||FIRST, THE NEWS:
ROMANIA TAKES BIG STEP TOWARD MARRIAGE DEFENSE AMENDMENT
from: Crux Now
(27 May) Romania’s lower house of parliament has overwhelmingly approved a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The Chamber of Deputies passed the measure by a vote of 232-22, with 13 abstentions. If approved, the amendment would change Paragraph 1 of Article 28 of the Romanian Constitution to say: "The family is founded on the freely consented marriage between one man and one woman, on their equality and on the right and duty of parents to assure the growth, education and training of their children."
The proposed amendment began with a signature drive, initiated by the Coalition for the Family, which collected 3 million signatures from Romanian citizens in support of the constitutional language. It has also garnered support from Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical leaders, along with legal groups such as ADF International and the European Center for Law and Justice.
The measure has already been approved by the Romanian Constitutional Court as satisfying all requirements for a constitutional amendment. It will next go to the Senate. If it is approved there, it will become a referendum to be voted on by the Romanian people. Romania is not the only country in the region to consider a defense-of-marriage amendment. Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Slovakia all define marriage as the union of one man and one woman within their constitutions. [read more...]
UZBEKISTAN: DEPORTATION, FINES, BIBLE SEIZURES
by Mushfig Bayram: Forum 18 News Service
(17 May) In early April, a Russian Protestant was deported back to Russia without a court decision to punish her for attending a Christian meeting in a flat in Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent. Police raided the meeting, seizing Christian books and other items, possibly with information from an informer. The home-owner was fined. Police officers and customs officials frequently seize individuals' religious literature, claiming it is "illegal".
In Navoi in April, police raided a Christian family, seizing religious literature and other items. One officer told the home owner she may be fined. In Urgench, police searched the bags of a local Christian at the market, seizing a copy of a booklet with three New Testament letters. In late March a judge fined her and ordered the New Testament booklet destroyed.
In Nukus in March, a Judge fined a local Protestant for having Christian materials in his home when police raided it. He ordered the book and discs confiscated. On the land border with Turkmenistan in May, customs officers stopped two visitors from Turkmenistan from leaving Uzbekistan after they discovered Christian materials - including the Bible - in their mobile phones. The two women were fined and then had difficulty leaving the country as their Uzbek visas had by then expired. [read more...]
(19 May) The prayer of many thousands of Christians of different confessions and denominations will be held on May 27 at the Palace of Sports in the city of Kyiv, according to the website of the Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith.
"We sincerely and cordially invite you to be a member of such an important event. And you will be pleased that there will be your mite, there will be your prayer, there will be your heart. Because we all are concerned for the fate of our country," the chairman of the organizing committee, senior Bishop Mykhailo Panochko of the Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith said in a video appeal on the Christian Day of Prayer.
The idea of the National Day of Prayer for Ukraine was offered by international evangelist David Hasavey who spent many years of dedicated service in post-Soviet countries, including Ukraine. He is very concerned about the events in our country. The initiative of the National Day of Prayer was supported by most evangelical churches and a number of traditional Ukrainian Churches. [read more...]
NOBEL PRIZE NOMINATION FOR BULGARIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH FOR ROLE IN PREVENTING DEPORTATION OF JEWS TO HOLOCAUST
from: Sophia Globe
(26 May) Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov has held talks with three of the initiators of the campaign for the Nobel Peace Prize to be given to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for its role in preventing the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to Holocaust death camps in the Second World War, the government press service said.
Borissov met Israeli former cabinet minister Dr Efraim Sneh, advocate Moshe Aloni and advocate Elisar Pleygil, the statement said. The three among the most active supporters of the initiative for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to receive international recognition for its efforts to prevent about 50 000 Bulgarian Jews being sent to Nazi death camps where more than six million Jews were mass-murdered.
The idea of the nomination was announced during Borissov’s visit to the State of Israel in 2016 and is being backed by hundreds of descendants of Bulgarian Jews whose murders were prevented. Israeli ambassador Irit Lilian also attended the meeting. Borissov thanked the association for its commitment to the cause, which gives a voice to an unprecedented fact in world history, and at a time when the hate speech is heard the most. "There are events that should never be forgotten. Such an event is the Holocaust, but such an event is also the unification of a people under the spiritual leadership of its Church in defence of human life." [read more...]
PUTIN TO VISIT RUSSIAN CULTURAL SPIRITUAL CENTER IN PARIS AFTER TALKS WITH MACRON
(26 May) Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit the Russian cultural and spiritual center, which opened last year, during his visit to France on May 29, Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov said. "The entirety of the work relating to the construction of this center was constantly within our president's field of attention, naturally he has to visit this center," Ushakov told journalists on Friday. The president will do so after talks with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, he said.
Putin was invited to attend the center's opening by the previous French president, Francois Hollande, the presidential aide said. "But due to well-known circumstances, that trip did not take place," Ushakov said. Putin had been planning to visit France last October to participate, among other things, in the opening of the Russian cultural and spiritual center in Paris.
Putin said later that the visit was postponed, including by France, and stressed the good nature of his personal relations with Hollande. For his part Hollande stated shortly before the planned visit that he doubted the necessity of meeting with his Russian counterpart during his Paris visit. The French president was wondering "whether such a meeting is useful and whether it could have some effect" in light of the latest developments around Syria. [read more...]
RUSSIAN CHURCH LEADER ASKS U.N., POPE TO INTERVENE WITH KIEV OVER 'DISCRIMINATORY' RELIGIOUS LAWS
from: Russia Today
(17 May) The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, has appealed to a number of international religious and political leaders, asking them to not let Kiev enforce its recent initiative that might see Orthodox religious communities diminished in Ukraine. The pieces of legislation, which the Ukrainian parliament is set to vote on Thursday, "threaten the constitutional rights of millions of Ukrainian believers, may cause a wave of violence and new seizures of churches, and escalate intercommunal conflict in Ukraine," the Patriarch warned, as cited by the Moscow Patriarchy press service.
If adopted, the bills might also "further complicate the implementation of the Minsk peace agreements" to solve the Ukrainian conflict, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church added, appealing to the leaders of the so-called Normandy Four group, which oversaw the peace plan. Along with leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, the Patriarch also asked the UN Secretary General, the leader of the Catholic Church and President of the World Council of Churches (WCC) to intervene over the bills the Russian Orthodox Church considers "discriminatory." The bills in question include one which suggests introducing "a special status" for religious organizations that has its leadership in an "aggressor state." Currently, Kiev only sees Russia as such a state. The second bill suggests changes to Ukraine’s current law on freedom of worship.
According to the authors of the new bills, Ukrainian churches that are under the religious supervision of the Russian Orthodox Church may threaten Ukraine's national interests, sovereignty and territorial integrity. To prevent such alleged interference, a special status is to be introduced, which would enforce new registration rules and provide Kiev with the right to oversee missionaries invited by the church. It also provides the Kiev authorities with the right to ban such churches in Ukraine. [read more...]
OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:
EASTERN EUROPE: ORTHODOX RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION DOUBLES SINCE 1991, CATHOLIC CHURCH ATTENDANCE BARELY HOLDING
from Church Militant
NUMBER OF THOSE BELIEVING IN GOD DECREASES IN UKRAINE, ACCORDING TO RAZUMKOV CENTER STUDIES
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
MINISTRY IN RUSSIA AN INSPIRATION FOR THE GREAT COMMISSION
from Mission Network News
UNKNOWN INDIVIDUALS WREAK HAVOC ON CHURCH OF MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE IN WESTERN UKRAINE
CONFLICTING REPORTS ABOUT VATICAN ACTION REGARDING UKRAINE
from RIA Novosti
UKRAINIAN HIERARCHS AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS COMMENT ON ANTI-CHURCH BILLS TO BE CONSIDERED BY SUPREME RADA
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
PUTIN: "IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO IMAGINE RUSSIA WITHOUT THE SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE OF THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH"
THE 20-HOUR QUEUE: HOW LONG WILL A RUSSIAN WAIT TO SEE A RELIC?
from Russia Beyond the Headlines
U.N. REFRAINS FROM ASSESSMENT OF UKRAINIAN BILLS ON STATE CONTROL OVER CHURCH
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We should be proud of Romanian legislators, as described in ROMANIA TAKES BIG STEP TOWARD MARRIAGE DEFENSE AMENDMENT, who voted overwhelmingly for an amendment to their constitution that defines marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman and "the right and duty of parents to assure the growth, education and training of their children." We ought to work, hope and pray so that our own country will adopt such an amendment!
In the news article PROTESTANTS INITIATING NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER FOR UKRAINE we see that Protestants are taking the lead in praying for their country. Protestants are just a tiny minority in Ukraine, less than 1% of the population, but are very active. When we were serving in Russia, we became acquainted with several Ukrainian missionaries to Russia. Religious dedication was and still is much higher in Ukraine than in Russia, although according to our news headline NUMBER OF THOSE BELIEVING IN GOD DECREASES IN UKRAINE, ACCORDING TO RAZUMKOV CENTER STUDIES, that percentage is decreasing slightly.
The news article RUSSIAN CHURCH LEADER ASKS U.N., POPE TO INTERVENE WITH KIEV OVER 'DISCRIMINATORY' RELIGIOUS LAWS, written from a Russsian point of view, tells of two new pieces of legislation in Ukraine that would tighten control over the Moscow Patriarchate's Orthodox parishes in Ukraine. I came across several other articles on this subject from Russian sources, indicating that Russia is making a "full court press" on this issue that is very sensitive and important to them.
It seems, though, that RIA Novosti couldn't keep their reports straight: CONFLICTING REPORTS ABOUT VATICAN ACTION REGARDING UKRAINE. Moscow Patriarchate prelates in Ukraine express their concern: UKRAINIAN HIERARCHS AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS COMMENT ON ANTI-CHURCH BILLS TO BE CONSIDERED BY SUPREME RADA, but in the end, the U.N. ignores their call to intervene: U.N. REFRAINS FROM ASSESSMENT OF UKRAINIAN BILLS ON STATE CONTROL OVER CHURCH: if Russia can shut down the Jehovah's Witnesses, why should Russia complain when Ukraine is deciding to clamp down on Russia's surrogate church in Ukraine?
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God Works... And We Must Work
How has it come about that Christians can be so full of themselves that God can't fill them and use them? The great Fathers of the Church have struggled for centuries with the question of the relationship between faith and works. The Church Fathers Augustine of Hippo versus John Cassian and Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century led the debate on this issue, which, during the Protestant Reformation a thousand years later, was joined by John Calvin versus Jacobus Arminius.
I've written before on the topic of The Fullness, so I won't go into great depths on it here. Suffice it to say that St. Paul writes in Col. 1:19 & 27 - "For it pleased the Father that in Him [Christ] all fullness should dwell. ...For to them [the saints] God would make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." And in ch. 2:9-10 he writes - "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And you have this fullness in Him, who is the Head of all principality and power." These are wonderful promises!
But there's a catch here: these great and precious promises are conditional upon Col. 1:23 - "If indeed you continue in the faith grounded and settled, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which you have heard and which was proclaimed in all the creation under Heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister." The "If" condition clearly means that it is possible for us to not continue in the faith, and thus lose out on acquiring the fullness of Christ. The reason I bring this up is because the Augustinian doctrines of predestination of the elect, irresistible grace, and the assurance of eternal salvation have won over the majority of Western Christians, and have even spilled over into our political ideology of the predestined inevitability of freedom and democracy for all humanity, especially the "enlightened."
This has resulted in our thinking that because we are God's chosen, the elect, the enlightened ones, therefore we have "free grace," we have it made in the shade, we don't have to do anything, we can just relax in our eternal security because we have a guaranteed ticket to heaven. We don't have to do good works in order to obtain this salvation, and we have these wonderful promises of the fullness of Christ's glory in us. In the political sphere it translates into - "everything should be free: free education, free health care, free love, free birth control, free abortions." After all, didn't St. Paul write - "For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2:9)? Thus we've arrived, we're full of ourselves, as the above photo says, so God can't fill us with Himself.
However we need to consider the whole counsel of God, not just cherry-pick a few favorite verses that support our self-centered viewpoints. Let's consider the very next verse - "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10)
Before God can fill us with Himself, we need to empty us of ourselves, as Christ did - "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, existing in the form [nature] of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men." (Phil. 2:5-7)
Like St. Paul, we must realize that we don't have it made, we haven't yet arrived - "So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for His good pleasure." (Phil. 2:12-13) This is called "Synergy - being co-workers together with God."
After listing his extensive pedigree and education, St. Paul goes on to say -
"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you." (Phil. 3:7-15)
If St. Paul considered that he hadn't made it, how much more should we think that we don't have it made? We can't kick back and rest -
"To whom did He [God] swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because it was not combined with faith in those who listened. ...So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore labor to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience." (Heb. 3:18-19; 4:1-2 & 9-11)
Here we see something of a paradox: "Let us therefore labor to enter into that rest." Labor to rest? Yes! Work must come before rest. We must strive and struggle, like St. Paul did, to race toward the finish line before we can rest. Faith is not the opposite of works; rather, genuine faith results in good works. We can't do good works in order to earn righteousness and salvation, but instead, we do good works because we have been saved and received Christ's righteousness. God works in us, and therefore we can and must work for Him!
St. Paul wrote - "For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." (1 Thes. 2:9) And love for one another doesn't exclude hard work - "Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one." (1 Thes. 4:9-12) And later, St. Paul wrote another letter to that same church in Thessalonica -
"For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but are busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good." (2 Thes. 3:7-13)
St. Paul wrote to Titus, whom he had appointed to be bishop in Crete -
"Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity.... For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works." (Titus 2:7 & 12-14)
God's grace is for all people, all mankind, not just "the elect" - "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love toward mankind appeared, not by works of righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy, he saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by His grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This saying is faithful, and concerning these things I desire that you affirm confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men." (Titus 3:4-8)
Thus we see the necessary relationship between God's grace and our good works. God loves the whole world, He wills for all mankind to be saved, His grace reaches out toward all people. But not all people choose to accept His love, His will, and His grace. Those who do, however, respond in gratitude by repenting, turning from their self-centered, self-gratifying lifestyle, and toward pleasing and serving the living God.
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Please remember to pray for Christians in Socialist countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. The answer to the ever-present "Why?" is the everlasting Who.