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Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Are we witnessing the beginning of World War Three?


 


My whole life, World War 3 was an expression, like “finer than frog hair” or “scarcer than hen’s teeth’. It wasn’t a reality. It didn’t have any actual meaning.

Albert Einstein famously said, “I don’t know what weapons will be used in World War 3, but World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones.”

But what if Einstein was wrong?

Honestly, “WWIII” always meant some awful future that no one wanted to believe would happen: an exchange of nuclear missiles between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. It was believed that, once one nuclear missile was launched, all of them, in every country that had them, would be launched, leading to total global annihilation. We learned expressions like “nuclear winter,” and “mutually assured destruction.” Surely no one would actually do that.

The way we dealt with that unimaginable threat was to move it, in our minds, to the level of a nightmare, a fantasy, and finally to several Hollywood storylines, which only went to show that it was unthinkable. There surely would never be a World War 3. And when the Berlin Wall fell, we told ourselves, ‘See? Nothing to worry about.’

The problem with that kind of thinking is that it minimizes the millions of lives lost and the massive destruction that has happened over and over again since the end of WWII in places like Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Panama, Grenada, the Falkland Islands, Kenya, Cyprus, Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Congo... ‘At least it wasn’t World War 3, right?’

Winston Churchill and other notables have said, ‘Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.’ Putin and I are the same age, so I know he remembers Winston Churchill. But neither of us was alive when Hitler was more than ink on the pages of a history book.

World War I wasn’t called that while it was going on. Initially, it was it was simply called “the July Crisis.” But then other players joined; Russia threw its weight behind Serbia, prompting Germany to back Austria-Hungary, which caused Britain and France to join the Serbs and Russians against the Germans. By the end of 1914, it was being called the World War.

When Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, no one immediately announced WWII. A week later, when Time magazine used the term ‘World War II’, it was in a speculative sense, similar to the way I used the term WWIII in my headline. But it caught on.

So far in the current crisis, Putin has thrown a significant military attack at Ukraine, killing thousands, similar to how Hitler threw his “blitzkrieg” (lightning attack) at Poland. Ukraine’s president Zelensky has warned that if Ukraine falls, Putin will push into Poland, Moldova, Finland, Sweden and Norway, as well as points south. Turkey must know it is a desirable target as well because of its control of access into and out of the Black Sea. Talking heads have opined that Putin won’t resort to nukes unless he feels that an enemy invasion onto Russian soil threatens Russia’s “soul”, its identity as a nation. And it’s not World War 3 unless it goes nuclear, right? I mean, right?

The majority of the world’s governments have strongly condemned the attack on Ukraine. They are sending money and weapons to Ukraine, freezing Russian assets, squeezing off shipments of goods into Russia, and refusing to buy good from Russia. As I noted in my previous column, Russia was voted out of the Human Rights council at the U.N., and some nations have called for Russia's removal from the Security Council. On the other hand, Russia does have some allies in Belarus, Armenia, Iran and Syria, who might back Putin's push into other countries.

At what point would we start calling in World War Three?

If you’ve read this column before, you know the focus is, not simply world events, but how those world events fulfill Bible prophecy. Does the current situation have anything to do with Bible prophecy?

Jesus foretold as part of his sign of “the last days” that people would see wars. ‘So what,’ you may say. ‘There have always been wars.’ True. But notice how he worded it in Matthew 24:6. “You will continually hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end of the age.” (Amplified Bible)

There were wars in Jesus’ day. He knew there would continue to be wars until the ‘end of the age.’ That’s why he gave a multi-part sign. He continued in verse 7: “For nation shall be roused up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places.” (Haweis NT) These have been dubbed ‘the Big Four’ features of the sign of the last days: war, famine, pestilences (like the pandemic) and earthquakes. 

The huge war between England and France in the early 1800s had many believing they were seeing the Big Four. It drew in Spain, Portugal, Germany, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and America. Accompanying the war was famine as farmers became soldiers and fields were left uncultivated, and soldiers stripped the foodstuffs from the countries they ravaged. Pestilence rose in the form of widespread diseases among the soldiers in the camps on both sides and quickly spread to nearby civilians. There was even an earthquake in Crete that killed 2,000 people. But Bible scholars knew something was still missing.

In Matthew 24:14 Jesus added one more detail to watch for: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end of the age will come.” John Calvin who lived in a turbulent time in the 1500s wrote thatto this day not even the slightest report concerning Christ has reached the Antipodes [what came to be called Australia] and other very distant nations.” Matthew Poole, a Bible commentator who wrote in the late 1600’s, recognized that ‘all nations’ meant the entire earth.  Though the Holy Scriptures, and ecclesiastical historians, give us a somewhat large account of the gospel being preached in Europe, Asia, and in Africa, yet we have little account from any of them of its being preached in America.” In 1706, Matthew Henry wrote, “The gospel shall be preached, and that work carried on ...so that all nations, first or last, shall have either the enjoyment, or the refusal, of the gospel.” In the mid-1850s commentator Campbell Morgan wrote: “Some claim that this has already been done, and that therefore the end of the age is necessarily close at hand. This conclusion is open to grave doubt.”

Is there still ‘grave doubt’? In the century-and-a-half since Morgan’s time, the good news has literally reached every nation. The Bible is the most widely translated book in the world by a huge margin. The most widely translated website on the internet is jw.org, whose entire mission is the preaching of the good news.  

Another reason to give thought to World War 3: serious students of the Bible are watching for the fulfillment of Paul’s words at 1 Thessalonians 5:3. “For when they shall say: Peace and tranquility; then sudden destruction will come upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

The greatest cry of peace in recent history was the end of World War 2. And that wasn’t the fulfillment of 1 Thessalonians 5:3, since the end didn't happen afterward. Perhaps because Matthew 24:14 had yet to be fulfilled. But that is no longer the case.

If this war in Ukraine becomes anything like World War 3, would the announcement of its end be the expected cry of peace?

Time will tell.

Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at Amazon.com

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Is the United Nations about to make history?



Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are no doubt aware that Russia declared war on and began a military invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

The Ukraine ambassador to the U.N. was speaking as news of the assault began coming in. In his comments, which were overruled by the current president of the Security Council, (the ambassador from Russia) he raised a simple question:

Is Russia a legitimate member of the Security Council? Could someone please show him the legal paperwork establishing them in that seat?

Some background is in order. The United Nations consists of two main bodies. The General Assembly has a delegate from each member nation, currently comprising 193. It has been dubbed ‘the world’s greatest debating society’, since none of their words are binding on anyone. They can’t send an army anywhere. Even if they all agree that one of their fellow members has done something horrible, all they can do is wag their finger at them.

The other body of the U.N. is the Security Council, made up of just 15 members. The Security Council can take action. Its stated mission is to establish international peace and security. It can enact sanctions, admit or remove members, and initiate military action. It has access to armies.

Over the years the Security Council has initiated peacekeeping (military) actions in Korea, Congo, Cyprus, Papua New Guinea, and the Sinai Peninsula. Far more actions were proposed, but one key feature of the Security Council has most frequently resulted in inactivity: Each permanent member has veto power. So actions or sanctions proposed, for example, by the United States, were usually vetoed by the U.S.S.R., and vice versa.

10 of the seats on the Security Council are filled by members serving 2-year terms, after which they are replaced by other members. The current non-permanent members include Mexico, Kenya, Ireland, and others. But 5 of the seats are filled by permanent members, established as such in the initial U.N. charter in 1945: The United States, Great Britain, France, China, and the U.S.S.R. No, I do not mean Russia – I mean the U.S.S.R, which ceased to exist in 1991.

This is not just semantics. Notice that ‘China’ is also one of the permanent members, yet the China that is on the Security Council today is not the same China that was given the seat in 1945. That Republic of China now resides on the island of Taiwan. Their seat was given, after a lot of legal maneuvering, voting, and paperwork, to the People’s Republic of China – the communist government of mainland China – in 1971.  

There was no legal maneuvering or paperwork filed when Gorbachev’s Russian government sat down in the Security Council seat vacated by the Soviet Union. And that oversight has been ignored for 30 years.

So what? Well, what if the member countries of the U.N. were to decide it is in their best interests to remove Russia from the Security Council? For the first time in its existence, the United Nations might find that it has “teeth”. It could take action, especially military action, without its every potential move being vetoed.

That would be significant to Christians. Serious Bible students see the U.N. as the fulfillment of the scarlet-colored beast described in Revelation chapter 17. Verse 13 of that chapter foretells that the member nations will “give their power and authority to the wild beast” for a short time right before the end of this system.

Taking away veto power from one of the belligerent countries, thus making the U.N. more effective, would certainly give the beast more power and authority.

It could even result in people worldwide finally proclaiming “Peace and Security!” (1 Thessalonians 5:3)

Bill K. Underwood is the author of several novels and one non-fiction self-help book, all available at Amazon.com

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Would you have celebrated Saturnalia?

           Saturn driving a four-horse chariot on the reverse of a denarius issued in 104 BC. Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
 

Can you imagine yourself, as a Christian, living in Rome in the first century? 

In the year 56 of our calendar, Paul wrote a letter to the brothers and sisters in Rome. He named specifically a married couple, Prisca and Aquila, as well as a couple dozen others. You can read the list in Romans 16: 1-16. Check it out when you have a few minutes, and try to imagine a face for each name. They were real people, with real lives and problems. They had jobs and kids and bills. They had relatives who thought they were crazy for adopting Christianity. No doubt there were as many other Christians living there that Paul didn't name specifically. 

Every December, the entire city went into a celebratory frenzy. Can you imagine what Prisca, Aquila, Mary and the others had to deal with?

December 11 was a holiday called Sol Indiges. Sol was the sun god. The meaning of the word indiges is obscure, but it was a festival of some kind, worshiping the sun. How it was observed is unknown today.

December 13, the birthday of the Temple of Tellus was celebrated along with a banquet for Ceres, who embodied "growing power" and the productivity of the earth. Tellus was a goddess associated with fertility, ‘Mother Earth' and harvest.

December 15 was a festival called Consualia. The altar of Consus was buried all year, but dug up on that day. Consus was a god associated with preserving the harvest; grain storage, for example. It was a day off for all laborers and slaves, as well as work animals. 

December 19 was a festival called Opticonsivia. Opis was a goddess of wealth and, again, grain storage. The festival was presided over by a vestal virgin priestess wearing a white veil. Horses and mules were decorated with flowers, and chariot races were held. Another work holiday. Chariots and horses were a big theme in December. A coin with Saturn's name on it depicts a chariot being pulled across the sky by four horses. It looks a lot like Santa's sleigh.

December 21 was a festival called Angeronalia. Honoring Angerona, the goddess of joy and pleasure, the festivities were intended to drive away all feelings of sorrow or sadness.

December 25 was the culmination: The dies natalis of Sol invictus; that is, the birthday of the sun god Sol the unconquerable.

December 17-23, Saturnalia, a week-long festival to the god Saturn, was celebrated with a carnival atmosphere of partying, drunkenness, and gluttony. It was said that it was rare to see a sober person during Saturnalia. Pliny the Younger - famed persecutor of Christians - was said to have had a soundproof room added to his house so he could get some peace during Saturnalia. The holiday featured a loosening of morals and playing games, including gladiatorial games to the death. The dead gladiators were considered sacrifices to Saturn. All work was suspended, including courts, school and exercise. After an opening sacrifice, an image of a deity was placed reclining on a luxurious couch, as if he were present and participating. If this puts you in mind of a baby with a halo lying in a manger, you're not imagining things.

Gift-giving was a large part of the festival. The most popular gifts were candles and wax copies of fruit or idols - items purposely made to be temporary. The merchants wanted to make sure your money went to waste. Children were given toys. Employers gave their slaves and employees year-end bonuses, and merchants did the same with valued customers, to help them buy gifts. 

There was an atmosphere akin to Mardi Gras. Roles were reversed: Masters waited on their slaves; men dressed as women and vice versa. A commoner would be crowned ‘king of Saturnalia’ and give silly orders to others. While this custom is less known in America, it is still common in December in Europe to elect a “lord of misrule”. 

Homes and streets were decorated with wreaths and other greenery. Saturnalia is also referred to as a ‘festival of lights’: candles and bonfires were everywhere. By the first century, lit candles were viewed as substitutes for the heads of dead gladiators displayed in earlier years. The wax and pottery figurines given as gifts may also have been substitutes for the gladiatorial human sacrifices. 

Everyone called, “io saternalia!” as a greeting to everyone they met. Normal white togas were set aside in favor of brightly colored garments a classy Roman would normally not be caught dead in. (Think ugly Christmas sweaters.) 

Now: with all this information as a backdrop, try to imagine that you are Aquila or Prisca, or one of the others listed in Romans 16. You have 50 or 100 good friends, fellow Christians, scattered throughout the whole city of Rome. Perhaps the congregation meets in your home once or twice a week, and you discuss the scriptures, read the latest letter from Paul or Luke, sing songs, and pray together. And it's December.

Going to the market or to your shop where you make and sell tents you are bombarded with neighbors and shopkeepers calling out "io saternalia!" The streets are littered with drunks sleeping off the party of the night before. Those not falling down stagger by singing bawdy songs, slap you on the back and try to force their wine-skins into your hand. They tease you about your white toga, pointing out their own gaudy garments.  Candles burn in every window of every house but yours, and all but your house and your shop are decorated with wreaths and greenery. 

Perhaps a customer buys a tent in your shop and, after paying, stands there with his hand out, waiting for you to give him some lewd wax figurine of Tellus with exaggerated breasts while wishing him "io saternalia!" and instead, you smile and say, 'Thank you for your business.'

 Perhaps you would have tried to share the good news about God's kingdom with those who were finding the false gaiety depressing, those who were disturbed by the greediness, or were distressed by the money they were wasting on trinkets when their own families were suffering. Perhaps some of your neighbors were perplexed by the nonsensical and contradictory whims of the so-called gods and really needed to hear the truth about the Creator and his messiah.

If you were living back then, would you have explained to them why you opted out of all the festivities?  Or would the financial losses at your tent shop, or the pressures from your neighbors to conform, have been too great to tolerate? 

Would you have decorated your house with wreaths and candles? Donned an ugly toga? Given gifts to neighbors, friends and employees? Called out "io saternalia!" to everyone you passed on the street? Would you possibly have reasoned, "These people put so much emphasis on birthdays. What if we just pretend that December 25th is Jesus' birthday? Then, when people yell 'io saternalia!' we can respond with 'Felix dies natalis christos!' Maybe they'll be too drunk to notice."

Of course you wouldn't have done that. You would have considered that as disgusting as idolatry. But someone in the congregation gave in the the peer pressure. And then another one did. And time went by, and their kids did, and their grandkids... 

And here we are today with all these pagan traditions, pretending they have anything to do with Christ. 

I purposely put off posting this until after Christmas 2021 had passed so as not to irritate those who were already into their Christmas customs. If that includes you, you have a year, now, to read Romans chapter 16, read the names, pick one of them and pretend it's you. Ponder how that person may have resisted the pressure from the Roman world to conform to their pagan celebrations. Then decide whether you're going to keep pleasing your family and neighbors by continuing to celebrate a thinly disguised Saturnalia, or whether pleasing God is more important. 

Please feel free to share this page on Facegram, twitterspace, Instabook, or whatever. Or leave a polite comment. Comments are monitored, so those with their own agendas shouldn't waste their time. 

Bill K. Underwood is a columnist, Bible scholar and photographer. He is the author of the self-help book "99 Ways to Fire Your Boss" as well as three novels, available in either paperback or ebook on Amazon.com.


Saturday, December 25, 2021

Are Christmas trees really pagan?

 


I read a column this morning by a pastor promoting Christmas. “If you encounter someone telling you Christmas is pagan,” he said, “Ask them how they feel about using the calendar, since every day-name and nearly every month-name is honoring a pagan god.” I’m sure he felt that was a real zinger of an argument.

Here’s why he’s wrong.

God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, were not condemned for using the month-name “Tammuz”, named for a Babylonian god, for their summer month corresponding to the latter half of our June (named by the Romans for the god Junus). The Jews had been exiled to Babylon, whose calendar dominated the entire Middle East at the time and long after the Babylonian nation ceased to exist. Interacting in that world required the Jews to use words with which others could identify. Calling their summer month Tammuz did not mean they were honoring or worshiping that pagan god.

However, when the Jews in the wilderness built a golden calf and began dancing around it in what they called “a festival to Jehovah”, Jehovah was not amused: he ordered the slaughter of those celebrants, and 3,000 died. The apostle Paul later explained, “You cannot eat at the Lord's Table and at the table of demons, too." (1 Corinthians 10:21)

As one commentator on 1 Corinthians 10 put it, “It's not that the food, in either case, necessarily carries some supernatural power. It's that the act of eating from those tables is an act of joining oneself to that specific ‘lord’.”

So, is a Christian who uses the words ‘January’ or ‘Wednesday’ worshiping the gods Janus or Woden? Of course not.

Well, by that same logic, Christians aren't "worshiping" their Christmas trees, are they? Or are they?

A Christian who sees or walks past an evergreen tree in winter isn’t worshiping Woden (Odin), even though Woden's worship involved bringing evergreens into the house at the winter solstice and decorating them. But a person purposely doing that act –  even though they don’t know the origin of it and claim their actions are in memory of Jesus – how can they claim to be Christian? 

- Continues below.

 

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Does the Bible talk about using trees in a worshipful way? Actually, it does:

  • You should completely destroy all the places where the nations you will dispossess have served their gods, whether on the high mountains or on the hills or under any luxuriant TREE. You should pull down their altars, shatter their sacred pillars, burn their sacred poles (carved tree trunks) in the fire, and cut down the graven images of their gods, obliterating their very names from that place.” (Deuteronomy 12:2, 3)
  •  “You worship the fertility gods by having sex under those sacred trees of yours. You offer your children as sacrifices in the rocky caves near stream beds.” (Isaiah 57:5)

That last quote is from a rather loose translation. The Bible spares us many of the lurid details of how exactly the pagans used trees in their worship. But a few minutes on Google will satisfy the curious that many, many cultures around the globe have had pagan rites that involved tree worship, trees linked to various gods, sacrifices under trees, and sex amid ‘sacred trees'. 

On the other hand, the Bible is completely silent about any tree, decorated or otherwise, having anything whatsoever to do with remembering Jesus.

Decorating a tree in your house with any idea that you associate with worship is inexcusable. It has nothing to do with Christianity, and everything to do with worshiping a false god. And no amount of justification makes it otherwise. 

 Please feel free to share this page on Facegram, twitterspace, Instabook, or whatever. Or leave a polite comment. Comments are monitored, so those with their own agendas shouldn't waste their time. 

Bill K. Underwood is a columnist, Bible scholar and photographer. He is the author of the self-help book "99 Ways to Fire Your Boss" as well as three novels, available in either paperback or ebook on Amazon.com.