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RADICAL ISLAM: A CONTRAST OF REACTIONS

I’ll admit that this post hasn’t been easy for me to write. Let’s just say that I don’t want to hide behind the language of “Christianize” when more truthfully, I’m beyond outraged at the terror and killing put upon Christians (or anyone for that matter) in the name of Radical Islam. I’m equally incensed at the insanity of a government that sits idly by while this is happening.

Here’s the thing. As a Christian, I’ve read the book of Revelation and the signs of the end times. Let’s note the signs, shall we? God’s word has already predicted the coming persecution (check). We should expect to see wars and rumors of wars. (check). We’ll see the opposition against Israel (yep, just this week), and we know that all will accelerate in tribulation until Christ’s return. So if we know all of this is to come to pass, why are we so angry? When is it anger, and when is it righteous indignation?

Another question: If we know that our brothers and sisters are being killed and persecuted across this globe, how are we to live, work, play, and just go about our lives as they suffer? What is it with this “joy” we’re supposed to possess?

Those who are stronger than me will answer that anger is righteous indignation when we are angry with things that anger God…yet this is tempered with a constructive means to help those who suffer, to pray fervently for justice, and for God’s name and glory to be known. Although we know there is and will be persecution, there’s never a time when we are not called to pray for God’s will to be done. Of this I am sure…God works through the prayers of His own.

Here is my only hope, and to this I cling exclusively: Whatever happens is the outworking of the purposeful plan of the sovereign, creator God. Job confessed: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted”. (Job 42:2)

Jesus knew this as He stood before Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, before His crucifixion. Pilate threatened to send Jesus to the cross, which was well within his jurisdiction and power in an earthly sense. (John 19:10). Yet Jesus wasn’t surprised or fearful. He told Pilate that whatever power he had was given to him from above. (John 19:11)

This tells me that whatever powers that exist in our government or in this world are subordinate to God’s power. We see what seems hopeless but we must remember that His vengeance WILL come as He has promised. (Ezekiel 25:17). That doesn’t mean that I believe we as a nation shouldn’t retaliate. By all means, we need to WAKE UP and defend against this evil and defend ourselves. However, what I am saying from a spiritual point of view is that (although unseen), there is an undercurrent of His purposes and comfort to His people until He ends the suffering once and for all. I have Christian family in Egypt, and as I’ve shared in a previous post, we don’t necessarily see how God is moving behind the scenes. It’s just that it’s hard to see His purpose in the midst of anguish. We get impatient, we cry out “how long, O God!”, and for good reason.

I have to believe that as He promises His judgment in end, He also gives those who are persecuted a special grace:

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”(1 Peter 4:14)

This is the witness of Christ followers throughout the ages. It is what shows the truth from a lie and displays a testimony that shines in a dark world. Maybe the joy that we are told to live out is not a cart-wheeling bliss but a peace in His presence.

I believe that those 21 Egyptian Christians’ deaths, or any other persecution of God’s children were not, and will not be in vain, but will serve to strengthen the church. I wanted to end with a video that you may or may not have already seen; it’s an amazing reaction from a man who lost two brothers in those beheadings. It’s a clip of an Egyptian TV interview in which he expresses an astonishing reaction by praying for the murderers. He prays that their eyes would be opened and that they would come to repentance.

 

One final note: May we never forget that our financial support is an extension of our deep concern for the persecuted church. Let’s give generously; I believe our gifts go a long way. Here are some worthy relief organizations, (click for the links to their websites):

Samaritan’s Purse 

Open Doors International

Voice of the Martyrs

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Maybe you can relate to the struggles associated with our response as Christians to this growing evil. Would you have further insight from prayer or scripture?

 

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY? (PART 2)

The pressure must have been tremendous. Three young men, bound in chains, had a decision to make. They could either renounce their faith or be put to death within the flames of a blazing furnace…

FireLast week we looked at the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, (Daniel 3:1-30). It’s the story of three Jewish young men who refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. If you recall, we tried to put ourselves in their sandals while remembering that there are Christians who are living (and dying) under that same kind of persecution today. We asked ourselves what we would say if we found ourselves in a similar situation.

What would you say if you were in any one of these present day scenarios?

  • You are one of these Christians that faced a number of tortures and even death for their faith?

I love Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response:

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you O king that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” – Daniel 3:17-18

They said, “We do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.” Just like that. They didn’t protest or preach. They didn’t feel any obligation to explain, apologize, dialogue, or defend themselves or God. The lesson here? Sometimes we are called to speak up, and sometimes we are simply called to quiet resolve. In this case, they knew that any lengthy explanation to King Nebuchadnezzar would be useless. Christ also didn’t say a word as He was lead to the cross, knowing that His death was the will of God.

Notice a very important phrase: “If it be so”, they said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king, But even if He does not…we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image.

Did they show a lack of faith by not “claiming their miracle” as some may profess? No. Did they have a fit loud enough to reach heaven to get God to act on their behalf? No, I don’t see that either.

What I do see is three believers who stood firm in the object of their faith, not in faith itself. There’s a difference. The first is centered on trust in God, the second is centered on man’s ability in himself. Even more so, I see three believers who loved and worshiped God for who He is and not what He does for them. They did not withdraw their love or faith in God based on what happened that day. They believed God could save them, but they did not presume He would. They believed the greater audacity was not standing up to an idol when others fell, but rather to stand up before God and tell Him what to do!

I’m sure that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego prayed for deliverance. Who wouldn’t? They may have begged and pleaded to God to save them. Look at Jesus himself. He cried and pleaded to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, (Matt. 26:36-46). He didn’t stand up and “claim” deliverance from the cross. At the end of the day, He resigned that it not be His will, but the Father’s.

This passage is a clear message that God is not a power to be put to use for whatever the believer wishes.

Dear believer, if they had this attitude about their very lives, why would we “name and claim”, assume and demand of something of God for so much less?

 

 

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

We’ve all read the headlines and heard it on the news. Present day Muslim terrorist like ISIS shout “renounce your faith or die” to the “infidel” (anyone who isn’t a Muslim), and they are following through on their threat. As I thought about what I might write this week, I considered the fact that this threat is the same spirit of evil that has been expressed throughout history. In fact, there’s a story in the Old Testament that describes a very similar scenario.

It’s found in Daniel 3:1-30, the story of three Jewish young men by the name of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men were taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar after he besieged Jerusalem in 600 B.C. Even though captive, the King favored them and hand-picked them as administrators in his court. He saw their wisdom and trusted them enough to put them in positions that carried great popularity and prestige.

The day came when King Nebuchadnezzar created a golden image of himself, and demanded that everyone under his reign to bow down to it. If anyone refused, they would be thrown into a blazing furnace.

Fire“Now if you are ready, [he said] at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15)

 

In other words, “Renounce your faith or die”

Now Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had a lot to lose, that is, besides their very lives. You would think that they would want to support their leader…guard their own popularity, you know, be politically correct. A number of thoughts could have run through their minds:

  • “It’s just an idol. All we have to do is bow. We can just go ahead and bow physically, but we’ll be praying to God instead.” 
  • “God wouldn’t have taken us so far in life only to die this way. It’s not in His plan. We need to comply in order to reach people in the long run.” 
  • The king is an authority figure and we need to be compliant to the demands”.

 Instead, what was their response? They said,

“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you O king that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” – Daniel 3:17-18

They didn’t rationalize in any number of ways that they could have. They didn’t even want to have the appearance of evil. They didn’t presume upon God but saw the circumstance for what it was. They also knew that no authority is to be obeyed if they are in conflict with God. They wanted to live, but their desire to worship the one true God was even greater.

I am amazed at the courage these three men had to answer so boldly, and yet what amazes me even more is that thousands of Christians have responded to this same threat in the same way over the last 2,000 years. There are many who are facing it right now. God dramatically rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but for many others, He has given strength to see them on to Heaven.

If you and I were told to renounce our faith or die, what would we say? Are we girded with a strong and focused faith that can stand strong in the face of evil? Is our relationship with God so close and abiding that we long to see the far greater eternal reward?

My hope is that you and I as believers would be strong and ready if and when a time of decision comes, that we are always ready to give an account for our faith.

 

FROM MY CHRISTIAN COUSIN IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Dear Friends,

 

My cousin Hoda

My cousin Hoda

Today I’d like to share a pretty neat conversation I had with my cousin Hoda, who lives in Egypt. (Sorry the pic is so big ~ major issues with uploading this week! I’m just glad I got it posted at all!).  Anyway, she was in the states on vacation, and (after catching up on her and her family), our talk almost immediately turned to the condition and welfare of Egypt itself. Since the Revolution of 2011, I’ve been keenly aware of the precarious position that my family and many other Christians are living in in that part of the world.

As you may know, Egypt went from bad to worse even after the initial revolution with the “free” election of Mohamed Morsi, who was a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He granted himself unlimited power and issued an Islamic-backed constitution. Undoubtedly opposed by Christians and even moderate Muslims, the people rose again and forced this loser to step down by the summer of 2013.

Fast forward to their second-ever-in-history election to their current President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who, in my cousin’s words, is a good guy and finally looks to be a better leader for Egypt. He doesn’t appear to be as aligned with the terrorist groups or the Muslim brotherhood that have reaped such havoc in the country. So far so good.

So, while we may all read the headlines, it’s not every day that we get a glimpse of this situation from an insider’s viewpoint. I gained some wonderful gems of insight from her, a testimony we won’t ever get from the news.

First of all, she said, the outcry for positive change in Egypt was not instigated by the military (as we have been told), but by the power of the people. I bookmarked this in my mind. If a socialist country could band together through the sheer power of their people, how much more can we as American citizens use our power in a democracy?

And then what she said next was an eye-opener. She said, “Margaret, had it not been for the election of Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt would have turned into another Syria or Iraq, [in terms of Radical Islamic dominance and oppression to Christians] within a very short time.

And then she added, “Christians were praying and fasting around the clock, standing in the gap, and I believe that made all the difference”.

I guess when all you do is hear the news reports, you don’t really realize how God moves behind the scenes. As with any trial in life, it’s one thing when you are praying for a situation that you’re not directly involved in and quite another when you are the one experiencing it.

Yet, as I talked to my cousin, I realized that when trials are great, so is strength in Christ.

I could see that this dependence on God’s grace produces a special joy and undeniable zeal for Him. It is a living testimony of His sustenance, a wake-up call to those at ease. There is a certain added vigor, a sensitivity to His Spirit, and a strength that only comes from trial.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

She reminded me of the story of Gideon, the Israeli Army commander who’s story is told in Judges 7. He was chosen to lead the army against the Midianites. Although he only had 300 men against their thousands, God gave him victory by confusing the enemy till they started to fight amongst themselves. Well, she said, “that’s exactly what happened with the Muslims! They started fighting amongst themselves!

Even more than that, according to her testimony, many Muslims themselves turned to Christ during this time. Of those that did, she said they devoured their Bibles word by word…and they wondered why we don’t read it more!

Listening to her, I wondered how many other countless stories God has already weaved in spite of the atrocities of all the fighting in the Middle East.

I don’t believe we’ll understand all the purposes God will bring about from the evil in the world until we’re with Him in eternity, but I do believe He is with each believer in undeniable ways.

Though He has been merciful to His own minority in Egypt and they are relatively stable for now, that doesn’t in any way diminish our own diligence in prayer for all the Middle East as they face what I believe is the greatest evil we know today. The tide is troublesome and disheartening and the enemy is relentless against those who love the Lord. Please keep each in your diligent prayers. Especially now.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39).

AMERICA AND CHRISTIAN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: THE APPROACHING STORM

Religious freedom

Dear Friends,

In the midst of all the fireworks of last Friday night’s Fourth of July celebration, I sat wondering if anyone else saw the impending clouds in the distance. They were no longer just an outline on the horizon, but were now deep and ominous, almost filling the sky.

I closed my eyes for a moment. I had to get away from the crowd for just a minute to block out the deafening booms and bangs and the oohs and ahhs. “Wait a minute…was that thunder?” I asked myself. No, what I sensed buried underneath the noise was a low rumble, like a grumpy, shifting giant, groaning deep within his diaphragm from hunger upon awakening. It was barely discernable at first, but obvious to me once I recognized the sound. I turned away with my head down, passing through a sea of partyers.

The approaching storm I was thinking of had nothing to do with the weather. It had everything to do with the slow and steady approach of threat to the very independence we celebrate. Bewildered, I have had to ask myself and others this question: Are we so comfortable in this freedom we enjoy that we don’t see what life would be like without it? Are we so mesmerized by the proverbial starburst and colors of our liberty that we don’t see, (or don’t want to see) the darkness that makes it so precious by contrast?

As Christians in America, I am beginning to feel the social tension like a wrench on an oxygen tank as it stifles religious freedom by degrees with every turn. However, we have not yet breathed in the smoke of arson setting fire to our churches as they have in Egypt, nor have we choked on the dust of rubble and ruins as those destroyed in China.

We haven’t yet had to clutch the tiny hand of a child born in prison as we wait to see if we would live or die, simply for the crime of professing Christ, nor have we had to surrender our children as we hear their last cries at the hands of Boko Haram militants. As the writer of Hebrews may say, we have “not yet wrestled to the point of bloodshed”. (Hebrews 12:4)

But why am I so “discouraging” or “negative”, you may ask? The answer is simple. I’m not saying all of this to be a downer. I’m simply pointing to Biblical prophecy. Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul prophesied that these things will occur; that the church will come under attack and individual Christians will be persecuted. After all, Jesus Himself said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that they hated Me first” (John 15:18). This was not if, but when:

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.(2 Timothy 3:12-13)

Get this one:

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.”(Matt. 24:9)

Notice the “all the nations”?

It’s sad to say, but as great as this country is, America will be no exception.

But that doesn’t mean we should be flustered and taken off guard. No doubt we will be frustrated and discouraged, but this is all the more reason to temper those reactions with God’s word, all the more reason to get on our knees and seek His comfort and strength.

First, let’s examine our own hearts. Let’s take an honest look at how our own sin, (not anyone else’s), has done a fine job of separating us from God all on our own. It’s from a humble heart that God empowers His own to be a light in the world, ready to have an answer for our hope and faith.

Second, let’s remain sober-minded and focused upon our roles as believers in this world. Let’s wake up while we still have the opportunity! Let’s not be blind to the storm clouds coming or deaf to the rumblings of injustice. Let’s hold fast to sound doctrine, (for there will be many false teachers, Matthew 24:24), and re-dedicate ourselves to sharing the gospel as the kingdom calendar winds down.

Third, even though we understand prophecy, we can, and must make our voices heard for the simple preservation of society. Even in the recent Hobby Lobby case, it is important to point out that it was won by one small vote. Therefore, I implore all of you to go and vote for congressmen and senators that reflect your values, to make your thoughts and opinions known to our leaders. God has given us channels to defend these principles. On a practical level, I found some very helpful links and ways to get involved to make a difference in the world while we are here:

How to contact your Congressman

How to get involved in your local politics

Having said that, I believe that laws and social reform fall short in one major way, and that is that they do not have to power to change the heart. They are a crucial framework by which to live, but they cannot, and do not transform anyone from the inside out. They cannot give me a desire to obey and live a godly life. As a Christian, I believe only the gospel can do that. Speak up we shall, but our greatest voice is to share the gospel. This perspective is that where godliness is seen, there is an influence on the individual, and the whole.

Last and most importantly, let’s remember that God is sovereign over all governments, and that all forms of wickedness and corruption will be cut down and God’s name will be glorified. Even in these times, we have the promise of comfort and peace in the end.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

What are your thoughts and convictions in regards to religious freedom and what is going on in this country and the world?

 

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I don’t know why this has stuck with me, but I remember it like it was yesterday. There was this documentary on TV many years ago that showed clips of Americans doing everyday things, like grocery shopping, going out with friends, or working. The narrator made a comment that our lives seem pretty status quo, that having food and shelter is something that we take for granted.

Then they cut to a shot of the Earth.

Earth

The camera panned back as the narrator said, “You may think this is one world”

“But it’s really two”

Then they showed clips of starving children in third world countries, gathering sticks for a fire or sitting in a huddle against the backdrop of a landscape so hard and cracked that it looked like the Earth was shedding its skin.

It must have made an impact on me, because to this day I live with a sense that this western world we live in isn’t a true depiction of the lives of many on this planet. Maybe I am aware of this stark contrast because I’ve seen poverty up close as I walked the streets of Egypt as a child.

I saw beggars holding out their hands, often with their faces buried in their clothes in shame. Ragged clothes and matted hair didn’t seem to faze the crowds that walked by, but I always gave them a coin or two, to which they would nod and bow to the ground in a gesture of gratitude.

This reality came back to haunt me at a dinner I attended recently. During dinner, the sponsor was showing a film about the plight of Indians living with very little food and in makeshift huts, all while we were eating a full course meal from a fancy table. I heard one statistic after another with each fork-load of food I lifted.

What’s wrong with this picture?

It wasn’t  that we were provided with a nice dinner, it is the injustice of a world where such an imbalance exists. According to the UN Food & Agricultural Organization and the World Food Programme, there’s currently enough food for everyone. So why are so many going to bed hungry?

We can explain all the “whys” in terms of politics and world economy, but it all boils down to the fact that we live in a fallen world. Wars, Natural Disasters, Over-Exploitation of the Environment, and oppression all bring the toll of suffering .

And with so much suffering, again, I have to ask —why are we so oblivious to what’s happening on the other side of the world? Are we so sheltered that as long as its not happening to anyone we know and love, we can remain disconnected?

I guess that’s because if we detach, we don’t have to feel despair and live “in that other world”. I know we can’t save the world. Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. Yet we can make a difference . There are so many great organizations that are dedicated to aiding world hunger. I’ve listed a few, such as Gospel for Asia , and Compassion International on my page right here:

https://ministryinwords.wordpress.com/beyond-this-blog/

Thanksgiving is around the corner. What a better way to show our gratitude and God’s love than to consider a small commitment to ? Just food for thought.

ON MY HEART AND IN THE NEWS

Egypt

I’ve given a great deal of thought about the crisis in the Middle East lately, especially in the last week. I think about the children in Syria who have had to flee a war-zone, and how it is that they found their world in turmoil while we are graced to live in peace. Sometimes I fear that the news of war after war in this part of the world may make us numb and calloused because we feel powerless to help.  For years I have been able to console myself to think that Egypt isn’t as bad as the rest of the Middle East, but now–not so much. I happen to have many relatives that live there. One is an aunt in her 90’s, in a nursing home that I hear is very close to the chaos. Two other cousins work in the university, also in the midst of the fighting. All of them are Christians.

This is a world I don’t believe we can understand, and yet we live on the same globe. I hope and pray for God to shield as many Christians from the evil, that somehow He will spare this generation any more persecution. I’m praying that He will tarry and allow peace again, even though I’ve read the last book of the Bible and know that prophecy reveals an increase in wars and rumors of wars. (Matthew 24:5-8)

I don’t want to be a downer, but I am very sober-minded these days. While we are to be thankful for good things that may be happening in our lives, a heavy cloud does hang over me as I think of the dire circumstances of believers who don’t take an easy day for granted.

I’m sober-minded because I also know that we as believers, even in the States, are not immune from persecution.  As the calendar moves forward in time, I see that we must all be vigilant, not blinded to our own vulnerability according to scripture. Evil has many names. It may not be radical Islam on this side of the world, but it could be a liberal agenda and a growing intolerance to God that we will face. What I see here is an animosity towards standing up for the Biblical value of marriage, as that very term is steadily being chipped away to mean whatever anyone may want it to mean. I firmly believe we should always speak the truth in love, but will we be targeted for speaking up for Biblical values?  Makes you wonder if this life isn’t just a test. Also makes you want to share the gospel and tell of our hope even more, given the freedom we have now.

I came across a blogger, Marie of “Along the Way” who was diligent enough to find two organizations that assist our brothers and sisters in Islamic countries. They are the United Nations Refugee Agency and UNICEF. Please give generously as you feel lead and are able.

Above all, please PRAY. Please PRAY for Egypt. PRAY for Syria, for China, and for every other country that suffers at the hands of tyranny. Pray for God’s peace to reign and for hearts to change. Please also know that we have a wonderful privilege and opportunity to intercede on their behalf, and to enjoy a freedom to worship that we may not understand until it’s lost.