ISIS and Boko Haram

Every day it seems as if I hear more bad news coming from Iraq and Syria regarding the terror of ISIS. Today I am hearing reports of ISIS burning 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. A few days prior it was reported that they burned 45 people alive. Before that, they executed 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya simply because they were Christian. I reflected on persecution, specifically those at the hands of ISIS, in August here. The following are some recent, relevant and resourceful articles and ideas regarding the pressing issues of ISIS and Boko Haram.

  • As I was getting ready to post last week about how should Christians pray in these times for situations like these, I came across a post written that day by Russell Moore, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, on this very topic called, Should We Pray for the Defeat of ISIS, Or Their Conversion. He said everything that I was going to say and said it better, so instead of posting what I had written I want to direct you to his post here. I highly recommend it to you. In short, his answer (and mine!) to this question is to pray for both and leave it up to God to decide.
  • In this season of Lent, fast and pray specifically for those in harms way, both Christians and non-Christians.

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  • Last week on Ash Wednesday I drew a red cross on my hand with the number 21 (see above picture). This served as a visual reminder to pray for the family members of those martyred as well as for those who are at risk of death and persecution. It also served as a reminder to pray for justice and salvation in regards to ISIS members as well as for the Church in that area. Perhaps you can too find a visual way to remind you to pray for what's going on in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Nigeria and to encourage others to pray as well.
  • I also want to direct your attention to another excellent article. With all the attention on ISIS, we forget about the terror of a group called Boko Haram in Nigeria. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School, in his piece called, When Africa Bleeds, reminds us not to forget what is happening in Nigeria, which has the most Christians out of all the countries on the continent! This is a very important read and you can find it here.

This morning in my Scripture reading I reflected on Isaiah 25:8-9 and 26:19.

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, 'Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. ... Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.

The good news is that in Christ the reality of these verses has begun to be realized, but until the second coming of Jesus we will have to wait for it to be fully and completely realized. So we wait in eager expectation and hope of that day and together along with the rest of the saints will pray, "Come, Lord Jesus, Come."

 

Reflections on persecution

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"Save Christians in Iraq! Save Christians in Iraq!"

 

The crowd that had gathered in London across the street from Parliament was small but energizing. As we walked past the demonstrators with our friends and three kids in tow, I couldn't help but be pulled into the rhythmic chant -- "Save Christians in Iraq! Save Christians in Iraq!" Had the circumstances been different, I am inclined to think I would have left my role as tourist and traded it in as that of demonstrator.

 

"Save Christians in Iraq!" "Save Christians in Iraq!"

 

More than 30,000 miles away, though, the voices of Christians and those who would support them has been quieted. There is no demonstration in the streets of Baghdad today, no energizing chant that would seek to draw passerbyers in. Instead there is silence.

 

But maybe not. When a family of eight Iraqi Christians were given a choice to recant their Christian faith or be killed, they spoke. Whether by confessing out loud with their mouths that Jesus Christ is the only true God or by refusing to recant the faith in their silence, they spoke. The picture given to an Iraqi Anglican vicar showed their murdered bodies lying stilled next to their open Bible. The vicar wrote, "They would not convert (even if) it cost them their life." Their martyrdom and confession spoke through a photograph and continues speaking to all of us who hear their story -- that even in death nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

 

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-39)

 

As we speak Iraq's Islamic State militants (ISIS) continues its persecution of Christians and of other faiths in Iraq and Syria. Right now it's easy to find these stories on news outlets such as CNN or BBC, but you can always read more about the persecution of Christians around the world at www.persecution.org.

 

How do we make sense of it all? Leaving the demonstration last weekend, I was left feeling helpless and needing to wrestle with the current issue of persecution.

 

Suffering and persecution of Christians is nothing new. In fact our faith hinges on Someone who was killed -- crucified even. We proclaim His death, and not only do we proclaim it but as His followers we take seriously the mantra, "Take up your cross and follow me." We follow behind our Lord, who was rejected, persecuted and killed, knowing that we might face the same fate as He. This was very real for early Christians in Antiquity when they knew that being baptized would mean immediate and sure death. Almost all of Jesus' apostles were either killed or exiled. According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down because he didn't think he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. Paul was beheaded for his devotion to Christ. These are just a few examples.

 

But when a mantra suddenly turns into a real piece of wood and nails or a noose or a sword or a gun, what keeps that believer from recanting? What brings a persecuted believer comfort in the midst of persecution?

 

And what should those of us on the sidelines do? Should we turn a blind eye because there's nothing we can do? Or, should we chant, demonstrate and raise our voices to help? Should we become radicals seeking out persecution and idealizing the life of a martyr because we have bought into an idea that only those who are killed for their faith have a genuine faith?

 

It's hard to feel helpless. It's even more difficult to face death for what you believe.

 

But here's what I see when I read Scripture. Scripture interprets life for me; it gives me the framework from which to work through things outside my realm of understanding. First of all, there's no teaching in Scripture that says we should cultivate a desire to suffer or die, that we should actively seek it out, or that it is a prerequisite into heaven. (Maybe you don't think there are people who believe this, but just look a little harder and you will find them.) I would wager that any Christian suffering in these ways would gladly change places with one of us who can worship freely and openly and who can proclaim Christ with no bonds of law or of fear.

 

Secondly, for those facing death, exile and other unimaginable sufferings I humbly say that I have no clue what you are going through. I cannot understand the depths of loss or of fear. However, I imagine that in the moments leading up to your death that what comforts you and keeps you strong is the belief that as Jesus Christ died and then came back from the dead alive so too those in Christ after they die will live. Knowing that persecution is nothing new helps us to learn to not be surprised if it happens to us too. It also brings comfort knowing that other believers have walked this path. But in the end it is believing in the resurrected Christ which helps fasten our feet to the ground unmovable and unshakeable when it does happen.

 

For we confess it is the grace of God "which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2 Tim. 1:10) And also, "If we have died with him, we will also live with him." (2 Tim. 2) God will not abandon His people; death does not have the final say.

 

But there's one more thing that brings us Christians comfort that I imagine would bring current persecuted Christians comfort. It's knowing that though our voices might be silenced the gospel will continue speaking loudly for all who hear. The gospel cannot be silenced. "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!" (2 Timothy 2:8-9) The Word of God is not bound. Say that again, "The Word of God is not bound!" It has to be beautiful irony that the family of eight believers were killed next to an open Bible. Though their voices had been silenced, God continues to speak. His Word will still go forth because it belongs to God. He has already conquered death and His Word will continue testifying to it until He returns.

 

Where does this leave those of us living freely, watching helplessly from the sidelines? As our hearts break, we can be comforted in the same way those persecuted Christians are comforted. (See above quoted Scripture passages.) We also can learn from their examples so that if the wind changes direction and we find ourselves on the end of persecution, we, too, will be strong in the love and knowledge of Christ.

 

Let's not idealize what they are suffering nor pray for the same. Let's learn from the past and not forget the persecuted Christians in the past while at the same time not become calloused to the persecution or the persecuted of the present. Let's continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters that God would rescue them, end their persecutions, comfort them in their affliction and help them to remain strong even if it means death. Let's speak up for them, cry for them, thank God for them and love them. And if nothing else, let's not lose heart because we know and believe that Jesus has gone before us, He is with us, and His Word cannot be restrained.

 

In the meantime the chant has become my prayer, "Save Christians in Iraq!"

 

And at times when it's just too much, when chanting just doesn't seem to do much good, I pray, "Come, Lord Jesus. Come."

 

(For the story about the family of eight Iraqi Christians, read more here.)