Pastor’s Perspective – March 2015
On the eve of the season of Lent, while western Christians were celebrating Mardi Gras, the world-wide Church was reminded of the stark origins of our ceremonial Lenten disciplines. Just a few days before Christians ceremonially wore the ashes of mourning, ISIS provided us with a reminder that for far too many Christians around the world, the cost of discipleship is still paid in blood.
As I was preparing for Ash Wednesday I had no idea that the news would transform the way in which I would celebrate this Lenten season. I had planned to do things the same way that they have been done for years, in truth for generations. The sad truth is that we get used to the ritual and sometime forget what the ritual is supposed to represent. Ash Wednesday is the day in which we mark ourselves for death. It came out of a long tradition of sacrifice and martyrdom. It came out of an early church that often paid for their faith in Jesus with their very lives. It begins the season of Lent by forcing us to confront the difficult concepts of sin and death and it prepares us to show the world that we are willing to relinquish and sacrifice all for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Many Protestants ignore the season of Lent. They find it overly Catholic. Some believe that the focus on sin, death and repentance places too much emphasis on the cross and not enough on the empty tomb. As an Easter people, it has become too easy to assume that our faith has moved beyond the horrors of crucifixion and sacrifice. Of course, this is easy to contemplate from the rose colored windows of our safe and secure American Churches. Most western Christians have lived peaceful and secure lives for so long that we have lost the muscle memory of persecution and danger.
Thankfully we have lived our lives with little to no real persecution. Though we have grown fond of creating grand persecution out of the slightest indignity, we can all agree that the failure of the Wal-Mart clerk to say Merry Christmas does not rise to the level of persistent persecution. Because we face so little persecution it is hard for us to truly embrace the season of sacrifice and
We however are blessed beyond measure to live without persecution. There are countless Christians around the world who face a very real danger for the sake of the gospel. For them the Ashes of Lent take on a very real and sober meaning. This was made real to me when I discovered an internet link that contained the ISIS video of twenty one Egyptian Coptic Christians facing execution at the hands of the Islamic State. I watched it. It was chilling, but not for the reasons that most people would expect. Though gruesome it was no different from the horror films that I have watched since my youth. Eventually you get used to the gore.
The lingering effect of the video was that this was real. And more importantly these were brothers in Christ murdered for their faith. They had entered Libya as migrant workers seeking seasonal work. These twenty one Christians were kidnapped and executed because as the video claimed, “they insisted on remaining in their unbelief.” In other words they refused to convert to Islam or reject their faith in Jesus Christ.
What took my breath away was the fact that, for the first time, I witnessed martyrdom. I have read about it in history books and scripture. I have seen it in works of art and on film, but I had never witnessed martyrdom with my own eyes. As I watched the video I realized something important, I was not watching an execution. That is what the Islamists would call it. This is what the Secularists in the media called it. No, I was watching martyrdom. I watched as 21st Century Christians met their death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. I watched as Rev 20: 4 played out in front of my eyes, “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus.” I watched as they shouted as one man, “My Lord Jesus” as the blades of the terrorists ended their lives. They did not waste their breath on vengeance or condemnation, but used it to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. What the world saw was sin and death; the sin of the Islamic terrorists and the deaths of the 21 Coptic Christians. What God showed me were twenty one Christian martyrs who received their white robes in the Kingdom of heaven that day. Twenty one Christians who will one day rule with Christ on earth.
I believe that it is time to reconsider the meaning of Lent. For far too long, Lent has been a season of minimal sacrifice for a Christian majority that enjoyed the assurance of entrenched power. In my youth, Lent was about giving up ice cream or chocolates. Today Lenten discipline must be more muscular and meaningful. Giving up French fries may no longer be appropriate for a Christian tradition that remembers those who gave all for the faith.
Lenten discipline can once again have real meaning and true purpose, but only if we embrace it as the actions of a minority culture on the precipice of destruction. In order to do this, we must embrace Lenten discipline as a season of repentance. True and heartfelt repentance. It has to be more than just wearing the ceremonial ashes for a day. It must be a true change in our hearts and minds. We must once again turn back to our first love and devote ourselves to the work of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Perhaps seeing the season of Lent as a time in which we return Jesus to the position of Lord of our lives might make it more meaningful for all Christians, including evangelicals. We must remember that when we refer to Jesus as our Lord, then we are proclaiming that He has rule over us. This is not to be stated lightly. If we are children of the Kingdom of God, then we do in fact have a King, and His name is Jesus.
Lent should be a time in which we reaffirm our King and His rule in our lives.
The Lordship of Christ may never demand that you give all for the sake of the gospel, but you should never give less than to stand up for Jesus where you live and work. We are an Easter people who live in a Good Friday world. It is time for us to live as though we have nothing to lose, because in Jesus Christ we have been given everything that has meaning and value.
I believe that it is always appropriate to thank God for the witness of the faithful. During this season of Lent I will remember the faith and the lives of twenty one unremarkable men of remarkable faith. Remember their faith as you grow daily in your own faithfulness to Christ.
Milad Makeen Zaky, Abanub Ayad Atiya, Maged Solaiman Shehata, Yusuf Shukry Yunan, Kirollos Shokry Fawzy, Bishoy Astafanus Kamel, Hany Abdelmesih Salib, Bishoy Adel Khalaf, Samuel Alham Wilson, Unknown Worker from Awr village, Malak Farag Abram, Somaily Astafanus Kamel, Malak Ibrahim Sinweet, Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros, Girgis Milad Sinweet, Mina Fayez Aziz, Ezat Bishri Naseef, Loqa Nagaty, Gaber Munir Adly, Esam Badir Samir, Sameh Salah Faruq
Praying for a Season of Renewal in Christ,