Monday, 23 January 2017

Book review: Following Hard After God: Discover how to make the pursuit of God your lifetime affair by Chris Ekwedam

Following Hard After God: Discover how to make the pursuit of God your lifetime affair, Chris Ekwedam, Port Harcourt, Nigeria, PNUR Revival Press & Books, 2016, 157 pages.

The book, Following Hard After God: Discover how to make the pursuit of God your lifetime affair, by Chris Ekwedam has two-fold purposes, first, it is aimed at addressing complacent Christianity and wrong notions that are prevalent in our churches today, and secondly, to stir up God’s children to pursue a close and intimate “personal relationship with God that is real and practical.” The second purpose dominates a greater part of the discussions in the book. It is a book that will create hunger in the heart of a younger Christian to seek God’s face in every situation, challenge an older Christian to leave his place of conceit and comfort to deepen his relationship with God, and the Christian leader to pay attention to his personal relationship with God as he shepherds God’s people.

Chris Ekwedam is a seasoned servant of God, a sound Bible teacher, who has actively been serving the Body of Christ for the past twenty four (24) years in different capacities as a Christian leader. Following Hard After God is a follow-up to his first work “The New Birth”. He is a practicing Project Management Professional.

This book is divided into nine chapters, each chapter starts with either a Bible quotation or an inspiring quote that supports the points canvassed within the chapter. Men like Moses, Daniel and Apostle Paul are presented as examples of men who continued to seek after God in spite of their deep experiences with God. The author argues that in spite of the new birth experience, Christians ought to continually hunger for God and His visitation. In fact, he painted a current situation in our churches, “everywhere I look today, I see people who are hungry for miracles; men who are hungry to see the acts of God. But rarely do you see men who are hungry for God and His ways. We pursue everything except God. We even chase after men who we think can give us ‘access’ to God and His blessings but we never seek after God Himself, the Giver of blessings” Christians are encouraged in the book to hunger and thirst for God like the Psalmist who said “as the deer pants for streams of water so my soul pants for you O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” Ps.42:1-2.

Chris argues that man’s desire to be independent, rule and take charge of himself makes him think and act as if he does not need God. He creates several alternatives and options to use to sort himself out in the face of troubles. In fact, even pastors and leaders in Christian organizations are not left out. “when men’s’ power for ministry wane, instead of seeking the face of God for times of refreshment, they relax because they have alternatives around them.” He continued, “to avoid being accused of not serving God or of being irreligious, we have created alternatives for ourselves and to show those who are watching us that we are still spiritual and religious. We cover our real selves and become very busy so as to portray commitment to God to those around us, when actually our hearts are not committed to God” Page 131. The author warns that “our alternatives are empty and temporary solutions like cisterns that cannot hold water”. He said that because of all these, God often brings us to a point of need from time to time to enable us seek Him. No one will stay the way he is and walk with God at the same time. God often brings us to the end of ourselves, with all our options exhausted, before we set our hearts to really seek Him.

Chapter 8 is very interesting as it deals with the Distractions and Deceptions that hinder us from seeking the Lord. Apart from the alternatives we create; the author discusses the worries of this life as another thing that distracts us. The deceitfulness of riches is presented as a killer that makes us have a false sense of security and sufficiency that leads to lukewarm lifestyle. “The Kingdom has lost a lot of believers in the palace of blessings and prosperity as much as in the theater of suffering and adversity.”  Who would have imagined that the riches that we pursue and pray for can be a deception that hinders us from the God who gave them to us?
Chapters 1, 3 and 7 presents the argument for seeking after God and pursuing a loving relationship with Him while chapters 2, 4 – 6 and 8 present the factors we must pay attention to in order for our seeking to achieve its desired goals. The factors include avoiding the creation of alternatives, setting our hearts aright and having godly priorities, having a correct view of God, and avoiding the distractions and deceptions that make us either to be complacent or to seek in wrong ways. Chapter 9 is like a closing charge for a Christian not to give up in his seeking. The book fulfills its purposes of addressing some of the contemporary wrong mindsets and also stirring the hearts of believers towards the pursuit of God and making it a lifetime affair. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" Jam.4:8.

Looking at the book critically, I think that there are other things also that can distract us from seeking God which includes legitimate ambitions and desires which are not covered in the book. The organization of the book is poor as chapters 1, 3 and 7 would have been arranged together while chapters 2, 4 – 6 and 8 would have been organized together in a progressive manner so as to make a good flow. Also the introduction is not properly arranged on page 1. A line seems to be cut off on page 29. It is our hope that the author and his publisher will improve and take care of these minor errors during the revision edition.

Generally, the author made some categorical and thought-provoking statements in the book that will send the reader into serious thinking and reflection. For example, he said that “only seekers find God”, “slothful men cannot follow God”, “salvation, as important and free as it is, is not given to those who do not desire, long or ask for it”. Many of such statements can ignite theological questions in the reader; but except for further studies, I discovered that the book answered most of the questions it provoked.

I will summarize with the words of the Ven. Chris Iwuji, who wrote the Forward “Chris Ekwedam has made a clarion call to all who care to hear. It is apt and must be amplified for our generation to hear.” Though some issues raised in the book are very unpopular, it is recommended to every serious minded Christian. 

Grab a copy of the book and you will not regret you did. It was published last year 2016 and is already in several bookshops. Alternatively, you can contact the author through 08055614630.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The choices we make in 2017

The point is that your choices matter; your daily decisions matter; your attitudes matter and your actions also matter. These will culminate into what becomes of your life this New Year.

I believe that people can seek God’s face for the New Year. I believe that those that want to fast can fast and present themselves to God for whatever He wants to use them to do, even though it is not a prerequisite. I believe that there are many things in the future that are not within our control; hence we need to pray and adjust our lives to God and what He is doing to ensure that we are on the right side of the future.

What I don’t agree with is where people make false declarations because they want the church members to feel good. Some Pastors have put themselves under pressure to declare what will happen within the year. In the course, they declare strange things and lies that have no bearing to what God is doing, because of the gullible membership they have raise over the years.

I don’t agree with some people who use the time of seeking God at the beginning of the year as a time of bargaining and fund raising. If you want to raise money for your annual budget, set your target and urge your members to pledge, so that you will have the money to fund the programmes you have for the year. Trust God together with your members for His provision. But don’t manipulate them into thinking that their security and blessings within the year are dependent on how much they fast or give within the month of January. Do not manipulate them into thinking that they can use their money to “redeem” the year meanwhile behind the scene you are calculating how much is raised. The covenant we have with God in Christ and the terms and conditions recorded in the New Testament are enough for that.

Every January, there are bogus declarations by some church leaders. People use swelling words to hype the moral and emotions of others. There is nothing wrong trying to encourage the people to be positive towards the New Year, what is wrong is using lies to do that. God’s word is enough to make God’s people to trust Him. If God’s word is not able to motivate your people, then no bogus prophecies can make a lasting impression that has eternal value. Some have even gone into blessing holy water, holy oil, articles and “mantles” as instruments of anointing for the year. These are not proper and are deceptive. What carries people through is their relationship and faith in God which influences their daily choices.

Note that even though we make ourselves feel different in this month of January, the truth is that nothing really has changed; the days of this month will not be different from the other days of February, March, April etc. What will bring about changes are the choices and decisions we make daily. If you continue to make the same choices you have been making in the previous days, do not expect different outcomes in the days ahead. Prayer and fasting do not change the outcome of your daily choices.

Hence, instead of declaring false things to the people just to make them feel good and to raise money, use the occasion to challenge them to change their choices; to set new goals; to make new decisions towards the way they want to go; to take actions that will lead them to their new goals; to trust God and be faithful to Him because He rewards a faithful life. Let those who have been making bad choices repent and replace their bad choices with good ones. That is when they will expect a different outcome this year. Those that should go back to school should decide and start taking actions. Those that intend to take certification courses should decide and start making inquiries. This is the time to decide on any personal development you may want to engage in this year. Stop procrastination. Is there a small job opportunity to take up? Is there a ministry skill to develop? How many books do you intend to read this year? This is the time to take those decisions. 

Declaring what God has not told you will only stir empty emotions but will not bring about tangible results. Leading your people to adjust their lives to what God wants to do in their lives this year is more important than whatever good words you want to tell them no matter what your intentions may be. It is good to bless your congregation, but it is important for you to note that God does not bless a sinful and disobedient life. So leading a faithful and obedient life is more important than any fasting and prayer that will not produce changes in people’s lives. When you are in good relationship with God, you will surely be found in the center of His will for your life.

These are the choices that will bring about changes in your life this year. If you are seeking God’s face, go ahead and pray but take note of the inevitable choices that you must make to accompany the prayer time. Do not be deceived. Refuse to be exploited. May God bless you in this year 2017!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Naomi – a heart that seeks the good of those that serve under her.

Naomi – a heart that seeks the good of those that serve under her.
"My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?” Ruth 3:1-2 NIV.
As a recap from the lessons from the book of Ruth, we learned never to allow ourselves to be caught by any of the immoral traps the devil lays on our way. In the first, second and third lessons, we shared about the integrity and moral strength of the man, Boaz. Boaz is an encouragement to us who live in an age where it is as if sex is for sale. The truth is that we can overcome the moral challenges of our time. 

We also learnt that as elders we should be straight-forward and truthful. Most elders in our churches are intimidated in the presence of issues, hence so many crises concerning doctrine,  leadership positions, lifestyle and behaviour of younger leaders and discipline generally. The kinsman-redeemer’s truthfulness helped the elders’ meeting not to prolong and drag unnecessarily.  The issues were resolved amicably.

This is the last lesson in this series from the book of Ruth as we look at ourselves as pastors, leaders and God’s men who have submitted ourselves as instruments in His hands. Our attention is on the woman, Naomi who asked Ruth, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee. That it may be well with thee?” (KJV). Having served and followed her committedly through the years, Naomi decided to help her to be established. She elected not to allow Ruth to serve her perpetually till she is “wasted”. She began to think about Ruth’s future.

Now there are many questions we need to ask ourselves as men and woman that other people serve under. The junior pastor under you, have you asked yourself, how can I seek rest for him? He has worked under you for ten years but has not made significant progress in his life. Are you comfortable for him to continue that way? A lot of senior pastors do not intentionally seek the growth of those under them. In fact because of the current celebrity mentality, most leaders make every effort to ensure that those under them do not rise so that they will remain the only “light in the midst of darkness”. This competitive spirit is not the spirit of Christ.

Again, your gate man or driver who has served you all these years faithfully, have you asked yourself, how can I seek rest or ‘a permanent house’ for him? It is not only that he is serving you, but even his family has joined him in serving you and your children. Is that the way you want them to continue till probably you die and your family will push them away? 

Do you think of the future of those who serve under you? Naomi would have continued to enjoy the services of Ruth without thinking of the future of the young lady.

For some of us, every maid and house help is a devil. She has served you for years, dressing and taking your children to and from school. You entrust the lives of your children into her hands and she has been making progress and yet you do not think about the future of the girl who is taking care of your ‘kings and queens’. All you see in her are demons and Satan. Oftentimes, these ones living with us are either our relatives or the relatives of our spouses. Are you thinking like Naomi or do you want them to serve you perpetually, bringing ‘roasted grain’ home every day for you? 

We have used these illustrations to bring home the points we want to make. The question is, "what are you thinking concerning those who serve under you?" Naomi enjoyed the ‘roasted grain’ Ruth was bringing home for her, but she thoughtfully found a way to help her establish. In this our short life, let us resolve to build lives and not destroy them; to establish lives and not to use and dump; to lift people and not bring them down; to offer a helping hand to those who are not as privileged as we are and not to exploit them. God will bless you. Amen.

The Coming of Light

The Son of God is called the Light of the world. Those who believe in Him too are equally called the light of the world (Mat.5:14). The world where we shine is full of darkness. The darkness is the contrast that makes light visible. Heaven is full of pure light, the light that the present eyes cannot withstand without being blinded. When John saw the Lord Jesus in the Book of Revelation, everything about His glory was reduced so that He could communicate with John, yet His face was so full of light that John could not stand. “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” Rev 1:16.

He came as the light which was prophesied many years before by the prophets: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Isa 9:2. Simeon, when He was born and presented at the temple, said among other things that He is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." Luke 2:32. The Apostle John introduced Him as the Light of men, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. … The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” John 1:4-9.

The Lord Himself declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12. “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." John 9:4-5. Immediately Jesus finished saying this, He opened the eyes of a man that had been blind from birth. 

From the passages, it is clear that there is the light of life to have and also the works of light to do. The works of light are “to preach good news to the poor… to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Hence Peter further explained, while preaching in Cornelius’ house, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” Acts 10:38. Our environment, including the men and the elemental powers around us, must see and experience our light.

Having celebrated Christmas and have entered into a New Year, let us remember that Jesus is no more here among us physically. He has kept us here as the light that should shine in this world of darkness. Let us make sure that we have the Light in us because only then can we shine through righteousness and holiness. He that does not have the Lord Jesus does not have the Light of life in him. Let us keep counteracting the works of darkness by doing the works of light. At last, we will enter into His heaven of eternal light where we will rest in His glory. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” Rev 21:23-24.