My dear Reader,
Warm greetings in the Name of
(our banner), our Redeemer, and our coming King.
In times like these we need a
banner – but not a man-made banner, or slogan! We need the Banner that
the Almighty has provided. His Name is Y’shua!
“In that day the Root of Jesse (the Messiah) will stand as a
banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him; and His place of
rest will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10)
Friends, we are living in days of
great apostasy; and it is imperative in these times that we, the people
of God, uphold the banner – Y’shua Nissi the banner of truth –
and take a bold stand in His Name.
The trends in much of the church
are quite alarming, as I am sure you will agree after reading the
article by Roger Oakland, in this issue, about what is being called,
These are also days of increasing
persecution. In democratic, secular India, a wave of persecution is
afflicting believers in many states – even in the capital, New Delhi.
Let us pray that believers everywhere will lift up the banner of Y’shua
high, and look to Him to tread down the adversaries.
King David in the midst of battle
wrote these words to express his faith that, with the banner of God
going before them, he and his army would do valiantly:
“You have given a banner to those who fear You, that it might be lifted
up because of the truth; that those You dearly love may be
delivered. Save with Your right hand, and answer us! … Through God we do
valiantly, and He treads down our adversaries.” (Psalm 60: 4-5, 12)
Persecution is often the fan that
kindles the flame of God. Over the past several years we have been
hearing of severe persecution in the Arab and Islamic world. But now we
hear that the God of the Bible is moving powerfully and dramatically
throughout the Muslim world.
It’s not being reported by the
mainstream media, but the number of Arab and Iranian Christians is
surging despite wars, rumors of wars, and terrible persecution.
A December report by Joel
Rosenberg (USA) says, “More Muslims converted to faith in Jesus Christ
over the past decade than at any other time in human history. A
spiritual revolution is underway throughout North Africa, the Middle
East, and Central Asia.”
He reports that in December 2001,
Sheikh Ahmad al Qataani, a leading Saudi cleric, appeared on a live
interview on Aljazeera satellite television to confirm, and lament, that
Muslims were turning to Jesus in alarming numbers. “In every hour, 667
Muslims convert to Christianity,” Al Qataani warned. “Every day, 16,000
Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million Muslims convert
Stunned, the interviewer
interrupted the cleric. “Hold on! Let me clarify. Do we have six million
converting from Islam to Christianity?” Al Qataani repeated his
assertion. “Every year,” the cleric confirmed, adding, “a tragedy has
While many Christian churches in
the Western world are retreating into the darkness, many Muslims,
Hindus, and Buddhists are coming into the glorious Light of the Gospel
of Christ. So let us not sleep, brethren, but let us be encouraged to
hold up the banner higher!
NEW MRC WEBSITE
I am delighted to let you know
that after quite a lapse, our MRC website has been rebuilt and is up and
running. Our webmaster is Ian Yates in UK, an enthusiastic supporter of
the Maranatha messages. A number of our books, and many articles and
news reports are available on the site, and God-willing, we’ll be adding
material, old and new, to the site regularly.
Please pray with us that the
website will be accessed by multitudes, and that it will bring the truth
of Messiah to many seeking souls around the world. I praise Yahweh that
we have been able to place the whole of our book, “The Life and
Teachings of Y’shua the Messiah” on the site. Also, “The Rapture,” “The
Messiah,” and “How to Survive if you are Left Behind.”
And there’s a mission field “page”
focusing on “Tibet-Bhutan-Nepal.” And lots more. Please check it out at
Now may the Master bless and keep
you until the trumpet sounds. And keep looking up!
In fellowship with
the Middle East situation
HIZBULLAH STEPPING UP ITS BID
BRING DOWN THE LEBANESE
JAN. 9, 07. The Hizbullah-led
Lebanese opposition has vowed to step up its protest campaign aimed at
bringing down the government with daily marches outside ministries and
Supporters of the opposition have
camped out in central Beirut since Dec. 1, turning the area into a city of
tents where thousands of people gather daily, shouting anti-government
slogans less than 100 meters (yards) from the government building where
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has been living.
Cabinet minister Ahmed Fatfat
suggested in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV station that security troops
would move against protesters if the marches and demonstrations disrupted
freedom of movement and work in government institutions.
“ISRAEL PLANNING TO NUKE
JAN 7, 07. In a story that has topped
headlines in all of Israel’s news media today, the widely read and highly
influential London Sunday Times reported that the Israel Air Force
was preparing to carry out a nuclear attack on Iranian’s nuclear plants.
IAF pilots had been carrying out
special training in Gibraltar; and three flight paths to target sites in
Iran had already been mapped out.
The plan, according to the paper, is
for Israel to use bunker-busting bombs to drill “tunnels” through thickly
reinforced steel and concrete shields at the Natanz plant, and then drop
relatively small tactical nuclear bombs into the actual facility, destroying
it. Conventional bombs will be used on two of the country’s other sites at
Isfahan and Arak.
If employed, it would be the first
time that nuclear weapons were used in war since 1945. The Israeli nukes for
this operation are thought to render about 1/15th
of the yield of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Israel’s plan has been formulated as
Tehran continues its race to acquire nuclear know-how unperturbed by the
international community’s half-hearted effort to boycott the Islamic
Republic into compliance.
The growing fear in Israel is that the
world will sit by and allow yet another genocide of the Jews. While Israeli
governments have long insisted that Israel will not be the first to
introduce nuclear weapons into the region, the nation feels that it has its
back to the wall in the face of increasingly determined Islam-driven efforts
to destroy it. - Stan Goodenough Jerusalem Newswire,
Israel has denied that it is planning
such an attack.
OLMERT CHANGES STANCE ON
JAN 10, 07. While on a visit
to China early this month, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert gave an interview with
Chinese news agency Xinhua, in which he said that unilateral
withdrawal has proven to be a failed policy.
While he expressed willingness to
negotiate a withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria, Olmert said that it
would only be done in the framework of bilateral negotiations with the
In the spring of 2006, Olmert set a
deadline for PA leaders to come to the negotiating table to discuss
permanent borders with Israel. If the PA leadership did not manage to make
it to the table by the end of the year, he warned, Israel would get the job
anyway - alone.
At the time, the PM said he was
convinced that if the PA continued to refuse to cooperate on measures to
reach a final status agreement, unilateral withdrawal was the only way to
ensure a Jewish majority in the Jewish State and to provide effective
security for Israeli citizens. Olmert explained his new position to the
Chinese interviewer by referring to the Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon in
2000 and from Gaza in 2005, both of which, he said, encouraged terrorism and
increased the likelihood of war.
“A year ago, I believed that we would
be able to do this unilaterally,” he said. “However, it should be said that
our experience in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip is not encouraging. We pulled
out of Lebanon unilaterally, and see what happened. We pulled out of the
Gaza Strip completely, to the international border, and every day they are
firing Kassam rockets at Israelis. Under the existing circumstances, it
would be more practical to achieve a two-state solution through negotiations
rather than [unilateral] withdrawal.”
With his latest statements, the prime
minister is joining other political leaders in retroactive criticism of
Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal policy, which Olmert supported and
defended vigorously at the time.
GAZA TERRORISTS SEEK TO USE
JAN 8, 07. A number of Palestinian
terror cell members recently left the Gaza Strip and traveled abroad to
learn how to manufacture and effectively launch short-range Katyusha rockets
which have an estimated range of over 35 kilometers, high-ranking defense
officials told The Jerusalem Post.
While Kassam rockets have been the
Israel Army’s immediate focus, a high-ranking defence official said that it
was necessary to begin preparing for the possibility that the Palestinian
terror organizations in the Gaza Strip would also soon obtain rockets with
even longer ranges than that of the Katyusha.
CONDOLEEZZA: “PA rifles
won’t be aimed at Israel"
ABBAS: “Raise rifles
against Israeli occupation!”
JAN 11, 07. In a speech commemorating
the 42nd anniversary of the founding of his Fatah party, Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Arab factions to put an end to
weeks of infighting and instead fight Israel. “Shooting at your brother is
forbidden. Raising rifles against the occupation is our legitimate right,
but raising guns against each other is forbidden. We should put our internal
fighting aside and raise our rifles only against the Israeli occupation,” he
said in a speech in Ramallah.
Abbas also railed against “the sons of
Israel ... who are corrupting humanity on earth.”
His statements came soon after the US,
aided by Ehud Olmert, provided 7,000 assault rifles and more than 1 million
rounds of ammunition to militias associated with Abbas’ Fatah party. Abbas’
call to arms was not reported by most major media.
JAN 13, 07. Two days later, US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought to give the assurance that PA
rifles will not be aimed at Israel.
The United States has been supplying
the PA president’s personal militia with weapons to give him a military edge
over the rival Hamas militia. Terrorists have vowed that the weapons will be
used against Israel, as they were in the 1990s when the Israeli government,
headed by then-Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, gave the PA security forces
thousands of rifles.
The Jewish State has since allowed
other nations to send weapons to the PA, and Israeli intelligence officials
have documented their use in attacks against Israel.
But Condoleezza Rice, talking to
reporters en route to Israel, said this time it will be different. “The US
will prevent a repeat of previous attacks on Israel with arms supplied to PA
forces,” she said. “This is a train-and-equip program that is going to move
over time, so it is not as if you simply arm the Palestinians on Day One and
then have no input or control over what happens from then on,” she said. “I
think as a result you can maintain some control on what is being done.”
However, Fatah Force 17 security
officer Abu Yousef said that other terrorist groups will use the weapons. He
added that many of the members of Abbas’ personal militia are also members
of other terrorist organizations, including Hamas. “Our organizations are
infiltrated [by Hamas],” he said.
Hamas spokesman Abu Oubaida told
WorldNetDaily last week that his terror group will obtain any American
weapons transferred to Fatah militias or purchased by Fatah using the
incoming $86.4 million in U.S. aid. “I can confirm 100% that this money and
the purchased weapons will find their way to Hamas,” he said. - Reported
by WorldNetDaily and other reports
SIGNS OF "EMERGING IN"
By Roger Oakland
The world is changing. So is the
Christian evangelical church. There was a time — not that long ago — when
the Bible was considered to be the Word of God by the majority of
evangelical Christians. Now that we are well into the third millennium and
the post-modern, post-Christian era, the term evangelical can mean
almost anything. What has happened? Why is this happening and what is the
future for mainstream Christianity?
For the past several years, I have
been speaking around the world on current trends that are impacting
Christianity. After these presentations, I am approached by Christians who
come from many different church backgrounds. Many are expressing their
concerns about what is happening in their churches, troubled by the new
direction they see their church going. While they may not always be able to
discern what is wrong, they know something is wrong and that it needs
to be addressed.
Further, many have told me they have
attempted to express their concerns with their pastors or church elders. In
almost every case, they were told they had a choice to make — get with the
new program or get out of the church.
This move towards a reinvented
Christianity (one designed to “reach people”) seems to be here for the long
haul. It is not just a passing fad. I am often asked by concerned brothers
and sisters in Christ to provide an explanation in order to help them
understand what they have encountered. They want to know why these changes
are underway and what to expect in the future. As well, they want to know
what, if anything can be done, to stem this tide. It is for this reason I am
writing this commentary — to provide biblical insight regarding the Emerging
Church and where it is heading in the future.
The Gospel According to
Throughout church history, various
trends have come and gone. While culture changes from place to place,
biblical Christianity has always been based upon the central message of the
Bible which is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the message never changes.
This gospel message is about who Jesus
Christ is, and what He has done. A child can understand the gospel message.
This message proclaims that life here on planet earth is finite and that
life after death is eternal. The good news is that we can be saved from our
sins if we will repent and simply ask for forgiveness and follow Him.
How we respond to the gospel message
during the time we have on earth determines where we spend eternity — heaven
or hell. Jesus, the Creator of the universe, provided a way and the only way
we can spend eternity with Him. It is a matter of making a personal decision
whether or not we will accept the plan He has provided.
God’s adversary does not want mankind
to understand the simple message. His plan is to deceive the world. If he
can blind people from the gospel or convince them that they believe the
gospel when indeed they do not, his plan has been successful. Throughout the
ages, countless billions have been duped, either rejecting the truth, or
believing that they had believed the truth when instead they had been
The Gospel According to
Times change! However, the gospel must
remain the same no matter what else changes. We are now living in the
postmodern era. In a sincere attempt to reach the postmodern generation with
the gospel, it seems many Christians have become postmodern in their
Perhaps the term postmodern is
new to you. Let’s examine what it means.
First, the modern era was
characterized by a time of rational thinking based on factual observation.
Many claim the modern era ended in the mid 1900s.
The postmodern mindset moves beyond
the rational and the factual to the experiential and the mystical. In other
words, in the past it was possible to know right from wrong and black from
white. In the postmodern era all things are relative to the beholder. What
may be right for you may be wrong for someone else. There is no such thing
as absolute truth. The only thing that is absolute is that there is no
We now live in a time in history that
is characterized as postmodern. Professors at universities teach students
there is no right or wrong. All things are relative. The gospel message to
the postmodern mindset is far too dogmatic and arrogant. They say it is
necessary to find a more moderate gospel that can be accepted by the masses.
Many church leaders are now looking
for ways to reach the postmodern generation. They believe they can find the
appropriate methods to do so without changing the message. However, in their
attempt to reach this postmodern generation, they have become postmodern
themselves and have changed the message. As the gospel is fixed upon the
Scriptures, the gospel cannot change, unless of course it becomes another
gospel. This is what is happening in the Emerging Church.
“He Didn’t Come”
Many have noticed that since the turn
of the millennium, their churches have changed positions on Bible prophecy
and the Second Coming of Jesus. Many have given up on the return of Jesus.
From the ‘60s on there was an excitement about the imminent return of Jesus.
The Jesus People were excited about Bible prophecy and could see signs that
Jesus would descend from the heavens for His Bride at any moment.
The year 2000 was of particular
importance. When Jesus didn’t show up, it seems many were apparently
disappointed. “Perhaps Jesus has delayed His coming,” some have said. Others
are even taking the position that He may not be coming at all, at least not
in the manner we have been taught. They are now convinced that we need to be
busy about “building His Kingdom” here on earth by “whatever human effort is
The Gospel of the
One of the main indicators that
something has changed can be seen in the way the future is perceived. Rather
than urgently proclaiming the gospel according to the Scriptures and
believing the time to do so is short, the emphasis has now shifted. No
longer are “signs of the times” significant. The battle cry is very
different. A major emphasis among evangelicals is the idea that the world
can be radically improved through social programs.
This concept, while on the surface may
sound very good, has some serious biblical implications. According to the
Scriptures, there will be no kingdom of God until the King arrives. All the
human effort man can muster up will fall short of bringing utopia. In fact,
according to the Scriptures, fallen man will lead us further down the road
to a society of despair and lawlessness just like it was in the days of
Thus, this purpose-driven view
of establishing global utopia may be a plan, but it is “driven” by
humanistic reasoning and not led by the Holy Spirit. While it is of course
good to do good unto others, all the goodness that we can do will not be
good enough. Pastors and church leaders who get involved in such man-driven
programs can usually be identified by certain characteristics:
* Sound biblical doctrine is
dangerous and divisive, and the experiential (i.e., mystical) is given a
greater role than doctrine.
* Bible prophecy is no longer taught
and is considered a waste of time.
* Israel becomes less and less
important and has no biblical significance.
* Eventually the promises for Israel
are applied to the church and not Israel (Replacement Theology).
* Bible study is replaced by
studying someone’s book and his methods.
* Church health is evaluated on the
quantity of people who attend.
* The truth of God’s Word becomes
less and less important
* God’s Word, especially concepts
like hell, sin and repentance, is eventually downplayed so the unbeliever is
Spiritual Formation and
Much of what I have described provides
the formula for a dumbing-down of Christianity that paves the way for an
apostasy that will only intensify in the future. This trend away from the
authority of God’s Word to the reinvented form of Christianity has overcome
all evangelical denominations like an avalanche. Few Bible teachers saw this
avalanche coming. Now that it is underway, few realize it has even
However, there is another big piece to
the puzzle that must be identified in order to understand what is emerging
in the Emerging Church. While biblical Christianity has been dumbed-down and
the light of God’s Word diminished, another avalanche of deception is
underway that is equally devastating.
This is best described by the Word of
God giving way to experiences that God’s Word forbids. The best way to
understand this process is to recall what happened during the Dark Ages when
the Bible became the “forbidden book.” Until the Reformers translated the
Bible into the language of the common person, the people were in darkness.
When the light of God’s Word became available, the gospel according to the
Scriptures was once again understood.
This trend, which is underway today,
shows us that history is in the process of repeating itself. As the Word of
God becomes less and less important, the rise of mystical experiences is
alarming and these experiences are being presented to convince the
unsuspecting that Christianity is about feeling, touching, smelling and
seeing God. The postmodern mindset is the perfect environment for the
fostering of what is called “spiritual formation.” This teaching suggests
there are various ways and means to get closer to God. Proponents of
spiritual formation erroneously teach that anyone can practice these
mystical rituals and find God within. Having a relationship with
Jesus Christ is not a prerequisite.
These teachings, while actually rooted
in ancient wisdom (the occult), were presented to Christendom
post-New Testament and not found in the Word of God. The spiritual formation
movement is based upon experiences promoted by desert monks and Roman
Catholic mystics – these mystics encouraged the use of rituals and
practices, that if performed would bring the practitioner closer to God (or
come into God’s presence). The premise was that if one went into the silence
or sacred space, then the mind was emptied of distractions and the voice of
God could be heard. In truth, these hypnotic, mantric style practices were
leading these monks into altered states of consciousness. The methods they
used are the same that Buddhists and the Hindus use as a means of
encountering the spiritual realm
Such methods are dangerous, and are
not sanctioned in the Bible – God gives no instruction for this. On the
contrary, he warns severely against divination, which is practicing a ritual
or method in order to obtain information from a spiritual source. While
proponents of spiritual formation (like Richard Foster) say these methods
show that the Holy Spirit is doing something new to refresh Christianity, I
would suggest that what is happening is not new and is not the Holy Spirit.
The spiritual formation movement is
being widely promoted at colleges and seminaries as the latest and the
greatest way to become a spiritual leader in these days. These ideas are
then being exported from seminaries to churches by graduates who have been
primed to take Christianity to a new level of enlightenment.
As well, these contemplative practices
are being promoted by emergent leaders such as Brian McLaren, Robert Webber,
Dallas Willard and others. Publishers like NavPress, InterVarsity and
Zondervan are flooding the market with books promoting contemplative
practices based on Eastern mysticism. Pastors and church leaders read these
books and then promote the ideas as if they were the scriptural answer to
drawing close to God.
Signs the Emerging
Church is Emerging
There are specific warning signs that
are symptomatic that a church may be headed down the emergent/contemplative
road. In some cases a pastor may not be aware that he is on this road nor
understand where the road ends up. Here are some of the warning signs:
* Scripture is no longer the
ultimate authority as the basis for the Christian faith.
* The centrality of the gospel of
Jesus Christ is being replaced by humanistic methods promoting church growth
and a social gospel.
* More and more emphasis is being
placed on building the kingdom of God now and less and less on the warnings
of Scripture about the imminent return of Jesus Christ and a coming judgment
in the future.
* The teaching that Jesus Christ
will rule and reign in a literal millennial period is considered unbiblical
* The teaching that the church has
taken the place of Israel and Israel has no prophetic significance is often
* The teaching that the Book of
Revelation does not refer to the future, but instead has been already
fulfilled in the past
* An experiential mystical form of
Christianity begins to be promoted as a method to reach the postmodern
* Ideas are promoted teaching that
Christianity needs to be reinvented in order to provide meaning for this
* The pastor may implement an idea
called “ancient-future” or “vintage Christianity” claiming that in order to
take the church forward, we need to go back in church history and find out
what experiences were effective to get people to embrace Christianity.
* While the authority of the Word of
God is undermined, images and sensual experiences are promoted as the key to
experiencing and knowing God.
* These experiences include icons,
candles, incense, liturgy, labyrinths, prayer stations, contemplative
prayer, experiencing the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of the
* There seems to be a strong
emphasis on ecumenism indicating that a bridge is being established that
leads in the direction of unity with the Roman Catholic Church.
* Some evangelical Protestant
leaders are saying that the Reformation went too far. They are re-examining
the claims of the “church fathers” saying that communion is more than a
symbol and that Jesus actually becomes present in the wafer at communion.
* There will be a growing trend
towards an ecumenical unity for the cause of world peace claiming the
validity of other religions and that there are many ways to God.
* Members of churches who question
or resist the new changes that the pastor is implementing are reprimanded
and usually asked to leave.
What does the Future
If the Emerging Church continues
unfolding at the present pace, mainstream evangelical Christianity will be
reinvented and the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures will
be considered too narrow and too restrictive. In other words, the narrow way
to heaven that Jesus proclaimed will eventually be abandoned for a wider way
that embraces pagan experiential practices. I call this reinvented,
re-imagined form of Christianity that is unfolding — “Christian
This new form of Christianity will
replace biblical faith with a faith that says man can establish the kingdom
of God here on earth. The Word will continue to become secondary to a system
of works driven by experiences.
An ecumenical pattern towards unity
with Rome will become more apparent. Those who refuse to embrace this will
be considered spiritual oddballs that need to be reprimanded. Those who
stand up for biblical faith will be considered the obstructions to the one
world spirituality that is promoted as the answer for peace.
The best way to be prepared for what
is coming is to gain an understanding of what is happening now. While there
are not many who seem to discern the trend underway, there are some. Without
the Bible and the Holy Spirit as our guide, the darkness that is coming
would be overwhelming. However, the light of God’s Word penetrates the
darkness and there are those who are being delivered from deception and see
what is taking place.
I am convinced we are seeing apostasy
underway, exactly as the Scriptures have forewarned. This means that this
current trend is not likely to disappear. We must continue to proclaim the
truth in the midst of deception with love. As Paul instructed Timothy:
And the servant of the Lord must not
strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient; in meekness
instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them
repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover
themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at
his will (2 Timothy 2: 24-26).
There are still pastors and churches
who are dedicated to proclaiming the truth. Find out where they are and
support them. If you are in a location where this does not seem to be
possible, seek out materials that are available from solid Bible-based
Christian ministries and hold Bible studies in your own home.
And keep looking up! Jesus is coming
permission of Understanding The Times, Santa Ana, Calif, USA
EXPANDS TO 27
Romania and Bulgaria mark accession
JAN 1, 2007. 17 years after the fall
of Communism, Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union, extending the
borders of the now 27-member bloc eastward to the Black Sea.
The EU flag was raised outside the
government headquarters in Bucharest to the European anthem, Beethoven’s
Ode to Joy.
It is hoped the accession of these two
states on New Year’s Day - the EU’s second wave of enlargement into formerly
Communist Eastern Europe - will give the Union a stable political and
economic anchor in a region surrounded by unstable neighbors.
European nations led by Britain, with
the enthusiastic backing of the US, have supported further EU expansion
because the promise of membership has helped accelerate economic and
political change in Europe.
Romania and Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest
members, hope that membership will help them raise their per capita wealth,
which at present is only one-third of the EU average.
Romania suffered a brutal Communist
dictatorship under Nicolae Ceausescu before he was overthrown in 1989. Now,
with a population of about 22 million, it is the EU’s seventh largest
For Bulgaria, whose history is marked
by conflicts with the Ottoman Empire and Soviet occupation, EU membership is
also viewed as a source of economic and democratic stability.
In an emotional address to the nation,
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov called the country’s EU entry a
‘heavenly moment.’ “But let’s make it clear, our future success as a nation
depends not on European funds and resources, but on our own work.”
The two states, like the eight
ex-Soviet countries already in the EU club, are poorer than the first 15
members; they have many more farmers, are predominantly Christian and have
right-leaning views on issues such as immigration and gay rights.
THE EU IS STILL INCREASING
The EU began in 1957 with six
members. By 1995 it had increased to 15, and in May 2004 a new wave of
entrants brought it to 25 members. With the latest additions, the EU’s
population increases to 493
and its economy grows to 10.9 trillion euro - the biggest single market in
But the entry of the Balkan countries
comes as the EU is experiencing expansion fatigue following the bloc’s
enlargement to the 25 countries in 2004.
Recently EU leaders toughened their
tone on enlargement but stopped short of setting new hurdles to expansion.
They reaffirmed backing for the
eventual membership of Turkey
and the western Balkan states:
Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
But they insisted that expansion could
not proceed unless the EU changed its outmoded institutions, including a
decision-making system in which national vetoes remain widespread.
The EU will now work in 32 official
languages, and the Brussels bureaucracy will expand to take in 27 European
Both Romania and Bulgaria have
ratified the draft EU constitution as part of their accession treaties, and
this has raised the total number of EU states that have approved the charter
from 16 to 18.
Both Bulgaria and Romania are much
poorer than the rest of the EU, with GDP per capita of about 33% of the EU
Average income in Romania and Bulgaria
is E60 to E200 a month while some live on just E60 a month. In Romania, Roma
slums have worse living conditions than parts of the developing world.
The two new countries will be subject
to strict monitoring to ensure they make progress in the fight against
corruption and organised crime. They will also face export bans on certain
foods, and Bulgaria has been warned that 55 of its aircraft could be
grounded unless they reach EU safety standards.
One of the EU’s fundamental principles
- freedom of movement
– has been put in doubt as the richer EU nations impose restrictions on
Romanian and Bulgarian workers heading their way.
The EU is already grappling with fears
that westward migration from its poorer members in the east risks
undermining the bloc’s social standards. At the time of the EU’s last
enlargement, in May 2004, the European Commission estimated that the number
of migrants throughout the bloc would total 70,000 to 150,000 a year.
Britain alone is estimated to have received up to 600,000 in the past three
Job-seekers from Romania and Bulgaria
are likely to face stiff restrictions in the rest of the EU. Britain, Sweden
and Ireland, which opened their doors to EU newcomers in 2004, have already
signaled that they are less inclined to do so now.
Romanians and Bulgarians may also face
obstacles in labor markets in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic,
which are themselves confronting restrictions by countries further west.
Romania and Bulgaria fall into place as third-class EU members.
SLOVENIA ADOPTS EURO
Slovenia, the first of the 2004 new
members, has become the 13th EU member state to introduce the euro, ditching
its national currency on 1 January. The existing Slovenian currency, the
tolar, remained in dual use with the euro for just 14 days.
GERMANY TAKES ON PRESIDENCY
On Jan 1, Germany took over from
Finland the presidency of the European Union, for six months. It also took
over the presidency of the G8 - the world’s eight most industrialized
nations, for one year.
During its time as head of the EU and
the G8, Germany, the biggest economy and most populous country in Europe,
will seek to revive international efforts for Middle East peace, to relaunch
the EU constitution, and to advocate a gentler form of globalization.
Berlin has set ambitious targets and
achieving them will test the diplomatic powers of Chancellor Angela Merkel,
who has won widespread praise for her approach to foreign policy since
taking over in November 2005.
Merkel told Germans in a New Year’s
speech Sunday that the dual presidencies presented a unique opportunity to
help shape Europe’s future in a globalized world. “Only a united Europe can
tackle not only the challenges of globalization including international
trade, but also violence, terror and war,” she said. “A divided Europe is
doomed to failure.”
Germany wants to restart
Mideast Peace Process
Germany will renew efforts to find a
solution to Mideast troubles. Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister
Frank-Walter Steinmeier have called for a January meeting to “revitalize”
the Middle East quartet — grouping the EU, the US, the UN and Russia — to
help kick start peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.
Steinmeier has said the aim is for the
quartet to exercise a “stabilizing” influence in the region and encourage
preliminary talks between Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas to continue.
Breathing new life into dead EU Treaty
The most pressing item for Europe is
the stalled EU constitution. Merkel has cautioned against overly high
expectations saying that half a year may not be sufficient to resurrect a
treaty that has been in the deep freeze for more than 18 months. (French and
Dutch voters dealt a blow to the constitution treaty by voting against it in
2005, but 18 of the 27 countries have ratified it).
“POLICE FORCE IS CORRUPT”
11 JAN 07. The Australian
quotes one of the nation’s most respected judicial figures as saying
Victoria’s police force is riddled with “deep-seated and continuing
corruption” that will only be flushed out by a powerful and wide-ranging
Justice Don Stewart said Victoria
Police and the Bracks Labor Government oppose a royal commission because
they do not want the extent of corruption within the force made public
“They know that it would reveal what
they don’t want revealed,” says the former Supreme Court judge and founding
head of Australia’s first national crime agency.
Dismissing arguments that dirty police
are already being driven out of the force through the courts, he says the
recent convictions of senior Victorian officers on corruption charges are
“the tip of the iceberg.”
“The arrest of some corrupt police
only proves that corruption is deep-seated and continuing,” Mr Stewart
says in a book to be published in March.
A Victoria Police spokesman said:
“Justice Stewart is entitled to his opinion. But Victoria Police has a
proven track record in not only identifying corruption but also
successfully investigating and prosecuting corrupt officers.”
Victoria Police was criticised by one
of its own corruption investigators in October for failing to investigate
adequately up to 24 allegedly corrupt officers in the force. - The
Australian / 11 Jan 07
Corruption is one of the signs of the
times. The Messiah, Y’shua, said:
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of
the return of the Son of Man:” (Luke 17:26)
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight; the earth was full of
violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become; for all humanity
on the earth had corrupted its ways. Then God said to Noah, ‘The end
of all people has now come before Me; for the earth is filled with
violence because of them. Watch! I am about to destroy them along
with the earth’.” (Genesis 6:11-13)
Corruption is rife all around the
world, and in all areas of society in varying degrees – in governments, in
the police, the army, the commercial world, the United Nations, and in
education and health; its also in entertainment, arts, and social and
religious systems; and even in international aid organisations.
In Psalm 14, David lamented the moral
foolishness and corruption of the whole human race and longs for the
establishment of the righteous kingdom of God.
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They have acted
corruptly; they have committed vile deeds. There is no one who does
good. YHWH has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there
is a wise one, seeking God.” (Psalm 14:1-2)
It’s as we read in the New Testament:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) And
“the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in the
Messiah, Y’shua our Master.” (Romans 6:23)
For “The LORD is … not wanting anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to
repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
exploits of kings of persia,
greece, egypt and syria
IN THE BOOK OF
By Bob Hines, Auckland, New Zealand
PLEASE READ DANIEL
CHAPTER 11: 1-35
This chapter of Daniel reads like a
history lesson. A history lesson that was given in advance and one which has
proven by history itself to be 100% accurate!
Because of the wealth of historic
detail given to Daniel in this chapter, critics insist that this chapter
could only have been written after the events and not by Daniel. Off course
they have to believe that as to believe otherwise proves that there must be
a God for only God could foresee such events way into the future.
King Cyrus was still the ruler of the
Medo-Persian Empire in the year 536 BC when Daniel received this vision. He
was told that there would be three more rulers after Cyrus then a fourth
more powerful ruler would arise.
As we would know by now history proves
the truth of God’s prophetic word. The three kings were Cambyses who ruled
from 529 – 522 BC, Pseudo-Smerdis from 522 – 521 BC, and Darius I Hystaspes
from 521 – 468 BC. The fourth King was Xerxes I (486 – 465 BC) who became
very wealthy and amassed an army large enough for him to believe that he
could invade Greece. He did so in 480 BC with disastrous results for
It is true that there were several
more Kings after Xerxes, however it is clear that Daniel’s vision was only
up until the time that Persia invaded Greece. After that point in time the
vision carries on to describe the future “mighty King” of Greece. This King
was of course Alexander the Great who led the Greek – Macedonian army to
attack the Medo-Persian Empire in 334 BC and who eventually ruled the then
History confirms that Alexander’s
empire was indeed “broken up” and his kingdom was indeed divided into four
parts. Alexander died at the young age of 32 and as his sons were murdered
(“it did not go to his descendants”) the kingdom was divided between his
four generals (“parceled out toward the four winds of heaven”).
The Southern division, Egypt, ruled by
the Ptolemies and the northern division, Syria, ruled by the Seleucids
became the most prominent of the four kingdoms. Years later Ptolemy II of
Egypt forced Antiochus II of Syria to divorce his wife, Laodice, in order to
form an alliance when Ptolemy’s daughter, Berenice, who then married
Antiochus. (“The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of
the North to make an alliance.”)
Just a few years later however Ptolemy
died and Antiochus promptly discarded Berenice and took back Laodice who was
so bitter that she then had her husband, Bernice and Berenice’s baby
murdered along with all the people that had come with Berenice from Egypt
(“she will be handed over, together with her royal escort …”).
Ptolemy III, Bernice’s brother,
succeeded his late father as the new King of Egypt and to avenge his
sister’s murder he successfully invaded Syria and put Laodice to death.
(“One from her family line will arise to take her place. He will attack the
forces of the King of the North …”)
Some years later a new king, Seleucus
Callinicus, reigned in Syria and his two sons gathered a huge army to retake
their land occupied by the Egyptians. By 219 BC they had successfully
regained control of Syrian territory and had in the process gained parts of
Israel and Transjordan. Although one of the sons had been killed early in
the conflict the other, Antiochus III, reigned supreme. (“His sons will
prepare for war …”)
Eventually the king of Egypt
retaliated and in 217 BC the two armies met on the battlefield. Egypt won a
great victory and Antiochus retreated to lick his wounds. (“Then the king of
the South will march out in a rage and fight against the king of the North
“After several years” the King of
Egypt died and was succeeded by his 4 year old son. Antiochus seized his
chance and after enlisting support from the Macedonians as well as Egyptian
and Jewish rebels (“the violent men among your own people will rebel…”), he
successfully attacked Egypt.
Antiochus now ruled over Israel (“He
will establish himself in the Beautiful Land …”) and at first, treated them
However a new threat was arising for
the Syrians. The Roman Empire was growing and to combat this rising power
Antiochus decided that he would be better off if he formed an alliance with
the Egyptians rather than fighting them.
Consequently he married off his
daughter, Cleopatra, to the ten year old Egyptian king, Ptolemy Epiphanes.
(“He will make an alliance with the King of the South. And he will give a
daughter in marriage …”)
He had an ulterior motive however as
the plan was that his daughter would work against her husband to ruin Egypt
from within. However Cleopatra sided with her husband rather than her father
(“but his plans will not succeed or help him”).
From then on Syria lost battle after
battle with Rome as the Roman Empire grew in strength and size. Antiochus
retreated to his home land with his power gone. (“After this he will turn
back towards the fortresses of his own country …”)
Antiochus was succeeded by his son who
was in turn succeeded by Antiochus IV Epiphanes who ruled Syria from 175 –
164 BC. This king was not the rightful heir to the throne but took it by
means of trickery and deceit. He was so evil that he became known as
Epimanes (madman). (“He will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has
not been given the honor of royalty.”)
Antiochus’ rule was based on flattery
and intrigue at which he excelled. He played the princes and nobles of Egypt
off against each other thus weakening them from within and did the same with
the Jewish High Priests. (“… he will act deceitfully, and with only a few
people he will rise to power.”)
Hearing rumors that Antiochus had been
killed the Jews rebelled against Syrian rule. However Antiochus was alive
and well and when he heard of the rebellion he slaughtered many of the Jews,
sold many others into slavery and stole the temple treasures. (“… his heart
will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action against it …”)
“At the appointed time” Antiochus
invaded Egypt again However the Romans sent ships which prevented him from
taking Egypt. (“Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him …”)
His anger and frustration were now
turned in full upon Israel (“He will vent his fury against the holy
covenant.”) and his army occupied the Temple. (“His armed forces will rise
up to desecrate the temple …”
Antiochus attempted to eradicate the
worship of the Jewish God and he erected an altar in the temple upon which
he sacrificed pigs to the Greek god, Zeus. (“Then they will set up the
abomination that causes desolation.”)
The existing high priest, Menelaus,
turned to the service of Zeus so that he could retain his high position. The
people were forced to worship Greek gods and those that refused to do so
were put to death. (“… but the people who know their God will firmly resist
A temple priest, Mattathias Maccabeus,
along with his five sons refused to forsake their God and killed Antiochus’
representative and thus started the Maccabean revolt. Several of Mattathias’
sons were killed as were many of their followers.
Verse 33 – 35 tell us that this
happened in order for God’s people to be refined that they might better
serve him. We are also told that this would continue to happen until “the
time of the end” which would come “at the appointed time.”
Many prophecy students believe that
verses 2 – 35 record past historic events fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes
and history certainly supports this view. However the prophecies beginning
in verse 36 and continuing on through chapter 12 are believed to relate to
future events which will be fulfilled by The Antichrist in the last days
prior to the return of Jesus Christ. Antiochus was in fact a “type” of the
Antichrist to come.
We will study verse 36 through chapter 12
in the next and final installment.
INFORMATION ~ GOOD AND BAD
INDIA’S NEW CHIEF
JUSTICE - A DALIT
JAN 07. India’s “untouchable” Dalits
may have a new advocate in the country’s most powerful court.
Konakuppakattil Gopinathan Balakrishnan, a Dalit, was appointed to serve as
chief justice of India’s Supreme court beginning Sunday, Jan. 14, and
scheduled to serve through May 2010 when he is slated to retire.
Balakrishnan’s life is testament to the fact that Dalits are denied the same
basic freedoms and opportunities awarded to the upper castes. Since he was
born to a Dalit family in 1945, Balakrishnan was not welcome at public
He changed his name to Kunhachan
Marcos so people would think he was a Christian. He received his education
at a church-run school, went on to college and later practiced both civil
and criminal law. He was promoted to the Supreme Court in 2000 after serving
on the Gujarat state court.
TSUNAMI FEARS EASE AFTER
8.2 PACIFIC QUAKE
JAN 13, 07. A powerful 8.2-magnitude
earthquake has rocked the northern Pacific, prompting warnings for thousands
of Japanese to flee for higher ground before tsunami fears eased as only
small waves hit the coast.
JAPAN PERMITS U.S.
ATTACKS FROM ITS TERRITORY
JAN 8, 07. TOKYO - The Asahi
Shimbun newspaper reported that the US and Japan have agreed on military
cooperation in case of an armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula, a missile
attack on Japan or the launching of an operation to protect Taiwan from
Some 50,000 American troops are
regularly stationed in Japan as part of the existing alliance between the
130 MILLION CHINESE
Internal meetings of the Chinese State
Administration for Religious Affairs revealed research indicating that the
number of Christians in China has reached 130 million, including 20 million
Catholics. This number is much higher than official government statistics
that often underestimate the number of Christians.
“The unprecedented growth of the
Chinese church has happened under ceaseless persecution,” said China Aid
Association President Bob Fu. Pray that China will realize true religious
BIRD FLU UPDATE
(JAN 12, 07)
AT LEAST 50 COUNTRIES
HAVE HAD OUTBREAKS
Two deaths from bird flu have been
recorded in Indonesia in the last few days - a 37-year-old woman and a
14-year-old boy. These bring confirmed deaths from bird flu in Indonesia to
59 - the highest number of any country in the world.
Since the H5N1 influenza virus
re-emerged in Asia in 2003, according to data from the WHO, outbreaks have
been confirmed in around 50 countries and territories. The virus is known to
have infected at least 264 people
158 people have died.
The confirmed deaths have occurred in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand,
Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey. Almost all human deaths
from bird flu have been linked to contact with infected birds.
During 2006, more than 30 countries
reported outbreaks; most cases involved wild birds such as swans.
for the PERSECUTED
THOUSANDS OF BELIEVERS ARE PERSECUTED EVERY
DAY, AROUND THE GLOBE
A FLOOD OF PERSECUTION
REPORTS FROM INDIA
Dec 29. A mob beat a pastor and 14
believers in Kaldurki on Maharashtra-MP border.
Dec 31. Christians in Nagashettihally,
Bangalore were preparing for a watch night service when they were assaulted
by a group of young men.
Jan 2. Four evangelists were beaten by
about 100 militants in Indrapuri, Delhi. The four were distributing tracts
when they were attacked. Their vehicle was badly damaged and all four
sustained internal injuries.
Jan 2. Two Christians were attacked in
the village of Devera in MP. The militants claimed the victims were
“disturbing religious harmony” and “indulging in conversions.”
Jan 6. A mob beat a pastor with clubs
near Nizamabad, AP. He sustained broken ribs and head injuries.
Jan 7. A pastor and a church member
were attacked by two men inside their church building in Bangalore. The two
men demanded the pastor stop worshiping in the building. “We will crucify
you in the same way that Christ was crucified,” they threatened.
Pray for Wu Gilan an evangelist who
was sentenced to one years “re-education through labour.” She was convicted
of “spreading heresies” such as that “one should believe in the heavenly God
instead of worshipping Genghis Khan, which is useless.”
GAZA: CHRISTIANS HARRASSED
Pray for Hanna and Suhad Massad.
Hanna leads the only evangelical church in Gaza, and Suhad is the director
of the only Bible shop in the city. Recently Suhad went to Jordan to give
birth and to rest with family. Hanna visited her and then returned to Gaza,
but now officials will not allow Suhad and their daughter, Joyce and the new
baby, Jolene to return.
AZERBAIJAN: BELIEVERS UNDER
Many believers meet in secret to avoid
the watchful eyes of the police and KGB, who question and harass them. This
is a first generation church;
prior to 1990 there were no Azeri Christians and now there are approximately
18,000 believers. Pray that
the planned changes to the religious law will bring greater freedom for
North Korea: most persecuting country
Christianity is observed as a
dangerous foreign influence which stimulated the collapse of communist
regimes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and therefore poses
one of the greatest threats to the regime’s power. As a result, the North
Korean authorities are making harsh efforts to root out Christianity. It is
believed that tens of thousands of Christians are currently suffering in
North Korean prison camps, where they face cruel abuses.
that persecuted Christians
throughout the world will put their hope in the Lord as the One who upholds
their cause (Psalm 146). Pray that their faithfulness will be a light that
draws others to Christ (Matthew 5:14-16). Ask God to strengthen and heal
those who have been assaulted.
LAND OF THE DRAGON
THE Himalayan state of Bhutan is a
mountainous country of breathtaking beauty, which calls itself the “Land of
the Thunder Dragon.” The Bhutanese name of the nation, in fact, is DRUK –
“dragon,” and the dragon is featured on the national flag.
The kingdom has a form of government
which practices a separation of politics and religion; the king takes care
of politics, and the head lama conducts the religious side.
Bhutan is becoming increasingly known
for its pure practice of Mahayana Buddhism in the Tantric form, its
untouched culture, its pristine ecology and wildlife, and the unparalleled
scenic beauty of its majestic peaks and lush valleys. Bhutan is a land of
dzongs (fortresses) and monasteries.
JIGME SINGYE WANGCHUK
BHUTAN’S KING ABDICATES,
POWER TO CROWN PRINCE
DEC 2006. King Jigme Singye Wangchuk
has abdicated to make way for his son, Crown Prince Jigme Kesar Namgyel
Wangchuk, to become Bhutan’s first constitutional monarch.
The 51-year-old monarch had planned to
abdicate in 2008 when Bhutan is slated to hold its first elections and
become a parliamentary democracy. But it is understood the abdication has
been brought forward to give 26-year-old Namgyel time to gain more political
experience. The decision by this very popular head of state to quit has come
as a shock to the 700,000 Bhutanese citizens of the kingdom.
King Wangchuk was the fourth king of
the tiny nation. He ascended to the throne in 1972 at 16 years of age, after
the death of his father. He became most famous for having decided to make
his isolated mountain nation’s priority not its GDP, but its GNH — or
“gross national happiness.”
Bhutan’s monarchy dates back to 1907,
when King Wangchuk’s great grandfather was formally anointed the first king,
with British support.
The isolated Himalayan kingdom of
Bhutan is land-locked between India and Tibet (China), and has remained
untouched by most modern influences. In recent years, Jigme Wangchuk slowly
pulled the state into the modern world and opted to relinquish much of the
Television arrived in Bhutan in 1999
and the Internet in 2000. But Bhutanese policies are directed at preserving
the culture and environment of the nation. Only 6,000 foreign visitors are
allowed in each year.
JIGME KHESAR NAMGYEL
BHUTAN’S 5th DRUK GYALPO
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, 26, is
Jigme Singye Wangchuk’s eldest son, who studied in the US before graduating
in politics from Magdalen College at Oxford.
King Jigme Wangchuk, 51, said, “I am
confident that a very bright future lies ahead for Bhutan with the
leadership of a new king and a democratic system of government that is best
suited for our country as enshrined under the Constitution. I have every
confidence that there will be unprecedented progress and prosperity for our
nation in the reign of our fifth King.”
The outgoing king expressed his
confidence that Namgyel, as the fifth Druk Gyalpo was fully capable of
carrying out his responsibilities.
Judging by the performance of Namgyel,
as Crown Prince, and his thinking and principles, the abdicating king said
he had no doubt that the fifth Druk Gyalpo would serve his nation with
selfless dedication. If the Crown Prince was not worthy, Jigme Wangchuk
added, he would not have handed over his responsibilities to him just
because he was his own son.
While overseas, Prince Namgyel became
known as “Prince Charming” because of his pleasant manner and good looks.
BHUTAN’S NEW CONSTITUTION
The announcement of the king’s
abdication in favour of the Crown Prince comes at a time when the nation is
preparing to change from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one.
Sources in Thimphu are reported as
saying the king brought the date of transfer forward because he believed it
better to democratize sooner rather than risk suffering the same fate as
Nepal’s King Gyanendra who was stripped of all his remaining vestiges of
power and removed (at least temporarily) as head of state in Nepal, in
December 06. (There is no suggestion, however, that the Bhutan king was
under similar pressure.)
A new constitution is expected to be
formally adopted very soon, which will set up a two-party democracy after
nearly a century of absolute monarchy. The draft of this first written
constitution was introduced in March 2005.
The constitution provides for two
houses of parliament – a 75-member national assembly and a 25-member
national council – with the king as the head of state.
The Constitution emanated from the
King whose vision would take the country into the distant future, ensuring
the well being of the people and the sovereignty of the nation. It also
mandated for the people of Bhutan more fundamental rights than most other
King Jigme Wangchuk had himself worked
on the Constitution for two years. He had studied more than 100 different
Constitutions, not to copy their contents, but to draw from them and make
the contents of the Bhutanese Constitution more meaningful.
The Chief Justice of Bhutan said that
His Majesty, the King, was personally presenting the Constitution to the
people of Bhutan. This had never before happened in human history.
There has been a lot of discussion in
Bhutan on the provisions in the constitution regarding religion. The main
religion of Bhutan is Lamaistic (Mahayana/Tibetan) Buddhism, but some
advocates wanted the spiritual heritage of Bhutan to be specified as Drukpa
Kagyu and Nyingma schools instead of generalising it as Buddhism. Others
suggested that religion and politics should not be separated since Bhutan
had prospered throughout history because of the harmony between religion and
politics. One demand was for specific provisions for the rabdeys and
goendeys, and another voice maintained that the Druk Gyalpo (Bhutan King)
should be described as the protector of Buddhism and not of all religions.
The Chief Justice explained that the
drafting committee had discussed these issues thoroughly and had come to the
agreement that, since the Constitution was a document that looked 100 years
ahead, it would not be advisable to mention different sects because there
are other religious sects in Bhutan. The committee had also seen wisdom in
the democratic philosophy of separating the Religion from the State because
it would enable both religion and politics to flourish without interference
from each other. He said that His Majesty the King, as head of state, was
mandated to be the protector of
The emphasis on Buddhist culture has
in the past led to serious rioting among the Nepali Hindu community in the
south of Bhutan.
For a long time Christians have faced
intimidation and imprisonment. Early 2006, two Bhutanese evangelists were
imprisoned for several months after showing the Jesus film in a home.
Let us pray that the new monarch will be
a wise ruler, and that the constitution will indeed bring freedom, as it
promises, to all the people of this beautiful land.
Pray for a spiritual harvest in Bhutan!