Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas: a Season to Celebrate the Fulfillment of God's Promise

Photo by Dnalor_01 from Wikimedia Commons                 
All over the world Christmas is the most popular occasion of the year. Some Christians consider it a religious celebration while others shun it believing that it is replete with practices that are deemed to be pagan in origin. The popularity of Christmas has made it not only a religious but also a cultural tradition so that even non-Christians are influenced or affected with the merriment that goes with the celebration of that holiday.
To many people Christmas is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ who they believe is God’s promised Messiah. Indeed there are over 360 prophecies in the Old Testament on the Messiah.  And Biblical scholars believe that only the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ life could be related to many of them.  Jesus Christ was born during the reign of Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar or about 700 years after the prophecies were made.  

Isaiah’s Prophecy

One of the most notable prophecies about the Messiah was by Isaiah at around 712 B.C. Chapter 9, verse 6 in the Old Testament says, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.”

A birth by a virgin

Mankind inherited the sin committed by God’s original creations Adam and Eve who disobeyed Him in the Garden of Eden. God had to send His Son to the world to redeem mankind, and chose a virgin to beget His only Son. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and call His name Immanuel.” This prophecy was fulfilled in Luke1:34-35 “Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’” The word “Immanuel” means God is with us. Man cannot reach God, but God came in the flesh to this world through his Son Jesus.

God has a Son    
The Old Testament itself stated that God has a Son: Proverbs 30:4 (about 700 BC) says, “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?”

Born in Bethlehem

The Old Testament also made mention of the place where mankind’s savior would be born.  Micah 5:2 (about 710 B.C.) says, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrata, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler of Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting.” This prophecy is fulfilled in Luke 2:4-6 which says, “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife who was with a child. So it was that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.”

Confusion on the nature of Christ

Since the early Christian era the nature of Christ has been the cause of confusion and division among Christians and non-Christian who deny the Divinity of Christ. Roman Catholics believe that there is only one God in three persons- the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Non-Christians and even some Christian religious group question this concept of a monotheistic God. But adherents of trinity believe that trinity is one of the great mysteries of God as far as the Catholic and other Christian faith are concerned. Indeed, in Isaiah 9:6 the “Mighty God” is one of the names of the Messiah. Jesus himself said in John 10:30 “I and My Father are one.”

The greatest moral example of mankind

Jesus is one of the historical and religious figures that set good moral examples for mankind to follow. He was chaste and lived a sinless life. He helped the poor and healed the sick. He told his followers to love God and to love not only their neighbors but also their enemy. He also defied traditions that were unreasonable and even barbaric but were socially acceptable during His time. A case in point was the adulterous woman who was to be stoned to death. Jesus told her accusers to cast the first stone if they themselves had never sinned at all. There are many other good deeds by Jesus which are worth emulating. Love is one of Jesus’ central themes during his ministry. Laws and cultures of some western countries are founded in Judeo-Christian traditions and many of them are inspired by the teachings and examples set by Jesus.

God loves us

There are controversies regarding the month Christ was born. In most parts of the world Christmas is usually celebrated in December. Some biblical scholars say that December is not a likely month for Jesus’ birth because the Bible says that at that time shepherds were out in the field at night watching their flock. They probably would not do it in a harsh winter month. Jesus may have been born in months other than December. But should the month of celebration of Christmas really matter? The most important thing for us is to be grateful of God’s fulfillment of his promise which he did because of His love for us. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Floyd Mayweather Jr. Should Fight Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao’s easy victory over the previously unbeaten Chris Algieri has built up pressure for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight to happen possibly in the first half of 2015. There has long been a clamor from boxing fans and promoters the world over for the two boxers to fight. However, issues on drug test, money and personal grudges prevented the much awaited fight to materialize. Boxing fans put the blame on the non happening of the fight more on Mayweather than on Manny Pacquiao. They think that Mayweather is making excuses to avoid an encounter with Pacquiao so that he could maintain his undefeated record.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao are today’s world most popular boxers. And a boxing match of them is estimated to generate as much as 1 billion dollars in pay-per-view revenue alone considering that Pacquiao’s fights in Macau, China has spurred interest in boxing in that country. Boxing promoters are working out for the realization of the fight and are contemplating to give Mayweather juicy offers such as a bigger prize and a rematch option in case he loses the fight to make him accept the challenge. If the fight takes place Mayweather is estimated to earn from 150-100 million dollars and Pacquiao from 100-60 million dollars. That kind of money is the biggest purse they could ever earn in their career if they could cut a deal for the dreamed mega fight.  

Both fighters are already very rich and famous and have cemented their legacy in boxing. Floyd Mayweather is the reigning undefeated welterweight boxing champion and has fought the best opponents in his weight category except Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao is an eight division world boxing champion and has fought the best opponents in different weight divisions.

Former boxing champions such as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Oscar de la Hoya, Felix Trinidad among other boxing greats had never turned down a challenge from worthy opponents in the course of their boxing career.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. should agree to fight Manny Pacquiao. For what good are his undefeated records and his money if he continues to avoid one of the best opponents there is to fight? Pacquiao has already signified his willingness to fight Floyd anytime, anywhere and that his phone is always open for communication with Floyd regarding the fight. Mayweather and Pacquiao both become what they are now because of the patronage of the fight fans that enjoyed seeing their fights. They should return the favor by seeing to it that the fight should happen. Both of them are in their mid thirties and there are only few remaining fights left for them. Mayweather is a long reigning undefeated boxing champion and is currently considered as the best boxer in the world pound-for-pound. However, his refusal to face Manny Pacquiao might overshadow that reputation. And the future might remember him in boxing history as a cowardly undefeated welterweight champion.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Armed Conflicts in Syria and Iraq Threaten Christian Communities with Extinction

Photo credit to Massalim (from Wikipedia)
Civil wars and rebellions in Syria and Iraq have triggered the Diaspora of Christians to other lands where they can make their family safe from harm. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Arab Spring which toppled down well entrenched authoritarian leaders and the rise of the ISIS in Syria and Iraq have had a negative impact on the lives of Christians and other minorities such as the Yazidis.

Peoples in the west have negative views on autocratic leaders such as the late Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Khadafy of Libya and the deposed and imprisoned Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Although those leaders were considered as dictatorial and corrupt, they were able to effectively control troublesome and problematic groups such as the Islamist extremists and the separatist minorities. On the positive side, the strong authoritarian regimes had made Christians live peacefully with their Muslim neighbors. The deposition of Hussein only resulted to a replacement by a weak leader who could not deal with rival factions in Iraq. In the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president. However, the military view Morsi and his organization as extremist, and the military led by General  Abdel Fattah el Sisi deposed him in a coup d’ etat in 2013. If Morsi had stayed long in office, the Christians could have been a target of persecutions in Egypt and could result in their leaving the country. It is noteworthy that in Morsi’s short stay in office there were clashes between opposition groups and his supporters, and there were mass protests by the people in the streets.  With Morsi gone, Egypt now has enjoyed a relative peace compared to other countries that are also affected by the Arab Spring such as Syria and Iraq.

 Although the west depicted Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as a brutal dictator, minorities such as Christians have not suffered persecutions under his leadership. Armed oppositions of his regime such as the Nusra Front and the ISIS are groups with extreme religious views and are considered terrorist organizations by the west. Replacement of the present Syrian leadership with any of these groups may not bode well for the minority Christians living in Syria.  

The crisis in Syria and Iraq has brought forth the emergence of groups that have extreme religious view such as the al Nusra and the ISIS. The ISIS has captured swath of lands from those countries for its caliphate. Wherever it goes it commits unimaginable atrocities to fellow Muslims, Christians and other minorities such as the Yazidis. Its onslaught seemed to be unstoppable at the start, but lately its image of invincibility has started to crumble with the gradual recapture of ISIS-held lands by the Iraqi, Kurdish and the coalition forces.

ISIS has a signature style of casting terror into the minds of its victims to make them submit to its will. Its acts include forcibly converting Christians and other groups including even the Shias to its extreme interpretation of Islam. Christians are given the option to pay the jisya tax if they will not change their religion otherwise they will leave the area or be killed. People who cross ISIS’ path will be killed, their properties seized and their female relatives raped or turned into sex slave. Under this condition Christians and even Muslim evacuate to other areas for their own safety.

It remains to be seen if the ISIS could successfully and effectively run its caliphate. Its seized oil wells and refineries are bombed by US and coalition planes to cripple down its ability to fund its operations. However, some analysts say that ISIS is not easy to defeat. And they are not certain when the conflict ends. But until then Syria and Iraq will be depopulated gradually of its Christian minority. Christians will emigrate to the neighboring countries and to far away western countries including USA, Canada and Australia. And probably those who do will not come back. The armed conflicts have paved the way for an eventual disappearance of Christianity from the land of its birth. It is ironic that as the Christian faith steadily spreads in many countries making it as the largest religion of the world as ever, it is slowly disappearing in the land where it has a 2,000 year-old rich biblical and historical legacies.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Kobane, a Significant Battle Site between the Kurds and the ISIS

A US Air Force Photo from Wikipedia
The initial military successes of the ISIS in Iraq and Syria have been reversed with the recent gains made by the Iraqi and Kurdish forces which are supported by US and coalition airstrikes. Waging a jihad and trying to establish a caliphate based on its extreme interpretation of Islam,  the Islamic State, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, is a big threat not only to the security of the Middle East but also to the world.                                                            
Although it claims to be inspired by Islam, the ISIS is disowned by Islamic religious and political leaders who say that its action is un-Islamic. In the battle fronts Muslims and non-Muslims are the victims of the ISIS’ aggression. Local tribesmen have to cooperate or do the bidding of the terror group lest they be punished. ISIS brutalities include among other acts mass executions of captured enemies and kidnappings of women and making them as sex slaves.

The terror group is able to sustain its operation through seizure of oil fields and selling oil through the black market, kidnapping for ransom and other illegal activities. It is also able to have its supply of recruits with the use of the internet. Its effort in the social media such as Facebook and Twitter has attracted fresh fighters from western countries, USA, Canada and other parts of the world. Lately, however, the number of new arrivals has decreased which is an indication that the appeal of the terror group to attract new members to its fold might have been affected by flood of news report depicting it in a very bad light.

The Kurds are indigenous people in parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran who are courageously resisting the ISIS advance into their territory. While some Iraqi forces ran away from the enemies in battles, the Kurds prefer to fight to the death rather than giving in to the demand of the terror group. The Kurdish forces in the battle front include even women. The Kurds are the largest stateless ethnic minority in the Middle East who has suffered long years of persecution from the leaders in the four countries where they live in.

To show its power, the ISIS has to deal with the Kurds defiance. It has attacked some Kurdish inhabited area to include Kobane which is situated in the Syria-Turkish border. The ISIS captured part of Kobane on September 2014. But fierce resistance of the outgunned Kurds has kept the jihadists from moving further. At that time many analysts thought that it would just be a matter of time before the town could fall to the terrorists. However, the intervention of the US with its air support has helped the Kurd stall the advance of the ISIS and prevented it from capturing the city.

Turkey which was earlier hesitant to provide military assistance to the embattled Kurds in Kobane has now allowed hundreds of peshmerga forces to enter Kobane through its territory. This peshmerga forces now is using artillery to pound ISIS positions. This development is a big boost to the morale of the Kurds in its effort to repel the ISIS from Kobane.

To some analysts Kobane is of less significance than to other areas that are also besieged by the terrorists. But the city has now gained prominence with the attention given to it by the world media. The city is now widely known to many people all over the world because of the ISIS phenomenon. Whichever side prevails in this ongoing battle will have the psychological edge over its opponent. For the ISIS a victory in Kobane is an inspiration to expand the coverage of its caliphate, and for the Kurds, a victory is a promotion of solidarity and loyalty to their own ethnic group and to the land or the territory which they consider as their own.