Tuesday, April 14, 2020

RLPB 545. Easter Devotion (3); plus Prayer for Assyria (Iraq)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 545 | Wed 15 Apr 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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EASTER DEVOTION (3); plus PRAYER FOR ASSYRIA
By Elizabeth Kendal

While Catholic and Protestant Churches celebrated Easter over 10-12 April, Orthodox Churches will celebrate Easter this coming weekend, 17-19 April. Different calendars, different histories, different traditions, different understandings, but ultimately 'one flock, one shepherd' (John 10:16).

PRAYER FUEL: ASSURED OF GOD'S LOVE

Through Isaiah's 'servant songs', God's Servant - once hidden, as if behind a curtain - is gradually, progressively revealed. With each servant song the curtain is opened a little wider, so we might see more and learn more. The first servant song reveals God's Servant to be a chosen, quiet, resolute and compassionate healer and deliverer who will establish justice on the earth (Isaiah 42:1-9). The second servant song (49:1-7) sharpens the focus while expanding our view, adding that God will make his Servant - whose mouth, though quiet (42:2), is like a sharpened sword (49:2) - 'as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.' Wow! Consequently, we are shocked to discover that, far from being a national hero, God's Servant is 'deeply despised, abhorred by the nation' (v7) [RLPB 543 (1 April)]. The third servant song (50:4-9) opens the curtain wider still, revealing the Servant to be a faithful disciple and 'wonderful counsellor' (Isaiah 9:6), an obedient disciple who says 'Not my will but thine' (Luke 22:42) and submits to abuse and torture (v6), confident that God will both help and vindicate him … which he does. Consequently, now it is his adversaries who are defenceless, helpless in the face of the truth [RLPB 544 (8 April)].

The fourth servant song (Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12) is a poem comprising five stanzas of three lines each, structured as follows: A B(1) B(2) B(3) A. In the opening and closing stanzas (the two As) God makes declarations concerning his Servant, building again on what we have already learned. The three central stanzas (the three Bs; Isaiah 53:1-9) reveal in greater detail what God's Servant suffers. At the pinnacle of the poem, in verses 4 - 6, we are drawn to look not merely at the scene but through it, into the very heart of God, as we finally learn why God's Servant suffers. He suffers that he might bear our griefs and carry our sorrows, he is pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, chastised for our peace and wounded for our healing. Though we all rebelled and turned away, he - in amazing grace - surrenders his life to redeem us all.

Dear believer, are you suffering? Are you afraid, anxious, confused? Do your trials make you wonder if God really loves you? Read aloud this servant song - insert yourself into verses 4-6 - and hear God speak: 'This is how much I love you!' So, dear intercessor - brother, sister - pray with confidence, fully convinced that the one who rules over heaven and earth not only sees and hears you, but loves you with a love already demonstrated and proven on the cross (Romans 5:8 ESV); a love so immeasurably wide and long and high and deep that it surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18,19); a love from which you can never be separated (Romans 8:31-39). God has desired you; Christ has redeemed you, and the Spirit has sealed you. So draw near to him and pray! 'Arise, cry out in the night ... pour out your heart like water ... lift your hands to him' (Lamentations 2:19) and watch (צָפָה tsâphâh) expectantly (Psalm 5:1-3).

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IRAQ: ASSYRIAN CRISIS IS OUR CRISIS

Iraq Control Map - January 2020
Political Geography Now
Four times in the last year Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) warned that an existential Christian crisis persists in Iraq. In June 2014, Islamic State (then known as ISIS) seized Mosul, the capital of northern Iraq's Nineveh/Ninawa Province, in a blitzkrieg. In August 2014, after consolidating in Mosul, IS ethnically cleansed the Nineveh Plains, the historic heartland of Iraq's indigenous Assyrian nation. When Mosul was liberated in July 2017, displaced Assyrian Christians began trickling back into the Nineveh Plains, eager to rebuild and re-establish themselves as a Christian nation within Iraq. However, not only are Kurds (Sunnis) and Shabaks (Shi'ites, backed by Baghdad and Tehran), devouring and colonising Assyrian lands, but Islamic State (hyper-intolerant, anti-Shi'ite Sunnis, backed by Turkey) has been re-grouping in the desert and in the Hamrin Mountains, preparing for a come-back. With so much against them and so little international support for them, Assyrian Christians are starting to wonder if their vision of re-establishing their Christian nation in the Nineveh Plains is nothing but a mirage [RLPB 541 (18 Mar 2020)].

In recent months, several coalition members - including France and Britain - have withdrawn their troops and halted their training programs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In mid-March, after engaging in a series of deadly tit-for-tat missile strikes with Iran-backed Shi'ite militias, the US opted to reposition its troops, leaving some bases while consolidating in others. However, pressure is mounting in Washington and Baghdad for a complete US withdrawal lest Iraq become the battlefield for a US-Iran proxy war. According to the US narrative, the war against Islamic State is over and Iraqi troops have been trained to deal with anything that might arise. Yet, according to most independent analysts, the Iraqi Army will struggle to contain a revived Islamic State without the air support and intelligence gathering that US and coalition forces provided.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic and plummeting oil prices have pushed Iraq's economy to the brink of collapse. The crisis will provide Islamic State with a perfect opportunity to advance its agenda. It is looking more likely that conflict could erupt between Islamic State (Sunnis, backed by Turkey) and Shi'ite troops and militias (backed by Baghdad and Tehran). Turkey has long desired unobstructed access to the vilayet/province of Mosul (formerly part of the Ottoman Empire). Similarly, throughout its history, Persia has desired unobstructed access to the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, everyone desires oil-rich Kirkuk! On 11 April, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a bombing in Kirkuk that killed two Peshmerga fighters (Kurdish military).

Assyrian Christians desperately need our prayers; their crisis is our crisis! Praise God, Christ is faithful: 'A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice' (Isaiah 42:3) and his salvation will reach to the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). As for Christ's adversaries, their days are numbered (Isaiah 50:9). All believers should pray in faith, with the energy that comes from hope, and assured of God's love (Isaiah 53:4-6) which remains forever true regardless of circumstances.

Easter 2019: A priest washes a boy’s feet during Maundy Thursday mass
at Mar Hanna (St John’s) church in Hamdaniya, Nineveh.
Photograph: Achilleas Zavallis/The Guardian, 21 April 2019.

PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* intervene in Iraq to protect, bless and re-establish the Assyrian Church and nation according to his promise: 'The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance ' (Isaiah 19:25 NIV, emphasis mine).

* intervene internationally for the benefit of his people; may nations that have the ability - and even a responsibility - to assist the Assyrian people be roused to advocacy and action on their behalf; and may Christians around the world embrace their calling to love and pray for their gravely imperilled brothers and sisters that the battle might be turned back at the gate (Isaiah 28:5-6).

'Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness ... and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?' (from Isaiah 58)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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ASSYRIAN CRISIS IN IRAQ IS OUR CRISIS

Assyrian Christians in northern Iraq desperately need our prayers. Multitudes remain in cramped camps, highly vulnerable to COVID-19. Meanwhile, the hopes of those who have dared to return to the Nineveh Plains (the historic Assyrian heartland) are fading fast as Kurds and Shabaks steal their lands and as Islamic State threatens a comeback. Britain and France have withdrawn their troops and the US might not be far behind. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic and plummeting oil prices have pushed Iraq's economy to the brink of collapse. The crisis is providing Islamic State with an opportunity to advance its agenda. A clash between Islamic State (backed by Turkey) and Shi'ite troops and militias (backed by Baghdad and Tehran) seems inevitable. Iraq's Christian crisis could soon get much worse. Please pray.

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Ramadan commences 23-24 April
RLPB recommends: 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World
https://www.30daysprayer.com/
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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