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For at least ten years the Christians living in the Holy Land have been persecuted.

Over Christmas 2021, articles and interviews surfaced about their plight. Sadly, this is not new, but it does show how impossible a resolution to this situation seems.

In July 2011, The Sunday Times reported that the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was launching an appeal for Christians suffering in the Holy Land (emphases mine below):

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams yesterday launched an appeal for “suffering” Christians in the Holy Land, calling for Anglicans to do more to help with community projects and job creation.

Dr Rowan Williams told the General Synod in York: “I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there …

He said he hoped that Anglicans and others would give generously to help build a fund for projects that would contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable Christian communities, especially on the West Bank

He launched the appeal prior to a joint conference on Christians in the Holy Land with England’s Catholic Archbishop — now Cardinal — Vincent Nichols :

Dr Williams’ appeal came ahead of a conference on Christians in the Holy Land which he and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols are jointly hosting at Lambeth Palace in London next week.

In a video presentation to explain his appeal Dr Williams warns that the rate of Christian emigration from the Holy Land had reached the point of “haemorrhage”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols says: “People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance, to its — not just its historical reality but to its presence and future viability.”

In January 2018, Patriarch Theophilos III, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote an article for The Guardian, ‘Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land’.

The Patriarch is from the Holy Land and says that socio-political tension has been part of the problem:

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff

Now various sides want to claim the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, as the exclusive possession of only one people. This treats with contempt the mechanism that has maintained peace and our multi-religious landscape for generations.

A delegation of Christians had travelled to the UK only a short time before to discuss the seriousness of their plight:

Recently Christian communities from the Holy Land came to the UK to seek support for our plight in the face of legal and land threats to the Christian church in the Holy Land. We were moved that church leaders from across the UK came to our support. In meetings with Prince Charles and government ministers, as well as with church leaders, we highlighted a proposed “church lands” bill signed by 40 members of Israel’s Knesset that would restrict the rights of churches to deal independently with their own land. We also discussed threats to church land around the Jaffa gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Cardinal Nichols was also there:

The UK’s Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols summed up the view of many when he told us that the proposed bill represented “an intolerable infringement of the status quo and the legitimate rights of the churches, and should be recognised for what it is: an attack on the property rights of the Christian community”.

‘Radical settlers’ added to the tension:

In addition to the church lands bill, one of the foremost threats to Christians in the Holy Land is the unacceptable activities of radical settler groups, which are attempting to establish control over properties around the Jaffa gate. The properties in question are in the heart of Jerusalem’s Christian quarter, the seat of all the patriarchates and headquarters of the churches, and less than 500m from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

If the settler groups were to gain control of the properties, they would be able to pursue their aggressive campaign of removing non-Jews from the City and from these strategic centres at the heart of the Christian quarter, threatening the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

The Patriarch explains that the holy places are sacred because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one:

The Christian understanding of holy places is that all people have claims to the sanctity of their holy places, because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one. No party should ever be able to make an exclusive claim over a holy place – in this case, over the holy city of Jerusalem.

We shall continue the fight for this cause because it is right and because it is our basic pastoral duty.

Incidentally, in neighbouring Syria, in 2019, the Jerusalem Post featured a contrasting news story and a podcast: ‘Muslims convert to Christianity in Syrian town once besieged by ISIS’.

This took place in the town of Kobani:

A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.

The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.

Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month …

Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.

Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.

The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.

“After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam,” said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani’s evangelical church. “People were scared and felt lost.”

Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church …

The church’s current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.

That is a most positive step for the Good News.

Returning to Jerusalem, on Sunday, December 19, 2021, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Hosam Naoum, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, co-authored an article for The Sunday Times: ‘Let us pray for the Christians being driven from the Holy Land’.

The two men say that the radical settlers have increased their persecution of Christians in the Holy Land:

Last week church leaders in Jerusalem raised an unprecedented and urgent alarm call. In a joint statement they said Christians throughout the Holy Land had become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.

They described “countless incidents” of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, and attacks on Christian churches. They spoke of holy sites being regularly vandalised and desecrated, and the ongoing intimidation of local Christians as they go about their worship and daily lives.

The Romanian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was vandalised during Lent in March this year, the fourth attack in a month. During Advent last December, someone lit a fire in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. It is usually a place of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world, and the vandals are thought to have taken advantage of the lack of visitors due to the pandemic.

These tactics are being used by such radical groups “in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land”, the Jerusalem church leaders said in their statement.

That is why, when you speak to Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem today, you will often hear this cry: “In 15 years’ time, there’ll be none of us left!”

This crisis takes place against a century-long decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. In 1922, at the end of the Ottoman era, the number of Christians in the Holy Land was estimated at 73,000; about 10 per cent of the population. In 2019, Christians constituted less than 2 per cent of the population of the Holy Land: a massive drop in less than 100 years.

Elsewhere, in Jaffa, for example, there is good news, but not in Jerusalem:

In Israel, the overall number of Christians has risen. The imminent reopening of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Jaffa, which has been closed for more than 70 years, is encouraging. But in east Jerusalem, the central place for pilgrimage and the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — where Christ is believed to have been crucified — there is a steady decline. Church leaders believe that there are now fewer than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem

Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region. But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and the vandalism of holy sites by fringe radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away. Meanwhile, the growth of settler communities and travel restrictions brought about by the West Bank separation wall have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities.

All of these factors have contributed to a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere — a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.

What can be done?

This trend can be reversed — but action must be taken fast. We encourage governments and authorities in the region to listen to church leaders in their midst: to engage in the practical conversations that will lead to vital Christian culture and heritage being guarded and sustained. The time for action is now.

On Christmas Eve, Tom Harwood of GB News interviewed His Grace Bishop Dr Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Palestine and Jordan:

He pleaded for the radicals to ‘be brought to justice’ and asked what Jerusalem would be like without its Christian community. He says that the city belongs to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He said that love is at the heart of the Christian message and that those who are persecuted should pray for their attackers. He added that Christ died on the Cross to give us life and life abundantly.

He ended by saying that everyone has to work together to resolve this ongoing and desperate situation.

On Wednesday, 29 December, Janine di Giovanni, a journalist and Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, wrote about this subject in a broader sense for The Telegraph: ‘We need to talk about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East’.

She has reported from the Middle East for three decades and says:

I can tell you first hand, as a human rights reporter who spent three decades working in the Middle East, the situation there is urgent and it threatens to disrupt the entire demographic of the area. I made it my mission to work with embattled Christians, aiding them in their plight and trying to get the message out to the wider world: they are in peril. And so, I began in-depth field work on the most vulnerable Christian communities. I focused on four areas where I felt the risk was most prominent: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the minute group of Christians in the Gaza Strip. Their numbers are dwindling rapidly.

Social scientists estimate that some of them – such as the Iraqi Christians whose populations have plummeted from close to 1.5 million to an estimated 100,000 in 40 years – are in danger of extinction. It is unthinkable to me that Christianity in its birthplace, the land of the prophets where St. Thomas or Jonah had wandered, might disappear. Everywhere I went as a war reporter in my long career – Africa, Asia, the Balkans, Afghanistan – I always found a church. No matter where I was, these visits drew me back into a safe place where I found solace and freedom from gripping fear.

Even Kabul had a tiny Catholic chapel, Our Lady of Divine Providence, at the Italian Embassy, opened in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. But unlike the Christians in the Middle East – whose ancestry can stretch back to the prophets two millenn[ia] ago – the tiny population of Afghan Christians were nearly all converts. Nonetheless, this month, Father Giovanni Scalese, the leader of that community, who has since fled, issued a plea that Christians need no “obstacles to religious freedom.” Their situation is bad in Afghanistan, but even worse in the Middle East.

During lockdown, she began writing a book — The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East — based on journals of interviews that she has kept since the 1990s. Her article recounts some of what Christians are experiencing in that part of the world. It’s a harrowing read.

However, one place stood out for her:

it was the 800 Christian inhabitants of Gaza who perhaps touched me the most. Gaza was mostly Christian until the fourth Century. Today, the mainly Greek Orthodox Christians – but also Catholics, Lutherans Baptists – are sandwiched between Hamas, which is at war with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and also with the Israelis.

The lives of these Christians (as all civilians in Gaza) are perhaps the most hellish on a day-to-day basis: the lack of electricity, fresh water and health services, the fear of more bombing and their inability to visit family in Bethlehem and Jerusalem during the holidays. They are isolated and abandoned. Last summer, I returned, my first trip since Covid – and the situation was the worst I had seen in 30 years.

Nonetheless, faith and love characterise the persecuted:

But faith somehow continues, even in these embattled communities. Throughout the hundreds of interviews I did for The Vanishing, there was one theme that was consistent: love. Whether it was Father Mario da Silva, an inspirational Portuguese priest who had left a comfortable posting in The Vatican to work in Gaza, or a family celebrating its existence after encountering Isil on a mountaintop near Mosul. These people continued to pray, to believe, to gain inner strength from something they could not see or even at times understand: their profound belief in God.

Their faith, in many ways, was more powerful than any of the forces that tried to destroy them.

Christians know that persecution is to be expected, but we can pray that God relieves believers in the Middle East of this daily scourge, a seemingly intractable — and tragic — situation.

Nearly ten years ago, I read a remarkable series of articles on the meaning of Easter by the Revd James A Fowler, a California pastor who founded Christ In You Ministries.

These are brilliant articles that explain the importance of the Resurrection in our lives. As such, Revd Fowler calls this approach Resurrection theology.

I wrote a post about each of his six articles, excerpting quite a lot from each one:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

Fortuitously, a Lutheran pastor wrote along the same lines:

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I enjoyed writing them.

May we recall the importance of Christ’s resurrection daily. Without it, we would have no promise of eternal life.

December 13 is the feast day of St Lucy, virgin and martyr:

St Lucy led a short but courageous life. The story of her martrydom in the fourth century spread quickly throughout Europe, from her native Italy to England and Sweden.

Sweden still has the best commemorations and celebrations of this young martyr’s feast day. Before the Gregorian calendar was established, December 13 was the shortest day of the year. As the name Lucy comes from the Latin lux, or light, a young Swedish woman represents the saint and her symbolism by wearing a wreath of lit candles on her head:

This year, December 13 also happens to be Gaudete Sunday, the Advent Sunday of rejoicing at the prospect of Christ’s birth:

St Lucy’s story appears in the fifth century book, Acts of the Martyrs.

Lucy was born to nobility in 283 in Syracuse, Sicily. She died in 304.

Her father, a Roman, died when she was five years old. Her mother, Eutychia, was likely to have been Greek, given her name.

Eutychia never remarried after her husband died. She was also in poor health, suffering from a bleeding disorder.

Lucy devoted herself to the Lord and made a silent vow of chastity. Eutychia was unaware of this and, for her daughter’s future security, arranged for her to marry a pagan nobleman.

Meanwhile, Eutychia was urged to seek a cure at the shrine of St Agatha, who had been martyred five decades before. Her shrine was in Catania, 50 miles from Syracuse. Mother and daughter made the pilgrimage together.

While there, it is said that St Agatha appeared to Lucy in a dream. St Agatha told the young woman that her mother would be cured and that Lucy would be the glory of not only Syracuse but also Catania.

Once Eutychia was cured, Lucy encouraged her to give their wealth and possessions to the poor.

When Lucy’s betrothed discovered the news, he was furious. He went to Paschasius, the Governor of Syracuse, and denounced her.

Paschasius ordered Lucy to burn a sacrifice to the emperor’s image, but she refused.

Paschasius then ordered her to be defiled in a brothel.

When the guards came to take Lucy away, her body had miraculously become too heavy to move. The guards tried to burn her body by heaping wood on her and setting it alight. However, the wood would not ignite.

Lucy died only when a guard thrust a sword into her throat.

Lucy is often seen holding her eyes or with her eyes on a salver. This part of her story did not enter her biographical details until the 15th century. There are two versions of what happened to Lucy’s eyes. One says that she made various predictions to Paschasius about the Roman emperors that angered him such that he ordered that her eyes be gouged out. The other version says that Lucy gouged out her own eyes in order to discourage a persistent suitor who admired them.

Whether the story about the eyes is true, St Lucy is the patron saint of those suffering from eye disorders, especially the blind.

Her relics were sent throughout Europe and are resident in a few important churches. Most of these churches are in Italy, but others are in France, Germany and Sweden.

St Lucy is also the patron saint of Syracuse, of those with bleeding disorders or throat infections as well as of authors, cutlers, glaziers, laborers, martyrs, peasants, saddlers, salesmen, stained glass workers, and of Perugia, Italy.

Her feast day is commemorated not only in the Roman Catholic Church but also in the Anglican and Lutheran Churches.

Source: Wikipedia

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauI remember how bewildered I was as a young Catholic teenager going to church one December morning during the early 1970s and seeing a wreath with candles on a stand near the altar.

My parents — along with most of the congregation — did not know what it was, either.

As Mass began, the priest explained that we were going to light the Advent wreath. That hardly solved the puzzle of what it was and WHY.

For years, I did not like them. My mother said they were a Vatican II innovation. She was not wrong. Neither my parents nor I were interested in Vatican II innovations. Most took us away from the mysterium tremendum my parents had grown up with, something that had been taken away from me forever.

I became an Episcopalian 12 years later. Early in December that year, my mother asked me if our church had an Advent wreath. I said, ‘No’. She said, ‘Good’.

These days, Advent wreaths are in churches of all denominations. My present Anglican church has one, too.

So, we must be resigned to Advent wreaths. I’m still somewhat ambivalent about them, but, by now, at least two generations have grown up with them.

Symbolism

Advent wreaths can be used in schools and private homes as well as at church.

The QTree has an excellent post about the Advent wreath along with several related photographs. The designations of the different candles came as news to me (emphases in the original):

The most common Advent candle tradition involves four candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Each candle represents something different, although traditions vary. The four candles traditionally represent hope, faith, joy, and peace. Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple; the third candle is rose-colored. Sometimes all the candles are red; in other traditions, all four candles are blue or white. Occasionally, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.

The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David.

The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too.

The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people close to God and to each other again.

The (optional) fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day.

We are a people of promise. For centuries, God prepared people for the coming of his Son, our only hope for life. At Christmas we celebrate the fulfillment of the promises God made—that he would give a way to draw near to him.

Advent is what we call the season leading up to Christmas. It begins four Sundays before December 25, sometimes in the last weekend of November, sometimes on the first Sunday in December.

My local Anglican church has red candles with a white candle in the middle for Christmas. This seems to be a more Protestant than Catholic colour scheme, even though our church follows the liturgical colour tradition of purple during this time.

The Revd William Saunders, writing for another Catholic website, Catholic Education Resource Center, has more in ‘The History of the Advent Wreath’. This has more information of which I was unaware (emphases mine):

The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. The wreath is made of various evergreens, signifying continuous life. Even these evergreens have a traditional meaning which can be adapted to our faith: The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew, immortality; and cedar, strength and healing. Holly also has a special Christian symbolism: The prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, and one English legend tells of how the cross was made of holly. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. Any pine cones, nuts, or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolize life and resurrection. All together, the wreath of evergreens depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, who entered our world becoming true man and who was victorious over sin and death through His own passion, death, and resurrection.

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. A tradition is that each week represents one thousand years, to sum to the 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Birth of the Savior

The purple candles in particular symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and good works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when the priest also wears rose vestments at Mass; Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when their preparation is now half over and they are close to Christmas. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead.

The light again signifies Christ, the Light of the world. Some modern day adaptions include a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath, which represents Christ and is lit on Christmas Eve. Another tradition is to replace the three purple and one rose candles with four white candles, which will be lit throughout Christmas season.

History

A Catholic website, TIA (Tradition in Action), has a good article: ‘What Is the Origin of the Advent Wreath?’. It appears that I am not alone in my ambivalence about it.

The article was prompted by a reader’s question (emphases mine):

Dear TIA,

Where did the Advent wreath originate?

In our church this year there is no Advent Wreath because the priest said it is pagan. Many true Catholics are upset over this. The wreath traditionally has been part of the Catholic Church for over 400 years so where would this idea come from? Please help!

It appears that wreaths in general, although pagan in origin, first appeared in churches during the Dark Ages — so, centuries before the Reformation:

Perhaps your priest was referring to the wreath itself as pagan, since some histories report that the evergreen wreath originated in the pagan times of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Evergreens were gathered into round piles with candles placed upon them, which represented the yearly cycle, and so on. Such data, however, are not trustworthy since they generally come from wicca sites, which habitually pretend that every Christmas custom or symbol is pagan, baptized and adapted by Catholics.

From what we could verify, wreaths of evergreens were used in the 7th century in Catholic baptismal ceremonies. In early medieval Europe it was also used in weddings, the bride and bridegroom being crowned with wreaths to symbolize their victory over the temptations of the flesh. By the late Middle Ages, garlands and wreaths were being used as Christmas décor in much of Catholic Europe.

For Catholics the evergreen is symbolic of life because its needles are green and alive even as the world grows dark and plants die back. The circle wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God. The wreath is a good Catholic symbol, and, in our opinion, should not be rejected because of a possible previous pagan usage.

The article acknowledges that the Advent wreath is a Protestant creation, more about which below.

As for the Catholic Vatican II connection:

The Advent Wreath was used strictly in homes and schools among Catholics, never in Catholic churches because there were no official liturgical prayers or ceremonies in the Rituale Romanum, the Church’s official book of prayers and blessings.

With the innovations of Vatican II, a blessing of the wreath for the first Sunday of Advent to be said before Mass was included in the Book of Blessings for those countries that requested its inclusion. The wreath is to be lit before Mass at the first Sunday of Advent, and no prayers are said on the last three Sundays.

The Church of England also has a short prayer of blessing for the first candle.

The Advent wreath appears to be a northern European tradition:

Many American Catholics are surprised to learn that this custom is relatively unknown in Latin American countries, and even in Italy and Spain.

TIA advises:

In our opinion, it seems that the custom of the Advent Wreath may be adopted by those who feel an attraction to it. But its use should be restricted to their homes. It is not a liturgical practice of the Catholic Church that should be included in official ceremonies.

I tend to agree.

Protestant origins

Wikipedia has a delightful story about a Lutheran pastor who devised the modern Advent wreath in the 19th century. That said, an older version was already in use in Lutheran churches soon after the Reformation:

The concept of the Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century.[7] However, it was not until three centuries later that the modern Advent wreath took shape.[8]

Research by Prof. Haemig of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, points to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–1881), a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor as the inventor of the modern Advent wreath in the 19th century.[9] During Advent, children at the mission school Rauhes Haus, founded by Wichern in Hamburg, would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, he built a large wooden ring (made out of an old cartwheel) with 20 small red and 4 large white candles. A small candle was lit successively every weekday and Saturday during Advent. On Sundays, a large white candle was lit. The custom gained ground among Protestant churches in Germany and evolved into the smaller wreath with four or five candles known today. Roman Catholics in Germany began to adopt the custom in the 1920s, and in the 1930s it spread to North America.[10] Professor Haemig’s research also indicates that the custom did not reach the United States until the 1930s, even among German Lutheran immigrants.

In Medieval times Advent was a period of fasting during which people’s thoughts were directed to the expected second coming of Christ; but in modern times many have forgotten this meaning and it has instead been primarily seen as the lead up to Christmas, and in that context Advent Wreath serves as a reminder of the approach of the feast.

Image credit: Wikipedia.

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I learned a lot researching the symbolism and history behind the Advent wreath. I hope that you did, too.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomI went to the early morning Easter Communion service today at my neighbourhood Anglican parish church.

The early morning Easter service is always a wonderful reminder of the passing from darkness into light. As our vicar reminded us, traditional churches remain dark from the end of the Maundy Thursday service through to Easter morning, whether that be at a daybreak or early morning service.

The light returns via the Paschal candle, which is lit following a prayer. The acolyte then lights the other candles from the flame of the Paschal candle.

John’s Gospel has a recurring theme of darkness and light. The risen Christ is, indeed, that Light.

Our vicar gave a moving sermon, encouraging us to think of the Resurrection as a living reality, whereby not only our souls but also our mortal bodies will once again be reunited in glorious perfection one day.

He pointed out that Christianity is the only religion that offers life after death. This is what Jesus accomplished through His resurrection, which we celebrate at Easter.

The vicar’s sermon was a moving one, as he is a convert from another world faith. He implored us not to turn the Resurrection into an intellectual or historical exercise, because it will be a very real experience when the time comes. He also exhorted us not to view Jesus as a mere historical good example of a life well lived, but as our Saviour and Redeemer.

I thought about the vicar’s sermon for most of the day whilst occupied with gentle pursuits: caring for God’s creation in the garden and preparing a suitable, satisfying Easter dinner of roast lamb.

Our vicar’s sermon made me wish that Easter were more than just one day. Whilst we are now in Easter Week, there are no modern readings by which to remember our Lord’s resurrection for the next six days.

As each year passes, I long for a more fulsome celebration and remembrance of the Resurrection. We sing the beautiful and joyous Easter hymns only one day a year.

For some of us, our recollection of the Resurrection ends up being a fleeting one.

However, it does not need to be this way.

An Evangelical pastor in California, the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries in Fallbrook, has written a beautiful series of sermons on the meaning of the Resurrection and its impact. I hope that you will read the following posts in the coming week and reflect upon his considered, thought-provoking messages about what he terms Resurrection theology:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor has also reflected similarly upon the Resurrection in the context of people’s anger with the Church. This, too, is guaranteed to get us thinking about our sin and the purpose of the Crucifixion as well as our Lord’s rising from the dead in eternal glory — for us:

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

I hope that you will join me in contemplating Resurrection Theology, even when it is not stated in those terms.

Christ our Lord is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Once again, readers, happy Easter.

May the blessings of the risen Christ be with us today and always. Amen.

Two ELCA — Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — pastors have been in the news this month.

Adult content follows — discretion advised.

On Tuesday, December 4, 2018, Big League Politics reported on a story that first appeared in the Christian Post about the Revd Nadia Bolz-Weber who:

is protesting the “evangelical purity culture,” also known as “adherence to the scripture,” and sometimes even “Christianity.” Her plan is to “take down” the church’s teaching about sex, which makes one wonder why she became a pastor in the first place.

This month, she is asking girls to send her their purity rings so that they can be melted down to make a golden vagina:

Mail in your purity rings to be melted down into a special sculpture. In return you’ll receive a Certificate of Impurity, an “Impurity” ring, and the support of all those ready to support a sexual reformation!

Big League Politics tells us:

“This thing about women that the church has tried to hide and control and that is a canvas on which other people can write their own righteousness ― it’s actually ours,” Bolz-Weber reportedly said to HuffPost. “This part of me is mine and I get to determine what is good for it and if it’s beautiful and how I use it in the world.”

The Christian Post article says that one pastor left the ELCA, he was so disgusted by this and similar clerical goings-on (emphases mine):

Rev. Tom Brock, formerly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, crushed Bolz-Weber on his blog. He left the church over its liberal stances on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“Instead of disciplining this heretical pastor, the ELCA invites her to speak at events,” he said. “I am part of a clergy Facebook page for ELCA and former ELCA pastors and it is tragic to see some of them defend all this.”

Bolz-Weber’s website’s About page has a potted autobiography:

NADIA BOLZ-WEBER first hit the New York Times list with her 2013 memoir—the bitingly honest and inspiring Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint followed by the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller Accidental Saints in 2015. A former stand-up comic and a recovering alcoholic, Bolz-Weber is the founder and former pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Denver, House for All Sinners and Saints. She speaks at colleges and conferences around the globe.

Big League Politics says:

Bolz-Weber’s behavior is simply the effect of modern liberalism on the church, which tends to preach God’s love and acceptance, forgetting that a large portion of the bible teaches God’s wrath and anger with the wicked.

Their second ELCA clergyman up for examination is the Revd Steven Sabin:

On Monday, December 10, Big League Politics reported on the pastor, who is from San Francisco:

A gay Lutheran Pastor with a history of fighting for gay rights within the church was arrested for possession of child pornography in mid November.

“The Reverend Steven Sabin, pastor at Christ Church Lutheran at Quintara Street and 20th Avenue, was arrested November 15 on three felony charges,” according to Bay Area Reporter. 

Sabin pleaded not guilt to one count of distribution of child pornography and two counts of possession or control of child pornography. According to a San Francisco Police Department news release, the investigators “located a cellphone belonging to Sabin, which contained hundreds of child pornography videos and images depicting juvenile minors being sexually abused. During a subsequent search, investigators found that Sabin was storing child pornography on a cloud storage application.”

The pastor has since been released on bail while he awaits a Dec. 19 pre-trial hearing.

The article says that, in 1998, before the ELCA went off-piste, they expelled Sabin for coming out of the closet. Sabin then joined an offshoot of the ELCA, Christ Church Lutheran. Fortunately, Christ Church Lutheran San Francisco took the child pornography charges seriously and issued this announcement:

We have learned of the arrest of Steve Sabin, who will no longer serve as pastor of Christ Church Lutheran. We are concerned for and ask for prayers for all affected, including all victims of sexual misconduct and for the people of the congregation of Christ Church. We will cooperate fully with law enforcement. We have zero tolerance for clergy sexual misconduct and are committed to providing safe spaces for all children and youth in our church.

Big League Politics points out that the ELCA has gone off the rails over the past two decades:

The ELCA, from which Sabin was booted for being gay, now accepts openly gay pastors, even one who teaches “sex positivity” and is asking young women to send her their purity rings so she can mold them into a large golden vagina. Needless to say, this is contrary to biblical teachings.

Absolutely.

Those looking for a church, especially parents with children, need to exercise caution and pray for discernment.

My longest standing and most loyal supporter has been the Revd Dr Gregory Jackson, a Lutheran clergyman who follows the Augsburg Confession of faith.

On November 21, 2018, Dr Jackson posted his online worship service for Thanksgiving Eve. His sermon was about the errors of the social gospel, which, over the past century and a bit, has come to supplant the Good News of the Gospel.

His Epistle is from Paul’s letters to Timothy:

KJV 1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. 7 Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. 8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

The Gospel reading is Luke’s account of the healing of the Samaritan:

KJV Luke 17:11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: 13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. 14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Dr Jackson’s sermon concerns the history of the social justice movement in the Church, beginning with the Lutherans in the United States (emphases mine below):

The Social Gospel Movement is extremely important for our country, because a tiny group of people met to form a brotherhood to promote their political goals for the denominations in America. This Brotherhood of the Kingdom was made up of liberals who redefined the doctrines of the Bible according to German rationalism, which is what CFW Walther grew up in – his father a rationalist pastor. Walter Rauschenbusch is the most famous figure in this movement, though Emerson Fosdick was also well known in his time.

The goals of this Brotherhood of the Kingdom became the agenda of the Federal Council of Churches, renamed the National Council of Churches. The mainline denominations adopted these goals, which became the platform of President Franklin Roosevelt. Naturally, these people were fond of socialism and many thought the real deal was Marxism. In the olden days one could easily identify a liberal activist Lutheran because he published something very positive about Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel.

I wrote my dissertation on this topic, so I will try to be brief. This movement turned the Gospel upside-down, making it pure works. The Parable of the Good Samaritan was not about Jesus as the Samaritan caring for us, but about making the road to Jericho safe! Jesus died to show His solidarity with the poor! Therefore, the purpose of the Christian Church (they imagine) is to change society by passing laws to control our behavior. The Left-wing activism in today’s churches is an outgrowth of this Social Gospel Movement with the addition of various kinds of radicalism.

In the LCA [Lutheran Church in America] this worked by polarizing congregations about various issues, welcoming the exit of those backward people considered conservatives, but called rednecks, Birchers, Fundamentalists. A smaller, smarter church and shrinking but better synod were desirable outcomes.

The Social Gospel Movement combined a rewriting of Christian doctrine to match its political activism

What we see in America is the Social Gospel starting in a rejection of the basic doctrines of Christianity and making an agenda the religion. Once that was achieved in the New Deal, there was agitation for more. Religious agencies dropped the pretext and simply became political action groups using Christianity as a front. I saw this happen in Roman Catholicism too, when the properly social action types wanted to conquer all church leadership and openly despised basic Christian doctrine.

I am concerned about unchurched university students who encounter Christianity for the first time on campus. What are they learning there from campus ministries and other Christian organisations? It’s unlikely to be Christian doctrine based on Holy Scripture.

Dr Jackson explains Paul’s instruction to Timothy (see the first two verses of the aforementioned Epistle) and how that helped to shape the Church (bold emphasis in the original, those in purple mine):

These two verses show that Christianity in the Apostolic Age was quietistic, a phrase used by one of the top scholars of Greek language and culture for that era (A. Mahlherbe). Quietistic means the opposite of activist, engaging in politics, using the church as an instrument to make political points and pass laws governing others. We know that theocratic governments, with the church in control, have been abusive, controlling, and corrupt. The papal states in Italy, owned and poorly governed by the Roman Church, were corrupt and lax.

Quietistic means the Christians were not exhorted to overturn the government or rebel against them. The ultimate tool to remove social evil is the GospelThat solution has worked its way through Western culture over the centuries. Britain, through the influence of Evangelicals like Wilberforce, ended slavery without a civil war.

Instead of church in political action, Paul urged them to pray for all men, for kings and those in authority – the political leaders. That is why Christianity has flourished in all political systems and has grown under persecution.

Indeed.

This is how the Gospel and divine grace work (see verses 3 and 4 from Paul to Timothy, emphases mine):

It is good to remember that the Word is more powerful than any empire. There was nothing like the Roman Empire during the public ministry of Christ, and yet the gold, wealth, and majesty of Rome was no barrier to the Christian Faith. It grew from the bottom up, among slaves and criminals, the bottom of society. And yet when they were tortured and killed in huge stadiums, their peace at the time of death rattled and disturbed the pagan Romans. Slowly the faith worked its way up. Rome was knocked into the dustbin of history, as Luther observed, conquered by the One God they could not tolerate in their pantheon.

Opposition has never quashed Christianity. Earthly power means nothing, as Jesus declared, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” A local ruler could not comprehend this, and yet Jesus disturbed people by His death and His resurrection.

The secret of Christianity is that the Word grows and takes over in  a quiet, subtle, but powerful way. When people are occupied with spiritual truths, their hearts do not have much room for error, for the death-traps (scandalon, literally the trigger of the trap) that plunge people into error and destruction

The irony is that mankind trusts its own power and wisdom and disdains the power and wisdom of the Gospel. Nobody can even predict what the Word can do among believers or how it calls out the faithful from among the mass of people today. While many scorn the simple Word of the Gospel, others who have been fed the lentil soup of earthly wisdom say – “This is the feast of God’s grace and forgiveness.” Their hunger and thirst is satisfied, not by Zen but by the Good Shepherd.

That is so powerful.

I hope that churchgoing parents take time over the upcoming holiday period to ask their university-attending offspring what they are learning in chapel and in chapel-sponsored courses. The answers could be surprising — and in error.

A few years ago, I wrote extensively about the social gospel and how it grew. For those who have not seen these articles, they are near the bottom of my Marxism/Communism page underneath the heading ‘Communism and the Church today’:

The origins of ‘social justice’ — you might be surprised

Communism and the Protestant ‘social gospel’ — a long history

The left-wing origins of ‘What would Jesus do?’

Francis of Assisi never said ‘use words if necessary’

The Methodists, Alinsky and Hillary Clinton

SHOCK: Communist Catholic clergy and Vatican II – Agent AA-1025’s story

Communist infiltration of the Church – introduction — Protestant infiltration; social justice; Catholic Agent AA-1025

Insight into Communist infiltration of Catholic Church – Jesuit agents; destroying parishoners’ faith

The curious Vatican omerta on Communist infiltration – Pope Paul VI, Vatican agents, Vatican II

More on Communist infiltration of the Catholic Church – seminaries, parishes with sleeper agents

La nouvelle théologie — heretical menace to Catholics and Protestants

Media silence on persecution – quotes and incidents

Liberation theology — part 1

Liberation theology — part 2

Sojourners: More socialists masquerading as Christians

Progressives and US churches – making the connections – who’s involved with whom

Obamacare: It’s make or break time for radical and Christian organisations

Faith in Public Life: socialism cloaked in Christianity

Alinsky’s influence on Catholic bishops in the US

How the Catholic Church bankrolled Alinsky projects

How radical Catholic clergy spread CHD message in the US

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development goes on … and on

Recent Catholic funding of Alinsky-inspired projects – CCHD

CCHD collection coming in November – starve the beast! – for American Catholics

Pope [Francis] seeks to involve Chinese state in Catholic churches (2016)

The communist nature of Catholic clergy (2016)

Jesus’s words were never about social justice but life eternal through Him.

Exaudi Sunday comes between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost.

Exaudi is Latin, from the verb exaudire (modern day equivalents are the French exaucer and the Italian esaudire). It has several meanings, among them: hear, understand and discern, as well as heed, obey and, where the Lord is concerned, grant. The French version of the Catholic Mass uses exaucer a lot, as do hymns: ‘grant us, Lord’.

Exaudi Sunday is so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

I have read that it is the saddest Sunday of the Church year. The faithful recall the forlorn disciples, among them the Apostles, who saw Christ’s ascent into Heaven and then awaited the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

You can find out more about it from the following post, including Lutheran perspectives:

Exaudi Sunday: between the Ascension and Pentecost

Below are the readings for this final Sunday of Eastertide for Year B in the three-year Lectionary. Emphases mine below.

The first reading describes Peter and the other ten Apostles looking for a replacement for Judas:

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said,

1:16 “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus —

1:17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.”

1:21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,

1:22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

1:23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.

1:24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen

1:25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

1:26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

The Psalm is about the happiness true believers have in God, who will thwart the way of the wicked:

Psalm 1

1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;

1:2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.

1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

1:4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

1:6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The second reading — the Epistle — is from John’s letters. Either the reading from Acts or this one is generally the Epistle.

God’s testimony is greater than man’s:

1 John 5:9-13

5:9 If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son.

5:10 Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son.

5:11 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

5:12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

The Gospel reading is from John. Note that Jesus said He receives believers on His Father’s behalf. God chooses believers and gives them to Jesus. Therefore, we do not choose God. God chooses us. This blows centuries-own theological concepts — i.e. Arminianism and Universalism — out of the water:

John 17:6-19

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

17:12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.

17:13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.

17:14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

17:15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.

17:16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

17:18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

17:19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Although Exaudi Sunday is bittersweet, the first Pentecost saw the Apostles rush out into the world, contending earnestly for the faith, beginning with Peter.

In 2012, I excerpted a series of articles by the Revd James A Fowler of Christ in You Ministries on a concept he calls Resurrection theology.

As we are in Eastertide for the next 50 days — until Pentecost — readers might enjoy reading excerpts of what Revd Fowler wrote:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran minister, the Revd Rod Rosenbladt, wrote along similar lines, although he did not use the term Resurrection theology:

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

It’s really essential that we Christians remember the Resurrection as often as the Crucifixion — every day.

I was glad to hear our vicar read the following verses from 1 Corinthians 15 at Easter this year. He also told us to spread this message. (Already done.) This is the heart of the matter (emphases mine):

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope[b] in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Both the Crucifixion and Resurrection had to occur in order for our salvation.

Believers feel elation on Easter, the Church’s greatest feast day. Paul’s words and Resurrection theology can help us maintain that elation the rest of the year.

Rather than considering Easter as just one day and Eastertide as just one season, we would do better to contemplate the Resurrection at every opportunity.

Good Friday is the most solemn day of the Church year, as we contemplate our Lord’s horrifying, humiliating death on the Cross for our sakes.

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

The following post explains more about the above painting by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in St Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany.

Meditations on the Cross

The next three posts are about Martin Luther’s perspective on the Crucifixion:

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Three contemporary pastors explain aspects of the Crucifixion in this post:

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Readers might also find the following of interest:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Reflections on the Crucifixion

The next two posts discuss Good Friday and Easter:

Easter: the drama and glory of the Resurrection (John MacArthur, explains Jesus’s relatively short time on the cross)

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

I hope all believers are able to devote time in their busy day to prayerfully contemplate Jesus Christ’s suffering and death so that we might enter into eternal life with Him.

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