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How Great Thou Art - Mormon Tabernacle Choir

(In honor of Easter Sunday, posting will resume in two weeks)

Mar 22, 2015

Ragbag Headliners

7.5 Million Americans Lost Their Religion Since 2012

 A new survey shows in stark relief that what some are calling the Great Decline of religion in America continues: Since 2012, the U.S. has about 7.5 million more Americans who are no longer active in religion.

Last week, the 2014 General Social Survey was released. The GSS is the gold standard for sociological surveys. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this multimillion-dollar study gives us the most accurate data on American society — including religion.

(An important point to remember as you see the data: Each percentage point increase represents a growth of 2.5 million adults. So a 3-point rise in secularity, for example, means that about 7.5 million people left religion since 2012.)

1. More Americans prefer “no religion.”

When asked their religious preference, nearly 1 in 4 Americans now says “none.” Up until the 1990s, the percentage who were in this group known as “nones” hovered in the single digits.  The 2014 GSS showed that nones are 23 percent of the population, up 3 points from 2012.

How large is this group? There are nearly as many Americans who claim no religion as there are Catholics (24 percent). If this growth continues, in a few years the largest “religion” in the U.S. may be no religion at all.

2. Americans aren’t going to church like they used to.

The number of Americans who never darken a church door is also at a new high. Over a third of Americans (35 percent) never attend a worship service (other than weddings and other ceremonies). This is a 5-point increase from just a few years earlier.

3. More Americans say they never pray.

Is this just a departure from organized religion? Even with people no longer identifying with religion or attending worship services, they still pray. But the percentage who never pray is also up, from 14 percent to 17 percent. –Source: Christian Headlines

Most Americans Completely Believe The Christmas Story Of Jesus' Birth

The Christmas story of Jesus Christ's birth isn't just a myth to most Americans ...
Almost three-quarters of adults in the U.S. actually believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin mother, according to a recent  Pew Research Center survey.

A majority of Americans also believe that three wise men "guided by a star" brought Jesus gifts, that "the account of an angel of the Lord appearing to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus reflects an event that actually occurred," and that Jesus was placed in a manger.

Sixty-five percent of adults believe that all four events actually occurred. Ninety-four percent or more of evangelical Protestants believe in all four components, as well as "strong majorities" of Catholics and Mainline Protestants. Even among those who are unaffiliated, 30 percent or more believe in every aspect of the story.

Only 14 percent of Americans think that the Christmas story is completely false. Some even said that they don't think Jesus ever lived.

Women and those who have not completed college are also more likely to believe the story. –Source: The New Civil Rights Movement

First Century House Unearthed In Nazareth Could Be Jesus’ Childhood Home

“Was this the house where Jesus grew up? It is impossible to say on archaeological grounds” Dark wrote in Biblical Archaeology Review. 
A leading archaeologist is hinting that a house dating back to the 1st century CE unearthed in Nazareth may have been the childhood home of Jesus.

The house, which is made up of simple mortar and stone walls that was cut into a rocky hillside, was first discovered in the 1880s by nuns at the Sisters of Nazareth convent. In 1936, a Jesuit priest, Henri Senes, cataloged the site with drawings and notes that had been exposed by the nuns. Then in 2006, team of archaeologists led by Ken Dark, a professor at the University of Reading in the U.K., began an examination of the site based on Senes’s work, Live Science reported.

“Was this the house where Jesus grew up? It is impossible to say on archaeological grounds,” Dark wrote in Biblical Archaeology Review. “On the other hand, there is no good archaeological reason why such an identification should be discounted.”

According to the archaeologists, the house was later decorated with mosaics during the Byzantine Period (roughly from the 4th century until the 7th century CE), and a church known as the “Church of the Nutrition” was constructed over the dwelling to most likely protect it.

The site fell into disrepair following the Islamic invasions in the 7th century CE. Later, when the Crusaders conquered the Holy Land in the 12th century, the church was rebuilt, but then it was burnt again in the 13th century.

Artifacts found inside the 1st-century house include a broken cooking pot, a spindle whorl, and limestone vessels, which suggest that it was home to a Jewish family because of the Jewish belief that limestone could not become impure.

The archaeological evidence is also corroborated by a text from 670 CE written by a monk on the Scottish island of Iona, based on a pilgrimage to Nazareth made by the Frankish Bishop Arculf, which mentions the church “where once there was the house in which the Lord was nourished in his infancy.” -Source: JPost

Dear Fellow Christians: We Don’t Own Heaven

I know this may come as a shocker to some; and, I can only imagine the number of Bible verses that will be quoted in comments as “proof” to refute this post, but I’m here to tell you something that not only won’t sit well with some, it has a fairly profound implication:

Christians don’t own heaven.

God does.

Now at first you might say, “Duh. Of course,” but there’s something else I need to tell you:

Christians don’t own God.

You only need to look back to Abraham to get that.

The God of Jesus is the God of Abraham. The God of Jews is the God of Abraham. And, like it or not, the God of Muslims is the God of Abraham.

Arguments can be made that other religions are just examples of humanity trying to seek out and understand this thing we call God. But for my simple task in this article, I won’t be addressing those arguments.

Here’s my point: if Christians don’t own God and God “owns” heaven (remember when you said, “Duh. Of course.”?), then why do so many Christians get so worked up with judging and damning other religions?

Jesus was Jewish.

If you are a follower of the Christian faith, it seems like some kind of bizarre, religiously self-inflicted wound to be anti-Semitic.

Additionally, Muslims see Jesus as one of the greatest and most powerful of God’s prophets.

Shall we take it upon ourselves to condemn an entire religion when we share a common spiritual ancestor in Abraham and a common belief of the teachings of Jesus?

Far too many Christians are busying ourselves playing God, deciding who we believe to be worthy and who we believe to be damned.

It’s shameful, really.

Playing God?

Who do we think we are? (Well, obviously. we think we are God, but you get the point).

I honestly don’t know one Christian (including myself) who doesn’t have a lot of work to do on their own spiritual health.

You would think we’d be much more concerned with our own personal spiritual issues than with those of other people. You know, get our own house in order, take care of the log in our own eye – that kind of thing.

But far too frequently, that’s not the case.

Which leaves me with the question: why?

The answer is easier than you might imagine and exceedingly difficult to overcome as well.

It’s connected to our human tendency to want to matter, to be important.

You see, it is easy to tear someone else down and that’s an easy route to feeling like we’re better than another. It makes us feel important, like we are more worthy.

But, turning that same critical eye onto ourselves forces us to recognize our shortfalls and the places where we could be better, and that can feel quite the opposite of being important. In fact, it may be the hardest thing for a human being to do.

What if we let God be God, and we just concentrate on our own thoughts and behavior?

What if we stop judging others?

For that matter, what if we stopped judging others and ourselves, and just focused on loving others. . .

and ourselves?

Almost sounds biblical, doesn’t it?

-Source: Pathos

National Geographic The Jesus Mysteries

Newfound 'Gospel Of The Lots Of Mary' Discovered In Ancient Text

A 1,500-year-old book that contains a previously unknown gospel has been deciphered. The ancient manuscript may have been used to provide guidance or encouragement to people seeking help for their problems, according to a researcher who has studied the text.

Written in Coptic, an Egyptian language, the opening reads (in translation):

"The Gospel of the lots of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, she to whom Gabriel the Archangel brought the good news. He who will go forward with his whole heart will obtain what he seeks. Only do not be of two minds."

 Anne Marie Luijendijk, a professor of religion at Princeton University, discovered that this newfound gospel is like no other. "When I began deciphering the manuscript and encountered the word 'gospel' in the opening line, I expected to read a narrative about the life and death of Jesus as the canonical gospels present, or a collection of sayings similar to the Gospel of Thomas (a non-canonical text)," she wrote in her book "Forbidden Oracles? The Gospel of the Lots of Mary" (Mohr Siebeck, 2014).

What she found instead was a series of 37 oracles, written vaguely, and with only a few that mention Jesus.

The text would have been used for divination, Luijendijk said. A person seeking an answer to a question could have sought out the owner of this book, asked a question, and gone through a process that would randomly select one of the 37 oracles to help find a solution to the person's problem. The owner of the book could have acted as a diviner, helping to interpret the written oracles, she said.

Alternatively, the text could have been owned by someone who, when confronted with a question, simply opened an oracle at random to seek an answer.

 The 37 oracles are all written vaguely; for instance, oracle seven says, "You know, o human, that you did your utmost again. You did not gain anything but loss, dispute, and war. But if you are patient a little, the matter will prosper through the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

Another example is oracle 34, which reads, "Go forward immediately. This is a thing from God. You know that, behold, for many days you are suffering greatly. But it is of no concern to you, because you have come to the haven of victory."

Throughout the book "the text refers to hardships, suffering and violence, and occasionally one finds a threat. On the whole, however, a positive outlet prevails," Luijendijk wrote in her book.

Another interesting example, that illustrates the ancient book's positive outlook, is oracle 24, which reads, "Stop being of two minds, o human, whether this thing will happen or not. Yes, it will happen! Be brave and do not be of two minds. Because it will remain with you a long time and you will receive joy and happiness."

A 'gospel' like no other

In the ancient world, a special type of book, sometimes called a "lot book," was used to try to predict a person's future. Luijendijk says that this is the only lot book found so far that calls itself a "gospel" — a word that literally means "good news."

"The fact that this book is called that way is very significant," Luijendijk told Live Science in an interview. "To me, it also really indicated that it had something to do [with] how people would consult it and also about being [seen] as good news," she said. "Nobody who wants to know the future wants to hear bad news in a sense."

Although people today associate the word "gospel" as being a text that talks about the life of Jesus, people in ancient times may have had a different perspective. [Religious Mysteries: 8 Alleged Relics of Jesus]

"The fact that this is not a gospel in the traditional sense gives ample reason to inquire about the reception and use of the term 'gospel' in Late Antiquity," Luijendijk wrote.

Where did it come from?

The text is now owned by Harvard University's Sackler Museum. It was given to Harvard in 1984 by Beatrice Kelekian, who donated it in memory of her husband, Charles Dikran Kelekian. Charles' father, Dikran Kelekian (1868-1951), was "an influential trader of Coptic antiquaries, deemed the 'dean of antiquities' among New York art dealers," Luijendijk wrote in her book.

 It is not known where the Kelekians got the gospel. Luijendijk searched the Kelekian family archive but found no information about where the text came from or when it was acquired.

It's possible that, in ancient times, the book was used by a diviner at the Shrine of Saint Colluthus in Egypt, a "Christian site of pilgrimage and healing," Luijendijk wrote. At this shrine, archaeologists have found texts with written questions, indicating that the site was used for various forms of divination.

"Among the services offered to visitors of the shrine were dream incubation, ritual bathing, and both book and ticket divination," Luijendijk wrote.

Miniature text

One interesting feature of the book is its small size. The pages measure less than 3 inches (75 millimeters) in height and 2.7 inches (68.7 millimeters) in width. The codex is "only as large as my palm," Luijendijk wrote.

"Given the book's small size, the handwriting is surprisingly legible and quite elegant," she wrote. The book's small size made it portable and, if necessary, easy to conceal. Luijendijk notes that some early church leaders had a negative view of divination and put in place rules discouraging the practice.

Regardless of why its makers made the text so small, the book was heavily used, with ancient thumbprints still visible in the margins. "The manuscript clearly has been used a lot," Luijendijk said. –Source: Live Science

Did Jesus Turn Water Into Alcoholic Wine?

It's a common teaching that when Jesus turned water into wine in John 2:1-12, the resulting beverage couldn't have been truly alcoholic wine, because Jesus would never have placed such a temptation to people. The GotQuestions article analyzes the concept of all alcohol as sin and investigates the Greek language used. But the culture in the region also endorses the idea that the wine was, indeed, alcoholic — at least to some degree.

I have no wine recipe, nor can I find evidence that we knew for sure the alcohol content of the wine in Jesus day...other than to know that many could still get drunk.

There is a bit written about a "difference" for those that believe Jesus fulfilled the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6 His entire life.

(Indirect reference is that only John the Baptist fulfilled the Nazirite vow his entire inferred from Matthew 11:18-19, when Jesus is called a drunkard: "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon!' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.")

Some infer that Jesus fulfilled the Nazirite vow His entire life by being from Nazareth...Jesus the Nazarene.

There is a "double-play" on the city Nazareth. Although a Nazirite vow invoked piety, Nazareth (the town at Jesus' time) was a Roman cross-roads...and held all of the current piety as a modern-day Truck Stop.

Some say that the "wine" of Jesus time ONLY had a miniscule amount of alcohol, so as to ensure Jesus still fulfilled the vow of not having "strong drink."

However, the "Nazarite Vow" of Numbers 6 included ALL elements of the vine, whether fresh or order to fulfill the Nazirite abstained from ALL grapes, fresh or wine...and hence Jesus could not have "drank" any of the grape drink at the wedding...and by inference, could/should not have made any grape drink at the wedding, in order to fulfill the Nazirite vow.

Deuteronomy 14:26 does not forbid, and even states that it is permissible to have "strong drink" before the Lord: "You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household."

There indeed is a process of "boiling" wine so as to remove the "must/molds"...and this wine is called "meshuval" wine. It is not specified how much alcohol could/should remain, nor is there any known archeologic record that spells this out.

Now, when I visited Turkey (land of the 7 churches in Revelation, and most of the travels of Paul's missionary journeys)...I did purchase some local "grape juice" that did not claim to be wine (serap). I can tell you that it still had a small amount of alcohol...not that it declared, but that which I felt.

Hence any claims to the amount of alcohol contained in wine from biblical days is not known, and only inferred. –Source: Blogos
Joyce Kilmer wrote the well-known and oft-quoted poem Tree [ I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree. . . .] but it's doubtful that even she would have ever seen such an incredible variety of trees depicted on the pictures below. –Contributed by Ralph