They are the many unsung, unseen forces in the Nigerian military. Women– mothers, daughters, respected leaders in Nigerian society– have given their safety and comfort to fight the evil that is the Boko Haram insurgency. Though almost unheard of when speaking about the military, women make up a good amount of the country’s militia and are an active part of the fight against terrorism. Yet, in an attitude of apprehension and even slight panic, Nigeria has decided to remove more than 200 of its women soldiers from the frontlines of Maiduguri city to the country’s capitol, Abuja. Done after hearing reports that five women soldiers were killed and four more were captured in the Baga massacre in January, the Nigerian military is obviously trying to protect its female soldiers from imminent kidnap, rape, and/or death at the hands of the Boko Haram (BH). While this measure can be seen as wise or preventative, it can also be viewed as sexist and even as a hinderance to the Nigerian military’s mission of defeating the BH. The women who have chosen this dangerous line of work should be prepared for the very real risk attached to it; in that sense, one can view it as wrong to remove them from the warzone. But, it can also be understood that the military is trying to protect its soldiers from being especially targeted by the terrorists. No matter one’s opinion, any observer can plainly see that Nigeria is on high alert for any upcoming attacks against Maiduguri city.
As the Febuary 2015 presidential elections are coming up within a few weeks, there is good reason for it. As gathered by Nigerian intelligence, it is the Boko Haram’s goal to destabilize, invade, and conquer Maiduguri city so as to disrupt voting in Northern Nigeria. If successful, the fall of Maiduguri city to Boko Haram could cause “a humanitarian disaster” of epic proportions. The already unstable state of Northern Nigeria has left many, including President Goodluck Jonathan, skeptical of how INEC (the Independent National Electoral Commision) can provide fair, transparent voting for those displaced in the area– something that has caused Jonathan to suggest postponing the elections two months. To refute claims that INEC is not ready, INEC spokesperson Kayode Idowu “allayed fears on the readiness of the [voting] cards” by stating that “all the cards will be ready before the election. It is left to the people to go and collect them” (source).
Credibility of the election aside, the fear those in Nigeria face is incredibly real. Over the past month, Boko Haram has increased its violence in Northern Nigeria– and beyond– to never-before-seen levels. In a disastrous slew of raids, kidnappings, and a massacre called Boko Haram’s bloodiest yet, BH has spread its violence to Nigeria’s surrounding countries, targeting the Cameroonian village of Fotokol earlier this week. Aiming to scare the surrounding countries into stopping their support of Nigeria, Boko Haram has threatened the countries of Cameroon and Niger, razing churches and mosques while killing innocent villagers. Every step west Africa takes towards defeating the Boko Haram has been met with great opposition– and great fear. It is key that now, more than ever, Nigeria and its surrounding nations do not succumb to the demonically evil fear-mongering “power” of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Not only is this vital to the security of the African union, it is God’s will for all Christ-followers. 2 Timothy clearly states that as believers, we have been given the Holy Spirit of God which dwells within us; this Spirit doesn’t make us afraid, but rather, very bold.
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
(2 Timothy 1:7, NIV)
The power described here is not like the self-aggrandizing, mystical, ominous power seen in black magic; rather, it is the power of a Loving and Just God working in and through us to accomplish His will on the Earth. When believers submit their lives to Christ and choose to rely on the power of His Spirit instead of their own willpower, they are equipped with all they need to live Holy lives to God. The more we rely upon the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, the more fruit we will bear (John 15:5, NIV).
The power and movement of the Holy Spirit has been given a bad reputation over the years, making many think of the hysterical Pentecostal “tent revivals” that occurred in the early 1900’s, or the Charismatic movement of the 1980’s (characterized by “mass healings” and whole congregations speaking in tongues at once). Biblically, these movements were out of line with the order God calls His Church to have, as clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28. While the Spiritual gifts of healing and speaking in tongues are not bad, they must be used in order; God does not call us to madness, but to having “a sound mind” (as stated in other translations of 2 Timothy 1:7).
What does this mean, exactly? Simply, it means that the Spirit of God makes us brave, unafraid of what may come against us. Paul wrote this passage at a time where intense persecution was imminent, and there was much reason for fear and timidity. Although we may not be going through persecution, we have all dealt with fear and anxiety in some way or another. Fear, in all its forms, destabilizes the mind and keeps us from making sound decisions– the more we succumb to it, the more irrational and frenzied our thinking becomes. Yet, in light of the power Christ has given us, we do not need to fear anything. Because we are called to “fear not,” our faith in Christ frees us to make decisions that are wise, Godly, and motivated by the Love of Christ.
Which brings us to one of the most important concepts about the Holy Spirit: God’s Spirit gives us His Love. Walking in step with the leading of the Holy Spirit is made most obvious by the fact that we are obeying Christ and Loving the people He’s placed in our lives (John 13:35, NIV). When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus’ reply was one of selfless love for God and others.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)
Unlike the cold-hearted, narcissistic, self-righteous attitude of the Law-abiding Pharisees, Jesus commanded His people to “value others above themselves” (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV). Love in its truest form is sacrificial; living a life led by the Holy Spirit speaks of living a life of humble service towards others (John 15:13, NIV). Even in situations where the Holy Spirit may lead us away from a relationship, our motives and the process by which it happens must be ones of love, not fear or anger. No matter how confusing relationships may get, letting the Holy Spirit guide us in our love of other people always ensures that we are putting others’ best interests ahead of our own.
Walking in step with the Holy Spirit frees us from fear, selfishness, and sinful desire (Galatians 5:16, NIV). As the demonic power behind the Boko Haram and ISIS seeks to destroy Africa by enslaving people to fear, it is only the Spirit of God Himself that can liberate, empower, and strengthen the African Union to stand against and defeat such powers of darkness. Pray that, by the working of Christ in His children, we will see the defeat of the Boko Haram– and every other power that endeavors to enslave this world to sin, fear, and death.
Be praying that the members of the multinational military the AU has created– the 7,500 soldiers newly fighting against Boko Haram– would slowly but surely come to Christ. Pray that the soldiers actively fighting against the terrorists would rely on Christ for empowerment, strength, wisdom, and courage to fight and defeat the Boko Haram.
Pray that Jesus would work mightily in and through His people in Nigeria and its surrounding countries. During a time where chaos, fear, and violence abound, pray that Christ’s peace would rest on all those displaced, injured, and otherwise wounded by the Boko Haram’s actions.
Pray that in all, Jesus’ Spirit would abide heavily in the hearts of Christians involved in this insurgency. Pray that as believers draw near to Christ for power, strength, and support, they would be used by Him to uphold and comfort others in Love. Pray that Jesus’ Spirit of power, boldness, and a sound, self-disciplined mind would change the atmosphere in West Africa. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, love, hope, and strength (2 Corinthians 3:17, NIV).
Do you know Christ?
You may know who Jesus Christ is, but do you know Him personally? Many people mistake Christianity for just another world religion, built off mere doctrines and ideologies like any other life philosophy. What many fail to realize is that Christianity is not about rules and regulations– it’s about having a close, intimate relationship with God Himself through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
(John 3:16, NIV)
You have probably heard this verse a hundred times. In many minds, it’s become a cliche saying, void of any real weight or meaning. But, looking at it closely, what does this verse truly mean for expressing who God is, who we are, and how we relate to Him? What does it mean about His Son, our sin, and His salvation?
To realize the depth behind this verse of scripture, we have to go back to the very beginning. In the beginning, God made man and woman (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:22; Genesis 5:2, NIV). God’s initial design for humanity was for us to enjoy perfect communion with Him in the garden He had created for us, while being excellent stewards of the environment and creatures He created (Genesis 2:15; 2:19-20, NIV). Simply put, mankind was created to know God personally and intimately, enjoying a close Love relationship with Him (Colossians 1:16, NIV; Isaiah 43:7, KJV).
This perfect, flawless communion with God was enjoyed by Adam and Eve in the garden, but God also created them with freewill, so that this Love relationship could be authentic and completely voluntary (Genesis 2:9; 2:16-17, NIV). While Adam and Eve believed, trusted and obeyed God’s one command to not eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil for a time, they were deceived when satan, in the form of a snake in the garden, caused them to doubt God’s goodness, sovereignty, and wisdom (Genesis 3:1-4, NIV). Believing a lie, they chose to pursue goodness outside of God and His will for their lives, and in so doing, brought about the natural consequence of disobeying a perfectly Good, Holy God: death of every form (Genesis 3:6-13; 3:22-24, NIV). This curse of death separated humanity from God, causing their relationships with themselves, eachother, and the environment around them to be heartbreakingly destroyed (Genesis 3:10-16, NIV). Not only this, but our sin caused us eternal separation from God, or hell (Isaiah 59:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:9, NIV). Though the situation seemed hopeless, God declared that He would be victorious over sin, death, and the enemy through His son, who would be God in human form (Genesis 3:15, NIV).
Over hundreds of years, mankind tried to redeem themselves through perfectly obeying the Law God had given them (Exodus 19-24, NIV). Yet, no matter how hard we as humans tried to right our wrongs, we were powerless to save ourselves from sin and it’s consequence, death (Romans 3:23; James 1:15, NIV). In trying to perfectly obey external laws– but never letting God affect and change their hearts— people became self-righteous, cold-hearted, and fearful, things that God never desired for people to be (Matthew 23, NIV). It became clear that only God Himself could save us from the horrible mess we had created (Ephesians 2:4-5, NIV).
In response to man’s brokenness, God, in Love for His creation, humbled Himself and became a man– Jesus Christ (John 1:10; 1:14, NIV). Christ came to save us from ourselves by dying for the sins of the whole world (1 Corinthians 15:3, NIV). Jesus did not stay in the grave, though; in an act of complete victory over sin and death, Christ rose from the dead three days later (Mark 16:4-6, NIV). In doing so, Jesus created a whole new covenant with mankind: By belief in Jesus’ deity, death and resurrection alone, not perfect obedience to the Law God gave, we could be saved from eternal death and reconciled to God in a personal, Love relationship (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV). It is in that Love relationship that God changes our hearts, so that we delight in obeying His laws, living for Him out of genuine love and gratitude for His sacrifice instead of obligation (Hebrews 10:16-18, NIV). Not only did Christ promise to enter our lives; He also promised to give us “the Helper,” or the Holy Spirit, to enable us to live Holy lives for Christ (John 14:15-17, NIV). Through Christ alone, our sin has been completely forgiven. Through Christ alone, we are freed from the bondage of sin to live lives of true, sacrificial Love for God and others (Romans 6:18, NIV)!
Your perfect obedience to the Law does not make God love you any more; your rebellion to His Law does not make Him love you any less. Because He so loves you– not because you so loved Him first– He gave you a way to know Him personally, through belief in His Son alone (1 John 4:10, NIV). Knowing Him personally, you naturally gain eternal life and a whole new life here on Earth, devoted to loving and knowing Jesus more– out of your real desire, not force (John 10:28, NIV).
Do you want to enter into a personal, life-changing relationship with God? Romans 10:9 (the NIV translation) tells us that “If [we] declare with [our] mouth[s], ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in [our] heart[s] that God raised him from the dead, [we] will be saved.” Do you believe that Jesus is Lord? That’s beautiful! To confess with your mouth this amazing truth, say this prayer with me, or say one of your own:
Jesus, I believe You are the Son of God, God-in-Man. I believe You died on the cross for the sins of the whole world; I believe You rose after your death, three days later, defeating the power of sin. I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed; because of this, I’ve been naturally separated from You, deserving eternal separation– hell. But I pray today that You’d forgive me of my sin, come into my life, and enable me to live a set-apart life for You alone. I praise You for Your amazing Love, Lord Jesus! Thank You! Amen.
If you’ve repeated this prayer with me or prayed one of your own, I am overjoyed to say that Jesus has now come into your life– and that you are completely new (Revelation 3:20; 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)! This does not mean you will never sin again, or that life will become perfect– in fact, Jesus promised that we would all experience trouble in this life (John 16:33, NIV). Instead, it means that Christ is walking with you every step of the way, there to comfort, guide, and strengthen you through the good and bad (Psalm 23, NIV). It means that through His Holy Spirit, we are enabled to victoriously live Holy lives of love for Christ (1 Peter 1:2; 1 Corinthians 6:11, NIV)!
Jesus commands His followers to spread this good news to the entire world (Mark 16:15; Matthew 24:14, NIV). How can we not, when we truly realize and understand the Love God has for us in giving Jesus to die for our sin? Be praying– I’ll be too– about How Jesus can use you to bring others to Himself.
To learn more about Jesus, the gospel, and the Holy Spirit, click here.
May your walk with Jesus grow closer, stronger, and deeper. May you always enjoy His presence (Deuteronomy 12:7, NIV)! Be very blessed. 🙂