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

 

 

 

 

 

I Am My Brother’s Keeper

~ I Am My Brother’s Keeper ~

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A trip to the Middle East is not needed to learn that untold numbers of people are suffering in these ancient lands. Multiple media outlets are sharing the unimaginable stories that are riddled with pain and affliction. Followers of Jesus Christ, once known as the ‘sect of the Nazarene,’ are being relentlessly pursued by radical Islamic factions. They are being kidnapped, tortured, raped, and forced to flee their homes and the birthplace of Christianity. A genocidal fire fueled by fierce evil is scorching the Middle East, and leaving in its wake death and destruction.

From the comforts of my home I watch and listen to numerous reports being shared with the world today. At the same time, I have the option of stepping away from the stories when I find my senses overwhelmed by the suffering depicted. I have the ability to turn off my computer, or avoid a particular website. I can turn off television, radio, or step away from written material. I have the ‘ freedom’ to choose the frequency, and volume, in which I will allow the pain of others to touch me. This is not so for Christians in places like Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Egypt – this luxury is not an option. Rather the raw pain and anguish of persecution is being vividly lived out in their lives daily.

     Perhaps this is what a Middle Eastern brother meant recently when he said to me “I think freedom in your country, and freedom in my country, mean two different things.”

As troubling, as I find the atrocities being committed against followers of Jesus Christ today – I find the silence from what is termed the ‘free’ world, more disheartening. The shedding of innocent blood dates as far back as the first book of the Bible. In the book of Genesis chapter 4 we are told of the slaying of Abel at the hands of his brother Cain. Only the blood of Abel could not be silent. The cries of his blood traveled from the ground to the ears of God. Not unlike the days of Cain and Abel, the blood of innocent men, women, and children continue to cry out to God. Even now, the martyr’s blood is heard crying from the deserts of Egypt, the mountains of Iraq, the streets of Libya, and the desolate places of Syria. It echoes off of prison walls, underground meetings, and public squares. Sometimes heard as the voice of one, other times it is heard in harmony with the voices of many.

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. Genesis 4:9 – 10 

Today the martyrs blood continues to cry and a remnant of God’s people acknowledge they are their brother’s keeper. 

I recently met a young Middle Eastern girl whose simple devotion to Jesus spoke volumes to me. It was not long after meeting her that I sensed a beautiful story lay beneath her gentle brown eyes. I recognized the aroma of Christ she wore – it was the same scent I have seen on those who have suffered greatly for their faith. It is a fragrance that carries with it a high price, yet cannot be bought. A Nazarene King paid the price with His own blood long ago. It is now freely given in exchange for sacrifice and surrender.

I later learned that she had been nearly beaten to death at the hands of her fellow students in primary school. This young Christian girl was found drawing a picture of a church building during a break from her studies. This sight outraged her Muslim classmates who began to beat her mercilessly – without interference from the teachers in her school. Her mother tells the story of being called to the hospital to find her daughter close to death. I could hear the tangible pain in her voice as she described this time in their lives. I wish I could say this was an isolated case of persecution for this family. But, it is not. They like many Middle Eastern families are well acquainted with the price one pays for being of the ‘Sect of the Nazarene.’

This attack did not harden the hearts of this family. To the contrary – today they passionately reach out to their Muslim neighbors with love and respect. Whether it is standing to offer their seats to other Muslim women who enter the train, or taking the hand of a frightened Muslim mother with her baby in her arms, needing assistance down a long flight of stairs. This love is lived out when she routinely travels long distances to serve Muslim people in need. Out of their hardships they have been given hearts that have a capacity to love even greater.

Yes, we are our brother’s keeper. Being our brother’s keeper means giving voice to their stories. It is standing in solidarity with our persecuted family. It is praying for them – and with them. It is following their example, and learning from them. It is assisting them with both spiritual and practical assistance. It is standing arm, in arm, as we embrace the cross of Jesus Christ together.

One way we can stand with our suffering family is on the International Day of Prayer for The Persecuted Church. This coming November 2nd is this day, where believers from all over the world will join in pray for those who suffer for their faith.

For additional information on The International Day of Prayer for the persecuted Church please see – http://www.persecution.com/idop.

They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”- Revelations 6:10 

  

A Time to Live Our Faith Outloud

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.

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.

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)

posted on EPM blog post http://www.epm.org/blog/2014/Aug/22/face-evil-faith