Thursday, 17 July 2014

Does the Bible Condone Premarital Sex? - by Bob Russell

Occasionally church leaders email me, asking for my opinion on various personal or church problems. This spring, I received a note from a church leader in another city. The location isn’t important, because the situation he outlined is common across the nation.
He wrote of how a number of members ages 25 to 35 had reached the conclusion that premarital sex is “OK.” Some even play on the praise team, teach in the children’s program, or film videos for weekly announcements.

“The problem is that some of them will tell me that they cannot find anything in scripture that says that what they are doing, having sex with someone, is wrong,” he said. “I have taught on the subject, but they do not see a direct statement against premarital sex.”

Dealing with sin.

He asked for other scriptures he can use, as well as about the church’s stance.
Should it allow them to continue leading ministries or bring them before the congregation and—as the Bible says—have nothing to do with them in hopes it will help them see their sin and return to Christ?
“I know that Satan wants to get in and cause problems in the church, but I also know the need to accept them and love them,” he concluded. “But we also have to deal with sin, or Satan wins.”

In my response, I pointed out that the Bible repeatedly instructs God’s people to “flee fornication.” For 2,000 years, the word translated “fornication” in Scripture has been understood to include the prohibition of sex prior to marriage. Webster’s dictionary definition is clear: “consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other.”

A privileged experience.

God designed the physical union of a man and a woman as a privileged experience within the bounds of marriage. The Lord intended marriage as a secure environment for raising children and a uniquely meaningful union that symbolizes God’s committed relationship to us (Ephesians 5:32).

If there was nothing wrong with premarital sex, then why was Joseph determined to divorce Mary when he discovered she was expecting a child prior to marriage?
If there is nothing wrong with premarital sex, then one could conclude there is nothing wrong with having children out of wedlock.

Read the full write up here.

Every Church leader needs to take a decision and stand on premarital sex and be ready to encourage the up coming generation to live a holy life. We have to show them by our exemplary lives that it is possible to obey the Lord. Church discipline must be practiced in cases of flagrant known sins, especially where it involves leaders. Except we do this, the next generation may come to the point whereby sex before marriage will be accepted as a way of life for Church members.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The burden of knowledge

The burden of knowledge
I had wanted to title this piece “The perils of knowledge”. But because I do not want many to misunderstand the title at first glance, taken out of context, I have decided to title it “The burden of knowledge”. I strongly encourage people to pursue God and strive to know Him personally. However, when God begins to open Himself to us and starts to give us the revelation of His ways, we have to be careful the way we deal with the “ignorant” men around us who presumably do not know what we know. If we are not aware of the burden we have to bear because of what we now know, we can destroy those around us and even destroy ourselves. 1 Cor. 8:11 says that our knowledge can destroy a weak brother if we are not careful.
We are all familiar with the passage, “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” Hos.4:6, however, not many are aware of this other side of knowledge, that it can hinder you; can limit you and puff you up and even kill you. The Bible says that “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor.8:1) and makes you feel important and can set you up in a position where God Himself will work to resist you. Doesn’t that catch your attention? It indeed catches mine.

This is why I am sharing these 5 burdens of knowledge:
1. Exercise of knowledge must have some controls. Knowledge lifts you from where you are to a different mental estate. Knowledge expands your understanding and capacity to reason. Knowledge makes you different. What you know can make you think differently, analyze issues differently, respond to situations differently and even live differently. In fact knowledge can change you.
Having said that, it is important to note that even though the knowledge you just gained has changed you, your environment and the people around you have not changed with you. Why? It is simple; they do not know what you know. It will take you time to let them know what you know, let them understand what you mean, and bring them to the level where you are, precept upon precept, line upon line, a little here, a little there until they come to the same plane where you are. Hence, in manifesting your knowledge, you must control yourself depending on the gap between you and your environment and also depending on the gap between you and the people around you. Control does not mean that you compromise your core or the content of what you know, it all means that you exercise patience and wisdom in manifesting your knowledge and the revelation of God that you have. Even in the Scriptures, God’s dealing with us is in progressive revelation. We can deal with our fellow humans the way God deals with us. Knowledge on its own is not tangible. What people can touch is how you go about your knowledge; the things you do with what you know and how you manifest what you know. For knowledge to be profitable, we must add self-control to it. 2 Pet.1:6.

2. Knowledge needs to be balanced with other attributes, virtues and character in order to positively impart others around us. My emphasis is not on the earthly knowledge and wisdom which sometimes we may have to completely set aside if we must operate in faith; what I mean here is the spiritual knowledge which makes us claim to have known the Lord better than others. I mean the knowledge that changes the way people look at us and makes them to hold us at a high esteem spiritually. This knowledge must be balanced with other areas of our lives. The level of spiritual knowledge we claim we possess must produce virtue and godly character. If it does not produce righteousness, then there is a question mark on your spiritual knowledge regardless of what you say. It amazes me when men claim spiritual knowledge and still remain naughty, rebellious and immoral. These things do not add up.

3. Increase in knowledge must go with increase in humility if it is going to produce spiritual results. One of the reasons why knowledge can become a snare is that it can raise your shoulders up and make you become a Pharisee. The Pharisees are critics who do not offer alternative solutions. They do not believe that God can also use somebody else apart from themselves. They run others down and despise their level of knowledge but expect the same people to recognize and respect their own knowledge and insight. I do not want to be distracted here into discussing the Pharisees, but suffice it to say that the Pharisees burden others with their knowledge and keep them perpetually dependents and ignorant. No effort is made to liberate others from ignorance.
Spiritual knowledge must be dispensed with great humility if we expect it to change men. We encounter oppositions and the ego of men because the people feel our pride and “holier than thou” attitude as we share what we know. They hear our counsels and revelation but feel our pride and ego. They hear our words but see our high handedness. We must apply the things we learn from our Bible Studies with great humility especially when others are involved. You know, it is easier to pride ourselves around with claims of knowledge and demand respect and recognition than to humble ourselves and look for the best ways to impart the lives of others with what we know. For me, the content of the message is as important as the vehicle or means through which the message is delivered and the way it is delivered.

4. Responsibility must increase with Knowledge. We have seen it play out in relationships and in our attitudes and response to issues. For example, it is the person who knows that he has to pursue peace by all means possible that will humble himself, deny himself, and even often give up his right for the sake of peace. What he knows makes him to be the first to initiate peace moves in spite of his personal ego and the insensitivity of the other person involved. He accepts to be defrauded if it will bring peace because of his knowledge. Why? This is because that is the dictate of the Scriptures that he knows. It is the person that knows that bears the responsibility in making sure that the situation they are in produces spiritual result. Not the ignorant, even though at the end of the day, his ignorance does exonerate him before God.
The Scriptures you know places demand upon you to obey them and be different even when people around you think otherwise. This is one of the reasons the devil does not want God’s people to study the Bible. He lures them away from their Bibles with all kinds of human philosophies and empty fables. The reason is simple, when you know and do not obey, guilt can easily be stirred up in you quicker than somebody who is completely ignorant and does not care. Hence repentance is possible where there is knowledge.
Having said that, my challenge is that I see men that claim that they know, but at the same time they live in a blatant disregard to their claim and yet bear no guilt about it. This indeed is a paradox.

5. Knowledge raises expectations. When we claim that we know, we raise people’s expectations from us. It is not only that God looks upon us, depending on His investment in us, men around us also expect to see what we claim we know in our own personal lives. The tragedy of our time is that we have a generation that claim they know God and His word but fight anybody who places a demand upon their lives because of what they claim they know. At best they explain it away. For me, it is a high level of irresponsibility to make a claim and refuse people placing a demand upon such a claim. If we claim we know, we must bear the burden of that knowledge. Knowledge must bear responsibility.
We must pay attention to these issues because God has called us to impart lives and to equip them for Him. This must be our focus in all that we do in the Body of Christ.
At the end of the day, knowledge shall pass away. What shall remain as substance is how we treated and made allowance for other brethren; how we esteemed others above ourselves; how we humbled ourselves for Christ to be exalted; how we showed love to others, especially those who cannot pay us back. Love is what builds the body. 1 Cor. 8:1.

God bless you!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Bishop Isaac Orama – Never deceived by titles and regalia.

Bishop Isaac Orama – Never deceived by titles and regalia.
It was Thomas Carlyle in On Heroes, Hero-worship and the Heroic in History, who said that the “society is founded on Hero-worship”. He argues that “society everywhere is some representation … of a graduated worship of Heroes – reverence and obedience done to men really great and wise”. This has led many generations into paganism and idolatry of all sorts. However it is not just that man has that innate sense of “loyalty, submissive admiration” for whatever he considers truly great, he equally revels in the glory when he has the opportunity to be adored in such a manner.

The latter is the reason why every leader, whether spiritual or secular, is always faced with this great temptation – do I accept this submissive admiration of worship from men who follow me or do I point them to my Savior, who is greater than myself, and sincerely bend down so that they can see Him alone? Broken men, humble servants of God have found out that that is the only way to escape the trap of hero-worship. Not that they can eliminate that which is innate in man – the desire to worship, but they save themselves from the consequent deception by adopting the attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ who “took upon himself the form of a servant”.

This attitude is what I saw in Bishop Isaac Orama, the late Bishop of the Diocese of Uyo, while he was alive. The last time I physically listened to him was about two years ago when he preached on “Arise and Shine”. One of the things he said in that meeting that has never left me is, I will paraphrase it, “I jealous some of you who are volunteer workers in the church, who though you have your own professions, yet you are committed to God in His service. It makes me to work harder than just being a pastor. You know what, many of us ordained ministers will get to heaven only to discover to our shock that we arrived empty-handed. Why? Because we did just what we were employed to do as pastors and got paid by the church for it, hence there will be nothing else to reward us for in heaven. I work harder so as to get reward in heaven”. That struck me and left a very big impression on my life and ministry since then. It stuck. Watching his life, I can say that that was exactly how he lived his life.

Climbing up the ladder in his denomination, from one title to another, his regalia changed several times. However, those changes did not change Bishop Isaac Orama. He remained just a brother. He did not put up the kind of cult-leader attitude we see most Christian leaders carry today. He continued to be jovial, smiling and will always call you his brother each time you meet. Most leaders claim that they are approachable but they allow those around them to create this deceptive atmosphere of awe around them and their office. They bask in the resultant reverence and yet claim that their office and position has not changed them. But Isaac Orama did not allow those things to influence him. He never became a stranger to his old friends. They remained his brethren. When he came to speak on that “Arise and Shine” programme, he opted to stay in a Guest House of an old friend so as to reduce the financial burden of accommodation on the host church.

He accomplished a lot and imparted many lives during his life time, from the Scripture Union leadership period to his death as the Bishop of Uyo Diocese. He was involved in the revival that swept through the former Niger Delta Diocese and now Diocese of Niger Delta North, many years ago. He led a church in the heart of Port Harcourt, St. Matthews Anglican Church, started by the Venerable Isaac Tejevo, into one of the rare missionary exploits of modern history - the same church that some self-serving pastors today have demonized and made several attempts to scatter. He took over the church from Canon Somiari who himself is a called missionary. This church planted many other churches, helped to revive many dead ones in several remote villages scattered in Niger Delta and sent out missionaries. He assisted the church to develop a global missionary vision which has led to the opening of mission fields in Cameroun, Sierra Leone, Ghana etc. He was a prayer man and encouraged many people to pursue their God-given ministries and helped to raise many young men as ministers. His influence crossed denominational boundaries. Those who have heard him lead in prayer sessions will sense his burden for the church; easily broken before the Lord in tears.

A friend of mine once told me an incident that happened in St. Matthews in one of those days – He just finished rebuking the church rashly over some matters and went and sat down, only to come up again to apologize to the church for the way he talked to them. He said that God just rebuked him and warned him not to talk rashly to His children the way he did and asked him to go back to the podium and apologize. It turned out to become another solemn moment for everybody as they all began to repent and confess their sins. What a scene and what an experience for all the worshippers that Sunday. During church love feasts, he would almost eat from every person’s plate, unlike many pastors who are full of complex and pretense, who do not want to eat with their brethren because they are wearing white collar.

When we received the SMS to pray for him when he travelled to India for a medical condition, we all prayed. But it has pleased our Father to call him home in a time like this. I can only say, “My big brother, you fought well. We learnt a lot from you what you also learnt from Christ. Once again I say, “Good night””.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Watch out

"Watch out for false prophets. Matt 7:15 NIV

One of the things that will become common and rampant in these last days is the increase in deception and deceivers. The deception will be so strong that even the elect can be taken if he is not watchful. Praying alone is not enough to guard a man against falsehood, using our spiritual eyes to watch is very important.

In the passage above, the Lord asks us to watch out for false prophets. They will come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly, they are ferocious wolves. They may prophesy, drive out demons and perform miracles and yet, they work against God’s purpose and tear down God’s kingdom instead of building it. They are hirelings who do not really care for the sheep. All they care about is how to make money for themselves, and get returns from church members who have itching ears who are glad hearing what they want to hear. These church members can stay under a ‘prophet’ who prophesies lies but they will never ask questions because they are being driven by their lusts.

How can you be under a ‘prophet’ who says that God told him that something will happen within a period and it does not happen and you do not ask questions? Oftentimes people are so intimidated that they are even afraid to mention the lie their pastor has told. They think sub-consciously that their pastor can change the rules and God will accept it because he is a ‘servant of God’. How can a prophet always sees ‘pains in the lower abdomen’, ‘you dreamt and somebody was pursuing you in the dream’, ‘somebody is here who has pain on the upper part of his arm’ etc? Every time he opens his mouth, the same ‘prophecy’ all the time. Recently in a church, a visiting preacher was corrected two times because he was declaring something that was obvious to every church member that it was false. 
This is the beginning of the year and many people are having special programs in their churches and ministries. Unfortunately, this is when many leaders declare lies and claim that God has spoken to them. Many pastors deceive their members to enter into some spurious covenants which they are told they can procure with their offerings and pledges. I discussed this extensively here some years ago. What covenant can you procure with the money God gave to you that will be more efficacious and lasting than the covenant we have with Him in Christ Jesus which has granted us access to Him as our Father? We are covenant children with all the inheritance we have as sons. In the so called covenant services, they still quote from the Bible which on its own is a covenant book which contains all the terms and instructions that if a man harkens to, he will enjoy the fulfillment of God’s promises. Why are people deceiving others and why do followers allow themselves to be deceived?

I believe in prophecy but I judge every prophecy to make sure it is from God. I recently asked a couple, “how can you identify a false prophet?”, they could not answer anything. And I know that many people today are in that kind of situation. Please, do not be deceived. The Psalmist says, “Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling” psalm 2: 11. If you decide to sincerely fear God this year, eschew evil and pursue after Him, you will experience Him like never before. The Lord Jesus warns, ‘watch out for false prophets’. My dear watch! God bless you.