A Living, Loving Organism with Room for You
Being The Keynote Address At The 2021 Edition Of The OPEN GATE CONFERENCE Of The International Ministers’ Fellowship (IMF), By Dr Cosmas Ilechukwu, The Chair Of The Global Governing Council of IMF, Holding Online, January 7-10, 2021.
TEXT: “Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” (Amos 4:12, NKJV).
We are here again at the Open Gate Conference; the annual Holy Ghost rendezvous for the remnants comprising of men and women of faith who are branded for Christ and conscientiously preparing to meet Him when He comes again. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). We are having a special edition of the Open Gate this time around, being entirely an online event, courtesy of the messy Covid-19 that is bent on desocialising the human community. We hope that God would normalise the situation soon for us to resume our physical meetings. I am among those who relish the physical gathering of the brethren and do sincerely pray that God will remove every obstacle on our path to make it possible for us next January.
Our theme this year and the topic before us now, “Prepare to Meet Your God,” is very apt, being a necessary follow up to last year’s theme, “Behold He Comes: Watch, Pray, And Occupy.” If indeed a divine visitation is imminent it makes sense to prepare adequately for it. “Prepare to Meet Your God,” is a tough word God sent the Prophet Amos to speak to the people of Israel’s northern kingdom, who had been misled into idolatry by king Jeroboam. Some of the policies Jeroboam adopted for his new kingdom were in clear disobedience to God and a very poor way to reciprocate God’s favour to him, by making him king. Here is the Bible record of his grand error: “Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made. So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense” (1 Kings 12:32-33, NKJV). Jeroboam created his own gods, appointed his own priests and ordained his own feasts, all in disregard to God’s established order. God had given ten of the twelve tribes of Israel to Jeroboam, retaining only two to the lineage of David in fulfilment of His council against Solomon’s romance with idolatry. Jeroboam, threatened by a crippling sense of insecurity and fear, felt that allowing the people of the north to continue to frequent Jerusalem to fulfil their religious obligations would make them to revert to Rehoboam. To avoid the possibility of that ever happening, he made two calf idols, setting up one at Bethel and the other at Dan. The presence of these idols in the land of Israel, more so on the hallowed land of Bethel, incensed God so much that He called and commissioned Amos to denounce the intolerable aberration.
However, Idolatry was only one of the many sins of Jeroboam’s northern kingdom. The people were also guilty of inordinate love for wealth, scandalous indifference to the plight of the poor, unspeakable immorality, and usurping the commonwealth of the people for the enjoyment of the powerful minority, all of which were camouflaged in rancid religiosity. And God would have none of those. “This is what the LORD says: “The people of Israel have sinned again and again, and I will not let them go unpunished! They sell honourable people for silver and poor people for a pair of sandals. They trample helpless people in the dust and shove the oppressed out of the way. Both father and son sleep with the same woman, corrupting my holy name. At their religious festivals, they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security. In the house of their gods, they drink wine bought with unjust fines” (Amos 2:6-8, NLT). God disdained them for luxuriating in the wealth they have amassed at the expense of the poor and by commandeering the commonwealth of the people; the evil they perpetrated with a veneer of religion.
Contrary to their expectations, God was clearly not impressed with such blatant outward show of piety without inward rectitude. He mocked their religious showmanship – “Go ahead and offer sacrifices to the idols at Bethel. Keep on disobeying at Gilgal. Offer sacrifices each morning, and bring your tithes every three days. Present your bread made with yeast as an offering of thanksgiving. Then give your extra voluntary offerings so you can brag about it everywhere! This is the kind of thing you Israelites love to do,” says the Sovereign LORD” (Amos 4:4-5, NLT). The material prosperity of Israel, the chosen people of God, was counterposed by their disconcerting spiritual decadence. What a plunge into the abyss! To this arrogant, boastful, immoral, and wealthy, but spiritually bankrupt people, God sent Amos with a stern warning, “Prepare to Meet Your God!”
GOD’S FAILED ATTEMPTS TO GET THE ATTENTION OF ISRAEL
God always withholds His judgement until He had exhausted every other possible means of getting the attention of His people. Judgement only becomes necessary when nothing else works for them. In this case, God had repeatedly warned His people to desist from Idolatry and refrain from their macabre scramble for illicit wealth, which unmindfully compromised the poor. He threatened to destroy their false religion and their wealth in the day of His judgement unless they turn back to Him in repentance: “On the very day I punish Israel for its sins, I will destroy the pagan altars at Bethel. The horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground. And I will destroy the beautiful homes of the wealthy—their winter mansions and their summer houses, too—all their palaces filled with ivory,” says the LORD” (Amos 3:14-15, NLT). The following are the five different futile attempts God made to get the attention of the people:
Through hunger and famine – “I brought hunger to every city and famine to every town. But still, you would not return to me,” says the LORD” (Amos 4:6, NLT).
By withholding rains – “I kept the rain from falling when your crops needed it the most. I sent rain on one town but withheld it from another. Rain fell on one field, while another field withered away. People staggered from town to town looking for water, but there was never enough. But still, you would not return to me,” says the LORD” (Amos 4:7 -8, NLT).
By smiting them with blight and mildew and locust – “I struck your farms and vineyards with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured all your fig and olive trees. But still, you would not return to me,” says the LORD” (Amos 4:9, NLT).
Through plagues and sword – “I sent plagues on you like the plagues I sent on Egypt long ago. I killed your young men in war and led all your horses away. The stench of death filled the air! But still, you would not return to me,” says the LORD” (Amos 4:10, NLT).
By destroying some of their cities like He did to Sodom – “I destroyed some of your cities, as I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Those of you who survived were like charred sticks pulled from a fire. But still, you would not return to me,” says the LORD” (Amos 4:11, NLT).
None of the above disasters was strong enough to force the people to have a rethink and return to God in repentance and seek His reconciliation. Rather they continued as if God was not making any serious point. Their unrepentant stubbornness was clear in the constant refrain, “But still, you would not return to me, says the LORD.” Their obstinacy earned them a full blast of God’s judgement, and Amos was bold to announce the imminent judgement. “Therefore, I will bring upon you all the disasters I have announced. Prepare to meet your God in judgment, you people of Israel!” (Amos 4:12, NLT).
HOW REAL IS GOD’S THREAT AGAINST HIS PEOPLE?
Is God capable of executing His threat and punish Israel, or anybody for that matter, for their failure to heed His call and repent of their atrocities? How powerful is God that people will bother to take Him seriously? To all those who were caught up with such musings, Amos reintroduces God saying, “For the LORD is the one who shaped the mountains, stirs up the winds, and reveals his thoughts to mankind. He turns the light of dawn into darkness and treads on the heights of the earth. The LORD God of Heaven’s Armies is his name!” (Amos 4:13, NLT). Such a God indeed is capable of doing whatever He designs to do without hinderance from any source. He ought to be listened to and obeyed without hesitation.
GOD’S DEMAND FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUSTICE
God’s consistent demand for righteousness and justice is evident throughout the Scripture. The prophecy of Amos was denunciation of the privileged class in Israel, who contrary to God’s demand showed no love for their neighbour, who took advantage of others, and who only looked out for their own concerns, in clear violation of divine demand for justice. The Israelites were warned that the only course which they can follow to avert the imminent judgment of God is to seek the Lord by embracing righteousness and pursuing justice, and never by their pretentious religious activities. Righteousness is concerned with our standing with God and justice deals with our dealings with our fellow human beings. Religion that does not produce righteousness and justice in people is fake and unknown to God. Amos therefore thundered God's mind:
“I hate all your show and pretence—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living” (Amos 5:21-24, NLT).
God’s demand for justice in our dealings with others and righteousness in relation to Him is consistent in the Old Testament, and even in the New Testament. There is so much wickedness and so much dishonesty in the church today; yet, never before do we see so much crowds of people gather for prayers on regular basis. How do we reconcile the two parallels, nauseating depravity on one side and widespread religiosity on the other? James warned, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). The church needs to recalibrate her values to include more embrace than exclusion of the poor and the vulnerable in the society.
THE STATE OF THE POPULAR CHRISTIANITY TODAY
The attitude and lifestyle of the people of Israel that Amos rebuked fitted those of the church at Laodicea, which is representative of the popular Christianity today – “Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17, NKJV). Today Christians abound whose show of godliness is their wealth and showy flamboyance. They exalt materialism, boasting of their riches and worldly possession without paying due attention to their soul and its eternal destiny.
I was told of a preacher of righteousness who was invited to one of those Laodicean churches in a city in Nigeria, to speak in one of her conferences. The guest minister chose as his text Matthew 16:26 – “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” He then went ahead, in faithfulness to the text, to present a clear message of salvation. His preaching was so compelling that people began to troop to the altar to repent and give their lives to Christ even before he ended his message. It was such a great harvest of souls that certainly pleased our Lord whose purpose for coming to earth was to seek and to save those who were lost. As the lost wept their ways to His cross, one could only imagine what joy swelled in the heart of our Saviour and Lord.
The meeting ended with such holy solemnity that there was no room for offering and fund drive to the chagrin of the host bishop. He was careful not to show his anger in public for fear of people’s reaction. However, after the progamme that night, he visited the guest minister in his hotel and rebuked him sternly for preaching that kind of message in his church. He then dismissed the guest minister even though he was originally scheduled to speak two sessions. Talk of a Laodicean church, here was one. To such a church Amos would thunder the message of God – Prepare to Meet Your God.
The large part of the popular Christianity today is steeped into the great apostacy prophesied by Paul: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, (1 Timothy 4:1-2). These seem to be the times the Holy Spirit spoke about; people are now turning deaf ears to sound doctrine and are enthusiastically embracing the doctrines of demons. The Bible made it clear that the goal of sound doctrines is to promote godly lifestyle. Hence Paul instructs us, “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3). Paul had painstakingly presented the doctrine of Christ to the people and some people are trying to mess it up. There are so many people in church today that claim to be Christians but have no relationship with Christ at all.
HOW SHOULD WE PREPARE TO MEET OUR GOD?
The definiteness of God’s directive for His people to prepare to meet Him should be enough to compel decisive action by all of God’s people. There is no escaping of this reality. Paul declared most emphatically, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Notice the inevitability and the all-inclusiveness of meeting God in Judgement – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ…”If there is an imminent and unavoidable divine judgement, it is only reasonable that we should take time to prepare for it. The following are suggestions on how to prepare to meet our God.
1. Restore Christ As Epicentre of The Gospel Message
The doctrine of Christ is a marginalized doctrine in the church of our days. However, John sternly warned, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 1:9-11).
The doctrine of Christ, subjectively refers to what the Bible said about His person as a God-Man. Many are today questioning the divinity of Christ whereas there is a preponderance of scripture that affirms that truth (John 1:1-3, John 10:30, 1 Timothy 3:16, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3, etc). It is in the recognition of this that Paul declared, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2, NKJV). It would be necessary to have all the preachers of the gospel make the same commitment to know nothing and preach nothing except Christ and Him crucified. I strongly recommend the radical approach of Paul: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:6-9, NKJV). Until we value Christ above all material possessions and worldly accolades, we will not be able to know Him well and re-present Him to the world for who is.
Objectively, the doctrine of Christ would comprise of all He taught and modeled while He was here. The world needs to hear the voice of Christ echoed by His servant from every pulpit and spheres of human endeavours. The absolute necessity to hear the teachings of Jesus in our time is highlighted by the phrases He used repeatedly, “You have heard that it was said to those of old…. But I say to you …. (Matthew 5:22, NKJV). Many preachers are still very busy saying what was said of old and hardly pay attention to what Christ said. Yet the Bible warns, “For Moses truly said to the fathers, The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:22-23). The Prophet in reference here is Jesus Himself. We are supposed to hear Him in all things, whatever He says to us.
Our Lord posed a strong question in the gospel of Luke and allowed us to grapple with the right answer. Here is the question, “when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). This question demands our reflective consideration. What faith did our Lord refer to here? Was He referring to the subjective faith of the believer that enables one to persevere in prayers as the context seems to suggest; in which case “faith” will mean faithfulness or was He referring to a body of truth or established doctrine that has been revealed to the church, which she has to preserve against heresy? Theologians and Bible commentators are divided in their opinions on this. My take is that it refers to both. Will He find faithful believers who are still committed to that body of truth He handed down to the apostles– who live it, teach it, defend it, and carefully preserve it for succeeding generations?
2. Renunciation of All Known Sins in Your Life
God’s uncompromising hatred for sin is not hidden at all in the scriptures. God had passed a sentence against sin and sinners through the Prophet Amos saying, “All the sinners of My people shall die by the sword, who say, ‘The calamity shall not overtake nor confront us” (Amos 9:10). The sinner will die for their failure to repent, which was based on false confidence that made them boast that the calamity shall not overtake them nor confront them. But the truth is that there is no escape for sin unless one finds refuge in Christ. Christ is the only solution God has for sin and human sinfulness. Paul explained how this was accomplished, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God made Christ the sin-bearer of the whole world such that only by faith in Him can one be freed from sins and its consequences. “And He did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, He has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by His own death as a sacrifice. And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:25-28, NLT). Christ had done away with sin and its effect. All that is required of one is to repose saving faith in Jesus and everything will be alright. This is a critical way to prepare to meet Him. He is coming not to deal with sin again but receive those who are eagerly awaiting His coming.
Christ is coming as a Judge. He will judge us on the basis of our faith and on the basis of our stewardship of His grace upon our lives. Admittance into His kingdom will be based on our faith – acceptance of Him and His finished work: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
His reward will be based on our effective stewardship of His grace made available to us – “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew 25:34-36). We can see God's demand for righteousness and justice that was the central theme in Amos re-echo again. Righteousness deals with our relationship with Christ and justice with our relationship with fellow human beings especially the needy and downtrodden.
3. Pay Reasonable Attention to What God Is Doing in Your Life
Take note of what the Lord is doing in your life. Five times in Amos chapter four, God allowed certain events to happen to the people which was designed to persuade them to turn Godward. And for those five times the Bible reports, “But still, you would not return to me.” Each of those things God did to get their attention could be presumed as natural events with no divine cause. However, God holds Israel accountable to listen and respond. They ought to have turned to God as their Shepherd to find out what was wrong. That's the meaning of "But still, you would not return to me.”
4. Draw Near to God in Our Heart
God always focuses His attention on the hearts of people. He is more interested in the undergirding motif behind human actions than He is of the actions themselves. God considers one a hypocrite whenever He notices a dissonance between the tenor of the heart and the obvious acts. “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). God knows the heart of all people and non can ever pretend in His presence – “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25). We need to circumcise our hearts to God by repenting of our pride and arrogance, and by seeking the glory of God in all we do whether in private and in public.
As we conclude I need to call to your attention the sheer absurdity of not heeding the call to prepare to meet God. For one, none of us can reasonably question the certainty of His coming based on the emphatic declarations of the Bible: “For we MUST all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). If you are forewarned of an impending judgement, upon which your eternal destiny depends, it will only be wise that you elect to carefully prepare for it. Take a cue from the five wise virgins in our Lord’s parable of the ten virgins. Keep your lamb trimmed and get extra supply of oil because of the uncertainty of the timing of the Lord’s coming. The five foolish virgins were careless and that cost them entrance into the kingdom of God (Matthew 25:1-12). Our Lord's advise on this reads as follows: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming” (Matthew 25:13).
Then I feel obligated to remind you of the simplicity of the preparation you are required to make. All you need to do to adequately prepare to meet your God is to befriend Jesus, who is the Judge you are going to meet. The Apostle Paul put it succinctly this way, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Romans 10:12-13). The jailer at the Philippian’s dungeon pose the question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul’s simple and unambiguous response was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). Faith in Jesus Christ and His salvific sacrifice is all that you need to get saved and freed from sin and its consequences. But rejecting Jesus means you must die for your sins. The following story I read a while ago will make my point very clear.
“In 1830, during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States of America, a man named George Wilson was sentenced by a U.S. Court in Philadelphia to be hanged for robbing the mails, and for murder. At the request of many of George Wilson’s friends (three weeks before he was to be hanged), Andrew Jackson issued a pardon for Wilson. But Wilson startled the world by refusing to accept the pardon and insisted that he be hanged according to the court’s decision. George Wilson declared the pardon was no pardon unless he accepted it. This was a point in law never raised before, because whenever a pardon was issued previously, it was always joyfully accepted. Should the sheriff accept the court’s decision and hang Wilson, or should he accept the Presidential pardon and release him? Since the law was silent on the point, President Jackson called on the Supreme Court to decide the issue at once. The decision read like this: “A pardon is a paper, the value of which depends upon its acceptance by the person implicated. It is hardly to be supposed that one under the sentence of death, would refuse to accept a pardon, but if it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must hang.” And George Wilson was hanged.”
God has provided total pardon for all sinners in Christ, expecting that all will believe in Him and be saved. Anybody who for whatever reasons refused to accept Christ will be damned for his or her rejection of the free pardon extended to him by God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life! Prepare to meet your God by making peace with Christ now.
© 2018 International Ministers Fellowship