“Rejoice Always”: Hope, 4 Years On

Friends and Readers,

Thank you for spending your time today, reading this blog, and praying for the many people it advocates for.

For obvious reasons, today is a sad and solemn day. For those of you who do not know, as of today, it has been four years since the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped by Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram. 276 innocent young women were kidnapped and condemned for simply going to a school that was deemed “sinful” by Boko Haram (their name in Hausa, the local language in Northern Nigeria, means “Western Education is sinful.”)

Over these past four years, approximately 164 of the young women were either freed through negotiations, or made their way out themselves. This is a cause for beautiful celebration.

But, unfortunately, four years into their captivity, 112 still remain within the clutches of Boko Haram. A video was released, with many of the purported Chibok girls stating that “We are the Chibok girls. We are the ones you are crying about for us to come back. By the grace of Allah, we are never coming back.”1 Whether or not these young women mean what they say, it can look like the war on freeing and rescuing these young girls is bleak. But there is always room for Hope.

The Catholic archbishop of Canterbury met with Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, on March 11th, 2018.2 Amidst speaking about the herder-farmer conflict and how education tackles poverty, the archbishop urged Buhari to protect Christians undergoing persecution in Northern Nigeria, as well as pushing for the Nigerian government to free the Chibok girls (and Leah Sharibu, the only “Dapchi girl” still in Boko Haram captivity because she refused to renounce Christ). Some of the archbishop’s words concerning the Chibok girls stirred Hope in me, even now. He said:

“It’s so important that we pray for the peace and progress of Nigeria – and particularly for the liberating peace of Jesus to be with all those held in captivity.”2

The liberating peace of Jesus, even in captivity. The archbishop’s words reminded me of Philippians, when Paul the apostle—who is currently in prison for sharing the Gospel—tells the readers in the church of Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord,” and that “It is no trouble for me [Paul] to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1, NIV, brackets mine). In one of the worst possible situations to be in, Paul is not complaining, or venting, or worrying. No—He is rejoicing, seeing even the idea of prison as an opportunity to tell even his guards about the faith and hope found in Christ alone.

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
(Philippians 1:12-14, NIV)

There is no doubt—the Apostle Paul was sold out to Jesus, and, in faithfully serving Christ, was brought to experience Joy, no matter the situation (Philippians 1:25). But I think it is important to know that Joy does not always mean one has a smile on their face, skipping through tulips as if nothing is wrong. Paul  speaks of being cheered up by Timothy’s news regarding the people of the church in Philippi—which tells us that Paul needed to be cheered up, at times, and that he was cheered by hearing about his loved ones. Instead of Joy simply meaning happiness, it can be said that Joy is found in a growing and flourishing relationship with Jesus Christ, no matter the situation. It is because of this truth that Paul so confidently states in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this [living in plenty and in want] through him who gives me strength.

All of this is well and good—but what does it have to do with the Chibok schoolgirls? Looking at their predicament, it can be all too easy to be flung into despair, and for good reason. How are we supposed to “rejoice always,” as Paul states, while still seeing the reality of the situation? We are to focus on the eternal, un-conquerable Hope found in Christ Jesus. Whether the Chibok girls in captivity or are free, Jesus Christ is alive, risen, and reigning; and, no matter how powerful Boko Haram (led by satan) is, Christ has the final word on the subject—always.hope jesus

This Hope is unshakable, and is the very reason for why this entire blog exists. So, even in the midst of such terror, heartbreak, and despair, let us remember that the liberating Peace of Jesus can be had at all times, even in captivity—if only we start looking to Christ, instead of looking down.

In solidarity,

Annalee Hoover, ISAIAH 62 PRAYER MINISTRY


Do you know Jesus?

“Promise Maker, Promise Keeper, You finish what you begin.”
– “The Lord Our God” by Kristian Stanfill

In the beginning, Adam and Eve felt no shame (Genesis 2:25). But, as they sinned, they became filled with shame—and tried to cover themselves in fig leaves.

God, finding them in their sinful state, is grieved by their disobedience; yet, He covers them with something better than fig leaves: the skin of an animal. In this, God showed Adam and Eve that He was going to cover them and their sin, and that it was going to take the death of an innocent sacrifice to do so.

Fast-forward almost 4 thousand years3, and Jesus is on the scene. The perfect Son of God, God Himself, died the death we deserved—and God atoned for our sin better than we could ever do on our own through being “good enough” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

God has freely given all we need to be saved—God’s provision is Christ Jesus. Learn more about our need for a Savior, and how Christ fulfills this need, here.



Please pray for (you can find the prayer sheet for this, here):

  • The parents and loved ones of the Chibok schoolgirls. This is no doubt a horrific day for everyone involved; please pray that they would put their Hope and Trust in Jesus, through this time.
  • The Chibok girls who are free. Today may be triggering for them, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Please pray that they would be comforted and would have a Godly community of people around them, to help them.
  • The Chibok girls still in captivity. Let’s pray that they truly desire to be free, and would be able to get free, either through negotiations, or through escaping.
  • For renewed interest and focus on the Chibok schoolgirls. Let’s pray that the public sees what is going on, and urges the Nigerian government and all those in power to free the girls.

1 http://www.newsweek.com/were-never-coming-back-kidnapped-chibok-girls-say-boko-haram-video-781506

2 http://dailypost.ng/2018/04/12/archbishop-canterbury-reveals-told-buhari-london/

3 http://www.matthewmcgee.org/ottimlin.html and http://www.hebroots.com/lul7_8.html

 

 

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When in Persecution

“The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.’”
(Exodus 3:7, NIV)

In the year of 2017, 215 million Christians experienced “high, very high, or extreme persecution.”1 Open Doors, an international organization documenting cases of persecution and advocating for persecuted Christians, stated in their 2017 report that now, more than ever, Christians are being heinously persecuted in places such as the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

Sadly, the news gets worse. Pakistan, a country that is mainly Muslim, has risen above “even… Northern Nigeria” in terms of violence toward Christians. There was a 62% increase in the murder of Christians in Nigeria, and now, there is even a broader range of places where Christian persecution takes place—now reaching even to some places in Mexico and Columbia.

There have been high profile cases of Christian persecution, many of which have been written about on this blog (such as the case of Pastor Saeed Abedini). A well-known persecuted Christian, Asia Bibi, is living in prison, sentenced to death, for refusing to renounce her belief in Jesus; the Pope met with her daughter, Eisham, and Asia’s husband, Ashiq Masih, on February 24th to honor persecuted Christians worldwide. The pope also met with freed Christian Chibok girl, Rebecca Bitrus, during the day to honor persecuted Christians.

Around the world, on a daily basis, regular people like you and I are having to sacrifice greatly—sometimes their own lives—for the name of Jesus. They love Him with all their hearts, and have suffered horrific things for the love of Him.

Similarities between the Oppressed Hebrews & The Early Church

Reading Exodus 1-3, these precious, yet persecuted people have come to mind. The Israelites—a people who started with only the family of Jacob, about 70 people total (Exodus 1:5), were a blessing to the Egyptians, with God using Joseph to warn Egypt of a great famine, saving the lives of millions of people all over the area (read more about this in Genesis 41). The Pharaoh at the time knew that “the gods” were with Joseph (when of course it was truly YHWH with Joseph, only YHWH is God), and made him second in command over all of Egypt; but Exodus 1 says that “…a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt” (Exodus 1:8, NIV). During this time, the 70 people who belong to Israel’s family exploded “greatly.” This huge amount of people was a real threat to Pharaoh—and so, he made them slaves, oppressing them and cruelly causing them to work incredibly hard, hoping it would hinder their population growth. The Israelites did nothing wrong to Egypt, and even blessed Egypt (through Joseph)—and yet, Egypt forgot how they had been blessed, and treated them cruelly instead.

But Pharoah’s cruel idea did not thwart God’s good, Sovereign plan. Instead of hindering the Hebrew’s population growth, their population growth grew even more rapidly! At this, Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill every boy that was born; but they did not bow underneath the extreme pressure of Pharoah (Exodus 1:15-16). Instead, “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” (Exodus 1:17, NIV).

As many of you readers know, the Israelites only grew in the face of oppression—and were more and more cruelly oppressed, because of it—at this point, for 350-400 years2 (Exodus 1:22- Exodus 6). In fact, the Israelites had been so horrifically oppressed that their cry was heard by God, and He was deeply concerned for them (Exodus 2:24-25).

Many know the story from here. God saves Moses through Moses’ mother, sending him down the river in a basket made of papyrus; and he is adopted by the Pharoah’s daughter. He kills someone and flees to the land of Midian for 40 years; and God speaks to him through the burning bush, asking him to go back to Egypt and deliver God’s people, the Israelites, from their suffering.

But what does ANY of this have to do with the Persecuted Church? It can be seen as a vivid picture of the worldwide Church, and the suffering that is happening within it, today. Let me show you what I mean:

  • The worldwide Christian Church, like the Israelites, are people chosen by God—a people that started with a small population (1 Peter 2:9; Acts)
  • The early church, and the church in general, was and is extremely persecuted—yet it did not stop faith in Jesus Christ from spreading, “multiplying” Believers3 (Acts 11:19-21)
  • Those in the early Church refused to stop speaking of Jesus and the Gospel, even under heavy political pressure (Acts 5:17-33)
  • Because the early Church was from God, it could not be hindered, just like the Israelites (Acts 5:34-39)
  • A “mixed congregation” left Egypt with the Israelites; this can be somewhat applied to how Gentiles came to know Christ (Exodus 12:37-38; Acts 28:28)

The worldwide Church today—Jews and Gentiles alike as the “true Israel” Paul speaks about in Romans 9, especially verse 24, is still thriving in underground/secret fellowships despite increased terrorism and persecution. People continue to come to know Jesus Christ in spite of suffocating political oppression, in countries all around the world. Missionaries and regular, everyday Christians risk their lives, speaking of Jesus and His Gospel despite fierce opposition, disdain, and rejection. And, because even “the gates of Hades will not overcome [the Church],” no one—no matter the amount of persecution, evil, murder, violence, or political/religious/worldly power—will be able to deride or overpower God’s People.

An End to the Suffering

But what about the exodus? The Israelites got freedom from their oppression; but what about the Persecuted Church? Revelation 6:9 speaks of these horrifically persecuted Christians—and Jesus’ comforting promise to them.

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’ Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been
(Revelation 6:9-11, NIV)

Ultimately, Jesus will rescue those who are being persecuted—either through death and entering heaven, or through the rapture. “Just a little longer,” Jesus says to those who have been killed for their faith, as they wait for Justice. It will all be made right in His time.

As you and I pray for those who are suffering persecution of any kind, right now, let us thank our Jesus that we are able to worship Him together in freedom (if we are able to do so). And let’s also remember this: that Jesus wins out, every time. That no pain is wasted; and that Jesus is Sovereign. God came through before– He will come through, again.

This post is dedicated to those Christians currently suffering in Nigeria, especially Northern Nigeria. Please pray for them—and for the kidnapped Christian Chibok girls, still living in muslim captivity.


Do you know Jesus?

Most people know Moses as the one who God used to deliver the Israelites from their disgusting bondage to the Egyptians. But, most people might not know that Moses never entered into the Promised Land, Himself (Numbers 20:12). A man named Joshua did.

Though it might sound confusing, Joshua is a “type” of Christ: that is to say, he foretold of the Messiah to come, who would liberate the people and carry them into their Promised Land, a land of freedom, faith, and complete life transformation from the oppression the Israelites were under.

The Jewish people expected a King to overthrow the oppression of Rome from them. But He had much more in mind. Read more about Jesus Christ—and why He is THE Messiah—here.



Please pray for (Print out a “Prayer Points” sheet here)

  • Those who are being persecuted for their faith, right now. Click here to get a good understanding of which countries have the most persecution, here.
  • For those who have family members and loved ones die from persecution. Pray that Jesus would comfort and strengthen their hearts, after losing those they love so much.
  • Those who are currently in prison for their faith, and their families & loved ones. Pray that Jesus would carry them through; that they would not be ashamed of the Gospel, and that He would set them free from prison, be that His Will, soon.
  • The country of the United States of America. We have, in our luxury, forgotten how incredibly fortunate we are to be able to believe in Jesus Christ—and worship Him openly—however and wherever we would like. May we have boldness to continue to worship Jesus and share His Gospel.
  • For the Chibok girls (and all other kidnapped people from Boko Haram). Pray they would become free, very soon.
  • For all Believers– including ourselves!– that we would be full of the Holy Spirit, bold, and loving as we share the Gospel!!! That we would be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in that.

 

Thank you for your prayers!!!

http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/january/top-50-countries-christian-persecution-world-watch-list.html

http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/articles_exodus.html

https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/a-look-at-the-early-church-11629559.html

 

From Violent Extremist to Apostle: How Meeting Christ Changes Everything

“O you non-believers, die in your rage,” he said. “We shall fight you. We shall humiliate America and Nigeria. We believe in the verse of our lord. ‘They will not harm you except for [some] annoyance. And if they fight you, they will show you their backs; then they will not be aided.’ (Q 3:111).” In the latest video created by Boko Haram, these were the words, breathed out in vehement hatred, by Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau (source).

Up until close to one month ago, Shekau was the proclaimed leader of Boko Haram, also known as ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). But, at the beginning of August, ISIS– whom Boko Haram is affiliated with– declared a new man, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, as Boko Haram’s new leader. But, not all of Boko Haram welcomes this new leader. Abubakar Shekau, who opposes al-Barnawi, calls the man a “heretic” and infidel for not believing in “the authentic creed,” and has grown a following behind him that agrees (source).

An extremely zealous, dare I say religiously fanatic, man, Abubukar Shekau was a theology student who is fluent in various languages (source). Shekau took over Boko Haram after its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed by the Nigerian military in 2009. It was reported that Abubakar Shekau married one of Mohammed Yusuf’s wives, and adopted Yusuf’s children (source).

Described as having “intense ideological commitment” to his creed of islam by the BBC, and a very bloodthirsty nature by TIMES, Abubakar Shekau seems to be a muslim “Pharisee among Pharisees,” if that were possible. This, as surprising as it sounds, is not unlike the Apostle Paul’s early life.

Oddly enough, there are many similarities between The Apostle Paul (before he knew Christ), and the evil, vicious Abubakar Shekau. Known for writing about a third to a half of the New Testament Scriptures, the Apostle Paul was once known as Saul of Tarsus. Growing up in modern-day Tersous, Turkey, Saul was raised in an extremely devout Jewish home, with Pharisees as parents– Jews who strictly adhered to the Law of Moses (source). Saul, an intelligent young person, was sent to be a theology student, under the teaching of a Rabbi named Gamaliel, at the age of 13 (source).

For the next five to six years, Saul studied the Law of Moses, Jewish History, the Psalms and the Prophets. He later became a lawyer, and anticipated becoming one of the members of the Sanhedrin (one of 71 men, who “ruled over Jewish life and religion” [source]). Scholarly when it came to manners of the law, Paul, in his own words, was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:5-6). 

But, the knowledge and passion Saul had for the Jewish religion turned incredibly violent, as Jesus Christ, and his followers, came onto the scene. Living in relatively the same time as Christ, and the early church, Saul’s zeal was uncompromising; and, viewing Jesus’ early church as a perversion of Judaism, he sought to persecute, kill, and eventually wipe out every person who was apart of “the Way” (what Christianity was known as, at the time). In Acts 7 and 8, Saul is described as having a major role in persecuting, and killing, those in the early church. But, in Acts 9, everything radically changed for Saul.

Acts 9 tells the biblical account of Saul’s coming to Christ in a powerful, humbling way.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
5 ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 6 ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”
(Acts 9:1-7, NIV)

Meeting Jesus Christ, on the road to kill His people, Saul’s entire life had changed forever.
Instead of viewing The Way, and it’s followers, as a perverse religion with a fraudulent leader, Paul met the Risen Jesus Christ: and realized that to persecute Christ’s followers, was to persecute the Risen, and Reigning, Jesus Christ. When Paul later tells the story of his conversion, to Agrippa, he adds that Christ said one very profound thing: “‘”Paul… It is hard for you to kick against the goads”‘” (Acts 26:14). Using vivid imagery, Christ expressed one thing: it is futile, and was futile for Paul, to fight against God’s Will and the drawing in of His Holy Spirit. These eye-opening words show that, even while Paul was persecuting the church, the Holy Spirit was working in Saul’s life, drawing him into a relationship with Christ. Truly, what must have been the most humbling experience he had ever had, Saul (also known as Paul, in Acts 13:9) walked away an entirely new, saved, man.

Saul was apart of a religion that terrified, wounded, displaced, and killed countless Christians in the early Church. But, through the Forgiveness, Grace, Mercy and Salvation of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Saul became Paul: a man who was “poured out like a drink offering” to Christ, and filled with genuine love and concern for his family in Christ (2 Timothy 4:6; Philippians 2:17; 1 Timothy 1:2; Galatians 3:7). It was a change only Jesus could make.

Paul’s life, before meeting Christ, was one of intense religion, legalism, and extremist violence toward the very people of the God who ended up saving him. But, when one truly meets the One and Only Living God, Jesus Christ– and accepts Him as their Lord and Savior– they are eternally saved, and made completely new.

What does this mean for Abubakar Shekau, a man of strict, callous, hellish muslim convictions? He is a man who needs, to truly meet, and accept, Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of his life.

If Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind (1 Timothy 4:10)– and if a man like Saul of Tarsus can be redeemed, and saved, in such a powerful way– Abubakar Shekau is not outside of Christ’s mercy, or power to forgive and save.

The Holy Spirit is moving in, through, and upon Believers in Nigeria, bringing men everywhere to repentance. In light of the Apostle Paul’s transformation, let us dare to pray, even for someone so vicious as Abubakar Shekau. Who knows: the very mouth that curses Believers, now, could be the very one that praises their Messiah, in the future.



Do you know Jesus?

As there is so much talk about Saul, and his persecution of those who followed The Way, one can’t help but wonder at how terrified the followers of The Way were.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, His followers fled from town to town, hiding from their persecutors, and gathering together in hideouts.

But, through all of the persecution, these early Christians did not give up on their faith; rather, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4, NIV). While this horrendous tragedy of widespread persecution was happening, it was causing God’s Word, the Gospel, to be preached, in far-off places– even causing “great joy” in some cities, as the Gospel was preached (Acts 8:8).

Why was this? Because Jesus Christ is not some dead, false god. He is the Risen, Living Savior of the world, God Himself in human form. And His promises to his followers are profound. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. 26 And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?‘” (John 11:25-26). Each of these Believers had met, and accepted, this very real, personal, Living God; and, by Faith, through Grace, rely upon Him for Salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The very same is true for today. Jesus Christ is not some obsolete, religious icon; He is Alive, and He wants to be in a personal, Saving relationship with each and every person on Earth (1 Timothy 2:4).

No matter who you are, or what you have done, come to Him. Meet Him. Your life will never be the same.

Learn more, and meet Him, here.


Please agree in prayer, with me, over the Salvation of Abubakar Shekau:

“Dear Father God,
I thank You for hearing our prayers. I thank You for knowing our thoughts, our words, and our actions before we ever do them… I thank You for knowing, and still Loving, us, no matter what we have done.
Dear, Father God, I come to You, Father, and I pray that, even in this very moment, Your Holy Spirit would be working on Abubakar Shekau; I pray that he would sense Your Presence, and would fear and revere You, for being the One and Only True God, and for showing Your power in this situation.
Father,
I pray that Abubakar Shekau would realize how real, and how fierce, Your Love is for Him. Father God, as Shekau realizes this, I pray You would speak to Him, and that as His heart softens, He would come to You, and know You as His Lord and Savior.
Father God, I know You have plans, even for people like Shekau. Please continue to draw him to You, and in all ISIS members– all to Your Glory.

Father God,
I also pray for those who have been displaced, wounded, and even murdered, by the barbaric actions of Boko Haram.
Father God, please hold those who have been hurt, so, so deeply by Shekau’s actions, in Your arms, of healing. Please bring them to know You; and in knowing You, we pray that Your Word and Your Gospel would be spread, just like in the times of the early church.

Father God, I thank You for being with those in captivity. I pray You would continue to sustain, and strengthen, those in captivity; and please put hope in the hearts of those who believe in You, by the Power of Your Holy Spirit, that someday, they will be physically free, and will somehow be able to leave this horrible time behind.

Thank you for defeating, and humbling, Boko Haram, dear Lord Jesus. ‘For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory’ (Psalm 149:4). Please give Your People, all over the world, victory over what oppresses them.

Thank You, Father God. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.”

No one is out of Jesus’ redemptive reach. Praise Him for that!

Thank you for your continued prayers!