994) The Slaughter of the Innocents

 

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Massacre of the Innocents, 1612

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     The most familiar day on the church year calendar is December 25th, Christmas Day, the commemoration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Most people in the world of any religion or even no religion know that.  One of the least familiar days on the church year calendar is December 28th.  Most Christians do not even know what is commemorated on that day.  December 28th is designated in the church year as the day to remember the “Holy Innocents, Martyrs.”  Who were these Holy Innocents?

     Their story is told in Matthew 2:13-18.  King Herod feared that his reign was going to be threatened by the birth of a new king, foretold many centuries before by the ancient prophets.  A visit by three astrologers, or Magi, from the East reinforced his fears.  They had told them that they also had read all the signs in the stars and determined that a new king had indeed recently been born in Bethlehem, just outside Jerusalem.  They said they were on their way to see him.  When the Magi did not return to tell King Herod where they had found the new king, he had ALL the little boys under two years old in Bethlehem taken from their mothers and slaughtered by his soldiers.  Herod did not know which one was born to be king so he had them all killed, thinking he could over-rule the prophecy and eliminate the threat.

     Herod was the first of many rulers throughout history who would not welcome the rule of this new king, and the little boys who died that day were only the first of millions who would die because of the opposition of wicked rulers to this Savoir and King of the world.  From the earliest times, the church would call them martyrs.

     The dictionary has three definitions for martyr.  First of all, a martyr is someone who chooses to die rather than give up their religious beliefs.  Second, a martyr is someone who endures great sacrifices for a cause; and third, a martyr is one who suffers greatly.  The first definition includes the other two, and that has been the fate of millions of Christians over the past twenty centuries.  When we think about Christian martyrs, we usually think of the earliest Christians who suffered at the hands of the Romans.  Thousands died in the arenas, killed by lions and other wild beasts for the entertainment of the Romans in the sporadic persecutions in those early centuries of the Christian Church.

     But no century has had more martyrs than the 20th century, with more Christians dying for their faith in that century than in all the nineteen previous centuries of church history.  And the 21st century is starting out even worse.  Christians are targeted for persecution in many countries of the world.  I’ll remind you of just two examples of what we have been hearing about all year.  On February 15 the ISIS released a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians, accused of being “people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church.”  And on April 5 gunmen targeted Christian students at the Garrisa University in Kenya, killing 148 and injuring 79 more.

     Christians are often told to deny Christ or die and many choose death.  I do believe God would forgive threatened captives for telling a lie to save their lives and return to their families.  But then their persecutors would be able to tell all the world about the weak the faith of the Christians.  But those who choose to die show the whole world how faith in Christ allows them to die with courage and hope.  Those who hear about this have often desired that same that kind of faith, and look for someone to tell them about Jesus.  From one perspective, what these martyrs do might look insane.  But from the perspective of eternity, their courageous deaths will be seen as wise and obedient and courageous.  It has been because of acts like that that the church has grown and spread around the world.  The word martyr itself comes from another word which means ‘witness’– a martyr ‘bears witness’ to his or her faith.  Many years ago someone said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

     I am of German heritage.  Jesus was not born in Germany, so the Gospel had to be taken there by missionaries.  St. Boniface was the man God used to establish the church in Germany, and he faced much violent opposition.  The opposition lasted throughout his life, and in the end, he too became a martyr.  He was killed right after a worship service in which he confirmed several new converts.

     The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

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One of the twenty-one men who were beheaded by ISIS was not a Christian– that is, he wasn’t a Christian until he saw the faith of the men who refused to deny Jesus and died for it.  He was from Chad (the darker skinned man in the photos below).  The terrorists told all the men to reject their faith in Christ or die.  When the man from Chad was asked about his faith, he looked at his Christian friends and said, “Their God is my God,” and so he also was beheaded.

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Matthew 2:16  —  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.

Luke 12:4-5  —  (Jesus said),  “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him.”

Matthew 5:10  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I Peter 4:16  —  If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Romans 1:16a  —  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.

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We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents in Bethlehem by the order of King Herod.  Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims, and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship,1978, Prayer for December 28, page 31.

940) Pray for the Persecutors

From the September 2015 Voice of the Martyrs newsletter ( http://www.persecution.com )

     Suta is a village pastor in India.   Like the majority of people in India, he grew up in a Hindu family.  But now Suta follows Jesus.  He wants others to learn the truth about Jesus, too.

     Suta believed that God was telling him to share the gospel with people in a nearby village.  The people in the village were dedicated Hindus.  As he began sharing his testimony from place to place in the village, some Hindu men threatened him and told him to leave the village.

     Suta left, but he was puzzled.  He asked God, “Why are they telling me not to come into the village when You told me to go?”

     Suta decided he had given up to easily.

     Suta returned to the village.  This time, the villagers beat him up and threw him in a 10-foot deep ditch.

     But Raji, one of the Hindu men, began to feel guilty about hurting Suta.  “I have persecuted an innocent man,” he later told his wife at home.  Raji’s wife was worried that Suta’s God might punish them.  “Go bring that man into our home,” she said.  “We have to take care of him.”

     Raji pulled Suta out of the ditch and carried him to his home.  Raji’s wife took care of Suta, and Suta shared the gospel with her.  When Suta prayed for her sick relative, God healed the relative.

     Everyone in the village heard the news.  All of Raji’s family and Suta’s attackers came to faith in Christ.  “We were wrong,” the attackers said.  “You were preaching the true God.  Please forgive us.”

     A new church started in the village.  “If I had not gone to preach, I would have not got persecuted,” Suta said.   “But I did, and now there is one more church.”

     Sunday (November 1, 2015) was The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  Watch Voice of the Martyrs’ 5-minute video, Suta, a reenactment of his story, at:

https://youtu.be/6Uw2FCzP22w

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Suta and Raji (Suta’s face is covered to protect his identity)

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Matthew 5:43-44  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

John 15:20a  —  (Jesus said), “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”

Matthew 5:10  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I Peter 4:16  —  If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

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PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH (By Rev. Norman Olsen, Starbuck, MN)

Merciful Father:  Hear the cries of your people who are being persecuted and killed for your Name’s sake; who are threatened with the sword to “deny or die”; who are made to watch as their own children are slain; who are tortured for the sake of a religion; and who must flee their homeland for their lives, if they can.

We join our prayers with their cries for deliverance, O Lord, asking that you embrace them with your nearer presence and provide your promised deliverance in the midst of their suffering.  Breathe in them your peace which passes all understanding, and assure them that there is nothing in all creation can ever separate them from your love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Strengthen them as you did for all the saints and martyrs who went before, with the confidence that death is of no lasting consequence in your eternal Kingdom.

We pray for the conversion of the evil doers, as they hear the compelling witness of the Gospel on the lips, and in the lives, of the persecuted church.  And finally we implore your forgiveness for our sins of indifference and apathy towards the persecuted church.  With shame we confess that so much suffering has met with so little awareness and response.

Imbue us, O Lord, with your Living Word, the Holy Spirit, that we may stand in solidarity with all who willingly suffer for the sake of Christ.  We open our hearts, praying, not only for the suffering church, but that their suffering may teach us faithfulness today, and what it costs to stand for the Gospel in the evil day; confident that while sorrow may linger for the night, joy comes in the morning.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

919) Courageous Children

St. Agnes of Rome  (291-304)

     In the year 304 AD, two young Christian girls from a wealthy, pagan household in Rome, died a martyr’s death within days of each other.  

     Wealthy families in early Rome often raised their daughters using well educated slaves from Greece.  These ‘nannies’ were often Christian, as was the case in this household.

     The Roman patrician’s daughter Agnes was a beautiful girl.  She grew up alongside the nanny’s daughter, Emerentia.  The girls were like sisters, completely devoted to one another.  When Agnes was 13, her father decided it was time for her to marry, so he encouraged the son of a high-ranking Roman to ask her for her hand in marriage.  Agnes reportedly spurned his advances saying, “I am already the spouse of a Lover much more noble and powerful than you.”  The enraged suitor discovered she was a Christian and reported her to the authorities.  She was sentenced to be executed by the edict of the Roman emperor Diocletian.

     There is enough variety in the description of how Agnes died that some of her story is considered legend.  The consistency behind every account, however, is that Agnes was a very young Christian who sacrificed her life for her faith in Christ.

     Roman law prohibited executing virgins, so the judge gave Agnes a choice– sacrifice to the gods or be violated at a brothel.  Agnes reportedly responded, “Do you believe that I could now bow my head before simple rock idols, mute and lifeless?”  

     According to truth or legend, all the men who approached Agnes in the brothel became blind.  She then prayed for God to restore their sight.  Agnes was eventually killed by the executioner’s sword.

     A few days after Agnes’ death, a young woman was found praying by her tomb.  It was Emerentiana, who admitted to being a Christian.  She admonished the crowd for killing Agnes.  The crowd commanded her to leave the site.  When she refused, they stoned her.

     It is said that the deaths shocked many Romans and helped bring an end to the persecutions.  Some said, “Do young girls constitute such a threat to Rome that it is necessary to kill them?”  Others said, “If this religion can enable a 13-year-old girl to meet death without fear, it is worth looking into.”

     The heroism and death of these young girls inspire us in our own faith and obedience.  There is another, however, whose name we do not know, but whose Christian influence was monumental in the Roman world.  We would do well to remember also the unnamed nanny, whose exceptional teaching and inspired lifestyle enabled two young girls to withstand the test of martyrdom.

–From The New Encyclopedia of Christian Martyrs, by Mark Waters, as told in the Voice of the Martyrs magazine

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The precise details of this story cannot be proven.  Legend is often mixed with history in these very old stories.  But what cannot be denied is that countless martyrs of all ages have faced death with that kind of faith and courage and hope, bearing witness to unbelievers and giving inspiration to fellow Christians.  Already in the second century A. D. Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” implying that the willing sacrifice of their lives led to the conversion of others.

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I Corinthians 1:26-27  —  Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Matthew 5:10-12a  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

I Peter 4:12-16  —  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

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All-powerful and ever-living God, you choose the weak in this world to confound the powerful.  When we celebrate the memory of St. Agnes, may we, like her, remain constant in our faith.  Amen.

–Roman Catholic prayer remembering the life of St. Agnes of Rome

912) Driven to Christ by the Islamic State

From The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter, Iraq and Syria Special Field Report, September 2015, pages 6-7.  VOM website:  www.persecution.com

     As Christmastime returned to Iraq in 2014, Pastor Joseph found himself caught up in the usual busyness, along with the increased time spent serving persecuted Christians following the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS).

      In the midst of the chaos, a man visiting his office in Baghdad urgently asked if he could share eight words with the pastor.  

     Pastor Joseph, 38, paused to hear the story, one he had heard many other times yet still delighted in– another Muslim coming to Christ because of ISIS.

     “I was blind, but I am seeing now,” the visitor shared.

     “How?” Joseph asked.

     “I was a Muslim and now I am seeing,” the man continued.  “From the date ISIS came to Mosul, I started reading the Quran.  I wanted to tell people, ‘This is not true Islam.’  I read the Quran daily for four, five hours.  I wanted to defend my religion.  But I discovered that this is the true Islam.”

     Stories like this come frequently as Joseph faithfully serves in Iraq despite the growing threat of ISIS.  The pastor knows the chaos caused by the extremist group is creating rare opportunities for the church in Iraq.  For example, he has seen large numbers of Muslim youth leave Islam after learning how the Quran inspired ISIS and its slaughter of Christians.  Many of these youth eventually realize they still need God in their lives. 

     “They start seeking,” Joseph said.  “When they have a Bible, they start reading about the real God and how God is love.  He doesn’t hate Christians.  He doesn’t hate the Yazidis.  He doesn’t like to kill anyone.  Many people come now to Christianity because they are seeking God.”

     The man who visited Joseph’s office in December had a similar experience.  Shocked by how specifically the Quran inspired ISIS, he became an atheist.  Days later, he walked by a group of men sitting at a table outside a library.  Bibles and Christian literature sat on the table.

     “Do you have a Bible?” he asked them.  “Can I have one?”

     After receiving a New Testament, he returned home and began reading.  The story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 captured his attention, particularly the part in which the crowd asks Jesus, “What should we do with this lady?”

     “Would I stone her?’ the man asked himself.

     He then read Jesus’ response:  “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone.”

     “This is God!” the man shouted in his home.  “This is the real God we should worship!” 

     His search for a church led him to Pastor Joseph.  His story is not unique.  “ISIS is helping us let people know the truth,” Joseph told a Voice of the Martyrs worker.  “I have many stories about these people coming to faith at this time.”

     For each story of a Muslim coming to Christ, Joseph has several more about Muslims, particularly ISIS, persecuting Christians.  Stories of beheadings and crucifixions have been covered by international news organizations.  Christians are told to leave Iraq, convert to Isalm, pay a heavy tax, or be killed.

     Joseph’s stories are more personal.  He regularly hears about church members fleeing ISIS only to encounter the terror group at checkpoints surrounding the territory.  The fighters confiscate passports, ID cards, and all valuables.  Joseph once heard about a checkpoint guard who asked a pregnant woman for her wedding ring.  Because her fingers were swollen from her pregnancy, she was unable to remove it.  The guard cut off her finger, took the ring, and sent her on her way.

     Such interactions with ISIS are taking their toll on the Iraqi Christians.  “They are afraid,” Joseph said.  “Most of them don’t want to stay in Iraq anymore.  Many Christian families immigrate to Jordan, Lebanon, or Turkey.  They just want to leave.”

     Despite these challenges, the numerous stories of Muslims leaving Islam for Christ give Joseph hope in his country’s future.  “I think spiritually, it will be better,” he said.  “All of us are praying that God will take our country to a better place than before.”

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We prayed for revival for years, but revival didn’t come how we imagined it.  Revival came through the war.

–Brother John, a Christian in Syria

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Refugees leaving Syria

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Hebrews 13:14  —  Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

I Chronicles 29:15  —  We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors.  Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.

Hebrews 11:13-14  —  All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.   People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.

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 Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted.  Strengthen, comfort, and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment, and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray also for those who persecute your people.  May their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted, and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support them.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

832) Killing Christians

A blood-spattered poster of Jesus inside the Coptic Christian Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, after a car exploded in front of the building in 2011, sparking clashes between Christians and Muslims.  (Ben Curtis,  Associated Press)

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This essay by David Pence appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune, July 19, 2015.  Pence is a physician and teacher.  He writes about religion and politics at:

http://doctorpence.blogspot.com/

Christian martyrs around the world are looking in vain for a champion to protect them.

     American foreign policy seems awfully confused.  When a student is deeply confused, what’s needed is not another fact but a better ordering of the categories being used to organize and understand the subject matter at hand.

    Americans usually discuss foreign affairs in terms of nations.  That’s no longer adequate.  We cannot explain today’s Mideast without understanding that certain religious communal loyalties transcend nations.

     Consider the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.  Take out a map and notice that ISIL is holding the parts of Iraq and Syria where populations are dominated by Sunni Muslims.  Those regions may never again be ruled by those two countries’ Shia Muslim governments.  The battle now is over whether ISIL or a civilized Arab Sunni regime will govern that newly separated Sunni territory.

     Similarly, the next time you hear that the Saudis are bombing the Iranian-backed Houthis of Yemen, look past the smoke screen about the link to the nation of Iran.  The Wahhabi Sunnis of Saudi Arabia are trying to suppress Shia infidels in Yemen who have successfully armed themselves.

     More broadly, whenever you hear that some violence is “senseless” look for a battle over religion or ethnicity.  More often than not, that will make sense of it.

     Today’s world is torn by a religious war, but we in the West are trying to interpret events as if God doesn’t exist.  We have made a strange bargain with ourselves not to think as religious beings, especially in connection with politics and foreign policy.  We think that would not be “realism.”  It would be “sectarian.”  Religion talk is not for public life — keep it in the closet, or better still, the cloister.

     So we agree to talk in public as if God and the human soul and the spiritual destiny of nations don’t matter.  We act as if our identity and character as Americans have nothing to do with the nation’s Christian heritage.  We talk instead about the individual — his dignity, her desires, his rights, her choices.  Everyone knows what an individual looks like; nobody has seen God.  Democrats and Republicans alike consecrate individualism.  They identify with “the West” that idolizes autonomy.  They patronize religious cultures that subordinate personal liberty to a higher power.

     This self-imposed poverty of thought has caused our confusion.  In early May of this year, an Associated Press story carried by the Star Tribune reported that “last month’s massacre at Kenya’s Garissa University College killed 148 people, mostly students.”

     That massacre occurred on Holy Thursday.  The killers singled out not students but Christians for slaughter.  Muslim students were spared.

     In February 2015, President Obama’s press secretary declared:  “The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of 21 Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists.”  The murdered were all Coptic Christians, separated by ISIL from a larger Libyan workforce of “Egyptian citizens,” most of whom were Sunni.

     This religious whitewashing is not new with the Obama presidency.  Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (during the George W. Bush presidency) was equally reticent when Sunni extremists drove Christians out of the Dora neighborhood in southern Baghdad in May 2007.  Rice explained that protective action would have appeared “sectarian.”

     There would be no American knights riding to protect Christian families on Rice’s watch.

     Today, around the world, Christians are suffering from three major sources of persecution.  First is the clash with Islamist governance and identity in the Middle East and northern Africa.  Second, in Asia, ethnic and religious nationalisms depict Christianity as a betrayal of the communal solidarity of Hindus in Nepal and India and Buddhists in Burma.  The third strain of persecution comes from the remnant Communist Party dictatorships of China, North Korea and Vietnam.  Christianity’s deeper and wider loyalties to God and the brotherhood of man are always threats to the jealous demands of totalitarian states.

     So there are plenty of Christian martyrs on the public stage in today’s world.  The missing figure is the Christian statesman — the Christian protector.  There is of course the pope.  But his priestly role is for all of humanity.  He must keep before us the truth that only Satan is our permanent enemy and that all sons of Adam are meant to be brothers under God.  His mission is to baptize the nations, not to take sides.

     But where, besieged Christians cry out, are the public orators calling the men of their countries into the brotherly love of shared civic protection?

     Organizing social life as if God does not exist is always a disaster.  It replaces the primal human struggle against the evil one with exaggerated fights among men.  Class and ideological conflicts, the favored struggles of the new elite, have morphed into the even deeper battles of the sexual revolution.  Basic obligations to God, country and marriage are not proclaimed, and the crimes of blasphemy, treason and adultery no longer shame.

     America’s baby-boomer presidents have not known how to mobilize the Christian brotherhood under which our fathers and forefathers fought and won the wars that gave today’s Americans our great inheritance.  Christian brotherly love is not erotic but political.  “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Christ.  So Christian men formed police departments and national armies and navies — because peace comes from ordered agreement and protection in the face of evil.

     Christian brotherhood is not pacifism but the core of proper patriotism.  Christ sheathed Peter’s sword the night before he died because Christ was not at war with Roman soldiers and Jewish high priests.  He was at war with death itself, declaring the Kingdom of God on earth.  It is a Christian duty, and especially a duty of Christian men, to defend that kingdom.

     The cities, states and nations that formed inside the Christian agreement are our instruments of protection.  We in the West, and especially in America, have played the Great Satan for too long.  Let us reintroduce ourselves as a largely Christian people, especially Christian men, seeking to do the will of God.  Americans should unite as brothers with black Christian nations and the Christians of Lebanon, with the Jews of Israel, and with the Shiites of Iraq and Iran and the Hashemites of Jordan, before accepting an identity as the “godless West.”

     Secular Europeans marched for the murdered martyrs of atheism — the antireligious pornographers at Charlie Hebdo.  But American Christian men are inspired by the martyrdom of our Ethiopian and Egyptian brothers who died for our Lord.  We saw their blood and their faith and we could not help but say, “They look a lot like us.”  We can only pray that we will look like them in displaying the courage needed to perform the protective and diplomatic roles assigned to us in God’s plan.

     Muslims have a term for a religious community that supersedes nations. It is the Ummah.  We Christians, too, have our Ummah.  Our mighty armed national brotherhoods are embedded inside the wider Christian calling to love one another.  We are one with those men who were marched out on a beach to die looking across the Mediterranean toward Rome.

     The religious awakening that has swept Africa and the Middle East is sweeping the Americas as well.  It was a religious awakening that consecrated the beginning of racial reconciliation in America in the 1960s (before that movement for Christian brotherhood was hijacked by pretender radicalisms).  It will be a religious movement that wakes us to the brotherhood of citizenship we have with the brown-skinned neighbors who have been growing our food and roofing our houses for the last half century.

     Fifty years ago, Christian America responded to a bombing in which four little black girls were murdered going to Sunday school in Alabama.  First we sent clergymen to march — and then we sent federal troops to protect.  Those girls may not have been our relatives or neighbors, but they were our girls.

     Today Christian men are beheaded and Christian women are enslaved around the world, and they, too, look for the Christian brother who will wield a sword of protection against the sword of pillage.  The sword is never our ultimate weapon, but Christ told his apostles to have one on hand.

     Prayer, diplomacy and the word are our primary and ultimate ways of ordering relations among nations.  But we cannot know who to befriend and who to oppose in the world if we do not understand the religious nature of our enemies and the religious character of our own nation.  The late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore understood the enemy:  “In killing the terrorists, you will only kill the worker bees.  The queen bees are the preachers, who teach a deviant form of Islam in the schools and Islamic centers, who capture and twist the minds of the young … .”

     Meanwhile, President John Kennedy understood the spiritual nature of America.  He knew the soul of America had to be awakened and the fraternity of duty mobilized.  Let the words he was to speak on the day he was killed (by an atheist) remind us that America is not a playground of boundless choices but a city bound by sacred obligations:

We, in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than by choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore … that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of ‘peace on earth, good will toward men.’ That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.’

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Psalm 127:1  —  Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

Luke 2:14  —  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Revelation 20:4a  —  I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God.

Genesis 4:9  —  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”  “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

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 Almighty God, who has taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted; strengthen, comfort and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray for those who persecute your people; may their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support those who are suffering and seek to be a voice of persecuted Christians.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

763) What’s Next?

ON THE INCREASING HOSTILITY OF SOCIETY TOWARD THE CHURCH AND WHAT IT STANDS FOR:

“It is likely that I will die in my bed.  My successor will die in prison.  His successor will die executed in the public square.  His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

–Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who died April 17, 2015

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I John 3:13  —  Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

John 15:17-  —  (Jesus said), “This is my command:  Love each other.  If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you:  A servant is not greater than his master.  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.  Whoever hates me hates my Father as well.  If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin.  As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.  But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law:  ‘They hated me without reason.’”

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PRAYER OF PETER AND JOHN IN ACTS CHAPTER FOUR AFTER BEING IMPRISONED FOR PROCLAIMING JESUS CHRIST AS LORD, RISEN FROM THE DEAD (verses 24-26…29):

Sovereign Lord, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.’ …Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.

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682) An Unnamed Nigerian Martyr

From Randy Alcorn’s blog at:  www.epm.org , August 15, 2014, written by Eternal Perspectives Ministries employee Tami Yeager, who is also a volunteer at Voice of the Martyrs organization.

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Voice of the Martyrs Monument: A Nigerian Woman

     The Voice of The Martyrs USA ministry office in Bartlesville, Oklahoma has a Martyrs Monument.  Displayed on that monument are the names of many martyrs, each one representing a real person with a real story.  I love to stand near this memorial and slowly read the names and brief descriptions.  During a recent visit I found myself once again drawn to the monument.  On this particular day there was one memorial stone that stood out to me.  It simply read A Nigerian Woman.

     Unlike the others, her name had not been inscribed in the beautiful stone slab.  She had been beaten to death by an angry mob before the authorities could learn her name.  I wondered what she looked like, and how old she was.  She was someone’s daughter.  Did she have sisters and brothers?  Was she married, and did she have children?  These are questions I will not know the answers to on this side of eternity.

     I imagined what her village may have looked like and wondered what must have taken place in her life leading up to that day in 2006.  I wondered how she had been prepared for that moment.  Did she wake up on that fateful morning with a sense that this day would be different?  Was it customary for her to share her faith with others?  Surely she knew that sharing Christ with her Muslim neighbors could cost her.  I believe she had counted the cost, and was well acquainted with the price one could pay.  I imagine love was her motivator, and its weight far outweighed her fear.

     Did people silently slip into their homes as voices began to rise in the streets that day?  Were children warned to hide in the dark, and be still?  As an evil hatred raged hot amongst the mob that surrounded her, did those who believed as she did stay silent?  Was her body left in the dust of the street for days as a warning to others who might have otherwise been swayed to believe as she did?  Like Stephen in the book of Acts, was she looking into heaven while they beat her?  Were the painful blows from many fists and feet brought to an abrupt halt as she surrendered her spirit, exhaling her last earthly breath, and simultaneously taking in her first heavenly breath?

     What was it like for her to open her eyes and find that she was now in the arms of the One whom she had exchanged her life for?  Standing to receive her white robe, did she recognize some of those who surrounded her?  Did she then hear the cheers from a great cloud of witnesses that had been ever so faint before, and now could be heard with vivid clarity?  Was she overcome with indescribable joy, peace, and happiness at the sound of the King’s words, “Well done my good and faithful servant, now take your place and wait a little longer”?

     I wonder who among the angry mob walked away that day unable to shake what they witnessed in her.  She had been faithful unto death.  Were there some who closed their eyes that night unable to escape the images now playing in their minds?  Were the words she spoke to them being repeated in their thoughts?  Were any of those who took part in her murder later visited in dreams and visions by the One she told them about?  Would some of those who hit her, kicked her, spit upon her, and cursed her later fall on their knees and cry out for forgiveness?

     The truth is I do not know any more about the Nigerian woman’s story then what is written in stone.  I am, however, keenly aware that in many places of the world today suffering for the sake of the gospel is “normal” Christianity.  The little I do know of my Nigerian sister fuels a passion in me to give her, and others like her, a voice.  I look forward to the day I meet my sister.  It is then that I will learn all of her story.

The Martyrs Monument

The Voice of the Martyrs headquarters,  Bartlesville, Oklahoma

http://www.persecution.com

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Matthew 5:10  —  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

A MOB KILLING FROM THE BIBLE:

Acts 7:55-60  —  Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him…  While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he fell asleep.

File:Cigoli - The Stoning of St Stephen - WGA04883.jpg

The Stoning of Stephen, Cigoli, 1597

Psalm 63:3a  —   O God,… Thy lovingkindness is better than life.

Revelation 6:11  —  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.

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Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

–St. Ignatius  (1491-1556)

652) The War on Christians

By John Stonestreet, January 21, 2015, at:  www.breakpoint.org  (Colored letters below will link you to more sites)

While the civilized world rightly expressed outrage over the slaughter of 12 cartoonists, the plight of 100 million persecuted Christians is largely ignored.

     While in 2014 the days of throwing Christians to wild beasts in the arena may be behind us, the persecution of Christians around the world isn’t.  In fact, the number of our brothers and sisters subjected to imprisonment, torture, and death for their faith in just the last twelve months dwarfs the number who suffered during the entire tenure of Nero.

     As a new report from a leading ministry to the persecuted church shows, last year was one of the most violent on record for believers worldwide  and 2015 could be worse.

     Open Doors International released its World Watch List earlier this month, ranking the top 50 most dangerous and difficult countries for Christians to live in.  Here are the results.

     For the 13th year in a row, North Korea ranked as the worst persecutor of Christians.  Amid executing relatives and presiding over the disappearances of his political rivals, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has reserved his special wrath for Christians.

     Open Doors estimates that 70,000 believers are currently imprisoned for their faith in this hermit kingdom.  And considering North Koreans outside of jail live in a state of semi-starvation, I shudder to think what it’s like behind bars.

     Executions for crimes of owning Bibles or evangelizing are commonplace.  News agencies reported last year that Kim Jong-un personally sentenced 33 church planters to death.

     “Christians,” explains Open Doors president David Curry, “are the No. 1 enemy of the state in North Korea.”

     And that’s just one frontier in the battle between the Gospel and modern Neros.

     In west-central Africa, the Islamist group Boko Haram has just leveled several towns, with Christians as their new target of choice.  Militants have ambushed worshipers in at least a half a dozen churches on Sunday mornings, and human rights groups report a Christian body count of over 3,000 in Nigeria alone.

     And then there’s the Middle East.  From Iraq and Syria to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Christians are suffering for their faith on a scale not seen in living memory.  Some of the world’s most ancient church communities have been wiped out or displaced by the rise of ISIS, and tens of thousands of Christians have fled the Islamic State’s onslaught—most likely never to return home.

     “We have seen the sharpest jump in violent attacks against Christians in the modern era,” says Curry, estimating that upwards of 100 million Christians worldwide are suffering persecution as we speak.

     “[And] while the year 2014 will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era,” Open Doors elaborated, “current conditions suggest the worst is yet to come.”

     Now I know it’s easy to shrug and say, “Well, what can I do about this?”  But we’re not helpless—not by a long shot.

     Christians in America have options for extending help to our hard-pressed brethren by supporting organizations devoted to serving the persecuted church and pleading her cause—organizations like Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, and International Christian Concern.  So please, get involved. We’ll link you to all of these ministries at http://www.BreakPoint.org.

     And of course, we need to pray—all the harder as the situation worsens.  And while you’re praying, remember this:  The same Gospel that Nero thought he could extinguish went on to conquer his empire.  His fires died—but the Holy Spirit’s fire did not.  And as the Apostle John wrote, very likely in the context of Nero’s persecution, Christians who confessed their Lord despite the cost “triumphed… by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”

     So take action with me.  And folks, don’t despair.  If the gates of Hell and Rome can’t prevail against the Church, modern persecutors don’t stand a chance.

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I Corinthians 12:26  —   If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Revelation 12:10-11  —  Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:  “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah.  For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.  They triumphed over him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

Mark 13:13  —  (Jesus said), “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

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Almighty God, who has taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted; strengthen, comfort and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray for those who persecute your people; may their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support those who are suffering and seek to be a voice of persecuted Christians.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

615) Courageous Children

From the NEW YORK POST, December 12, 2014:

     Four Christian children were beheaded by ISIS militants in Iraq for refusing to denounce Jesus and convert to Islam, according to the leader of the Anglican church in Baghdad.  Canon Andrew White, know as the “Vicar of Baghdad,” fled Iraq in October for Israel and recounted how brutal the country has become for Christians.

     “ISIS turned up and said to the children, ‘You say the words that you will follow Mohammed,'” White said in a video posted on the Christian Broadcasting Network Web site.  “The children, four of them, all under 15, said, ‘No, we love Yeshua (Jesus), we have always loved Yeshua.’  They chopped all their heads off.  How do you respond to that?  You just cry.”

See also:  Emailmeditation #370)  The Vicar of Baghdad; ( https://emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/370-the-vicar-of-baghdad/ )

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From The Voice of the Martyrs (website:  http://www.persecution.com/  ):

     Little 3-year-old “Joel” was on his way home from Sunday school when Islamic terrorists ripped his children’s Bible from his hands and tossed it onto a burning pile.  Joel ran after his Bible and tried to scoot it out of the flames with a stick.  When one of the insurgents saw him, he shoved Joel’s head into the fire and held it down with his boot.  “You stubborn infidel,” the man hissed.

Joel

Joel

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From The Persecution Blog, by Dr. Jason Peters, on The Voice of the Martyrs website: 

     In July of 2013, two young girls in Pakistan received a copy of The Story of Jesus in their native language of Urdu.  The Christians who distributed the booklets happily reported that these girls trusted Christ after reading these engaging booklets.  Two more sisters were added to our Christian family!

Peshawar Victims

     Just a couple of months later, on a sunny Sunday morning, two suicide bombers entered the All Saints Church compound in Peshawar, Pakistan.  These Islamists waited until the services were over and the nearly 500 worshipers began to gather for a meal together.  At 11:45, they detonated their suicide vests and killed 78 people and injured another 130.  It was the deadliest attack on the Christian minority in the history of Pakistan.

     In October, I received word that the two young sisters who received The Story of Jesus during the July distribution, and began to follow Jesus, were killed in the attack on that bright Sunday morning.

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Matthew 5:10  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 10:38-39  —  (Jesus said), “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 18:6  —  (Jesus said), “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

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Almighty God, who has taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted; strengthen, comfort and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment and even death for being followers of Jesus.   We pray for those who persecute your people; may their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.   Protect those who are persecuted and bless their ministries.   Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

590) Something Strange (part two)

 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.   But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  –1 Peter 4:12-13   

     (…continued)  Nero was not able to eliminate the Christian community in Rome.  In fact, it grew stronger in the face of persecution.  The faith of the believers was not only strengthened, but the church grew in numbers by doing as their Lord commanded– returning good for the evil that had been done to them.  They were given many opportunities to do so.

     Crowded and unsanitary conditions in ancient cities, along with a lack of understanding of how germs spread illness, made disease a constant threat.  Sometimes, diseases would spread out of control, and plagues could wipe out half of a city, or even half of a nation’s, population.

     Several decades after Nero, one of the worst of such plagues hit Rome.  The wealthy immediately fled to their country estates.  Even the less wealthy often fled, heading to the country to take their chances at living off the land rather than face the prospect of dying a horrible death by small pox.  Victims would begin by having a high fever, then there would be severe back and stomach pains, and then vomiting.  Then would come the ‘pox’– open, running sores all over the face, down the throat, into the eyes, and over the hands and feet.  There was no treatment in those days, and it was very contagious.  Families would flee the city, leaving their sick loved ones behind, rather than risk also getting the disease.

     But the Christians of the city did not flee.  They stayed behind to care for their own loved ones, and then also for those who had been left behind by others.  They would go through the city with carts, picking up the sick and dying, and taking them back to makeshift hospitals.  There they would do their best to keep them comfortable in their last days.  Many of the Christians, having been exposed to the pox, also got the disease and died.

     Soon it became apparent that not everyone would die.  Even with minimal care, some would recover; and much to the surprise of their loved ones, were still alive when they returned.  This love and service and self-sacrifice by the Christians had a profound effect on people, and many joined the Christians.  Such courage in the face of death also bore witness to the Christians’ belief in the resurrection from the dead.  By acting on the commands of Christ, without regard for their own welfare, this small Christian group unexpectedly became the dominant cultural group.  

     Chaos and death in the streets during the plague.

     Peter’s encouragement to be faithful even in the face of suffering and death bore much fruit in the early church.  He was, in fact, only passing on what he had learned from Jesus himself who had said, “Whoever seeks to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, shall find it.”

     The Romans, fleeing the cities during the plague to save their own lives, were part of a dying culture.  But the Christians, willing to stay even if it meant losing their own life, would continue to live and grow and spread around the world, long after the glory of the Roman empire had come to an end.

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Mark 8:34b-36  —  (Jesus said), “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Revelation 14:12-13  —  This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.  Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this:  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”    “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

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Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

St. Ignatius  (1491-1556)