Wednesday, December 21, 2011

139. Christmas: the day the balance of power shifted irreversibly

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 139 | Wed 21 Dec 2011

CHRISTMAS: THE DAY THE BALANCE OF POWER SHIFTED IRREVERSIBLY

A devotional by Elizabeth Kendal

After rescuing Jacob's/Israel's descendants from slavery in Egypt, God brokered a covenant with them at Sinai, promising to be their faithful God if they would just trust and obey him. Thus, God's protection was dependent on the people's faithfulness. The trouble was the covenant required perfect faithfulness from every individual: thus it was too difficult for the people to keep, for sin reigned.

When God agreed to let the people have a king, the king became God's 'vassal', standing before God as the people's representative head. From that point on, God's protection was dependent on the king's faithfulness. The trouble was kings, like commoners, were flawed, fallible and sinful by nature: they routinely let their people down, for sin reigned.

To solve the problems of sin and fallible kings, God promised 'Immanuel' (Isaiah 7:14; 9:1-7). Jesus Christ, son of David, Son of God, is HE (Matthew 1:23). He was born a king (Matthew 2:2). He lived a sinless life of perfect obedience (Hebrews 4:15), thereby totally fulfilling the requirements of the covenant on behalf of his subjects. Then he died a king (John 19:19). As the 'Lamb of God', he paid the penalty for the sins of all who, through faith, would become his subjects (Matthew 1:21). Having secured salvation, Jesus was then glorified by the Father who raised him to life and exalted him to the highest place. From 'the throne of his father David', this King Jesus now reigns forever, for 'of his kingdom there will be no end' (Luke 1:31-33).

'He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill [have supremacy over] all things.' (Ephesians 4:10 ESV)

The coming of Immanuel heralded the beginning of the end for the forces of evil that have reigned in this world. Though Jesus won the decisive battle over sin and death at the cross, the defeated powers have not yet been eliminated and are resisting their inevitable end with everything they can muster.

'They [the combined powers of the world] will make war on the Lamb [Jesus Christ], and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.' (Revelation 17:14 ESV)

As violent persecution escalates, as Christian security deteriorates and as religious liberty declines globally -- undeniable facts -- it is imperative that we 'take heart' (John 16:33), remembering that Immanuel's kingdom is 'not of this world' (John 18:36) and 'cannot be shaken' (Hebrews 13:26-29). We, who through faith belong to HIM, are eternally secure.

It is also imperative that we never give up. For it was out of love for the world that God gave his only son (John 3:16), so that through him all the peoples of the world might be blessed (Genesis 12:3). The times in which we live are times of immense spiritual conflict, for God is in the process of bringing down all false gods and defeated enemies (Psalm 110:1). Yet ultimately all idols will be discarded and the true Saviour, Jesus Christ, will alone be exalted (Isaiah 2:10-21). As the battles rage, the world's greatest need, though it rejects it, is that the Church, God's instrument of blessing, be upheld in prayer. It is only through the strength provided by our glorious and victorious reigning King Jesus -- strength he gives in answer to prayer -- will these ongoing battles be turned back at the gate (Isaiah 28:5,6; Zechariah 4:6). Though she be assailed on every side, the Church must continue to preach the Gospel of our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ, the hope of the world. For the promise is this: the world will finally recognise HIM (see Isaiah 2:2-4; Psalm 22:27,28).

Yes, the coming of Immanuel marked the moment when the balance of power in the world shifted irreversibly! No wonder the angels rejoiced (Luke 2:8-14) -- they understood!

May this knowledge -- of who Jesus is and what happened at Christmas -- lead us to rejoice AND inspire us to pray.

'Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.' (Revelation 19:6b ESV)

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We wish all our faithful intercessors a wonderful and meaningful Christmas. Ponder what the LORD has done and return with fresh zeal when the RLPB ministry resumes on 4 January 2012.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

138. IRAQ: Propaganda versus Reality

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 138 | Wed 14 Dec 2011

IRAQ: PROPAGANDA VERSUS REALITY

By Elizabeth Kendal

By 31 December 2011 all US and NATO troops will have completely withdrawn from Iraq. Whilst the US and NATO had wanted to keep thousands of military trainers there, the Iraqi parliament -- dominated by pro-Iran Shi'ites -- ruled that any remaining military personnel would be subject to Iraqi laws and jurisprudence. Without immunity from prosecution, US and NATO forces would not stay. However, if the propaganda is to be believed, the decimated, imperilled, besieged Christian minority will have nothing to fear when the last US and NATO forces leave Iraq after Christmas. On Monday 12 December, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with US President Barak Obama at the White House in Washington. The two men had nothing but praise for how the Iraq adventure has turned out. PM al-Maliki boasted, 'We have proven success. Nobody imagined that we would succeed in defeating terrorism and al Qaeda.' President Obama likewise effused that Iraq can be 'a model for others aspiring to build democracy'. The reality, however, is somewhat different.

The Superior of the Dominicans in Baghdad, Fr Amir Jaje, described the atmosphere in Baghdad ahead of the US-NATO withdrawal as 'tense'. 'The extremists,' he reports, 'are taking advantage of tensions to make their voices heard and the faithful are increasingly distressed.' The Latin Archbishop of Baghdad, Mgr Jean Benjamin Sleiman, told Aid to the Church in Need that Iraqi Christians are preparing for a 'Christmas under siege'. Traditions will be quietly kept in the privacy of family homes, while Christmas Masses will only be celebrated during the day for safety reasons. 'It will be a Christmas, between fear and sturdy faith.' Christians, he said, have been reduced to dhimmitude: a state of subjugation, without rights. Helpless before endless mafia and militia attacks, they are forced to pay the jizya (protection money) as mandated in the Qur'an, Sura 9:29.

See: Iraq: Christians prepare for Christmas under siege
Independent Catholic News, Sunday, December 11, 2011

The situation in the Nineveh Plains of Northern Iraq -- the ancient Assyrian homeland -- is no better. On 2 December, following Friday prayers, thousands of Muslims went on a pogrom through the predominantly Assyrian northern town of Zakho. They looted and torched businesses they deemed 'haram', that is, forbidden in Islam. After torching a Chinese massage centre, the rioters moved on to raze liquor stores, hotels and beauty salons -- most of which were run by Assyrian Christians, others by Kurdish Yazidis. According to eyewitnesses, some rioters tried to attack the Christian quarter of the town. Fortunately those guarding the political offices fired over their heads, dispersing the mob. The Kurdistan Islamic Union is believed to have instigated the violence. That local Muslims could be so easily incited into such a destructive pogrom is of great concern. Nobody expects things to improve after the US-NATO forces leave. 'It's a big mess,' said David Lazar of the American Mesopotamian Organization. When asked who would be there to ensure the safety of Christians he answered, 'Basically, no one.'

Archbishop Louis Sako of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the northern provinces of Kirkuk and Sulimaniya has expressed the fear that, if the persecution continues with such intensity, 'Iraq could be emptied of Christians' completely. The Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, Rev Patrick J Mahoney, is likewise concerned, stating that unless the situation is addressed 'the public expression of Christianity will be exterminated. America must realise,' he adds, 'that this horrible extermination of Christians is directly related to our failure in ensuring their safety. It is a tragedy that America's involvement in Iraq did not bring liberation for Christians but brutality, oppression and possible extinction. We cannot abandon them. We must do better.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* Iraqi Christians will draw closer to Jesus, their Saviour, be more reliant on the Holy Spirit, their strength, and more dependent on God, their sovereign, faithful Rock. 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.' (Isaiah 30:15 ESV)

* God will bless all Christian witness -- active and passive -- with effectual saving power, 'because only through Christ is it [the veil that covers the unbeliever's heart, hardening their mind] taken away.' (2 Corinthians 3:14-16) 'Therefore [believers] be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour [including suffering and death] is not in vain.' (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV)

* God will intervene to bring security to Iraq's remnant Christians. (Isaiah 59:15b-19)

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PROPAGANDA VERSUS REALITY IN IRAQ

By 31 December all US and NATO troops will have withdrawn from Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US President Barak Obama are touting Iraq as a model democracy that has successfully defeated terrorism. To the contrary, Iraq's besieged remnant Christians are apprehensive that the US-NATO withdrawal will simply open the way for completing the jihad and genocide they have suffered hitherto. Iraq's indigenous Christian peoples have already lost two-thirds of their number through evacuation and genocide, but their most difficult days lie ahead. Their observance of Christmas will be low-key. The propaganda indicates the powers-that-be are more intent on getting good press than preventing the genocide of Christians. The Church must never abandon them. Let us show the world that our God lives, loves, saves and answers prayers.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

137. Syria: Christians fear for their future

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 137 | Wed 07 Dec 2011

SYRIA: CHRISTIANS FEAR FOR THEIR FUTURE

By Elizabeth Kendal

When democracy is decoupled from its Judeo-Christian foundations it is diminished, becoming little more than majoritarianism. When majoritarianism is inserted into highly tribal and sectarian cultures it risks enabling and legitimising tyranny by the majority. When the cost of losing power is enormous -- poverty, persecution and death -- tribes and sects have little choice but to resist or to flee.

WW1 saw the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the end of the Caliphate with Syria coming under French rule. The French disempowered the Sunni majority by empowering the religious minorities, elevating them to positions of authority in the military and the government. Over the course of five or six decades, the Alawites (a Muslim sect and the largest minority at 12-15 percent) and the Christians (10 percent) went from being persecuted dhimmis -- vulnerable, second-class citizens subjugated under Islam -- to principal, elite power-brokers. Like other secular dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, Syria's ruling Baathist party has respected religious freedom to a large degree while crushing political threats, especially that of fundamentalist political Islam. In this regard, the main difference between Iraq and Syria is that in Iraq, Saddam Hussein maintained secularism by repressing an Iran-backed political Shi'ite majority whilst in Syria, the Assad regime has maintained secularism by repressing a Saudi-backed Sunni majority influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The current uprising in Syria is not about 'democracy' as the West knows it. It is about restoring majoritarianism (Sunni domination), Arab hegemony and the Islamic order to Syria. Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood elements -- local and foreign, ideological and militant -- are inciting and exploiting the protests within which are many genuine voices calling for political and human rights reform. Furthermore, the conflict in Syria has regional dimensions. Syria is not merely allied to Shi'ite Persian Iran and to Shi'ite Hezballah in Lebanon, it is integral -- politically, militarily and geographically -- to the Iranian axis and 'Shi'ite Crescent'. Yet Syria is 90 percent Arab and majority Sunni. Consequently, a proxy war is being playing out in Syria for Syria, between the Iranian axis and the US-Saudi / Gulf Arab axis. Israel has long been threatened by the belligerent anti-Semitism of the Iranian axis but the belligerent anti-Semitic fundamentalist Islam rising to power in the Arab states in the wake of the 'Arab Spring' may yet prove worse. This would leave Israel wondering if it is a case of 'better the devil we know'! Significantly, Hamas is leaving its headquarters in Damascus and relocating, not to Tehran, but to Cairo.

Syrian Christians maintain that the fall of the Assad regime would be disastrous for Syria's nearly three million Christians, including hundreds of thousands of Assyrian-Chaldean refugees from Iraq. To discredit this, Western and Arab media are spreading the propaganda that Assad is fear-mongering, exploiting the Christians' supposedly unreasonable and irrational fears of Islam. However, the Christians are not only reflecting on their own history but are looking around at their co-religionists facing genocide in Iraq and massacres in Egypt. Even now, reports are leaking out about Syrian Christians being forced out of their homes and arson of Christian businesses. One chant being heard in the protests has been: 'The Alawites to the grave and the Christians to Beirut'. Consequently, Christians fear that should the Assad regime fall or Syria break up, Christians would be left defenceless before a flood of violent persecution and ethnic cleansing. Their fears are definitely justified.

For more background see:
Syria: Christians Vulnerable
by Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 16 May 2011

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR --

* WISDOM: that Christian community leaders might have strategic wisdom to direct their local / ethnic communities; that the church's leaders might have spiritual wisdom to lead their denominations, congregations and fellowships; that Christian parents might have divine wisdom to guide their families through this crisis to the glory of God.

* FAITH: that all Christians in Syria might grow in faith as they fix their eyes on Jesus, 'the founder and perfecter of [their] faith'. (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

* God to intervene to still 'the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth [might be] in awe at [his] signs. (Psalm 65:7b,8a ESV).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN WHOLE ARTICLE
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CHRISTIANS IN SYRIA FEAR FOR THEIR FUTURE

The uprising in Syria is not about 'democracy' as the West knows it. It is about restoring majoritarianism (Sunni Muslim domination), Arab hegemony and the Islamic order to Syria. Furthermore, a proxy war is playing out in Syria for Syria, between the Iranian-Hezballah axis and the US-Saudi / Gulf Arab axis. The fall of the Assad regime would be disastrous for Syria's nearly three million Christians, including hundreds of thousands of Assyrian-Chaldean refugees from Iraq, who could find themselves defenceless before a flood of violent persecution and ethnic cleansing. Their fears are fully justified, considering the situation in Iraq, where Christians are facing genocide, and in Egypt, where Christians are facing escalating violent persecution and massacres. They are already being attacked amidst the Syrian protests. Please pray for the Church in Syria.

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