This is What It Looks Like to Celebrate Christmas Hiding in Saudi Arabia

It is illegal to celebrate Christmas in Saudi Arabia. It is illegal to build or have any building that resembles a church. It is illegal to wear any jewelry or clothes that have any Christian connotation, like a cross, dove, or icthus (fish sign). It is illegal for Jews to live and work in Saudi Arabia. It is illegal for anyone to express any opposition to Islam in Saudi Arabia.

Thanks to Open Doors, a non-denominational human rights organization committed to helping persecuted Christians worldwide, a glimpse inside of an illegal Christmas service held by Indian Christians living and working in Saudi Arabia was made possible.

Open Doors has been posting a series of “Christmas in a Closed Country” stories on its website about Christians who are forced to hide their faith in Jesus Christ because of where they live.

Recently, one of its staffers joined about 100 Christian Indians at their Christmas Eve service, who were secretly celebrating Christmas in Saudi Arabia. Inside, the room was decorated with lights, balloons, paper stars, and ‘Merry Christmas’ signs. There was even one decorated Christmas tree.

Image Credit: Open DoorsThroughout the service, many worshippers took turns singing Christmas hymns and songs in their native language. Most attendees:

… have low-paying jobs in large Saudi companies or households; they are construction workers, stone cutters, electricians and cleaners. But tonight, there are no differences between them: these men and women are followers of Christ about to be encouraged and then sent back into the world with a calling to spread the light of Jesus everywhere they go.

… there is always the risk of being raided by the police, which can lead to imprisonment and forced repatriation.

The pastor (whose day job is not being a pastor) preached a sermon during which he encouraged the congregants to live out their faith despite their circumstances. He encouraged them to witness to their non-Christian Saudi neighbors. He admonished:

Are we limiting Christmas to four weeks a year? Is it only about the Christmas tree and the Christmas party?

How do you celebrate Christmas? Do you acknowledge what it is really about? Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, about Mary who was blessed with a Child, about the shepherds who came to worship him. Let us circulate those things instead of the useless stuff about Christmas.

God wants to use you. Now it’s Christmas, but every other day of your life is meant to share His gift of life with the people around you. Every day can be Christmas if you are willing to obey Him when He says: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’

After the sermon, the children (who were dressed up as biblical characters from Luke 2) helped present a birthday cake to Jesus and sang the traditional English Christmas son, “Good tidings we bring to you and your kin; we wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!”

Image Credit: Open Doors

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Martin Luther’s Response to the Pope and Charles V: Sola Scriptura

For many, many centuries, the Roman Catholic Church was the political and religious authoritative head of the Holy Roman Empire. Marriages and national alliances could not be forged without the Pope’s consent. The Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church ruled through “the Divine Right of Kings.” Meaning, what the Roman Catholic Church ruled, was civil and criminal law.
The German monk, Martin Luther, upended this entire system, beginning the era of Protestantism, and a movement called the Protestant Reformation, which celebrates its 500-year anniversary this October.
But in what conviction did Luther stake his life, knowing he would be sentenced to death unless he recanted? And why?

For three days in April 1521 the Holy Roman Empire’s most powerful religious and civil leaders tried Martin Luther at a judicial assembly, called a “Diet,” which convened in Worms, Germany. (Thus, the ordeal is referred to as the “Diet of Worms.)” At the Diet, Luther infamously gave his “Here I stand” response to accusations made against him by the Roman Catholic Church, to the Roman Emperor Charles V, to the Pope– and everyone else– that on no uncertain terms would he recant his conviction in the truth of the Bible. He remarked:

Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, plain and unvarnished:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.

I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. May God help me, Amen.

Righteousness could not be bought, as the Roman Catholic Church advocated on the streets through the sale of indulgences and a piece of paper stamped by the Pope. Instead, after studying the book of Romans, Luther affirmed that he (and no one) could ever attain “the righteousness of God.” It was only by God’s mercy; only through faith in Jesus and his imputed righteousness that anyone could be saved. Salvation was already purchased by the blood of Jesus on the Cross.

After meditating on Romans 1:17, he wrote:

There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: The righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely the passive righteousness with which the merciful God justifies us by faith. … Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.

Justification through faith alone in Jesus, and through God’s grace alone, not through baptism or penance or purchasing indulgences or Hail Mary’s, but through Jesus alone, could anyone be saved. Thus, the first two Solas, Sola fide (Faith alone) and Sola gratia (Grace alone)– became the foundational principle for the identity of believers even today who now have to clarify their faith with the qualifying adjectives: “conservative, evangelical, born again, Bible-believing Protestant followers of Jesus Christ.”

Martin Luther quote

What does Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) mean?

1. The Bible is God’s Word communicated to humankind so that they may know and love their Creator. It offers wisdom, hope and guidance for all areas of life.

The Bible is inspired by God, or “God-breathed,” meaning it is God’s Word:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (1 Tim. 1:16-17)

2. God’s Word is the sole authority over all of life, the only source of truth about life, and clearly communicates how one can know, love, and spend eternity with God. (Rom. 1:16-17). J. I. Packer clarifies:

. . . the Bible is both fully human and fully divine. So all its manifested contents – histories, prophecies, poems, songs, wisdom writings, sermons, statistics, letters, and whatever else, should be received as God’s authoritative instruction.

The Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:8) quotes Jesus, identifying the reference of his quote– the Gospel of Luke– (Luke 10:7) as “Scripture.” Likewise, the Apostle Peter referred to Paul’s letters as “Scripture” (2 Pet. 3:15-16), describing Paul’s teachings about Jesus to be Spirit-taught: “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” (1 Cor. 2:13)

Scripture is not only authoritative, but also trustworthy. The faithful preaching and teaching of the whole counsel of God must be central to all worship. (2 Tim. 4:1-2)

3. Anyone can freely read the Bible and have direct access to God. The Pope is not the sole authority on scripture, or anything else for that matter. The “universal priesthood of believers” (the saints), means that every Christian has direct access to God– to pray to God directly, to receive forgiveness from God directly, and to worship God directly. God’s grace and mercy is free. (1 Pet. 2:5, 9-10)

As such, only the Lord Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. (1 Tim. 2:5) No one need pray to, or pay for, prayer or access to God through a priest or anyone else. Likewise, the only sacraments believers should follow are those instituted by Jesus himself: water baptism (Matt. 28: 19-20) and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

Luther, and millions after him, have staked their lives on this truth. Certainly, he was afraid. But God gave him the courage and protection needed to hold fast to the truth of His Word. A single protest 500 years ago has stood the test of time, continuing to encourage Christians even today.

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The Monk Who Stood Against an Empire and Changed the World [video]

One man, Martin Luther, stood alone against an empire. His motivation was spiritual, but the outcome of his conviction was spiritual and political, leaving a global legacy 500 years later and celebrated this October 31st.

The Holy Roman Church ruled the Holy Roman Empire through a feudal system of kings, queens, lords, landowners, and bishops. It stretched across several continents and rivaled other empires for thousands of years in economic and military prowess. Rome was its capital; the Vatican, the seat of its state religion and papacy. In AD 1054 the empire divided between East and West; its Eastern counterpart, the Byzantine Empire, ruled alongside the Eastern Orthodox Church, in Constantinople.

The Roman Catholic Church/Empire waged war against numerous countries for thousands of years. Its popes initiated seven out of the nine Crusades, one of which was solely against the Byzantine Empire, which subsequently hastened its catastrophic end in AD 1453. The Roman Catholic Church imposed taxes on everyone except its clergy. Its bishops ruled with an iron scepter, collecting taxes, and torturing and imprisoning those who couldn’t pay. The church regulated nearly all areas of life, including literacy. Its edicts were in Latin; no bibles existed in anyone’s native language.

Unbeknownst to even himself, a young German Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, completely upended this system. Luther initially sought to clarify church doctrine and reform it from within. Despite attempts on his life and retaliation and persecution, his persistence led to one of the most significant events in history that quite literally changed political and religious institutions forever.

Reeling from watching starving peasants buy indulgences for their salvation from his wealthy colleagues, Martin Luther delved deeper into the New Testament book of Romans. Un-coincidentally, the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians living under the same empire as Luther roughly 1,500 years before. His discovery led to repeated questioning and challenges about the political and religious system imposed by the church, an agonizing realization that he could no longer dedicate his life to what he had previously, and a new found faith in salvation through Christ alone.

What especially gnawed at his soul was one verse:

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘the righteous shall live by faith. (Romans 1:17)

This text helped shape the doctrine of the Reformation and Luther’s declaration of Five Solas:

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone),

Sola Fide (Faith alone),

Sola Gratia (Grace alone),

Sola Christus or Solo Christo (Christ alone),

Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone).

On October 31, 1517, Luther posted Ninety-Five Theses to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, which listed 95 issues he could not reconcile between Roman Catholic doctrine and the Bible. This was a political act as much as it was theological, and it nearly cost him his life. Eventually, Luther stood trial at the Diet of Worms, where he was forced to recant or be excommunicated; which he could not do, and was.

Fearing for his life, Frederick the Wise requested that Luther be taken under his protection at Wartburg Castle. Luther hid there for nearly one year under a false name (Junker Jorg, “the Knight George”) and translated the New Testament into German in just a few months.

The first “Lutheran” New Testament was published in 1522. The complete Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments and Apocrypha, was published in 1534.

His motivation was spiritual, but the outcome was political– which reverberated worldwide.

Because of the gospel message– that every person has value and worth because they are created by God– peasants demanded their freedom. A light pierced through the Dark Ages; those who had been trapped in poverty and despair began to question the status quo and learned to read in their own language. If they were equal under God, why were some being oppressed by others in the name of God?

Protest, however, was costly. Revolting against an oppressive feudal system led to mass starvation and economic losses, civil wars and schisms, and persecution and martyrdom. Freedom inspired a thirst for knowledge and the opportunity to improve the lives of generations– but it was not free from a painful transition period.

New believers called themselves Protestants, marked by their protest of and separation from the Roman Catholic Church and empire. Luther’s protest and what became known as the Protestant Reformation, sparked reformation movements throughout the continent. His courage continues to inspire Protestants 500 years later worldwide.
Luther’s “Here I stand” defense portrayed by actor Joseph Fiennes in the 2003 movie, “Luther”:

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Most Americans Can’t Travel to Muslim Majority Countries

Americans, Atheists, Christians, Jews, & Israelis Can’t Enter (or Leave) These Countries Safely, If At All

With all of the misinformation and confusion about the temporary travel ban, Americans should keep in mind that there are over three dozen countries they cannot visit safely, or ever.

Since January 15, 2016, the U.S. Department of State has issued 41 travel warnings to U.S. passport holders for 41 countries:

due to an unpredictable security situation subject to rapid deterioration, activities of armed groups, and violent crime.”

More than half are Islamic-controlled countries/territories:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the West Bank/Gaza, and Yemen.

If U.S. passport holders ignore these warnings, here’s what they can expect in just a few countries on the list:

  • Algeria: Even with a certificate of accommodation from Algerian authorities and an invitation from a registered travel agency in Algeria, non-immigrant visas are rarely issued and entry is rarely permitted. Safety is also unlikely.
  • Iran: No American can travel to Iran independently. Even if through the sponsor/invitation/visa process, U.S. citizens with valid visas are regularly refused entry at the border with no explanation. There is no U.S. Embassy in Iran. (Even the U.S. Navy was unsafe in international waters despite the U.S. State Department illegally transferring more than $4 billion to Iran.)
  • Libya: It’s nearly impossible to obtain a visa, but plausible if a Libyan sponsor applies for the traveler in Libya first. Still, they might be denied. Safety is also unlikely, as it was for U.S. citizens killed on September 12, 2012.
  • Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia issues no tourist visas. No one can enter Saudi Arabia without a sponsor, an official invitation, oversight of a particular licensed agency, and approved accompaniment and itinerary. Violating/overstaying visa terms results in incarceration and hefty fines.
  • Somalia is the second least visited country on earth for a reason. Even with a sponsor, invitation letter, and paid protection from pirates, entry without being kidnapped is unlikely.
  • Turkey: Turkey claims to be a free country to which anyone can travel but the American most recently arrested and detained indefinitely in prison is Wheaton College graduate and missionary, Pastor Andrew Brunson, falsely charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”
  • The West Bank/Gaza: Gaza is under control of Hamas, a terrorist organization, entry is prohibited. Even to Israeli citizens, travel is restricted in the West Bank in Bethlehem, Jericho, and Hebron.

When it comes to Israeli passport holders, these 17 Islamic countries have for years prohibited entry:

Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia (fluctuates), Iran, Iraq (except Iraqi Kurdistan), Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia (fluctuates), Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates (can travel through but can’t be admitted), and Yemen.

And—all non-Israeli passports holders—anyone who has traveled to Israel, or whose passports have a used or unused Israeli visa—are prohibited entry to Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

When it comes to religious or ideological views, consider how just one of these countries, America’s “greatest Gulf state ally,” Saudi Arabia, treats atheists, Christians, Jews, and non-Muslims seeking entry.

Atheists: According to a recent law, atheism is a criminal act and is considered a “terrorist offense.” Entry to atheists would be denied, with few exceptions.

Christians: On the rare occasion that a Christian is permitted entry, they are prohibited from discussing or displaying anything publicly related to their beliefs, including wearing a cross, worshipping in public, building a church, or even appearing to disparage or not follow Saudi customs. Doing so would lead to their arrest, imprisonment, and/or deportation, as would overstaying their visa. But they also could be arrested at any time for any perceived offense.

Jews: Only recently were Jews temporarily permitted entry because of their U.S. diplomatic status. No Jew is permitted to do business with or in Saudi Arabia.

All non-Muslims: Upon entry, all visa-holders must be chaperoned, all women must be escorted and covered, and all non-Muslims are prohibited from driving on certain roads and from going near or visiting Mecca.

By contrast, people from all of the above countries are permitted entry into the United States in several capacities.

This article was first published by NewsMax on February 10, 2017.

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49 Years After MLK Christian Pastors Call For Arms: Guns & Prayer Are Necessary

One genuine news story ignored by nearly all media this past Christmas was the slaughter of over 100 mostly Christian Nigerians– and– the razing of 50,000 homes, the destruction of thousands of acres of farmland, and the displacement of roughly 10,000 people in southern Kaduna, Nigeria.

The pre-Christmas season atrocity was just one of many perpetrated by people the government calls, “herdsmen,” who were known to have relentlessly terrorized 25 villages where Christians predominantly live. The government’s response has been and continues to be: nothing.

There are more Christians living in Nigeria than in any other country in Africa. Christians comprise at least half of Nigeria’s population, primarily living in the southern and central regions. A 2015 Journal of Research on Religion estimated that 600,000 Christians living in Nigeria have a Muslim background.

Which is why it is no coincidence that increased violence directed towards non-Muslims, in particular Christians, stems from a newly enacted Sharia penal law in the northern states of Nigeria. The law encourages Islamists to kill as many non-Muslims as possible.

Sam Omatseye, a columnist for The Nation, wrote in December,

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has cried out and the government has seemed unable to stanch or even anticipate the attacks, again and again. Has anyone gone to jail or even been identified publicly? We need answers to these questions.”

He also tweeted:

But it seems that CAN didn’t listen to his suggestion or to its secretary general six months before these attacks when Rev. Musa Asake advocated in favor of self-defense:

There is a grand plan to wipe out Christians in this country. If the government is not going to protect us, then we have no choice but to protect ourselves. We will not continue to fold our hands and accept being killed for no reason. Everybody has to defend themselves.”

Three examples (out of many) evidence that Christian pastors in Africa have been using firearms for quite some time.

Sam Childers, the Machine Gun Preacher and founder of Angels of East Africa (AOEA), argues he wouldn’t have been able to save over 1,000 orphans without using weapons. His mission to protect children “when no one else will,” has resulted in him not only rescuing these orphans from a life of starvation, disease, or enslaved child soldiers, but also enabling them to live, work, and go to school safely in a well-guarded village.

Missionary Charl van Wyk and founding member of Gun Owners of South Africa, argues self-defense is necessary inside church walls in his best-selling book, Shooting Back: The Right and Duty of Self-Defense. He describes how one man saved many lives during the St. James Massacre because he used his gun to stop a terrorist attack on congregants who were unarmed and praying.

After the 2015 execution-style massacre of 150 Christian students in Garissa, Kenya, churches began hiring armed guards to protect their flock. Since “these attackers are targeting Christians,” Willybard Lagho, a Mombasa-based catholic priest and chairman of the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics (CISS), told Reuters such security measures were necessary. Christians make up 83 percent of Kenya’s 44 million people, yet they are the primary targets of attacks.

In America, a growing number of churches are hiring armed security guards after an increased number of attacks against Christians occurred during the Obama administration.

In Colorado Springs, Colorado, New Life Church hired uniformed police officers and an armed safety team, including Special Forces volunteers from nearby military bases to patrol its 30-acre campus. Its pastor, Brady Boyd, reasons: “I love the people that I pastor. I want to protect them.”

Dallas, Texas-based pastor, Dr. Gary Cass, takes this position further. He argues all Christians, not just pastors or security guards, should be armed. Self-defense is a God-given responsibility and is biblically sound.

He told attendees at a 2012 Deliver Us From Evil Conference:

You can’t be a Christian if you don’t own a gun. How can you protect yourself, your family, or your neighbor if you don’t have a gun? If I’m supposed to love my neighbor, and I can’t protect him, what good am I?”

But not all Christians agree. Rob Schenck, chair of the Evangelical Church Alliance, recently argued that Christians… have no right to use guns for self-defense”—and that Christians can’t be “pro-life” and “pro-gun.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. agreed in practice, viewing violence against Christians as an opportunity to bear witness to God’s love. He argued, “The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community.”

Yet, 49 years after his murder more Black Americans support legally carrying guns for self-defense. One Black church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, made headline news when its members emphasized the importance of being armed and explained why they utilize a trained security team who have concealed carry licenses.

To be sure, criminals may respond to a Christian “turning the other cheek” with remorse. After all, nothing is impossible with God.

But, wasn’t it the shepherd’s responsibility to guard his sheep? And, isn’t Jesus returning with a sword to avenge his people and judge the living and the dead?

Evangelical stalwart, John Piper, clarifies that context is key. In a 2015 article, “Should Christians Be Encouraged To Arm Themselves?” he offered nine reasons to clarify the attitude Christians should have about violence. He wrote:

The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, ‘I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me?’ My answer is, No.”

Regarding self-defense, CAN’s Asake added:

The Bible again tells us that if a thief is coming to your house and you are aware of it, you cannot go to bed and allow the thief to destroy your house and kill your family. You have to protect your family.”

What is clear in both Africa and America– is that self-defense never occurs in a vacuum. And, it’s not the sole course of action. Those armed with weapons are also next to those armed solely with prayer. Prayer warriors have literally transformed rioted ruined neighborhoods into communities of revival.

To this point, Bishop John Praise of Dominion Chapel International Church in Abuja, Nigeria (Northern Nigeria) offers insight. His entire 2010 interview is worth reading, which occurred when many Christians expressed exasperation towards CAN and the Nigerian government for their inaction and non-response to Christian persecution.

Praise explained:

Somebody said Christians should not be violent. We have not been violent. We are peaceful loving and accommodating. The only time we stood up is to defend ourselves even then we did not carry weapons. In the north, no Christian has ever provoked any Muslim. If we respond, it was in self-defense.”

One fact Praise pointed out is that Christianity GREW in Nigeria [over the last four decades]—despite persecution– because Christians defended it. He said:

We have many Christians in that part of the North [Southern Kaduna] because [jihadists] could not penetrate it. The people resisted him. Our people are warriors. But when Christianity came through the missionaries, the Southern Interior Movement, they did a lot of work in evangelizing the people and bringing them to Christ.”

Ultimately, Praise reminds all believers that their assurance, in life and death, is what pastors must emphasize:

… ministers should be encouraged to preach the undiluted word and ultimately we should allow God to have His way in terms of helping people to live for Him.”

Christians’ ultimate defense lies in God’s protection, after-which all-else falls secondary.

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SILENCE: An Incredible Story of Martyrdom & Faith

“Do we have this kind of faith in America?” Academy Award-Winning Director Martin Scorsese asks when discussing his faith and the faith of the characters in his most recent film, Silence, released on December 23, 2016.

The film is based on Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel, Silence, a work of historical fiction based on true events. The film stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson as 17th century Portuguese priests who travel to Japan to spread the gospel and are persecuted and tortured along with new Japanese believers.

The crux of the film is the cause or possible avoidance of persecution, torture, and martyrdom for one’s faith. How much does a person’s faith mean? How far is someone willing to go when his/her beliefs will result in persecution, torture, and death?

Scorsese explains both the book and the film are about:

… the depth of faith, struggle for essence of faith, stripping away everything else around it, the vehicle that one takes towards faith can be very helpful for the church (ie. sacraments), but ultimately it has to be yourself, you have to find that faith and a relationship with Jesus.”

Scorsese was deeply influenced by a young priest during his formative years living in New York City. He was both an alter and choir boy, who found solace in the Roman Catholic Church in his neighborhood. But Sicilian Father Francis, who mentored him for six years, made a lasting impression on him through the use of literature, cinema, and music. Scorsese once aspired to be a Mariannhill missionary and briefly attended a seminary preparatory school.

He was “crushed,” however, when he realized that becoming a missionary wasn’t his calling. Instead, he sought to live “a good life” outside of the church and to pursue work that allowed him to communicate his faith and what a “good life” looked like.

scorsese choir boy

In response to his own question he answers:

Does our culture here reflect that kind of faith? I don’t think it does. Our faith here now is technology. But when they pull the plug from technology there’s still go to be something.”

The film, he argues, is more about the “inside-out, not the outside-in” story of the missionaries. Spiritually, the film goes to the depths of compassion, the relationship between the main character and Jesus, and challenged Scorsese’s own belief about life and faith.

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January: New Life From Death The Promise of Capricorn

As Joseph Augustus Seiss explains in his seminal work, The Gospel in the Stars, the twelve signs of the Solar Zodiac are divided into three groups with each group having a specific focus. The first group (Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius) focuses on the victory of Jesus Christ (his person, debt paid, battle fought and won).

The second group (Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces, and Aries) focuses on the fruit of Jesus’s redemption, namely the Church, which Seiss clarifies is, “the body of people spiritually born to Him through faith, and made partakers of the benefits of His redemptive administrations.”

Capricorn, the fifth sign of the Zodiac (December 19- January 20), is depicted by a half goat/half fish, a piercing arrow, a soaring eagle, and a dolphin splashing out of water. Capricorn’s meaning from translations of the earliest languages, denotes fruitfulness and life that stem from death.

In Latin, Capricorn means, “atonement.” Its most prominent stars, Gedi and Dabih, in Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac all mean, “the cut-off, the hewndown, the sacrifice slain.”


The constellation formation depicting a goat with a drooping head and leg bent under its body, represents the falling and dying of Jesus Christ– bowing to his sacrificial atoning death.

The images of a half goat and half fish are not coincidences. The Israelites used goats as sacrificial animals for sin offerings (Lev. 9:15, 16, 17, 31) and in particular on the Day of Atonement. The goat was “to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord” (Lev. 10:16, 17).

God’s saved people in prophecy are spoken of as fishes– fish are the symbol of believers (Jer. 16:15, 16; Ez. 47:1-9).

In the First Century, the ichthus (ˈɪkθəs) became the symbol for Christianity (Coptic meaning is “mansion of bearing”) and early Christians were publicly referred to as Ichthus and Pisces.

From Jesus’s promise to his disciples, “I will make you fishers of men,” through salvation, and the testifying waters of baptism– the multitude of fishes– the church– sprang forth. In the Gospel of Matthew, the fish is used as a symbol for the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 4:19, 13:47-50). In this way, Seiss clarifies,”… the Church, or congregation of saints, rises out of the death of Christ, sacrificed for the sins of the world.”

Like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the constellation’s story does not end in the goat’s death. Instead, the dying goat becomes a living–and–vigorous fish. Capricorn’s symbol is one all astronomers have acknowledged since the studying of the stars began.

The fact that there is “no-prototype in nature” for this grotesque image proves its miraculousness, Seiss argues:

The forgiveness and regeneration of men, and their incorporation with Christ, is something wholly above Nature– something altogether miraculous– which could not be adequately signified by an natural symbols; and so, as the double nature of the Redeemer himself was denoted by an arbitrary figure, half horse and half man, so the relation between Him as the Sin-bearer and His saved people, who live by virtue of Hiss death is denoted by another arbitrary figure, made up of a dying goat and a living fish.”

Later, God’s story was changed by pagan fables and myths. One is of Bacchus escaping the fury of Typhon by becoming a goat and then a fish. The Babylonians and Philistines goat/fish god was Dagon, and the Egyptian’s was Horus. The Babylonians also believed that Oannes, a half man/half fish god, rose out of the sea to teach them wisdom. But even these myths cannot disprove the the biblical truth reinforced by Capricorn’s Decans.

capricorn decans

The Arrow (Sagitta), which appears alone, represents almighty justice. It pierces the spotless Son of God who bore our sins (Psalm 38). Like the goat-fish whose old life dies in order to be renewed (Romans 6:2-7), new believers’ hearts are pierced by the Word of God. The arrow in the Lord’s quiver, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment, enters believers’ souls, humbling them, leading them to repentance, and turning them to a new life in Christ. The person’s old self dies to a new self only in Christ.

The Eagle (Aquila) again proves there are no coincidences with God. In the Bible, the eagle is repeatedly used as a symbol of Jesus (Ex. 19:4; Deut. 32:11,12; Ez. 1:10). Aquila is a bright star accompanied on either side by two stars.

In Arabic, the meaning of the stars include:

  • Altair (on its neck): “the wounded.”
  • Alcair (on its left wing): “the piercing.”
  • Al Shain (in the throat closer to its beak): “the scarlet-colored-covered with blood.”
  • Tarred (on the top of its back): “the torn.”
  • Al Okal (on its tail): “the wounded in the heel.”

All translations denote a noun, not a verb, pointing to a person.

The stars draw the gospel in the sky: the sin offering of the goat, the arrow of God’s judgment, the pierced and falling eagle, testifying, even in Arabic, to Jesus Christ.

The four brightest stars in the last Decan, Delphinus, form a cluster in what appears to be the head of a dolphin or a fish jumping out of water. Symbolizing new life springing out of redemptive waters, Delphinus completes the prophecy. It also points to a promise: no believer can sink beneath the waves. They will always rise up because they have already been delivered from the depths (Psalm 42:7; Rom. 4:25).

Seiss once again, says it best not only of the constellations but the time of year they appear brightest:

This strange goat-fish, dying in its head, but living in its after-part– falling as an eagle pierced and wounded by the arrow of death, but springing up from the dark waves with the matchless vigor and beauty of the dolphin, sining under sin’s condemnation, but rising again as sin’s conqueror– developing new life out of death, and heralding a new spring-time out of December’s long dreary nights, was framed by no blind chance of man.

“The story which it tells is the old, old story on which hangs the only availing hope that ever came, or ever can come to Adam’s race. To what it signifies we are forever shut up as the only saving faith. In that dying Seed of the woman we must see our Sin-bearer and the atonement for our guilt, or die ourselves un-pardoned and un-sanctified. Through His death and blood-shedding we must find our life, or the true life, which alone is life, we never can have.”


This is the third of a 13-part series “The Original Christian Zodiac.”

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Andy Stanley’s Claims About Bible, Virgin Birth, Not So Different From Islam

Believe it or not, the buffoonery and erroneous teachings advanced over the past few years by self-ascribed evangelical leaders, was surpassed this Christmas by Andy Stanley, founder of North Point Ministries, and son of renowned evangelist, Charles Stanley.

No stranger to controversy, Andy Stanley’s assertions this year about the Bible are worse than those made by former mega-church leader Rob Bell on homosexuality, marriage, and hell. They are far more destructive than Russell Moore’s divisive comments about Christians and violence. Many argue Stanley’s departure from biblical truth and rejection of the authority of the Bible only solidifies his role as a popular false prophet and heretic.

But in actuality, he’s worse than that. He’s closer to an apologist for Islam. 

On December 3, 2016, Stanley declared:

Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories around the birth of Jesus. It really hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.”

And that’s only one sentence in an entire nonsensical argument that could be part of Humpty Dumpty’s conversation with Alice in Through the Looking Glass. Historically, his use of false comparisons, false equivalences, false presuppositions, and blatantly disregard for biblical truth should be reason enough to demand that he step down.

(Notwithstanding the scientific fact that the numerous prophecies specific to historical and geographical context fulfilled by Jesus’s birth were statistically impossible. In Science Speaks, Peter Stoner and Robert Newman point out that based on the science of probability, the probability that Jesus could have fulfilled even eight prophecies out of the known 60 major prophecies (and subsequent 270 ramifications of these prophecies) was 1 in 100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000.  That’s 1 in one quadrillion.)

But for Stanley to argue that Jesus being supernaturally conceived is not really relevant to Christianity exceeds even vacuous thought or heresy. He’s actually making the same claim that Islamists make about the Bible– it’s stories aren’t true or relevant.

According to Stanley, “Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories about the birth of Jesus.” Since Christians can’t believe what’s in the Bible, perhaps the Qur’an can shed some light on the truth about Jesus’s birth. After all, there’s an entire chapter devoted to it: Ch. 19, “Marium.”

Maryam Nourished By A Palm Tree While In Labor.

According to Islam, Mary, or Marium, was both the mother of Jesus and the sister of Moses. Prior to giving birth, Marium cried out that she’d rather die than give birth to Jesus.

She gave birth to Jesus by herself, holding “herself to the trunk of a palm tree,” saying:

Oh, would that I had died before this, and had been a thing quite forgotten!” (Surah 19:22, 23; emphasis added.)

The numerous prophets who foretold of Jesus’s birth over hundreds of years apart from each other and prior to his birth, were wrong. Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem. He was born in an undisclosed location, which the Qur’an describes as “a remote place.”

mary and jesus

Maryam and Baby Isa.

Jesus also spoke to Mary as she pushed him out of her birth canal. According to the Qur’an:

(the child) called out to her from beneath her: Grieve not, surely your Lord has made a stream to flow beneath you. And shake towards you the trunk of the palm tree, it will drop on you fresh dates: so eat and drink and refresh the eye. Then if you see any mortal say: Surely I have vowed a fast to the Beneficent God, so I shall not speak to any man today.” (Surah 19:24-26)

And, as a newborn baby, Jesus spoke fluently to a group of Arabian nomads, saying:

Surely I am a servant of Allah; He has given me the Book and made me a prophet; and He has made me blessed wherever I may be, and He has enjoined on me prayer and the poor-rate so long as I live; And dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me insolent, unblessed; And peace on me on the day I was born, and on the day I die, and on the day I am raised to life.” (Surah 19:30-33)

The Qur’an’s account of Jesus’s birth is critical—because it emphasizes the key truth of Islam: although Jesus was supernaturally born to a virgin, Jesus is not God’s son and he is only a prophet of Allah:

Such is Isa, son of Marium, this is the saying of truth about which they dispute. It beseems not Allah that He should take to Himself a son, glory to be Him; when He has decreed a matter He only says to it ‘Be’ and it is.” (Surah 19:34, 35)

quran jesus

Again, according to Stanley, “Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories about the birth of Jesus.” Therefore, Christians are silly to believe that Mary magnified the Lord (Luke 1:46). They should believe the Qur’an that she’d rather die than give birth to Jesus.

Likewise, where Jesus was born wasn’t marked by constellations or even by nine points of a single star. It was in the middle of nowhere. And no one knew about it. The multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God (‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’’ (Luke 2:10-14) obviously weren’t there either.

These are just meaningless stories. Stories can be rewritten. Which is exactly what happened and continues to happen when people reject the authority of the Bible as the word of God. Because the Bible isn’t enough, additional revelation is necessary, like the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon. Sadly, Andy Stanley doesn’t appear to know on whom Christianity hinges. If he did, he couldn’t possibly make such statements. Worse still, why is anyone listening to him and paying him to continue blabbering?

If Jesus Christ was not born to a virgin, then all of the Old Testament prophecies pointing to his birth– both in time, date, and location, are false. If his birth didn’t matter, then why care about who Jesus Christ is at all? In fact, if it doesn’t matter, then there’s all the more reason to believe in the virgin birth of dates and palm trees.

A Falnama (Book of Divination) painting of the Mary and Jesus (c. 1600) Melikian Collection

A Falnama (Book of Divination) Miniature of Mary and Jesus, Melikian Collection, c. 1600

One Memphis pastor says it best:

Contrary to Stanley’s false assertions, the Bible isn’t a book or a compilation of questionable stories. It is a living, breathing message from the creator of the universe, from a father to his children, in which every word points to the living and saving work of his only begotten son. To disbelieve it essentially calls God a liar. And, to preach about a God whose word can’t be trusted is nothing but delusional insanity.

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More Than 3 Million Christians In Iran & Counting Despite Persecution

According to CBN News, in 1994 there were roughly 100,000 Iranians who professed their faith in and commit to follow Jesus Christ. But now there are 3 million believers– a number that keeps growing because of persecution.

CBN News Middle East Bureau Chief Chris Mitchell recently interviewed Iranian believers living in Turkey who fled from persecution in Iran.

One Christian named Reza remarked that many became believers, like him, because of a dream or vision they had. He says:

I had a dream. I had a dream long time back and every time that Jesus was with me. And in all of my life, He was helping me and I didn’t know who was this Person. Suddenly Jesus Christ was over there and He said, ‘Come to Me.’ And I came to that side and He accepted me.”

Living in Iran as a Christian, he says, “It become [sic] [a] problem for my job and my health. They tried to kill me [and] then I start to run away.”

Raizal, Reza’s sister, who also fled Iran, added, “I couldn’t pray [to] God with all my heart because all trouble was there. Even if I say ‘Jesus Christ,’ they may kill me.”

Another, Afshin, attended Pastor Saeed Abedini’s church. After Saeed was arrested in 2012, the church disbanded and Afshin was on the run. He explains,

As a result, I came out of Iran because day by day it was more difficult and it was more risky for me also.

“I had to change our home because I was sure that one day they would realize my home as an underground house church. They would recognize it; the intelligence services would recognize it.”

Now that he’s living in Turkey, he told CBN News:

I can privilege [speak about] God’s Word to other guys. I can freely praise the Lord. I can easily go to church. It’s completely different.”

Those who stayed in Iran have established houses and Internet communities for fellowship with other believers who are facing intense persecution. They ask other believers to pray for Iranian Christians, whose numbers are multiplying because they are being persecuted for their faith.

Reza has a request of other Christians:

And I’m just begging, really, from the other believers, from other sisters and brothers from all over the world, to pray for Iran and to all the people of Iran to find new God and be familiar with God, with Jesus Christ.”

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A Message From the Heartland: Trump Kept His Promise to One Pastor to Help Free Pastor Saeed

Pastor Terry Amann of Des Moines, Iowa, is no stranger to politics. He’s been involved in politics and pro-life activism for decades. Most recently, he was a formidable influence in the last three presidential races. One Iowa State Senator just last week remarked that he is the “most influential pastor in politics in the state of Iowa.”

Politics aside, Pastor Amann has a heart for ministry, as evidenced by the single most important issue he addressed when he first met Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Below are his remarks to me about the presidential race, in which he describes how Donald Trump kept a very important promise to him and to another pastor.

From Pastor Terry Amann:

In Iowa, the “First in the Nation status” state, residents are given a front row seat into the drama of what I call the “Great Race,” which results in the winner becoming the “Leader of the Free World.”

I met with Donald Trump in April, 2015, in Waukee, Iowa. There were other hopeful presidential candidates gathered at a church that day seeking to make their mark in Iowa.

Donald Trump came into the room where I was waiting. He graciously asked me if we should talk right away, or if he could meet with reporters first. It was my choice. I told him I would be fine having the reporters go first. While he was interviewed, I asked one of his staff members what it was like working for Trump and, “does he treat his staff well?” His staffer replied, “Yes, he definitely is good to his people.” In the brief interactions that I saw behind the scenes I would say that was accurate.

When we sat down together Trump gave me his full attention. He first took out a card with a picture on it. He pointed to it and said, “That’s me in my Confirmation Class from 1959.”

I boldly told him, “You looked like a tough kid from New York.” He chuckled and seemed to enjoy the light-hearted jab. We spent the next fifteen minutes talking about politics, his campaign, and my life as a commodities trader before being called into the ministry. He was fascinated by my story and respectful of the Christian faith.

As our time together came to a close, I was surprised by Donald Trump’s offer to me. He said, “Pastor Terry, if there is ever anything I can do for you – you just let me know.”

So there I am with one of the richest men in America, a man with much influence, telling me he is ready to assist me with whatever I asked him. (The parallel of King Solomon rushed through my mind in the way that God offered King Solomon the same kind of open-ended opportunity. (1 Chronicles 1:1-12).)

“Actually, Mr. Trump, there is something you can do for me,” I said resolutely.

Trump sat back and straightened up a bit, seemingly not expecting my response, and inquisitively said … “Yes?”

“Pastor Saeed Abedini.” I replied. “Pastor Saeed is languishing in an Iranian prison where he being held hostage. He will die there if we don’t keep his situation in front of Obama and the country.”

Trump was quick to answer, saying, “I have been doing that. I have talked about his case many times. And really, there are four American men in prison over there.”

“I know you have been talking about it,” I said. “But you asked me what you could do for me and that’s it. Please, please keep Pastor Abedini’s plight in front of the American people.”

Trump then ended our conversation with this promise: “Okay, I’ll do it.”

We were photographed together, shook hands, and parted company. I went to another room to meet with Dr. Ben Carson while Trump readied himself to give his upcoming speech.

As the weeks went by in the nascent stages of the presidential primary season, Trump did in fact keep Pastor Saeed’s case in the news. There were a couple of times when my wife and I saw him plead Abedini’s case on television and social media.

But Trump’s promise did not end there. Another blessing came. It had been my hope to connect with Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, so I could tell her about my conversation with Donald Trump to hopefully provide her with some encouragement. To know that there were people who deeply cared about her husband could be a mustard seed to keep hope alive.

As it turned out, several months later, Naghmeh Abedini came to Des Moines to what had become an annual prayer event for Pastor Saeed’s desired release. At that prayer meeting Naghmeh spoke passionately of the challenges that she and her two children were enduring. After her talk, I went up to her and told her about what had transpired in my only meeting with Donald Trump. I shared with Naghmeh what Trump had promised me, and how he had been honoring that promise. Then Naghmeh reached in for a hug and held onto me while my daughter Rachel captured the moment on camera. Then Naghmeh began to weep, and so did I.

In January of this year, Pastor Saeed Abedini was set free from the nightmare of his captivity in Iran. Upon his release Naghmeh publicly and specifically thanked Donald Trump for his continued support of their plight. She said:

I am most thankful that of the many issues that Mr. Trump could engage he has chosen to speak out about the unjust imprisonment of my husband by the Iranian government. This reveals to me the heart of Mr. Trump and his commitment to religious freedom.

I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to Mr. Trump for his concern of my husband and our family. I am very grateful for his support and want to offer the most valuable gift I have – the gift of prayer. May God bless Mr. Trump and his family.”

Donald Trump kept his promise. He didn’t have to talk about a pastor being persecuted in prison. But he did. One can only hope that the man who emerged from a bumper-crop of excellent candidates, who remains committed to religious freedom, will stop the corrupt Clinton machine and become the next President of the United States.


Photo Credit: Rachel Amann

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