Egypt “My people”

About a year ago I put a photo of a woman beggar sitting by a Cairo street up on my computer desktop to remind me to pray for Egypt.  Would you too?  If you’re following the news you know that this great land of the scriptures (mentioned almost 700 times in the Bible) appears to be on the verge of a revolution.  I have an Egyptian friend who is taking the good news to his countrymen.  But I’m also interested because my wife and I were in Egypt in 2008.  That’s when I photographed the beggar.  It was in Cairo that we began a tour tracing the footsteps of Moses–and beyond (unlike him, we actually got to enter the promised land).  Egypt was breathtaking.  Admittedly Cairo’s not the cleanest city and the Sinai is a vast display of rocks and more rocks, but from the pyramids to the Egyptian Museum to Mt. Sinai to the Red Sea to the intriguing Egyptian people, I loved it all and can’t wait to return (planning to lead a tour in 2014).  
Within weeks the popular uprising which forced out Tunisia’s strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, appears to have infected the Egyptians with the hope that they too can force their President Mubarak from power.  It could happen today.  Then what?  I wonder how many of the frustrated who are thronging the streets have thought about who could follow Mubarak into the presidential palace.  “Anything’s better than this!” is often believed but rarely true.  The Muslim Brotherhood is the only significant opposition to the government and now that they have thrown their lot in with the protesters, they could well be in the best position to assume the reins of government.  

The West is wary of the Brotherhood which its leaders protest is an unfounded concern.  But is it nothing more than the innocuous fraternal religious organization it claims to be?  Although operative in many Arab nations, it’s home and roots are in Egypt.  It began in 1928 and remains strongest in the land of the Nile.  Although it has officially endorsed a nonviolent approach to political and religious change, the organization is enveloped by shadows which leave some analysts convinced they are linked with terrorists.  That would be unsurprising since their stated goal is to instill the Qur’an and Sunnah as the “sole reference point for… ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community…, and state”.  Which sounds suspiciously like the Islamic republics that jihadis envision.
In Lawrence Wrights’ excellent book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, he claims early Brotherhood member Sayyid Qutb was a key influence for Bin Laden.  It is true that not all voices in the MB do–or did–speak with one accord.  Perhaps if they consolidate power moderate voices will prevail.   
We can pray that if there is a government change, like the Czech Republic’s “velvet revolution” 20 years ago, Egypt could experience a peaceful and bloodless transition of power to a capable ruling authority.  And a new dawn of economic, political, and religious hope for all Egyptians.  Pray for stability, for peace, for the Christians who are there (only about 10 million of Egypt’s 84 million are Christians), and for an environment where my friend can still spread the good news.  After all, the Bible says that a day is coming when Egypt and Assyria and Israel will worship God together, and be His blessing on the earth.  The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”  Isaiah 19:25.   

Christians in combat?

We who believe in the sanctity of human life are not just antiabortion.  US sanction to kill nearly 50 million preborn babies in 38 years is simply America’s largest and most glaring violation of God’s image in human beings.  That humans alone carry God’s image has other implications right down to our attitude toward someone we don’t like.  It also puts as at odds with many in the animal rights movement whose propaganda makes no distinctions between people and other creatures.
But as we discussed last Sunday, our critics sometimes tell us we’re inconsistent.  They ask, even in the case of murder, how can any of you support the death penalty?  Isn’t that piling sin upon sin by taking the life of someone made in God’s image?  And what about Christian soldiers who take the lives of men made in God’s image, on the battlefield?  If Genesis 9:5-6 says that anyone who takes the life of a person is himself to be put to death, why is it alright for soldiers to kill in combat? (Listen to entire 1-16-11 sermon at
Here’s a little more on that last issue.  I used to be a pacifist and pacifists insist that Jesus prohibited battlefield killings.  They point to Matthew 5:38-42 where he replaced the OT “eye for an eye/tooth for a tooth” with a new ethic: instead of drawing your sword, give an evil person anything he asks for, do whatever he demands.  In verses 43-47 he says instead of hating your enemies, “friend” them.  He says that part of what sets us so radically apart from unbelievers is that we even love people who don’t love us.
But these are personal ethics.  If you live on Oak St., this is how you treat everyone on Oak St. whether they’re nice, noisy, or nasty.  This is how you treat all the kids at your school–not just the popular ones or ones who are nice to you.  This is how you respond to everyone who asks you for something–whether they have a right to your stuff or not (uggh, I need some work here!).
But Jesus said nothing to suggest that He meant for the army to use these instructions as a military code of conduct.  The job of the state is to defend its people and to do so requires the weapons (Romans 13:4), the readiness and the will to kill.  Trouble arrives quickly if we expand what the Savior said to individuals, to all institutions.

That said, precisely because Christians believe even their enemies bear the image of God, soldiers who love and serve Jesus take life because they must, not because they enjoy it.  Which distinguishes them from secularist soldiers who hate their enemy–or from religiously-driven soldiers who feel each kill earns them more points with their god. 

General Sherman was right; war is hell.  Yet men must stand ready to defend their nations or communities from the designs aggressors have on them.  Neither Orwell nor Churchhill actually said it but the quote “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm”, reflects reality.  Those who live in the world’s snake pits where it’s dangerous to sleep too soundly, understand all too well the peace that only strength can bring to a community or nation.  Praise God that one day the Prince of Peace will reappear to put an end to it all! 

White as snow

In another instance, it would have been beautiful.  On Tuesday we took 2 of our grandsons to the Pennsylvania Farm Show.  Pulling them in a red wagon, we navigated past piles to see the cows, pet the alpacas, laugh at the ducks sliding down a ramp.  We stuffed ourselves with nutritious black holes like french fries (yummm!) and chicken nuggets.  After the horse pulling contests we headed for the parking lot.  It was dark and the snow was falling.  Beautiful.

Except that we had 60 miles to drive.  Without salt, the roads were treacherous.  As we gingerly navigated Rt. 283 we passed three different cars littering the median and ditches like so much thrown away rubbish.  The snow continued to fall.  

We dropped off the boys and went home.  After fixing some food we turned on the outside lights and watched the heavy flakes piling up on our patio and pergola.  Now it was beautiful.  The next morning we awoke to 7 inches coating everything.  It was fluffy, yet heavy enough to collect on  the evergreens and overhead wires.  The sun peaking over the neighbor’s house dappled some of the white with rainbows.  In awe I snapped some pictures before grabbing the shovel.
Beautiful.  White.  No dirt yet, just pristine snow, blindingly white.

I am a sinner.  No one knows it better than me.  I’m a veteran at sinning and at being forgiven.  I will never get this right.  True, as the Spirit has sanctified me, I sin less, and especially the sin habits have loosened their grip.  I am on a war footing with sin rather than making peace with it.  But I will go to my grave and my final interview, speckled with sin.  If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth (1 John 1:8, NLT).  Unlike the virgin snow, my heart and life looks like snow after it’s been driven on, spit on, mixed with mud, and belched on by exhaust pipes. 

Yet by the blood of Jesus Christ–at that final interview, my robe will be as white as virgin snow.  God will not see me as I really am; but as His Son really is.  God once said, No matter how deep the stain of yours is, I can remove it.  I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow (Isaiah 1:18, NLT).  Oh glorious thought!  Unbelievable grace!  Merciful Savior!  They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white (Revelation 7:14, NLT).

Today the snow’s not so white anymore.  But the robe Jesus bought me, is.  (Yea!! Easter’s a’coming!)

Yes, the Bible!

Today, convictions you have will prompt you to make dozens of decisions: what to wear, what to eat, whether or not to speed on the way to work, how you respond to a subordinate who’s insubordinate, what to do if the other kids are bullying someone in the bathroom, whether to lie or tell the truth in the report–even if it makes you look bad, how much money to spend for a car, whether or not your daughter can stay out after midnight, what color to paint the kitchen, what to do when you realize you were wrong, what magazines or online sites to read, which candidate to vote for, how much money to give away and who to give it to, what movie to see, and who to spend time with.  
True, types of beliefs are as varied and shaded as Benjamin Moore paints: beliefs you have about health, economics, aesthetics, relationships, priorities, morality, parenting, marriage, and politics.  But make no mistake, they are the engines to your decisions.
For example, deciding what to wear today may well be driven by beliefs about yourself and others.  I’ll choose the black shirt for tonight’s date with my wife if I believe that black makes me look especially handsome.  The woman wears a low cut blouse on the day she interviews for the promotion believing her male boss can be influenced by a woman’s flesh.  Even though a guy’s not overly concerned about his appearance he won’t wear the same shirt Friday he wore Monday because he believes others will notice and conclude he’s dirty, can’t afford many clothes, or is a slob.
On Sunday I will urge the people of our congregation to start reading the Bible regularly this year if they don’t already.  My 6-year Bible reading plan takes slackers like me through the Bible in six years (I know some of you SEAL-type Christians do the whole thing in a year), plus has us reread 5 key books annually.  Or I’ll suggest finding a plan online or use the one in the back of their Bibles.

I want people to read the Bible because it’s got power.  As a faithful but lost churchgoer for many years it was the Word of God that brought me to repentance and faith in Christ.  Not just once, it was the “often” listening to God which brought me salvation.  So I am impassioned to see people absorb this book as God’s booming voice more than a religious accessory or home accent for the end table. 
Reports that a recent Rasmussen poll claims only 25% of evangelical Protestants (that’s us) read the Bible daily, is in sync with a 2003 Gallup poll in which only one in four American Christians said they read the Bible regularly to find direction for their lives.  Huh?  So how do we find direction?  How do we make decisions?  How do we know who God is and what he wants?  Or who we are and what we should do about it?  What yesterday was all about and what today and tomorrow might bring?  As “followers of Jesus Christ” how do we know what followership looks like in a marriage, friendship or citizenship?  How do we know in what to find hope?  
One title I thought about using for Sunday’s message was “Stop having devotions!”  I think some of us who do “have devotions”–that is, read a few Bible verses each day so we can say that we did, don’t read with an ear to hear God’s booming voice.  We keep religious duties by reading our religious relic, not as one half of the conversation between ourselves and our spellbinding, unbelievable, sacrificing, loving, God.  I wonder if that’s worth anything.

Oh, how we need the Bible!  Not on the end table or bookcase, but like a lifesaving intravenous drip–over time, it accumulates in our souls to make us more and more like the Jesus Christ who saved and sanctifies us.  And yes, it may even affect decisions about what to wear!
How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to your word.  Psalm 119:9.