Persecuted, persevering, praising

This post, on Christianity in the Middle East, is a few months late. Hopefully, the content here shall still be relevant and fuel for prayer:

The Lost History of Global Christianity – A 37-minute address on the historical expansion of Christianity eastwards. Foe example, did you know that there was a bishop in Tibet before there ever was one in central Germany?

Religious freedom for Mideast Christians: Yesterday and today

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The Persecuted Church: How to see and how to pray – A 1-hour talk by a journalist who’s worshipped with the persecuted, yet praising, saints.

Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily.
Hebrews 13:3

O God our help in ages past

This hymn, written by Isaac Watts and based on Psalm 90 and a lot of other scripture passages, makes a beautiful end-year prayer.

(We used to sing it to a much snappier tune in high school, though :))

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:

Beneath the shadow of thy throne
thy saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting thou art God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all our years away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be thou our guard while life shall last,
and our eternal home.

For the Swahili speakers:

Mungu msaada wetu
Tangu miaka yote,
Ndiwe tumaini yetu
Ya zamani zote.

Kivuli cha kiti chako
Ndiyo ngome yetu,
Watosha mkono wako
Ni ulinzi wetu.

Kwanza havijakuwako
Nchi na milima,
Ndiwe Mungu; chini yako
Twakaa salama.

Na miaka elfu ni kama
Siku moja kwako;
Utatulinda daima
Tu wenyeji wako.

Binadamu huondoka,
Mwisho hana kitu;
Kama ndoto hutoweka
Ndiyo hali yetu.

Ila wewe Mungu wetu,
Ndiwe wa kudumu;
Ndiwe bora, ngome yetu
Twakaa dawamu.

All who could understand

Neither foreigners nor children were excused from extended law-reading sessions:

There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read before the entire assembly of Israel, including the women, the little children, and the foreigners who were with them (Joshua 8:35)

On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law. (Nehemiah 8:2-3)

What could this mean for God’s covenant community today?

A simple timeline of the patriarchs

When I saw the tables in this post, I knew I wanted to see a graphical representation of that information. Being a procrastinating overachiever, it took me 3 months to come up with and execute my own concept (which, I admit, isn’t revolutionary):

Timelines of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph

Here are some things that leaped out to me:
• Jacob and Esau would have known their grandpa Abraham. Most certainly he told the boys about Yahweh’s promises, which to my mind makes Esau’s despising his birth right the more egregious.
• Isaac would have known of grandson Joseph’s “death”. (Isaac also vastly miscalculated the time of his death by about 40 years.)
• There are big blanks in the lives of Abra(ha)m, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph where seemingly nothing important happened. (The operative word being ‘seemingly’.)
Over to you, dear reader: Anything you’re seeing for the first time, or in a new light?

There are no uninteresting Bible passages

I recently completed reading the book of Numbers, which contains such edge-of-your-seat, can’t-wait-to see-what-happens-next sections such as 1:5-46 (the first census), 7:1-89 (offerings at the dedication of the temple), and 33:1-49 (the stages in Israel’s journey).

If you consider these passages a potent sleeping potion, this post may be helpful.

First, we all have spheres in our lives where we’re obsessed with names and numbers. We bloggers can have an unhealthy preoccupation with our site analytics. Maybe you’re a sports fan and can’t imagine life without post-game stats. Or perhaps the stock market is your thing: following the performance of certain stocks is a daily ritual. Car lovers know a lot about engine horsepower. Techies can wax poetic about RAM and processor speeds. Fans of fiction (whether it be on TV, at the movies or in a book) can tell you all about the life of their favourite character(s). And to indict myself, we ladies have a tendency to want to know all the stats about a newborn baby (Name? Gender? Weight? Length? Natural or CS? How long was labour? When can I see him/her?)

So the problem isn’t that these passages are lists of irrelevant names and numbers. The problem is that we’re clueless as to why they are important. In order to appreciate them, we need to understand why they were placed in the sacred scriptures.

Second, though you may find these lists tedious, be assured God doesn’t. Who is responsible for the three sections I mentioned above? (Answers in Numbers 1:1-3, 7:11 and 33:2) Yahweh is responsible for us having to read all that stuff. You and I may not care how many male goats Abidan and Ahira presented at the tabernacle 3,500 years ago, but God does. He delights in the service and obedience of His people: none of it is trivial to Him.


(First point above by Iain Duguid [what a vowelicious name!] in a sermon titled “Stand up and be counted” on Numbers 1:5-64. Second point by Dale Ralph Davis in a seminar on Numbers 7-9 titled  “Everything you need for a trip ”.)

The book-ends of the Bible

The beginning of the book of Genesis and the ending of the book of Revelation give us a glimpse of the world as the all-good all-powerful Creator God has planned it.
What do both pictures have in common? For starters, humankind has unrestricted access to the holy God. From elsewhere in the Bible, we know that there’s no sin and consequently, none of its pernicious effects. And that’s where I’d normally stop. But here are a few overlooked aspects:

  •  A wedding (Genesis 2:22-25, Revelation 19:7-9)
  • A well-watered garden (Genesis 2:8, 10-14; Revelation 22:1-2)
  • Trees for food (Genesis 2:16, Revelation 22:2)

 

In other words, life in the new heavens and the new earth is not just going to be limited to the spiritual plane, but shall be an experience for all the senses!

[PS. Just had to break my lengthy hiatus to celebrate the 6th anniversary of this blog today!]