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News: Libya's 21 Christian Martyrs: With Their Blood, They Are Unifying Egypt

As Coptic Christians mourn ISIL beheadings, they praise the response of their government and Muslim neighbors.

Late Sunday night at an otherwise quiet curbside café in Cairo, customers put down their tea and backgammon. They sat riveted, watching Egypt’s president pledge retaliation against the Islamic State in Libya.

Earlier in the day, jihadists released a video of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians. Following President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s declaration of a week of mourning, the channel switched to images of the orange-clad victims, walking to their death on the shores of Tripoli.

“Do you see that?” one customer exclaimed, rising to point out the scene to his friend. “They dressed the Copts like in Guantanamo. This is horrible!”

The remark demonstrates the gut-level reaction of Egyptian Muslims, contrary to the desires of the Islamic State.

“There has been a very strong response of unity and sympathy,” said Andrea Zaki, the newly-elected president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt. “People are describing Copts as Egyptians, first and foremost, and with their blood they are unifying Egypt.”

In the wake of the beheadings, President Sisi visited Pope Tawadros in the Coptic Orthodox cathedral to express his condolences. He dispatched his prime minister to Samalout, 150 miles south of Cairo, to visit the families of the victims and promise construction of a church in their name.

Sisi has also struck hard with his air force at Islamic State positions in eastern Libya. However, Egyptian Christians interpret this as more of a national defense move than a specific defense of their community.

“Egyptians now have a sense of relief, wondering if Sisi would act on his words,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani. ...

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A Lent That's Not For Your Spiritual Improvement

Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness weren't about getting closer to God, either.

Every year more and more evangelicals seem to be observing Lent. We’ve recognized it as a time of profound reorientation. We all are, as the hymn “Come, Thou Fount” aptly puts it, “prone to wander.” We are frail, sinful people who need to often reconsider our priorities, motives, and commitments. And fasting, which has both historical and biblical precedent, is a great way to foster reorientation.

In Scripture, we see that fasting is a sign of sorrow over sin (Deut. 9:9, 18; 10:10; Ezra 10:6), a sign of repentance (1 Sam. 7:6), and an aid to prayer (Ezra 8:21–23; Acts 13:2–3). This discipline of abstinence, therefore, is often described as a way to grow closer to God. It prompts us to recognize our weakness and sinfulness, and it tangibly reminds us of our constant need for God’s grace and strength.

Lent is also a time to imitate Christ and participate in his life in concrete ways. Lent, after all, commemorates Christ’s 40-day fast in the wilderness. For many, it is a spiritual journey whereby we identify with Christ, hoping to become more like him.

All that is good, but many wonder if this hyperfocus on personal holiness is always healthy. Could it not turn into so much navel gazing? Perhaps we’ve lost sight of a vital aspect of Christ’s wilderness fast.

If we want to truly imitate Christ’s fast and participate in his life these 40 days, perhaps we should consider fasting for the sake of others.

Christ—True and Faithful Israel

It might seem odd that Jesus would fast. Fasting was often a sign of grief over sin and repentance. As Craig Blomberg explains, Jews usually fasted “to spend more time in prayer and develop greater spiritual ...

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ISIS Kidnaps 100 Christians in Syria: Prisoner Swap, or Libya-Style Propaganda?

(UPDATED) Christian leader: In light of 'barbaric record with the captured, the destiny of these families is a major concern to us.'

Update (Feb. 25): Assyrian activists tell CNN that they expect ISIS to release a video today threatening to kill the approximately 150 Christian captives unless President Obama and other leaders end joint air strikes against the group.

An "official" confirmed the claim, CNN noted Wednesday morning on its Twitter account.

The Assyrian Human Rights Network has been chronicling the attack's aftermath via photos on its Facebook page. The US State Department said it "condemns [the attack] in the strongest possible terms."

CT will update this post as events unfold.

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ISIS militants launched surprise attacks on 35 Christian villages along a river in northeast Syria yesterday, taking an estimated 100 to 200 hostages. Coming one week after the videotaped beheadings of 21 Christians in Libya, the incident raises concern of whether a prisoner swap or another propaganda-driven massacre is in the making.

The fierce offensive along a 40-kilometer stretch of the Khabour River in Hassaka province forced some 3,000 Assyrian Christians to flee their homes. A teenage Christian boy and four Assyrian militia fighters were reported killed in the first day of fighting, and dozens of Assyrian men, women, and children were reported to be held hostage by the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Militants seized an unconfirmed number of Christians from at least 100 Assyrian families in the attacks, according to a Christian source in Hassaka city who spoke on Tuesday morning with Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, of the Assyrian Church of the East.

The hostages were taken prisoner in Tel Shamiran, Tel Goran, Tel Jezirah, and Tel Hormizd. In these four villages, the source said, the IS militants separated the captured ...

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Why I Wish Selma Had Won Best Picture

Even without awards, this movie has the power to transform.

First, a brief overview in case you haven't seen it: Selma, a biopic directed by Ava Duverney, tells the story of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the historic march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital. Duverney focuses on this short period of time as a way to magnify the various issues at stake during the Civil Rights Era. In this case, the conflict centers around giving African Americans the right to vote, and the film remains focused on a short time period during the early spring of 1965. It brings up the relationship between the federal government, local activists, and state regulators. It explores King’s role as a leader, a husband, a father, and as a man of faith. And it offers a visceral portrayal of the horrific violence perpetrated against African Americans and their allies throughout this struggle.

The film came under criticism mainly for its portrayal of the relationship between President Lyndon Johnson and Dr. King. Historians claim LBJ offered far greater support for King’s efforts than Selma Suggests, and they claim the film portrays LBJ as a villain of sorts. I didn’t think the film deserved this degree of criticism—LBJ and MLK make it clear early on in the film that Johnson is a politician and King an activist, and to get to a voting rights bill they will necessarily have to antagonize one another. Moreover, if Duverney—an African American woman—gave us a view of history that emerged out of the African American experience of waiting and waiting and waiting for justice, well, from that perspective Johnson took too long and could have done more. Johnson supported King, but he still had an FBI director in J. Edgar Hoover who mistrusted King and his ...

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