Tuesday, December 22, 2020

RLPB 581. Devotion: Pressing Through the 'Bitter' (Rev 10:9-10)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 581 | Wed 23 Dec 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog. ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 


DEVOTION: PRESSING THROUGH THE 'BITTER' (Rev 10:9-10)
- a prayer for those who intercede for Christ's persecuted Church
by Elizabeth Kendal

Without a doubt, the message of the Gospel (Good News) is sweet: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.' (John 3:16,17 ESV). So too is the promise that this salvation will extend to the ends of the earth (e.g., Genesis 6:3Psalm 22:25-31, Isaiah 54:1-3, Habakkuk 2:14, Acts 1:8), reaching many tribes, peoples, nations, languages, and kings (Revelation chapters 5 and 10). Yet often it is the case that we joyfully ingest this gloriously sweet Gospel, only to find it makes our stomach 'bitter': 'If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you ... Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God' (from John 15:18-16:4). Yes, the sweetness of salvation is commonly followed by the bitterness of persecution. After all, both are integral to the cosmic spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12) - a battle which Christ has already won (Colossians 2:13-15) and in which we are now 'mopping up' as Satan continues (to quote Jacques Ellul) 'to resist his demise with the energy of despair'.

As Christians, we pray for God to send more workers into his harvest field (Matthew 9:37,38) and to bless all ministry and witness with effectual Holy Spirit power (1 Corinthians 4:20). We press through times of waiting as the soil (mission field) is weeded (to remove falsehoods), fed (with the blood of martyrs) and watered (with the tears of intercessors) that it might receive the Gospel seed and yield a blessed harvest (Matthew 13). In love, we press on through frustration, spurred on by faith-fuelled hope rooted in the promises of God. 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' (Jesus, in Matthew 16:18). 'Behold, all of [my adversaries] will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up' (the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 50:4-9). So, no matter the circumstances, we just press on and pray for our missionaries, along with all who witness for Christ: may the Lord sustain them to just keep nibbling (like the moth) as he (the Lord) keeps building! [See: 'Prayer Fuel from the Servant Songs of Isaiah' http://www.elizabethkendal.com/ (tab: Devotions).]

No matter how sweet it is for us to hear stories of amazing conversions, we must always remember that, for many new believers, life is bitter. Indeed, conversion is where their battle begins! Rescued from the doomed kingdom of darkness, they are now free to live for God in the kingdom of light, except that they live behind enemy lines where the cost of discipleship is high. Maybe they live in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Tibet, Afghanistan or Somalia where the church has been forced deep underground. Maybe they live on a spiritual front line where the battle is raging, such as in Egypt, Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq) or the Caucuses (Armenia, Artsakh, Azerbaijan) where the world's most ancient Christian peoples are under sustained attack. Maybe they live in a village in Northern Nigeria, India's northern tribal belt, or a city anywhere in Iran where Satan is desperately fighting a losing battle to keep his disillusioned captives in! Or maybe they live in a household deeply hostile to Christianity; a household long captive to Islam, Eastern religion, or atheism and scientific materialism; a household into which our gracious Lord Jesus is reaching. Any believer who is truly engaged in the advance of God's kingdom will find themselves continuously see-sawing between the sweetness of kingdom growth (which lifts us high and into the light) and the bitterness of persecution (which takes us into the darkness and drives us low).

Every day, faithful intercessors put on their armour and willingly enter that darkness precisely so they might pray for - that is, engage in spiritual battle on behalf of - Christ's imperilled, persecuted, wounded Church. They enter that darkness voluntarily, precisely so they might see, listen to, understand, lift up and support their suffering brothers and sisters - God's precious children, Church and bride - in their time of need. Filled as it is with greed, hatred, megalomania, war, lies, repression, persecution, and terrible suffering, that darkness is not a nice place. That said, Christ is there! Indeed, the darkness is where the Redeemer, Jesus the 'true light' who brings 'grace and truth' (John 1:1-18) does his greatest work. Furthermore, Jesus invites us, even implores us, to come and join him in his great redemptive work, a work that includes caring for and supporting his embattled persecuted Church (Hebrews 13:3). The only way to endure such a task, the only way to press on through the bitter, is to keep one's eyes fixed on Jesus who has come and secured victory and trust that 'all the promises of God [will indeed] find their Yes in him' (2 Corinthians 1:20a ESV).

'Christian's Combat with Apollyon'.
From 'The Pilgrim's Progress' by John Bunyan, first published 1678.
Illustration by H. C. Selous and M. Paolo Priolo.


MY PRAYER FOR THOSE PRESSING THROUGH THE BITTER
I have prayed this for you.
I ask that you each might pray it for all our fellow intercessors.

Dear Father,

I bring before you all those faithful intercessors who willingly enter the darkness and press through the bitter precisely so they might intercede for and fight on behalf of your persecuted Church, which risks so much to live, minister, witness and shine there.

Driven by a deep love for your Church, a zeal for justice and a yearning desire to see 'your kingdom come, and your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven', they voluntarily subject themselves to the worst of news comprising all the ugliest aspects of fallen humanity. For the sake of your Church, and so they might intercede, they resist the seductive lure of 'blissful ignorance' and ingest news of repression, incarceration, abuse, assault, rape, abduction, torture, murder, massacre, genocide, abandonment and seemingly endless injustice. It is a critical and strategic ministry; but it can bring intercessors low and make their stomachs bitter.

Father, it is with this in mind that I pray for every intercessor: may the Holy Spirit be so powerfully at work within each one that love, and faith-fuelled hope rooted in the promises of God, will always prove greater than any despair or hopelessness Satan - 'the father of lies' (John 8:44) - might wish to fire into their hearts (Ephesians 6:16).

May prayer for the persecuted continue to grow as God knits together his increasingly global Church using chords of love forged in the flames of persecution, in answer to the prayer of our Lord which he prayed in the garden: that we might be one, that the world might believe (John 17:20-23).

AMEN

'But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness' (Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV)

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The Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) will break for four weeks through the Australian summer and resume on Wednesday 27 January 2021 with the January Update.

Please keep watch on the news and continue in prayer for the Lord's imperilled and suffering Church. That said, know that you cannot rely on mainstream news media. Being mostly neo-Marxist in orientation, mainstream news media has no interest in the persecution of Christians. Consequently, it is imperative that we connect with and support Christian news media. Fortunately, today there is plenty to choose from, including agencies like Morning Star News which focus specifically on news of the persecuted Church. We can also connect with Christian agencies that provide aid to and advocate for the persecuted Church. Not only are they a great source of news, but they also provide avenues through which you can give. If you simply do not know whom or what to pray for, just ask the Lord to guide you. Trust and obey; the Lord has it covered.

'The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace'. (Numbers 6:24-26 ESV).

Elizabeth Kendal

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

RLPB 580. The Fog of 2020, and SYRIA: Loving Syria's Christians.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 580 | Wed 16 DEC 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely and encourage others to sign up to “Follow by email” on the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) blog.  ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV). 

(1) THE FOG OF 2020
(2) SYRIA: LOVING SYRIA'S CHRISTIANS
By Elizabeth Kendal


THE FOG OF 2020

In winter, it often happens that as water vapour rises from the earth it cools and condenses into water droplets leaving valleys covered in a blanket of fog, which greatly reduces visibility. Co-opting that imagery, the term 'fog of war' refers to the chaos and confusion that commonly envelopes conflict zones, greatly diminishing clarity. Similarly, we could say the year 2020 has been blanketed in a 'fog' created by the (mainly Western) world's reactionary panic (as distinct from reasoned response) and blind obsession with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the all-consuming drama of the US Presidential Election. Indeed, mainstream media has had little time for much else! Two regimes have exploited the 'fog of 2020' to advance their nefarious agendas: China's ruling Communist Party (CCP) under President Xi Jinping, and Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Exploiting the fog of 2020, China accelerated its campaign of Sinicisation - that is, its brutal campaign of political and religious repression, re-education and cultural genocide - designed to force all its citizens into a monolithic 'united front'. Armed with millions of surveillance cameras loaded with world-leading facial recognition software, a gulag of brand-new re-education facilities and a People's Armed Police (PAP) force comprising more than one million soldiers tasked with crushing internal dissent and enforcing compliance, the ruling Communist Party's advances have been breathtaking. It leaves in its wake a trail of demolished churches, monasteries, mosques and temples; imprisoned pastors, imams, monks and human rights advocates; a de-Christianised skyline and a persecuted Church increasingly anxious about its future.

Also exploiting the fog of 2020, Turkey has advanced its neo-Ottoman imperial ambitions by inserting itself into, or increasing its aggression in, Libya, Northern Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean (including Cyprus), and the South Caucuses (specifically the war/jihad against Armenians in Artsakh). Armed with tens of thousands of Syrian jihadists and cutting-edge drones (in particular the Turkish-made, tank-eliminating, Bayraktar TB2), Turkey's advances have been breath-taking. It leaves in its wake a trail of dead and displaced Libyans, Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians, along with a multitude of increasingly anxious Greek-speaking Christians.

Please pray: that the 'fog' will lift, that clarity will be restored, that the world will care (unlikely), and that the Church will rise in solidarity to speak-up (Proverbs 31:8-9), to give (James 2:15-16), and to pray for the persecuted Church (Ephesians 6:12-18). [See http://www.elizabethkendal.com/action/ ]


SYRIA: LOVING SYRIA'S CHRISTIANS

click on map to enlarge

1) TURKEY IN SYRIA: TARGETING TEL TAMER
UPDATE to RLPB 564, Syria: Turkey Weaponises Water, 26 Aug 2020.

Led by the Kurdish YPG (which Turkey deems a terrorist organisation), the anti-Islamist Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) incorporates Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and some Armenian militias. After years of fighting Islamic State in Hasakah, the SDF is now fighting to resist Turkish occupation. In late October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to launch another military operation against the SDF in northern Syria. Today, with Turkey eager to change realities on the ground before a new administration can be set up in Washington, it appears that operation might be imminent.

Analysts surmise that Turkey may be planning to expand on two fronts: (1) in northern Aleppo Governorate, where it would seize the Kurdish border town of Kobani before possibly advancing as far south-west as Manbij; and (2) in northeast Hasakah Governorate, where Tel Tamer - an Assyrian town situated at the head of a string of some 30 Assyrian towns along the Khabur River - is already under sustained attack. Of Turkey's more than 800 ceasefire violations this year - violations which include armed conflict, shelling, drone strikes, looting and property destruction - more than 138 have targeted Tel Tamer alone. According to reports, the recent increase in violence corresponds directly with the return to Syria from Azerbaijan of Islamic militants recruited by Turkey for jihad against Artsakh's Armenians [see RLPB 575, 'Genocide Postponed? 11 Nov 2020]. Their task now, so it seems, will be jihad against Kurds and remnant Assyrian and Armenian Christians. Please pray.

2) US SANCTIONS: POVERTY AND HUNGER FOR CHRISTMAS
UPDATE to RLPB 554 Syria: Damascus Under Siege, 17 June 2020

The US administration's Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act essentially places all government-controlled areas of Syria in a state of economic siege. This happens to be most of the country and where most Christians live with religious freedom and security. (Note: areas controlled by Turkey-backed and US-shielded jihadists are exempt.) As with any siege, the Caesar Act is designed to escalate suffering as in a pressure-cooker in pursuit of regime-change. The Maronite Archbishop Joseph Tobji (49) of Aleppo has labelled it 'a diabolical Act' [see RLPB 555, 'A Diabolical Act', 24 June 2020]. Of course, sanctions rarely impact ruling regimes; on the contrary, it is the people who suffer. The Caesar Act's sanctions have halted reconstruction and devastated whole sectors, including small business and agriculture. Most concerning, Syria's once thriving health sector and pharmaceuticals industry have been totally crippled, leaving Syrians without medicines and treatments [see RLPB 556, 'Caesar's Inhumanity', 1 July 2020)].

Caesar's inhumanity

Warning of a 'hunger pandemic', the Nobel Prize-winning World Food Program reports that in the first 6 months of 2020, around 1.4 million Syrians did not know where their next meal would come from, a shocking figure which has now climbed to 9.3 million. With more than 90 percent of Syrians now living below the poverty line, smuggling, drugs and crime are on the increase as citizens grow increasingly desperate. Bread is being rationed and the price for smuggled goods is exorbitant.

As noted in RLPB 556 (1 July), the Caesar Report - which forms the pretext for the Caesar Act - was commissioned by the pro-Muslim Brotherhood (MB) ruling family of Qatar, who are sworn enemies of the Alawite anti-MB Assad and integral to the regime-change alliance. The report is fraudulent (Human Rights Watch has debunked its claims) and the Act is entirely political and entirely punitive. Furthermore, it does nothing to advance US interests.

Christmas is normally a huge national event in Syria, one in which Christians, Alawites and liberal Sunnis all participate together. This year, however, Syrians will be sharing poverty and hunger for Christmas. In particular, hundreds of thousands of Syrian Christians will celebrate the incarnation of our Lord without food, medicines or heating - not due to war, but due primarily to US sanctions. If the situation does not change, many Syrian Christians will not survive 2021. Golda Meir - Israel's Prime Minister from March 1969 to June 1974, reportedly once said: 'Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.' We must pray for the day to come when American politicians will love Syria's Christians more than they hate Presidents Assad and Putin.


PLEASE PRAY THAT GOD OUR GRACIOUS FATHER WILL:

 * intervene to defend and protect Christians in northern Syria, whose lives and homelands are gravely imperilled because of Turkey and its jihadist proxies; may the LORD in his mercy 'frustrate the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success' (Job 5:12).

'As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvellous things without number ... So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth [from Job 5:8-16 ESV].

* intervene to have the Caesar sanctions lifted so that Syria's Christians might be able to stay, rebuild, flourish and bless their nation.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield (Psalm 33:18-20 ESV). 


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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THREAT, POVERTY AND HUNGER IN SYRIA FOR CHRISTMAS

Turkey and its jihadist proxies may soon launch another military operation in northern Syria. Already under sustained attack is the Assyrian town of Tel Tamer. Please pray! Meanwhile, due to the US administration's Caesar Act sanctions (enacted June 2020), government-controlled Syria (i.e. most of the country where most Christians live) is in a state of economic siege. Reconstruction is halted and whole sectors are crippled, including business, agriculture, health and pharmaceuticals. Before the sanctions, the World Food Program estimated that some 1.4 million Syrians were food insecure; that number has now risen to 9.3 million! Christmas is normally a huge national event in Syria. This year, however, Syrian Christians will celebrate the Incarnation without food, medicines, and heating; not due to war, but due primarily to US sanctions. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com