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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Love in the Face of ISIS" (Lorraine Marie Varela)

TITLE: Love in the Face of ISIS: Seven Prayer Strategies for the Crisis in the Middle East
AUTHOR: Lorraine Marie Varela
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Chosen Books, 2016, (160 pages).

With news of terrorism activities coming at us on a daily basis, it is natural to feel fearful about terrorists and the unending threats of violence. The killings and bombings do not simply occur in the Middle East troubled spots. Even in countries like France, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, the United States, and Thailand, the spread of ISIS is getting increasingly global. Mention ISIS and people would gravitate toward fear and uncertainty. Thus, many countries have come together to ally themselves against such terrorist organizations. From airports to border checks, from Internet chatrooms to Twitter messages; governments from all over the world are accelerating their monitoring of activities by terrorist groups such as ISIS. In such a climate, it seems like loving them is totally counter-culture. How can anybody love a group that kills innocent people? More importantly, what can Christians do in the face of such evil and violence? For author and professional photographer, Lorraine Marie Varela, the right response for all of us is prayer. The gospel of Jesus Christ is stronger, more powerful, and more effective than any strategies of man. For God wins through love. For in prayer, we will learn that what is impossible with man is possible with God. Now are these glib words uttered only by people in nice and safe places? Definitely not. For Varela has seen the pain and suffering of people through her many visits to the Middle East. The more suffering and impossible situations she saw, the more she had to cling to Christ. Out of the depths of helplessness and the heights of recognizing God's sovereignty, she shares with us seven strategies to live in the gap. All of them had to do with the Name of God. Briefly, the seven strategies are:

  1. Praying to Release the Presence of God (The LORD is There, Shammah).
  2. Praying to Release the Armies of God (The LORD of Hosts, Tzeva'ot)
  3. Praying to Release the Protection of God (The LORD my Shepherd, Roi)
  4. Praying to Release the Perseverance of the People of God (The LORD is my Banner, Nissi)
  5. Praying to Release the Provision of God (The LORD will Provide, Yireh)
  6. Praying to Release the Healing of God (The LORD who heals, Rapha)
  7. Praying to Release the Peace of God  (The LORD is Peace, Shalom)

Each chapter begins with an Old Testament passage followed by an exposition centered on the Name and the character of God. Varela then brings in some New Testament passages to help us see the consistency of God throughout the Bible. That God is faithful not only for the Old Testament people of Israel, but also for the New Testament people of God. Each time, readers are reminded that this is the same God who had been faithful in the past; is still faithful in the present; and promises to be the same in the future. There are frequent moments of pausing to pray to allow readers to put what they read straight into practice. Every prayer strategy ends with a powerful story of how God delivered His people. These stories are carefully selected to encourage those of us who need a glimpse of good news in the barrage of bad and terrible news. Such good news are very few from the mainstream media and big news agencies. As far as God is concerned, there is much good that had happened and more to come.

I must confess that I do had doubts and negativity when it comes to the possibility of good ever coming out from a war-torn Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Somalia, and a forever turbulent Middle East. How can one ever show love to an unrepentant and stubborn evil regime, bent on wiping out non-Islamic religious people? It also seems like such people only speak the language of bombs, bullets, and ballistic missiles. The key to understanding this book is to read it as "God is coming in the face of the ISIS threat." The seemingly hopeless and endless rise of terrorist cells and attacks would make such a book quite irrelevant. For me, I find my perspective moved in three ways.

First, it reminds me that only God can save the world. We can pay through our noses for the best and most powerful security forces but there is no stopping terrorism that can occur anytime, anywhere, and anyhow. How do we prevent evil from happening at all? One successful explosion out of a thousand is already one blast too many. It is only in such situations that we plead: "God help us!" It may seem like a last minute and desperate prayer just like the movies where people in an aircraft about to crash say the Lord's Prayer. If we are pushed to the point that we know we cannot help ourselves, we can only depend on God.

Second, it enables us to be engaged despite feeling hopeless and helpless. It defies the conventional phrase: "We cannot do anything about it." That is not true. In fact, praying is an active form of engagement. We learn to be engaged with what is going on in the world, and to know what we can do and to know what we cannot do. What we can do we will act upon by asking the Lord for wisdom and discernment on how best to be a part of the solution. What we cannot do, we can ask God for guidance about how best not to aggravate the situation. If we do not know what right decisions to make, at least in prayer we will learn of what wrong decisions NOT to make.

Third, prayer is not only the best way, it is often the only way. Just like what Ephesians 6 tells us, that we battle not against flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities of this world. This third perspective is perhaps the most important of them all. The reason why ISIS has become so formidable and feared is because of the way it manages to instill control and paranoia through imagined threats and fear. The biggest obstacle is actually fear itself. It is minimal costs to ISIS just to see how people in America are so fearful of terrorist threats that the airport security infrastructure became so bogged down with additional layers of security that not only inconvenienced ordinary citizens but wear down well-intentioned security personnel. It disrupts our normal way of life. What used to take only minutes are now done in hours. With tempers flaring and patience running out, it makes the ISIS commanders smile how a ruse or a false alarm can make the rest of the world go on a wild goose chase. Without anchoring ourselves with a prayerful attitude on faith and trust in God, we are sitting ducks for fear-mongers.

Love for ISIS? You got to be kidding, right? Yet, this book forces us to re-evaluate our own perspectives, that it is indeed when things are most hopeless, and the rest of the world are most helpless, that we gravitate toward the God of Hope and the God of Help. This book drives us to pray even in the midst of a hopeless situation. This is because our God is God of Hope, which is why Varela has given us seven ways in which our prayer strategies are centered on the character of God. As you read this book, you may find yourselves increasingly skeptical about the problem of ISIS and how the problem of ISIS can be resolved. As long as you look toward the cleverness of mankind, you will be disappointed. Varela shows us that we must always look to God, for what is impossible with people is possible with God.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Chosen Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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