BACK TO CHURCH; GOD STILL LOVES YOU Bishop Dr. J. Akin Atere

SERMON PREACHED AT OPENING OF THE DIOCESE OF AWORI WORKERS AND WIVES RETREAT. HELD ON TUESDAY 22ND, AUGUST. 2023. AT ALL AND EVERY GRACE, CHRISTIAN CENTRE. AJIBODE. BY 9 AM

SALUTATION
THEME: BACK TO CHURCH; GOD STILL LOVES YOU.
TEXT: Jer 3:12-15; Luk 15:17-24
Jer 3: 21-24
A voice was heard on the desolate heights,
Weeping and supplications of the children of Israel.
For they have perverted their way;They have forgotten the Lord their God.
“Return, you backsliding children,
And I will heal your backslidings.”
“Indeed we do come to You,
For You are the Lord our God.
Truly, in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills,
And from the multitude of mountains;
Truly, in the Lord our God
Is the salvation of Israel.

Luke 15:21-24 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
For sometimes, I have noticed that there has been a great decline in attendance in our churches, some who manage to attend, a good number of them are no longer committed or ready to offer any kind of sacrifice. Most bothered, are those who have been very serviceable, now we have to run after them.
Because of this ugly experience, the income and spiritual development of the church has been challenged.
Let me say this quickly that, this experience is not limited to our diocese. The experience of Covid-19 started the aparty.
What then is the relevance of the two texts appointed. If a man divorces his wife… may he return to her again?
. Jeremiah seems to have in mind the command in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, which says that when a man divorces his wife and she becomes the wife of another man, she must not return again to her first husband.
Deuteronomy 24:4 says, her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.
God connected disobedience to this law regarding remarriage to a defilement of the land, making it greatly polluted. Fortunately, the above law, does not applied to God’s divorcy, God sees them as just harlot or prostitudes, not yet married to other man. God says;
c. But you have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return to Me: God wanted His unfaithful people to know that though returning to the first husband might be wrong on a human level, it was not wrong between HIM (God) and His people.
Other translation says
· NLT: But you have prostituted yourself with many lovers, says the LORD. Yet I am still calling you to come back to me.
You have polluted the land with your harlotries and your wickedness: Israel considered their idolatry and sacrifice to pagan gods to be of little consequence. That, it does not matter.
Many probably told themselves that they were not forsaking the LORD, only adding the worship of these other gods. As some who left Anglican church see other churches they went to as the same. Some will say “It’s the same God. Some will live to go and start their own churches. Some went to no church, some to Isese etc.
God saw their sin for what it was and noted that their exit has  polluted the land. Indeed, we’re feeling the pollution in all those churches and shrines they went to.
Here, God is saying, He won’t see them as divorcing Him for another husband But, that they only went to sell their body, they are not yet attached to any man. Therefore, they should come back, He is ready to take them if they return
That is why verses (14-15) talk about Return and be restored.
“Return, O backsliding children,” says the Lord; “for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”
a. Return, O backsliding children: Here, God speaks to both “sisters” (Jeremiah 3:7) Israel and Judah and invites them to return to Him.
b. For I am married to you: This statement is Significant, because God had already said that He has gaving Israel a certificate of divorce in (Jeremiah 3:8). Yet here He says to both Israel and Judah, “I am married to you.” That means, God was willing to ignore the previous divorce if they would only return to Him.
This shows a loving and passionate God; this is the Lord full of warmth and compassion, pursing His wayward people.
It is by grace that God should be married to any of us, or our members but it is grace at its highest pitch, it is the ocean of grace at its flood- tide, that he should speak thus of ‘backsliding children.’”
c. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion: God promised restoration and repatriation for the remnant that would return to Him.
d. I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding: After the blessing of restoration and repatriation, God promised the blessing of good and godly spiritual leadership, giving an instructive description of what leaders among God’s people should be. The idea here is what we should be as spiritual leaders to God’s people in the diocese of Awori.
· They should be given by God (I will give you), not by human ambition or presumed calling.
· They are given to the people of God (I will give you) for their care and service unto them.
· They should be shepherds, caring for the flock of God.
· They should be according to God’s heart in the way they serve and lead God’s people.
· They should feed God’s people with knowledge.
· They should feed God’s people with understanding.
We are all conversant with the drama of the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. This individual has spent good time with his father in service. Because he seems to have exhausted his patience to wait for the appointed time to legitimately have his portion, he hurridly demanded for his own inheritance and left to a far country where he lavished all the assets and started begging for what to eat.
Until he came to his senses. He decided to return to his father. The father who still kept the love of this child intact. He gave him a hero welcome and lavished resources to celebrate him despite his brother’s displeasure.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF PEOPLE LEAVING OR DISLOYAL TO THE CHURCH?
The message of PAUL to Timothy is where I found the answer.
2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul gives nineteen negative characteristics of many professing believers during these difficult times that has led to either deny the church/Christ or leaving the at this end-time:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Let me look at few of them and see how it affected the prophecy of Jeremaiah and the prodigal son restoration.
1.SELFISHNESS(Lover of themselves),when something does not work in the interest of some people or the priest, they are discontented. JAMES says
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.James 3:16
This also happened withing the ranks of Jesus disciples, and this happened, Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”Mark 8:34
Many of those who left us,went to go and start their personal churches, some where not call but Greediness, selfish ambitions, they want to go and make it, some want freedom or want to be recognise. Therefore, Let begin to give our members some levels of recognition, leadership responsibilities, let us together with our members learn to share. Recognize and elugise those who are assisting you and the church.

2.MONEY. This is the major reason the church is losing her relevance. It’s both On the part of the church, the leaders and the members. When you ask members why are they slacking, the common response are no money for transport,for offerings, to feed, to pay school fees, to boast business, etc. No doubt, money is necessary and essential in our lives. Some will say ‘money ansewreth all things. Should lack of it now keeps us away from the fellowship with the people and God? Who owns the said money?
Deuteronomy 8:18 “You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm the covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” some, because they are not allowed to eat from the church’s money, may decide to move out.
On our part, the church should not discourage those who are poor. We sometimes have a culture of focussing on only the privileged one in the church instead of helping them and make the feel relevant to other members. The writer of proverbs says
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed” (Prov 19:17).we should know and go and teach this.
This is the practice in most other churches that attracts our members to them. They have programmes for indigent children, Areas boys, food bank for the Hungary, scholarship for children of the poor.
The church is meant to cater for those that were forgotten. God is using the church to reach out. That is what in the mind of Jesus in Matthew 6:25, 33 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
When they come to seek Christ as a poor worshiper, they should not go home hungary. What welfare package do we have for our members to show that we care? Ordinary tea, we can give on sunday.
1 John 3:17 “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” This is a big question to answer.

There are series of examples in the bible
The story of the Good Samaritan – Luke 10:30-37.(I’m sure if the good Samaritan start a church after the event, his first parishioner will be the victim. Where many church priests pass without rendering help.
The culture of the early church among others, were sharing and welfarism
Acts 2:44-47 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,  and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

3.BOASTERS AND PRIDE, This is the negative product of money or wealth, influence, positions and status on the part of the pastor or those who occupy offices in the church. Our attitude as the leaders of the people may send members away or when a member because of his wealth, he/she is appointed matron or patron to many bodies, may fall into this malady.
He suddenly feels that he/she is above others or those who are been oppressed will decided to leave for the rich or when we begin to be seen to pay attention to the rich than others etc. Pride is an enemy to affection.
4. BLASFAMING, FALSEHOOD, WRONG DOCTINES AND TEACHINGS
All these are either against or in favour of the church. So many abominations in the church. Because more and more of our members are getting used to studying the BIBLE, when they now know the truth, they leave in search of the true messages(this is a challenge to us as preacher and teachers of the world). There are so many falsehoods, and more and more itching ears. Many are looking for prophets messages, where there is umbilical practices many of them fall into the hands of dragons and beast as in
Revelation 13:1
And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore.Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.
These are how some of these churches look like, but our members don’t understand. Falsehood, wrong teaching, wrong doctrine(they will be fed with concortion) before they know , their mistakes will be irreversible. We must do everything possible to teach, instruct and rebuke in love as Paul adviced Timothy in his 2nd book, 4:2-5
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
The message we preach or teach goes a long way to retain, add or send members away, our passion and love for prayers is very important. Our members wants pastors who are prayer warriors, whose prayer can bring results. That’s why you found them on the mountain or join some prayer links of other churches. Prayer is a factor in increasing the church population. A prayerless church is a powerless church.
As to Blasphamers, After Paul testified to the Jews that Jesus is Lord, they resisted and blaspheme, what did he do in Acts 18:6
But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”
Deuteronomy 18:20

5.DISOBEDIENCE TO PARENTS/HAUGHTY/HEAD STRONG
All this are in the same family. Many children could no longer obey their parents. Some of them who grew in Anglican church, against the wish of their parents left for other churches claimed to be born again and thereby no longer appropriate for Anglican church or where they feel they can be loved and well fed spiritually.
This is a challenge to our Sunday school, children ministry, the PCC, The diocese to study where we are failing to retain our Youth(parents certainly are more guilty),There are hauthy children and adults, through their behavior, some left the church, it could be also on the part of the pastor, some of us are strong headed. To these set of people, Paul wrote about in 2 Timothy 3:4 traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God;
He told Titus 1:7
For the overseer must be free from all charge against him as God’s steward; not headstrong, not passionate, not disorderly through wine, not a striker, not seeking gain by base means;
6.UNTHANKFUL, UNLOVING AND UNFORGIVING
I know many youths sponsored by the church trough scholarship, some who were assisted by the church in their business, someone who was detained by the police for unpaid loan, the church bail and paid, still left. Unthankful is a big problem in the church, even on the part of the pastor/wife. Talking on LOVE, Any church where there is no love will loose membership. Love should flow from top to bottom.
1 John 4:8 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
Jesus Himself commands in John 15:12-13 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Some of us rejoice in a divided church. Where there is no love it’s not conducive for genuine Christians. You must teach and pay attention to the welfare of your members.
When there is genuine love, forgiveness will be handy. Forgiveness is the best way to show that you are a Christian, it’s a divine nature.
Jesus gives us the perfect example of forgiveness. While in agony on the cross, Jesus called out, exclaiming “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
7.BRUTALITY/UNHOLY/LACK OF SELF-CONTROL/SLANDERER/DESPISERS OF GOOD/LOVER OF PLEASURE THAN LOVER OF GOD/TRAITORS
It’s wickedness when your co-worshiper or member of your church is passing through challenges and you feel unconcern(Aduloju), backbiting, lies, witchcraft, demon-possessed, attacking the church, fighting or nursing grudges, cursing, rejoicing on other’s sorrow moments etc. are acts of wickedness, it’s unholy, this are examples of despising what is good and ordained by God. The word of God in Jeremiah 16:18 promised a reward for evil and wickedness
And I will give them the reward of their evil-doing and their sin twice over; because they have made my land unclean, and have made my heritage full of the bodies of their unholy and disgusting things.
The counsel of PAUL to Titus 1:8 is also for us as we pastor God’s people
But hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.

At this end time 1 Peter 4:7-8 summarises our duties
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
Above all these, we need the power of the Holy spirit that can work out the solution. Any church without the spirit is already empty even if men and women are physically there.
We need spiritual wisdom to cope, Isaiah 11:2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
We need this divine qualifications to succeed.
John 14:26
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Galatians 5:22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Some, in search for greener pasture has Japa, some through re-location,