Ramadan Prayers

 

According to the lunar calendar the month of Ramadan is May 26th – June 24th this year. It is duirng this time of the year that Muslims fast and pray from sunrise to sunset. It is a time of reflection and seekinig God for cleansing of sins. In light of the month of Ramadan, I would like to share the followng blog written by guest blogger, Miriam Eva.
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I will never forget my introduction to the Middle East. After accepting an invitation to visit, I pictured what it would be like to meet those who called that region home. I remember peering excitedly from the airplane window as we began to descend toward the city lights below.

Unfortunately, my luggage was not the only baggage I carried on that trip. I also took my preconceived ideas of Muslim people. My perception of them was formed and shut up tightly within the framework of my Western understanding.

Once there, my senses were immediately overwhelmed. I saw beautiful women covered from head to toe in traditional Islamic dress, called hijab and niqab, and I heard the sounds of the Adhan, or call to prayer, from mosques that seemed to be everywhere. Being in that country was a new experience for me, one that I eventually fell in love with.

We arrived during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims rise early to eat before the sun is up and then fast and pray until the sun sets. The fast of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam.

With a desire to greet Muslim people, I learned two simple Arabic words that helped me bridge the barriers. I loved watching eyes brighten as I exchanged smiles with Muslim people for the first time in my life. Of course there were also Muslims whose faces showed disdain for me. My love for them is blind. I only see people God loves enough to give His life for. With each call to prayer that I heard announced from the mosques, — I prayed. As I watched men standing in the trains that we shared chanting Quranic verses, I prayed for them, too.

I was surrounded by a people I feared — and loved.

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Guards were assigned to escort us in remote areas of the country. They became our travel companions as we visited poor villages. We were honored to be invited into the homes of Christians. Over steaming cups of tea, and through the voice of our interpreter, we shared with them our love for God.

I remember one such visit on a hot day. I watched our guard dutifully follow his Ramadan fast, which included avoiding drinking or eating in the 100-degree desert heat. It was during this visit that a member of the family we were visiting asked me why I follow Jesus. I was given the perfect opportunity to share my love for a God who first loved me. I shared about the truth of a Savior whose love and acceptance I can never earn. Our guard listened intently. I pray this was the beginning of this man’s encounter with God.

In many areas of the world, this month brings with it increased persecution. On the first day of Ramadan this year, 28 Christians lost their lives in Egypt, when the bus they were traveling on was ambushed.  Let’s remember our Christian brothers and sisters in prayer during Ramadan, which began May 26 – June 24th.

While Muslims fast and pray in hope of encountering God, we can pray for them, too More Muslims are said to be coming to faith in Jesus Christ today than at any other time in history. A friend of mine who is a former Muslim once said, “What if Muslims all over the world are being visited in dreams and visions by Jesus because we are too afraid to go to them?” In many parts of the world, persecuted Christians are boldly sharing the love of Jesus with their Muslim neighbors — even when doing so endangers their lives.

Today, the mission field has spilled over into our backyards. It is no longer necessary to board a plane to extend the love of God to our Muslim neighbors, — one only need to go next door.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 NLT

 

 

 

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People Made of A Different Substance

People Made From A Different Substance

 Palm Sunday proved to be another blood stained day in Egypt’s history. Attacks on two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt’s Nile Delta area killed more than 40 people and injured more than 100.

St. Mark’s Cathedral was host to one of the attacks that day. Located in the Abbassia district of Cairo, St. Mark’s Cathedral is the largest in Africa. The building is named after the apostle Mark who is the author of the New Testament book bearing his name. It’s also the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Egypt. Sadly Egypt’s Christians are no stranger to persecution. In fact, the land where St. Mark’s Cathedral stands today is the same place where Christians were persecuted and buried centuries ago. Early church history tells us that Mark died a martyr’s death in Alexandrea, Egypt. He is credited with founding the Coptic Christian church.

Standing guard outside of St. Mark’s Cathedral on Palm Sunday was a gatekeeper by the name of Naseem Faheem. Video footage from moments before the blast shows Naseem refusing entry of a young man trying to enter the grounds by bypassing the metal detector. Moments later the explosive laden man detonates the explosives he wears strapped beneath his clothing. Killing himself, — a martyr of a different kind.  Naseem saved untold lives by his actions that day.

For the families of those who perished the pain and suffering is raw and painfully real. A familiar cloud of grief settled into the country that day, — once again. The blood of the martyrs is not unfamiliar to Egypt, or the Middle East. It’s the same ground that soaked up the living blood of Jesus Christ so many years ago. The birth place of Christianity — people of “the way,” are well acquainted with the price of their faith.

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Cemetery in Old Cairo

 All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master’s disciples, out for the kill. He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2 the Message

 Following her husband’s death, Naseem’s widow sat down with Amr Adeeb, a prominent talk show host in Egypt. What Amr listened to as the young widow spoke took his breath away — literally. Listening to Naseem offer forgiveness to her husband’s killers left Amr speechless. Viewers listened, and watched, along with Amr as Naseem offered forgiveness, to those responsible for the death of her husband.

“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said Naseem. Sitting with her children beside her she continued, “I’m telling him, May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.” 

“Egyptian Christians Are Made of Steel. They are made of a different substance.”

– Amir Adeeb, Egyptian talk show host.

Naseem, shared words similar to the words Jesus spoke while suffering and dying on the cross, “ Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34-35 the Message.

Shortly after Amir Adeeb aired the interview with Naseem, The Bible Society of Egypt added subtitles to the clip and shared it with millions more.

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Bible Society of Egypt

 

 

 

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” Corrie Ten Boom

 

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Palm Sunday attacks and called Egypt’s Christians “our priority and our preferred prey.” God’s people are “made of a different substance.” In the face of evil — they retaliate with forgiveness.

In 2015 Libyan Islamic State militants released video footage of the martyrdom of Coptic Christians in Libya. The footage of their martyrdom included a caption that read — “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” The 21 men who knelt before their executors that day refused to recant their faith, even when faced with death by the sword. The world watched as the 21 martyrs for Jesus Christ uttered their last words on earth; “Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Their martyrdom sparked the Bible Society of Egypt’s biggest campaign ever. A Bible tract was created and sent to print within 36 hours following their public executions. Titled “Two Rows by the Sea,” it carried a message of hope, comfort, and forgiveness. The tract was a sought after resource in bringing comfort to both Christians and Muslims alike.

Shortly after the death of all 21 Coptic Christian men, a brother of two of the men spoke to a reporter with Sat 7 during a weekly worship program. He thanked his brother’s killers for including the men’s declaration of faith in the video released of their execution. He went on to call the martyred men, — “a badge of honor to Christianity.”

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Egyptian mother of six

 

 

Yes, “Egyptian Christians are made of a different substance.” The fires of persecution have produced the finest of gold. Their’s is forgiveness in the face of great evil and deep sorrow. A material death’s sting cannot touch. Jesus rose from the darkness of death in sweet victory, — so it is with our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters.

Precious in the sight of the LORD, is the death of his saints. Psalms 116:15 ESV

 

 

 

 

I Called My Son Out of Egypt

 

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Photo credit – VOM-USA

The American traditions practiced during the Christmas season make up some of my favorite times of the year. There are many different religious holidays throughout the year — Christmas is different. It’s a joy filled celebration of Immanuel — “God with us.”

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'” Matthew 1:23

All over the world and in many different ways, Christmas is recognized and celebrated. A story birthed in the Middle East. It’s not an American celebration — it’s a world celebration! A heavenly celebration!

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  Luke 2:13 – 14

 Sadly, God’s triumphant gift to the world — Jesus — the prince of peace, was not good news to everyone. The book of Matthew narrates for us the brutal reaction King Herod had to this news.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. – Matthew 2:16

~ Innocents massacred ~

 The evil that blind sighted King Herod is alive and well in our day too. A vivid display of this type of fear and hatred was played out in living color in Cairo, Egypt on December 11, of this year. An individual who believed he was doing the God of his religion homage, blew himself up in a Coptic Christian church, St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s.  The suicide bomber targeted the section of the building where women and children are seated. To date it is reported that 27 people perished and over 45 were injured. The trauma inflicted on the community, and the country is undefinable. Grief is processed in tangible ways in Egypt. I am reminded of the weeping of God’s people in the days of Rachel, King Herod, and Cairo, Egypt today.

A sound was heard in Ramah, weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children, Rachel refusing all solace,
Her children gone, dead and buried. Matthew 2:18

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Young Coptic Christian girl wears the cross.

The Coptic Christian churches are not strangers to persecution. The Christian population of Egypt are the minority, and they suffer in many ways. Suffering has not extinguished the light of Christ in the hearts of Egyptian believers — to the contrary, they burn brightly. They shine even further into the darkness.

I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light” – John Keith Falconer

After the brutal attack on the women and children at St. Peter’s, and St. Paul’s this month the Christians choose forgiveness, as their weapon for retaliation. A Coptic Christian leader, Bishop Anba Angaelos is quoted by The Christian Post as saying: “We are praying that there is healing in the community. We are ready to and we already have forgiven people for doing this because at the end of the day, a lack of forgiveness harms us more than anyone else.”

Egyptian Christians are part of a family of believers around the word who burn brightly in the face of fierce opposition. They are people of the cross. When the fires of persecution rage — their passion for Jesus is set ablaze. Loving your neighbor takes on a whole new life. Their reach is propelled even further.  Extending love and care to both Christian and Muslim alike. Reaching out to their neighbors and strangers called “refugees.” Egypt continues to be a place of refuge, as it was in the days of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.

Thinking of the refugee status of the holy family inspires me to love further.  It encourages me to boldly step across the doorway of difference — and love well.  Both, at home and abroad. What a gift God has given us — His great big love.

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~ I called My Son out of Egypt ~

Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.” Matthew 2:14-15

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering is Not a New Truth

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Assyrian believers return to pray at their church after it was destroyed by Islamic extremist.  Photo credit – VOM-USA

 First published 11/04/16 – Eternal Persepective Ministries http://www.epm.org/blog/2016/Nov/4/suffering-not-new-truth

“Suffering is not a new truth, it is an old truth.” — Sarah Liu imprisoned and tortured for her Christian witness.

This coming Sunday the 6th day of November, 2016 is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Christians from around the globe will set aside time to honor, remember, and pray for our persecuted family. I am grateful for the privilege of standing shoulder to shoulder with those of whom the world is not worthy. I pray that this day is the beginning of a deeper fellowship with our persecuted family.

I rarely approach IDOP without remembering my introduction to those who suffer for their faith.  I was reading for the first time a Voice of The Martyrs newsletter. The stories were disturbing and intriguing. I found myself face to face with a reality I couldn’t reconcile. The suffering and pain was too difficult to fit into the sterile package I had stuffed my understanding of God into.

The journey I began by reading the true life stories of persecuted Christians would eventually land me at a VOM regional conference in Bartlesville, OK. It was there that a more disturbing truth came to life. That first evening I listened as a man from Pakistan described the road of suffering Pakistani Christians walk. He told of the torture and eventual murder of a young boy—someone’s son, brother, and friend. This child died at the hands of his torturers—his crime? He was a Christian. For the first time in my life I contemplated the possibility that God would not always intervene–that perhaps suffering was part of His plan.

Being shaken by the very thought of suffering of this kind, I went back to my hotel room and had a heart-to-heart talk with my God. You see, it was up until that time that I had cried “send me!” Now I was asking Him to not honor my requests.  The weight I felt upon my heart was great. Standing securely in my “mirage” of comfort, safety, and control, I laid out “my” plan for my life. He graciously listened to me try to tell Him what to do.

Day two of the conference began with me feeling assured—certainly my one–on-one talk with God had sealed the deal. I had effectively canceled out all those “send me” prayers! It was then that a young man from the Middle East began to share about his work, which includes traveling great distances into hostile territories controlled by Islamic extremists. These were places where Christians die for their faith. Pictures were displayed on a screen behind him of people receiving the Bibles he delivered. Their expressions of curiosity and delight captivated me. As he spoke, he seemed puzzled by those who ask why he goes to such dangerous places. His response was simply, “Since when has the gospel been safe?”

I felt as if I were alone with the Lord in that room. I knew He was speaking directly to me. I recalled the list of demands I called “a prayer” the night before, and heard Him say, “I did not create you that way.” I’m so glad He didn’t “create me that way.”

Since then I’ve learned that God’s love trumps suffering. Those who walk the road of suffering for Jesus Christ—never really walk alone. Their sustance for the journey? An intimacy with God reserved for those He counts worthy.

“So, instead of continuing to focus on preventing suffering—which we simply won’t be very successful at anyway—perhaps we should begin entering the suffering, participating insofar as we are able—entering the mystery and looking around for God. In other words, we need to quit feeling sorry for people who suffer and instead look up to them, learn from them and if they will let us—join them in protest and prayer.” — Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction to Job, The Message Bible 

There’s a beauty in martyrdom that one can only see through spiritual eyes. Perhaps this is why Hannelie Groenwald can say God prepared her before the Taliban attacked, killing her husband and two children. She and her family had left the comforts of home to serve God in Afghanistan. They knew the risks and refused to deny the call of God. Her family gave it all for Jesus in Afghanistan. You can listen to her story at https://secure.persecution.com/radio. Pray for Hannelie and others who are living martyrs.

“We die only once. We might as well die for Christ.” – Werner Groenwald

The church in America can join with the body of Christ around the world to pray and remember the persecuted church on November 6th. To learn more please visit www.persecution.com/idop.

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And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand (Revelation 8:4).

“It was not easy for me to say that I forgive the killers.” Semse said later at the memorial service. “To be honest, my heart is broken and my life feels shattered. I really loved Necati. He was the love of my life, my closest friend. But there is no one I love more than Jesus. Only because of this, I can bear it.” — Semse Aydin from Faithful Until Death.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Also published in  – http://www.persecutionblog.com/                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Go and Make Disciples

I wrote the following blog post in August of 2014. In wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels yesterday it seems fitting to share it again. While the names — known, and unknown have grown exponentially since then — the conclusion remains the same.

From August 2014 – My heart is heavy after being assaulted by the evil depicted across the internet last week of the American journalist being beheaded. The morning after I had the following thoughts:

As followers of Jesus Christ we must not be deterred by evil. Our mission remains the same as the day it was given to us—Go, and make disciples.

Now is not a time to halt; and count the costs. We counted the cost when we joined. We do not serve a God who revokes His call when the news is horribly grim. He is greater than the terror-filled words being screamed at the world by evil and demonic men. The Bible is filled with examples of God’s response to terrorists who taunt His people.

To many of us, the brutality we are seeing depicted on every media outlet may seem like a “new” kind of evil. While it is indeed brutal, it is not new. Christians have faced this enemy throughout the ages, and all over the world. I am struck by the fact that while I can turn off my TV, and avoid U Tube clips of the barbaric murder of our American journalist, many do not have that luxury. For many these acts are being played out in vivid color right now. If ever a time to pray, and take action, it is now. I believe today is a time for the church of Christ to step up its game. We are in, or we are out. We are hot, or we are cold. We are willing to give our life for our cause, or we are not.

Christians in refugee camp in Turkey receive a care package

photo credit – The Voice of The Martyrs USA

 

We must guard against walls of false protection being built up around our hearts, a deceptive fortress deceiving us into thinking we can hide behind it. When confronted by those whose culture and religion are unfamiliar to us, we need to reach across the self-imposed boundaries and love.

In light of the flames of persecution spreading across the globe I feel an urgency to stand up and do my part. Now is a time to run, and not walk—to be sober and alert. It’s a time to step up our efforts and give, pray, go, speak, and do whatever God calls each of us to do. We must live our faith out loud. We have no time to waste.

photo credit Milada Vigerova via UnSplash

Perhaps the façade we have cloaked ourselves with—the one that said to us “persecution only happens to ‘them’”—is being removed for our own good?

I pray we will redeem the times, and finish well.

Stand steady, and don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Bring others to Christ. Leave nothing undone that you ought to do. (2 Timothy 4:5)

Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world. (Matthew 28:19-20)

I am mindful of the One I follow — Jesus — this holy week. He was well aware of the danger, and pain, and suffering He would soon face. He never waivered from God’s plan, and call on His life. The carnage the world is being assaulted with today has not taken Jesus by surprise  — to the contrary — He told us this would happen. May we finish well.

21-23“When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don’t quit. Don’t cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.  Matthew 10:21-23 The Message

For more information on how to help those suffering Christian persecution please see – http://www.persecution.com

Also posted at Eternal Perspective Ministries blogs – http://www.epm.org/blog/2014/Aug/22/face-evil-faith

The Reward of Tenacious Prayer

In Richard Wurmbrand’s book Tortured for Christ he shares the story of an old carpenter whose inner turmoil led him to ask God for a reward; the prize of bringing a Jew to Christ. This carpenter not only knew how to talk to God in prayer — he had the tenacity to ask for a reward.

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“My God, I have served you on earth and I wish to have my reward on earth as well as in heaven. And my reward should be that I should not die before I bring a Jew to Christ, because Jesus was from the Jewish people. But I am poor, old, and sick. I cannot go around and seek a Jew. In my village there are none. Bring a Jew into my village and I will do my best to bring him to Christ.” – Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand.

What would happen if we had the tenacity to ask God for a reward like the old carpenter did? When I read the prayer of the carpenter I hear the voices of men of old like Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. Being unafraid to ask; they gave ear to their inner turmoil and allowed it to lead them into conversation with God.

I remember joining a prayer meeting in the Middle East once. In our small group there were men and women from Brazil, Sudan, Libya, South Korea, Egypt, America, and Syria. I watched as a woman prepared the room before we prayed. She knelt and laid upon the floor pieces of paper with the names of Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Sudan written on them. One by one we all stood and stepped forward to surround the nations represented on the floor before us. We joined hands and formed a circle around the pieces of paper. Then we took turns praying for the countries and people represented. The sound of prayer in each native tongue was beautiful beyond description. We prayed passionately for a reward – the hearts of lost people.

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Among those in our circle was one of two men who had been imprisoned for their part in delivering Bibles to one of the countries we prayed for. He was imprisoned in a country that was not his own for over one year. He survived the imprisonment and torture inflicted on them while in prison. His friend did not — he died as a result of the beatings he endured. Another one of the men there has barely escaped arrest for his evangelistic activity a number of times. Today he regularly visits mosques in his country and prays quietly for the souls of those he is surrounded by. In countries hostile to the gospel men, women, and children are asking God for the reward of bringing their Muslim neighbors to Christ. The limits to God’s answers to our tenacious prayers are boundless.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! – Isaiah 52:7 NLT

     In 1844 Willem Ten Boom started a weekly prayer service for the Jewish people and the peace of Jerusalem. Later his son Casper continued in prayer for the Jewish people with his own family. The meetings continued for 100 years, until February 28, 1944 when Nazi soldiers arrested Casper and his family for hiding Jews. The Ten Boom home was open to anyone in need and provided — a hiding place for Jews and members of the Dutch underground. The end result was the rescue of 800 Jewish people.

You too can join in one voice with our brothers and sisters in hostile and restricted nations. The Voice of the Martyrs 2016 prayer map  is a great resource to use when praying. Your prayers may be the wings God uses to usher the next Saul to Paul conversion in our times. Perhaps they will be the fabric that sustains a prisoner yet another moment, hour, or day? You may not know the full effects of your prayers this side of heaven — but, be assured they are heard.  BOMPMP16

 Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Revelations 8:3-4 NLT

 

Order The Voice of The Martyrs free Special Issue and receive the prayer map insert at www.persecution.com.

Images – The Voice of The Martyrs – USA

Blog posted on Persecution Blog too — http://www.persecutionblog.com/2016/02/the-reward-of-tenacious-prayer.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Song We Sing With Our Lives

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Image – The Voice of The Martyrs USA

I recently returned from an I Commit conference hosted in the state of Washington. While there I heard a young man named Gilbert Hovsepain share his testimony. Gilbert is one of the sons of Rev. Haik Hovsepian, who was martyred in 1994 in Iran. The documentary A Cry From Iran , tells the story of Rev. Haik and his family.

Gilbert began his testimony that morning by making a statement about the “song we sing with our lives.” Since that day I have rolled those words over many times in my mind. It has led me to ponder, — what song is my life singing?

I believe we greatly error when we listen to the stories of our brothers and sisters who have suffered for Christ from afar. When we filter their living testimonies through the lenses of — us and them. For the follower of Jesus Christ, it has never been us and them. It is us and Him. The genuine lives of our persecuted family draw us closer to the cross — in a reformed unity. Together we are one voice in harmony with  the heart of God.

There is a beauty in martyrdom that can only be viewed through spiritual eyes. Victorious shouts that reverberate throughout the heavens. A crowd of witnesses cheering the martyrs on to the finish line. A homecoming celebration for those who have overcome. My heart is filled with joy as I imagine those who spent their time on earth as persecutors, now won to Christ by a the songs of love. Once on opposite sides — now family.

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 5:7 NLT

The entry fee to join the voices of those who suffer is simple, yet costly — we must enter into the fellowship of their suffering. The Message Bible’s introduction to the book of Job describes this fellowship eloquently.

So, instead of continuing to focus on preventing suffering — which we simply won’t be very successful at anyway — perhaps we should begin entering the suffering, participating insofar as we are able — entering the mystery and looking around for God. In other words, we need to quit feeling sorry for people who suffer and instead look up to them, learn from them and if they will let us — join them in protest and prayer.” – Eugene H. Peterson

One way to enter the fellowship of suffering is to join the chorus of those who will remember our persecuted family in prayer on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted church . This coming Sunday voices from all over the globe will share in remembering and praying for our persecuted family.

One of those we can remember to pray for is Farshid Fathi of Iran. Farshid was arrested in December of 2010 and remains in prison till this day. You can read more about Farshid’s story and portions of letters he has written from prison at Prisoner Alert. Farshid’s witness was the inspiration for the song titled A Letter From Prison, written and preformed by his friend Gilbert Hosvepian.

May our hearts never be satisfied with being on the sidelines. May we be a chorus of surrender alongside of our persecuted family. May our lives be melodies of living sacrifice. May we be a song of love for both those who suffer and those who persecute.      

They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Revelation 6:10 ESV

The Bigger Question

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This week the world was once again assaulted by yet another senseless act of violence. This time the carnage took place in a small community many Americans may have never heard of before — Roseburg, Oregon. Eye witness accounts describe the gunman in this mass shooting at Umpqua Community College as demanding that students stand up and answer his question. Reportedly the killer then asked the students if they were Christians, if they replied yes, he said “Good, because you’re a Christian, you will be seeing God in about a one second”, then he shot them dead.

The news of this mass shooting has been spread both near and far, and across many different forms of media. The imprint  this evil act has left behind has sparked dialogues, speculation, and debates about the root of such heinous acts of violence. While this certainly merits attention; I wonder if there is a bigger question we should be discussing? A deeper inquiry into the lives of those who rose to their feet that day. What would cause the Christians who were slain in that dark moment to confirm their faith — rather than deny it? What do they possess that is of greater value then their very lives?  I think these are the same questions asked by those who witnessed the martyrdom of the twelve disciples that choose to follow in the foot steps of Jesus Christ.

Persecution of Christians always has a reverse effect. This is why Tertullian could write – “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. It’s why Jesus cried out to His Father while being crucified; asking for forgiveness for the sins of His torturers.

34 And Jesus said,“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:34. ESV 

All over the world, and at this very moment, persecuted Christians are uttering the same words to God on behalf of their persecutors today

As the world began to learn more about the mass shooting in Roseburg; including eye-witness accounts of the shooter singling out Christian students for execution; a media campaign began. A new hashtag can be seen on social media profiles, and accounts, declaring —#IAmAChristian. Four words that come with a price for those who own them.

There is no exception or exemption. If you choose to follow Jesus you will suffer persecution.

And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.

Matthew 10:22 NLT

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Image – UTube

Last February, Libyan Islamic State (IS) militants released video footage of the martyrdom of Coptic Christian men in Libya. The footage of their martyrdom included a caption that read — “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” The 21 men who knelt before their persecutors were identified as ‘people of the cross’, and asked to deny their faith or die. Many of the men are seen uttering their final words on this earth — “Lord Jesus Christ.”

While it was reported that all of the men where Coptic Christians from poor villages in Upper Egypt; it was later discovered that this wasn’t the case. One of the men martyred that day was identified as Mathew Ayairga; a young man from Chad. He is believed to not have been a Christian before kneeling in the sand beside the ‘people of the cross.’ Witnessing the courage and faith of the Egyptian Christians he also chose to follow Jesus.  Perhaps he understood the bigger question? Mere moments before Matthew was executed, His executors are seen asking “Do you reject Christ?” His reply was “Their God is my God.” Four costly words.

 Perhaps the answer to the bigger questions is that followers of Jesus Christ embraced the cost of being a Christian. Maybe like Stephen in the book of acts they see beyond this temporal realm we call life. Could it be they had already given up their lives? In reality not one of their lives were taken — they laid them down. They offered them up.  Could it be they had already reconciled the fact that their lives were not their own?

The martyrs who stood to face sure death and those who knelt to face certain death — now live — together alongside a multitude of their family who has gone before them. I can only imagine the reception they received as they stepped out of their earthly bodies and took in their first heavenly breath. As they each took their place alongside the multitude crying out before the throne of God.

They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Revelations 6:10 NLT

Following Jesus has never been safe. The Christians in Mosul Iraq understand the cost of being of the sect of the Nazarene. Last summer in northern Iraq, the Islamic State (IS) painted the Arabic letter ن, or “N,” on properties, homes, and businesses of Christians. Those who owned the property were identified as Christians and given the choice to deny their faith or suffer at the hands of their persecutors. They were forced out of their homes with barely the clothes on their backs.

I Am NWe may, or may not, be asked to lay this life down as our persecuted brothers and sisters have, and do, today — but, we should live as if we were. Like those in Roseburg, Libya, Egypt, North Korea, Iraq, Syria, and many other hostile and restricted countries; we can stand, kneel, speak, go, and pray.

Yes, I am a Christian — and I am N. I will stand, I will kneel, and I will go.

Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies. Hebrews 13:3 NLT

  The Voice of the Martyrs is offering a tangible way to show your commitment to our persecuted family. You can show the world around you that you are “N” too. You can make your commitment to pray and stand with our persecuted family facing Islamic Extremism. Please see – I Am N bracelets at – http://www.persecution.com/.

People of the Cross

One of my favorite memories is of a trip to North Africa some time ago. It was on this particular trip that I had the opportunity to stay in a remote village and visit with the people who live there. I remember walking the dusty village streets and being captivated by the sights and sounds of village life. On occasion passing the local people and exchanging glances, and when appropriate a smile — that needed no translation, and was mutually understood by all.

It was during one of those days that I came upon a young boy. He sat quietly beside the street building a wooden cross. Using two pieces of wood, a hammer, and some nails, he worked. The simple innocence he displayed as he constructed his cross spoke volumes to me. Surely he was aware that the symbolism of this cross could cost him? Living in an area hostile to Christians this symbol could cost not only him, but also his family. I believe he had counted the cost long before that day. The price one may pay for being in possession of a cross was not unfamiliar to him. Perhaps he was keenly aware of the cost associated with his cross. IMG_1625

For Mary Sameh George, a 25-year-old Christian girl from Cairo; the cross would cost her very life. In March of 2014 she was attacked and killed after pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters noticed her gold cross necklace. Her fiancé’s mother was so overcome with grief that she died shortly after learning of Mary’s brutal death.

I am reminded that the cross is much weightier then a verse in a song I sing, or design on a shirt I wear.  For a follower of Jesus Christ it is a literal exchange.

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. – Matthew 16:24-25 (NASB)

This past February, Libyan Islamic State (IS) militants released video footage of the martyrdom of Coptic Christian men in Libya. The footage of their martyrdom included a caption that read — “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” The 21 men who knelt before their persecutors were identified as ‘people of the cross’, and asked to deny their faith or die. Many of the men are seen uttering their final words on this earth — “Lord Jesus Christ.”

While it was reported that all of the men where Coptic Christians from poor villages in Upper Egypt; it was later discovered that this wasn’t the case. One of the men martyred that day was identified as Mathew Ayairga; a young man from Chad. He is believed to not have been a Christian before kneeling in the sand beside the ‘people of the cross.’ Witnessing the courage and faith of the Egyptian Christians he also chose to follow Jesus.  Mere moments before Matthew was executed, His executors are seen asking “Do you reject Christ?” His reply was “Their God is my God.” Matthew joined his brothers that day — and laid his life down alongside them. He and the other 20 men joined the ranks of those of whom the world is not worthy. I can only imagine the reception they received as they stepped out of their earthly bodies and took in their first breath of heaven.140409_isis

The martyrdom of these 21 men by IS sparked the Bible Society of Egypt’s biggest campaign ever. A Bible tract was created and sent to print within 36 hours following their public executions. Titled “Two Rows by the Sea,” it carries a message of hope, comfort, and forgiveness for both Christians and Muslims alike. The Bible tract has been widely received in Egypt with 1.6 million copies being distributed.

The vivid video footage depicting the killing of the 21 men did not spark division amongst Egypt’s 10 million Christians and 73 million Muslims. Quite the contrary. The declarations of faith uttered by the men only moments before their death; have created fertile soil for conversation between Muslims and Christians. A brother of two of the Christian men martyred that day went on live television to thank IS for including their faith filled words in the media released to the world.

Evil can inflict pain, suffering and temporal death upon Christians, but, — it can never kill their stories. The testimonies of Martyrs echo through the halls of history. Their music can’t be silenced. Songs of love, faith, courage, and forgiveness. Sounds that can be heard in the surrender brought about by the blood of the martyrs. Its melody piercing the most calloused of hearts. Moving it’s listeners to their knees, and leading them to the cross. There is a beautiful finale to the persecution of Christians —this is the other side of Martyrdom.

Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters–their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred–had joined them. – Revelations 6:11 (NLT)