Let me use this unique time to formally welcome you to the office of The Convention President of The Nigerian Baptist Convention. I wish you happy surfing.
MY VISION FOR THE CONVENTION:
I envision the Nigerian Baptist Convention to be a community of churches that honour the Lord by radically taking the Gospel to all parts of Nigeria and the world through evangelism, church planting and biblical discipleship. We are not just another Protestant group, but evangelical in practice. Our MISSION should thus be "The Nigerian Baptist Convention must encourage and develop churches that glorify the Lord through obedience to His mandate to spread the Gospel to every person within every people group throughout the world. We must be involved in planting viable or self-supporting churches whose ministries are based on meeting felt needs of our members and seekers." The Nigerian Baptist Convention churches must be committed to biblical discipleship; that is, every member must be well informed and taught, thus enabling every member to minister to each another.
THE PERSON AND THE DUTIES OF THE CONVENTION PRESIDENT
According to the Constitution and the Bye law of the Convention, the person of Convention President shall be the Chief Executive and Accounting Officer of the Convention. He shall be responsible to the Executive Committee of the Convention and his duties are spelled out in the Constitution.
THE CONVENTION OF OUR DREAM
A people without a vision are a nation without direction. This statement has not come from the vacuum. This is a tested opinion that has over years and centuries marked the progress and the downfall of military formations and nations. It is my belief that this all-important issue is included in our discussions this year because we all desire to have a Convention that is definite about its mission. Peter Marshall, an American Presbyterian pastor once prayed: [Lord] "Give us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for-because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything." The direction we shall go will depend on the vision we who are called the leaders at various strata share. Shall we be able to draw a vision and carry it out to those at the grass root? Can God depend on you and me to pass the baton of progress and run the race of making the gospel the priority of our existence? That is what vision casting is all about. It is like a relay race in which batons are passed from one runner to another to complete a race. This race is not a matter of winning a wreath or medal, but that of completing the race. In other words, that all runners will play their part and according to the rules governing the race.
DEFINING OUR IDENTITY
In order that we might be able to understand our vision, we must thoroughly know who we are. Socrates said "man know thyself!" This statement is quite relevant to us. We must have clarity in our understanding of our denomination. Who are we? What do we believe? How do we operate? We are a denomination of churches called the Nigerian Baptist Convention, bound by what is called Congregational polity. That is, each unit voluntarily agreed to a set of rules and practices drawn from the Bible our as the authority for faith and practice. These are, among others, doctrines of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the priesthood of believers, competency of soul, etc. We also adhere to practices such as democratic form of decision-making in every local church and the Convention, which relates to the autonomy of the local church, autonomy that is within the sphere of what the whole Convention holds as sacred. Consequently, one's local church autonomy stops once it contradicts the conventional norms. Thus, the autonomy of the local church is not a kind of irresponsible freedom or a license to do anything one wants. We also believe in working together, that is pulling our resources together to do what each church cannot do alone. We practice what is called "Cooperative Program" in which each church contributes 20% of their tithes and offerings to the Convention purse for our collective responsibilities, such as theological training, students ministry, missions - both home and foreign, social ministry among others. Nigerian Baptist Convention started with the arrival of Southern Baptist missionaries in 1850, while the first organized group of churches started in 1914. From the statistics we have at the moment, we have about 8,000 churches with three million baptized members.
OUR CORE MISSION
Looking at the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 26:46-47; Acts 1:8; 26:18, the Lord envisions His Church to be involved in following His example. He shared His vision with us in Luke 4:18-19 which He took from Isaiah 61:1-2. In the light of God's plan for the church, the Nigerian Baptist Convention ought to be a community of churches that honors the Lord by taking the Gospel to all parts of Nigeria and the world through evangelism, church planting, and biblical discipleship. Our MISSION now is to encourage and develop churches that glorify the Lord through obedience to His mandate to spread the Gospel to everyone within every people group throughout the world. We are therefore encouraging our churches and pastors to give priority of ministry to the planting of self-supporting churches whose ministries are based on meeting felt-needs of members and seekers. Our commitment is to biblical discipleship that is making every church member a minister in service of the kingdom. In this connection, our commitment is to the following values:
A COMMITMENT TO THE WORD OF GOD AS STANDARD
We are people of the Book, that is, those who love the Word of God as God's inspired Word, authoritative rule of faith and practice for us, thus our conduct, ministry and meetings must reflect biblical givens in all areas of our collective vision. The Holy Spirit, the Interpreter of God’s Word, will guide us in all our deliberation and ministry.
A COMMITMENT TO LAY MINISTRY.
The Word of God tells us that the primary responsibility of pastors and leaders of our churches is to prepare God's people for works of ministry (Eph 4:12). In this vein, we are encouraging our Pastors and leaders to motivate our men and women to be involved in the ministry of our churches, rather than seeing them as competitors.
A COMMITMENT TO GROWTH.
God desires that we enlarge our tent as Isaiah 54:2-3 commands us. God wants us to grow beyond where we are at the moment. By the grace of God, we trust the Lord to help us to double our membership in five years. If 3000 out of about 8000 of our churches would commit themselves to planting two to three churches, we should reach this target. Our Missions Department will be our essential tool in this task
A COMMITMENT TO INNOVATION.
Things are rapidly changing around us, and we do not intend to be slavish to traditions that will stifle growth and creativity. We are envisioning and exploring the possibility of the Baptist Bookstores, Baptist Press, and other investment organizations returning to their old efficiency and entrepreneurship. In addition to this we are also exploring the possibilities of setting up other viable business interests that will strengthen our capital base. In this connection, we should explore possibilities of our own Banking and Insurance opportunities.
A COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE
We are also seeking to maintain a high standard of excellence in the Baptist Building, and we hope that this will be replicated in all the Conference Secretariats and in all our local churches. The point here is that we should not be oiling machines that are not working, whether human resources or our institutions. In this regard, our priority in personnel management is to be Bible-centered as well as ensure that staffs earn their wages, corresponding to optimum productivity.
A COMMITMENT TO SOUND EDUCATION.
With approval of Bowen University, we are working toward ensuring that within a short period it emerges as a viable model of what a private university should be. The same applies to our theological institutions, Bible Colleges, and Secondary Schools. We would like to see them setting the pace for education in the country, at the least, through qualitative instructors and infrastructures.
CHALLENGES TO OUR VISION
Let us quickly highlight a few issues I know some of you who are Conference Secretaries, Associational Moderators and even pastors are contending with in this struggle to fulfill our collective dream. Let me say that this struggle is not new to the twenty-first century church. The early churches faced many challenges, such as persecution, internal crises and doctrinal controversies too. There are many of these obstacles and the following are just few among others.
1. LACK OF COMMITMENT TO THE COOPERATIVE PROGRAM
By our practice, we all agreed to give 20% of our tithes and offerings to the Cooperative Program of the Convention, that is, towards our collective responsibilities to fulfilling the Great Commission. Some associations and conferences also have a decided percentage or amount agreed upon by the churches to contribute into their cooperative program purse. It is from this money we are able to carry out our work. However, due to reasons known to some of our churches and their leaders, they have not been committed to the Convention work. Rather than giving faithfully, some churches simply give a token so as to have their names written on the record. There are others who do not give at all throughout the whole year. The result of this attitude is the inability of the Convention to be able to carry out her responsibilities as she should. A situation where we all draw up a Budget and voting for it at every Annual Session, and yet with short-falls for some years is indicative of possible collapse of our system if the trend is not checked. It is thus necessary that we will all work towards giving faithfully to the Cooperative Programme. We are grateful to God for many of our churches who give, while we pray the Lord to stir the spirit of those lagging behind.
THE DRIFT OF MEMBERS TO NEW GENERATION CHURCHES
Some years past and even now, we have been experiencing the drift of some of our members to the new generation churches, or the Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. Some of the key leaders of these churches today are from Baptist churches, while there are some of the founders who were formerly Baptists. Part of the reasons why some leave is unnecessary crises in some of our churches, some which border on carnal leadership, and sheer ignorance of how our churches operate. Others simply say that such members went away to look for "greener grass" elsewhere. The bottom line is: either we have been underfeeding God's people in our care, or we underutilize them, or fail to allow them to use their God-given gifts in our midst. Whatever we can do to correct this trend must be put in place by our churches, and particularly by our pastors and lay leaders.
3. PASTORLESS CHURCHES
Another serious problem we have is the attitude of some our lay leaders such as deacons to simply refuse to lead their churches to call full-time pastors for many years. A situation where a deacon-leader assume pastoral responsibilities without pastoral training, and also drawing allowances do make a mockery of the sacred ministry. There is no way a lay leader can compare with a trained pastor, who gives full time to the work of ministry. Some of the churches that are led by lay leaders either remain static or simply plateau for lack of pastoral innovation. This is not to say that we do not have some lay leaders that are not dynamic and innovative, nevertheless, it is important that we give room for pastoral leadership. One of the serious implications of these pastorless churches is the lack of places of service for our trained men and women who are graduating from our Seminaries and Bible Colleges. Even when some of these churches are not able to pay the required salaries, it is still necessary that we give them the opportunity to negotiate, or even work as a bi-vocational pastors. On the other hand, recent graduates of our Seminaries should not simply wait for ready-made churches, but gear themselves up for pioneering new churches, that is, planting new churches, even when they may pair themselves. By the grace of God, those who are willing should come to the Global Missions Board for necessary orientation. Also, it is important to point out that those who are in Sandwich programmes in our various theological institutions should not constitute themselves as obstacles to those who are fully committed. It is not good to entrench oneself within the church where one receives the call of God, and then try to stay put to pastor the same church, even through manipulation. Let me also add that the Seminaries and Bible Colleges should reduce their intake of sandwich students, and some of the Bible colleges should phase out such programme.
4. LACK OF COORDINATION
By this, I mean we are like an army in disarray that can easily be defeated by the enemy. When we have the youths, the men and the women doing their own things separately without any qualm about its negative effect on the overall goal of our cooperate existence, something is wrong. Today, we have the Youths building a separate camp, men doing similarly, while the women had their own for many years. Also, you have Conferences and even Associations embarking on similar projects, while they all remain uncompleted or even abandoned, as typical of the Nigerian economy when we had the big bust in our economy. There is no reason why we cannot have a concentrated effort to have a well-coordinated plan to have a big Retreat or Conference Centres in few locations for our common benefit.
5. LEADERSHIP ORIENTATION
The need for wholesome orientation for our pastoral and even lay leaders is long overdue. The ministerial formation we have at the moment leaves much to be desired. Many of our pastors come out from the Seminaries as philosophers or theologians with no interest in church planting and church growth strategies in their preparation. Of course there are others who simply pass through the corridors of Seminaries without allowing the disciplines to pass through their personality. Of course, much also depend on those who teach or who serve as their disciplers. It is not good to fill Seminaries with those who are failures in churches or other vocations to end up teaching in the institutions. Today calls for pastors who are innovative and open to new ideas to growing a church and developing members.
6. INTERNAL CRISES
Of the most troublesome obstacles facing our Convention are the internal crises in some of our churches. We are grateful to God that we are witnessing fewer of such today. A situation where we become specialists in crisis-management of one crisis after the other definitely retards progress and growth of our cooperate existence. Some of the crises are nothing but reflections of carnality and lack of openness to God's Spirit to reign supremely in our lives and churches.
Persecution is one other obstacle that we cannot avoid in some areas of our country. Where the Church is growing and thriving, she becomes a threat to other fanatic adherents of other faiths, particularly Islam. However, it appears the more we are persecuted, the more we become resolve in our commitment to our faith. Persecution is not a pleasant experience, but when it comes, the Lord uses the bloodshed and even the ruins of our church buildings as seed for further growth and strengthening of the Body of Christ. This calls for perseverance on our part that wherever persecution occurs, we will rally round those who are affected and encourage them with our prayers and material blessings.
WHAT DO YOU SEE
1. I can see a Convention united by the Spirit of the Lord in the service of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord, where nothing divides us, but all are united in the task that has been given to us by the Lord.
2. I can see a Convention where our meetings are not just meetings, but fellowship with God and with one another. A fellowship whereby everyone comes with great expectations from the Lord, and returns with their expectations met, and their lives richly blessed. A fellowship where every member has a conviction that they have been on the mountain-top, and can now proceed to the valley of service with divine unction.
3. I can see a Convention where our Conferences and their Secretaries, and all workers of the Convention work together in fulfilling our God-given purposes, not as in a competition, but in the spirit of cooperation.
4. I can see a Convention where the Great Commission is no longer a confession, but an action being obeyed; where evangelism, missions and discipleship are taken seriously.
5. I can see a Convention committed completely to the Word of God as the primary, the immediate and the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and practice.
6. I can see a Convention that gives the Holy Spirit free rein as the Interpreter of God’s Word in all our deliberations and gatherings.
7. I can see a Convention where the pastors are trainers of all members for Christian ministry; where all members are seen and see themselves as co-laborers with God and with His servants; where the pastors are not the only workers, but all of us work in the vineyard of the Lord.
8. I can see a Convention committed to a total growth: spiritually, numerically, and in every other area possible.
9. I can see a Convention committed to innovation and renewal, learning from yesterday, but refusing to dwell on it: a Convention that is ready to live today and prepare solidly for tomorrow, affecting many generations to come positively.
10. I can see a Convention committed to excellence in all areas of our missions, be they medical, social, investments or personnel management, where all can aim for the best and be rest assured they can attain it.
11. I can see a Convention that is committed to sound education, not only for the Church, but also in the church, and outside the church -- a Convention where Seminaries and Bible colleges are enabled to actualize their potentials without unnecessary bottle-necks.
12. I can see a Convention where everyone is ready to attempt great things for God, and are thus qualified to expect great things from Him, just as William Carey said long time ago.
THE CONFERENCE SECRETARY OF OUR DREAM
As we gather together for this retreat, I am particularly encouraged because I believe that more than ever before God is granting us greater and better understanding of His kingdom goals. For us at this time in the history of our Convention, we have received a unique commission. A commission to engage in the effective collation and coordination of God's resources within our denomination and beyond to accomplish tasks which otherwise should have long been actualized. It is a commission to develop a blueprint for the future work of our Convention. Without doubt, for us to fulfill this commission we must have a thorough, clear and sharp knowledge of what our involvement In that dream is. For you and me as leaders of our convention we must ensure that we understand our roles within the confines of our collective dream. We should be able to say, far and above the written words of our Convention Constitution, who a Conference Secretary is? What are his qualities? What should be his nature? What should be his character? This is what I will try to do in the next few minutes.
1. THE CONFERENCE SECRETARY OF MY DREAM MUST BE A MAN OF VISION.
The Conference Secretary who fits the bill is a person who possesses vision. He is a man who has bought into the collective dream of our Convention. He is a man who has a view of our yesterday integrated with our view of today so that his perception of tomorrow is not colored. This Conference Secretary is a person who understands where we are coming from and where we are going to. He has an unquenchable desire to get us to where we are destined for. The Conference Secretary who lacks vision is gradually killing his Conference and consequently the Convention. No wonder the Bible declared: Where there is no vision, the people perish. [Proverbs 29:18] Harriet Du Autermont probably had this in mind when she said: "No vision and you perish; No Ideal, and you're lost; Your heart must ever cherish Some faith at any cost. Some hope, some dream to cling to, Some rainbow in the sky, Some melody to sing to, Some service that is high." He does not only by into the vision he is himself visionary. He has a dream of where his conference ought to be. He is clear about where the collection of churches and associations within his conference should be moving to. In his dreams he has set goals and clear objectives to aggregate our collective vision as he leads his conference to focus on the dream. You see, dreams bring inspiration. Dreams propel the dreamer. Dreams serve as the impetus to drive one forward. According to James Allen (1864-1912), a British-born American Essayist, and author of As a Man Thinketh: Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.
2. THE CONFERENCE SECRETARY OF MY DREAM MUST BE VERSATILE
Today's world is not just about doing things. It is equally about how to do it. Too many people are devoted to doing things in a unidirectional manner. The Conference Secretary who will achieve great success is one who must be versatile. By versatile I mean he must be a person who is resourceful. One who can create ideas, engineer methods, produce manuals, and organize processes to achieve positive results.
The versatile Conference Secretary is one who is multitalented. He is a person with profound ability to engage in various assignments without one having a concurrent fear of failure. He is one you can depend upon for total success. He is a sound preacher, a gifted administrator, a pleasant communicator, a fluent speaker, an objective analyst, and a proficient writer. As a multitalented leader, the Conference Secretary is a dynamic person. He is a man who can, in the words of Paul "be all things to all men"(1 Corinthians 9:22). He is a person so versatile that he can use his ingenuity to great effect. He is a person who possesses the quality of a grassroots man. He belongs to the old as well as the young, to the men as well as the women, to the students as well as the youth, to the ministers as well as the lay people, and to the literate as well as the less educated. The versatile Conference Secretary is also a man who is constantly improving himself in all ways. He is biblically improving, technologically advancing, and promoting advancement by demonstrating it himself.
3. THE CONFERENCE SECRETARY OF MY DREAM MUST BE VIRTUOUS
Given the perceived belief of our people, albeit whether positive or negative, the Conference Secretary of my dream has no choice but to be virtuous. He must be a man of righteousness. That is, a person who believes in the right, does the right, teaches the right, and rewards the right. The Conference Secretary who is virtuous is a man of humility. Pride is not his nature. Arrogance is far from his attributes. He is a leader who earns respect by his simplicity. Others give him regard not because he coarse them but because he is worthy of their respect. The virtuous Conference Secretary is one who has moral integrity. His character should be unquestionable. He must demonstrate that his words and lifestyle portray praiseworthy conduct. He must be concerned to show that his actions or even inactions are honorable. The Conference Secretary who is virtuous must clearly be a man who cannot be seen to be "a pot who calls the kettle black." The implication of this is that he is not a phony. He does not have a double-face. He is no hypocrite. The Conference Secretary who will earn the respect of his colleagues, senior colleagues, and the laity must be seen to be a man who will be totally devoted to truth, honesty, openness, and humility.
4. THE CONFERENCE SECRETARY OF MY DREAM MUST BE VIRILE.
What does it mean to be virile? Perhaps we can juxtapose this with the word "sterile." The term is often used to mean barren, unproductive, or infertile, uncreative, or even fruitless. This implies that whatever is described as sterile is not likely to be of much use. To be virile is in the opposite direction. It is to be productive, fruitful, yielding, creative, and fertile. The obvious application of this is that the Conference Secretary who fits the bill is a leader who has results to show for being in office. He is a pastor who is affecting lives for good; A minister who is impacting lives; A shepherd who is guiding his flock into the kingdom; A teacher who is teaching with results. He is a person who is achieving measurable results. One whose tenure can be assessed by the spiritual growth and physical development occasioned in his Conference. This Conference Secretary is one who can does not count years without a commensurate score sheet. His service is spiritual yielding thus culminating in quantifiable terms.
5. THE CONFERENCE SECRETARY OF MY DREAM MUST BE VIGOROUS
It was Joel A. Barker, an American Businessman and Consultant who said "Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world." The man who will bring vision into reality cannot afford to be unwilling to "get his hands dirty." Men who will succeed are not lazy. They are vigorous. Strength is their hallmark. They are men who put their God-given abilities to work. No doubt the best way to demonstrate our love for God and His Church is by our work. "After love, the most sacred gift you can give is your labor." Jesus declared "I must work the work of him that sent me while it is day; for the night comet when no man\ can work." This was His affirmation of the words of the "Preacher:" "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest. [Ecclesiastes 9:10]." Conference Secretaries who care only for the luxury of office without the corresponding vigor to deliver bring their office into disrepute. They show themselves to be totally committed to selfish programmes and ideas. They prosecute events that will yield profits of whatever form to their pockets at minimal cost to themselves. Such leaders are never committed to using their time, resources or whatever else they have for the service of the Master. Clearly, the Conference Secretary who will earn the admiration of his Conference, and in deed of the entire Convention Family, is one who is never too tired to get work done, faithful to attend scheduled meetings, brings accurate and dependable information, spends time in prayer, engages in deep biblical study, joins in field work rather than sits all day at home, sets goals, provides blueprints, prepares action plans, and shares all with his co-laborers.
6. THE CONFERENCE SECRETARY OF MY DREAM MUST BE A MAN OF VALUE
Values are important. They are the crucible upon which every other thing falls or rises. Values determine quality. Values help us to identify the things that will make for kingdom growth. Values form the bedrock of how we live life. It is to values that the Bible refers when it says in Colossians 3:2 "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things."(NIV) The Conference Secretary who has the right values will seek God's kingdom first. He will pursue kingdom objectives. He will keep kingdom ideals as the standard for life. The Conference Secretary who has the right values will not fall prey to biases and prejudices that will endanger his ministry. He will not be subject to sectional groupings, tribal affiliations, ethnic sentiments, regional positions, or political camps. The Conference Secretary who has the right values will place genuine and committed service above personal gratification. Financial gains and material acquisition will not be dominating concerns in his functioning. Wealth and riches will not dampen his zeal and enthusiasm to do the best he can. The Conference Secretary of my dream will be a man of values which are rooted firmly in the Bible. Values that do not change from time to time; Values that do not depend on circumstances and situations; Values that are ideals that must be believed, taught, practiced and modeled. As I think about the many multifaceted encounters that require our attention, the words of Roy Disney, an American Film Writer, Producer, and nephew of Walt Disney, come readily to mind. In his words: It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.
7. THE CONFERENCE SECRETARY OF MY DREAM MUST BE A MAN OF VALOR
Our world is suffering from a lack of men of valor. Even the Church has its limited number of men of valor. You will recollect the story in Joshua 10 how God gave victory to Joshua and the mighty men of valor. How our world cries for such men! How our Conferences cry for such men! How our entire Convention cries for such men! Who are these men of valor? They are men who will confront the gates of hell and possess them for God. They are men who will confront sin with the full vent of God's might. They are men who confront evil without fear. They are men who will confront wrong doing with right doing. They are men who will decide issues without compromise. They are men who will pay the price for God's kingdom to expand. These mighty men of valor are brave men. They are bold men; courageous even in the midst of battle. They are fearless men who stand by decisions even when it is not to their benefit but that will promote the kingdom. These mighty men are also brave men who will choose to be aligned on the side of the LORD against their own kith and kin. They are leaders who will cross the rubicon of culture and tradition in spite of popular sentiments to the contrary. They are men who will stand the test of integrity.
TURNING NIGERIA INTO A PLACE OF DELIGHT
Is it possible to turn Nigeria into a place of delight? Can anyone turn Nigeria into a Lighthouse for other nations? At a time when some countries are asking their citizens to beware of traveling to Nigeria for lack of safety or security; and when Transparency International lists Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations in the world? Possibly only fanatics or call them unrepentant believers in virile Nigeria such as Ademola Ishola can talk about turning Nigeria into a place of delight! But seriously, who will not be pessimistic about the affairs going on in Nigeria today! Is it the unnecessary political assassinations or wanton destruction of lives that we are hearing on daily basis that will not discourage any sane person? What about the hired-killers and lack of security of lives and property? You expect sound reasoning from political leaders or Lawmakers, but the opposite is the order of the day! Even religious institutions are not immune from the wickedness that is rampant in the country. You find all kinds of 419s or fraudulent people or swindlers even in churches; talk less of what goes on in the cities! The law courts are not safe haven for those seeking justice, nor law-enforcement agencies helping those who are law-abiding citizens! Traveling is a hassle on our highways. The Police and the so-called Road Safety Corps are simply making life bitterer for road users. I begin to wonder if we experienced the many road-blockings during the terrible days of the khaki guys as we see today on our highways! The commercial drivers are always paying "Police Toll Fees" every few miles on roads that are death traps due to lack of repair or maintenance! How many woes would I have to list? Is it the corruption that has become endemic, a lifestyle for most Nigerians? Even most of the Lawmakers that one thinks would be fighting against corruption are even swimming in it! Is it not disturbing that Lawmakers who should help us fight against corruption are kicking against Anti-Corruption Laws and the agencies set up to try offenders? Seriously, is this the country someone thinks can be turned around and be restored? Indeed, that is what the passage before us emphasizes, that this country like Zion of old, can be restored and turned around, that she can become a place of delight. From the passage, we see few ideas gleaned as indicators that Nigeria could be restored and turn into a delightful place.
Nigeria Can Be Turned Around Because God Loves Her. (Verse 1) For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. Regardless of those who brought us together as a nation, God fashioned Nigeria the way she is, and His love for this country has been manifested in many ways. But for God's love and mercy over this nation, human locusts should have wiped her out, both foreign and indigenous. The many years of pillaging by foreigners and national exploiters, the civil war, the intra-ethnic violence that has claimed many lives and destroyed unquantifiable properties, and many other calamities that have literally stripped the soul of Nigeria of God's bounties are pointers to God's love. When I look at the many refugees from other countries enjoying shelter in my country, I cannot but give thanks to God for His mercies over this nation. It means Nigeria is very unique for God to spare us and keep us intact till this moment. God says He will not give us up because of the potentials in this country. Nigeria is capable of becoming righteous before God as He says, "I will not keep silent . . . I will not remain quiet, till her ighteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing touch." Nigeria is God's "Zion" because of those who believe in Him, who recognize His sovereignty over the affairs of this nation. God has planted many of His agents of righteousness in this country, and these agents are in the churches, in all spheres of life, even in the political arena, though muddled up. For the sake of those remnants, the few that love the Lord God Almighty, God promises not to give up on Nigeria, thus she can be turned around. God's power to renew or restore cannot be compared to that of humans, as He works mysteriously through the lives of the few who fear him.
Nigeria Can Be Turned Around When Citizens Become Reflectors of God's Righteousness (Verses 2-3) The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the LORD will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. God loves Nigeria, but this love becomes a reality through his agents, that is, those who believe in Him. I have been asked why immoralities, corruption and all vices appear to be on the increase in spite of the many churches that are springing up on daily basis. The same can be said of other religions' adherents whose lifestyles are the opposite of what they claim to believe or even preach. This is the crux of the matter. Until each believer displays the character of God in everyday affair, until each believer is willing to be the extension of God's righteousness, a reflector of His character, Nigeria will have to wait until eternity to be restored. God will not come down, but rather He will use those who claimed He has touched them. It is however a shame that many Christians in politics and other spheres of life are the opposite of what they claim to be. The same can be said of those who claim to be Moslems, who go to Mosques more than five times a day, yet, they are not God's agents of restoration or renewal. Until each person is willing to become God's agent of restoration regardless of what others do around, Nigeria cannot be turned around so easily. God loves and stands for justice, equity, fairness, truth, mercy, toleration, faithfulness, self-control, and everything that is right, and it behooves those who claim to believe in Him to exhibit the same characteristics in our dealings with each other. This is the only way by which our dear country can be turned around. The end-result of becoming the extension of God's righteousness as the Bible says in these verses is that other nations will see it and begin to marvel, and of course begin to see us as a role model. God Himself will be proud of us, as we will become "a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God." Some of the developed countries started as strong believers in God who in turn blessed them. God's mercy continues to be upon such countries due to those who still exhibit God's character in their national life. God is ready to do amazing things in and for our country once we are willing to be His agents of change through lives of righteousness. In other words, from the Head of State, the Lawmakers, the Governors and other elected leaders to the citizenry, the challenge is to change our sinful lifestyles and allow God's character become part of our daily living, and He will help us turn Nigeria around for good.
Nigeria Can Be Turned Around When Citizens Desire A New Name (Verses 4-5) No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. These verses call for sober reflection by all of us. There is need for each of us to desire a new name for Nigeria. Rather than being called a pariah nation, a nation of drug peddlers, corrupt administrators, bad managers of economy, wasters of hard-earned resources, and other terrible names, we should desire to disappoint those who think nothing good can come out of Nigeria. Rather than wanting to check out to other foreign countries as reflected by many Nigerians wanting visas of some Western countries, we should be expecting to host others from such countries. We want to desert or abandon the country for "greener pastures" while we care less if the country becomes desolate. Every now and then, United States officials do warn their citizens not to travel to Nigeria because of insecurity and apparent lawlessness! I suppose we don't know of misuse of guns and police brutality too in the United States! Of course there is a lot of misuse of guns, violence and irresponsible elements in the U.S. too! Why are investors scared of bringing their businesses into the country? The major reasons are corruption and lack of basic amenities such as power, water and good access roads. The Bible says, we should desire to be called Hephzibah, that is, the delight of God, that we would no longer be desolated or deserted either by us or by others. It is simply a shameful thing that the bad eggs among us are really a handful in the political arena and in the economy at large. The majority of us who are not part of the bad deal should stand tall and desire a better name for our country. We need to refuse to be given bad names by the few bad ones among us. We can change the bad image through our intimate relationship with the Lord God of mercy. When the Bible says, "so will your sons marry you," the "sons" here stand for those who are restorers or builders who will be glued to what is called Nigeria, and would rather stay to make her great so that "God will rejoice over Nigeria."
Nigeria Can Be Turned Around When Christians Pray Fervently and Work Accordingly (Verses 6-7). I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth. Again these verses refer to Christians who are fervent intercessors, those who will genuinely pray for Nigeria for recovery and restoration. The Lord God Almighty loves Nigeria by posting men and women who fear His glorious name, and who are His instruments to warn us to fear God, to do His will, and to avoid the dangers or destruction caused by ourselves or outside forces. The end-result of their God-given assignments is for God to "make her (Nigeria) the praise of the earth." We are called to pray for our leaders and those in authority so that we could experience peace and tranquility in the country as 1 Timothy 2:1-4 instruct us. The prayer must be focused, and that is until God "makes her (Nigeria) the praise of the earth." The idea of praying without changing our lifestyles is simply hypocritical. "God will do it, God will do it" kind of prayer when we spend all night praying, and yet, when day breaks we go back to defrauding others, cheating our employers sometimes using religion as a cover-up, and other vices. We have to walk our talk, and show God that we mean business. God's intention is that we exhibit His character and love for our country, and then when we pray for the nation, miracles of renewal and restoration begin to take place, first starting with us before infecting others with our lifestyles.
Nigeria Can Be Turned Around When We All Work Hard to Improve Our Economy (Verses 8-9) The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: "Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled; but those who harvest it will eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather the grapes will drink it in the courts of my sanctuary." The above verses point to a serious need for our country, and that is, our economy needs revamping. It is shame that we are simply producers of raw materials while we are endowed with so many resources. Our "grains" or call it "crude oil" and other valuable resources are food for others who alone are out to exploit us. The Lord God says, "Never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled." When I consider the land the Lord God endow us, and that we have not been utilizing it to produce enough to eat and then export, it gives me serious concern. I wonder what many of our Research institutions are doing all these years. I wonder if the data already gathered by these researchers all these years are not enough to help feed the whole world! The gifted and highly trained human resources we have are being sought after in other countries, and yet, we seem to be suffering. The bottom line is hard work. Laziness and lack of commitment or loyalty to the nation are part of the banes of Nigeria. The President has been preaching the need to privatize, and yet, some who see government work as their own industries keep on kicking against the idea. Our work ethic in Nigeria is simply terrible! We are simply a country of many prodigals, wasters of God's resources in our care. The attitude to government work is that no one should sweat, but rather destroy it. We have tried our best to destroy our Airways, Shipping Lines, our Power industry (NEPA) is still epileptic, while many other government sponsored businesses are comatose. It is not that these facilities are not viable, but we don't seem to put in our very best. The desire is simply to suck it dry until we can no longer see it. Smaller countries are still running their own airways business, while our own is dead, and yet, there are some workers still drawing salaries! Where is our Railway system today, and how did it become what it is? Lord help us!
It is a shame that I have to placate or "shake the hand" of a government worker before he or she can serve me, or else, my file would be declared missing! You find many teachers of primary schools who are more of market women and farmers than engaging in their job of teaching young people who are leaders of tomorrow. It is the same thing in our tertiary institutions. Hardly can a so-called graduate speak good English today or be able to perform a task efficiently. The reason is simply because the students were probably on their own throughout their course of study as lecturers and administrators engage in other businesses, and yet, they will go on strike once salaries are not paid. In other to turn the economy around, we need to work hard and strive to lift the country up. Mere religiosity such as prayers and other rituals will not do it. Only hard work blessed by God will turn this country around for our own benefit.
Nigeria Can Be Turned Around When We Strive to Become Restorers or Builders (Verse 10). Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations. This verse ends the points, and it has to do with those who are restorers or builders. We need more of restorers than loafers or destroyers who would not try to join others in baking the national cake, but rather eat everything up in the face of terrible economic realities! The verse challenges us: "Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations." Builders or restorers are individuals who are willing to sacrifice for the sake of others. Builders are those who would rather save for the future rather than squandering what we have today. Restorers are those who see decay and destruction around, and who decide to be instruments of solution to the problems they see. Restorers and builders are not those who are simply interested in lining up their pockets at the expense of the majority still yearning for relief. The challenge to our leaders, the President, Lawmakers, Governors and other officials is to be discreet and be restorers and builders rather than being destroyers. Some of our present leaders (as most of the past ones were) are simply prodigals or spend-thrifts as the issue of their allowances indicate, and even that we cannot know how much each of them earns as salaries, nor are they willing to be transparent, nor are they willing to be probed or have their accounts examined! Citizens have a role to play in rebuilding the tattered economy. In our various areas of responsibility, there is need for us to be restorers or builders rather than joining others to be vandals. Students need to be serious with their studies, rather than joining destructive cults; while their instructors should justify the salaries they collect through conscientious work with the students. Businessmen and women should be working hard and honestly for the profit they make, while those in manufacturing should rather be producers of finished products rather than producers of raw materials. Government workers should see the job they do as if it is their own. Those who farm should strive to produce enough to feed more people and even get some for export. This is the only way by which Nigeria can be transformed, turned around and become a delightful country, a lighthouse for many nations.
As preacher of the Gospel of Christ, I know of only One God who can transform every Nigerian to be instrument in His hand to turn this country around. He has been doing the work of transforming people for many ages through the power of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you invite Him into your heart today, He can renew you, and you can be counted worthy to join God in restoring this country for His own glory and for the benefit of all of us. My prayer is that God will make the life of every Nigerian a medicine for the healing of our dear country. Amen!
Unto Greater Heights
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. "Unto Greater Heights" He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Let me begin with a word of appreciation to the organizers of this Men's Convention for counting me worthy to bring the theme message. I deeply appreciate the leadership of Dr. Badejo, the General Overseer of the Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria. I pray the Lord will continue to use him mightily in His vineyard. The theme "Unto Greater Heights" is suggestive to me. It suggests the men of the Foursquare is already doing great and soaring, but you want to soar to greater heights for the Lord, that is, you want to experience greater growth-total progressive improvement, spiritual, numerical, etc within the context of God's kingdom. The text for the theme is also instructive as the LORD God prophesied that those who hope in Him would soar on wings like eagles. The eagle is a favorite military insignia just as many nations use it as symbol of their aspirations, such as the coat of arms of Nigeria. From the Scriptures, we find that eagle has always featured even when God the Almighty wants to deliver a message or even encourage/challenge His children. There are at least four distinct kinds of eagles discovered in Palestine, and possibly that is the reason why Isaiah used "eagles" rather than just one single kind. From what we have learned, there is the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), the spotted eagle (Aquila naevia), the imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca), and the common eagle (Circaetos gallicus). The Hebrew word translated eagle is nesher, and it may stand for any of the different species of eagle, but possibly for the golden and imperial types. I will base our challenge of the men on the powerful bird God uses to liken those who hope in Him to soar to greater heights in the service of the Lord within the denomination and the local churches, and of course within the greater Christendom in Nigeria. Please consider the topic with me in the following order.
1. Unto Greater Heights through Unity in Diversity
In our introductory remarks, we have referred to the varieties of eagle, yet, one thing that is common to them all is their beak. The meaning of the Hebrew word for eagle, nesher is simply "a tearer with the beak." The eagle's beak is used to pluck branches of trees to build its nest, and it is used to tear its game as well. The eagle's beak is also used to defend itself against any enemy. Thus the diversity of the eagle is a matter of variety rather than of perversity. Here we have men from all works of life, different cultures and ethnics or call it tribes, gifted differently and with different abilities and positions, yet, must remain united in purpose to expand God's kingdom. Whether one is poor or rich, highly educated or lowly educated, we are all called to serve the King of kings and Lord of lords without any inhibition. We must also strive together, but always bearing in mind that though there are varieties, there must not be fragmentation or disunity in the service of our Lord. You remember Acts 6 when the early church started experiencing growing pains. There was discrimination, but the Lord granted the leaders the needed wisdom to nip the satanic ploy in the bud. We must soar to greater heights by working towards the same goal and purpose. It is also important to remind the men about the attitude of the men in the Corinthian or "confused" Church who were full of party spirit (1 Cor 1:10-17)-one claiming to belong to "Paul's party" or that of Peter or even the most spiritual of them all, "Christ's party." The Church's koinonia-fellowship is empowered by the Holy Spirit, and thus factions in the church must not be allowed. I don't know about the men in the Foursquare, but I know in the Baptist fellowship, we do have some that I refer to as "denominational politicians" who try to mess with the unity of God's people by promoting ethnic agenda at the expense of efficiency and effectiveness of the Lord's work. I pray that the men of the Foursquare would be clearly focused on unity in diversity for the purpose of moving the Lord's work to greater heights.
2. Unto Greater Heights through the Power of Vision (Job 39:27-30)
The Lord God refers to the eagle's power of vision in Job 39:28-29 thus, "He dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is his stronghold. From there he seeks out his food; his eyes detect it from afar." The eagle simply has unusual power of sight, even at night! I have always been amazed as to how such small eye balls of eagle could detect a small rat from the sky or even a baby monkey within the trees! There is need for Christian men to soar to greater heights through deep and broad perception. Visionaries who can help the Church to move to greater heights are needed today than ever before. These are men who can see beyond the obvious, the façade of worldliness and Satanic agents parading themselves around within the churches and among unsuspecting people. You will recall Caleb who was able to see beyond the fear and faithlessness of his fellow spies in Numbers 13-14. He was able to translate the vision God gave him into mission when he asked for a territory to conquer at age 80! That is the power of vision in action! The Lord is looking for men who would not succumb to grasshopper complex or mentalities of the majority, those who would not be short-sighted. These are men who will see challenges as stepping stones to greater heights, and never as obstacles. Who are the men the Lord can count on to help lift the hands of the pastors up in the various churches and of course to support the vision of the leader? These are men who would not be distracted by the cravings of the sinful man, the lust of his eyes and pride of life, as John points to in his Letter (cf. 1 John 2:15-17), but who will be focused on divine goal. When the men of God determine to back a vision that is God-centred, mountains are leveled and valleys are evened. The Holy Spirit gives vision and enables one to turn it into mission for God's glory, for the expansion of His kingdom and for the edification of His people.
3. Unto Greater Heights through Discipleship (Exodus 19:4; Deut 32:11-12)
Sir Humphry Davy records one interesting story thus: "I once saw a very interesting sight above the crags of Ben Nevis. Two parent eagles were teaching their offspring, two young birds, the maneuvers of flight. They began by rising from the top of the mountain in the eye of the sun. It was about mid-day, and bright for the climate. They at first made small circles, and the young birds imitated them. They paused on their wings, waiting till they had made their flight, and then took a second and larger gyration, always rising toward the sun, and enlarging their circle of flight so as to make a gradually ascending spiral. The young ones still and slowly followed, apparently flying better as they mounted; and they continued this sublime exercise, always rising till they became mere points in the air, and the young ones were lost, and afterwards their parents, to our aching sight." That story is simply discipleship in action. The training of the "baby eagles" is pointer to the manner the Church must be empowering every believer in the household of faith. It is unfortunate that many churches are filled with bench-warmers, floating Christians, arms-folding and spectator-like church members. We have so many biblical illiterates in our churches and it is high time we begin to pay attention to this all-important ministry. We need men who would soar to greater heights by engaging themselves in discipling their children and serving as priests unto their families. So many of our professionals are so busy out there sometimes making so much money, yet who are spiritually bankrupt. The Lord wants them to soar to greater heights in the area of discipleship, submitting themselves to serious training in the house of God. I understand that the eagle mother or parent would remove the comfortable nest built in order to force the baby eagle to submit to serious training of flying. So many of our men may need that kind of treatment to ginger and motivate them to soar to greater heights for the Lord. The Lord promised to provide the needed strength and wherewithal if one is willing to trust Him. If I ask our men here, "Who is your "John Mark" in your various churches?" Are you helping the young men and women in your churches to grow into Christian maturity? What about professional training? How many of our top-level professionals would be willing to offer few hours a week to mentor a young man or woman in their areas of specialization? How many kids from Christian homes and churches keep failing their high school leaving exams, and who are tempted to engage in examination fraud, just to make it to the next level? What can the men of our churches do to offer help to these young people? Please soar to greater heights in this ministry and you will be greatly rewarded. New graduates can be taught or given necessary encouragement to stand on their own in regard to starting their own small-scale businesses. We can even give them a lift with seed-money, such as soft loan to start on. And with the prayers of God's people, such people may turn out to be our next multi-millionaires and even billionaires!
4. Unto Greater Heights through Service as Soldiers of Christ (Ezek 17:1-4)
The parable of Ezekiel in chapter 17 refers to God's agents of punishments against Judah and it points to military symbolism. Eagle-men are soldiers of Christ who are fighters like the powerful eagles. These are men who fight the good fight of faith like Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7. These are fighters who never give up on their God-given convictions, always alert and on the move at the command of their Commander-in-Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ. These are men who are ready and willing to die for what they know is right in the affairs of the Church and even in the society at large. These are men who would join forces with fighters against corruption so endemic in our society. Soldiers of the Lord do not quit when the battle is fierce, just as eagles would still look for games even in the midst of raging fire. Soldiers are always obedient to their commanders, and we need men who will soar to greater heights through obedience to the commands of the Lord. Soldiers persevere and endure so much pain to defend their nation, and the men of God must be willing to do similarly. Satanic warfare calls for serious men who would put on the whole armor of God Almighty-(read Ephesians 6:10-18)-those who would stand tall in the fight against evil. Eagles have powerful beak to fight any dangerous reptile, including cobra as they use their beak to tear such poisonous snakes into shreds. Eagle-men are supposed to be instruments in God's hand to tear apart the army of Satan and put to flight his agents that are parading themselves around. May the Lord grant that each man here the will to join the end-time army of the Lord, those who will prepare others for the Second Coming of the Lord.
5. Unto Greater Heights through Aging Graciously (Psalm 92:12-15; 103:5) Soaring to greater heights calls for men who are like eagles who remain youthful and ever agile spiritually in the pilgrimage of faith. It is believed that the eagle sheds his feathers in the beginning of spring, and with fresh plumage assumes the appearance of youth. The Bible alludes to this fact in Psalm 103:5 and of course our passage Isaiah 4:31. Reading Psalm 92:12-15, we see the desire of our God for each of us that we would blossom and flourish for him always. It is important that each man of God would remain spiritually alert and agile in the knowledge of our Lord, but at the same time growing gracefully under the care of God Almighty. Yes, one's physical eyes may grow dim, but their spiritual eyes get sharper and clearer. Yes, one's physical organs may become impaired, yet, the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit renews and enables those who hope in the Lord. These are people who would not retire in the service of the Lord, those who will continue to re-fire, get refueled and keep on re-firing for the Lord until He calls them home. Moses and Caleb are good examples of those whose strength were renewed as the eagle, and there are modern examples some of us can cite. The text points to God's ability and willingness to revive or to revitalize in the midst of physical and spiritual exhaustion and weakness. It is the grace of God and ability to rise above one's human strength and just like Paul would say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"-Phil 2:13. Moses, Caleb and others waited on the Lord and He strengthened them until He called them to their rewards. We are recipients of the precious promises of the Lord, and by faith, we have the responsibility to claim them even in our ageing process.
6. Unto Greater Heights through Fulfillment of Divine Purposes (Isa 46:11)"From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring to about; what I have planned, that will I do." What is the purpose of my life? Why am I created? Why am I given such position that I have today? Answers to such questions must attract our attention always. Am I fulfilling the purpose for which God in Christ redeemed me? When eagles locate their target of interest, they pursue it vigorously and would not allow anything to distract their attention. You will recall Jabez-please read 1 Chronicles 4:9-10-and consider his attitude. He figured that the Lord God created him, and nothing his mum and her relatives said about him being a failure distracted him. He focused on God and the Lord God disappointed those who already wrote him off as a nonentity! Joseph fulfilled the purpose for which the Lord God spared his life-one whom the Lord used to enter into a failed economy and whom He also used to turn it around. I wonder how many men here are really fulfilling the purpose for which the Lord gave them families, businesses that are doing well, positions that are very attractive and rewarding and other opportunities that are enviable! May the Lord found each of us faithful as a purpose-driven people of God Conclusion "Unto greater heights!" That is the mandate of the Lord God Almighty to the men and also to the women of Foursquare Gospel Church in Nigeria, and of course for the men and women in our various denominations. As the Lord used eagle as a parable for soaring to greater heights, I trust the Lord will enable each man here to strive under God so to do. The Lord God provides the strength and the empowerment and all we need to do is to refocus our attention on Him who is more than able to do far more than we can ever imagine. The potential to soar to greater heights is there. As we abide in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will blossom and flourish in His household and in the market places. May the Lord depend on each of you for the expansion of His kingdom.