I opened up my study notes folder this morning to reread a few scripture verses from my Bible In a Year Online reading program.
I was startled to see this verse at the top of my page:
Exodus 23:9 “You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”
I instantly thought about the ongoing persecution of Coptic Christians in the land of Egypt. My scripture reading reminded me of the overwhelming abuse inflicted upon them. But nothing would compare to the nightmare endured by 21 Christ followers and their families. The most recent horror of the beheadings of these Egyptian Christians in the country of Libya was beyond comprehension.
Yesterday during worship our church body was given space to grieve this unspeakable atrocity. With eyes wide open we stared up at an over-sized screen that listed the name of each man who lost his life. Each died, literally, at the hand of the enemy. Words cannot describe what I felt in my gut. I sensed the room was drowning in waves of sadness and it was difficult for our people to come up for air.
Then the worship leader asked us to do the seemingly un-doable; pray for our enemies. In other words, pray for those who murder.
So the whole body of Christ solemnly slipped out of their chairs. On our knees we cried out to God to minister to the families who were victims of this heinous act. Out of obedience we beseeched God to help us pray for the persecutors, for the men that held the knives.
We prayed for ourselves, for our own sin that keeps us from being the love of Jesus to each other.
As if our hearts weren’t ripped wide open enough, our sermon speaker, Pastor Dustin White, pointedly challenged us to get serious about ministry to the oppressed and the oppressor. Not a new message; we’ve all heard it before. But something about our prayer time on bended knee surfaced an acute awareness that many of us are not doing what we know to do.
To state the obvious, you and I may not be called to engage with murderers. But we all have our little corners of the world that need us. Dustin is on a daily mission to tackle a different kind of evil besetting the inner city of Canton, Ohio. He knows what it takes for a church body to impact others for change. He admonished us that engaging with those that desperately need the love of Christ requires time with each other in our local community on a regular basis. Being on mission happens during the week, between our traditional Sunday morning meetings.
Where do we begin? In a world full of hate, in communities replete with poverty, in schools bewildered with bullying, in our own family struggles, we begin with moving beyond serving ourselves.
Pastor Dustin made it clear. He directed us to heed Paul’s words to the Philippians, some of the most difficult words in the Bible to follow:
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4)
It strikes me that it is God that gives us the others. We don’t get to pick and choose who these others are. When I awoke Sunday morning, the last thing on my mind was to intentionally pray for men who destroy lives. I have trouble connecting with the others living in a darkness of which I’ve been spared. To be honest, I don’t even want to hang out with people who make me uncomfortable, let alone those who cause others pain. But Jesus’s ways are not my ways.
We are to look to the interest of others, regardless of whom those others may be.
Some days the ways of Jesus are definitely harder than others. Today is one of those days.