dawn meetings with the Father – the most powerful and significant things ever heard by Jesus in the deepest, darkest places – all revealed to His friends. Every word of it. Nothing held back. Full disclosure of Heaven’s best.

But then, these were the ones who’d left everything to follow Him. His friends.

It’s impossible to read John chapters 14 and 15, and miss Jesus’ understanding of what constitutes a friend … basically, His friends are those who love him, and demonstrate this love by obeying what He commands. The most obvious ways His friends outwork their love for Him is by doing right and loving each other too, sacrificially – that’s the proof of their friendship.

When Jesus finds friends like that, He tells them everything. Leaves nothing hidden. No riddles wrapped up in enigmas et cetera. No hide and seek. Nothing to do with being mystical or hyper-spiritual; just loving and obeying. (As Jesus put it elsewhere in John, “If anyone is willing to do my will, he will know of the teaching.”)

Are you a friend of Jesus?

Or is He just someone who’s useful?

“If you love Me, you’ll obey My commandments.” And His commands, as John also wrote, “are not burdensome.” He doesn’t ask the impossible; just to show we love Him by doing all to please Him.

I know what some people are thinking, and I’ve thought much about it myself, so let me try and tie all this in with grace …

There is, of course, the general, unconditional love of God – a God who loves simply because love is what He is. Love as a demonstration of His kindness, grace and mercy; no reflection on our merit. Yes, I get it.

But this here is love on another level.

The love that Jesus has for His friends, that we read about in these verses from Matthew and John, is not unconditional. It is very much conditional, and not so many experience it (- even though it’s available to everyone) …

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. … He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him … If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (Jn. 14:15, 21, 23‬)

I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to quote some of these words again. In fact, I’m doubly sorry for ‘shouting’! …

“… HE WHO LOVES ME WILL BE LOVED BY MY FATHER, AND I WILL LOVE HIM AND WILL DISCLOSE MYSELF TO HIM …”

This is not unconditional love; this is reciprocal love. The special love Jesus – and the Father – has for those who love Him back.

How sad if all we ever experience is the unconditional love of God.

The soul that has truly been touched by the love of Jesus cannot but love Him back.

That’s when we start to become … His friends.

And when we’re His friends, there’s no limit to how far He’s willing to take us, to go with us.

[MY STOP’S COMING UP …!]

Let me end by marvelling once more at the words I meant to begin with …

“… I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

Wow.

Just wow.

Nothing kept secret, nothing Jesus is not willing to share with His friends.

from the Trinity Foundation:

(Photo: Former home of faith healer David Turner, from Realtor.com)

Donors, where is the money going?

When a televangelist’s ministry or pastor’s church owns a private jet, you can almost be certain the leader lives in a mansion. That is one of the lessons Trinity Foundation has learned from investigating religious fraud and excess for more than 30 years.

In April 2021 the Houston Chronicle’s Jay Root asked Trinity Foundation for assistance on an article series about church parsonages in Texas. Trinity Foundation compiled a list of megachurches and large media ministries in the state and then searched for parsonages and homes of pastors and ministry leaders.

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle examined the state tax code and filed open records requests with county appraisal districts seeking lists of parsonages.

Root’s thorough investigation uncovered startling evidence of pastors living extravagantly: “A months-long Houston Chronicle investigation of ministers’ tax-free residences found no shortage of extravagant homes in high-dollar locales. At least two dozen were worth over $1 million even using the artificially low values that exempt properties typically carry.”

If you are keeping track, that is at least 24 parsonages in Texas worth more than $1 million.

Trinity Foundation also investigated pastor and ministry housing in other states, discovering multi-million dollar homes of several televangelists and pastors who have received little media scrutiny. It’s time to present some of our findings.

Texas Church Parsonages and Pastor Owned Homes

Texas Televangelist Joel Osteen lives in the most expensive home we identified. Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, owns a home in Houston appraised for almost $12 million. Real estate website Trulia estimates the 15,700 ft. mansion to be worth more than $14 million.

(Photo: Google Satellite view of Joel Osteen’s Houston home)

In 2019, Trinity Foundation learned that Osteen purchased a home in California. After an extensive investigation, we located the home in 2021 with the help of an informant.

In 2017, Osteen acquired the home in Newport Coast, CA which Trulia estimates is worth almost $7.4 million. The home, located near the Pacific Ocean, is registered to a limited liability company registered in Delaware.

Neither of Osteen’s homes would be classified as parsonages because they are not owned by his church and are not tax-exempt. Osteen could afford them because he receives book royalties.

In 2009, World Magazine reported, “Osteen’s first book, 2005’s Your Best Life Now, has sold an estimated 10 million copies-enough to get a $13 million advance from his publisher for his second book, Become a Better You.”

Read the full article here.

Ukraine’s Deadly Gamble

That’s because siding with one great power against another often leads to catastrophe. No less an authority than the prophet Isaiah tells us so. He warned the Jews not to side with the pharaoh—a broken reed, he called Egypt, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it—in the dynasty’s conflict with the Babylonians. Isaiah was right: The Jews bet wrong and were dragged off into exile.”

from Tablet Mag:

Russian President Vladimir Putin chose this war, Joe Biden said in his Thursday afternoon speech to America regarding the conflict in Ukraine. That is true, but U.S. elites also had something to do with Putin’s ugly and destructive choice—a role that Democrats and Republicans are eager to paper over with noble-sounding rhetoric about the bravery of Ukraine’s badly outgunned military. Yes, the Ukrainian soldiers standing up to Putin are very brave, but it was Americans that put them in harm’s way by using their country as a weapon, first against Russia and then against each other, with little consideration for the Ukrainian people who are now paying the price for America’s folly.

It is not an expression of support for Putin’s grotesque actions to try to understand why it seemed worthwhile for him to risk hundreds of billions of dollars, the lives of thousands of servicemen, and the possible stability of his own regime in order to invade his neighbor. After all, Putin’s reputation until this moment has always been as a shrewd ex-KGB man who eschewed high-risk gambles in favor of sure things backed by the United States, like entering Syria and then escalating forces there. So why has he adopted exactly the opposite strategy here, and chosen the road of open high-risk confrontation with the American superpower?

Yes, Putin wants to prevent NATO from expanding to Russia’s border. But the larger answer is that he finds the U.S. government’s relationship with Ukraine genuinely threatening. That’s because for nearly two decades, the U.S. national security establishment under both Democratic and Republican administrations has used Ukraine as an instrument to destabilize Russia, and specifically to target Putin.

While the timing of Putin’s attack on Ukraine is no doubt connected to a variety of factors, including the Russian dictator’s read on U.S. domestic politics and the preferences of his own superpower sponsor in Beijing, the sense that Ukraine poses a meaningful threat to Russia is not a product of Putin’s paranoia—or of a sudden desire to restore the power and prestige of the Soviet Union, however much Putin might wish for that to happen. Rather, it is a geopolitical threat that has grown steadily more pressing and been employed with greater recklessness by Americans and Ukrainians alike over the past decade.

That Ukraine has allowed itself to be used as a pawn against a powerful neighbor is in part the fault of Kyiv’s reckless and corrupt political class. But Ukraine is not a superpower that owes allies and client-states judicious leadership—that’s the role of the United States. And in that role, the United States has failed Ukraine. More broadly, the use of Ukraine as a goad against enemies domestic and foreign has recklessly damaged the failing yet necessary European security architecture that America spent 75 years building and maintaining.

Why can’t the American security establishment shoulder responsibility for its role in the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine? Because to discuss American responsibility openly would mean exposing the national security establishment’s role in two separate, destructive coups: the first, in 2014, targeting the government of Ukraine, and the second, starting two years later, the government of the United States.

In the last year there have been two attempted “pro-democracy” inter-elite coups in pro-Kremlin states on Russian borders: Belarus and Kazakhstan. Both of those so-called “color revolutions” failed, but Ukraine represents a much more pressing concern, especially given the country’s push for NATO membership, which Biden officials like Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly encouraged last year with no intention or possibility of actually making it possible. Yet rather than compelling the United States to rethink the wisdom of planting the NATO flag on Russia’s border, Putin’s escalating rhetoric—and troop movements—only made the Biden team dig in deeper.

This is a game that Biden and key figures in his administration have been playing for a long time, beginning with the 2013-14 Obama administration-backed coup that toppled a Russia-friendly government in Kyiv. This was the so-called Maidan Revolution, a sequel of sorts to the George W. Bush-backed Orange Revolution of 2004-05. Much of that same Obama foreign policy team—Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, and others—is now back in the White House and State Department working in senior posts for a president who personally ran Obama’s Ukraine policy.

What did all these figures have in mind for Ukraine? The White House and U.S. foreign policy experts from both parties are united in claiming that Ukraine is a U.S. ally, a democracy, and a beacon of freedom, which are no doubt fine words to hear when you have been left to fight Vladimir Putin on your own. But to understand what Ukraine truly is, we must start where all geopolitics begins: by looking at a map.

Ukraine is situated between two greater powers, Russia and the European Union. That makes Ukraine a buffer state. Geopolitical logic dictates that buffer states cultivate and maintain cordial relations with the greater powers that surround them, unless they want to be swallowed up by one of those powers. That’s because siding with one great power against another often leads to catastrophe. No less an authority than the prophet Isaiah tells us so. He warned the Jews not to side with the pharaoh—a broken reed, he called Egypt, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it—in the dynasty’s conflict with the Babylonians. Isaiah was right: The Jews bet wrong and were dragged off into exile.

Today Israel is no longer a buffer state; rather, it’s a regional power. But geography didn’t change, which means that Israel is still a tiny country surrounded by larger entities, like Turkey and Iran.

So how did the Jewish state transcend buffer-state status? Because it acquired what is reportedly a large nuclear arsenal with air, land, and sea delivery capabilities—the vaunted nuclear triad—which render it immune to an enemy’s first strike, and ensures, for the time being anyway, that Israel is no longer a stomping ground for empires. Conversely, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in 1994 in exchange for U.S. security guarantees in the event its neighbors, Russia in particular, turned hostile.

What kind of strategy dictates that a state hand over its security vis-a-vis local actors to a country half the world away? No strategy at all. Ukraine was not able to transcend its natural geography as a buffer state—and worse, a buffer state that failed to take its own existence seriously, which meant that it would continue to make disastrously bad bets. In 2013, the European Union offered Kyiv a trade deal, which many misunderstood as a likely prelude to EU membership. Young Ukrainians very much want to join the EU, because they want access to Europe so they can flee Ukraine, which remains one of the poorest countries on the continent.

The trade deal was an ill-conceived EU project to take a shot at Putin with what seemed like little risk. The idea was to flood the Ukrainian market, and therefore also the Russian market, with European goods, which would have harmed the Russian economy—leading, the architects of this plan imagined, to popular discontent that would force Putin himself from office. Putin understandably saw this stratagem as a threat to his country’s stability and his personal safety, so he gave Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych an ultimatum: either reject the deal and accept Moscow’s $15 billion aid package in its place, or else suffer crippling economic measures.

When Yanukovych duly reneged on the EU deal, the Obama administration helped organize street demonstrations for what became history’s most tech-savvy and PR-driven regime change operation, marketed to the global public variously as Maidan, EuroMaidan, the Revolution of Dignity, etc. In February 2014, the protests forced Yanukovych into exile in Moscow. Consequently, Nuland and other Obama administration officials worked to assemble a new Ukrainian government friendly to the United States and therefore hostile to Russia.

In late February, the Russians responded to the American soft coup in Ukraine by invading Crimea and eventually annexing it and creating chaos in Eastern Ukraine. The Obama administration declined to arm the Ukrainian government. It was right to avoid conflict with Moscow, though by leaving Kyiv defenseless, it showed that the White House had never fully gamed out all the possible scenarios that might ensue from setting a client state on course for conflict with a great power. Instead, Obama and the Europeans highlighted their deadly miscalculation by imposing sanctions on Moscow for taking advantage of the conditions that Obama and the Europeans had created.

The White House seems to have taken a perverse pride in the death and destruction it helped incite in Eastern Europe. In April 2014, CIA Director John Brennan visited Kyiv, appearing to confirm the agency’s role in the coup. Shortly after came Vice President Biden, who took his own victory lap and counseled the Ukrainians to root out corruption. Naturally, a prominent Ukrainian energy company called Burisma, which was then under investigation for corruption, hired Biden’s son Hunter for protection.

By tying itself to an American administration that had shown itself to be reckless and dangerous, the Ukrainians made a geopolitical blunder that statesmen will study for years to come: A buffer state had staked its future on a distant power that had simply seen it as an instrument to annoy its powerful neighbor with no attachment to any larger strategic concept that it was willing to support. Russia then lopped off half of the Donbas region on its border and subjected Ukraine to a grinding, eight-year-long war, intended in large part to underline Russian capacity and Ukrainian and American impotence.

Ukraine then made a bad situation even worse. When the same people who had left them prey to Putin asked them to take sides in an American domestic political conflict, the Ukrainians enthusiastically signed on—instead of running hard in the opposite direction.

In 2016, the Hillary Clinton campaign came calling on Ukrainian officials and activists to lend some Slavic authenticity to its Russia collusion narrative targeting Donald Trump. Indeed, Russiagate’s central storyline was about Ukraine. Yes, Trump had supposedly been compromised by a sex tape filmed in Moscow, but Putin’s ostensible reason for helping Trump win the presidency was to get him to drop Ukraine-related sanctions. Here was another chance for Ukraine to stick it to Putin, and gain favor with what it imagined would be the winning party in the American election.

With the CIA’s Brennan and a host of senior FBI and DOJ officials pushing Russiagate into the press—and running an illegal espionage campaign against the Trump team—Ukrainian political figures gladly joined in. Key participants included Kyiv’s ambassador to Washington, who wrote a Trump-Russia piece for the U.S. press, and a member of the Ukrainian parliament who allegedly contributed to the dossier. The collusion narrative was also augmented by Ukrainian American operatives, like Alexandra Chalupa, who was tied into the Democratic Party’s NGO complex. The idea that this game might have consequences for Ukraine’s relations with its more powerful neighbor doesn’t seem to have entered the heads of either the feckless Ukrainians or the American political operatives who cynically used them.

Of course, Ukraine was hardly the only American client state to involve itself in domestic political gamesmanship. By appearing before the U.S. Congress to argue against Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took sides with Republicans against a sitting American president—which seems like an even bigger potential faux pas.

The differences between the two situations are even more revealing, though. The Iran deal touched on a core Israeli national interest. As a U.S. ally, Israel was challenging the wisdom of handing nuclear weapons to its own (and America’s) leading regional competitor and rival. By contrast, Ukraine had no existential or geopolitical reason to participate in the anti-Trump operation, which allowed it at best to curry favor with one side of the D.C. establishment while angering what turned out to be the winning party. Russiagate was the kind of vanity project that a buffer state with a plunging GDP and an army equipped with 40-year-old ex-Soviet weapons in a notoriously risky area of the world can ill afford—especially one that lacked a nuclear arsenal.

And that was only the beginning. Just as Russiagate seemed to be coming to a close in July 2019, U.S. national security officials injected yet another Ukraine-related narrative into the public sphere to target the American president. This one appears to have been initiated by Ukrainian American White House official Alexander Vindman and his colleague Eric Ciaramella, a CIA analyst who had served as Vice President Biden’s point man on Ukraine during the Obama administration. When Vindman told Ciaramella about a phone call in which Trump had asked the Ukrainian president for information regarding allegations about the Biden family’s corrupt activities in Kyiv, they called on help from U.S. intelligence services, the State Department, the Pentagon, Democratic Party officials, and the press. Quick, scramble Team UkraineTrump is asking questions!

In order to cover up for what the Bidens and perhaps other senior Obama officials had done in Ukraine, a Democratic Congress impeached Trump for trying to figure out what American policymakers had been doing in Ukraine over the past decade. As for the Ukrainians, they again put themselves in the middle of it, when they should have stayed home.

The end result was that the Ukrainians had helped weaken an American president who, unlike Obama, gave them arms to defend themselves against the Russians. More seriously, they reinforced Putin’s view that, especially in partnership with the Democrats, Ukraine did not understand its true place in the world as a buffer state—and would continue to allow themselves to be used as an instrument by policymakers whose combination of narcissism and fecklessness made them particularly prone to dangerous miscalculations. The 2020 election victory of Joe Biden, a man whose family had been paid by the Ukrainians to protect them, can have done little to quiet Putin’s sense that Ukraine needed to be put in its place before it was used yet again as a weapon against him.

From the perspective of the U.S. national security establishment, Biden’s victory over Trump signaled that its actions in Ukraine would stay hidden. So long as the media continued to bark that the 45th president of the United States is Putin’s stooge, no one would be held accountable for anything. Except, as it turns out, D.C. political operatives aren’t the only people who can make history. Putin can, too. And the people of Ukraine will come out much the worse for both of their efforts.

from Frontpage:

The year 2021 “saw the worst persecution of Christians in history”—with an average of 16 Christians butchered for their faith every single day.

This is according to the World Watch List-2022 (WWL), which was recently published by the international humanitarian organization, Open Doors.  The report ranks the top 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith. Annually published and released at the beginning of each year, the WWL uses data from field workers and external experts to quantify and analyze persecution worldwide.

According to the WWL-2022 (covering from Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2021), “over 360 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith—a rise of 20 million from last year. The number represents one in seven Christians worldwide. This year records the highest levels of persecution since the first list was published 29 years ago…”

For this same reporting period, 5,898 Christians were murdered “for their faith,” a number representing a 24% increase from 2021 (when only 4,761 Christians were killed).  Additionally, “6,175 believers [were] detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned,” and 3,829 Christians were abducted.

Perhaps even more reflective of the hate for Christianity, 5,110 churches and other inanimate Christian buildings (schools, monasteries, etc.), were attacked and profaned.

Crunching these numbers into daily averages, the above statistics mean that every single day around the world, more than 16 Christians were murdered for their faith; 27 were either illegally arrested and imprisoned by non-Christian authorities, or abducted by non-Christian actors; and 14 churches were destroyed or desecrated.

For the first time since these WWL reports were published, Afghanistan, which for years was usually ranked the #2 worst nation (following North Korea) shot up to the #1 spot, meaning “Afghanistan is now the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian.”  Additionally, according to the report:

  • Christian men are facing almost certain death if their faith is discovered.
  • Women and girls may escape death but may be married to young Taliban fighters who want “spoils of war.” When women and girls are raped, they will be trafficked.
  • The incoming Taliban government gained access to recordings and reports that helped to identify Christians who were often detained, in order to identify networks of Christians, before being killed.
  • Taliban fighters are actively tracking down Christians from existing intelligence, even going door-to-door to find them.

Ten other nations, following Afghanistan, received the same “extreme persecution” designation, meaning they are only marginally safer for Christians.  They are: North Korea (#2), Somalia (#3), Libya (#4), Yemen (#5), Eritrea (#6), Nigeria (#7), Pakistan (#8), Iran (#9), India (#10), and Saudi Arabia (#11).  In these countries, Christians face persecution ranging from being harassed, beat, raped, imprisoned, or slaughtered merely for being identified as Christian or attending church.

Notably, the “extreme persecution” meted out to Christians in nine of these top 11 worst nations either comes from Islamic oppression or is occurring in Muslim majority nations.  That means 82% of the absolute worst persecution is taking place in the name of Islam.

This trend affects the entire list:  the persecution Christians experience in 39 of the 50 nations on the list is also either from Islamic oppression or is occurring in Muslim majority nations. The overwhelming majority of these nations are governed by some form of shari’a (Islamic law). It is either directly enforced by government or society or, more frequently, both, although societies—family members outraged by convert relatives in particular—tend to be more zealous in its application.

In a section titled, “Emboldened: The ‘Talibanization of West Africa and beyond,” the report suggests that this trend is only worsening:

[T]he fall of Kabul has fuelled [sic] a new mood of invulnerability among other jihadist groups worldwide. The groups believe that they won’t face serious opposition from the West for their expansionist agendas and are exploiting nations with weak or corrupt governments. …..Sub-Saharan Africa, already the place where violence against Christians is highest, has faced further steep rises in jihadist violence, with fears that a significant part of the region faces destabilization….

In another section, the report elaborates:

In Nigeria and Cameroon, Boko Haram continues to wreak havoc, the Islamic State group is active in West Africa and Mozambique, and al Shabab controls large portions of Somalia. It seems like nothing can be done to stop the advance of Islamic extremism.

We know what radical Islamic ideology looks like for believers because we’ve seen it in Iraq and Syria. When ISIS took over parts of the Middle East, Christians were executed, abducted, sexually assaulted and hunted. Where groups like Boko Haram and al Shabab are active, similar threats are inevitable. When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, they tried to appear moderate—but there’s no sign that Christianity will be anything other than a death sentence.

Although Islam continues to have the lions’ share of persecution, religious nationalism in non-Muslim nations is also causing them to rise in the ranks.   In Myanmar (#12),

Converts to Christianity … find themselves persecuted by their Buddhist, Muslim or tribal families and communities because they have left their former faith and have thereby removed themselves from community life. Communities who aim to stay ‘Buddhist only’ make life for Christian families impossible by not allowing them to use neighborhood water resources.

Rising Hindu nationalism has catapulted India into #10, among the “extreme persecuting” nations:

The persecution of Christians in India has intensified, as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence. The extremists disregard Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians, and think the country should be purified of non-Hindus. This has led to a systemic—and often violent—targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred. The COVID-19 pandemic has offered a new weapon to persecutors. In some areas, Christians have been deliberately overlooked in the local distribution of government aid and have even been accused of spreading the virus.

Several other nations have, one way or another, exploited COVID-19 to discriminate against or persecute Christians.  For example, “COVID-19 gave Chinese authorities (#17) a reason to shut down many churches—and keep them shut.”

Similarly, in Qatar, “Violence against Christians rose sharply because many churches were forced to stay closed after COVID-19 restrictions.”  Moreover, Qatar—“host for this year’s World Cup, where converts from Islam especially face physical, psychological and (for women) sexual violence”—jumped 11 spots (now #18 from #29 last year).

In Bangladesh (#29), local authorities told Muslim converts to Christianity who, like their Muslim counterparts, sought governmental aid “to return to Islam or receive nothing.”  As one Bangladeshi explained, “We see many villagers and neighbors receive relief aid from government support but we Christians do not get any support.”

In the Central African Republic (#31), which was “hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic … Christians were denied government aid and told to convert to Islam if they wanted to eat.”

Another notable trend concerns the growing number of internally or externally displaced people—84 million: “a significant number [of whom] are Christians fleeing religious persecution.” Those Christians that end up as refugees in neighboring Muslim nations “can be denied humanitarian and other practical assistance by authorities.”  Additionally,

Christian women fleeing their homes and seeking safety report sexual assault to be the leading source of persecution, with multiple reports of women and children subjected to rape, sexual slavery, and more, both in camps and while they journey in search of safety. Poverty and insecurity compound their vulnerability, with some drawn into prostitution to survive. As jihadism spreads and destabilizes nations, we can expect this Christian exodus to multiply further.

Although the report is limited to the 50 worst persecuting nations, it appears that persecution in general is growing over all around the world.  For example, although North Korea is now ranked #2, as a reflection of how bad matters have gotten over all, the report explains that “The persecution score for North Korea actually went up [compared to last year], even though its ranking went down.”

Similarly, hate crimes against Christianity in Western Europe are at an all-time high.  According to a Nov. 16, 2021 report  by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, at least a quarter, though arguably much more, of all hate crimes registered in Europe in 2020 were anti-Christian—representing a 70% increase in comparison to 2019.  Christianity is, furthermore, the religion most targeted in hate crimes, with Judaism at a close second.

Although media outlets rarely identify those behind these anti-Christian hate crimes, many of which revolve around church vandalism, it is telling that the European nations suffering the most also happen to have Europe’s largest Muslim populations—namely, Germany (where anti-Christian hate crimes have more than doubled since 2019) and France (where two churches are reportedly attacked every single day, some, as in the Muslim world, with human feces).

Even so, and as a reflection of how bad matters have gotten elsewhere around the globe, no Western European nation made the top 50 list.

In the end, perhaps the most disturbing trend is that the number of persecuted Christians continues to grow annually. As seen, according to the newest statistics, 360 million Christians around the world are experiencing “high levels of persecution and discrimination.”  This represents a 6% increase from 2021, when 340 million Christians experienced the same level of persecution; and that number represented a 31 % increase from 2020, when 260 million Christians experienced the same level of persecution; and that number represented a 6% increase from 2019, when 245 million experienced the same level of persecution; and that number represented a 14% increase from 2018, when 215 million was the number.

In short, the persecution of Christians, which was already horrific, has increased by nearly 70% over the last five years, with no signs of abating.

How long before this seemingly irreversible trend metastasizes into those nations currently celebrated for their religious freedom?

from Breitbart:

Government officials ordered the demolition on Tuesday of a 20-foot tall Jesus statue in Gokunte — a Christian village in southern India’s majority Hindu Karnataka state — resulting in the giant sculpture allegedly “smashed to pieces” by the laborers tasked with the teardown, the British Asian Christian Association (BACA) reported on Friday.

The incident took place on the morning of February 15 after a local district administration official arrived in Gokunte along with a demolition team and roughly 40 police officers to pull down the Christian statue. Eyewitness video footage of the teardown published by BACA on Friday shows a laborer operating a backhoe to slowly pick away at the statue’s large concrete and metal base. Other videos show ropes tied to the Jesus figure before machines off-camera pull the structure to the ground.

“Locals object to the government’s decision to demolish [the] Jesus statue in Gokunte village on Tuesday,” Karnataka’s News9 digital platform reported.

A local government official told News9 on February 15 “she acted as per the orders of the Karnataka High Court” when approving the Jesus statue’s teardown.

“We demolished the statue based on the High Court order. After seven to eight hearings, the High Court had ordered the demolition of the statue as it was constructed on government land,” the official said.

“We had issued a notice to the church regarding the demolition. We had to submit the compliance report to the High Court on Wednesday [February 16] and hence it was demolished,” she continued.

The official further told News9 the Karnataka High Court “had issued the order for demolition in March last year.”

The Archbishop of Bangalore Peter Machado issued a press release this week denying local government officials had the proper authority to destroy Gokunte’s Jesus statue.

“He alleges the district administration had no right to demolish the statue, because the 2 acre land on which it was erected is belonged to a local church [sic],” BACA relayed on Friday. “He has also stated that paperwork confirming ownership is with the church.”

“The Catholic Church in India is incensed that the demolition took place despite a court stay order in place, from a trial court, denying authority for the action taken,” BACA reported. “The next hearing for the case was too be 16th February and it seems intentional that the District authorities smashed the statue before the court could give its verdict [sic].”

Gokunte is a small village of about 600 residents. The community “is mainly comprised of Christians who observe the Roman-Catholic faith. It is believed only 4 families adhere to the Hindu faith in the locality,” according to BACA.

Gokunte is located in Karnataka state which, along with the rest of India, is majority Hindu. India’s latest available census data from 2011 found 84 percent of Karnataka’s population at the time (61.1 million) identified as Hindu, while just 1.87 percent of the state’s populace identified as Christian. Approximately 80 percent of India’s population in 2011 (1.2 billion) identified as Hindu, while 2.3 percent said they were Christian.

“I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech. I hold on to the view that my expressions are legal and they should not be censored. I will not back down from my views. I will not be intimidated into hiding my faith. The more Christians keep silent on controversial themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech gets.”

from Jonathan Turley:

Finland may be viewed as “the happiest place to live” but not if you value free speech. A major free speech case is brewing in the country after Member of Parliament (and former Interior Minister) Päivi Räsänen was criminally charged after tweeting a quotation from the Bible in opposition to her church’s sponsorship of an LGBT pride event. Räsänen, 61, is reportedly facing up to two years in prison for exercising her rights of free speech and freedom of religion.

On June 17, 2019, Räsänen asked in a Twitter post how the sponsorship was compatible with the Bible, linking to a photograph of a biblical passage, Romans 1:24-27, on Instagram. She also posted the text and image on Facebook. However, she also insisted that “The purpose [of] my tweet was in no way to insult sexual minorities. My criticism was aimed at the leadership of the church.”

The Prosecutor General charged Räsänen with incitement against a minority group, arguing that her statements were “likely to cause intolerance, contempt, and hatred towards homosexuals.”

Räsänen has stood firm on her free speech rights “I cannot accept that voicing my religious beliefs could mean imprisonment. I do not consider myself guilty of threatening, slandering, or insulting anyone. My statements were all based on the Bible’s teachings on marriage and sexuality.”

She added:

“I will defend my right to confess my faith, so that no one else would be deprived of their right to freedom of religion and speech. I hold on to the view that my expressions are legal and they should not be censored. I will not back down from my views. I will not be intimidated into hiding my faith. The more Christians keep silent on controversial themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech gets.”

We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. I wrote earlier about the prosecution of famous actress Brigitte Bardot for saying in 2006 that Muslims were ruining France in a letter to then-Interior Minister (and later President) Nicolas Sarkozy. Bardot, an animal rights activist, has been repeatedly hit with such criminal complaints for criticizing different groups. Now she was later fined for calling the the inhabitants of La Reunion “savages” for their continued sacrificing of animals in religious rituals.

These cases include ministers and others who have been prosecuted for calling homosexuality a sin.

The Finland case is an attack on core free speech rights. I happen to disagree with her views on homosexuality but that is immaterial. Many of us in the free speech community view this as a human right to be able to express one’s values and beliefs without threat of arrest. In the name of equity, Finland is sacrificing liberty. In the name of tolerance, Finland is declaring intolerance for opposing views. No such tradeoff is necessary. Political opponents can respond to what they view as bad speech with better speech. In the free expression of ideas, people can reach their own conclusions and better viewpoints can prevail. Instead, in cases like the one involving Räsänen, critics are seeking to silence those with opposing viewpoints.  It is a new orthodoxy imposed on dissenting views — the same state-supported intolerance that once led to the censuring of gay activists and advocates for LGBT rights.

One can certainly disagree with Räsänen. I can certainly see how many would find her tweets offensive. However, we all must maintain a common covenant of faith in the right of everyone to be able to express their political and religious views without threat of punishment.

from Capstone Report:

The video begins, “This is Rick Warren author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church. I’m here at Davos with a lot of my friends and we’re talking about what are the biggest problems on the planet and how are we going to solve them. Right now, I think there are five that I call global giants: extreme poverty, pandemic diseases, illiteracy, corruption and the spiritual emptiness.”

Pandemic? How convenient.

Let’s get back to what Warren says while at the World Economic Forum. Warren highlights the globalist talking points—namely, the nation-state is incapable of solving today’s problems.

Warren continues, “These problems are so big nobody’s been able to solve them. The US hasn’t solved them, the UN hasn’t solved them, nobody’s solved them. And I think it’s because it’s going to take a three-pronged strategy to do this. There is a role for the public sector, there is a role for the private sector and there is a role for the faith sector.”

This is an interesting call for partnership between government, business, and the church. It is certainly the path used during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Of course, we all know the public-private partnership between government, Big Pharma, and Big Tech during the pandemic. What many did not know about was the government’s use of the church to promote Covid-19 propaganda, as Megan Basham of the Daily Wire reported.

The entire report is important; however, it is this deserves special attention: “During Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren’s special broadcast with Collins on behalf of Health and Human Services, he mentioned that he and Collins first met when both were speakers for the billionaires and heads of state who gather annually in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. They reconnected recently, Warren revealed, at an ‘off-the-record’ meeting between Collins and ‘key faith leaders.’ Warren did not say, but one can make an educated guess as to who convened that meeting and for what purpose, given the striking similarity of Collins’ appearances alongside all these leading Christian lights.

Apparently, Warren attended the World Economic Forum at least during 2007 and 2008. Also, attending the WEF in 2008 was Brian McLaren.

Back to the Warren video. It reveals why the World Economic Forum, governments, and Big Business might be interested in the church—distribution.

Warren says, “There is a role for the public sector, there is a role for the private sector and there is a role for the faith sector. Each of them can do something that none of the other three can do. Government has a role to set agenda, government has a role to set priorities and things like that and move nations. And there are some things that only governments can do. Businesses have a role which they have: they bring expertise, they bring investments, they bring all kinds of innovations to the market. But then, also, houses of worship have things that businesses and government will never have. In the first place, we have universal distribution. The church was global 200 years before Davos started talking about globalization.”

Warren continues explaining the appeal of using faith groups—local authority.

Rick Warren says on the WEF video, “You see there are 600 million Buddhists in the world, there are 800 million Hindus in the world, there are a billion Muslims in the world, but there are 2.3 billion Christians in the world. If you take people of faith out of the equation, you’ve ruled out five-sixths of the world. So, we have to mobilize this, these faith groups to do, work together on these issues that have been unsolvable. And the church has of course the greatest distribution. They also have the biggest manpower with 2.3 billion people. That means the church, the Christian church is bigger than China. It’s bigger than India. In fact, it’s bigger than India and China put together. So, nothing compares to its size. We have hundreds of millions of people who volunteer around the world in villages and cities on a weekly basis. And we don’t have to pay them. The third thing that they have is that they have local credibility. At the local level people trust that priest or that pastor or for that matter any mom or a rabbi; the religious leader of their faith because he’s marrying, he is burying, he is helping them through the stages of life. When the crisis comes NGO’s come and go, nations come and go, but for instance the church has a 2000-year track record.”

This prompts a few questions.

What are governments and the WEF going to do with all those volunteers?

What are churches going to use their 2,000-year track record of earned authority to distribute?

The Daily Wire report explains it nicely: propaganda.

Another question, Warren says he was “at Davos with a lot of my friends.” What friends? How many other Evangelical leaders attended WEF events over the last 10-15 years? And, what did these Evangelical Elites say?

This article quotes the following scripture and massively misrepresents what the passage truly means. It does not mean that a Christian should obey WHATEVER law the governing authorities enact. What if a government enacted a law that everyone had to publicly acknowledge and worship the President as God? Are Christians to obey that? No!:

 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-3).

Besides the above glaring error, the article makes some very good points: Christians of today are almost indistinguishable from the secular society around them, and those who can be marginally distinguished from secular society have never been taught that they may be persecuted for their faith, that in this life they may face hardship because of their faith and adherence to how Jesus says we should live! They have been fed on a false diet of: “Your Best life Now” or basically how to enjoy the candy coated material life around you, to achieve the greatest wealth that you can!

from PJ Media:

For two years, Americans have been partially or entirely deprived of fundamental freedoms — of assembly, speech, religious liberty, making a living, a child’s right to an education, access to early treatment for a potentially deadly virus, and more — for the first time in American history. That half of America, especially its elites, has either made peace with or supported these deprivations of freedom is why many of us worry about America’s future as a free society.

Even more concerning have been the reactions of America’s great religions — specifically, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons (Latter-day Saints) and Jews. The government issued irrational (as well as anti-religious and unethical) edicts and nearly every church and synagogue obeyed.

These churches and synagogues closed their schools to in-classroom instruction despite the fact that COVID-19 presented virtually no threat to young people. Exponentially more children have been hurt by closing religious and secular schools and, later, by making children wear masks — even outdoors — than by COVID-19. This has been made clear not only by relevant data in America but by Sweden, which never closed its schools for children under 16 — and not a single student or teacher died from COVID-19.

As Swedish physicians wrote in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2021: “Despite Sweden’s having kept schools and preschools open, we found a low incidence of severe Covid-19 among schoolchildren and children of preschool age during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Among the 1.95 million children who were 1 to 16 years of age, 15 children had Covid-19, MIS-C, or both conditions and were admitted to an ICU, which is equal to 1 child in 130,000… No child with Covid-19 died.”

Recently, some churches and synagogues told their congregants that children as young as 5 had to be vaccinated in order to attend services. It is immoral to give young children a COVID-19 vaccine for which we have no long-term safety data, and especially when children are not at risk from the virus. Yet most churches and synagogues, pastors, priests and rabbis have insisted on it.

Given the sheeplike behavior of so many of America’s religious leaders and institutions, the question is: Why?

There are both similar and different answers for each religion. The similar reasons are that most religious institutions and leaders have become largely indistinguishable from their secular counterparts. With the exception of attending church or synagogue, most Christians and Jews think and act like most secular Americans.

Regarding COVID-19, most religious leaders have been as scared as most secular leaders. And regarding fear, the only major difference between Americans has not been between religious and secular, but between Right and Left. Conservative clergy have been less scared than liberal clergy, just as conservative nonreligious Americans have been less scared than liberal nonreligious Americans. Which, of course, prompts the question: Does religion make people wiser, better and more courageous? Or has religion largely become something that serves only to make adherents feel good?

With regard to Christians, there is the issue of the New Testament admonition to obey secular authority. To cite the most famous example: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-3).

Mormons have an additional issue. They are not only expected to obey the Bible, but LDS leaders as well. The head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the First Presidency, which consists of three men who are regarded as prophets — God speaks through them. Faithful Mormons, therefore, regard some First Presidency pronouncements as the word of God.

On Aug. 12, 2021, the First Presidency (whose president is, not surprisingly, a physician) released a statement saying, “We urge individuals to be vaccinated,” and “we can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders.”

As Mormons are generally the most socially and politically conservative of America’s religious groups, many of them have not regarded the “recommendations of medical experts and government leaders” as “wise and thoughtful.” Just as most non-Mormon conservatives do, most Mormon conservatives regard most of our medical experts and government leaders as non-thoughtful, non-wise and too often corrupt.

So, what are these Mormons to do?

A Brigham Young University publication, the Daily Universe, quoted a Mormon woman named Hannah Colby: “I am kind of like at odds with the First Presidency, but I know President Nelson is a prophet of God,” she said.

The paper did not reveal how Colby resolved that tension.

Christians need to grapple with the New Testament admonitions to obey secular authorities. That’s what the great majority of German Christian pastors and churches did in the 1930s. In light of Romans 13, were they right or wrong? If the irrational and freedom-destroying mandates of the secular authorities in America (and the rest of the West) force serious Christians to confront the question of whether a Christian must always obey the government, that will be one of the few good things to come out of the COVID-19 era.

And what has animated most Jews — and nearly all non-Orthodox (and more than a few modern Orthodox) synagogues — to obey irrational and immoral rules of secular authorities?

One obvious answer is that most non-Orthodox Jews are on the Left. And the Left lives in fear (of COVID-19, of global warming, of secondhand smoke, of diving boards, and much else) and is prepared to subvert any freedom to assuage their fears. In any event, freedom is not a left-wing value; it is a liberal value. But most liberals, Jewish and non-Jewish, support the Left.

There are two other, less obvious, reasons for the unquestioning obedience of most synagogues and other Jewish institutions. One is that Jews tend to idolize doctors and the other is that Jews tend to unquestioningly obey “experts.” “Experts say” is to most non-Orthodox Jews what “Thus says the Lord” is to most Orthodox Jews. Of course, non-questioning obedience to “experts” also characterizes many non-Jews; in fact, it characterizes most well-educated people. But Jews happen to be the most well-educated ethnic/religious group in America.

All this notwithstanding, the fact is that a disproportionate percentage of those who defied irrational and unconstitutional governmental mandates have been religious Americans. The tragedy of American religious life is that religious people who lack courage are concentrated in leadership positions.

In September 2021, for the 15th consecutive year (except for 2020), I led Jewish High Holiday Services for about 400 people — no masks required, and no vaccination necessary. Other synagogues could have done the same thing — but nearly all rabbis and synagogue boards were too scared and too obedient to do so. And of course, the same holds true for most churches, whether Catholic, Protestant or Mormon. Too scared. And too obedient to irrational dictates.

They will pay a price as people will gradually come to understand how weak their religious leaders were. And they will pay another price: by keeping their churches and synagogues closed for so long (for no good reason), many of their congregants may just not return. If my clergy didn’t think it was important that I attend for nearly two years, maybe it just isn’t that important.

from Reformation Charlotte:

Today’s worship landscape has been overtaken by modern, contemporary music as the hymns of the old days that contained good theology have been largely abandoned. In this article, I want to compare the psychology of the lyrics of two popular worship songs; one hymn without repetitive lyrics and one contemporary single with them.

Now, you might be wondering why I’m concerned with psychology. Shouldn’t we only be concerned with what the Scriptures have to say about worship? The answer to that is a resounding “yes,” however, a cursory look at the psychology will explain why charismatics–who don’t actually adhere to biblical principles in worship–are attached to shallow, repetitive music in the way that they are.

In a 2014 study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, it was demonstrated that repetitive lyrics in music were a key indicator in how likely a song would reach the top spots on the Billboard list. In other words, the more repetitive the lyrics, the more people became psychologically attached to a song. The study noted that these repetitive portions of music, also known as the chorus, have historically been “used as a ‘hook’ to catch the ear of the listener and is repeated regularly throughout a song.” The effect of this, the study notes, is known as “repetitive priming” which results in a more pleasant experience among the listener.

Now, let’s take a look at two popular songs. The first one is a hymn released by Stuart Townend, How Deep the Father’s Love For Us. The lyrics contain three main parts with no repetitive lyrics, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll only print the last section.

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Even though this hymn is newer, it is nearly indistinguishable from the hymns written throughout history by the Reformers, the Puritans, etc. in it’s theological richness. The accompanying music is subtle and the focus of this song is on the actual words. It is not overrun with psychological tricks to garner an emotional response; the solid and rich theology in this music alone is enough to do that for a true believer.

Now, let’s look at another highly popular song that’s making its waves throughout Evangelical churches around the world. This song was written and produced by a “worship artist” named Charity Gayle. The name of this song is New Name Written Down in Glory. For this song, I’ll post more of the lyrics, roughly half, as you should get the point. The other half is nearly identical. As you can see below, the song is repetitive and shallow.

There is a new name written down in glory
And it’s mine, yes, it’s mine (I’ve met Jesus)
I’ve met the Author of my story
And He’s mine, yes, He’s mine (There is a new name)
There is a new name written down in glory
And it’s mine, yes, it’s mine (Hallelujah)
I’ve met the author of my story
And He’s mine, yes, He’s mine (Yes, He’s mine)Yeah, sing it,

I am who I am because the I Am tells me who I am
I am who I am because the I Am tells me, come on
I am who I am because the I Am tells me who I am
I am who I am because the I Am tells me who I am
I am who I am because the I Am tells me who I am
I am who I am because the I Am tells me who I am
I am who I am because the I Am tells me who I am
I am who I am because the I Am tells me who I am

There is a new name written down in glory (Sing it out, hallelujah)
And it’s mine, yes, it’s mine (Oh, He’s mine. Yes, He’s mine)
I’ve met the Author of my story (Oh, His name is Jesus)
And He’s mine, yes, He’s mine (He’s mine, whoa, He’s mine)

There is a new name written down in glory
And it’s mine, yes, it’s mine
I’ve met the Author of my story
And He’s mine, yes, He’s mine (Yes, He’s mine. And He’s mine)
And He’s mine, yes, He’s mine (Yes, He’s mine. And He’s mine)
And He’s mine, yes, He’s mine (Yes, He’s mine)

Below is the video of Gayle and her band performing this song. As you can see in the video, the music and the production itself is the focus of the song and the repetitive lyrics–as concluded in the psychology study cited above–serve one purpose: to create pleasure. That pleasure is evident in the reaction of the audience and the band.

So, the questions that must then be asked: Is this an acceptable form of worship? Is God okay with this? Is this even worship at all?

Clearly, this is a form of worship; it appears to be an emotional form of self-idolatry. As noted in the lyrics, the song isn’t even about God, it’s about me. Count how many times the words “I,” “my,” “mine,” “me,” etc. have been used just in the lyrics above. Yet, just do a YouTube search for churches performing this song and see the reactions. These people believe they are worshiping God but this song isn’t even about God. Let’s just be real, this song wasn’t designed to cause one to worship the one true God revealed in Scripture. This song was designed to sell.

In another study conducted by the NIH (yes, I know, the NIH is run by awful people), various repetitive chanting practices were studied among various religious groups including Roman Catholics and Buddhists. The study demonstrated that:

Verbal repetitions of a sequence of a particular tune or the vibration of sound may be utilized as contemplative aids for acquiring attentiveness, presence of mind, and for triggering a series of positive associations through correlative thinking that links the name of Amitābha Buddha with symbolic and literary narratives of his Pure Land Sukhâvatî, literally the “land of bliss.”

In other words, the verbal repetition in chanting and singing has been demonstrated to psychologically open one’s mind to suggestion. Notably, the charismatic movement employs this technique to emotionally manipulate the audience prior to the preacher taking the stage to open their minds to be able to more easily receive whatever is being stated. Just watch any YouTube video from Bethel Church and its pastor, Bill Johnson, and you will see this. But this technique, to a certain extent, is now being regularly employed by many mainstream Evangelical churches whether intentionally or not. There is hardly a Southern Baptist church that doesn’t begin the worship service with Hillsong or Bethel music.

But is this how we want to open the hearts and minds of people? By emotional manipulation? Isn’t that the job of the Holy Spirit? It is the Holy Spirit that does this work within us and he does so through the preaching of the Word; not through psychological-emotional manipulation of shallow music.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. –John 14:26

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