This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Contemporary Christian Music

The subject I want to address today is not an easy one, as it may tend to possibly offend some people, but it has to be addressed because it has become an issue in today's Christian circles.   Music and worship are the center of a major debate in the Church, both Catholic and Protestant, and therefore it has become something that some churches have even split over.  I am going to attempt to be as sensitive as possible with this subject, as I do have dear friends who may differ with me on this, but it doesn't make them any less Christian because of it.  However, I feel some strong convictions about this subject, as I see it as having some influence that it shouldn't have, and that is why it is important.

I want to state up-front that unlike some may accuse those of us who don't agree with CCM's use in the Church, we are not fighting this based on style.  I base that on two points.  First, there are some people who are Christians - more traditionalist than I am actually! - who do listen to secular rock music, but they also realize that the same music is not appropriate in a church setting either.  Second, my personal preferences in music, especially religious music, are actually quite diverse - I have in my own Christian music collection everything from ancient Syriac Orthodox liturgical chant to modern Southern Gospel, but despite the fact these styles are diverse, they are still part of the heritage of Christianity and my own collection reflects music that is both theologically sound and spiritually edifying, which is important.   A third observation I wish to make is this - I never listened to rock music, even as a non-Christian before I was born again, so I find it odd that in recent years "rock and roll church" is almost imposed as a new "tradition of men" upon people in churches; if I had nothing to do with it before I was a Christian, why would I have anything to do with it as a Christian??  These points being made, I also want to point out that what I am about to say here is meant with no disrespect towards some of my friends who may listen to CCM, and I hope they understand the spirit in which I say what I need to say here.  Believe it or not, I do know that listening to CCM will not cause someone to automatically become apostate, but at the same time as Christians mature, they also should be more discerning as to what they nurture their spirits with.  Now that we have established the groundwork, let us now begin to tackle the issue.

CCM is a relatively new innovation within the Christian community, only dating back to maybe the early 1970's when some younger people who were involved in other lifestyles before their conversions to Christ (mainly hippies and others) began to bring their old music into the Church with them.  As a result, there was the advent of "Christian rock" among the "Jesus People" movement, as well as the so-called "folk Masses' in Catholic parishes which were along the same lines.  At first, it was actually not too pervasive - some of the early Maranatha Praise music, as a matter of fact, is actually quite uplifting and edifying - as many Evangelical and conservative Catholic parishes still maintained doctrinal integrity.  That was largely true up until maybe the late 1980's when some things began to happen that radically changed the religious music industry for the worse. For one thing, many religious record companies were acquired by secular mega-corporations, and at that point it seemed like Christian music became an industry rather than a ministry.  More and more "Christian music" began to focus more on image and sales rather than the spiritual lives of its listeners, and that eventually led to some moral compromises among some CCM artists.  Another issue was within the Christian churches themselves, when a variety of new trends began to slowly infect them like bad diseases, and this too caused some problems - the "seeker-friendly" ideology of people like Bill Hybels, the rise of Rick Warren's "purpose-driven" philosophy in the mid-1990's, and this new trend in recent years called the "Emerging Church' all capitalized on the use of contemporary cultural trends to cater to the "seekers" at the expense of the Church's integrity.  A new emphasis in churches on marketing strategies (many borrowed from large corporations, which in itself was a problem) and increasing numbers left a spiritual void in American Christianity as many pastors who jumped on those bandwagons began to "dumb-down" their messages and capitalize on rock music as "worship" while heaping scorn upon those who had the discernment to see that this was a bad move.  It began to cause splits in churches, and it caused a lot of spiritual anguish for sincere people who only wanted to worship God in spirit and truth yet were denied that because the pastors of these churches wanted to make a good show rather than disciple their people.   Now, in 2010, we are seeing the fruit of that - many self-proclaimed conservative churches are now even questioning cardinal doctrines that at one time were not even up for debate because they are fundamental Christian beliefs.  Sin, repentance, hell, etc., are all subjects which have been blacklisted in fear of offending "seekers" who actually need to hear those messages.  And, it appears as if things are getting worse - here in Pinellas County, FL, for instance there are very few churches that actually teach the Gospel as it should be taught, because many of them are ashamed to do so.  Yet, they have dark sanctuaries, loud and scantily-dressed rock bands leading "worship," and numerics rather than discipleship is now the name of the game.  People like Rick Warren are multi-millionaires now as a result of this stuff, but at what cost??  Although I have gotten off-subject somewhat here, my point is that there is a connection between what I call "rock-and-roll worship" and these movements like the Emergent Church and "Purpose-Driven" philosophies, but those are not the subject of this lesson, although they are intimately tied into it.  What I wish to talk about today is about CCM, so let us begin. 

Some time back, I listened to a conservative Mennonite preacher by the name of Mose Stolzfus of Ephrata, PA, give a message about how CCM has made inroads into the Church.  I don't totally agree with many of his statements, as this same man also goes as far as to say only a-capella music is Scriptural (the Psalms don't agree with him, although there is nothing wrong with a-capella music in the Church), but he did make some excellent points in what he said.  One of the Scripture passages he used that stuck out for me was Isaiah 3:4-5, which is a verse dealing with children oppressing the people, being insolent toward the elders, and exalting what is base above what is honorable.  The first part of the verse is interesting also, in that it says God gave these insolent child dictators the reigns because of the infidelity of his people (some of these people who follow such a person didn't bother to read I Timothy 5:1, did they?).  Later on, in verses 16 and 17, it talks about the "daughters of Zion" being haughty and loose.  In this context, I believe this is talking about a time in the Church when the faith of our fathers is rejected by a younger generation in favor of a more worldly, lewd, and dumbed-down "worship" that leaves the people starving for spiritual nourishment (Hosea 4:6).  And, this is also a sign of the last-days Church too - see II Thessalonians 2:3-4, 11-12; I Timothy 4:1-2; II Timothy 3:1-10; 4:3; and the description of the Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-17, among others.   It is interesting that music has become a focal point of this also, and that definitely has significance. 

Many proponents of CCM, especially those involved in the movements of Rick Warren or Bill Hybels, preach the "cultural relevency" angle when confronted with its problems, stating how kids "relate" to CCM today.  However, Jeff Godwin, in his 1990 book What's Wrong With Christian Rock? (Chino, CA: Chick Publications, 1990) on page 235 blows that argument out of the water when he writes that the problem with the "relating" hoax is that it cultivates friendship with sin rather than deliverance from sin.   Also, people who make that "relevency" argument underestimate the intelligence of youth - kids are not stupid, and to many "Christian rock" is actually a big joke.  As a more encouraging sign additionally, there are actually many Christian youth who want traditional worship over contemporary "worship," as they desire to have roots and structure, something that CCM and the Rick Warren books deny them - I can attest to this personally, as I have seen many young people turning to Catholic and Orthodox liturgies and really having a radical transformation in their spiritual walks as a result of these ancient Christian liturgies.  For the "seeker church" proponents and the CCMers to make such an assumption about today's youth is both absurd and insulting, and in the long run it is going to make these people a laughing stock once they see they have failed miserably.   Others use the "success" angle, and to counter that, and Kinberly Smith, in her book Oh Be Careful Little Ears (Mulkilteo, WA: WinePress Publishing, 1997) on pages 86-87 says the following:

Christians yearn  for a deeper relationship with Christ.  We want to experience Him.  This "yearning" is artificially "satisfied" through carnal music because, as discussed in chapter 5, we can "experience" the music with our bodies.  However, this "satisfaction" is short-lived, resulting in a constant need for further exposure to carnal music in order to remain "satisfied."  Because we are carnally satisfied, we are hindered from experiencing a deeper walk with the Lord.

Carnal Christian music is successful because, just like secular rock music, it satisfies our carnal nature - our "flesh."  It's an instant gratification that doesn't require active participation in prayer and Bible study.

In other words, CCM is a drug, and the more people are addicted to it, the more money those who produce it rake in - aha!!  Problem there is this - just because something sells well doesn't mean it is quality.  Also, it doesn't mean it is good for you either.   That being said, I hasten to say that those who push the CCM agenda will have much to answer for, as the blood of many lost souls will be on their hands one day.  Is making a quick buck or getting a few butts in the seats worth all that??  And, lest you think there is no fallout from CCM and its influence, I cite Dan Lucarini, a former contemporary worship leader who saw the error of his ways and wrote a very informative book on CCM that interweaves his own experience with valuable information entitled Why I Left The Contemporary Christian Music Movement (Webster, NY:  Evangelcal Press, 2002).  In Chapter 18 of the book, entitled "How Then Shall We Worship Together?" he describes in straight-forward language the spiritual consequence of CCM addiction when he talks about how hard it was for him and others to wean themselves of it.  He notes that it does create a spiritual stronghold in the heart and will be a spiritual battle to release, just like a crack addict has withdrawal from his vice. In other words, it takes the grace of God to deliver us from this bondage.  He also notes on page 125 a number of benefits if the church would remove CCM's worldly influence from its services:

1.  There would be fewer divisions and church splits
2.  There would be less temptation for immorality
3.  There would be fewer tensions between members
4.  There would be less insensitivity between the brethren
5.  There would be less compromise of our principles
6.  God will be pleased with all the above

This makes perfect sense too, as today much of the conflict in Christian circles is generated over this issue, and it is tragic to have divisions because of some worldly tare-fertilizer in the wheatfield. Churches, back when I was a kid, were places that were once sanctuaries from the world, where the sinner could find redemption and the saint could find restoration.  Sinners even respected God's house, although they may not have accepted God's message.  And, the Church had no need to cater to them - the Church was what it was, and didn't have to use bad music or cheap marketing schemes to draw people, as the Holy Spirit does that anyway (it's His job, not ours!).  However, that isn't so anymore - nowadays, you see "pastors" that don't even have good hygeine, "worship teams" that look like skanks and sluts (forgive the language, but nothing is more appropriate to describe girls "shaking their booties for Jesus" on a church platform!), and a "sanctuary" of a church that is dank, dark, and looks more like a mosh pit than it does a place of worship.   And, for these scantily-clad girls standing up there in "worship teams" (note Isaiah 3;16-17 again here), the only thing being "uplifted" in a typical setting like that is not Jesus Christ, but rather a horny young man's libido - and, it is that inappropriate dress that causes the problem, along with the unnatural rhythms of most of that rock-and-roll stuff they call "worship music."  I know that was a bit coarse, and my apologies for that to my more sensitive readership, but fact is fact; the seductive dress of many of these young people is not for the purpose of worshipping the Lord!  It is catering to carnal nature.  Lucarini addresses that in his book as well when he notes that this is a form of idolatry in that it exults the singer on stage rather than the Lord of Hosts, and in His house yet to boot!  Not only is it inappropriate, but it is also rude!  People need to get back to standards as to how they present themselves in God's house, and men need to pull up those pants and not let your drawers show, as well as tucking in those shirttails, and you young ladies need to dress more appropriately for worshipping in God's house.  Save the sloppy dress for your clubs and keep it out of the church, please!

On pages 134-136 of his book, Lucarini also offers some very practical suggestions in order to reclaim and reform churches corrupted by this stuff:

1.  Learn to live by the principles
2.  If it's got that swing, it ain't good to sing!
3.  Break up that praise band
4.  If you think the music might offend someone, it probably will; so ASK FIRST!!
5.  Hymns are usually safe and sound
6.  Contemporary songs are acceptable, as long as the emphasis is not on a syncopated backbeat, but rather on melody and harmony.
7.  Use music for congregational singing, not just words on a screen.
8.  Put the microphones back in the stands.

I want to add something to this as a sacramental/liturgical Christian, because I have noticed a similar dumbing-down in liturgical worship as well.  Modern liturgies, such as the post-Vatican II Novus Ordo Mass and the Episcopal 1979 BCP, tend to focus more on politics and what I call hippie-isms rather than on the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Real Presence we celebrate in the Eucharist.  As a former Pentecostal who became Catholic as a result of the Convergence Movement of the early 1990's, I have seen the best and worst in liturgy, and that being said my concerns are not just directed at the Protestant Evangelical "praise music/CCM" phenomenon.   These modern liturgies are just as harmful among those of us who are sacramental/liturgical Christians as Rick Warren books and CCM is among Evangelicals, and it poses many of the same problems.  Now, I am not opposed to some things - for instance, surprisingly I have been greatly blessed and edified by some unusual things such as Fr. Frank Perkovich's Polka Mass as well as Vince Guaraldi's Jazz Mass, but the difference with those is that basically they are traditional music forms that do not alter the message of the Mass itself, so I personally see no problems with those.  Also, I have no problem using Southern Gospel music in worship either, in its proper context, as it too is part of the Christian musical tradition.  However, in many cases with things such as CCM as well as the so-called "guitar Masses" in some Catholic and Episcopal churches, the theology of the Liturgy is often compromised, and therefore these are not appropriate.  That is why it is important that we exercise good discernment as spiritual leaders regarding some supposedly "Christian" music.

Also, and as a final note, let me be clear that I am also not against secular music either.  I myself have been collecting vintage big band recordings for almost 30 years now, and it is a music I love and enjoy.  And, I have a testimony about how basically I believe God gave me an affinity for that music to protect me when I was younger, because had it not been for Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk records, my life might have turned out much worse, seriously! Therefore, it would be hypocritical of me to say that it is wrong to enjoy secular music.  However, secular music has its place too, and it is not in the worship of the Church.   The Church has provided us with 2000 years of highly diverse quality musical forms that we need not pilfer from the secular world just to make our services more "interesting."  God created us with an ear for good music, although many deprive themselves of it, and there is no harm in listening to quality music of a secular nature either.  Some of my more conservative friends would disagree on that with me, but that's their conviction.  However, I want to express some personal opinions about rock music.  For one thing, it is not quality, it is unnatural in its composition, and also unlike many other secular musical styles it embodies a philosophy and mindset that is at odds with Christianity, which is another reason why I do not feel it is appropriate for adaptation to a church setting.  God created us with giftings for discerning beauty and order in our world, and gave us the creativity to express that in various artistic forms.  Therefore, to me, rock music is a waste of God-given creativity, talent, and taste.  However, that is not a sufficient reason for its exclusion necessarily from Christian circles (although a good one!) but rather its reputation is.  Again, that reiterates that this issue is not about one's tastes or preferences, but rather about spiritual edification, of which rock music and its variations fall short.

This was a lengthy and controversial teaching, and I am sure some people may not appreciate it too much, but it is a conviction that needs to be voiced.  My advice to you is to pray, discern, and let God speak to your heart himself, and "study to show thyself approved" by reading His Word and understanding more of what He is looking for as we worship Him in spirit, and in truth. God bless and be with each of you today until I visit again next time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Some Reflections on the Middle Eastern Christian Situation

The thoughts  I am writing this week are not a religious theme - as a matter of fact, I am not exactly feeling all that sanctimonious to give a lot of spiritual wisdom.  I want to address a complex issue that has been on my mind for some time, and this may promise to be a lengthy. The recent tragic church bombing of an Assyrian church in Baghdad on Sunday, October 31, has gotten my attention, which is why I write this now.  Please keep the families of these victims in your thoughts and prayers, as these are a precious people of few numbers and every loss is a great tragedy for their people. 

For close to 20 years now, I have worked closely with Middle Eastern Christian minorities - Assyrians, Copts, Armenians, Maronites, and others - and as I have done so I have learned much.  And, it has not been easy in some cases, for at times the issues surrounding these groups can be such that it is like stepping into a hornet's nest for an outsider to their communities.   My desire has always been to see a united front among these Christian minorities, and at one time I actually thought there was such a unity.  However, due to meddling by the largely Islamic societies they have been forced to live in, oftentimes fracturing and factioning has caused inter-Christian disputes that have gotten violent, in particular regarding Lebanon.  And, unwittingly, I have sometimes gotten caught in the crosshairs of these conflicts, and there have been times I have wanted to just chuck it all and say "the heck with it," but I couldn't - these people mean something to me personally, and just when I am ready to give up, many of the good friends I have made among them are there to encourage me to press on, and I appreciate that so much.  One in particular I want to recognize is an Assyrian-American gentleman by the name of Ashur, with whom I have been talking about these issues over the past few days.  Ashur's encouragement and friendship have really been a godsend, and people like him make these efforts worthwhile.  I can only pray I get the blessing of knowing more like him.  That being said, I want to begin to tackle this to the best of my ability, as it is important to my own understanding as well as making others aware that many of these people, fellow Christians, are up against an evil that potentially could destroy their nations.  Of course that won't happen, as the Bible actually prophesies that many of them will be restored as nations, but at the same time we need to uplift and encourage them, as Islam is evil and if given the chance it will destroy all vestige of Christianity in that region, the very region that gave it birth and where many of its oldest churches still survive today.  Therefore, please bear with me as I struggle to write this.

Besides the Baghdad church tragedy last week, a couple of other things made this article necessary to write.  The first is the most recent.  There is a show on Thursday nights we watch called The Smoking Gun Presents the World's Dumbest, and a week or two ago they did an episode called "Dumbest Brawlers."  Most of the clips, interspersed with hilarious commentary by people like Danny Bonaduce, Tanya Harding, and Leif Garrett, are just amusing clips of normal people making jackasses out of themselves because they have had too much to drink or something.  However, one clip on that particular episode disturbed me - it was a clip of a gangfight between Greek and Armenian monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem during an Easter Liturgy.   One would think that Church leaders and clergy would set a better example for their people based on their positions as religious/spiritual leaders for some Christian communities which are living under constant threat of bullying and terrorism by Islamic radicals, but this was just disgraceful; it made these monks, supposed holy men, look like fools while the Western world laughed at how stupid they really looked.  The Holy Sepulchre is a shrine that is equally shared by I believe seven Eastern Christian communities and the Roman Catholics, and therefore if any place should be a symbol of Christian unity, that venerable church should.  To have fights breaking out among the clergy is the height of blasphemy to me, and sadly this isn't the first time.  I read a magazine article a few years back about a similar skirmish breaking out among Coptic and Ethiopian monks in Jerusalem over similar territorial spats, and it broke my heart.  I have been a staunch advocate for all these Christian communities for over 20 years, and to see them fighting among themselves like that over stupid things makes me not only sick to my stomach but is simply embarrassing.  Unfortunately, a lot of this goes back to Islamic manipulation - I am convinced that the Muslims plot this to keep the Christians fragmented so that Islam can prevail in the region, as a united front against Islamic oppression would probably overcome Islamic control of the area.  Also, these same Islamic influences have tainted indigenous Christian attitudes towards the Jews and the state of Israel.  For all intentions, Israel and the native Middle Eastern Christians are and should be natural allies, as they face the same enemy.  However, they sadly are not, and anti-Semitic, anti-Israel hate speech is present among Christians there.   There is an evident pattern of this Islamic "divide and conquer" mentality over centuries that Bat Ye'or documents in her book Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh-Dickinson, 2005) on page 35:

1.  The gradual erosion of resistance within the societies targeted but not yet conquered by jihad - this is accomplished by fostering economic reliance on Islamic overlords, forced abductions and slavery of religous minority populations, and deportation.
2.  As indigenous populations face a growing hostility, many are forced to immigrate as their societies are gradually altered and replaced by an Islamic lifestyle.  For those that remain, life becomes hell.
3.  The emergence of powerful collaborationist parties among the minorities that are economically and politically tied to Islamic sources.

Bat Ye'or goes on to say that this fosters the dhimmi system, which forced religious minorities to submit and surrender to puppets of the Islamic authorities who basically sold out their people for status or financial gain.  Nowhere is this more evident than among the clergy of many Middle Eastern Christian communities, many of whom are mere "talking heads" and spokesmen for the dictators and would-be mahdis who subjugate and persecute their people.  Although not the only source, this is a reason why many Middle Eastern Christian leaders have taken a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel stance and have even went as far as to condemn what they deem "Christian Zionism" as a "heresy."  They even drew up a document to that effect actually.  It is really tragic that many of the Middle Eastern Christians - thankfully not all, as a growing number know better, which I will get to shortly - have been fed this garbage, and they are failing to realize that Israel may be their only friend - the Muslims hate them and want to kill them, the West doesn't acknowledge they exist, and they are so factional among themselves that Islamic insurgents can pick them off easily.  That recently became painfully evident when I had a debate with two ladies - one a Palestinian Arab Christian and the other an Armenian from Syria - who both condemned fellow Christians while extolling the virtues of both Saddam Hussein and the Ayatollah Khomeini.   The Armenian lady even had the audacity to say that the Assyrians in Iraq inflicted suffering upon themselves, which is absurd - she obviously didn't know the history of her own people, much less the Assyrians, as both nations suffered horrific genocides at the hands of the Turks and Kurds simply for being Christians.  It gets worse though, as an Armenian Catholic writer, Antranik Atamian, wrote a book called Middle Eastern Christians At The Crossroads published a couple of years back that more or less created something I had never heard of - an "Armenian Arab."  Anyone who knows even a rudimentary amount of information about Armenians knows that they are a people of great pride in their unique heritage, and they know they are distinct from Arabs - they are not even Semitic, for heaven's sake!  So, for an Armenian writer to say this is just unbelievable.  Both of these ladies were also virulently anti-Israel, and that amazed me even more; not so much the Palestinian girl as the Armenian though.  However, Islamic incursions are not the total cause of this prejudice, as many Christians have harbored a hatred of Jews that goes back centuries even before Islam due to poor discipleship and misinterpretations of the Church Fathers and their teachings.  However, are either the Catholic or Orthodox Churches really anti-semitic in their teachings, or is this a "tradition of men" that has been fostered by ignorance?  That is what I wish to discuss now.

In 1987, a Carmelite priest of Jewish heritage by the name of Fr. Elias Friedman wrote a small book called Jewish Identity, and what he says in it will blow a hole through almost any anti-semitic sentiment a professing Christian harbors.  Fr. Friedman begins by asserting that first off, "Jewish" is religious terminology while "Israel" or "Hebrew" is ethnic, and not every Jew is an Israelite, while many Israelites can be found among the nations (take, for instance, the 55 million Conversos/Anusim, of which I am a part).  That being said, he also says that although Israel was largely founded by secular Zionists, God still has a purpose and a prophetic plan for its existence.  Natural Israel, argues Fr. Friedman, still has a future place in God's plan, but it isn't the Church.  The Church and Israel together constitute the Chosen of God, and thus one day an "ingrafting" will happen - many Church visionaries, both Catholic and Orthodox, saw this too - in which the leadership of the Church will revert to natural Israel because of two things.  First, there is an Apostasy of the Gentiles coming.  Secondly, there is to be a mass conversion of many Jews to Christ when they realize He is their Messiah.  This has Biblical support too, as in Revelation 5:11-13 there is a direct reference to 144,000 of Israel sealed by the Lamb.  I personally believe this to be a class of priests of Hebrew blood who will arise in the end times in the Church and will lead it through its roughest time of persecution, the Great Tribulation, and they will be led by a prophetic leader of the Remnant who will be of Levitical birth but also ordained into the priesthood of the Church; that could be a future exiled Pope, possibly from Ethiopia, but his identity is not necessarily restricted to just the Latin Church either.  Therefore, based on these facts, I would caution many Middle Eastern Christians to read up more on the subject, because simply put one day the very people they are rejecting may lead them, and some of these nations also have a prophetic destiny as well (see Isaiah 19:23-25 for more on that) and will be in fellowship with natural Israel.

That being said, my own frustration and disillusionment with some among the Middle Eastern Christian communities I have advocated so strongly for has led me to re-evaluate some things, and as I did so a Bible passage came to me.  It is one of the parables of Jesus, and is found in Matthew 13:24-30, and it is about wheat and tares.  A tare is simply a weed that poses as a wheat plant, but in doing so it can overtake a field.  It is possibly a poisonous plant that cannot be consumed, and thus to ancient farmers it was important to discern the difference.  The harvest metaphor is used quite frequently of the end-times Church in Scripture, and what it says if it is taken at face value is this; the harvest is of souls, and there must be a sorting process at the harvest to root out the tares from the wheat.  "Tares" are evident in all churches today, and unfortunately in growing numbers; my mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, often says that many Orthodox churches are filled with what he calls "baptized pagans."  In other words, they identify as Christians, know the lingo and motions, but their hearts are far from God.  As hard as it is for me to come to this conclusion, Middle Eastern Christians are not exempt from having tares in their wheatfields either, and unfortunately many of the "tares" hold office as clergy in the Church, or they are people who, due to satisfying their own pride and ambition, sell out their identities to Islamic puppetmasters in order to cater some gain for their own selfish interests, and their people suffer for that.  A lot of the fighting, killing, and feuding among professed Middle Eastern Christians is the result of tares flourishing in the wheatfields - I have heard stories in particular of Christians of different communities killing each other by masses in Lebanese villages in particular, and the ones who promote Islamic interests exploit this in order to foster discord and mayhem, as Islam is controlled by Satan and Satan knows that if he can keep God's people divided, he will prevail.  However, the good news is that there are others among them who are sincere and godly people, and those people deserve great admiration and respect because they often become martyrs or exiles due to taking a stand for the truth.  One day, the tares will be sorted out, and the promises made to the Assyrians, Copts, and other Christian nations in the Middle East in Isaiah 19 and other passages will be for the faithful Remnant of their people, and the same also goes for Israel - there are many Jewish and/or Hebraic people who will also burn in the fires of hell for eternity unless they understand their need for Jesus Christ as their Messiah, and it is the faithful Remnant of Israel that will inherit the blessings God has promised.  Understanding that helps me to deal with some attitudes I come across on occasion, like those of the Palestinian Christian girl I mentioned earlier as well as the Armenian woman.  Compromise with the enemy may bring some temporal luxury, but in the end it has a high cost, and my advice to Middle Eastern Christian people today is to stand by your convictions, stand for your God-given identities, and stand against the demonic onslaughts of Islamic control.  Much more can be said on this, but I will leave it for now as I may have more to revisit in a future article.  God bless the Assyrians, Copts, Armenians, and other Christian peoples of the Middle East, and may He awaken in them the truth and a passion to stand for it.