Friday, October 31, 2008

The Halloween

Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.
During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.

As European immigrants came to America, they brought their varied Halloween customs with them. Because of the rigid Protestant belief systems that characterized early New England, celebration of Halloween in colonial times was extremely limited there.

It was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups, as well as the American Indians, meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included "play parties," public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other's fortunes, dance, and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition. Young women believed that, on Halloween, they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings, or mirrors.
In the late 1800s, there was a move in America to mold Halloween into a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers, than about ghosts, pranks, and witchcraft.

At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season, and festive costumes. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything "frightening" or "grotesque" out of Halloween celebrations. Because of their efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.

By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular, but community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide parties as the featured entertainment. Despite the best efforts of many schools and communities, vandalism began to plague Halloween celebrations in many communities during this time. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Due to the high numbers of young children during the fifties baby boom, parties moved from town civic centers into the classroom or home, where they could be more easily accommodated. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick-or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the Halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats. A new American tradition was born, and it has continued to grow. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6.9 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country's second largest commercial holiday.

The American tradition of "trick-or-treating" probably dates back to the early All Souls' Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives.

The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as "going a-souling" was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.

The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. Hundreds of years ago, winter was an uncertain and frightening time. Food supplies often ran low and, for the many people afraid of the dark, the short days of winter were full of constant worry. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition. It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends. For these friendly spirits, they set places at the dinner table, left treats on doorsteps and along the side of the road and lit candles to help loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.

Today's Halloween ghosts are often depicted as more fearsome and malevolent, and our customs and superstitions are scarier too. We avoid crossing paths with black cats, afraid that they might bring us bad luck. This idea has its roots in the Middle Ages, when many people believed that witches avoided detection by turning themselves into cats. We try not to walk under ladders for the same reason. This superstition may have come from the ancient Egyptians, who believed that triangles were sacred; it also may have something to do with the fact that walking under a leaning ladder tends to be fairly unsafe. And around Halloween, especially, we try to avoid breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks in the road or spilling salt.

But what about the Halloween traditions and beliefs that today's trick-or-treaters have forgotten all about? Many of these obsolete rituals focused on the future instead of the past and the living instead of the dead. In particular, many had to do with helping young women identify their future husbands and reassuring them that they would someday--with luck, by next Halloween!--be married.

In 18th-century Ireland, a matchmaking cook might bury a ring in her mashed potatoes on Halloween night, hoping to bring true love to the diner who found it. In Scotland, fortune-tellers recommended that an eligible young woman name a hazelnut for each of her suitors and then toss the nuts into the fireplace. The nut that burned to ashes rather than popping or exploding, the story went, represented the girl's future husband. (In some versions of this legend, confusingly, the opposite was true: The nut that burned away symbolized a love that would not last.) Another tale had it that if a young woman ate a sugary concoction made out of walnuts, hazelnuts and nutmeg before bed on Halloween night, she would dream about her future husband. Young women tossed apple-peels over their shoulders, hoping that the peels would fall on the floor in the shape of their future husbands' initials; tried to learn about their futures by peering at egg yolks floating in a bowl of water; and stood in front of mirrors in darkened rooms, holding candles and looking over their shoulders for their husbands' faces.

Other rituals were more competitive. At some Halloween parties, the first guest to find a burr on a chestnut-hunt would be the first to marry; at others, the first successful apple-bobber would be the first down the aisle.

Of course, whether we're asking for romantic advice or trying to avoid seven years of bad luck, each one of these Halloween superstitions relies on the good will of the very same "spirits" whose presence the early Celts felt so keenly. Ours is not such a different holiday after all!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Some patients who suffer brain injuries occasionally lose the ability to talk in their native accent - but now scientists may know why.

The condition, called "foreign accent syndrome", affects only a tiny number of patients.

It can mean that a native English speaker can end up sounding more like Spanish or French.

It can follow a stroke - or another kind of head injury, and while the problem often clears up on its own, it can be another highly upsetting blow for patients often struggling with other disabilities.

To add insult to injury, some doctors dismissed the problem as more likely to be psychiatric in origin than physical.

Now researchers at Oxford University have found that patients with "foreign accent syndrome" seem to share certain characteristics which might explain the problem.

A small number of them all had tiny areas of damage in various parts of the brain.

This might explain the combination of subtle changes to vocal features such as lengthening of syllables, altered pitch or mispronounced sounds which make a patient's pronunciation sound similar to a foreign accent.

Dr Jennfier Gurd, who led the research with phonetician Dr John Coleman, said: "The way we speak is an important part of our personality and influences the way people interact with us.

"It is understandably quite traumatic for patients to find that their accent has changed.

"Patients derive some comfort from knowing more about the causes of their rare condition and many are happy to help scientists to understand better the nature of the brain and its role in human accents."

Dr Coleman told BBC News Online: "There is a good likelihood in time you are going to improve and become more like you used to be."

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Good Marginal Thinking

By Brian McLaren

The heroes of church history began as reflective Christians who doubted what everyone else took for granted.

Your skin color can make you marginal in some settings. Your level of income or education can do it in others. Your worship style or theological persuasion or political party can put you at or beyond the fringe in still others. Being, thinking, looking, or acting different from the majority can push you to the margins.

I'd like to speak up on behalf of a group of people in our churches who feel different pretty often, and therefore feel marginalized pretty often. Dan Taylor, in The Myth of Certainty (IVP, 2000), calls them "reflective Christians." Less sympathetic people call them doubters.

As nearly all Protestants know, in the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church was excited about issuing indulgences—ways of reducing people's time in purgatory through religious actions, especially giving money to the church.

Despite the church's enthusiasm for it, a number of people couldn't help but question the "indulgence program." They doubted what the institution held with such certainty.

Something about it didn't make sense to these reflective Christians. If they remained silent, they would feel dishonest and frustrated, but if they raised their questions, they would be seen with suspicion—not "team players," you know? Some, like Martin Luther, spoke up (in the form of 95 theses) and found that reflective Christians of his sort didn't have a future in the church at that time.

About a hundred years later, Galileo looked through a telescope one night and saw moons positioned like dancers orbiting Jupiter. He realized the church was wrong in upholding the traditional worldview it had inherited from Aristotle and Ptolemy.

Unfortunately, when he became a doubter of the party line, he discovered what Martin Luther did: reflective Christians weren't welcome in the church at that time.

A similar story could be told about John Wesley, who doubted what everyone "knew": sacred duties (like preaching) needed to occur in sacred spaces (like pulpits).

Or we could talk about reflective Christians like Phineas Bresee (founder of the Nazarenes) who doubted that poor people should be avoided by respectable Christians, or Menno Simons (leader among the Anabaptists) who doubted that Christians should kill other Christians in Christ's name, or Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu who doubted that race should be a factor in fellowship, or Bill Hybels or Rick Warren or maybe you.

The heroes we study in church history began as reflective Christians who doubted what everyone else took for granted, and as a result, were in almost every case marginalized.

When communities habitually marginalize or exclude their most reflective members—who ask tough questions about things that are completely normative for the majority—of course those who are stigmatized are wounded.

But so is the community that excludes, because in so doing, it cuts off resources of growth and renewal. It builds resistance to exactly what it will soon need.

Which raises an urgent question: Who are the reflective Christians in your sphere who may feel they're already on thin ice at the margins, who may be close to being edged out completely?
What would it take to tell them they are wanted, needed, respected—that their differentness isn't a problem to be solved by pressuring them to conform, but that their questioning is a resource?

Here's a suggestion: listen to them. Try to understand their questions, frustrations, and fresh ideas. You don't need to agree with them. Just be attentive, give them space to be who they are, even if they think differently from the majority. At times you may need to stand between them and their most vocal critics, to defend them from the forces of boundary maintenance and exclusion.

These forces can be brutal for reflective Christians, but a kind heart and a listening ear can keep our reflective Christians within the community, even if at the margins, not edged out. If every community eventually needs renewal, and if renewal comes from the margins—as it nearly always appears to do—then by amputating our margins, we do what the chief priests and scribes did when a needed voice showed up at the margins of their community. Are we listening?

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Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Osteens as Spiritual Midgets

By Lisa Miller
Belief Watch,

In her new book, "Love Your Life," Victoria Osteen tells the following story. When she and her husband, Joel, were courting, he came over to her house for dinner. She knew he was the son of a prominent Houston pastor and she, a nice Christian girl, was hoping they could talk about Scripture while she prepared the meal. "Joel began flipping through the pages, but before long, he put the Bible down," she wrote. Victoria was disappointed and complained, "I thought you'd be a spiritual giant."

"Joel said nothing and just grinned at me as we carried on with the evening." Later, he joked with friends that she'd called him a "spiritual midget."

With that story, Victoria unconsciously articulates the problem so many outsiders have with Joel and, by extension, with her.

Joel Osteen is one of the most popular pastors in the country, but both he and Victoria seem, from the outside at least, to be spiritual midgets. More than 40,000 people come to hear them preach each week in a sanctuary that used to be the home of the Houston Rockets. Millions more watch them on television. Joel's books are best sellers, and Victoria's new one, though arriving in stores this week, is already high on Amazon's spiritual book list. But the theology driving all this success is thin. Over and over, in sermons, books and television interviews, the Osteens repeat their most firmly held beliefs. If you pray to Jesus, you'll get what you want. In a conversation with NEWSWEEK, Victoria defines her Christian belief this way. Religion "is about appreciating what God's given us. He's given us this life, and he wants us to live it to the fullest." (I interviewed her early one morning when the stock market had already plunged 200 points, and she referred to a recent sermon of Joel's in which he said people were like palm trees: "We have a bounce back on the inside of us." That seemed an inane sort of comfort.)

Prosperity preachers are neither new nor unique in America, but the Osteens' version seems especially self-serving. Victoria's book betrays her interest in the kind of small gratifications that rarely extend to other people, let alone to the larger world. She recommends that women take "me time" every day, and indulge occasionally in a (fat-free!) ice cream. She writes repeatedly about her love for the gym. Her relationship advice is retrograde dross: submit to your man, or at least pretend you're submitting, and then do what you want anyway. "I know if I just wait long enough," she writes, "eventually my idea will become Joel's idea, and it will come to pass." When I asked her how she kept her two children interested in church, she answered that even though they were a broccoli and lean-meats household, she gave them donuts as a special treat on Sundays. All this is fine, in the pages of a women's magazine or a self-help book. But what has God got to do with it?

Perhaps this discomfort with the Osteens' message is what drove all the media attention over the summer. In August, Victoria was the defendant in a lawsuit alleging that she struck a Continental Airlines flight attendant after that flight attendant refused to mop up a spill on Victoria's first-class seat. (Osteen had already paid a $3,000 fine to the FAA.) Osteen was acquitted, and some members of the jury said they thought the suit was frivolous, but on the Internet, at least, the story played badly. Secular observers call her a "diva," and conservative Christian detractors call her (and her husband) "heretics." ("You know what?" Victoria says, "I don't read that stuff, I truly don't.") Victoria says she's happy and relieved the suit is behind her. And in fairness to her, the anecdote in her book concludes by saying that Joel was, in fact, the furthest thing from a spiritual midget. "He had read his Bible every day since he was a little boy and knew more about Scripture than I ever imagined," she wrote.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Financial Crisis Suicides

By KELLI KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer

An out-of-work money manager in California loses a fortune and wipes out his family in a murder-suicide. A 90-year-old Ohio widow shoots herself in the chest as authorities arrive to evict her from the modest house she called home for 38 years.

In Massachusetts, a housewife who had hidden her family's mounting financial crisis from her husband sends a note to the mortgage company warning: "By the time you foreclose on my house, I'll be dead."

Then Carlene Balderrama shot herself to death, leaving an insurance policy and a suicide note on a table.

Across the country, authorities are becoming concerned that the nation's financial woes could turn increasingly violent, and they are urging people to get help. In some places, mental-health hot lines are jammed, counseling services are in high demand and domestic-violence shelters are full.

"I've had a number of people say that this is the thing most reminiscent of 9/11 that's happened here since then," said the Rev. Canon Ann Malonee, vicar at Trinity Church in the heart of New York's financial district. "It's that sense of having the rug pulled out from under them."

With nowhere else to turn, many people are calling suicide-prevention hot lines. The Samaritans of New York have seen calls rise more than 16 percent in the past year, many of them money-related. The Switchboard of Miami has recorded more than 500 foreclosure-related calls this year.

"A lot of people are telling us they are losing everything. They're losing their homes, they're going into foreclosure, they've lost their jobs," said Virginia Cervasio, executive director of a suicide resource enter in southwest Florida's Lee County.

But tragedies keep mounting:

• In Los Angeles last week, a former money manager fatally shot his wife, three sons and his mother-in-law before killing himself.

Karthik Rajaram, 45, left a suicide note saying he was in financial trouble and contemplated killing just himself. But he said he decided to kill his entire family because that was more honorable, police said.

Rajaram once worked for a major accounting firm and for Sony Pictures, and he had been part-owner of a financial holding company. But he had been out of work for several months, police said.

After the murder-suicide, police and mental-health officials in Los Angeles took the unusual step of urging people to seek help for themselves or loved ones if they feel overwhelmed by grim financial news. They said they were specifically afraid of the "copycat phenomenon."

"This is a perfect American family behind me that has absolutely been destroyed, apparently because of a man who just got stuck in a rabbit hole, if you will, of absolute despair," Deputy Police Chief Michel Moore said. "It is critical to step up and recognize we are in some pretty troubled times."

• In Tennessee, a woman fatally shot herself last week as sheriff's deputies went to evict her from her foreclosed home.

Pamela Ross, 57, and her husband were fighting foreclosure on their home when sheriff's deputies in Sevierville came to serve an eviction notice. They were across the street when they heard a gunshot and found Ross dead from a wound to the chest. The case was even more tragic because the couple had recently been granted an extra 10 days to appeal.

• In Akron, Ohio, the 90-year-old widow who shot herself on Oct. 1 is recovering. A congressman told Addie Polk's story on the House floor before lawmakers voted to approve a $700 billion financial rescue package. Mortgage finance company Fannie Mae dropped the foreclosure, forgave her mortgage and said she could remain in the home.

• In Ocala, Fla., Roland Gore shot his wife and dog in March and then set fire to the couple's home, which had been in foreclosure, before killing himself. His case was one of several in which people killed spouses or pets, destroyed property or attacked police before taking their own lives.

"The financial stress builds up to the point the person feels they can't go on, and the person believes their family is better off dead than left without a financial support," said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Washington D.C.-based Violence Policy Center.

Dr. Edward Charlesworth, a clinical psychologist in Houston, said the current crisis is breeding a sense of chronic anxiety among people who feel helpless and panic-stricken, as well as angry that their government has let them down.

"They feel like in this great society that we live in we should have more protection for the individuals rather than just the corporation," he said.

It's not yet clear there is a statistical link between suicides and the financial downturn since there is generally a two-year lag in national suicide figures. But historically, suicides increase in times of economic hardship. And the current financial crisis is already being called the worst since the Great Depression.

Rising mortgage defaults and falling home values are at the heart of it. More than 4 million Americans were at least one month behind on their mortgages at the end of June, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

A record 500,000 had entered the foreclosure process. And that trend is expected to continue through next year, despite the current programs from the government and the lending industry to refinance delinquent homeowners into more affordable loans.

Counselors at Catholic Charities USA report seeing a "significant increase" in the need for housing counseling.

One counselor said half of her clients were on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. The agency has seen a decrease in overall funding, but it has expanded foreclosure counseling and received nearly $2 million for such services in late 2007.

Adding to financially tense households is an air of secrecy. Experts said it's common for one spouse to blame the other for their financial mess or to hide it entirely, as Balderrama did.

After falling 3 1/2 years behind in payments, the Taunton, Mass., housewife had been intercepting letters from the mortgage company and shredding them before her husband saw them. She tried to refinance but was declined.

In July, on the day the house was to be auctioned, she faxed the note to the mortgage company. Then the 52-year-old walked outside, shot her three beloved cats and then herself with her husband's rifle.

Notes left on the table revealed months of planning. She'd picked out her funeral home, laid out the insurance policy and left a note saying, "pay off the house with the insurance money."

"She put in her suicide note that it got overwhelming for her," said her husband, John Balderrama. "Apparently she didn't have anyone to talk to. She didn't come to me. I don't know why. There's gotta be some help out there for people that are hurting, (something better) than to see somebody lose a life over a stupid house."


Associated Press Writers P. Solomon Banda in Denver, Joann Loviglio in Philadelphia, Juanita Cousins in Atlanta, Samantha Gross in New York and John Rogers in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Flee

By Somini Sengupta
New York Times

BOREPANGA, India — The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”

India, the world’s most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.

The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.

The clash of faiths has cut a wide swath of panic and destruction through these once quiet hamlets fed by paddy fields and jackfruit trees. Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze.

Across this ghastly terrain lie the singed remains of mud-and-thatch homes. Christian-owned businesses have been systematically attacked. Orange flags (orange is the sacred color of Hinduism) flutter triumphantly above the rooftops of houses and storefronts.

India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the population, and India’s Hindu-majority of 1.1 billion people. But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years.

It was set off, people here say, by the killing on Aug. 23 of a charismatic Hindu preacher known as Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who for 40 years had rallied the area’s people to choose Hinduism over Christianity.

The police have blamed Maoist guerrillas for the swami’s killing. But Hindu radicals continue to hold Christians responsible.

In recent weeks, they have plastered these villages with gruesome posters of the swami’s hacked corpse. “Who killed him?” the posters ask. “What is the solution?”

Behind the clashes are long-simmering tensions between equally impoverished groups: the Panas and Kandhas. Both original inhabitants of the land, the two groups for ages worshiped the same gods. Over the past several decades, the Panas for the most part became Christian, as Roman Catholic and Baptist missionaries arrived here more than 60 years ago, followed more recently by Pentecostals, who have proselytized more aggressively.

Meanwhile, the Kandhas, in part through the teachings of Swami Laxmanananda, embraced Hinduism. The men tied the sacred Hindu white thread around their torsos; their wives daubed their foreheads with bright red vermilion. Temples sprouted.

Hate has been fed by economic tensions as well, as the government has categorized each group differently and given them different privileges.

The Kandhas accused the Panas of cheating to obtain coveted quotas for government jobs. The Christian Panas, in turn, say their neighbors have become resentful as they have educated themselves and prospered.

Their grievances have erupted in sporadic clashes over the past 15 years, but they have exploded with a fury since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda.

Two nights after his death, a Hindu mob in the village of Nuagaon dragged a Catholic priest and a nun from their residence, tore off much of their clothing and paraded them through the streets.....

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Friday, October 10, 2008

A "Balaam and the talking Donkey" Moment

A letter to a Pastor friend in response to one I got from him this morning exhorting me about the economic crisis.

Dear Gboyega,

Welcome back. How were your trip and the burial? I trust everything went very well.

Thank you for the exhortation. It is hard not to succumb to fear and despair with all the terrible news out there about the economy. Your prescriptions for cure are right on the money and I have little else to add but for a couple of thoughts that have crossed my mind.

The events happening now, I believe, is what I'll describe as our "Balaam and the talking ass" moment (Numbers 22-24 but particularly Numbers 22:21-35). This economic turmoil is our talking ass. But my fear is we still won't hear Him calling.

Brother we've got a problem as the Body of Christ. Very illustrative and relevant are the letters of John to the 7 churches Revelations 2, 3, and 4. It would be good to examine the complaints God had against those churches and see how they apply to us.

The Message to the Church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:4-5)
You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen!

The Message to the Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11)
One of two churches for which God had no complaints.

The Message to the Church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:14-15)
You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching.

The Message to the Church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:20-21)
You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.

The Message to the Church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-2)
I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God.

The Message to the Church in Philadelphia (Revelations 3:7-13)
The other church for which God had nothing but praise

The Message to the Church in Laodicea (Revelations 3:15-17)
I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.

There's none of these transgressions that we do not have happening in our churches today. No love for God, lack of reverence for Him, self centeredness, greed, sexual immorality, you name it. What about the doctrine of the Nicolaitans? This is among us also. Nico (Conqueror)-laitan (Laity) which means Conqueror of the lay people (or the destruction of people). This is the abuse of power by those whom God has appointed as shepherds over His flock i.e. Bishops, Pastors, Ministers, etc.

Some may say at least we don't eat food offered to idols. Well we do, big time. A lot of us worship daily at the altar of mammon. Because according to Matthew 6 19-21,24:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Which according to NLB:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Isn't it interesting what's going on right now in the world's economy: the crashing of the stock market and all? The treasure stores of the world are under the siege - moths are eating them up and rust is destroying them. The altars of mammon are laid bare, stripped naked, and rendered powerless.

The church has bought into the deceitfulness of riches. The gospel of prosperity and material success has taken prominence in our lives. We celebrate the wealthy and barely tolerate the poor. The size of the tithe and offering a man brings is given pre-eminence over the size of the room in his heart for God. Growth of churches today is measured by the number of parishes, how many attend, the offering collected, and the square feet of the church edifice.

I do not claim any expertise in hearing God or eschatology, in fact, as a Pastor, you know these things more than I do. But I somehow have a sense that God is saying something to us, but we are not listening and so can't hear Him. In fact for a long time now God has been trying to catch our attention, but we are no where close to noticing Him.

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Regards to the family,


Market In Turmoil

Dow Fluctuates After Steep Drop at Opening Bell

Global Worries Briefly Push Stock Index Below 8,000 in Early Trading

By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2008; 10:17 AM

U.S. stocks continued a relentless sell off today as fears of global recession continue to overtake government efforts to address the financial crisis.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell below 8,000 briefly --8 percent, or nearly 700 points-- at the opening bell. It fell below 9,000 for the first time in five years yesterday.

After 30 minutes of training, the Dow was bouncing between positive and negative territory. The broader Standard & Poor's 500, after falling as much as 7 percent, was flat after 40 minutes of trading. The Nasdaq, after falling 6 percent at the opening bell, was trading slightly positive.

The market is headed toward eight days of losses as it faces deepening fears about the financial crisis and its spillover to other parts of the economy. Traders have consistently shrugged off drastic government efforts to address the problem, from a global rate cut to plans to buy toxic mortgage debt. The Bush administration is now hammering out the final details of a plan that would allow the government to inject cash into banks in exchange for ownership stakes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Suspension of Disbelief

Hey Sean,

I read, in one of those liberal MSMs, about your show last Sunday. You did it again. Great job buddy!!!!

As a God fearing, flag loving, great American, that you are, I feel you; your sense of duty to save this "land of the free" from this evil William Ayers disciple called Barack Barry Hussien Obama. Can you believe it, a muslim and a nigger who dares to lay claim to: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

What an audacity!!! This guy doesn't know his place at all. He must really think the "liberty and justice for all" in the pledge of allegiance actually applies to people like him: who are not like you, the American, good American, White American, Christian American. When the founding fathers wrote that, they knew, that blacks, muslims, and liberals are not covered, didn't they?

I trust the Almighty God, that you serve in spirit and in truth, must be very proud of you, for bringing on the show, that other great American, the Jew-hating American, Andy Martin. He is such a perfect expert and authority in exposing Hussein Obama. That guy that wanted “to exterminate Jew power in America and to impeach the judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City.” Wow!!! What a wise choice. The other expert you should have invited was Jerome Corsi. Well I guess you couldn't because he was under arrest in Kenya: a move orchestrated by Obama.

I salute you for voicing all the hatred that the Jim Crows of America have for Obama - those pure bred Aryan, like yourself, who'll like things to return back to what they used to be back in day when these colored people were mere hewers of wood and drawers of water. Those were good old days don't you agree?

You must feel proud to be a true servant of Jesus Christ, for your courage to spew out all these vermin about this guy. All your efforts to bring down and destroy Barack Obama is like you're doing the Lord's work, right? The Lord that hates muslims and liberals like Obama. I'm sure you agree He did not die for these ones. The Lord, as you know, did not have people like Barry Obama in mind, when He spoke of loving our neighbors as ourselves. At least your neighbors ain't niggers or muslims, right?

Don't mind these liberals, who want to distract the nation with the tumultous economy. What do they know. Do they really think that people care about lack of healthcare, climbing job losses, skyrocketing gas prices, and disappearing retirement savings. Who cares if there are no more student loans or car loans, or that businesses fold up? Who gives a damn about all of that when a radical like Obama, who have answers and real solutions to these problems, is 4 weeks away from being elected the 44th POTUS. And talking about answers to the economic woes. The reason Obama has all the answers, and your own poor, old, and aging McCain has no clue at all, I think, is because these liberals invented this economic crisis. That's why McCain is erratic and confused. Who wouldn't be in a situation like this when the opposition has an unfair advantage of foresight, insight and sound judgement? No wonder Obama appears so level headed, cool, and calm in all of these mess. He definitely has an insider information, that's why.

Anyhow keep up the good work old buddy. Keep talking about William Ayers, Revd Wright, and Tony Rezko. Forget about the economy, don't get distracted by all of that. It is Williams Ayers, stupid!!!!



The above was a letter written to Sean Hannity of Fox News as a result of the following news item on

During a weekend of Republican attacks on Senator Barack Obama’s personal associations, Fox News Channel ran a program Sunday that made provocative assertions about similar connections, called “Obama & Friends: The History of Radicalism.”

Sean Hannity, the conservative radio and television host, was the host of the hourlong program, which raised, among other things, unsubstantiated accusations that Mr. Obama’s work as a community organizer in Chicago was “training for a radical overthrow of the government.”

The statement came from Andy Martin, a conservative writer and frequent political candidate who is credited as being among the first — if not the first — to assert in a chain e-mail message that Mr. Obama was secretly a Muslim.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What Revelations 6 Says About the World's Tumultuous Economy

As I watched, the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals on the scroll. Then I heard one of the four living beings say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked up and saw a white horse standing there. Its rider carried a bow, and a crown was placed on his head. He rode out to win many battles and gain the victory.
When the Lamb broke the second seal, I heard the second living being say, “Come!” Then another horse appeared, a red one. Its rider was given a mighty sword and the authority to take peace from the earth. And there was war and slaughter everywhere.

When the Lamb broke the third seal, I heard the third living being say, “Come!” I looked up and saw a black horse, and its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice from among the four living beings say, “A loaf of wheat bread or three loaves of barley will cost a day’s pay. And don’t waste the olive oil and wine.”

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living being say, “Come!” I looked up and saw a horse whose color was pale green. Its rider was named Death, and his companion was the Grave. These two were given authority over one-fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and famine and disease and wild animals.

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.

I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood. Then the stars of the sky fell to the earth like green figs falling from a tree shaken by a strong wind. The sky was rolled up like a scroll, and all of the mountains and islands were moved from their places.

Then everyone—the kings of the earth, the rulers, the generals, the wealthy, the powerful, and every slave and free person—all hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to survive?”

Friday, October 3, 2008

Are People Really "Born Gay"?

By Caleb H. Price

Can someone really be "born gay"? Is there a "gay gene"? Does biology equal destiny?

Clearly, the controversy over this issue is huge in our culture. While pro-gay activists and their allies want us to believe people are “born gay” and that sexual orientation is an unchangeable characteristic like race or eye color, a closer examination of the scientific evidence reveals that the “nature vs. nurture” debate over homosexuality is far from settled.

At best, the evidence for a genetic and/or biological basis to homosexual orientation is inconclusive. In fact, since the early 1990s, numerous studies attempting to establish a genetic cause for homosexuality have not proven to be valid or repeatable – two important requirements for study results to become accepted as fact in the scientific community.

Because of this, the current thinking in the scientific community is that homosexuality is likely caused by a complex interaction of psychosocial, environmental and possible biological factors. And the two leading national psychiatric and psychological professional groups agree that, so far, there are no conclusive studies supporting any specific biological or genetic cause for homosexuality.[1]

In sum, there is no scientific or DNA test to tell us if a person is homosexual, bisexual or even heterosexual for that matter. And since nobody is “born gay,” it’s clear that sexual orientation is, at its core, a matter of how one defines oneself – not a matter of biology or genes.

But what about the studies I’ve heard about in the media that say people are born gay? While the media’s headlines and reporting of these studies have given the impression that science is closing in on a “gay gene,” it’s important to note that each study suffers from significant problems and limitations. And what the researchers themselves have said about their own work is important. Specifically, you should know that their comments have never been fully reported in the press.

Some examples:

1. From the 1991 Hypothalamus (Brain) Study, Simon LeVay, who self-identifies as gay, said: “It’s important to stress what I didn’t find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn’t show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain.”

2. And from the 1991 Twins Study, Richard Pillard – also a gay man – admits: "Although male and female homosexuality appear to be at least somewhat heritable, environment must also be of considerable importance in their origins."

3. And from the 1993 X Chromosome Study, Dean Hamer – also a gay man – said: “…environmental factors play a role. There is not a single master gene that makes people gay…I don’t think we will ever be able to predict who will be gay.”

4. And from the 2005 Fruit Fly Study, Barry Dickson, the lead researcher, admitted that the understanding of how innate behaviors are genetically determined is “rudimentary at best.” He also admitted that the male-male courtship behaviors they observed probably involved “environmental and social stimuli” and that the female-female courtship behavior was abnormal – missing some key steps.

5. And what about the 2005 male and 2006 female pheromone studies from Sweden that gay activists claimed were more evidence of a biological basis to homosexuality? (Pheromones are chemicals that can be smelled and are known to influence animal behavior. However, their role in humans is unknown.) Here, it is significant that Ivanka Savic, the lead researcher, said that the 2005 study had nothing to do with proving homosexuality to be biological. And regarding the 2006 study, she said “it is very important to make clear that the study has no implications for possible dynamics in sexual orientation.”

6. More recently, Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, summed up the research on homosexuality saying that “sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations" (italics added). As a comparison, Collins said that the potential genetic component for homosexuality is much less than the genetic contribution that has been found for common personality traits such as general cognitive ability, extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness, aggression and traditionalism. [7]

Clearly, the case for a “gay gene” has not been made.

So, do all gay people believe that sexual orientation is “fixed” and unchangeable?

Not by a long shot. While it’s true that many homosexuals and their allies believe that people are “born gay” and cannot change, there exists a surprising – and not insignificant – minority of gays and lesbians who recognize that sexual orientation is, in fact, flexible. For example, Kate Kendell, director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, argued in the gay magazine Frontiers that sexual orientation is not fixed. And lesbian columnist and psychotherapist Jackie Black has said that sexuality is not static. Further, lesbian author Camille Paglia argues that homosexuality is not normal and that it is an adaptation, not an inborn trait.

Most recently, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force spokesperson Roberta Sklar admitted in an ABC news story that today’s young lesbians and bisexuals have a “more flexible view” about sexuality and see it as “a fluid thing.”[8]

Thus, while no one knows for sure what causes a homosexual identity to develop, recent research confirms that permanent change is, indeed, possible. Pro-gay ally Dr. Robert Spitzer of Columbia University is now convinced that many homosexuals have successfully changed their sexual orientation. In 2001, he published results from a study of 200 gay men and lesbians who had sought “re-orientation” therapy. Spitzer found that most have been able to achieve fulfilling heterosexual relationships. While his research shows that such change often involves a long and difficult journey, it is nevertheless possible for highly motivated individuals. [9]

Even more recently in 2007, a landmark study was published by Drs. Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse which concluded that it is possible for homosexuals to change their physical attractions and that such efforts to bring about change do not appear to be psychologically harmful. Entitled Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, this groundbreaking research has been hailed by experts from both sides of the debate as being the most methodologically rigorous to date. [10]

And as more evidence of the fact that people can and do change their sexual orientation, Exodus International, a group of more than 150 Protestant Christian ministries in the United States and around the world, represents literally tens of thousands of people who have made the choice to walk out of their homosexual and bisexual identities. Similar organizations exist for Roman Catholics (Courage), Mormons (Evergreen), Jews (JONAH) and Muslims (StraightWay). [11]

Even in the secular cultural arena we see evidence of well-known people who have clearly changed their sexual orientation. Examples of formerly gay-identified celebrities who reportedly have become involved in relationships with people of the opposite gender include actors Anne Heche and Julie Cypher. Apparently, the reality that people can change their sexual identity isn’t just a right-wing Christian thing.

Clearly, pro-homosexual advocates and their allies aren’t dealing with all the evidence in their insistence that people are “born gay” and cannot change.

1. “Fact Sheet on Gay Lesbian Bisexual Issues,” the American Psychiatric Association, May 2000; and “American Psychological Association Online: Answers to Your Questions/Topic – Sexuality/What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?,”
2. David Nimmons. “Sex and the Brain,” Discover Magazine. March 1, 1994.
4. N. Mitchell, “Genetics, sexuality linked, study says,” Standard Examiner, April 30, 1995.
5. Ebru Demir and Barry Dickson, “fruitless Splicing Specifies Male Courtship Behavior in Drosophilia,” Cell, Vol. 121, 785-794, June 3, 2005.
6. Nicholas Bakalar, “Link is Cited Between Smell and Sexuality,” New York Times, May 16, 2006, and, with quote by researcher Ivanka Savic from Chicago Tribune, May 9, 2005.
8. and
9. R. L. Spitzer, “Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation?” Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(5), 403–417, 2003, and R. L. Spitzer, “Psychiatry and homosexuality,” Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2001.
10. Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 2007.;

Caleb H. Price is a research analyst at Focus on the Family.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What Are the End Times?

Hollywood's depiction of the "end of the world" has been portrayed as a nuclear winter, an asteroid striking the earth or a cataclysmic natural disaster. In Christian theology, the subject of End Times has to do with the question of God's control over and what the last days--the End Times--will be like. One of the recurring questions asked of Christ sought clues, or signs, of when the end would come and what it would look like. The "Left Behind" series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins presents a fictionalized depiction of how things could play out using one of the major interpretations of the End Times. Here is a brief look at the major interpretations of what the Bible tells us about the end of time.

Different Perspectives
There are three major views of the end times, with many variations. These views are something like the accounts of witnesses to an accident that are all different because they describe the same event from different perspectives. In eschatology-the study of end times-those perspectives come from different ways of interpreting the Bible and historical events.

The Bible contains a great deal of prophecy that relates to the people of Israel, the coming of a Messiah, or other events. One of the wonders of the Bible is that God has revealed himself both very clearly and very mysteriously. What some scholars see clearly as the prediction of future events, others see as strong symbolic language to warn or encourage people, and still others see as layers of meaning that combine both a present and future purpose.

Revelation is a good example of these perspectives. John was in exile for his preaching when he wrote Revelation and the church was suffering persecution. There are differences of opinion about exactly when John wrote Revelation and how to interpret its symbolism. Some see John's vision as a prediction of future events. Some see it as a highly symbolic picture of God's ultimate control suitable for any reader at any time. Still others see the symbolism in Revelation as a more obscure way for John to communicate during a time of severe persecution-a kind of secret message.

Possible End Times Events
First, let's look at a number of events related to the End Times. They are understood differently depending on the view a person holds. First Coming of Christ--the birth, death, resurrection (return to life) and ascension (return to heaven) of Jesus as predicted in the Old Testament and recorded in the New Testament.

Second Coming of Christ--the literal return of Christ to earth.

Church Age--depending on the particular view, this can be the same as the Millennium or a separate period of time before the Millennium.

Rapture--the resurrection of believers at some point before Christ's second coming.

Tribulation--a seven year period of severe judgment and persecution.

Armageddon--a name that has come to mean the last great battle at the end of time, though in some views it is a great battle that will consume all of Israel at the end of the Tribulation.

Millennium--the earthly kingdom of Christ. It can mean a literal 1,000 years or simply suggest a very long time. It can also mean a literal or spiritual reign of Christ during this time.

Final Rebellion--the last global unleashing of Satan and unbelievers against God, in which Satan will be finally defeated. Some people equate this with "Armageddon," while others see Armageddon as an earlier battle at the end of the Tribulation and before the Millennium.

Resurrection--the final end of earthly existence with the raising up of people to face judgment, either all at once (General Resurrection) or in several stages for believers and unbelievers.

Judgment--the final accountability of people before God as they pass from earthly existence (or death) to eternity.

Eternity--a future timeless existence spent in God's presence (Heaven) or separated from him (Hell).

Three Prominent Views of the End Times


The premillennial view suggests that the Second Coming will occur before Christ reigns during a literal 1,000-year Millennium. It is the view portrayed in "Left Behind." It was the predominant view of the early church and became prominent once again in the last century. It is the most literal interpretation of passages from Daniel and Revelation.

An additional element important to this view is the role and timing of the Rapture-the separate resurrection of believers. Left Behind portrays a pretribulation rapture view, where the rapture occurs before the Tribulation begins. Others see it occurring in the middle or end of the Tribulation.

While there are variations in detail (mostly over the exact order and timing of events), most evangelical Christians today hold a premillennial view. It is the view promoted by Tim LaHaye, Mark Hitchcock, and Brian Coffey, all of whom have written books on prophecy for Tyndale House, the publishers of the Left Behind series.

As time passed and Christ did not return, scholars and church leaders began looking at other interpretations. Amillennialism is the most prominent of these. It is a view widely credited to St. Augustine, who lived from 354-430 A.D.
While people holding this view believe that Christ will literally return, they see as symbolic all of the details that the premillennial view interprets literally (rapture, tribulation, Armageddon, etc.), rolling them all into a millennial age. During this period, Christ does not reign with a physical presence on earth, but builds the church through his influence in the lives of Christians. It is a time of continued struggle between good and evil until Christ's return ushers in the final judgment before eternity. The Roman Catholic Church and major "mainline" Protestant denominations hold this view today.

As the Industrial Revolution transformed the world and advanced human progress immensely in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Postmillennialism emerged. This view is similar to Amillennialism, except that it sees steady human progress over evil, progressively leading to a Christianized world, which sets the stage for Christ's return. Social and economic reforms as well as evangelism are important parts of ushering in this "golden age" of spiritual development. Even with a horrendous Civil War in America and other conflicts scattered across the globe in the 19th century, the sense of human progress was so strong that even World War I--in which over a million people lost their lives-came to be known as the "the war to end all wars." The world moved ahead into a decade of pleasure and renewed technological progress in the 1920's.
Then the Great Depression and economic problems around the world led to radical political change. The world was on the march toward another global conflict. While considerable technological progress took place in the 20th century, the blow of two world wars was enough to remove postmillennialism from its place of prominence.

Regardless of view, there is general agreement that Revelation paints a powerful picture of God's sovereignty and ultimate triumph, an exalted view of Christ, and the accountability that everyone must bear for his or her own relationship with God. Dr. LaHaye makes an important point in Are We Living in the End Times? (pp 6-7). When people have taken prophecy seriously in the past, he says, it has lead to three things:

1. It has challenged believers to holy living in an unholy age;
2. It has given Christians a greater challenge to evangelize; and
3. It has caused the church to be more missionary-minded as the church has realized it must
fulfill the great commission before Christ returns.