Tuesday, December 16, 2014

RLPB 291. Towards 2015: Jesus Christ, Eternal King

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 291 | Wed 17 Dec 2014

It has long been my practice to break only between Christmas and New Year. This year, however, I will be taking a much-needed extended break to refresh and to devote myself to finishing a second book. The next Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin will be a January Update on 28 January 2015. Anybody requiring prayer requests for church bulletins or intercessions should refer to the Critical Prayer Requests (CPR) site. If there is a need to inform intercessors of a critical situation requiring urgent prayer, an alert will be issued.

Of course, as intercessors we should cultivate the habit of reading or watching the news with our 'religious liberty' and 'persecuted church' radar switched on, always considering what the implications of the news might be for the Gospel and for the Church and praying accordingly. For example: though unsensational and therefore under-reported, the following news grabbed my attention and inspired prayer.

source: ABC (12 Dec)
On Saturday 13 December, North Korea's deaf football team played a 'friendly' match against Australia's deaf football team in Sydney's Olympic Park. As Hannah Belcher reported for SBS news: '[The Korean] Church group World Milal Australia organised the event with the help of Deaf Football Australia, with parishioners hosting the players in their own Sydney homes.' [SBS news clip with video.] This contact was undoubtedly a miracle in answer to the prayers of many. Why do we persevere in prayer for North Korea and for so many other seemingly hopeless causes? We pray because we believe they are not hopeless, for Jesus Christ is the Eternal King and 'of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end ...' (Isaiah 9:7).

May all intercessors have a blessed, joyous and hope-inspiring Christmas.

~ ~ ~ ~

TOWARDS 2015: JESUS CHRIST, ETERNAL KING

A devotional by Elizabeth Kendal

In 735 BC, as Judah's neighbours conspired against her, God asked Judah's King Ahaz to be 'firm in faith' (Isaiah 7:1-9) and trust God to be faithful to his promise [the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7:8-17]. He even offered to give Ahaz a sign to help him have faith to believe. Unfortunately Ahaz rejected the Lord's offer; he did not want to walk by faith for he had other plans. Disgusted, the prophet Isaiah then revealed that the Lord himself would give a sign: 'Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.' (Isaiah 7:14) Subsequently, Isaiah forewarned his disciples that Ahaz's faithless choice would lead to disaster: the Assyrian invasion (prophesied in Isaiah 8, fulfilled in 701 BC). 'But,' he added, 'there will be no gloom ... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end ...' (Excerpts from Isaiah 9:1-7 ESV)

Whilst Ahaz's son, Hezekiah, was an interim fulfilment of this prophecy, he merely prefigured Jesus Christ, for the ultimate fulfilment is Immanuel (which means, 'God with us'). A godly king who revived Judah's worship of Yahweh, Hezekiah temporarily succumbed to pride before returning to the Lord at the critical moment. As prophesied, the Assyrian army overflowed its banks and flooded the land of Judah, sweeping away all those earthly instruments in which the Lord's people had vainly put their hopes. With the fall of Jerusalem imminent and inevitable, the godly King Hezekiah humbled himself and stood firm in faith. Donning the sackcloth of mourning, he entered the Lord's temple and prayed. His prayer achieved what his works could not as God intervened and the battle was turned back at the gate (Isaiah 36-37).  The remnant was spared by grace through faith.

Jesus Christ, the king born of David's line, is the ultimate fulfilment. Like Hezekiah, Jesus has interposed himself between a just and righteous God and a people in need of salvation. Unlike Hezekiah, Jesus is perfect and eternal. Whilst the spiritual battle has already been turned back -- for Christ's victory on the cross has ensured the outcome -- local battles will continue 'until he has put all his enemies under his feet' (from 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).  Though the 'mopping up' is messy, painful and difficult; despite episodes of chaos, darkness and seeming hopelessness; the promise remains: 'Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end ... .' (Isaiah 9:7) So we will resist despair and refuse to give up. We will press on in faith with witness and intercession believing that 'the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea' (Isaiah 11:9).  As the angel told Mary, 'Nothing will be impossible for God.' (Luke 1:37) May we believe, as Mary believed, that God will fulfil his word (Luke 1:45).

Lord God our Father and Eternal King, 
we commit ourselves to another year in your service, 
to intercede in confident faith for your precious, persecuted Church. 
                  AMEN

[For complete study on a Biblical response to persecution and threat, based on Isaiah 1-39, see: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today, by Elizabeth Kendal (Deror Books, Dec 2012)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS 
---------------------------------------------
NORTH KOREA: NOT HOPELESS

On Saturday 13 December North Korea's deaf football team played a 'friendly' match against Australia's deaf football team in Sydney's Olympic Park. Furthermore '[The Korean] Church group World Milal Australia organised the event with the help of Deaf Football Australia, with parishioners hosting the players in their Sydney homes.' This contact was undoubtedly a miracle in answer to the prayers of many. May we persevere in prayer for many seemingly hopeless causes because we believe they are not hopeless, for Jesus Christ is the Eternal King and 'Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end ... .' (Isaiah 9:7) Lord, we commit ourselves to another year in your service, to intercede in confident faith for your precious, persecuted Church. Amen.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

RLPB 290. Towards 2015: the world has changed.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 290 | Wed 10 Dec 2014

TOWARDS 2015: THE WORLD HAS CHANGED
-- and the Church must rise to meet the challenge.
By Elizabeth Kendal

* DISPLACED & TRAUMATISED
As we head into 2015, hundreds of thousands of Christians are struggling to survive as refugees or IDPs (internally displaced peoples).
source
Driven from their historic homeland in Upper Mesopotamia, hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians are struggling in camps and shared accommodation across Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Having lost everything, they are dependent on Christian aid groups and local churches for their day-to-day survival. Around 150,000 Assyrian IDPs are in Iraqi Kurdistan (and some in Baghdad) being sheltered in churches, schools, shopping centres and by local believers. Arriving with only the clothes on their backs, they too are dependent on the generosity of others. In Sudan, many thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes in South Kordofan state by the genocidal regime in Khartoum. Tens of thousands have fled to camps in South Sudan. Tens of thousands seek shelter in caves and trenches in the Nuba Mountains awaiting Khartoum's threatened Final Solution. The number of Christians displaced by Islamic militants in Nigeria, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo is quite enormous. Of course their needs are beyond the material, for these refugees and IDPs have been traumatised by war, with most having lost loved ones. Understandably, their faith is sorely tested.

As we head into 2015, will we commit to living simply and supporting a Christian aid group so our brothers and sisters might simply live? As we head into 2015, will we commit to pray for the displaced?

* CAPTIVE & ENSLAVED
As we head into 2015, people are slowly becoming aware that slavery is alive and flourishing in the 21st Century and growing at an alarming rate. The victims are commonly from poor and marginalised communities; many are persecuted Christians. Today thousands of Christians exist as bonded labourers in Pakistan and as trapped labourers in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf.
source
Today thousands of Christian suffer as sex slaves to Islamic jihadists in Northern Nigeria, Cameroon and 'Islamic State', and as chattel slaves of Sudanese and Gulf Arabs. Christians fleeing persecution in the Horn of Africa are snatched from camps and trafficked into the Sinai where they are tortured to extort ransom payments. Committed Christian abolitionists and anti-trafficking activists are getting busier, rescuing captives and redeeming slaves with full knowledge that nothing will change until the culture changes through spiritual transformation.

As we head into 2015, will we commit to supporting the spread of the Gospel, for the witness of the Word and the Spirit? As we head into 2015, will we commit to pray for the captives?

'IN RETURNING and in rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.' Isaiah 30:15 has long been a favourite verse for many. It is easy to see why -- it is a beautiful verse, almost poetic. Yes, it rolls off the tongue so easily. Yet one look at the context and the verse becomes much more challenging. God spoke these words to his people at a time when they faced invasion, conquest, destruction, displacement, massacre and captivity. As their powerful enemy bore down on them, the Lord's people looked everywhere for help -- except to the Lord. Meanwhile, they did everything in their strength (busy, busy, busy) -- except pray (Isaiah 22:8b-11). As the storm clouds loomed the Lord God said: 'In returning and in rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.' But they were 'unwilling', preferring to do things their way (v16). So the Lord waited (refrained from acting), for the promised salvation would only come by grace through faith, which is the Lord's paradigm. No wonder the passage concludes: 'blessed are those who wait for [trust in] him' (v18). [Isaiah 30:15-18]

As we head into 2015, will we commit to serious faith-building so we might reach out in faith to seek grace from the Lord?

'Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord ...' (from Exodus 14:10-14).

* THE WORLD HAS CHANGED
We have entered an age where mission and persecution must be seen as inseparable; where the needs of the Body are so enormous they simply must be shared globally; where faith-building is imperative for the purpose of survival; and where worship must have room for indignation, lament and the very serious business of intercessory prayer.

As we head into 2015, will we commit to this?


DEAR FATHER WE PRAY
that we might have an insight into your heart, which grieves over the suffering Body of Christ. May the Holy Spirit work in us, that we might weep with those who weep while serving the persecuted as comforters and advocates. May the Holy Spirit change us that we will give of our time, our funds, our energy and our possessions willingly for the benefit of believers in desperate need (Acts 2:42-47). Please Lord, fan our flickering faith into flame, that we might truly believe that Jesus Christ is 'able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us' (Ephesians 3:20).  May 2015 be a year of awakening, transformation and sanctification, for the sake of those who suffer for Christ, and for the glory of God. 
Amen.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS 
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TOWARDS 2015

Heading into 2015, we need to accept that the world has changed. The number of Christians displaced by war, threatened by terrorism, destroyed by violent persecution, crushed by crippling discrimination and even held captive as slaves is growing at an alarming rate. We have entered an age where mission and persecution must be seen as inseparable; where the needs of the Body are so enormous they simply must be shared globally; where faith-building is imperative for the purpose of survival; and where worship must have room for indignation, lament and the very serious business of intercessory prayer. As we head into 2015, will we commit to this? Pray for the persecuted, and for the Lord to revive his Church. For salvation comes from the Lord, by grace through faith.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).