Originally posted on February 24, 2015. Posted again in honor and memory of the 21 Martyrs: 20 Coptic Christians from Egypt, and their brother, Matthew, from Ghana. Rest in peace and rise in Glory.
ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh…whatever you call them and for whatever reason you call them that, their actions are still the same. It’s good to be aware of their ultimate goal. Unless, of course, you believe that the earnest young lads (and lasses) of ISIS are just in search of gainful employment.
Gone are the days when we could even pretend to believe that ISIS is like a JV basketball team compared to the more organized network of Al Qaeda. Months, murders, and martyrdoms later, it seems as if rather than being the Lakers to ISIS’ JV team, Al Qaeda is more like a demonic John the Baptist. preparing the way for those who would bring the kingdom of Satan to earth. That is one reason why IRD’s international Religious Liberty Program is has a new emphasis on aggressive and strategic spiritual warfare in 2015. The articles and resources for this prayer campaign are being collected on the IRD website, International Religious Freedom page, under the topic “This Day We Fight.”
To provide more understanding about the Islamic State, and how to pray against the demonic forces that control them, here described are four articles that you should read, along with my annotations!
1. “What ISIS Really Wants,” Graeme Wood, The Atlantic, March 2015
If you have not read this yet, please do. It will both terrify and enrage you, but it is well worth it, not least because it will inform our prayers. This article refutes any idea that ISIS is “not Islamic,” or that they are rebels without a cause. It contains significant details about the group and their practices as well as analysis of their motivation and goals, in its five sections: Devotion, Territory, The Apocalypse, The Fight, and Dissuasion.
Whereas I really, really wish we had been wrong, as we were told so many times, and that global jihad and the caliphate were just products of fevered, Islamophobic imaginations, (one of the least offensive things we’ve been told) this article vindicates those who have warned of a coming flesh and blood — and more blood — caliphate.
The brutal actions and bizarre agenda of ISIS is not new to those who are familiar with the Islamic Republic of Sudan. Wood does not mention, Sudan, but slavery, crucifixions, genocide — all approved by ISIS in order to establish the caliphate and bring about the apocalypse — have been used for decades in Sudan for the same reason. Sudanese Islamists seek to establish a caliphate, awaiting eagerly the return of the Mahdi. And Christians are martyred on a regular basis in Sudan.
Wood quotes Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the foremost expert on the theology of ISIS, who explains that Muslims who declare that ISIS is “unIslamic” are “”embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion’ that neglects ‘what their religion has historically and legally required.'” Haykel told him that “many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature are rooted in an ‘interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.'” (Many of us, whether mainline or evangelical church-goers, are very familiar with this “interfaith-Christian-nonsense.”)
2. “ISIS and the Missing Christ,” Andrew Klavan, P J Media, February 22, 2015
Once you have been thoroughly informed, demoralized, and freaked out of your mind by Wood’s chilling assessment, read the rest of the story, in Klavan’s article.
As Christians we know that God is in control, and that the battle against Satan was won at the Cross. But Klavan reminds us that secularism, life bereft of spiritual value, is a key reason for the lure of ISIS. Neither capitalism nor individual freedom, of great value for economic development and the political system, can fill what 17th century mathematician and physicist Pascal called the “God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man.”
Klavan continues that faith in Christ is the only counter to the intoxicating spiritual lure of ISIS, but the Truth of the Gospel is in the hands of followers many of whom have been silenced by multiculturalism and political correctness. Warns Klavan, “indiscriminate acceptance of all creeds as equally worthwhile is an error that does the world more harm than good.”
Just as we are proposing taking a more aggressive stance in our prayers, remembering that Jesus has given us His very power and authority, and that He has promised that whoever believes in Him will do even “greater things” than He did on earth, Klavan admonishes that Christians should take a more aggressive stance in proclaiming and defending the Truth. The objection of some to religion in general, says Klavan, “saying that ‘religion’ is responsible for the wars and atrocities committed in religion’s name — is absurd.” He continues, “People murder each other in the name of love, too, but that doesn’t mean love is murderous; it simply means there are wrong and right ways to love. There are wrong and right ways to worship too, and keeping silent about the right ways only lends credence to the wrong.’
Think about this closing statement of Klavan’s when you pray, “We who have voices better start telling the Truth without fear. Otherwise, our silence, and the emptiness that silence creates, will leave all the world to the likes of ISIS and their god — who is not God at all, by the way, but another fellow entirely.”
3. “How to Pray When Terrorists are Beheading Christians,” J. Lee Grady, Charisma Magazine, February 18, 2015
Responding to the horrific slaying of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya, Grady provides 6 suggestions for prayer. “The stream of blood we saw in 2014 may become a river this year,” he warns. “And Christians in the Middle East are the most vulnerable.” He goes on to warn that “the Christian community must wake up to the need for emergency prayer” before this terrorism comes to our shores and “suicide bombers attack Dallas or people are beheaded in the streets of Pittsburgh.”
Thank God, it seems to me that the Christian community in the West is beginning to wake up not just to save our skins, but because it is finally dawning on American and other non-persecuted (real persecution) Christians that those who are having their heads sawed off for refusing to convert to Islam, those who are losing everything for the sake of Christ, are our brothers and sisters. Even with all that is so evil and diabolical, God has found a way to redeem. More than ever, Western Christians are adopting the noun ( ن) in solidarity with Christians in Iraq and Syria. Even more important, more Western Christians — who may never have done so before — are praying for the persecuted believers.
These are the six biblical ways Grady suggests to pray:
1. Pray for a bold witness of the Gospel in the midst of persecution. (Acts 4: 20)
2. Pray for supernatural miracles to confirm the Gospel. (Acts 4: 29-30)
3. Pray that the seed of the martyrs will produce a harvest of converts. (Acts 7: 60)
4. Pray for heavy conviction to fall on those who persecute the church. (Acts 9: 3-4)
5. Pray for angelic protection and intervention. (Acts 12: 7, 23) Remember, angels are warriors!
6. Pray that the global Christian community will work for peace and justice in the Middle East.
4. “Loving Your Enemies,” Tony Rezk, Contra Mundum, February 16, 2015
This article is a very personal reflection, dedicated to “the newly crowned 21 martyrs of Christ who were brutally murdered by ISIS affiliates in Libya,” by a Coptic American artist, Tony Rezk.
In fact, the cover photo for my blog post is his new icon of the #21Martyrs, being crowned by the angels in Heaven, and welcomed by Jesus. The Martyrs, 20 Egyptians and 1 Ghanaian, are dressed in the orange jumpsuits in which they were beheaded, their hands are still tied behind their backs, and they are still kneeling on the seashore where they were killed. But now the jumpsuits are covered in red — signifying the blood of their own martyrdom, but even more importantly, the blood of Christ. You can imagine that the beautiful, nail-scarred hands of the Savior will lovingly untie the bound hands of each one in the next moment.
Rezk talks about his disgust and anger watching the video in which ISIS boasts of its accomplishment over “the people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian church” and show, in horrific detail, the beheading of these men who left Egypt to find jobs in Libya. He continues, “As I watched as these Christian men being lowered to their bellies and knives cutting through their necks, I heard cries of “Ya Rab ya Yasoo”, literally translated to, ‘My Lord, Jesus Christ.'”
Christians are compelled by Christ to forgive. It’s not easy. Rezk says that he and a friend talked about how easy it would be to hate “men who would commit such a cowardly act,” but “that would go against the teachings of Christ, who taught us to love our enemies, to bless and not curse, and to pray for those who persecute us.” He provides many edifying quotations on forgiveness from Orthodox Church Fathers, but also his own profound observation:
Hatred is a poison, once you allow it in your heart, it slowly begins to destroy your senses, your emotions, your humanity, and in the end it will take your life. This is why the Lord taught us to love our enemies, for our sakes, so that we would learn to be pure and holy, and full of love like our Father in heaven.
ISIS called their video “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross.” They don’t know how right they are, and yet it is even more. The video martyrdom is indeed a message signed with blood — the blood of martyrs, the seed of the Church, and the blood of Christ. And it is a message to the nation of the Cross. But it is also a message, a testimony, a witness to the whole world:
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word Ya Rab ya Yasoo of their testimony.