Should Christians Join Muslims in Breaking Ramadan’s Daily Fast?

In the Middle East, Christians even host iftars.

For most American Christians, Ramadan is a novelty; something heard of, but rarely seen. For Middle Eastern Christians, it is everywhere.

For some, it is an annoyance. The month-long fast from sunrise to sunset can make for a cranky Muslim neighbor. Productivity tends to slow. Religiosity tends to rise.

But for other believers, it is an opportunity.

“The Evangelical Church of Maadi wishes all Egyptians a generous Ramadan,” proclaimed the flowery banner hung in the southern Cairo suburb. Such signage is not uncommon (and Muslims also display Merry Christmas wishes for Christians). But saluting “all Egyptians” is a statement.

“I want our brother Muslims to feel that we are one, and it will make him happy in his heart,” said pastor Naseem Fadl. “We both celebrate Ramadan.”

Beside the need to have good relations with Muslims, Fadl also emphasized his biblical obligations. “Our faith tells us to love everyone,” he said. “And when we reach out to others, we teach them about ourselves.”

Across the Middle East, Christians join in the festive spirit—often by hosting an iftar, the traditional fast-breaking dinner. They also refrain from eating and drinking in front of Muslims, said Rafic Greiche, a priest and spokesman for Egypt’s Catholic community.

Catholic churches often join in the tradition of Ma’idat al-Rahman, providing public community meals for the poor, he said. The “Table of the Most Merciful” employs a favored Muslim name for God, emphasizing the importance of charity.

In Palestine, the iftar provides opportunity for better understanding, said Salim Munayer, executive director of the Musalaha reconciliation ministry.

“Taking …

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Evangelicals Tell Trump: Don’t Deport Christians to Face Genocide in Iraq

As outcry over fate of 199 mostly Chaldeans continues, so do ICE arrests.

With the fate of 199 Iraqi nationals on hold while a Detroit court hears a lawsuit, a group of evangelical leaders has sent the Trump administration a simple message: Don’t deport Christians into genocide.

“We write urgently and with grave concern that Christians will be removed from the United States to face potential persecution, and even death, in the Middle East,” begins an open letter addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and signed by the seven leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).

The letter calls on the Trump administration to “exercise the discretion available under the law to defer the deportation of Chaldeans who pose no threat to US public safety to Iraq.” It also asks for the same considerations for Iraqis of other faiths.

The signatories include Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Shirley V. Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; Jo Anne Lyon, ambassador and general superintendent emerita of The Wesleyan Church; and Hyepin Im, president and CEO of Korean Churches for Community Development.

The letter comes a week after scores of Iraqi Christians living around Detroit were plucked from their homes and cars—some on their way to church—and shackled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. A similar story unfolded at the same time among Iraqi Kurds around Nashville. Within a few days, more than 100 Iraqi nationals were detained, …

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The Case for a ‘New Christian Zionism’

Gerald McDermott challenges simplistic thinking about Israel’s past, present, and future.

Christians have never been certain about what to do with Israel. This is certainly the case today. On the one hand, many mainline Protestants treat the nation of Israel as an international pariah. They pass resolutions urging boycotts and international sanctions, all while calling attention to the plight of Palestinians who have allegedly suffered at the hands of an oppressive Israeli state. For the most part, their posture echoes that of the political left.

On the other hand, in some expressions of evangelical folk theology, especially among older generations, Israel can seemingly do no wrong. The Jews are God’s chosen people, God will bless those who align themselves with Israel, and Israel’s enemies are God’s enemies. These supporters often believe that American flourishing depends in part on US foreign policy aligning with Israel’s interests. Their approach tracks closely with that of the political right.

In Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land, Anglican evangelical theologian Gerald McDermott cuts through the simplistic platitudes of both the Christian left and right, offering a third way. McDermott is part of a group of scholars who identify with the “New Christian Zionism” movement. Their goal is to convince contemporary believers that Israel is not the backstory of the church, but a key part of the future of the faith. In Israel Matters, McDermott makes a nuanced case for the centrality of Israel in redemptive history—past, present, and future.

Against Supercessionism

The key enemy in McDermott’s crosshairs is supercessionism, the idea that the church has replaced Israel in God’s redemptive purposes. He argues that supercessionism …

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Why Each Day Matters: What Emerson and Mister Rogers Have Taught Me About Life & Gospel Opportunities

What Emerson and Mister Rogers Have Taught Me About Life and Gospel Opportunities

In one of his landmark essays, poet Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “The years teach much which the days never know.” The first time I read these words, I fell in love with them, but I wasn’t sure why.

And then I had children. I have a 3 and a 5-year-old. My 5-year-old recently had her first ballet recital. As I looked in my rearview mirror and saw her all dressed up in her glittery tutu and hair up in a bun, I shuddered. It seemed as though it was only yesterday I was changing her diaper. I blinked and lost five years.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, we track with the author as he continually cries out, “Vanity of vanities!” and ponders the meaning of life and our existence in it.

Time. Perhaps it’s something we all want more of, and yet it eludes us. Even Psalm 144:4 reminds us, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” Time. It’s something we try to hold tightly and yet too often we get lost in such busy-ness that in the blink of an eye, our day, our week, our month…is gone.

There is no place where I feel the passing of days so acutely as in my desire to share Jesus with others. Those “days” which Emerson so poignantly talks about are the necessary ingredient to lead to the “years” that will teach us much. How are we using our days for God’s honor and glory? How are we using them to point people to Jesus?

The Bible is oddly silent on many of the days and years of Jesus when He walked this earth. But in the middle of one of these times of silence, we read, “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40).

These are the days we seek to have, aren’t they? …

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Want to Help Christians Stay in the Middle East? Start with Your Vacation.

Both pilgrims and pleasure seekers allow Arab believers to resist exodus amid ISIS.

Call Ann Fink crazy, but the intrepid grandmother has a tradition to uphold. She’s toured Israel, Jordan, and Egypt with 8 of her 13 granddaughters. Victoria, a preteen, is number 9.

“Her parents are not afraid,” said Fink, a Pennsylvania native, while visiting Egypt with Victoria. “We believe we can die at any time. Only God knows when and where.”

Neither tourist knew just how much visits like theirs support the region’s beleaguered Christians.

From a high-water mark of $7.2 billion in 2010, tourism revenue in Egypt has fallen by 76 percent following the unrest of the Arab Spring. The decline has devastated the economy and, with it, Egypt’s Christians.

Copts, an estimated 10 percent of the population, make up more than half of tour operators and more than a quarter of the tourism workforce, according to Adel el-Gendy, a general manager in the Tourism Development Authority. Christians have better connections to the West, he said, and are often more skilled with languages.

Gendy, a Muslim, has been assigned development of the Holy Family route—25 locations that, according to tradition, were visited by Jesus, Joseph, and Mary as they fled Herod’s wrath. Relaunched with government and church fanfare in 2014, the route is close to being designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, he said. But the project has struggled as tourists stay away.

The route runs through Old Cairo, which boasts churches dating back to the fourth century but feels like a ghost town. Souvenir shops are open, but their lights dim. “Our income has dropped by 90 percent,” said Angelos Gergis, the Coptic Orthodox priest at St. Sergius Church, built above a cave where tradition says the Holy Family …

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Spiritual Longing on the Silver Screen

How the makers (and watchers) of movies are engaged in a kind of prayer.

We had been married only a month the first time I showed my wife Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock’s psycho-drama about a man so obsessed with a dead woman that he remakes another woman in the dead woman’s image. This was perhaps the wrong film to show my new bride. “That’s one of your favorite movies?” she asked as the movie ended. “That’s very disturbing.” I figured she was talking about the movie itself—which is disturbing—but she might also have been thinking of my esteem for it.

I had loved Vertigo since I first saw it at age 11. My parents, huge Hitchcock fans, showed it to me and my siblings one Sunday afternoon after church. Though I had watched it many times since then, I had never given much thought to why I liked it. Marriage has a way of prompting you to reconsider things you once took for granted.

Over the next two years, I continued watching Vertigo regularly. I read every bit of critical scholarship I could find. I used all my powers as a film scholar to better understand how it works. I appealed to my seminary training to plumb my own heart and fathom why it makes such an impression on me.

What I discovered about myself is complicated. But what I discovered about Vertigo I can state simply: Vertigo is a film about a man’s obsession with achieving his ideal and his willingness to take advantage of others to achieve it. It is also—thanks to its clever twist and Kim Novak’s pathos-filled performance—a film about how, in pursuing our ideals, we allow others to take advantage of us. Vertigo is about the horrors wrought by selfishness on the individual and the community. It is disturbing because it is so candid about how selfish we can be. …

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Melvin Banks Had a Dream

An interview with the founder of the largest African American Christian publishing house.

His name may not be familiar to those outside Christian publishing, but few have impacted the church as much as Melvin E. Banks Sr., the founder and chairman of Urban Ministries Inc. (UMI). On May 2 in Colorado Springs at its annual Leadership Summit, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) presented Banks with the Kenneth N. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award for more than 50 years of excellence, innovation, integrity, and commitment to making the message of Christ more widely known.

Inspired by Hosea 4:6 where God says, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge,” he founded UMI in 1970 to create an African American Christian publishing house that would uniquely serve this audience. Today, UMI thrives as the largest African American Christian media and content provider, serving over 50,000 churches with curriculum, books, magazines, Bible studies, videos, teaching resources, and more.

Banks has been recognized with an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Wheaton College, where he served as a trustee for many years. He has also been honored as a Moody Bible Institute Alumnus of the year and has been recognized for his achievements by many others, including the History Makers Foundation. His innovative use of video in Vacation Bible School has been widely duplicated, and his work has led to many companies becoming more ethnically and racially diverse in the reach and content of their publishing efforts.

Theon Hill, assistant professor of communication at Wheaton College, sat down with Banks at UMI’s headquarters to learn more about his pioneering vision.

What was your background in publishing and media prior to UMI?

I had very little publishing experience prior to my work with UMI. In high …

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How God Sent His Word to An Iraqi Interpreter

I saw an American soldier reading his Bible, and I wanted to know more.

I grew up in Iraq as the third oldest of eight siblings. My family was untraditional. My mom was Muslim, and my dad was Catholic. They didn’t force any religion on their children, in part because they didn’t take religion very seriously themselves. My father was a wealthy businessman, so we lived comfortably in a large house, blessed with several vehicles, a housekeeper, and more than 250 sheep.

When I was around eight years old, my father’s business began to struggle. The stress from his work made it unpleasant to be around him. He started drinking and hanging out with people who were a bad influence. About a year later, he was getting into trouble with the police on a regular basis. He would end up going to jail roughly 20 times.

His final stint in prison came after the government found out he hadn’t completed his three years of required service in the Iraqi army. He had joined the army for a year during the Iran-Iraq War, but then he ran away.

As punishment, he was sentenced to one year in an underground prison, where he endured complete darkness, except for two minutes above ground each day. There was no shower, and food and water were scarce. Broken from suffering, he grew desperate and cried out to God.

And sure enough, God began profoundly changing my father’s heart. My family noticed a huge difference when he returned from prison. He became a hard worker, less selfish and an overall happier man who always had a smile on his face. As an example, one week after his release, my father and I went shopping for clothes. We ran into a man wearing tattered clothing who was obviously homeless. My father had compassion for this man and, stripping down to his underwear, gave away the clothes he was …

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Do We Need a Stronger Word for ‘Faith’?

Why theologian Matthew Bates would have evangelicals profess ‘allegiance’ to Christ.

In his provocative book Salvation by Allegiance Alone, Matthew W. Bates expresses deep concern that Christians—particularly North American conservative evangelicals—misunderstand what the Bible means when it calls people to faith. Too often, he argues, they reduce faith to cognitive assent, as if believing in Christ simply means agreeing with certain propositions. Further, they often reduce conversion to saying a one-time prayer, thus presenting faith as a kind of “fire insurance”—a way to avoid God’s judgment, no matter how one decides to live. The effect is to disdain good works and God’s law as self-righteousness, creating a false opposition between faith and obedience and neglecting the Bible’s call to love God by keeping his commandments (John 14:15).

Bates has two main concerns: first, that gospel is too often equated with justification by faith alone. But this equation is not faithful to the New Testament. The gospel is something Jesus announces and embodies; it is the story of the eternal Son becoming one with us in his incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement as king and judge. God’s people are justified by faith alone only as they are united to the risen King by the Holy Spirit. Our faith, then, is rooted in the story of Jesus the King; we celebrate his victory over sin and death while also submitting to his everlasting reign.

This takes us to Bates’s second concern. He argues that the term pistis, most often translated as “faith,” should instead be translated as “allegiance,” because this concept more faithfully conveys the New Testament understanding. This allegiance has three dimensions: “mental affirmation …

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Commentary: You Have God’s Blessing to Say ‘God Bless America’

Why a faith that transcends all nations leaves room for patriotic devotion.

Back in college, I belonged to a campus Christian fellowship. One night, at our weekly Bible study, a regular group member arrived looking frazzled. Evidently, it had been a hectic day. When we went around the room sharing prayer requests, she volunteered, in a voice both weary and playful, “The whole world—and everyone in it.”

We all shared a good laugh. “Guess that pretty much covers everything! We can keep prayer time short tonight.”

I thought back to that moment several years later, when I first encountered bumper stickers reading, “God Bless the Whole World. No Exceptions.” You can see why someone might find that sentiment attractive. “God bless America”? Too narrow and chauvinistic. We’re better off not beseeching the Almighty to play favorites.

Still, the new slogan left me discontented. Why imply that there’s anything unseemly, even ungodly, about loves and loyalties less than universal in scope?

We understand this readily enough in our prayer lives. If I ask my fellow small group members to lift up my ailing grandmother, no one expresses bafflement or outrage that I haven’t asked God to heal all the ailing grandmothers. No one imagines that I harbor indifference or ill will toward any other old folks. In other words, no one scolds me for failing to remember “the whole world—and everyone in it.”

In all likelihood, my ailing grandmother isn’t the world’s most meritorious grandmother. God doesn’t love her any more, or less, than your own kith and kin. But being my grandmother, her welfare naturally lies uppermost in my mind, and weighs heaviest on my heart. So it is with nations. You cherish your homeland—you …

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