Thursday, 4 June 2020

The Church on the wheels (Part 2)

Sphere: Related Content • A church committed to love and the welfare of the individual members: Being very conscious of the instruction of the Lord Jesus Christ to love one another, the early church practiced love. The Lord gave it as a commandment that the individual members of the church should love themselves the way God loves us. (See Jn.13:34,35; 15:17) 1 Jn.3:16 “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren”. We must love to the extent of laying down our lives for the brethren.

It is with this kind of love alone that we can be united and build community. That is the only thing that can cause us to have burden when a brother/sister is in problem so that we pray for him/her. Just as the church prayed for Peter (Acts 12:5), and Jesus prayed for the church (Jn.17). Only this kind of love can make people to have genuine interest in the affairs of one another and pray for each other. Family altars will be filled with prayers for others who are in one need or the other; even without the individual knowing it. Instead of making the weakness of a person a subject for gossip, it is made a topic for prayers.

The early church practiced love and when people saw it in Antioch, they called them Christians – Christ-like (Acts 11:26). Jesus said that “by this shall all men know that Ye are my disciples” (Jn.13:35 KJV). Love is the criteria for the people of God to be seen by the world as Christ’s. We remember that the apostles knew how important mutual care is and appointed 7 deacons to handle the affairs of welfare. The love was genuine and they increased tremendously. (See Rom.12:9,11; 1 Jn.3:17-23). Love is the greatest. One of the challenges of the contemporary church is making sure that the church is not dominated by bureaucracy and organizational hierarchical politics that they forget to take good care of their members. It is a lie that if you take good care of your pastors and they live well, you have taken care of the church. Taking good care of the church institution with teeming members struggling with the basic provisions is an indictment to the so-called wealthy church. The life of the members, without any contradiction, is the life of the church.

• A church committed to holiness and right living: The apostles taught the members to abhor sin and live righteously as children of light. Because of the challenges and accusations from the Jews, especially, trying to find a loophole or an opportunity to discredit the gospel, the early church committed themselves to letting their light shine. The people saw their good works and glorified God.
The first day Peter preached, he asked them to “repent…for the remission of sins” and “save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:38a, 40b). Later at the Solomon’s Porch, Peter urged his listeners “repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” (Acts 3:19) RSV. The church knew the real devastating nature of sin and were exhorted to avoid it. They lived for God. The teachings of the apostles emphasized the issues they majored on. Peter instructed the church, “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct”. (1 Pet.1:15 RSV). The writer of the book of Hebrews also declared “strife for peace with all men and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb.12:14). Both leadership and the led all gave themselves to living up to what they claimed they believed. The life of the church was different from the life of the world and the border line was very clear. Peter even agreed that this kind of living can change a man without speaking to him. (1 Pet.3:1). Though persecuted, their righteous living was an indisputable challenge to their accusers. They prospered.

• A church obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit: Finally, we see that the church was filled with men and women who were willing to do the bidding of the Holy Spirit. They recognized that the Holy Spirit is the One in charge of His church and they listened to Him. He has to lead and teach His church. He was allowed to work unhindered. Peter broke his Jewish barrier and entered Caesarea in order to preach to Cornelius in obedience to the Holy Spirit. (Acts 10:17-20). They buried their sentiments and obeyed the Holy Ghost in their first Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15: 28-29) where they decided the fate of the Gentile Christians as concerns the Jewish dogmas. When the Holy Spirit asked them to separate Saul (Paul) and Barnabas in Acts 13, they obeyed. Paul on one occasion was forbidden to speak the word in Asia and in another occasion, he was stopped from going into Bithynia to preach the gospel (See Acts 16:6-10). He was asked to enter Macedonia. In all these circumstances Paul did not argue with God. He obeyed. Because they were obedient to the Lord of the harvest, they had abundant prosperity in the work. He showered His gifts on them and they were continually edified. They increased.

In conclusion, we have seen the 7 things the early church was committed to which made them successful. If we are to succeed in our generation and prosper as a church participating in God’s agenda, we must consider seriously these points. If we desire to get the kind of results the early church got, we ought to do what they did. It is left for us whether to be a church on the wheels or a sleeping church.
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Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Good Night Ravi-Ji

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I came in contact with Ravi Zacharias’ work when I was doing a research on a topic to share here at Evergreen Word of Life. As God would have it, I was also going through a crisis in my personal life. I had so many questions to ask but could not find anybody to ask. When I began to listen to Ravi’s messages, like a candle wax before a burning flame, all the questions began to melt away.

Something else happened. All the while, I knew that God did not call me to enter the normal mold of the Christian ministries around me. I knew that God called me into teaching and writing and to be a Christian apologist but I didn’t know what it all entailed. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries helped to open my eyes and sharpen this ministry which I am doing today. I attended the Core Module Course about a year ago which God used to further shape what He is doing in my life.

Ravi was an epitome of knowledge. He had a good command of the English language and vocabularies. I learnt several names of scholars from him from different areas of study – humanity, philosophy, anthropology, theology etc. I began to study names like C.S Lewis, Malcom Muggeridge, G.K Chesterton etc because of how he quoted from them. He was a scholar that had respect for other scholars even when he disagreed with them. Most of his works in my study include: The Logic of God, The Grand Weaver, Can man live without God and Nabeel’s book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. I can’t explain how he could quote from hymns, poems and excerpts from several works from memory even at old age, apart from the enormous grace that was upon him. The Poem by the Elementary School Teacher made great impact on me:

He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done.
“Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher?
I’ve spoiled this one.”
I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted
and gave him a new one all unspotted.
And into his tired heart I cried,
“Do better now, my child.”

I went/came to the throne with a trembling heart;
the day was done.
“Have you a new day for me, dear Master?
I’ve spoiled this one.”
He took my day, all soiled and blotted
and gave me a new one all unspotted.
And into my tired heart he cried,
“Do better now, my child.”

He taught me not to be afraid to reason and to question. From him I learnt the reasonableness of the faith that we profess and how to be bold to defend it before anybody no matter how hostile they may be with all gentleness and respect. I learnt that self-protectionism is counter-productive to Christianity. When the Christian teaching is brought out in the court of ideas, it gives adequate answers to life’s problems in a way no other worldview can.

Ravi Zacharias was a Christian evangelist with passion for souls. Like Billy Graham, he presented the Gospel of God’s love in a very simple and uncomplicated manner. He was consistent. His burden for young people who are inundated with atheistic beliefs made him to start the Refresh Program which focuses on those entering College. He continually emphasized on the virtue of humility as the vehicle upon which apologetics moves. Each time he quoted 1 Peter 3:15-16, he would emphasize on the first part of verse 15 and verse 16 which deals with our heart and our attitude. “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” ESV. He said that the world does not just want the Gospel that is heard, but the Gospel that is seen, because oftentimes, our lives speak louder than our words.

Ravi, I am grateful that God brought me in contact with you and your ministry. Thank you for the things you taught us during your lifetime. You are the inspiration behind the upcoming ministry area we are launching soon, Christian Apologetics: Difficult Questions, Adequate Answers.  We cannot but continue to do our part and to finish well as you have done. I conclude this piece with a few stanzas from Richard Baxter’s hymn which the daughter Sarah, said Ravi recited in January 4, 2020:

“Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.
If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may long obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad
To welcome endless day?

Then I shall end my sad complaints
And weary sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing my Savior’s praise.
My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But ‘tis enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with Him.”

Good night Ravi-Ji.



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Re: We are all atheists by Leo Igwe

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My attention is drawn to the article written by the humanist scholar, Leo Igwe, in Sahara Reporters of 13th May 2020 where he argued that “we are all atheists”. This my piece is more of a response to the philosophical underpinnings of his argument than to the issues he raised in his discourse.

First of all, I want to state clearly that I believe in people’s right to life, freedom of conscience, expression and association because I believe that God has endowed human beings with these inalienable rights and freewill; they are made in His image. Every human being has essential worth, therefore, violation of any of these rights for any reason, whether religious or otherwise, is a violation of God’s purpose for humanity. If God allowed Adam and Eve to exercise their freewill in the Garden of Eden, I believe it is against His plan for any man to dictate, force or punish any man because of belief or disbelief, as the case may be. Hence, I join to call for the release of Mubarak Bala who was arrested in connection with posts that he made on Facebook which was alleged to have insulted the prophet of Islam, Mohammed. Though I may disagree with his lack of sensitivity and respect for his Muslim neighbours, he has right to life. He has right to defend himself in a competent court of law without molestation or persecution.

Having said that, my focus is on the author’s statement, “we are all atheists” and his line of argument that brought him to that conclusion. It presents to be a very flawed argument. The reasons are obvious to every thinking person that reads in-between the lines.

First, the author is influenced by his concept of God – he seems to believe that God is a human idea that people use to fill up the gaps for anything they do not understand, hence his coining of the word Allah-god and Christian god in his discourse. It shows either a gross misunderstanding of those words or the usual atheist’s irreverence towards God. Almost in every language, there exists the consciousness of the Almighty God. Though they may have names for several gods, they have a name reserved for the Almighty. In Igboland where I suppose the author is from, there are many names for different gods but one is reserved for the Creator – Chineke. Chineke is in His own class, as it were, among the gods as the God who created the Universe. Allah actually is the name used for the Almighty God by both Arabic Christians and Muslims, though their connotations may be different just like when the Igbos use the word Chi. When you mention Chi, you can be asked a further question, which Chi? It will help your listener to understand which you are referring to. The writer majors his arguments on these differences in connotations and misunderstands the use of the word God in different languages. This perhaps explains why he mixed everything up when he gave his listings of the gods worshiped in different cultures. So he was not only playing with words, he was also displaying that he does not understand the relationship between the use of those words for the gods and the word used for the Almighty God.

Secondly, atheism by its definition does not accommodate belief in any god.  By saying that we are all atheists, he negates the common understanding of the word, atheism, as defined by atheists themselves – “a rejection of the assertion that there are gods”. By saying “all Muslims are atheists, even though all atheists are not Muslims”, the author accommodates the possibility of having an atheist who is a theist of a sort but not a Muslim. The author’s accommodation of belief, at all, in any god shows the confusion that exists within their set of belief or disbelief, whatever the atheist accepts. It is more of a moral issue, where the person has chosen to believe that there is no God or to deny the existence of God, despite all the evidences. Therefore, it is not because there is no God that the atheist believes in atheism, but because that is the choice he has made.

Again, the argument that “atheism entails a lack of belief in a god or gods. Muslims believe in Allah but do not believe in other gods like Ogun. Therefore, Muslims are also atheists” does not have logical consistency based on the definition of the terms. It self-destructs and falls like a pack of cards. It violates the law of rational inference in logic. You cannot say, “I have ears. Elephants have ears, therefore I am an elephant”. That two things have one thing in common does not mean that they have everything in common a. Someone may be an unbeliever in Ogun or Amadioha but the fact that he believes in the God of the Bible, for example, disqualifies him from being an atheist. Atheism, by its definition, is not defined in relation to any god as the author tends to portray. It is a lack of believe in gods or according to IEP, the view that there is no God b. So, in my view, the author over-generalized when he concluded, “we are all atheists”. The truth is that, we are not all atheists.

In conclusion, I posit that it is only in the Judeo-Christian worldview can the virtues the author tends to promote can and indeed have survived. God gives essential worth to every human being. You cannot violate someone’s life because you do not like him or because you do not believe what he believes. God has His image on every human being, hence as free moral agents, everyone should be free to make his decisions. Yes, our decisions have consequences, but they must be made out of freewill and not out of compulsion. I call on the author to examine authentic and biblical Christianity with an open mind and he will discover that the life and teachings of Christ worth believing and following. C.S. Lewis once said “If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be; if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.” c.

Finally, in addressing my fellow Christians, we must pay attention to what our Lord Jesus taught us. The gullibility, merchandise, arrogance and loveless behaviours we exhibit today are strange to the Gospel of Jesus and cannot allow us to effectively be His witnesses in this world that is in so much need. We must go back to missions and social work. This gap in identifying with the existential issues of our time makes the modern mind to view Christianity as not being relevant to their day-to-day life struggles. We built hospitals, schools, leproseums, refuge homes for the most vulnerable of the society, rescued twins, championed the stoppage of slavery etc etc. Where are those social actions today, especially in Africa and within the Nigerian church? This is a food for thought. When we resemble our Lord, it will be easier for the believer to think and the thinker to believe.

References
a.       Zacharias R. (2019). The 3.4.5 Grid. Lecture at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Academy, RZIM. https://www.rzim.org/page/academy-core-module
b.       Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP). Atheism. Online at https://www.iep.utm.edu/atheism/. Accessed 19/05/20.
Lewis, C.S. (1970). God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B.Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 108-109.
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Friday, 8 May 2020

Personal Development during the Pandemic Lockdown

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It is obvious that the Coronavirus is not going away soon. The world will learn to live with it for some time before the last trace clears. Everybody is adjusting and adapting. Companies are taking new decisions. Nations are developing fresh policies on how to continue to function in the midst of it  and revive their battered economies to avoid a more devastating social breakdown. The truth is that the world will not remain the same. The question that bothers me is, "is the church thinking? Shall we be ready for post COVID-19 or do we think it is going to be business as usual?" Anyway, that is an issue for another day. My focus now is to stir my readers up to prepare for what is ahead.

As you are in this lockdown, what are you doing with your time? Sleep? Watch movies? Play games? Then hop to your laptop and throw out one email to convince your hierarchy that you are working hard? Day in, day out? That may be one of the worst things to do to one's self. You have to develop ways to maximize this period so that you come out of this period better prepared.

Post COVID-19 Pandemic, there will still be opportunities, but they will be available for those who prepared themselves. A greater percentage of the populace will come out the same way at the same level pursuing the available limited opportunities. But a few who added some skills to their skill set will separate themselves from the crowd and receive more attention.

There is no gainsaying that most companies have discovered the benefits of working virtual. Some that used to pay on monthly basis may resort to hourly rate basis since they have learnt that it is more profitable for them when some of their staff work from home on adhoc basis. Emphasis will be laid on value instead of time. Most union agitations will not make sense because obviously, everybody will be adjusting. Because things will pick up slowly, it means that some people may not be able to retain their current jobs. How do you prepare?

1. Enroll in Online Courses most of which are cheap and free of charge. Example: LinkedIn e-learning, Google e-learning, MS in Financial Engineering offered by WorldQuant University, Udemy Education Courses, Coursera etc. Use that Internet Data to do online courses instead of just Social Media.
2. Learn new hard skills on you own like Musical Instruments, Disc Jockey (DJ) etc using online guides.
3. Attend Webinars to horn in your skills in your profession.
4. Engineers can learn AutoCAD, Primavera P6, Project Management/Project Controls, Unanet Risk Analysis, etc.
5. Attend Training and upgrade from Occupational Safety to Technical Safety. Attend training according to your profession like Data Analysis etc
6. Pastors can enroll to obtain Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Theology or Management etc etc.

The truth is that we can all do something about our personal development now. Make that choice today, focus and you will be glad you did.
God bless you.
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Monday, 6 April 2020

Ministry Redefined

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This storm will be over. However, for those who sincerely reflect, the way we do ministry may not remain the same as it recedes. For some, it may likely leave behind it a wreckage of the materialistic and cross-less gospels we have inundated our congregations with in recent years. For others yet, attempts may be made to rekindle the false hopes and so called prophetic merchandise. But most likely, many people may know better because our weaknesses and human limitations have been exposed. All over the globe, there is a disruption of our established systems because everything is shaken and put out of normal order. As God’s ministers, we will all have to make fresh decisions on how to move on post COVID-19 pandemic.

This current situation has exposed the emptiness of false hopes in religious rituals. Denominational worship rituals, burial rituals, holy orders, holy communion on death bed, and touching and kissing of the feet and hand of the ‘man of God’ are all not observed anymore because of the urgency caused by this disease outbreak. I read a news item how a priest is at one of the Crematoriums in Madrid, Spain and all a burial ceremony takes is barely five minutes because in the next fifteen minutes, another Hearse will arrive with another wooden casket containing the corpse of another dead. No lying-in state, no eulogy, no hugs and kisses because only about a few family relatives are allowed to come around, standing at a distance, you can stream the short ceremony for those at home to watch. The entire process is handled by the staff of the Morgue in protective gears. Our rituals, as good as they may be on their own, become problems when they block people’s view from seeing Christ and putting their trust in Him. From what is going on currently, religious worship centers are closed, there is no time for most rituals because everybody, including those who keep the rituals, is on his own, striving to protect himself. It is obvious that not everybody will have the opportunity of saying goodbye to his loved ones at death, not everybody will have a priest or pastor by his dying bed, every dead will not have a “proper burial” as we used to practice before now.  What humanity is experiencing all over the world confirms these facts. The Information Minister recently announced that for those that died of the disease, no corpse will be released to the families for private burial. Everything is disrupted. Imagine where someone had placed his eternal hope on the burial ritual that will be conducted after he is dead, and he dies in this period. If your hope is in religious rituals and not in Christ, you have a false hope. Those who taught people to place their hopes in these rituals may need to think again.

The lies and helplessness of the power and control of materialistic theology of health and wealth are glaring at us in the face, like the day light. While money offers no hope in difficult times like these, the Gospel of Jesus is very powerful and not only offers hope and peace for now, but also gives hope beyond this life. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26 NIV. Most TV preaching are so irrelevant today that even the emotions and feelings they used to create may transform into irritations to their listeners. They do not offer any consolations to people in this current predicament. The rate of the spread of the disease and the statistics being reeled out are making many hearts afraid and forcing them to think more of eternity than their accumulations and earthly success. An atheist, a Medical Doctor recently repented and acknowledged God in the middle of this crisis in Italy because of the realities he is forced to face. Most people are no more thinking about what their tithes and offerings will do for them because even the person that used to receive the tithes and offerings may not even be available to receive them. Everybody is in a survival mode thinking about life and existence and what happens after. The theology some people have espoused over the years is so irrelevant today that even they themselves are currently confused as well as their followers and nobody knows what to tell the other.

Again, ministries and churches that are ran as an administrative establishments and institutional organizations with little or no emphasis on fellowship and personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ may find it difficult these days. Many of us are so separated from our parishioners and members that all we know or think about them is statistics and numbers. Ministry membership is analyzed by the numbers the ushers submit to us and the amount of money in the offering box. We have become more like astute administrators and organization managers using our members as human resource materials to accomplish our dreams, instead of pastors and shepherds of their souls. Members are no more seen as souls that Christ died and shed His blood for. The current situation has put strain on the organized establishments and those whose validity of Christian life and ministry is based on church activities have suddenly discovered that their faith is like onions - remove all the skins one by one and you have nothing else left. We have been forced to close our churches and fellowship venues and some people are empty because they never had any seed inside of them. But the truth is that churches that are like fellowships are better off today than churches that are ran as institutional organizations. For the first time, some of us are forced to calm down and live by ‘faith’. Living by faith, by the way, is not an exclusively reserved lifestyle of missionaries and those that do independent missionary ministries, it is supposed to be our lifestyle as Christians at all levels.

Finally, we may need to rethink the emphasis we lay on the physical building as the ‘house or temple of God’. Many have invested so much on the architectural building than on lives of church members. While the New Covenant is laying emphasis on our bodies as temples of God, we often lay more emphasis on the physical civil building as the temple of God. This emphasis equally defines our priority on resources distribution and allocation. In Italy currently, most churches are used as a holding point for corpses before they are buried because of the daily number of deaths which the army, who are carrying out the burials, are struggling to manage. As this COVID-19 pandemic reached Nigeria, churches and other worship centers were the first places to be closed down even before bars and night clubs were closed. We are forced to begin to look for alternatives how to fellowship together. Many commentators have even suggested that if we have an escalation that our big churches and conference centers should be used for adhoc hospitals and holding centers. If the physical building then is really the temple of God, does it mean that COVID-19 has kept us away from God’s temple? It is good for us to have places of fellowship, but if you miss building human lives, God’s temples and lively stones, as a leader, you have missed everything.

The truth is that we all need to do soul searching as we pray that this storm be over. How relevant is what I have been preaching to the lives of my members today? Assuming my members are living in areas that are hard hit by this COVID-19 disease, how relevant will my preaching be to them? Will my preaching help them weather through this storm? Are their hearts at peace in Christ due to what I taught them over the years or are they confused with questions they cannot even ask me?

I believe that the current situation is redefining ministry, or better put, is pointing us back to real ministry. We need to ask God to show us what He is doing through this situation, as tragic as it is, so that we can adjust our lives to Him.

May His healing overshadow all that are afflicted in Jesus name. Amen.

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Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Empty Throne

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It was Nicholas Roerich who in 1922 drew a painting titled The Last King. Empty throne. It caught my attention when I saw it in Jill Carathini's write up on Creation is Groaning in Slice of Infinity this morning.

In the middle of our predicament and distress as humans on earth, especially in times of crises as we are in currently, it is easier for some people, having looked at every corner without getting any answer, they equally look at God's direction, and all they could see is an 'empty throne'. It is as if everything is out of control and humans are running helter-skelter to lift themselves from their bootstraps without any transcendental oversight. We hear the statistics and fear grips our hearts because everybody seems to be doing trial-and-error while people are dying and being buried. Nobody has an answer. Many atheists have confessed that one of the reasons they do not believe in the existence of God is because of the presence of evils like this, though Christian apologists have taken time to give explanations like the one here. Even many Christians seem to be very confused because just two months ago, many of their prophets were declaring bogus things about the year 2020 in the name of God, but none of them saw the ravage Coronavirus would do to the whole of human community. In the middle of the confusion, they look at the direction of God and what they see, as it were, is an 'empty throne'. But nothing can be farther from the truth. 

Firstly, It is an unhelpful approach to try to figure out what God looks like from the middle of a broken situation. Like Henry Blackaby said in Experiencing God, "when you face difficult or confusing circumstances, they can overwhelm you. If you bury yourself in the circumstances, you will always have a distorted understanding of God". Our experiences and feelings can change and fluctuate with time, and we cannot trust them to make objective conclusions. We must make conclusions based on information from outside of us. Philip Yancey said in Where is God when it hurts, "a wise sufferer will look not inward, but outward" towards God, who is a wounded healer Himself, in times of suffering. When we look around us, buried in the current statistics and the sufferings we and others go through, most likely, we will see an 'empty throne', as if nobody is in control; even when we see someone on the throne, it will be a distorted view of God. Hence you may say, "God does not love me" God is not fair" "God has abandoned me". But these statements are not correct. They are distorted views of God taken from the midst of our troubles. It is very important that we step out of the middle of our troubles and see things that happen around us, our circumstances and situations from God's perspective. Blackaby continues, "The Holy Spirit will take the Word of God and help you understand the event from God's perspective. He will reveal to you the truth of your circumstances. Then you can adjust your life and thinking to what God is doing". 

What is it that is revealed to us from the Scriptures? An empty throne? No. "For you have upheld my right and my cause; you have sat on your throne, judging righteously". Ps 9:4 NIV. The Lord Jesus is seated on the throne with His Father even as we speak. (Rev.3:21). "He that made this world, runs it". Observe what the Psalmist said in Psalm 9 quoted above: firstly, He that sits on the throne is active in his life. God has maintained his cause and he has a relationship with Him. Secondly, God judges righteously. In the midst of any situation, what He does is righteous. 

Even in the current COVID-19 pandemic, God is on His throne. Nobody else is there. We are His children. He knows that we are still here and will uphold "our right and our cause". The coming weeks are critical especially for those of us living in Nigeria. But our approach should not be that of fear and panic but that of faith and hope. Observe all you are asked to do as a person living in this human community. He will do what is right no matter what your experiences may be in all of this. His love and peace make all the difference. The throne is not empty. He sits on it and is actively working in and around our lives. He has proven over generations that he can be trusted. Remain blessed.


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Sunday, 5 January 2020

Is Misinterpretation and Misapplication of the Bible by "unlearned pastors" the problem of Reformation?

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Having commented and completely concurred to the core response of His Lordship, Rt. Revd. Stephen Fagbemi, the Bishop of Diocese of Owo Anglican Communion, to the argument of whether Christmas is biblical or not, I want to briefly highlight an area of his response I humbly and respectfully object: “This is the problem that the Reformation has brought to us. While it is a good thing, on one hand, it has put the Bible in the hands of many unlearned folks…”

In my opinion, it is a sweeping statement that partly places the burden of misinterpretation or misapplication of the Scriptures by "unlearned folks” and “uneducated pastors” on the shoulders of Reformation. Agreed that Reformation brought about the possibility of every Dick and Harry owning a Bible, however, educating every Dick and Harry on how to use the Bible is a different thing altogether and I don’t believe that Reformers would have waited until every Dick and Harry were educated before making the possibility of their owning a Bible a reality.

It used to be that the Bible, its reading, interpretation and application, were the exclusive duties of the ordained priests. They officially read the Bible only in the official languages and told the people what to do. However, looking back, we all agree that the church entered into a ‘dark age’ and needed Reformation. Just going through the 95 Thesis statements of Rev. Fr. Martin Luther and all the issues he raised afterwards, one can easily confirm that the invocation of saints, purgatory, indulgences, relics, Mary as the mother of God and Queen of heaven and the infallibility of the Pope etc were errors that plagued the church and nobody could challenge the established church until God raised men like Luther. We would not have been better off without the Reformation.

We celebrate William Tyndale today because of his efforts to translate the Bible into English Language. Tyndale was quoted to have said to a priest, “I defy the Pope and all his laws [lawes]. If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives the plough to know more of the scriptures than you do”. His dream of translation came true, though he was later condemned and executed by the religio-political establishment of the day. Are we to go back to that time when the consequence of unlicensed possession of the Bible was death penalty? Are we not supposed to work harder on raising leaders and teaching our congregations to know how to read the Bible on their own, interpret properly and correctly apply it? When does the ignorance of a Christian leader or his misjudgment of the Scripture become the problem “Reformation has brought to us” because of the wonderful privilege of having the Bible on the tables of every family? and who are the us in the statement if we look at Reformation in its historical context?

The purpose of this write-up is just to point out that the logic of His Lordship’s statement when taken to its conclusive end raises many other questions. Seeing the shocking killing of James in Acts 12 for example, can we say “this is the problem that Jesus and the Gospel have brought upon us?” The premises cannot produce the inference made. I believe that Tyndale was right. I belief that it is good that the Bible be in the hands of everybody but they should be taught how to divide it. The ministry of translating and placing the Bible in the hands of all men is a noble task that we must all be committed to.

My humble submission is that Reformation was good, it placed the Bible in the hands of every person, but teaching people to read and observe, interpret and apply correctly is the responsibility of Christian teachers to do. Reformation as a historical event is separate from education. If we see failure anywhere, it is either because there was no teacher at all or the teacher taught wrongly or the person to be taught refused to receive training, then we will be dealing with a different problem, as in the case in question, but definitely not the problem of Reformation.


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Sunday, 29 December 2019

Answering Questions: Biblical imperatives. Part 3

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 Is the church ready to answer the questions directed to her?

In our first post, we emphasized that questions are normal and it is very important that our members are encouraged to ask us their questions now so that they will know what our answers are. We concluded that whether we open up and answer the questions directed at us now or ignore, shut down either the question or the questioner or both, the questions will still be asked. The only bad news is that people may get answers we will not like. In the second post, we argued that we should not only allow questions, we should encourage questions in the church as this will deepen the faith and convictions of many. We equally looked at the possible reasons why we find it difficult to encourage asking of questions. In this last and final part of the post, we will be looking at the biblical imperatives and why it is important for the church to provide answers to questions, and provide defense and explanations especially to our truth claims.

In 1 Pet.3:15, we are enjoined to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” NIV. This instruction presupposes that people are going to ask us questions. Note that it says we should give an answer to “everyone”, with no exception whether to our members as stakeholders seeking for clarifications or to outsiders and inquirers seeking for answers or querying our actions. People have the right to know what we are doing as a church. Remember that those who are asking these questions are potential members of the church, as argued by St Augustine, and for every question that we answer well by the help of the Holy Spirit, an obstacle has been cleared on their way to meeting with Jesus at the cross.

In Acts 2, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, many onlookers were confused, amazed and perplexed at the same time asking “what does this mean?” v12. In that confusion, Peter stood up to address the people saying, “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.” Acts 2:14 NIV. He explained what was happening and quoted the Scriptures to validate his claims. They asked further questions which Peter answered and “with many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Acts 2:40-41. NIV. Three thousand people were added to the church after his explanation.

We have two obligations as a church serving her Lord before a watching world: to be prepared to give answers to the questions we are asked and to be prepared to offer explanations when what we are doing attracts inquiry from those watching us. This was the disposition of the early church, not because it was a persecuted church, but because it is supposed to be the timeless biblical disposition of the church for all ages. It is assumed that the church will always have its accusers and attackers, hence the instruction to be prepared to make a defense, give an answer, clear self, plea or give an account of and make its truth claims clearer.

Throughout the book of Acts, the apostles engaged their members and the then world answering questions and explaining the truth claims they were propagating. Take out time to search for the words, answered, replied, persuade, persuaded, explain and explained and related words in the Gospels and the book of Acts and you will be amazed at the number of times they are used. It only shows what the Lord Jesus and the apostles committed themselves to. The Lord Jesus was so committed to answering questions that He even answered questions people had in their hearts. (Luke 7:40). Why is it so? In the world of ideas and conflicting worldviews, dumb followership cannot produce strong personal convictions or persuasions. The Lord wants us to serve Him in reasonable ways. He does not exclude any of our faculties when He calls us to faith. We cannot serve Him alone with our human reasoning but on the other hand, faith is not unreasonable. They engaged their cultures, answered questions and addressed topics both intellectually and theologically, from the mind and heart perspectives. We are not expected to do anything less.

Now let us look at the ways we can provide answers:
  • Through the words that we speak. Speaking to explain is very important as the ear is one of the major gateways to the human mind; “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Rom 10:17 NIV. Jesus answered His questioners. The apostles explained what they were teaching. We must be prepared to give answers. (1 Pet.3:15). Take careful note of what should be our disposition as we present answers.
·         Do not fear. V14. We should present answers as men who are convinced of what they are saying, even in the presence of danger.
·         Be prepared. V15. We should be prepared. Theological education at all levels is very important. Every Christian is supposed to be a theologian of a sort. We have to be grounded on Christian doctrines, aware of the challenges within our cultures and what the issues are and devise ways to present our message. Preparing ourselves to be able to engage the world around us with the Gospel is worthwhile.
·         Do it with gentleness and respect. V15. Our pride and arrogance hurt and drive people away even from the answers we want to provide. When there is insult, lack of courtesy and respect, we end up being the hinderances to the truth we are presenting. The essence of apologetics is not to show off our intellectual prowess and eloquence but to be used by God to humbly clear the obstacles people have that hinder them from placing their faith in Christ. No question of faith is useless as long as it was asked by a person. Every person has intrinsic worth.
·         Keep a clear conscience. V16. No hypocrisy, no hidden agenda, no guilt in our own hearts. And
·         Be willing to suffer if need be. V17
  • Through writing and engaging issues as they are raised in Newspapers, Social Media, Blogs and Websites. Biblical scholars, Pastors and theologians should go for training on how to blog and how to properly use the Social Media with the sole aim of engaging with the people. That is where our children are and that is where they ask most of their questions. If you use it as a place to be declaring “prophecies”, they will only be saying “Amen” but if we use it as a platform for engagement, they will talk. You will discover that most of our children are almost atheistic and only by our being available to provoking questions and providing answers can we remain relevant to and in touch with them.
  • Through the kind of life we live in the midst of those asking the questions. We can provide intellectual and existential answers but they will be useless if people cannot see the difference it makes in our private lives. Ravi observes, “The message is seen before it is heard.” “I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the Gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. That failure not only robs us of our peace but mars the intended light that a consistently lived life brings to the one observing our message.” Bishop Ephraim Ikeakor writes, "the greatest setback Christianity has is the abundance of eloquent and powerful preachers whose lifestyle contradicts their sermons". If we claim that the Gospel transforms, then those asking questions want to see the visible transformations in the lives of those offering it, from the leaders to the followers.
  • Prayer is very important as we know that the basic problem of man is not intellectual but moral. We are inclined to rejecting the truth and walking in our own ways. The prince of this world has blinded the eyes of people in order to stop them from understanding the truth and be set free. The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of individuals to see things with spiritual perspectives. He causes them to see the answers we are presenting.
Having mentioned these above, it is important to note that behind every question is a questioner who has a need. Our answers must be targeted at meeting the need of the questioner who seeks for an answer. Many a times, real needs and hurts are hidden behind questions, especially provocative ones. If you are carried away by the provocation, you may answer the question without answering the questioner.

When the tithe debate raged on the internet some time ago, many people were arguing on both sides. Many pastors and church leaders came out to defend the payment of tithes while others rained curses on those who were challenging the practice. My pain in the whole thing is that while we were trying to win the argument, we lost sight of the questioners behind the questions. We were answering the questions but were not answering the questioners. While we were addressing the questions, we were not addressing the needs of the questioners. In fact in most cases, we addressed the questions sitting on our high horses at the expense of the questioners behind the questions and did not care. For example, I watched one of the General Overseers say that “anyone who is not paying his tithe is not going to heaven, full stop”. Another said that God banned the wife of his fellow pastor from entering heaven because she was not paying tithe. My pain is that when I read the comments of greater majority of those who were complaining, you see that they were complaining about the wealth and opulence of many pastors in the midst of a poor and hungry majority. One of them is listed as one of the richest clerics in the world with a net worth of $130m (£91m), yet living among one of the poorest people on earth and doing nothing to touch their lives in practical ways. Who is paying attention to the needs of the questioners? I kept asking myself, is the church ready to answer the questions directed to her?

In a repressive culture, leaders make efforts to silence those that ask questions, leaving their questions unanswered. The church is not supposed to travel down this ignominious road. We have an obligation to provide answers to the questions our members and inquirers are asking. This is because we propagate the truth and truth by its nature comes out clearer as the propagator is given more opportunity to answer more questions. One of the reasons why religions like Islam does not give their members the freedom to ask questions and carryout personal investigation, especially about Christianity is because the more questions they ask and are clarified, the more they will develop the conviction that the claims of Christianity are true.

Our members are asking questions. The world is asking us questions. Are we ready to give answers? Are we really ready to do apologetics?

Can we see the revolution that is raging? In a few years to come, things cannot be the same any more. Those that the systems and institutions favour currently are busy defending them and making efforts to continue the closed structure, without paying attention to the questions young people are asking. If our attitude does not change, a time will come when the systems and institutions will experience a crumbling and I pray that it will turn out well. It may surprise you to know that most of our young people have lost all sense of sacredness completely. Many are looking elsewhere for answers.  Pastors and members are kidnapped and even killed without any fear even inside the church. CCTV is used to monitor the ushers that count church money because some people are not afraid to enrich themselves with the offering proceeds. Most leaders use the security agencies to protect themselves from the people they are supposed to be ministering to. Many things are happening around us and people are asking questions. Are we hearing the questions? Are we praying and providing answers?


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Monday, 16 December 2019

Constitution should be amended to accommodate peculiarities of Shari’a – CJN

Sphere: Related Content This title was from the Daily Trust

Source: Daily Trust

This CJN is showing a high level of insensitivity for making these recommendations. He is advocating the amendment of the Constitution so as to accommodate the concerns of Muslims and the Sharia Law. His reason?

"We have the number to amend the Constitution to suit our own position as Muslims"

He now recommends:
1. Academicians should champion the cause of redesigning the methods of teaching the Sharia Law.
2. Universities should give Sharia Law its own faculty.
3. Increase in the number of judges who are learned in Islamic Law.
4 Teach Sharia Law in Arabic language in Nigerian Universities and not in English.
5. Academicians to look into these matters.

Let's watch out on subtle appointments to accomplish these goals. Both himself and the President are not even making efforts to change the narrative of their accusers. People raised these issues as concerns during elections for the President and during his appointment for the CJN. All they do is to live up to the expectations of their accusers. This speaks volumes.

Please continue to pray that the purpose of God for this great nation may be realized. Pray that God will open the eyes of our Lawmakers, especially those who are Christians, so that they will oppose this no matter the allurement and coercion. Pray for the awakening of the Church in Nigeria.
God bless.
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Sunday, 15 December 2019

Please pray for Christians in the Northern Nigeria

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11 Christians kidnapped by Boko Haram. 

Source: Premium Times

All the 11 persons kidnapped by this group this time are Christians. I pray that this will not be a strategic religious cleansing. They even claim that Leah Sharibu is still alive. The group once posted a video where someone claimed that she was murdered. Though I posted it here, my family is still constrained to keep praying for her and her family. Let us pray that the real intentions of the enemy in all these things will be frustrated. Pray that the faith of the victims will remain strong in the Lord as they pass through this terrible ordeal. Pray for their families for strength and grace.
Now pray for the Nigerian Government to do the needful to ensure these people are released and reunited to their families. May that the Lord will touch the hearts of these perpetrators and grant them encounters that will bring about changes in their lives. Pray that God may cause an awakening in the Nigerian Church, God bless.

Read the whole story here.


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Wednesday, 11 December 2019

The challenge of justice

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"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:21-24 NIV.

We all desire justice and want to see it done. Anytime we witness evil around where we are, what everybody will be looking to see is justice. We look to see justice done at the gates (Amos 5:15) by man towards his fellow man or by God towards the man He created. This happens because we are moral agents. God is the Source of Moral Law and man being in His image is not only expected to do justice, he himself wants to also see that justice is done. Ultimate questions of justice are directed at God because we live with the inexplicable consciousness that the Judge of all the earth must do what is right. (Gen.18:25). The scepter of His kingdom is a scepter of justice. (Ps.45:6).

As God’s people, those around us expect us to do what is right and just. God Himself commands us to do justice. Justice has to do with fairness, impartiality, and not being even-handed toward others in our dealings with them. Aristotle said that “justice in this sense then is not part of virtue but virtue entire nor is the contrary injustice a part of vice but vice entire.”2 In support of Aristotle’s argument is Dr. Ravi Zacharias who in the context of love said that “justice is an intrinsic part of virtue. You can judge without loving, but you cannot love without also being just”3. This is true since God is love and he that does not love his neighbor is a murderer (1 Jn.3:15), a noise maker (1 Cor.13:1) and knows not God (1 Jn.4:8). Love then is ultimate virtue. We cannot claim that we love when we do not dispense justice. In other words, we cannot claim that we are Christians when we do not do justice.

No wonder when the nation of Israel neglected this important virtue, God lost interest in all other activities, ceremonies and rituals of their worship life. From the passage in Amos above, it seems God is saying, “your assemblies, your feasts, your tithes and offerings, your songs and music are nothing to me when you do not do what is right and just towards others. Inasmuch as the activities are important, but their value is rated based on how you are letting justice roll on like a mighty flood and righteousness like a never-failing stream!”.

Societies are not transformed just because people talk much about justice. Societies change because people see and feel justice. The impact of the church then is not going to be much in our society just because we make the most noise and speak about justice. Our influence and impact will be strong when our members and the outside world see and feel that we do what is right. Ethical living is not an option for the church and church members, it is a requirement for us all. It is good to declare prosperity upon the people but it is not going to transform the society. Our societies will be transformed when we do what is right and treat both ourselves and others around us fairy and reasonably as the gospel which we preach demands. I have argued severally in the church circles against the structure whereby the system favors and makes a few persons at the apex free and very rich in the midst of and at the expense of a struggling membership. God, in rebuking the leaders of Israel of injustice, accused them of feeding on the choice and fat sheep while the weak, the sick and the poor were neglected. (Ezek.34). In Dr. Martin Luther’s days, the indulgence-preachers were so mean that Dr. Luther argued in his 50th thesis “Christians should be taught that, if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence-preachers, he would rather the church of St. Peter were reduced to ashes than be built with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.”1 Permit me to say that it’s like we are back to this scenario once again where Cathedrals and Church Investments are “built with the skin, flesh and bones of the sheep”, as it were, and the welfare of the members are not prioritized.

As goes the church, so goes the society. The political leaders cannot do otherwise from what they see the prophets and pastors do. At anytime there is a stark difference between what the political leaders do and what the prophets and pastors do, the later always rebuke the former in God’s name. But when they are doing the same thing, the later will not have a moral justification to rebuke the former. The result is that the society will be so filled with injustice both in the church and the outside that God’s judgment becomes inevitable.

Note also that within our context, justice is not just how the law is applied but also how we conform to truth and God’s righteousness in all our dealings. As individuals, justice should be seen in the way we relate with our spouses, neighbors, work colleagues, and all our relationships in general, as a matter of fact. In our business dealings and how we handle people of high and low estate, we must do to others what we will like them do to us assuming we are the ones in their estate. Welfare and social actions are supposed to be part and parcel of the Church concerns. When we are privileged to be in the position to defend the defenseless, speak for the voiceless, protect the weak and dispense equity and judgment to the vulnerable, what do we do? Without doing justice, our profession is vain and our preaching will be noise.

We preach the cross because that is the place where love and justice intersected. It is the centerpiece of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has demonstrated that He is not only a God of justice in His Essence but also that He does justice in practical ways. Sin was judged at the cross; the requirements of justice were met at the cross; and love was shown at the cross whereby we are set free. The one that accepts this sacrifice on the cross receives a transformed heart. It is with this transformed heart that we can do justice and bring about transformation in our society. As God’s saved people, we have to be committed to doing justice and righteousness and not just speaking about it. Justice is not done because it is held as a belief or doctrine or spoken of by men, it is considered done because the people who look for it see and feel that it is done.

 “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Mic 6:8 ESV.

“…But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amen

Reference
  1. Evangelical Lutheran Church, (2019). The 95 Theses, Assessed 25/11/19 ONLINE: http://www.zionlutheran-ssm.org/95.pdf
  2. Zacharias, R. (2019). The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
  3. Ditto.




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Saturday, 7 December 2019

Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke has gone to be with the Lord

Sphere: Related Content Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke goes home. Below is the announcement from his family. I remember some of the crusades he had in Onitsha and lately in Port Harcourt in Nigeria. God used one of his books in those days to fire us up in our zeal to evangelize our area for Christ: Evangelism by Fire. Servant of God, your legacy lives on. Good night.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It is with sorrow that the Bonnke Family would like to announce the passing of our beloved husband, father, and grandfather, Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. He passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family, on December 7, 2019. For the past 60 years he has preached the glorious Gospel of Jesus throughout the entire world. We want to thank you on behalf of him and our family, for your kind love and unwavering support, which enabled him to preach the matchless message of salvation to countless people.
He preached Jesus…
“Great and marvelous are Your works,
Lord God Almighty!
Just and true are Your ways,
O King of the saints!
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy.
For all nations shall come and worship before You,
For Your judgments have been manifested.”
Revelation 15:3-4
In Christ,
Anni Bonnke and Family
We kindly ask, in lieu of flowers, to please make a donation to Christ for all Nations – Africa Crusade.

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Wednesday, 4 December 2019

(Free Download) A Presentation on Tests for Truth

Sphere: Related Content This is a Presentation on The Tests for Truth.
I have been extraordinarily burdened recently because of the level of deceptions around us today and it seems as if many really do need help to be able to take the right decisions. Many are being exploited while others unfortunately have believed lies. Knowing that what we believe has implications both for now and for eternity, it behooves of us to test what we hear in order to ensure we believe the right things and practice correctly. This is my contribution to helping us believe correctly.
Feel free to comment in the box down or chat me up in case you have questions or need clarifications.

Download the file here. pdf
Click to download the presentation. pptx
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Monday, 25 November 2019

Why is it difficult to encourage questions today in the church? Part 2

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In my first post, I discussed the importance of questions in the church. This Part 2 post will focus on why some of us find it difficult to encourage questions. In the last post, I will be discussing why it is important for the church to provide answers to questions, and provide defense and explanations especially to our truth claims.

In this world full of conflicting and divergent ideas, it is counterproductive to shut down questions asked by people seeking for information and answers, no matter how offensive, useless or negative they may seem. If we do not allow, especially our members, to be free to ask us questions, they will still ask the questions anyway but unfortunately, they will ask someone else who may give them answers we may not like.

The 90th thesis written by Dr Martin Luther in his 95 Theses which he posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in October 31, 1517 states “These questions are serious matters of conscience to the laity. To suppress them by force alone, and not to refute them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christian people unhappy.”3 Dr. Luther advised that the best approach towards the questions asked by the laity would not be suppression or playing the Ostrich, instead questions raised needed to be answered and arguments raised needed to be refuted. He warned that if attention was not paid to answering the questions asked by the people, it would come to a time the church and its leadership would be brought to ridicule. His warning was not heeded to and the church had a split.

The question is, when we refuse to answer the questions raised by enquirers and our members, what are we afraid of? In some cases, we configure the system and the institution in such a way that makes it nearly impossible or very difficult for questions to be asked in the first place. Fora are not created with the sole purpose of answering questions. Even when questions are asked, we structure the process in a way that will ensure that those who ask questions are either ignored or labelled or tagged or at best be given little or no answer, which shows the questioner that there was no willingness to answer his questions in the first place. We exercise a certain level of unbridled freedom because we believe that nobody will do anything. We can get away with anything, so we think.

We even administer punitive measures to those that ask questions. A few years ago, a story was told of a senior pastor who asked a question in a meeting that comprised of both his colleagues and their superior. Because of the question he asked, which bordered on some financial decisions taken concerning their superior, he was suspended from the church for some time and punished. If this can happen to a pastor, what do you think will happen to someone who is just a church member? This example only represents the difficulty people encounter when they have questions to ask in their churches. I do not understand why a Christian leader will present a Financial Report and Accounts, for example, and yet frown when listeners ask questions concerning what he has presented. How will he or she manage to preach about integrity the next day? These punitive measures only succeed in shutting down those who have questions. Ironically, these are the same things we are expecting from our political leaders.

Why is it difficult to encourage questions in the church today?

  1. Our unconscious claim to ‘infallibility’ as leaders. Christian leaders are still saved and redeemed sinners just like every other children of God. We are called as ministers by God, with different gifts, deployed to diverse market places to represent Him. Every one of God’s children is responsible wherever God has posted you; whether in the Medical field, Political arena, Law and Justice, Companies and Establishments, the Church, etc. You are called upon to be faithful wherever you are as a steward of God’s treasures and grace. The Church is supposed to be like the place where these ministers of God are coordinated and equipped to ensure that each person fulfills his/her calling (Eph.4:12). Christian leaders play a great role in equipping the saints for these good works. Unfortunately, instead of equipping God’s people, many of us make ourselves lords over them. Lords do not owe anybody and cannot be questioned. Over time, we seem to even forget where God picked us up from as lost sinners. We carry on as if we cannot make mistakes and our ‘yes men’ defend us and fan our ego. If we are accused by members of infidelity or misappropriation for example, instead of answering the questions raised, we defend and shut the questioners down. So, we hear leaders who say something like, “who are you to ask me this question?’ or “how dare you ask the man of God such questions? Are you suspecting him?” In different forms, we assume infallibility as if there is something else we are, separate from God’s people.
  2. Our insecurity as leaders. Many of us are very insecure in our positions of authority. We want to protect ourselves and the institution where we work even at the expense of truth. This defensive mode makes us to take aggressive postures. When inquirers or members ask questions seeking for answers, especially the ones we do not want them to have, we resist and fight. We find it difficult to own up to our mistakes so we fight and cover and protect ‘our own’ even when other brethren are shouting foul. We struggle to delegate to those we fear may ‘know more’ than us. So we ignore other of God’s ministers who are in different other market places but who may help out with the answers, just to ensure we maintain and protect our own and be the only ‘celebrity’ at the apex. Open Forum therefore gives us sleepless nights and where we can, we ensure it does not happen. In so doing, questions are not asked.
  3. Our incompetence and ignorance. Information is moving so fast and the questions of people are becoming more complicated. The basics of the questions may remain the same but people’s experiences and the way it impacts on them are more sophisticated than before. Technology is increasing. If one is not developing himself/herself and matching up with these changes, over time, you may not be able to face the questions people are asking. Even in communicating the Gospel, we have to develop skills that match with the changes around us. When we refuse to improve ourselves, we can become myopic in our thinking. When we perceive we are not competent, our insecurity increases and we are unwilling to allow questions.
  4. Our fear and cowardice. Another reason why we are often afraid of taking questions is because we want to be in the good books of the world. If in the cause of the questions, we are ‘pinned down’, we are afraid of saying the truth. We are afraid of engaging our cultures because we will be asked difficult questions concerning traditions, LGBTQ etc. We are afraid of being quoted. A prominent man of God was put on the spot on a News Network when he was asked "Is Jesus the only Way to God?" (John 14:6). He mumbled without any definite answer even when the questioner repeated herself. He did not want to get any 'backlash'. That is cowardice for a Christian. So, it is not just that seasoned theologians are scarce, we desire to enjoy the accolades of the world. We are afraid and abandon the truth alone in the ‘dark’ to suffer.
  5. Our resistance to progression in technology. I was in a meeting where a bishop glorified reading the bible in printed format and said that if he discovers that someone is not carrying his printed bible, they will not be friends anymore. You see, we will not be able to answer the questions of our youths if instead of looking for ways to maximize the use of technology for the benefit of the church, we are condemning it. The enlightened youth knows for example that he can read the bible in several formats and still be enriched. We are likely to shut such youth down when he asks his sincere questions. In epistemology, every means of acquiring knowledge has its advantages and disadvantages. Instead of enforcing the means that is best for us as individuals, we should encourage people simply to seek and assimilate knowledge in a way best for them.
  6. Our distraction by the strange gospel of health and wealth and our rebellion insisting to continue its propagation. The claims of health and wealth theology are illusive and unsustainable biblically and existentially. They cannot answer life’s deepest questions. The extrapolations of health and wealth gospel fail all the three tests of truth, namely logical consistency, empirical adequacy and experiential relevance.2 It creates celebrity and cult figures out of us as Christian leaders. First called the theology of glory as against the theology of the cross by Martin Luther, you are made to believe that answers to life’s problems are in the hands of one man who “negotiates between us (him) and God for whatever thing we may need”1. He represents us before God and collects our offerings and righteous works and takes them to God. By our works and giving, we are justified and prospered. Our insistence on preaching and teaching what cannot withstand scrutiny forces us to maneuver and avoid questions, especially the difficult questions of life. This makes asking questions very difficult.
  7. Our hypocrisies. We all call on the government to be transparent in its dealings, but many of us are not transparent in our churches. In many cases, our lives are not matching what we preach and we are unwilling to repent. Because we are hypocritical in our dealings, we resort to intimidation and all sorts of cover up. Have you heard a Christian leader say something like, “If you do so so and so again, I will curse you”? When there are discrepancies between our private life, the way we handle finances, relationships etc, and what we preach or what the Bile says, naturally, we will not want to encourage questions because we will be afraid of being put on the spot. Our unwillingness to be transparent is a challenge and makes us to block all avenues of people asking questions. What we forget is that the Gospel of Jesus by its nature cannot be separated from the life of its propagator. The efficacy and authenticity of the Gospel of Jesus will always refer the listener to the life of the professor for them to stick, and once there are inconsistencies, everything crumbles. We seem to think that we can preach the power of the Gospel while we live differently to the demands it places on our lives. It CANNOT work. When we have this unfortunate scenario, we will most likely discourage questions and use other things to assuage people’s quest for truth.
Granted that some questions can be very difficult, often interrogative, and provoking, however, we cannot run away from answering the questioner with humility, grace and respect, keeping good conscience. (1 Pet.3:15-16). As Ravi Zacharias will always say, “behind every question is a questioner” and we have to ensure that both the question and the questioner are answered. The former is a valid expression while the later is a person loved by God. Our young people have many questions to ask. Inquirers and our members have tons of questions bothering them. Are we ready to create the atmosphere for them to ask their questions, so that they know the answers we gave to them while we are still around? Let's not think that things will continue as usual this way. NO. If we refuse to open up and encourage questions, with what is going on with the Social media, I see an implosion in the near future within the church. It will either happen as a revolt or a revival. I wish it will be the later.

In the next/last part of this write up, I will look at the biblical imperative as it concerns answering questions and explaining the truth claims we preach.

Reference
  1. Ekwedam, C. (2016). Following hard after God. PNUR Revival Press and Books, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
  2. Zacharias R. (2019). Why Jesus. Lecture at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Academy, RZIM. https://www.rzim.org/page/academy-core-module
  3. Evangelical Lutheran Church, (2019). The 95 Theses, Assessed 25/11/19 ONLINE: http://www.zionlutheran-ssm.org/95.pdf


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Wednesday, 13 November 2019

The importance of asking questions in the church – seeking for answers. Part 1.

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A question, according to Cambridge Dictionary, is a sentence or phrase used to find out information. When people want to get information on a matter, they ask either broad or specific questions concerning the matter. The questions are normally directed to someone who is believed to have either in part or in whole the answers. Answers to questions can invite more or follow up questions which altogether are supposed to bring clarifications to the issues being considered.

In the church, we must allow those who are eager, to ask questions, plenty of questions. Every question is an opportunity for the church to explain and make our truth claims clearer. Every question asked by inquirers gives us the opportunity to make stronger our invitation to them to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ. Every question asked by members of our churches is an opportunity to make their persuasion firmer. Questioners are not to be seen as enemies or troublemakers, neither their questions be seen as worthless. Every question has worth because it is asked by a person who has worth. The worth of a person is derived from the Imago Dei (Image of God) in him or her.  When people ask questions, it shows they are interested. We have to recognize this interest and see how we can cooperate with God to steer the questioners to the answers that meet their real need.

The disciples asked Jesus plenty of questions and He answered all. In fact, every question was an opportunity to teach a specific truth or to expand or emphasize what has been taught before. We owe much of the teachings we have in the Gospels to the questions the disciples asked. Even when Peter asked Jesus in Matt. 19, what someone called “the dumbest question”, “We left everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?" Matt. 19:27 TLB, surprisingly He replied. The question sounded selfish, but Jesus replied him, not glossing over Peter’s personal interest. He painted the picture of what the rewards look like for them who were the first fruits of His ministry and also what it will look like for anyone who will sacrifice in His name. It was indeed an opportunity.  He answered their questions. Even when Philip made a request in John 14, He mildly reprimanded him and yet answered him. We must encourage both inquirers and our members to ask questions.

The benefits of asking questions
  1. Questions help us to arrive at the truth. The conviction of people become stronger when their questions are answered and they arrive at what they are convinced to be the truth by themselves. The Bible warns against false teachers and false prophets. (Matt.24:4-5). We are enjoined to “test everything” (1 Thess.5:21). Asking questions is one of the ways to arrive at judgment whether something is true or false.
  2. Questions help us to reason. When questions are asked, our reasoning is awakened. People talk about ‘common sense’; oftentimes, questions awaken our common sense. As Ravi Zacharias observes, “God has put enough into the world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason or observation alone.” God does not shutdown the faculty of reason when we place our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, the more He makes Himself known, the more He helps us see the reasonableness in placing our faith in Him. Questions appeal to our reason and makes us think. We serve God with both our faith and reason.
  3. Questions open us up to further enlightenment and help us to improve on what we used to know. They often query what we know before so that we can either develop stronger persuasion, or change our minds over what we used to know. This in turn changes our attitudes and life generally. Many years ago, each time we taught about holiness, we used to focus on lipsticks, eye shadows, shoulder pads, short sleeves, curling of hair, bangles and necklaces, and so on; you know all those things women use to beautify themselves. However, the more I saw failures also among brothers and the struggles in my own heart, the more some pointed questions confronted me. “Does it mean that holiness is a concern for women alone? Why should we always focus on women? Are all the brothers holy and only women have problems? If not, why are brothers not being challenged to holy living during our preaching?” These questions helped me to understand that dressing is only a subset of a bigger whole and holiness is deeper than wearing headscarf twenty four hours of the day. Further studies helped me to have a more balanced view of holiness and encouraged me to pursue personal holiness as a brother.
  4. Questions widen our horizons and reveal areas where our attention has not gone before. When we allow and encourage questions, they challenge our narrow-mindedness and call our attention to areas of improvement that hitherto we would not have known any other way. We rot when we close our doors against questions. This is because, we will continue in our old ways even when they are no more working and the world has moved on. The beautiful Gospel of Jesus is timeless but it is preached within time. Paying attention to the questions each generation is asking helps us to make it relevant. When we do our part, the Holy Spirit takes over from there.
  5. Questions help to bring out the assumptions of both the questioner and the explainer. Because we are not spirits, it is only through asking questions that motives are revealed, real needs are exposed and knowledge is gained of what exactly we should pay attention to.

People cannot develop strong convictions in what we preach and teach when they have so many unanswered questions they are not given the opportunity to ask. Even God uses questions to speak to us.
Most of us were raised not to ask elders questions, especially difficult questions. It worked for our parents. But not anymore. You cannot raise your children today without paying attention to their questions. If you don’t answer them, their peers and the social media will answer them. There used to be a time when you would bring down your guards without questions immediately someone tells you that he is a believer. But not anymore, you must ask further questions.  There used to be a time when once a pastor says “the bible says…”, everybody leaves to obey what the pastor said. Nobody would ask further questions. But not anymore. Many can read the bible today in different versions. The more people read and study, the more they will seek for clarifications.

We are exposed to many worldviews today, each competing for our attention. The church must open up to the questions people are asking. Our young ones who will replace us must be encouraged to ask their questions now we are alive. Let them know what our answers are to their questions about God and life. The earlier we do this, the better for us. I hope it is not getting late for some of our churches.

Look out for the remaining two parts of this write up. God bless.


Reference
Cambridge University Press. (2019). Cambridge online dictionary, Cambridge Dictionary online. Retrieved at November 13, 2019. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/question.

Zacharias R. 2019. The 3.4.5 Grid. Lecture at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Academy, RZIM. https://www.rzim.org/page/academy-core-module


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