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.

Old Cairo Cemetary

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.”

Upper Egyptian women 2009

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

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shadows of Persecution

As I recently watched and listened to the news of the attack and subsequent slaying of those in the French magazine office of Charlie Hebdo; I found my thoughts immediately drawn to a comparable, yet very different story.  Both stories share the similarity of bloodshed at the hands of adherents to radical Islam. Each story is painfully tragic. I wondered if any of those  slain in France had met their attackers before that fateful day. I thought of the life and deaths of Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske, who were murdered in their office at Zirve Publising in Malatya, Turkey on April 18, 2007.

Those who were responsible for the murders of Necati, Ugur, and Tilman weren’t all strangers to these men or their families. To the contrary, one of the murderers had sought Necati out earlier pretending to be interested in his Christian faith. As described in the book titled Faithful Until Death and written by Wolfgang Haede, Necati was suspicious of this young man from the beginning. He and his wife Semse discussed this, and concluded that in spite of the young man’s motives, a meeting would still offer an opportunity to share the message of Jesus with him. Later Semse would refer to those who were responsible for the murders of her husband, Ugur, and Tilman as “their Judas.”

Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel, and Tilmann Geske didn’t have their lives taken from them, they gave them away, not unlike the Jesus they’d hoped to introduce to the five men who betrayed them that morning. Instead of this introduction they were ushered into the heavens where they’ve now joined those robed in white, as they await the full number of their fellow servants.

Semse and Nicati

Nacati and Semse Aydin

1Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.– Revelations 6:11

Susanne & Semse

Susanne Geske and Semse Aydin

Following the aftermath of the killings in France I wondered how this news would affect those who live boldly in the shadows of persecution. Women like Semse Aydin and Susanne Geske. Both of them  suffered great losses yet each found it in their  hearts to publicly forgive those responsible for the deaths of those they love. Would the images, and commentaries being shared on virtually every media outlet bring vivid memories to the forefront of their minds? Would pain that lay gently beneath the surface be visible to them once again? More importantly, I wondered if those who live in the shadows of persecution like Semse and Susanne know they are not forgotten? Do they know they are not alone, and that we remember them, and are praying for them? While it’s true that God is faithful to those with broken hearts, it is equally true that a broken heart hurts. I am convinced that those who’ve lost their loved ones because of their faithful testimony are also those of whom the world is not worthy. When we remember, encourage, and pray for those who suffer for their Christian faith, let us not forget the living witnesses amongst us. .

“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.

To learn more about the ministry of Semse Aydin please sign up for her newsletters at rangunes@gmail.com

If you are interested in making a donation to her ministry you may do so at the following address:

Joy To The World Foundation 5550 Tech Center Dr. Suite 305, Colorado Springs, CO  80919, or online at http://www.joytotheworldfoundation.org. Please specify Aydin Ministries as the designation of funds for her ministry. 

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