Its amazing to see the phenomenon known as IS or ISIS grow in the speed it has. From a relative unknown faction fighting in a civil war, the group has grown from a local unknown militia, to world wide terrorist group. Fueled by political and religious motivations, the group has been recruiting young, idealistic, frustrated, disenfranchised and confused youth by skillful propaganda. Ironically, its draw; the invitation to take on the wicked governments who are killing women, children and civilians has been the very thing that ISIS has itself turned into. Beheading christians and muslims from other sects is a norm for the organization. Now with members in the tens of thousands, the group has been making gains in Iraq, and in Syria, but is now being opposed by coalition forces in Iraq, and by other rebels in Syria.
There are a host of narratives that are intriguing about the religion, politics, and eschatology as it relates to ISIS and its intersection with Christianity but the one I want to address is this question.
What if Christianity was as successful at sending new missionaries to the front lines as ISIS?
There are many different hypothesis that experts are using to explain the growing numbers of recruits. Some call it the perfect storm of propaganda, idealism, disenchantment, adventure and opportunity. We are seeing young people leave their homes, with out any consideration of their future, their families, or even well being to fight what appears to be a glorious fight, against what is being painted as “an evil enemy”. These people with no military background are jumping to the front lines and willing to give up their lives for what they consider an honorable cause. We know that these recruits are falling for a bait and switch, and that the righteous cause that they thought they were joining is really more wicked and depraved than the governments they are opposed to.Yet something has to be said about the undertone, the undercurrent and the narrative to be apart of something more about building a kingdom that has caused so many young people to join.
The words of Jesus come to mind when I think about the willingness to give up everything.
25Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Now, I know the phrase hate his own father, mother and wife will throw people off. Jesus is not telling his disciples to hate their families, because we know that Jesus’ main command is to love God and to love our neigbhors. What he is saying that we cannot let even the things we hold dear keep us from following Christ. In order to follow Christ, we must be prepared to leave the things we consider most precious to us, our family, and even our lives. These things may not always be necessary, but in the event that they do stand in the way Jesus says we should be prepared to give up everything. The invitation to carry the cross, is an invitation to death, its a call that says to follow Christ we must subordinate our dreams, desires, expectations, and plans and hopes for our lives for something greater. We are no to no longer focus on building our own kingdoms, but the kingdom of God. We must be ready to give our lives to following Christ and building his kingdom. My brothers and sisters in Egypt know this well, as many of them lost their lives to ISIS soldiers and recognized that this high cost of giving their lives was worth knowing and gaining Christ.
My fellow brothers and sisters in Christ around the world,
We are invited to the greatest mission in the world. We are also fighting an enemy, a system, a corrupt kingdom with the greatest dictator of them all. He like Pharoah refuses to let his slaves go, and he is willing to fight tooth and nail, not only to prevent his citizens from leaving, but to reenslave those who have left his grasp. Our weapons however are not physical, they are spiritual.
for though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
Our primary weapons are prayer, God’s word and disciplined lives of obedience. Their is an evil dictator that we cannot take down with AK47’s antitank weaponry, and bombs. The way we take him out is by our groups of militias (churches) praying , and preaching, and confronting the idealogies and false gods of this world, that are holding the world captive. We must discipline ourselves against sin, and make sure that we do not get carried away with the materialism, secularism, or racism that has imprisoned the world. We must love our enemies, and pray for them. To my brothers and sisters in Lybia, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, Russia, and China. Please continue to pray for those soldiers who may be killing your family. Pray that they may come to the light. Pray that they may know the one true savior, Jesus. For my brothers and sisters around the world, let us pray for patience and strength for our family who is being persecuted. Let us also pray for protection and that the forces such as ISIS may be stopped.
There are many things that ISIS errors on, but the one thing that it got right, is it knew it had to invite people into a bigger story, a larger narrative. We as believers must invite people into something bigger, something timeless, something eternal. Its about establishing the kingdom of God and joining in the work of spreading the gospel around the world.
The world is a volatile one, and will continue to be one until Christ comes. In the mean time we must recognize who the real enemy is. Yes there are corrupt government officials, but there is one even more corrupt pulling the strings. The god of this world is using these so called leaders as puppets. I am by no means saying that we should not seek political means to fight, but we should recognize that they can only do so much.
We need more laborers, we need more soldiers in this fight. We fight on our knees. Please join with me in praying that those in darkness may come to the light. Pray for more laborers. Pray for your brothers in the West who have been caught up in living for themselves, and pray that our Lord Jesus may come soon.