Once was blind….

But…and this is a vital truth of the Christian Gospel –
Jesus does not invite and accept ANY of us just as we are.
He came to save us.
He came to make us a new creation.
He came to give us new life.
It makes a mockery of Christ to regard him as some kind of affirming angel
who wants to tell us how good we really are.
Christ did not die on the cross to keep us in our sin,
he died to save us from them!

David Robertson


(blooming loropetalum / Julie Cook / 2018)

It is a hymn written in 1779 that I’d lay money that both Believer and non-beliver alike
could easily and readily recite…

“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”

I actually prefer the bagpipe rendition myself.

It’s such a familiar tune that we might just find ourselves humming it subconsciously…
unaware that we were even humming…

Yet the back story, as I have discovered with most things that seem larger than life,
is usually far more amazing than the actual “thing”—
and in this case, that thing is a beloved hymn.

Perhaps it is the story that simply adds to the majesty and beauty behind those
haunting words.

In 2006 a wonderful movie come out showcasing the tale behind the famous hymn—
And as with most movies…liberties were undoubtedly taken to “enhance” the emotional
impact upon the viewer.

But the story behind the hymn—involves a man haunted by 20,000 ghosts and another man
who makes his sole mission in life to bring everlasting freedom to countless men,
woman and children.
Colliding tales that need no outside enhancements.

The story, as most already know, focused on William Wilberforce, a young idealist member
of the British Parliment, ardently campaigning to end the British slave trade industry.

The British Empire had been involved in the abducting, buying, selling and trading of
African slaves since the mid 1500’s.
Obviously, this was long before the colonies of a new Nation followed suit.
And yes it was tragically a longstanding yet prolific form of enterprise for the
British Realm…

Slave labor was an integral component in the production of the sugar from the
sugarcane plantations scattered about on the various British owned Caribbean Islands…
Sugarcane equates to sugar which equates to the making of rum.
So the use of slave labor, which was key in the running of the sugarcane plantations,
eventually became an important asset to the early British colonies in
what became the new American settlements in their production of cotton.

And so it was a former English slave ship captain turned Anglican cleric named John Newton
who actually penned the lyrics to what would become the most beloved Christian hymn.
For it was Newton who was the haunted man of the sins of not only his past but of the
past sins of those he had known as well as his own Nation.

Newton and Wilberforce had a long lasting relationship, a relationship that acted as a
catalyst in spurring on the young idealist politician’s lifetime quest as an abolitionist…
A quest which finally in 1807 lead to the eventual end of the British Realm’s
trading in slaves.

Our friend the Wee flea, the Scottish pastor David Robertson, offers a wonderful
observation about a small essay that was written by John Newton concerning his
thoughts and lessons learned about his participation in the slave trading of human beings…
reflections that David believes are just as important for our 21st-century lives and
the current #metoo movement….just as they were almost 200 years ago as an Empire and her people
wrestled with the sins of its past.

#MeToo: 7 lessons for the movement from slave trader John Newton

David follows that post with another equally insightful post concerning the Chruch in Scotland
and it’s reaction to the growing phenomena known as self-identifying along with the transgender
movement which is now invading the lives of the UK’s grammar school children.

Two Churches Struggling with (Gender) Identity

what lengths are you willing to go so that no one will ever forget?

Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.
Malcolm Muggeridge


(Photo: Getty Images/Ellen van Bodegom)

Maybe you’ve fantasized about living out your days in a Mediterranean villa.
You might have even gone so far as to check listings before the reality of your
bank account forced you to give up on the dream.
Well, despair no longer.
One town on the Italian island of Sardinia is offering the real estate deal of a
lifetime, as long as you’re willing to stick around for the long haul.
In Ollolai, one of several hundred historic homes could be yours for just $1.25 (€1).
Yes, really.
Mayor Efisio Arbau successfully petitioned local residents to turn over their
abandoned homes in the town,
which then put them on the market for the attention-grabbing low price.

The aggressive real estate blitz is an effort to prevent a town known for its
successful resistance to the Roman Empire from fading into obscurity.
The village’s population has shrunk from 2,250 to 1,300 over the years,
and the migration of its younger people to larger cities has led to a declining birthrate.
“My crusade is to rescue our unique traditions from falling into oblivion,”
Arbau told CNN.
“We’ve always been tough people and won’t allow our town to die.”

as seen on Conde Nast Traveler / CNN Travel

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/ollolai-italy-one-euro-homes/index.html

I always love these stories—the ones about the small tranquil village that has witnessed
a tremendous decline in its inhabitants and in turn makes almost outlandish sales offers
in hopes of luring would-be occupants and potential citizens to come own, inhabit and live,
all at very little expense, for a piece of paradise.

And we know that the reasons for these villages slow deaths are for all sorts of troubles…
families move, youth…when grown…move-out and away,
and the Old…well they have simply died…

And so now all these small communities, all over the globe, begin to slowly shrivel up and die…

The young see no growth, no fun, no potential, no reason to stay.
Young families have no real choice in schooling or sound medical care.
Those trying to make a living and livelihood discover that such is nearly nonexistent…
while the Old have hung on for as long as they can, yet are now dying off in large numbers…

It is the visual death knell sounding for small communities worldwide.

And yet there is a real desire that these communities remain for they have existed for eons…
they have been the underpinning, the lynchpins, of our greater society as a whole…

And of course, the catch for the potential buyer is always the caveat of remodeling
and pouring copious amounts of cash into the refurbishing of said piece of paradise.

But I’ll admit, the allure of buying a piece of paradise for all of a buck is pretty darn
appealing…however it’s the copious amounts of cash needed for the remodeling, modernizing
and upkeep that is the killer of the dream.

And so I bring all of this up as I’m still making my way through Andreas Knapp’s book
The Last Christians…Stories of Persecution, Flight, Resilience in the Middle East.

You may remember it was the book that my publishing friend from Plough Publishing House
sent out for my perusal back around Christmas.

It’s not a long book and you’d think I would have finished it ages ago,
but it is a book that demands my full attention—
especially since I take highlighter in hand as I read, along with a notepad
as I make notes while reading.
I cover only a few pages or a chapter a day here and there as time allows…

For meatier stories demand our utmost attention…and this is such a tale because the
subjects of this story deserve nothing less.

And it is not an easy read—it is not easy reading about persecution, murders, terror,
and insanity.

I was struck by what Mayor Efisio Arbauin said in the Conde Nast / CNN article
about why he wants to maintain his dying village in Sardinia.
“the aggressive real estate blitz is an effort to prevent a town known
for its successful resistance to the Roman Empire from fading into obscurity.”

Advertise like crazy as we want to maintain an ancient town that stood up against
an aggressive, mighty, powerful and brutal empire…

And yet I marvel at how the world at large will allow the last remaining true
Aramaic Christians, who trace their lineage, which in turn is our lineage,
back to Jesus himself–a world that will allow, nay is allowing,
these Aramaic Christians to be tortured, murdered,
disbanded, scattered and ultimately totally destroyed and wiped from the face of the Earth.

Read the following excerpt offered by the book’s author Fr Knapp along with a
priest and Bishop Petros Mouche who is the leading prelate of a
dispersed and disparaged people:

“Many people in Western countries, he points out, campaign for the protection of
animal species threatened with extinction.
And yet all appeals to halt the loss of the oldest Christian
Culture and its people and language have been ignored by the Western World”

(Bishop Petros Mouche displaced Syriac Catholic)

A young priest along with the Bishop both relate their tales of horror to the author
Fr. Knapp

“He who says nothing implies consent”
Latin Proverb

“How can we rebuild our trust?”
We can’t simply forget what happened.
And how can there be reconciliation with our Muslim neighbors when they haven’t expressed
the slightest regret?
Indeed will Muslims ever be capable of acknowledging any guilt toward us Christians?
Bishop Petros intervenes quietly at this point: “In times like these, we ourselves
can experience feelings of aggression.
We must overcome them.
It is God’s will that we should love our enemies.

I am silent, left speechless by his stance in the face of such a brutal reality.
He shakes his head thoughtfully.
“We can’t just forget what has happened.
But we will ask God to forgive the offenders
and lead them to think differently.”

Still, the white-haired bishop’s face betrays a deep anguish.
With this last oasis of Iraqi Christianity now under IS control,
and a nearly two-thousand-year-old
local church reduced to rubble, Qaraqosh is like a ghost town.
Bishop Petros is especially troubled by the fate of a three-year-old girl and some
young women abducted from the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain who–
like the Yazidi women-face sexual abuse, forced marriages with
Islamic fighters and slavery.

Bishop Petros told me of one eighty-year-old man who asked the terrorists why there wouldn’t
spare his family any food for the children;
their response was to hack off his hands and feet.

And yet the Bishop states that “they may have lost everything else,
but they have never lost their faith.”

What will the world be willing to offer in order to save these last Christians?
What will Christians be willing to offer in order to save these ancient brothers and sisters?

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings,
because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;
and character, hope.
And hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,
who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

Blood of the Lamb

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

Agnes Dei / taken for the Church of England’s Common Worship)

DSC00301
(watercolor / Julie Cook / 2011)

The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
Exodus 12:13

God made a promise to His people that when the plagues descended upon Egypt
as a punishment to Egyptian people and their king, Pharaoh,
who kept the Israelites as captive slaves,
that He would spare the homes that were marked with the blood of
the sacrificial animals. . .the Spirit and Shadow of Death would “Pass Over”
the home marked with the blood,
yet woe to the unmarked homes as the Spirit of Death would claim the first born
of each home…

To be marked by the blood of the Lamb,
To be washed clean by the blood of the Lamb
To be saved by the blood of the Lamb.

I claim that blood today and everyday of my life,
to be marked, once again, on the threshold of my own home.
The sacrificial and saving blood of Jesus Christ.

Last evening, Lara Logan of 60 Minutes presented the story entitled Iraq’s Christians Persecuted by ISIS.
This Iraqi sect of Christianity, whose very inception dates to the 1st century–
to the time of the earliest followers of Jesus crucified,
sits precariously perched on the front lines between madness and annihilation.
The spoken language is Aramaic, the same ancient dialect of Jesus–
the only known group of Christians to still worship in His language.
Only a handful of monks remain in the 3rd century monastic stronghold and monastery
of St Matthews whose vista is a beautiful valley as old as time and yet eerily sits four miles from the Islamic State controlled border.

(click on the link to read and view the full story
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/iraq-christians-persecuted-by-isis-60-minutes/ )

These Northern Iraqi Christians, whose existence has flowed out the
fertile Nineveh plains of ancient Mesopotamia for almost 2000 years,
have withstood the kingdoms of Persia, the Ottomans, The Mongols and Kurds,
yet sadly it appears that there is one group who may actually have the final say
in the existence or final death of these ancient Christians…
The Islamic State also known as IS or ISIS or simply in Arabic as Da’esh.

The northern Iraqi city of Mosel now stands front and center as a
symbol of Da’esh occupation.
It is in Mosel, as well as the surrounding villages,
that these ancient Christians have claimed their home for nearly 2000 years.
Within the past several months roughly 125,000 Christians,
as well as clergy and monks, have fled due to Da’esh persecutions.

The homes of known Christians, as well as their churches,
are marked with a red spray painted arabic letter N which is the first
letter of the arabic word for Christian or Nasrani or Nazarene.

Nasrani-N-Twitter
(image taken from the web)

What an interesting irony it is to a different time and occupying force that once identified the homes and worship centers of a different group of people with a single yellow symbol.

eastofsuez_jude
(image used from Virginia Edu.)

Have we not learned?
Does history teach us nothing?

The identified Christians, whose homes are marked,
are told that they must convert, pay exorbitant fees to the occupiers and /
or face “the sword”–the now familiar beheadings of those who oppose IS.
The threat is real as children and wives are often taken as an incentive for
conversion.
IS also states that the Islamic law prescribes that girls age of 10 and older
are to be married off.
Escape seems to be the only option.

The priests and monks who Ms. Logan interviewed are now refugees themselves,
having sought refuge in Kurdistan, as they too have fled their churches.
They left with very little of the holy treasures which have been entrusted to
them for thousands of years which were the very building blocks of their
heritage and faith…which are in turn building blocks to our heritage and faith.

Many articles and manuscripts date back to the 1st century.
Sadly those treasures, those pieces of our global Christian heritage of both
faith and history, which were left behind, have most likely been burned and
destroyed by IS.
Just as we see in the images of the desecration of ancient churches.

171
(This image taken from the web, IJReveiw)

This image from the UK’s Daily Mail shows an IS militant taking a sledge hammer
to the tomb of the Prophet Jonah who Christians, Jews and Muslims all revere.

article-2685923-1F81DA1E00000578-197_634x344

I just don’t know what the World, the global family of humanity, needs to see,
needs as evidence, in order to stand up… taking not merely an interest
but taking a stand, as to what is currently taking place.

The Obama Administration continues to refuse to call the attacks on the Christians
of Iraq, Syria, Egypt, etc as “Christian Persecution”

When asked by Logan, Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf responded to what could be done,
what could be done by those “good” Muslims…
he stated that they could “Speak up. Of course, there is good people of
the Islam people. There is not all Muslim people [that] are bad.
I believe. But where is the good people? Where is their voice? Nothing.
Few. Few.

He then adds, “They take everything from us, but they cannot take the God from our hearts, they cannot.”

This 60 Minutes story comes on the heels of the latest news regarding the
“US Military Hit List” composed by IS.
It is a list of one hundred military personnel and their families—
names, addresses, personal information…
a seemingly harmless list yet actually a vile and sinister list
as it is a list intended for death.
IS has called upon all jihadists to kill these 100 individuals
and their families.

The information however was not hacked, not stolen but rather gathered
easily from Social Networks such as Facebook and even from Governmental
websites.

I just don’t know what it’s going to take for the free world to take
notice of the fact that the freedoms we all seem to take for granted are
sitting on a very fragile glass table and there are those who stand
ready with sledge hammers to smash the table and all that sits upon
it into oblivion. . .

I will close with a favorite quote I’ve often used before…
it is debated if this quote was first used by Dietrich Bonhoeffer or
by Martin Niemöller–both German Lutheran pastors imprisoned in
the Nazi Death Camps–
Bonhoeffer eventually being executed and
Niemöller being released at the end of the war.

“In Germany they came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to
speak up.”

–Pastor Martin Niemöller, 1945