POPE FRANCIS TO ADDRESS CONGRESS
HuffingtonPost.com, 3/13/14, “John Boehner Invites Pope Francis To Address Congress” [Excerpts]: As Pope Francis celebrated his one-year anniversary, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that an open invitation has been extended to him to address a joint session of Congress.
According to a statement from the speaker’s office, the event would be an “excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.”
Boehner wrote, “It is with reverence and admiration that I have invited Pope Francis, as head of state of the Holy See and the first Pope to hail from the Americas, to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.
“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service.
“His social teachings, rooted in ‘the joy of the gospel,’ have prompted careful reflection and vigorous dialogue among people of all ideologies and religious views in the United States and throughout a rapidly changing world, particularly among those who champion human dignity, freedom, and social justice.
“These principles are among the fundamentals of the American Idea. And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good.
“The Holy Father’s pastoral message challenges people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties. His address as a visiting head of state before a joint meeting of the House and Senate would honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions. It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.”
[TBC: Pope Francis continues to draw followers with his ecumenical message and a social gospel suitable for the world but with nothing to change the hearts of men.]
SINGAPORE TO BE CENTER OF PROSPERITY GOSPEL
Reuters.com, 3/6/14, “Singapore Megachurches Hope To Make City-State Into Center Of Prosperity Gospel Christianity” [Excerpts]: “God is here, God is here,” croons Singapore church official Sun Ho as she struts across a neon-lit stage and thousands of people in the congregation pump their hands and sing along.
Kong Hee, the church’s founding pastor and Sun Ho’s husband, then takes the stage. In keeping with the electrifying mood, he invites his followers to speak “in tongues” and a pulsing murmur echoes through the auditorium of 8,000 people.
Welcome to one of Asia’s most profitable churches: Singapore’s City Harvest.
With a “prosperity gospel” that blends the spiritual and the material, City Harvest and other Pentecostal megachurches in the wealthy Asian city-state have perfected a popular and lucrative model.
Evangelising missions by City Harvest, including pop concerts by Sun Ho in China, Taiwan and the United States, have helped it gather followers across Asia and set up 49 affiliate churches in Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and India.
City Harvest—whose founder faces trial, along with five others, on charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts over the use of nearly S$51 million ($40.2 million) in church funds - also has a bible college that trains church leaders from countries such as Norway, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe.
ISLAMISTS DEMAND LEVY FROM CHRISTIANS IN SYRIA
Reuters.com, 2/26/14, “Islamists demand levy from Christians in Syrian city” [Excerpts]: An al Qaeda splinter group has demanded that Christians in a Syrian city it controls pay a levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection, according to a statement posted online.
The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), mainly composed of foreign fighters, is widely considered the most radical of the groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad, and is also engaged in a violent struggle with rival Islamist rebels.
Its directive to Christians in the eastern city of Raqqa is the latest evidence of the group’s ambition to establish a state in Syria founded on radical Islamist principles, a prospect that concerns Western and Arab backers of other rebel groups fighting Assad.
ISIL said it would ensure Christians’ safety in exchange for the levy and their adherence to restrictions on their faith, citing the Islamic legal precept of ‘dhimma.’
It said Christians must not make renovations to churches or other religious buildings, display religious insignia outside of churches, ring church bells or pray in public. It demanded every Christian man pay a tax of up to 17 grams of gold, a levy that was common in Muslim states centuries ago.
The directive also bans Christians from owning weapons and from selling pork or wine to Muslims or drinking wine in public.
Raqqa was the first and only city to fall completely under rebel control last year. After repelling an offensive last month...ISIL has turned its attention to setting up a state based on a radical interpretation of Islamic law.
It issued a more general set of restrictions for all residents of Raqqa last month, but this week’s notice included the most extensive restrictions yet on Christians.
The recognized al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, has demanded ISIL submit to mediation to end the infighting that has killed about 3,300 people this year, saying it will “eradicate” them if they do not comply in the coming days.
WHY HAS LENT BECOME COOL WITH EVANGELICALS?
Christianity.com, 3/12/14, “Why Has Lent Become Cool with Evangelicals?” Excerpts]: Born in the Bible Belt and raised in an evangelical church, I didn’t know what Lent was until after I graduated from college. That was nearly ten years ago, and since that time I’ve seen an explosion of evangelical observation of Lent.
Figuring out why anything becomes popular always involves some speculation, but the following factors seem to play the largest role in Lent’s growing trendiness among evangelicals.
The Internet rapidly exposes us to new ideas and social media gives us a virtual window into the lives of others, putting names and faces on practices, like Lent, that once may have seemed strange to us.
Our society has a double-love of experience. Economically, most people can afford the goods and services they need, so experience is ‘the last frontier.’ That’s why we pay top dollar for unique experiences. Philosophically, most people today believe that experience trumps reason. What we feel about something is more important than what someone else says about it. In our experience-loving culture, is it really a surprise that Lent has become so popular?
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