Persecution vs. Discipline

Until a week ago, I would have described what ISIS is doing to Christians in Iraq as persecution of the church. The pastor of a church in the Kurdistan region of Iraq convinced me otherwise. Certainly ISIS is doing plenty of evil, but as their actions pertain to the church, consider this perspective:

Persecution is what happens when Christians are on mission and accomplishing God’s purposes on earth. Discipline is what God does to those He loves enough to correct their behavior when necessary.

According to this Iraqi pastor, the church in Iraq was not on mission, but apathetic toward God’s call to reach the Iraqi people with the Gospel. As often happened in the Old Testament, God is using those intent on evil to awaken His people and cause them to realign themselves with His priorities. The hardships they are enduring is strengthening the church and equipping them for a great movement of the Gospel deep in the heart of Islam.

The typical story we heard over and over from those who have been displaced is that ISIS gave them thirty minutes to get out of town, join ISIS, or be killed. Why give them thirty minutes to flee? That doesn’t sound like the tactic of Islamic extremists unless they are constrained by the hand of God. Nearly two million people have been given a second chance.

2015-01-26 18.47.20
Home group meeting by the light of a single bulb powered with electricity provided by a Muslim neighbor

Over a million Christians have left Iraq. Our pastor friend equates these to Jonah fleeing from delivering the message God gave him for the people of Ninevah. Many of those who have relocated within Iraq are renewing their commitment with a vision for returning to Mosul and other towns and villages once ISIS is pushed back. They are gaining the skills and strength now to launch a church planting movement throughout Iraq. Mosul, by the way, is the geographic location of Ninevah in Jonah’s day.

Will this move of God succeed? Because God has given us stewardship over this planet and chooses to work through us, it may depend on whether the church in America and around the world stands with our Iraqi brothers and sisters to strengthen, equip, encourage, and most of all pray for them.

While in Iraq, we met with the Kurdistan Director of Religious Affairs. He indicated that even if they successfully push back ISIS in Iraq, they expect to see another million refugees come their way, many from Syria. Their struggle with trying to help these refugees is exacerbated by the fact that Baghdad has no budget to help and Kurdistan’s economy is being severely hurt by the drop in oil prices. Remember that the next time you fill up your gas tank. Perhaps the blessing God is giving you with lower gas prices is one He would have you pass on to meet basic life needs of our Iraqi brothers and sisters.

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