Grace Under Fire in Egypt

This letter, from Ramez Atallah, Director of the Bible Society in Egypt, was forwarded to me by Grant McClung of the Mission Resource Group:

Egypt Christians

“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated, the world was not worthy of them.” (Hebrews 11:37- 3

Dear friends,

This is a very sad time in Egypt where we are in seven days of official mourning for the 21 young Christian men who were brutally slaughtered by ISIS in Libya on Sunday. The gruesome, professionally-produced video of that execution shocked the country and has united Christians and Muslims as never before. As soon as the video was broadcast on Sunday evening, the President delivered a speech declaring 7 days of mourning for the nation. Shortly afterwards the Egyptian Air Force bombed ISIS targets in Libya.

As I arrived at the Bible Society office in the morning, feeling sad and depressed, I met a young coworker who told me that she was ‘very encouraged.’ I could not imagine what on earth could encourage her!
“I am encouraged” she said, “because now I know that what we have been taught in history books about Egyptian Christians being martyred for their faith is not just history but that there are Christians today who are brave enough to face death rather than deny their Lord! When I saw these young men praying as they were being prepared for execution and then many of them shouting ‘O Lord Jesus’ as their throats were being slit, I realized that the Gospel message can still help us to hold on to the promises of God even when facing death!”

This same sentiment is being reflected in different ways by people who watched that gruesome video!

I don’t think I will ever read Chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Hebrews again without seeing in my mind the images of these men dressed in orange jump suits with black-clad, masked executors behind each one of them!

As many of you know, these men were simple, Egyptian laborers who had gone to Libya to make a living. They were captured and executed by ISIS for being – as the video caption charges – ‘People of the Cross’. Egyptians have been shocked by this news and it is the most talked about event in our country at this time.

The purpose of the video was to foment sectarian strife in Egypt between Christians and Muslims. Those Islamic extremists clearly intended to provoke the 10 million Christians in Egypt to rise up violently against their Muslim neighbors.

But the loving and caring response of Muslims all over the nation softened the blow which many Christians felt. Up till now the Christians of Egypt have responded with restraint, sorrowfully calling out to God.

The President and dozens of political leaders personally gave their condolences to the Coptic Pope. The Prime Minister travelled to the small village where most of these men come from, sitting on the floor with their poor relatives to express his concern. All this sends a clear message that Christians are considered an integral part of the fabric of Egyptian society.

Prayer Requests
1. Pray for comfort for the families of the victims who are in a terrible emotional state.
2. Pray for the effective mass distribution of a Scripture tract we have just produced (above left), that God’s Word will comfort and challenge the many who will receive it.
3. As I write, there is news of more Egyptians being kidnapped in Libya. Lord have mercy!

Please pray for Egypt as we pass through this painful period.

With much thanks,

Ramez Atallah
General Director
The Bible Society of Egypt

The Hollowing Out of Marriage

The same-sex marriage debate in Ireland is starting to crank up ahead of the Referendum in May. How should we, as Christians, respond?

The Bible tells us that the Law came through Moses, but that “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). This means, if we are to act as representatives of Jesus, that it is not enough to try to balance grace and truth. 50% grace balanced with 50% truth won’t cut it! We have to be 100% grace-filled and 100% truthful!

If our attempts at conveying biblical truth are not filled with grace, then the ‘truth’ we present will be our strident opinions rather than God’s truth. Equally, if our ‘grace’ is not truthful and faithful to Scripture, then it will be vague sentimentality rather than the grace of God.

As Evangelical Christians, therefore, we need to affirm a biblical view of marriage. But we also need to recognise that, as a minority in a secular society, we cannot expect the law of the land to enforce our doctrines onto the majority of the population who do not share our faith. We have to learn how to affiirm biblical truth, including the truth about marriage, without becoming the Taliban!

Biblically, the issue is not complicated. For Christians, ‘marriage’ is a union between one man and one woman, in the sight of one God, by which two people become one flesh, and then remain together and faithful to each other for one lifetime. This provides the context in which we believe sexual intimacy should be enjoyed and families are formed.

The problems occur when we assume that ‘marriage’ means something similar in law and in a secular society. That is why religious organisations in Ireland act as solemnisers for the State – conducting weddings in our churches that are legally recognised and binding. However, this cosy arrangement has blinded us to the fact that there is a massive redefinition of marriage taking place – or, more accurately, a ‘hollowing out’ of marriage.

‘Marriage,’ in the context of a civil wedding, is not a union by which two people become one (making two people into one flesh is a miracle, and only God does miracles – not the State). It is rather a partnership, by which two people make a commitment to each other, not in the sight of God, and in all probability not for an entire lifetime. Indeed, it is quite acceptable, in a civil wedding, for the partners to have signed a prenuptial agreement agreeing who gets to keep what when the inevitable divorce occurs down the line! Now, apparently, marriage is not at all about forming families either.

As soon as it became obvious that the issue of raising children might be an issue in the same-sex marriage Referendum debate, the Government hastily announced that legislation would be passed dealing separately with children and same-sex couples. The intention of this move was clear – to reduce the definition of ‘marriage’ to its most minimal form in order to get the Referendum to pass.

So, in order to make sure the Referendum passes, the Irish Government has, in effect, decreed that civil marriage is nothing more than a partnership. Not necessarily a religious partnership, of course, but a civil partnership ….. But hang on, don’t we already have legal provision for Civil Partnerships in Irish law?

Here is a rich irony. The whole point of the Referendum is that Civil Partnerships are not enough, and that marriage must be accessible to all. Then, in order to make marriage accessible to all, our Government has so gutted the concept of marriage that it becomes indistinguishable from Civil Partnerships anyway.

The solution is clear. It’s time for the Government to get out of the marriage business. In fact, for most of human history, marriage was something practiced by communities (both religious and non-religious) and the State kept its nose out of it. That is why Henry VIII, who was an autocratic despot, got himself in such trouble over his divorce. Even a tyrant realised that the regulation of marriages was not his responsibility!

Yes, the State does have a legitimate interest in matters of taxation and inheritance – but those are most suitably dealt with by the Civil Partnership legislation. And yes, the State also has a responsibility to protect children – but our Government has already decreed that is an entirely separate issue from marriage.

The most sensible arrangement would be for the Government to stop trying to regulate marriage at all (since it obviously doesn’t understand marriage anyway) and to return marriage back to the community. Civil Partnerships would continue as a legal status to be available to all couples, irrespective of sexual orientation. Then religious groups, and non-religious groups also, could practice marriage in whatever way we see fit. No-one would be discriminated against, since churches and LGBT groups would be equally free to practice marriage according to their respective beliefs. And all such arrangements would have exactly the same standing under the law – which is none whatsoever.

This should pose no problems to churches. We already practice many ceremonies (eg baptisms and baby dedications) without needing them to be approved or recognised by the Government. We could easily conduct marriages on a similar footing.

I will be voting ‘No’ in the Referendum in May. This is certainly not because of homophobia or discrimination, because what I am proposing is a truer equality of marriage than anything contained in the Referendum. I will be voting ‘No’ on the basis that the Government of Ireland does not understand marriage, does not have the rightful authority to redefine marriage, and has reduced marriage to a point where it is now indistinguishable from civil partnership anyway.hollowed-book-proposal

The Ministry of Football

From Northern Ireland comes a beautiful and heartwarming story about how innovative initiatives by Evangelical Christians are changing lives.

The East Belfast Mission is a long established Methodist outreach. They set up the NI Street League – a football competition for those who are homeless or have a history of homelessness. This led to a team from the League participating in the Homeless World Cup in Chile last October. One young homeless man in the team, Padraig McKissock, who has not slept in a bed for two years, scored over 30 goals in that Homeless World Cup campaign.

Padraig

Padraig has now signed for Bangor FC. Bangor are currently four points clear at the top of the Championship and on course for promotion to the NI Premier League for next season. This in no way represents a financial windfall for Padraig – Northern Irish soccer is poorly funded and Bangor’s players are amateurs – but it demonstrates how churches are learning to make practical differences to people’s lives.