At the beginning of the New Year we look back at the year just past, and we are reminded of the many blessings the Lord gave us, and with thankful hearts we appreciate His blessings toward us. We are assured that the Lord will bless and overrule all blessings for the Lord's faithful people in the coming year, as He has promised to those who love God (Rom. 8:28). "We will bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore . Praise the Lord! " (Psa. 115:18) "But I will declare for ever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob." (Psa. 75:9) We especially praise and thank God for the 50 years of the survival of Israel. We know it is one of God's Miracles!
We have had disasters in the United States and all over the world - floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, etc. Many good people went to their aid, as did our government when those areas where pronounced DISASTERS. Many of these good people risked their lives to help others. We watched these horrors on TV and grieved with those who grieved, and we also "weep with them that weep." (Rom. 12:15) There were heartaches, especially for those who lost their loved ones, lost their homes or were badly injured.
The clergy did their best to comfort those who lost their loved ones, telling them their loved ones were in heaven. They said they didn't know why the Lord permitted these evils. Billy Graham didn't know why God permitted these evils, and said it may be the Mystery of Iniquity. However, he came nearer to the truth when he was asked the question, “Do you think the world is going to get better and better?” His answer, "The Bible doesn't promise that the world is going to get better and better. In fact, it indicates that 'there will be terrible times in the last days.’” (2 Tim. 3:1)
There are other texts that tell us about these "terrible times" we will have in the last days. "There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation." (Dan. 12': 1) "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." (Matt. 24:21) "Nor ever shall be" gives us hope of a better time. The Lord's prayer gives us further hope: "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." (Matt. 6:10) However, Satan is the "prince of this world." (John 12:31; 16:11) God will not permit Satan to do more than is necessary to give the world experience with evil. In the last days man's extremity is God's opportunity. The Kingdom will be inaugurated (Acts 17:31). "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" (Isa. 11:9), "for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." (Isa. 26: 9)
1998 was another record year for the economy, especially the stock market. But no matter what business you are in, overseas problems affect you. 25% of our economy is linked to overseas trade which has a big impact on jobs, incomes, inflation, interest rates, capital spending and company profits. According to the IRS, a record 1.3 million individual income-tax returns filed for 1995 reported income of $200,000 or over, 14% more than in 1994. These returns represent 1.1% of all 1995 individual returns filed. 1% of the American people paid approximately 33% of all federal taxes, which is up 25% from ten years ago. This group earned 16% of America's income.
No one can really tell you why the stock market is a record high. Gold is at an alltime low, and businesses are trying to cut costs and run more efficiently. They can't raise their prices, at least not much, so they are looking for ways to hold down expenses and boost productivity. One way they are doing this is by cutting jobs, but unemployment will remain below 5% through next year.
The Kiplinger Letter predicts that growth will slow in 1999, particularly in the spring and early summer. The momentum from expansion in 1998 will keep the first quarter rolling.
One of the concerns is whether your money will be safe in a bank on January 1, 2000. Yes, but that does not guarantee easy access to your cash. Many small banks and credit unions lag behind in fixing their computers so they will recognize year-2000 and 21st century dates. Banks that are unprepared could incorrectly debit or credit transactions. If you are not sure that your bank will be ready on time, consider switching to one of the larger banks which have invested considerable resources to correct the problem . No matter where you keep your account, hold onto your statements and receipts at the end of 1999 and for the first few months of 2000 just in case the computer is corrupted. Check with your bank to see what they are doing to prepare for the year 2000 .
1999 profits will be hard to come by, remaining nearly flat for a second year. But it will feel worse after long double digit increases. The United States is becoming a world market and what happens overseas affects us more today than in any time in the history of our country. The federal government will cut interest rates further to ward off a recession, according to the Kiplinger Letter. They figure that the prime will probably be 7.5% in early 1999, but still Treasury Bills will drop to about 4% and interest bearing federal accounts will drop even lower.
Health insurance is still a problem. A lot of HMOs have gone bankrupt trying to keep the cost of insurance down and no one has come up with an answer. Some people seem to think that our health care is slipping in treating the sick, although medical pharmaceutical companies are coming out with better drugs to fight all kinds of contagious diseases.
The United States is the world's most open market, but we also pay a price for this honor. Job layoffs continue in an upward trend - there were 91,500 announced layoffs in the month of October, the most in three years, spreading from manufacturers to those who sell them goods and services. This will hurt consumer confidence. When people start hearing of pink slips and fewer jobs, they tighten up. One thing is sure, the U.S. can be the main buyer only so long. With job and income growth slowing here, imports will be hard to absorb which raises the risk of recession later on next year or early 2000. There is a good chance a tailspin will be avoided, but is far from sure. Only the future can tell.
We need to continue to "watch and pray" (Mark 13:33) in this Time of Trouble so that we will not be caught "unaware." (Luke 21:34)
JEHOVAH 'S WITNESSES: There are Kingdom Halls in Israel, even though they claim all the promises of God to the Jews belong to them. The Jews in Israel permit them to build their churches there, called Kingdom Halls. They don't offer praise and tribute to Israel for their 50th anniversary. To get rid of the name, Bible Students, they gave their followers a sectarian name, Jehovah' s Witnesses. They change their doctrines so often, and will keep doing so until time reveals their errors. They now publish Brother Russell's picture and refer to his Studies in the Scriptures, something they didn't do before. They do not use them in their studies. They are the largest movement, as to numbers, who emanated from the truth that Brother Russell taught. However, their teaching has no resemblance to the teachings of Pastor Russell.
BIBLE STUDENTS: Most of them believe Brother Russell was That Servant, but only quote part of what That Servant taught in the six volumes and Watch Towers, especially on the Harvest of the Saints. However, they do a good witness work to the world and use tracts regarding the Kingdom (Acts 17:31). We are happy they do, as well as for the good work of reprinting his books and Watch Towers, at a reasonable price.
The Laymen’s Home Missionary Movement also witness truth about the Kingdom on earth. They, too, emanate from Brother Russell's movement and accept him as That Servant. They also emanate from Brother Johnson's group. However, they believe that the camp contains the consecrated and names them "Consecrated Epiphany Campers." If we study Tabernacle Shadows we will learn that the Camp does not type consecration, and that during the Gospel Age the Court does type consecration. Of course, most people know that Tabernacle types are conditions and not places. Types are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the age come (1 Cor. 10:11).
"NEW ATTITUDE FOR CHRISTIANITY: Wooing the disaffected, Track One proposes shedding the traditional trappings of worship. SEATTLE - If Christianity doesn't become the church of what's happening now, it might not be around for the Second Coming.
"At least that's what the Rev. Doug Murren, former pastor of the Eastside Foursquare Church in Kirkland, Wash., reads into all the statistics and survey results running around in his head. He cites them all, his voice rising with each unhappy number:
"Church attendance hasn't changed in 60 years. Only 'one-half person' is converted 'per church per year. ' For every dollar spent on the poor, the average church spends $6 on facilities. Nearly half of adults are functionally illiterate and can't understand the King James Version of the Bible, the one most often read in church.
"The troubling stats are the inspiration for Murren 's new endeavor - Track One, possibly the first Christian denomination born as much out of research as evangelical zeal.
"Murren says he believes traditional churches are drained by the way they've evolved. Pastors have been 'ultra-professionalized.' Too much money goes from the collection plate to administer the denominations and not enough to the poor in the churches' own neighborhoods.
"Perhaps the most unique characteristic of Track One is what Murren calls 'a death clause' - after 20 years, the denomination will cease to exist.”
(Excerpts from The Seattle Times, November 14, 1998)
"DO ALL DOGS, CATS, GERBILS GO TO HEAVEN? Religious teachings vary, but many owners think they'll see their departed pets again. Most religions believe that humans have souls - a spirit that lasts through eternity. But throughout history, the world's religions have debated whether animals possess souls. At one end of thought are mostly Eastern religions, such as Jainism, which say animal souls are equal to those of humans. At the other extreme are faiths, such as Christianity, which reserve the immortal soul for righteous humans.
"Even America's famed evangelist, Billy Graham, a no-nonsense Baptist, says, ‘God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he'll be there.’
"Quinn Hunter, a retired physician in Laguna Beach, Calif., and companion to Louie the cat, wouldn't argue with that. 'The religious folk will say that nobody has souls but humans. But I've been close to a number of dogs and more than 20 cats. They have personalities and a sense of right and wrong, and that to me means possession of a soul.'
"Louie, 4, was rescued from a shelter. He chases birds and deposits his kill on the doormat. Is that sinful? Can he be redeemed? No need. It's just Louie being Louie in his survival mode, Hunter says. The word for 'animal' comes from the Latin ‘anima,’ which means ' soul.'
"In the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas agreed with Aristotle, and heavily influenced Christian thought that continues to this day. The belief was taken further by 17th century French philosopher Rene Descartes, who said animals had no souls and were merely well-oiled machines without thoughts or feelings.
"There were holdouts. St. Francis of Assisi believed that animal souls were immortal. John Wesley, who founded Methodism, spoke of the eternal souls of animals.
"'For myself, I have no doubt that animals will have an afterlife, ' says the Rev. Andrew Linzey, ethics professor at Mansfield College at Oxford, who holds the academic world' s only post in animal theology. 'The question isn't whether they will be there in heaven, since they are sinless and innocent. The real question is whether humans, who are violent, sinful and faithless, will be there.’
"In Judaism, there are different levels of soul. The lowest level, 'nefesh,' is the animal soul, the functioning part that leaves at death. Animals have that. The highest level of soul is 'neshuma,' the spiritual part that lives forever connected with God. That is restricted to human beings.
"Jainism believes animals have souls that are equal to human souls. Souls transmigrate between humans, hell beings, celestial beings and animals over and over again until there is spiritual liberation. A soul has to be in human form to achieve liberation.
"Saidla, who grew up Methodist and now attends a Congregational church, says the animal soul question is 'a great mystery. ' Discussing his poodle, he says, 'Sometimes Peter Rabbit seems like he has a soul. But when he dies, my best bet is he will turn to dust. I don't think there will be a life after death for him. But then, I'm not so sure about myself, either. '
"Warren Eckstein, a Santa Monica, Calif., pet therapist and radio host, is convinced animals have a sense of the divine.'My God is one who knows the benefits and relationships people have with animals."
(Excerpts by Carol McGraw, The Orlando Sentinel, November 21, 1998)
Yes, indeed God knows the benefits and relationship people have with animals. When Adam was created God "Breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul." (Gen. 2:7) God did not create animals that way. We have no record that God blew the breath of life into each animal or species of animals. "Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people." (Isa. 60:2)
"A FINE EXAMPLE OF RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE: The country in which conversion to Christianity is punishable by death: Saudi Arabia." (The Jewish Press, June 5, 1998)
"POPE URGES 'OBJECTIVE'STUDY OF THE INQUISITION: VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II harnessed history to the service of theology on Saturday, saying the Roman Catholic Church should take a clear, 'objective' look at the Inquisition before making any grand apology for one of its darkest institutions. The pontiff spoke at an audience with historians and other scholars gathered at the Vatican for an unprecedented conference on the Inquisition, a centuries-long campaign against heresy in which thousands - perhaps millions - were tortured and burned at the stake." (The Orlando Sentinel, November 1, 1998)
"'INDULGENCES 'GET BLESSING OF POPE: John Paul II has said the idea of acts that decrease time in purgatory will be part of the 2000 celebration. ROME - For Roman Catholics, the year 2000 offers early salvation.
"Pope John Paul II announced Friday that throughout the millennium celebration, penitents who do a charitable deed or give up cigarettes or alcohol for a day can earn an 'indulgence ' that will eliminate time in purgatory. "The medieval church sold indulgences, a practice that drove Martin Luther to rebel, leading to the Reformation. They remain a source of theological debate between Protestants and Catholics, and since Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has played down their importance.
"Some liberal Catholics are embraced by a practice that seems to offer such a simplistic shortcut to salvation. But church officials emphasize that indulgences are linked to a sincere repentance and are not a one-day expedient.
"By restoring indulgences to so prominent a position, the pope is making penitence a theme of the millennium celebration. He also is reassuring conservatives in the church. But by broadening the ways believers can earn an indulgence, the pope also is trying to imbue indulgences with some of the ecumenical spirit he wants to give the celebrations.
"In a papal bull titled Incarnationis Mysterium (The Mystery of the Incarnation) that is to be formally issued today, John Paul formally proclaimed the year 2000 a Holy Year and issued edicts that in many ways serve as a practical guide to spiritual salvation during the period. He decreed that the jubilee will begin on Christmas Day 1999 and end on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2001.
"The pope said individual sinner's would be granted 'plenary indulgences,’ a full pardon for sins as opposed to a shortening of the time spent in purgatory. In Catholic theology, souls in purgatory are purifying themselves before their entry into heaven. He included personal acts of penitence or local charity work as a way of earning an indulgence. "Throughout the period, believers will be offered a wider selection of ways to receive a plenary indulgence . They may follow tradition and attend a Mass in one of several designated churches and perform such devotions as the rosary or the stations of the cross. Or, an appendix to the pope 's letter explained, they may visit the sick, the imprisoned or the disabled, or give to the poor.
"Or they may choose an act of private sacrifice. As the appendix, signed by Cardinal William Baum, a top Vatican official, explained, 'This would include abstaining for at least one whole day from unnecessary consumption (e.g. from smoking, or alcohol, or food)'. The text points out that sinners also must fulfill the ‘usual spiritual and sacramental conditions' and say the 'usual’ prayers.
"Archbishop Crescenzio Sepe said, 'One could be tempted to think today I won't smoke or I won't drink wine. I'll get a plenary indulgence and go to paradise.’ That, he said would be wrong. 'That would not be the spirit of an indulgence. That would be off-beam, like returning to the thinking of the Middle Ages. '"
(Excerpts from The Orlando Sentinel, November 29, 1998)
It is returning to the Middle Ages. The Bible tells us what we should do. If faithful we will get a reward either in heaven or on earth. No man can tell us what to do to be faithful unless there is Scriptural support.
"CONVERT 'S ROAD TO SAINTHOOD HAS BUMPS: Edith Stein will be canonized on Sunday by Pope John Paul II, but some Jews think the move is inappropriate. ROME - Edith Stein, the Orthodox Jew-turned-Catholic nun whom Pope John Paul II is elevating to sainthood Sunday, once offered her life in atonement for the sins of her 'unbelieving' people.
"Today those words from Stein, who was killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, make Roman Catholics as uncomfortable as they make Jews angry.
"Church officials avoid mentioning them while they prepare for the canonization of the German-born convert who embodied the conflicts and contradictions facing John Paul's papacy as it tries to come to terms with the Holocaust and the Jews.
"Stein became one of at least five Holocaust figures whose canonization has been initiated under John Paul. 'We see her canonization as a unique opportunity for Jews and Catholics and for reflection and reconciliation’, said the Rev. Remi Hoeckman, secretary of the Vatican's commission for relations with Jews.
"As Stein's canonization approaches, he said, it would be wrong to focus exclusively on one of the most divisive aspects - her statement of atonement for the sins of her ‘unbelieving people. Then we betray her as we were betraying the Jewish people. '"
(Excerpts from The Orlando Sentinel, October 10, 1998)
BAPTIST: "CHURCH ALLOWS SAME-SEX BLESSINGS: A North Carolina Baptist church has decided to let its ministers bless same-sex couples but not marry them, risking expulsion from the Baptist State Convention.
"Members of Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem approved a statement asking God 'to bless all loving, committed and exclusive relationships between two people' but did not approve a statement affirming same-sex unions, officials said. Wake Forest will now permit its ministers to officiate a blessing ceremony for same-sex couples.
"A blessing ceremony unites the couple in the eyes of the church but not legally, church officials said."
(The Orlando Sentinel, November 21, 1998)
It may be legal with the church but it is illegal with God. The Bible does not agree with this. "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." (Lev. 18:22 - see also Lev. 20:13; Rom. 1:27 and 1 Cor. 6:9)
EPISCOPAL: "BISHOP'S ARRIVAL IS PICKETED - Protesters resent clergyman who rejects divinity of Jesus. A long line of Episcopal protesters with homemade signs admire many things that they saw as right yesterday as they waited for the man they see as wrong: John Shelby Spong, an Episcopal bishop who says that Jesus was not the son of God.
'"He 's exploiting his position in our church to try to undermine the church,' said M. S. Aiken of Eden.
"Spong, a native of Charlotte who now lives in New Jersey, will continue to speak today to Episcopalian clergy at their fall meeting at the Summit Episcopal Conference Center in Browns Summit. The meeting is not open to laity, the press or the public, so about 50 members of N.C. Episcopalians for Biblical Authority began lining the wooded drive leading to the center … straining to catch a glimpse of Spong as he arrived…
"Spong writes in his latest book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, that God is a force rather than a being. In previous books, he has suggested that the thorn in St. Paul's side was latent homosexuality, raised the possibility that the story of the virgin birth was created to cover a charge that Christ was illegitimate and speculated on the possibility that Jesus might have been married to Mary Magdalene …
"The church should stop paying Spong, the protesters said. They resent the fact that Bishop Robert C. Johnson Jr. of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina asked Spong and his wife, Christine, to speak at the conference, and see that invitation as an implicit affirmation of Spong's beliefs.
"Johnson responded to his critics in a prepared statement. 'The Spongs are not coming to seduce us; they are coming to make us think', he said in part. The Episcopal Church has a long history of open debate, he said.’
"Some of the protesters said that the very openness Johnson spoke of underscores a dangerous liberalism. 'Its destroying the church,' said Bob James of Charlotte …"
(Winston-Salem Journal, October 13, 1998)
LUTHERAN: "LUTHERANS MAY SETTLE OLD SPAT WITH VATICAN: At the heart of the doctrinal dispute is how salvation is achieved. VATICAN CITY - The Vatican agreed in principle Thursday to a joint declaration with the Lutherans intended to settle a doctrinal dispute that was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation.
“‘With the agreement, most of the condemnations the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches heaped upon one another when Western Christianity split in the 16th century no longer apply’, the Vatican said.
"But while the Vatican said a 'high degree of agreement' has been reached, it said some differences on fundamental doctrine remain and these require further study.
"The Lutheran World Federation announced June 16 that its ruling council had unanimously approved a declaration lifting the condemnations.
"One of the key unresolved points regards what theologians call 'justification,' or how salvation is achieved. For the Lutherans, it depends on the grace of God, while Catholics maintain that good works are also involved.
"The Reformation stereotype was of Catholics earning their salvation through buying papal indulgences.
"'The level of agreement is high. But it does not yet allow us to affirm that all the differences separating Catholics and Lutherans in the doctrine of Justification are simply a question of emphasis or language, ' the Vatican said.
"Cardinal Edward Cassidy, who heads the Vatican's office for relations with other denominations, said of 44 points in the declaration, only three lacked full agreement.
"He said the formal signing of the Joint Declaration will take place this fall. The declaration was drawn up last year by an international group of Catholic and Lutheran theologians. It was sent to the federation's 124 member churches, who represent 57 million Lutherans, and the Vatican for approval.
"Last year, the United States' largest Lutheran church, the 5 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, endorsed the declaration.
"The ELGA is one of the federation's two largest churches. The other, the Church of Sweden, also has endorsed the declaration."
(Associated Press, June 26, 1998)
It is destroying the churches. "Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me" (Isa. 54:15 - see Hosea 8:4)
PENTECOSTAL: "CONFERENCE CHARGED WITH EMOTION - This is no ordinary gathering at the Radisson Twin Towers as members of the charismatic and Pentecostal faiths meet. Orlando conferences don't usually feature workshops that end with participants on their knees in worship - or on the floor - weeping, groaning and wailing in prayer.
"But the Women in Ministry Conference, which ends today at the Radisson Twin Towers, is no ordinary gathering. Ecstatic, emotional displays are common when charismatic and Pentecostal Christians gather, conference sponsors say.
"Still, a worried hotel worker almost entered the Friday workshop to offer assistance to one woman whose anguished cries filled the hallway. Conference participants outside the room assured the worker that there was nothing to be concerned about.
"Brenda Courtney of Daytona Beach said she was not at all surprised by what she experienced and what she saw happen to others at the 'Lord, Release the Fire' workshop." 'I know the Holy Spirit lives within me,' she said. 'This particular session just opened the door of my heart for the Holy Spirit to flow.'
"The conference, which is sponsored by Strang Communications of Lake Mary, publishers of Spirited Woman magazine, brought together about 600 women ministers, pastor 's wives and lay leaders from around Florida.
"Pentecostal and charismatic Christians believe in 'Baptism in the Holy Spirit,' said Lee Grady, leader of the workshop and executive editor of Charisma magazine, another Strang publication. This includes a form of worship called speaking in tongues,' faith healing and casting out demons.
"Charismatics prefer the ‘subjective, supernatural side of Christianity,’ Grady said, 'as opposed to the intellectual or cerebral side.’
"The charismatic and Pentecostal tradition of Christianity is also a lot more accepting of women in leadership,' said Larry Keefauver, editor of Ministries Today, another Strang publication. They are more accepting than some traditional evangelical and fundamental denominations.
"Keefauver led another workshop Friday on 'Overcoming the Barriers to Ministry.' That session offered 'keys to breaking through the gender and organizational barriers you face in ministry.’
"Recent research suggests that there is a greater acceptance of women in the pulpit in the black community, Keefauver said, than in Hispanic or white congregations.
"Inez Stafford, a lay leader from Daytona Beach, said that being among so many women of different races who are deeply committed to their faith was 'awesome.'
"'It's encouraging, it's reinforcing, it's spiritually beneficial’, she said.
"Joy Strang, the conference host, agreed. 'This is a place where women get support and encouragement', she said."
(By Mark I. Pinsky, The Orlando Sentinel, November 7,1998)