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Tuesday, April 21, 2015
A peaceful rural scene from our church entrance.
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Please note: Today's message is a bit longer but we believe it will inspire, refresh, and fortify your faith.
The Rest Of The Story:
"Their God Is My God"
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"Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword" (Acts 12:1,2).
Practically daily now we are hearing reports of horrific atrocities to Christians, especially now in Africa. But it's all over and of course in so much of the Middle East. Most recently (although this could change by the time you read this) it is another group of Christians slain in Libya, this time from Ethiopia.
Many of us recall the story and graphic image of the beheadings of the Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya this February. Sadly we can hear so much news like this that we grow numb.
This morning I read an amazing story of faith from The Voice Of The Martyrs, a ministry focusing on persecution. I recall when I first saw the iconic photo on the beach I noticed a young black man among those slain. I didn't give it a lot of thought since I assume there are a variety of races in Egypt including black. But there is more to the story and it will move you. We might call it "the rest of the story" (at least the part witnessed on this side).
"Initially, it was believed that all of the men killed for their faith were from small villages in Egypt. However, the name and background of one of those killed, a black man, was unknown. Mathew Ayairga was soon identified by friends after being recognized in video footage of the killings released by ISIS. According to Ahram-Canadian News, Mathew was from Chad. Mathew had gone missing in January 2015, captured by one of the radical groups in Libya who have kidnapped hundreds, both Muslim and Christian.
The video made public on February 15 shows each of the Christian men dressed in orange jumpsuits, kneeling on a beach, with their black-clothed attackers standing behind them. Each one is systematically beheaded, and the video clearly shows many of the men crying out, “Lord Jesus Christ” in their final moments.
According to reports, Mathew Ayairga was not a Christian. However, when moments before his death the ISIS extremists demanded that he follow Islam, Mathew turned them down. After reportedly witnessing the “immense faith” of the Egyptian believers, he decided to become a follower of Christ.
On camera, one of the terrorists asked Matthew, “Do you reject Christ?” “Their God is my God,” he responded, and he became one of the 21 men who died for his faith in Christ."
Consider the amazing testimony of the Coptic Christians (their names are listed in the linked article below), demonstrating "immense faith" at their time of greatest trial. They could have renounced their faith and lived but instead they chose to obey Christ for an infinitely greater reward.
Consider Mathew Ayairga, who was caught up in the mess. At the beginning he apparently was not committed and could easily have scorned Christ and obeyed the call to follow Islam, but that which he saw in his fellow captors must have been utterly amazing. The phrase "immense faith" is part of the story but one can only conjecture how this faith was so powerfully demonstrated. He uttered a powerful expression of faith, “Their God is my God”.
Our favorite Bible stories include Bible characters whose colorful personalities are filled with adventure and suspense. We're especially inspired and emboldened when God delivers and grants them a bit more time on this earth against impossible odds, humanly speaking. Stories like the three Hebrew boys deliverance from the fiery furnace, Daniel's deliverance from the lion's den, or Peter's deliverance from Herod's sword.
But many in Scripture gave up their lives as martyrs, most whose names we do not know; such as the "others" mentioned in Hebrews 11:35ff: "Others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground."
Stephen is the first recorded Christian martyr following the resurrection of Christ and establishment of the Church. The account of his stoning provides details of his passing (Acts 6,7).
Today's text has often intrigued me. James is the second martyr recorded and the account merely matter-of-factly states, "Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword" (Acts 12:1,2).
Now while being quite respectful to the Holy Scriptures I sure would like to hear the rest of this story but will have to wait till heaven to hear it. This was James, the brother of John. the same James who was in the inner circle of the three disciples "Peter, James and John".
But just like the modern story of Mathew Ayairga, we are quite sure we will one day hear more about this story and meet the people whose lives were changed because of it. One of the ways God is glorified in one's martyrdom is that it brings about redemptive value right in the midst of evil and loss.
And it's true for other apparent mysteries of life. One day we will hear "the rest of the story". "Only one life 'twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last!"
Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber
Daily prayer: Father, we recognize that our life is a gift from You and the life we live is our gift back to You. You give us guidance in how to live our lives through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit gives us power to overcome the evil one and courage to stand for righteousness in the very face of evil. Even as we are witnessing evil acts of terror all over the world we are also hearing the names and seeing the faces of those whose faith in Christ has made them the target of these evildoers. We admire and respect their bravery and refusal to renounce their faith so their lives can be spared. Instead they look beyond their horrible ordeal, the loved ones they will leave behind, and they must surely fix their hearts on their eternal resting place. In this age when many church leaders are presenting watered down sermons and teachings, softening the commands of Scripture to make them palatable to those whose loyalties are torn between living for Christ and living for the world, bring to our minds people like Mathew Ayairga. A man, drawn by the Holy Spirit, who came to Christ because he esteemed the uncompromising faith of the Coptic Christians of Libya who were willing to lay down their lives for the cause. Because he too laid down his life Mathew's Christian life was short on this side, but throughout the eons of time, we who believe and practice what we believe will have fellowship with our brother, Mathew. Help us to be strong and ever hopeful as we fix our gaze on that which lies beyond the grave, as we seek to glorify You whether in life or in death. Through Christ we pray. Amen.
Tomorrow we will have another, "The Rest Of The Story" message.
In the course of preparing this message I came across a stark analysis this morning. One commentator, whom I believe to be trustworthy, commented on recent events and news reports of ISIS cells all over America, "A modern-day Holocaust is unfolding. There's been another purported mass killing of Christians in the Middle East. It's only a matter of time before the Islamic extremist savages target American churches."
Some peaceful scenes from Lancaster County
Sunday morning we passed this 1949 Ford pickup for sale on the way to church. If anyone is interested and wants to acquire this handsome piece of vehicular history, please invite Brooksyne and me to take a ride in it, front or back!
Our neighbors, Elam and Naomi Stoltzfus, had church at their home on Donegal Springs Road this last Lord's Day and we snapped this photo of the "parking lot". I suppose it's a bit different than most church parking lots our readers use!
Although she is now over four years old our border collie Mollie has not lost her puppy-like interest or energy to play! She never wears out, but we do! Ester captured these two photos with Mollie in full action.
She especially likes it when I invent new games!
Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources
Report used in today's message from Mission Network News.
The ISIS war against ‘the people of the cross’
"Martyrs of the Christian Faith" A blog post with short video chronicling the various way Christians have been martyred (graphic)
Mundane Faithfulness: A friend, perhaps expressing the sentiments of many responded to our post last week "I am often tempted to despair because I feel my life is "mundane" and I don't possess a lot of talents with which to bless others. But I intend to be faithful to that which the Lord has called me, and do it to the best of my ability."
My note: The greatest people-blessers to me are not necessarily those with talents but those who are faithful! And the older I get the more that is true.
"Now I Know Him" Video Joseph Habedank
Today's message shares a similar message as Ruth. Video
This powerful story has a similar element to the account in today's message:
"Forty Brave Soldiers For Jesus" Video
In Armenia around 320 AD, there was a company of forty Roman soldiers known as the Thundering Legion. When the Governor discovered they were Christians, he was very angry and threatened to have them killed. But the governor was also anxious to spare them because these soldiers were amongst the bravest in the army. He promised them money and honors if they would only consent to worship the gods which the Emperor worshipped.
One responded, "You offer us money that remains behind, and glory that fades away." They told him that they would rather die than renounce their faith.
This answer further enraged the governor so he ordered them to die a slow painful death. He commanded them to be stripped of their clothes and placed upon the ice of a frozen lake until they froze to death. At the same time he gave orders that a large tank of warm water should be placed at the side of the ice, so that if any of them should wish to renounce Jesus Christ and save his life, he might be taken off the lake and put into the warm water.
When these good soldiers were put upon the ice, they encouraged each other to not be afraid of dying. "One night of suffering," they said, "and then an eternity of happiness in Heaven." They prayed that their number would remain 40 and they could all persevere to the end.
I heard a song about these soldiers some 20 years ago by Tom Green. In the song's chorus, they encourage each other by singing, "Forty soldiers for Jesus, Forty brave soldiers for Christ . . ." They endured this torture for many hours and then the cold finally became too much for one of them. He asked for one of the soldiers guarding them to carry him to safety and the warm bath. No sooner had he been put into the bath than he died.
The shivering soldiers became discouraged and saddened that now there were 39 instead of the 40 they had prayed for. They began to sing with less enthusiasm, "Thirty-nine soldiers for Jesus . . ."
Suddenly one of the 'pagan' guards who had observed the soldiers, tore off his clothes and ran onto the lake singing, "FORTY brave soldiers for Jesus!"
As the next day dawned, 40 brave soldiers stood before their true King and heard Him say, "Well done, my good and faithful servants."
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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.
Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."
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