The Ultimate Sacrifice; The Ultimate Decision
Such are being made in the desert these awesome days.

Jackson Snyder 

 

 

Update December 13, 2010 : More Christians Are Fleeing Iraq In New Violence

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/13/world/middleeast/13iraq.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=a2

More Christians Are Fleeing Iraq In New Violence

 

Fukada for The New York Times

In the wake of a series of attacks in Baghdad and Mosul, thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled abroad or to the relative safety of the Kurdish north. More Photos »

QOSH, Iraq — A new wave of Iraqi Christians has fled to northern Iraq or abroad amid a campaign of violence against them and growing fear that the country’s security forces are unable or, more ominously, unwilling to protect them.

The flight — involving thousands of residents from Baghdad and Mosul, in particular — followed an Oct. 31 siege at a church in Baghdad that killed 51 worshipers and 2 priests and a subsequent series of bombings and assassinations singling out Christians. This new exodus, which is not the first, highlights the continuing displacement of Iraqis despite improved security over all and the near-resolution of the political impasse that gripped the country after elections in March.

It threatens to reduce further what Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East called “a community whose roots were in Iraq even before Christ.”

Those who fled the latest violence — many of them in a panicked rush, with only the possessions they could pack in cars — warned that the new violence presages the demise of the faith in Iraq. Several evoked the mass departure of Iraq’s Jews after the founding of the

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state of Israel in 1948.

“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said Nassir Sharhoom, 47, who fled last month to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, with his family from Dora, a once mixed neighborhood in Baghdad. “They want us all to go.”

Iraq’s leaders, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, have pledged to tighten security and appealed for tolerance for minority faiths in what is an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

“The Christian is an Iraqi,” he said after visiting those wounded in the siege of the church, Our Lady of Salvation, the worst single act of violence against Christians since 2003. “He is the son of Iraq and from the depths of a civilization that we are proud of.”

For those who fled, though, such pronouncements have been met with growing skepticism. The daily threats, the uncertainty and palpable terror many face have overwhelmed even the pleas of Christian leaders not to abandon their historic place in a diverse Iraq.

“Their faith in God is strong,” said the Rev. Gabriele Tooma, who heads the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, part of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Qosh, which opened its monastic rooms to 25 families in recent weeks. “It is their faith in the government that has weakened.”

Christians, of course, are not the only victims of the bloodshed that has swept Iraq for more than seven and a half years; Sunni and Shiite Arabs have died on a far greater scale. Only two days after the attack on the church, a dozen bombs tore through Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing at least 68 people and wounding hundreds.

The Christians and other smaller minority groups here, however, have been explicitly made targets and have emigrated in disproportionate numbers. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, these groups account for 20 percent of the Iraqis who have gone abroad, while they were only 3 percent of the country’s prewar population.

More than half of Iraq’s Christian community, estimated to number 800,000 to 1.4 million before the American-led invasion in 2003, have already left the country.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an iteration of the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility for the suicidal siege and said its fighters would kill Christians “wherever they can reach them.”

What followed last month were dozens of shootings and bombings in Baghdad and Mosul, the two cities outside of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. At least a dozen more Christians died, eight of them in Mosul.

Three generations of the Gorgiz family — 15 in all — fled their homes there on the morning of Nov. 23 as the killings spread. Crowded into a single room at the monastery in Qosh, they described living in a state of virtual siege, afraid to wear crosses on the streets, afraid to work or even leave their houses in the end.

The night before they left, Diana Gorgiz, 35, said she heard voices and then screams; someone had set fire to the garden of a neighbor’s house. The Iraqi Army arrived and stayed until morning, only to tell them they were not safe there anymore. The Gorgizes took it as a warning — and an indication of complicity, tacit or otherwise, by Iraq’s security forces. “When the army comes and says, ‘We cannot protect you,’ ” Ms. Gorgiz said, “what else can you believe?”

There is no exact accounting of those who have fled internally or abroad. The United Nations has registered more than 1,100 families. A steady flow of Christians to Turkey spiked in November to 243, an official there said.

The Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq offered itself as a haven and pledged to help refugees with housing and jobs. Many of those who fled are wealthy enough to afford rents in Iraqi Kurdistan; others have moved in with relatives; the worst off have ended up at the monastery here and another nearby, St. Matthew’s, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world.

---Yasmine Mousa contributed reporting from Erbil, Iraq, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul.

 

ILLUSTRATION:   Once upon a time there was a turntable rail bridge spanning a wide river.  Most of the time, the bridge sat parallel with the tracks, allowing ships to pass freely on both sides of it. But at certain times, a train would come along and the bridge would be switched to cross the river, allowing the trains also to cross.

 

   A switchman lived in a cottage there and operated the bridge controls from a small shack on the berm.  He could make the bridge swing across and lock it into place with electric switches.  One evening the switchman caught sight of the last passenger train's light in the distance.  He switched the bridge, but to his horror, it wouldn’t lock in place.  If the bridge weren’t locked, the train would jump the track and go crashing into the river.  The many passengers aboard could all drown.

   The switchman raced over the bridge to the other side of the river where there was a lever he could use to manually hold the bridge in position.  He could hear the rumble of the train as he took hold of this huge lever and leaned backward to apply enough pressure to keep the bridge locked.  Many lives depended on his strength and skill.

    I mentioned that the switchman lived on the premises.  As he was holding the lever, a voice on the bridge caught his attention and made his blood run cold: “Daddy, where are you?”  His four-year-old son was crossing the bridge to look for him.  The panicked switchman wanted to cry out to the child, but the train was too close, and the boy’s legs couldn’t make it back across in time.  The switchman would have to let go of the lever to snatch up his son, but realized he couldn’t get back to the lever in time.

   Either the people on the train must die or his beloved son must die.  He took the only moment he had left to make his decision.  When the train sped safely over the bridge, nobody on board was aware of the tiny, broken body cast mercilessly into the river by the rushing mass of steel.  Nor did they see the pitiful, sobbing man clinging tightly to the lever, clinging there long after the train passed.  They didn't see him walking back to the cottage more slowly than he’d ever walked before to tell his wife how he had sacrificed her son for all those people on the train who never even knew.

 

John 3: 14. [Yahshua to Nicodemus] And as Moses raised the snake in the desert, likewise it is fitting that the Son of Man be raised  15. so that all believing in him may have everlasting life.  16. Like this the Elohim so loved the world that he gave the only-born son so that all believing in him may not be abolished but may have everlasting life.  17. For the Elohim sent not the son into the world so that he might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  18. The one believing in him is not judged.  The one not believing has been judged already because he believed not in the name of the only-born son of the Elohim.  19.  But this is the judgment: that the light has come into the world and mankind loved the darkness rather than the light; for their actions were evil.  20. For all those doing evil hate the light and come not to the light so that their actions may become visible as to whether they have been acting in Elohim. 

Notes:

16a.  “the Elohim” (`o qeoV) “the god.”  This translation carries through the rest of the passage.

16b.  “abolished” (apolhtai «appolumi) “loosed from,” “perish,” “be destroyed.”

19.    “actions” (erga) “works,” “deeds.”

20a.   ... “their actions” lit. “his actions”

20b.   “visible” (fanerwqh«fanerow)

20b.   “{as to} whether” (`oti)

 

War Wasn’t Inevitable

   This war in Iraq didn’t have to happen.  It wasn’t inevitable.  The government of Iraq has been stable under the heavy fist of the Baathist regime.   And the Arab League of Nations surrounding Iraq have been content with the Iraqi dictator even though he’s supervised the killing of more Arabs, Persians, Kurds and Muslims than anyone in the history of the world.  These same Arab League nations are content with the fact that the Iraqi military machine has, in the last dozen years, attacked four neighboring countries and caused tens of thousands of casualties.  Yes, members of these same nations, who have been brutally harmed by the Iraqi regime, who have been gassed and assailed and threatened for twenty-five years, now by the millions protest the U.S. coalition efforts to depose these perpetrators and bring them to justice.

 

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Codex Sinaiticus

New Testament:

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The Nazarene Acts
of the Apostles

Also known as
The Recognitions of Clement

Ever wonder why PAUL and not PETER received the mission to the lost tribes?  Wasn't Peter the stone upon which the "church" was to be built?  In this new translation of the Nazarene Acts, we follow Kefa (Peter) as he itinerates from Jerusalem and up the Mediterranean coast up to Tripoli, as recorded in the journals of his successor, Clement of Rome (Phi 4:3).  Every message Kefa preached, the company he kept, and the great works of faith the the Almighty accomplished through him are herein recorded.  This 300 page volume has been 'hidden' in the back of an obscure volume of the "Church Fathers" all this time.  Could it be that, in establishing the Gentile 'church' by pushing away from Judaism, this history was purposely hidden?

   Who can understand human nature: the evil that dwells in man?  Who can understand the type of global spiritual bedevilment that’s coming together like a sandstorm over a battlefield?  Who can understand the mind of man, capable of so much evil yet so much good?

   Even now, in the early stages of liberating the people of Iraq, we’re hearing stories of brave and sacrificial acts committed by troops of the coalition forces in that hostile land.  In fact, there are some who’ve already made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in endeavoring to set captives free.  Some have been killed in the line of duty; others have been executed by hostile mobs.  Some are being held under duress, living now on the edge of insecurity, hoping and praying for their own rescue; and we here at home covenant to pray for these brave men and women daily.

   I started by saying that this war need not have happened.  These military actions aren’t in defense of our country, our way of life or our people.  Iraq is no threat to the United States whatsoever – it’s on the other side of the world.  That’s one of the remarkable things about the whole affair.  This coalition of forces is not fighting to retain their national property nor are they an invading army of conquest; instead, they’re fighting to free a people significantly different from themselves, with the intention of giving the land back to the indigenous people once victory is achieved.  This attitude is embodied in a statement made by the American President before these hostilities began.  He said,

“Our cause is just and the world will one day give thanks for our determination.  We have no designs on Iraq, and no argument with the Iraqi people.  {But] make no mistake about it, the Iraqi government is a focus of evil and it must be dealt with.”

   The benevolent intentions of the coalition have been reiterated again and again by the president, the cabinet, the generals and the troops in the field.  And because we the people here at home have been able to closely monitor, scrutinize and criticize the war effort thus far (through this open media policy), we are obliged to believe that these authorities are telling the truth about their intentions because we’ve seen with our own eyes both what is good about this action -- and what is evil.

 

Snakes in the Dessert

   In the first week of the war, coalition vehicles made a 250-mile mad dash from Kuwait to the outskirts of Baghdad through the gloomy desert wasteland.  We heard the stories coming from embedded reporters who were hidden in these vast convoys; we watched the horrifying sand storms encountered on the way. 

   In today’s Scripture (Numbers 21:4-9), the Israelites are also moving through the desert waste, not very far from the Iraqi sand dunes we’re hearing so much about, toward the land of promise.  These Israelites were common menials thrown into an uncommon situation in the process of being liberated from the tyrannical oppression of Pharaoh, a godless, opportunistic king.  They had endured sandstorm after sandstorm, meager rations, little water, only the barest of necessities for life.  And now, in the midst of all this poverty and sand, they find themselves ambushed by thousands of poisonous desert snakes.  Ambushed!  These snakes use chemical weapons (venom) against the Israelites and kill many.

   Yet these Israelites, who so resented their leader and liberator (Moses -- he was Pharoah’s brother!), did nothing but complain, protest, demonstrate, castigate and threaten Moses and the others who were leading them into the promise.  How ignorant, unfocused, unlearned, forgetful and ungrateful these Israelites were!  They preferred slavery to inconvenience.  Finally, when the snake chemicals began killing them off in droves, they realized their only long-run hope for survival is to appeal to Moses, the Prince of Egypt, whom they didn’t like, asking him to escalate their appeal to the King of Heaven.  Moses was G-d’s man, even if he was Pharaoh’s son.

   This Moses did appeal to heaven, and though Yahweh didn’t eradicate these vipers – people were still being bitten and poisoned – he did provide a means for the sting of certain death to be healed.  According to Yahweh’s instructions, Moses cast a statue of a snake out of bronze and raised it up on a pole there in the desert.  The people who had been bitten and were dying were required to look up at the image, then healed they were by the will of Yahweh.  (Note that they were to look at the image, not worship it.) 

   However, I imagine that there were many rebellious Israelites that despised Moses so much that, even if their lives were at ebb from the effects of these chemical poisons, they still wouldn’t look up and be healed.  You see, Moses may have been a Hebrew by birth, but he was raised in the house of Pharaoh.  And Pharaoh’s house was one of privilege for Egyptians like Moses, but of bondage for Israelites.  The healing icon was made visible for all to see, but they had to look at it.  And in order to look, they first had to overcome their prejudice against Moses, the Prince of Egypt.

 

Prejudice

   It’s certainly our erstwhile belief that the hope now being raised up in the deserts of Iraq will attract the attention of those who will appropriate it for the healing of the land.  There’s an outside chance that the people of Iraq and the Middle East will yet, despite war, be healed -- if these people will only look up and live.  But there is a great prejudice yet to be overcome, including a lifetime of propaganda and falsehood in regards to those of different races, faiths and cultures.  The youth of certain Arab League nations like Iraq have been taught from the very first that we westerners, Christians, Jews, are the infidel, the Great Satan.  The holy books of Islam condemn us to maiming and death.  Such false and godless teachings have been strongly reinforced in these people, especially over the last twenty-five years, by power-mad clerics, oil-rich kings and pugilistic dictators, who’ve held sway over these nations after military overthrow.  One good example of the beginnings of life-long brainwashing is the report of the four thousand children in Beirut, Lebanon who were this week taught to demonstrate in the streets, crying, “Death to America.”  (I can’t imagine any loving parents allowing this to happen to their children.)  Other children are now being held in danger of their lives while the male members of their families are forced to fight for ultimate defeat.  It’ll take a great deal of prayer, good intentions, benevolent actions, patience, Christian charity and brotherly care to coax these people to lift up their eyes from their conditioning and onto their deliverance.  It will take an ultimate sacrifice from us to make conditions right for them to make an ultimate decision.

 

Yahshua In the Desert

   Yahshua also refers to the lifting of eyes onto this image in the desert in reference to his best known saying, “For God so loved the world...”   Everybody has memorized John 3:16.  But the previous two verses refer to the incident in the desert: Yahshua said,

As Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. 

Here, it is Yahshua who is lifted up.  The benevolent love of his Father Yahweh for the people who cared little for him was extended through the mission of this, his only-born son, sent into the world as a stranger, as an infidel, to rescue a thankless creation.  Those he came to save called him a devil.  But Yahshua’s station and sovereignty highly exceeded that of Moses, the Prince of Egypt, or any Pharaoh, Queen of England or President of the United States.  As the Son of Yahweh, the Most High G-d (El Elyon), he bears the sacred name and heritage of the Almighty Creator of the Universe.  Every honor had already been bestowed upon him in that magnificent realm of

the watchers and the holy ones, bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones, dominions, princedoms, powers, virtues, archangels and angel choirs. (Alleluia! Alleluia!)   (UMH 90)

long eons before he descended to earth to save.

   Yet, despite his majesty, 

He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as men are; and being in every way like a man, he was humbler yet, accepting death, even death on a stake. (Philippians 2:7-8)

Yes, on a stake, like the snake on a stake, he is to be lifted up in the desert wastelands of Iraq and of this world.  He is the last sacrifice for sin, the last opportunity for healing, the last proof of the Almighty’s love for a hostile creation.  “I give you my son!’ cries Yahweh Tsaviot.  “Whoever will believe on him will no longer be terrorized or exiled or victimized, but will have everlasting life in my perfect home.”

 

On the Five Year Plan

   Like the promise of the coalition forces leaders, that they’ll give Iraq back to Iraqis; or the promise of Moses, who declared Yahweh had a special, sacred place, even for the dregs of Egyptian society; this promise of everlasting life seems too good to be true to our modern, sophisticated, religion-weary ears.  There’re too many around with heart diseases or cancers or who drop dead with strokes.  Everybody lives then everybody dies, right?  So many worries, complaints, fears, bills, family problems, sand storms, poisonous snakes.  And now there’s world war – and won’t war steal away the youth of our culture?  So much stuff to keep our eyes upon our own mortality and from rising up to meet the eyes of our maker, who loves us and would preserve us. Our own fears inform us that “we’re on the five year plan,” as someone mentioned last week.  And our own prejudices, our own unwillingness to look up and live, will, in the end, usher us to the death we expect rather than to the life we are promised.  Look up and live!

 

Loving One’s Child

   G-d loved his son.  His son is far more valuable than all of us put together and the Father loves him far more than we’re even capable as a people to love.  And it would’ve been the Father’s will to keep his son at his side, ruling the vast expanse of the universe and the diverse creation therein.  But despite his value, the Father evidently loved us even more, or at least thought our fallen race was salvageable from the ruination of sin, death and hell.  That’s why he sent his beloved and only-born to be lifted up on the stake of death to be paraded before our eyes.  Wouldn’t the spectacle of the Anointed One staked up get our attention and draw us godward?  Wouldn’t that spectacle be sensational enough or benevolent enough or incredible enough to prove the Father’s sincerity in offering us life through his son’s death?

   Now imagine that you had only one child.  That child becomes a woman.  And that woman child is to be sent on a war mission to Iraq, way out in the desert, to a hostile, indifferent and dissimilar people, and you know that this beloved, only-born child of yours, this soldier of yours, will complete the mission successfully, will make a difference over there, but you also know that, in order for her to make that difference, she’s going to have to sacrifice over there: she’s to be tortured, her blood is to be spilt, and she is to be executed by terrorists and lifted for the world to behold on global television.  This is all set up, you see, for you know the future!  But now you have the rare choice whether she goes or she stays with you.  Will you allow her to go and die for the mission?  Will you?  Of course you won’t, even if you know her death will change the world.

 

The Ultimate Sacrifice; The Ultimate Decision 

   Maybe now you can understand the gravity of the situation and your value as a human being: for your Maker sent his only-born son into this terror-stricken desert of a world to die so that you might live.  He’s hoisted up on that pole right now.  Look up.  It’s your only means of healing and salvation – he’s the only way.  It was the ultimate sacrifice.  If you’re in darkness, look up now. 

“For the Heavenly Father sent his Son into the world not to judge but to save.  No one who believes in him will be judged; but whoever doesn’t believe in his name is judged already.  And this is the judgment: people prefer darkness to light because their actions are wrong.  Everyone who does wrong avoids the light so that his actions might not be highlighted.  But whoever acts honestly comes into the light, and his actions are seen by all as godly." (John 3:17-21 paraphrase)

   Yes, Father Yahweh and his only-born son Yahshua (who came in his sacred name) made the ultimate sacrifice for you so that you might live.  Won’t you now make the ultimate decision for him? 

 

Father Yahweh, we know you made the Ultimate Sacrifice by sending your son to die for me, that I might enjoy abundant, everlasting life.  I have only to follow your son for the rest of this earthly life, which is now almost over anyway.  Help me to look up and live.  Remind me to act in a godly fashion at all times.  Encourage me to give my life for the sake of others.  Give me the resolve to make the Ultimate Decision in following you from now on, that I might live.  Amen.

 March 27, 2003