||FIRST, THE NEWS:
MONTENEGRO’S CAPITAL SUES PRIESTS FOR MARKET 'BREAK-IN'
(25 Apr.) To avoid directly targeting the influential Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Podgorica’s mayor filed a criminal complaint against unknown perpetrators, who were "dressed like priests," for holding a mass on disputed property.
The mayor of the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, Slavoljub Stijepovic, filed a criminal complaint alleging a violation of the municipality's property rights after Serbian Orthodox priests held a mass in a disused marketplace to mark the start of construction of a new church. The public mass was attended by hundreds of people in the fenced-off open-air marketplace which, according to the local media, both the municipality and the Serbian Orthodox Church claim.
The mayor’s criminal complaint said that unknown perpetrators broke in to the former marketplace in the Konik neighbourhood, trespassing on municipality land.
"The unknown perpetrators were dressed in clerical robes," the mayor’s press statement said. The Serbian church held a mass on the disputed site on Sunday, led by leading bishop Amfilohije and also attended by representatives of the Catholic and Muslim communities. A church statement said it marked the start of construction of the temple of St. Basil of Ostrog.
In March, over 6,500 people living in the neighbourhood signed a petition for the construction of an orthodox church at the old marketplace in Konik. The Serbian Orthodox Church said it has asked the city to give it the land for the construction of the temple, and that the urban plan for the area envisions the construction of religious buildings. However the Serbian church and the state have been at odds over property and other issues for years. [read more...]
TAJIKISTAN: "EXTREMISM" PRISON TERM FOR CHRISTIAN BOOKS?
by Mushfig Bayram: Forum 18 News Service
(28 Apr.) The NSC secret police in Khujand arrested Protestant pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov on 10 April after raiding his church and seizing Christian literature. Officials claim songbooks and a book "More Than a Carpenter" are "extremist". The pastor is being investigated on "extremism" criminal charges.
"Pastor Kholmatov's family and Church members don't know what the NSC secret police is doing with him," Protestants from Sogd Region who are closely following the situation and who, for fear of state reprisals, asked not to give their names, complained to Forum 18 on 20 April. They said they have had no news of Pastor Kholmatov's physical conditions or state of health since his arrest.
Reached on 28 April, the duty officer at the NSC secret police in the capital Dushanbe refused to transfer Forum 18's call to anyone. He consulted a colleague, then gave another number, which turned out to be that of a pharmacy (which said it often receives calls from people given the number by various state agencies). Called back, the NSC duty officer again said he would consult a colleague, then came back and told Forum 18 it had called a wrong number, and put the phone down.
The NSC secret police, together with the State Committee for Religious Affairs and other law-enforcement agencies, began raiding Sunmin Sunbogym's affiliated congregations in Sogd Region in early February. Officials closed down the congregation in the town of Konibodom in March after interrogating and beating church members. NSC secret police officers arrested Pastor Kholmatov after they raided the Khujand Church in April. [read more...]
ALL CHURCHES OF THE UOC-KP PRAY FOR VICTIMS OF DEPORTATION DURING OPERATION "VISTULA"
from: Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(27 Apr.) On Sunday, April 30, all churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate will hold funeral prayers for the repose of the victims of the deportation of ethnic Ukrainian population from borderline areas, carried out by the communist authorities in Poland in agreement with the Soviet Union during Operation "Vistula."
During the service, the following prayer will be read: "We also pray for the repose of the souls of the departed servants of God, those deceased in exile from their native lands and victims of persecution, and so they were forgiven any voluntary and involuntary transgressions."
"Operation Vistula" was the forced eviction of 150,000 Ukrainians including Boykos and Lemkos from their native lands in southeastern Poland to the north and west of Poland, which was often accompanied by killings and placing people in concentration camps. The operation was punishment for activities of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) on these lands, and an official pretext to start the operation was the murder by the UPA in March 1947 of the then Deputy Minister of Defense of Poland Karol Swierczewski. This year marks 70 years since the "Operation Vistula." [read more...]
KAZAKHSTAN: FOUR BAPTISTS FINED FOR EASTER WORSHIP
by Felix Corley: Forum 18 News Service
(25 Apr.) Police fined four Baptists for leading Easter worship meetings in Temirtau and Taraz. Council of Churches Baptists speak of a "new wave" of raids. An Almaty court fined a Protestant church and banned all its activity for three months, and ordered a foreigner deported.
Police raided at least two Baptist meetings for worship on Easter Sunday, 16 April, in the central city of Temirtau and the southern city of Taraz. Officers issued four summary fines totalling about nine months' average wages with no court hearings. Such fines for meeting for worship are increasing, Baptists complained to Forum 18.
In a separate case, a court in the southern city of Almaty has banned a Protestant church from meeting for three months (from 13 April to 12 July). The court also fined it for holding a meeting for worship in a place other than its registered address. An Indian citizen associated with the church is appealing against a fine and deportation order.
An official of Almaty's Religious Affairs Department, Karshyga Malik, told Forum 18 on 24 April that the administrative cases against the church and the Indian citizen were among 33 it had launched since the beginning of 2017. The cases were to punish those who meet without state permission, meet in places without state permission, distribute religious literature without state permission or talk to others of their faith without state permission. [read more...]
UNIDENTIFIED CRIMINALS COMMITTED AN ARSON ON THE PROPERTY OF MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE CHURCH
(25 Apr.) Unidentified criminals set on fire a house on the territory of St. Nicholas Church (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church) in Novomirgorod in the Kirovograd Region of Ukraine. According to eyewitness, at the moment of inflammation a young man ran out from the territory of the church complex and fled in unknown direction, press service of the UOC local diocese reported.
Church rector Nikolay Chutora contacted the police, which started investigating the case. After the military conflict started in Ukraine, the UOC churches have been seized and set on fire in Ukraine. It is accompanied with attempts to set up a local Orthodox Church in the country. One of the aims is to separate the UOC from the Moscow Patriarchate. [read more...]
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DYING IN RUSSIA, MISSIONARY SAYS
from: Baptist Press
(28 Apr.) Russia's nationwide outlawing of Jehovah's Witnesses will likely ricochet and strike other religions outside of Russian Orthodoxy there, said a Baptist missionary forced to shut down his church in central Russia. "The repression that has already started, in my opinion, it is likely to continue to get worse," Donald Ossewaarde told Baptist Press April 27th by telephone from his home in Oryol. "I don't see any sign that the Russian government is having a change of heart."
Ossewaarde, an Independent Baptist, has exhausted his appeals in Russia on an August 2016 conviction of operating a church without a permit under the 2016 anti-religion Yarovaya Law and is making plans to return May 8 to his home in Elgin, Ill. The Baptist ministry he had legally operated since 2002 will cease in the nation where Ossewaarde said every religion outside Russian Orthodoxy is considered a cult, including Protestantism. "I think the Orthodox Church is on a roll," Ossewaarde told BP. "They're emboldened. They've had some success in using the government to close down competitors. I would expect that they will continue along the same lines."
In one of Russia's latest acts of religious oppression, the nation's Supreme Court April 20th declared Jehovah's Witnesses an extremist group, allowing the government to seize the assets of the church's headquarters and 395 local chapters with 170,000 adherents, the TASS Russian news agency reported from Moscow. The ruling has not been implemented because of the appeal process, TASS said. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom just classified Russia as one of the world's worst violators of religious liberty, recommending in its 2017 annual report that the U.S. government deem Russia a "country of particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act and negotiate for religious liberty.
Russia's religious discrimination and criminalization of Jehovah's Witnesses in particular should concern all evangelical Christians, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said April 24th in The Briefing, his daily news and opinion podcast. "A government that could identify the Jehovah's Witnesses as an extremist group and make the group illegal is the same government that can identify Presbyterians or Lutherans or Baptists as an extremist group," Mohler said, "simply because what is taught runs contrary to some aspect of what is affirmed by the Russian President and his increasingly autocratic state." [read more...]
OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:
RUSSIA: JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES BANNED, PROPERTY CONFISCATED
from Forum 18 News Service
UKRAINE REMEMBERS IN PRAYER VETERANS OF 1986 CHORNOBYL DISASTER
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
ST. ISAAC'S CATHEDRAL CAN GAIN THE STATUS OF PATRIARCHAL REPRESENTATION
PROSECUTOR GENERAL LUMPS JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES IN WITH ANTI-RUSSIAN ORGANIZATIONS
from Russia Religion News
CHRISTIAN INTER-CONFESSIONAL CONSULTATIVE COMMITTEE COMPLETES ITS 5TH PLENARY SESSION
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
"I FINALLY FELT AT HOME IN MY HOMELAND" (+VIDEO)
IS THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH SERVING GOD OR PUTIN?
from Deutsche Welle
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The past two weeks have been an "exciting ride" - I've been receiving dozens of responses from all over the world from this webpage: Free E-Book: Take Our Quick Survey on Agape Restoration Communities. People from the U.S., Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Gambia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Pakistan have been requesting my e-book The Ministry Driven Church. Replying to all these people has kept me very busy, but very pleased at the level of response!
Our news article RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DYING IN RUSSIA, MISSIONARY SAYS and our headlines RUSSIA: JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES BANNED, PROPERTY CONFISCATED, PROSECUTOR GENERAL LUMPS JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES IN WITH ANTI-RUSSIAN ORGANIZATIONS, and IS THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH SERVING GOD OR PUTIN? all are concerned with the crackdown against religious freedom in Russia. The underlying question is: should a nation that is historically linked to a certain religion or ideology be obligated to allow that religion or ideology to be diluted or challenged by what it considers to be foreign elements?
Another way of looking at this issue is through the lens of post-modernism, which assumes that religions and ideologies are mere mental abstractions that happen to be held by certain groups of people, that there are no universal truths, everthing is relative. The modern ideas of freedom and democracy include the policy of religious toleration, but this strongly implies the above post-modernist viewpoint of religious and philosophical relativism. If everthing is relative, however, that also applies to post-modernism itself... in which case, post-modernism isn't absolutely true - it's just a matter of personal opinion.
So if objective, universal truth exists, a nation should have the right to safeguard what its people believe to be true. We in the West have historically held to a Judeo-Christian worldview and have fought costly wars to defend this worldview. But in recent decades, post-modernism has been challenging this Judeo-Christian worldview and "religious toleration" has evolved into religious relativism. After 70+ years of communism, perhaps Russia has learned the lesson that relativism simply does not work, and that country is returning to its traditional roots. Freedom, including religious freedom, doesn't mean one can believe anything he wants, but rather that one must be free to search for objective, universal truth.
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Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment
This Bible text, "Mercy triumphs over judgment," comes from James 2:13. My wife Cheryl and I have both recently come across several items on the Internet supporting the ideas of God's wrath, justice, judgment, and predestination - the salvation of the elect and damnation of the unelect. Prooftexts for these ideas can all be found in the Bible, but we can also find many Bible texts that speak about God's mercy, His loving kindness (hesed = mercy or loving kindness) that endures forever. God is love. This is expressed in both the Old and New Testaments, but especially in Christ's and the Apostles' teaching.
All of these ideas are true: the question is how to strike a balance between them. In Psalm 85:10 we read - "Mercy and truth meet together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other." This clearly illustrates the balance between mercy and truth, between righteousness (justice) and peace. In the final analysis, "mercy triumphs over judgment." God so loved the whole world that He gave His one and only Son. God wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
The Old Testament tends to emphasize God's wrath and judgment when the Israelites repeatedly messed up and reverted to idolatry, temple prostitution and human sacrifice like the surrounding nations practiced. But things changed in the New Testament: Christ summed up the Law and the Prophets in His dual commandments to love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself. These words, of course, are quoted from the Old Testament, but they seemed to have gotten covered up and forgotten by all the bad stuff that happened with Israel and God's response to their misdeeds.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way: "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). Picture a schoolmaster being strict with students, passing out punishments for infractions of the rules. That's how the Old Testament Law worked. But how does faith work? St. Paul continues: "faith works through love" (Gal. 5:6).
Then Paul goes on to explain -
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won't fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, gluttony, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. If we live by the Spirit, let's also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16-25).
For many people today, the ideas of freedom and democracy mean that we're free to do whatever we want, we can vote to choose the laws and rules of society to match our desires and wants. This leads to the immediate gratification of our passions. The Apostle Paul writes about this as follows -
"This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts; who having become callous gave themselves up to lust, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Ephesians 4:17-19). That's immediate gratification.
St. Paul continues - "But you did not learn Christ that way; if indeed you heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus: that you put away, as concerning your former way of life, the old man, that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind. Put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth. Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak truth each one with his neighbor. For we are members one of another" (Eph. 4:20-24). This is delayed gratification, being transformed into God's likeness!
What does it mean to be transformed into the likeness of God? Paul gives the answer - "Be therefore imitators of God, as beloved children. Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling fragrance" (Eph. 5:1-2). Imitating God is giving up oneself just as Christ gave up Himself for us.
And here's the "how-to" of imitating God and becoming like Christ - "But sexual immorality, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be mentioned among you, as becomes saints; nor filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not appropriate; but rather giving of thanks. Know this for sure, that no sexually immoral person, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God" (Eph. 5:3-5).
This all comes back to the idea that God is love: "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous" (1 John 5:3). God loves us and wants the best for us. His commands - His rules for life - are not mean and harsh, they're for our long-term good. We are destined for an eternity of joy in God's presence - let's not lose out on this wonderful opportunity!
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Please remember to pray for Christians in Socialist countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. Live your life so that the preacher won't have to lie at your funeral.