When you are young and on holidays in the Miami, life is quite simple. It's all about the children. Disney, Epcot centre, shopping malls, movies -for kids. That's it. As you get older and the kids are now married and actually living in Miami - or nearby - life is more complicated.
As, it's now all about the grandchildren - so far we have only one. I am tempted, after a week with this two and half year old child behaving like an army officer, to say " Thank God". As this grandson demands all your time and attention. But only on his terms.
" No grandpa, do not change my clothes. Only grandma". Grandpa is good for playing outside and with his toys; " Grandpa can you please come and play with me", says the little angel. But suddenly the orders flow again, and it gets worse when his mother is around - " No grandpa, do not not take me out of my car seat, only mommy." Can I believe this child is not yet three! But life is good, even though complicated, as I am learning to deal with today's articulate, very confident and completely unafraid of age and authority, grandchildren. So I thank God for him everyday, but pray for wisdom to love and understand, this young man whose actions and vocabulary are way beyond his years.
But in the middle of this grand parental bliss, and, yes, the joy at seeing my children again, I get a chance to read another of the books of my favourite fiction author - the late Robert Ludlum. And a question posed to the principal figure in the book by one of his Vietnamese capturers, about the American way of life , intrigued me greatly. Probably since this is the country in which my grandchild's values will be formed. Perhaps because Barack Obama's movement seeks for change. But how much, I am not sure.
" And he led a good American life , your father?" " He thought so ( Janson answered). He made a good living. Owned a nice home, nice car. Could buy the things he wanted to buy". Phan Nguyen sat back in his chair, and his broad weathered features were alert and quizzical. " And this is what gives meaning to your life?" he asked. ( Extract from The Janson Directive)
So I thought about what gave meaning to my life, and thanked God for Jesus. Thanked God for my parents and all who taught me about the love of God as manifested in and through Christ Jesus. Thanked God that both of my children, and their spouses, so far from home, and in the vortex of the powerful influence of this very secular society, are in church on a Sunday morning, praising the Lord. And the words from that wonderful hymn then came flooding into my mind:
Jesu the very thought of you
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see,
and in thy presence rest....
O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who ask how kind thou art,
How good to those who seek!
Then I read the gospel appointed for this Sunday and the part that intrigued me the most was:
" Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he had found one of great value, he went away and sold everything and bought it." Matthew 13:45-45.
This America is a land, not only of the bold and the free, but of plenty. Plenty food. Plenty entertainment. Plenty cars. Plenty cell phones. Plenty televisions - there are more television sets than people in each home 2.73:2.55 according to results of a Nielsen Media research team in 2006. And the average time spent watching exceeds 4 hours/individual. But, in terms of transcendent matters, matters of faith and religion, although Evangelical Christians constitute a formidable political force, American is decidedly a secular state - at least from my observations.
The Christian influence on this society is not marked. Is not felt in a significant way.
No doubt that's why Chris Tiegen's meditation on careful listening - careful understanding of,
and careful obedience to, what God is saying to us through His Word is so vital - as that is what in fact gives meaning to life. And in this context two things occupied my thoughts, as I spent the time babysitting( did I say baby - I must be crazy) my grandson with my wife. One, because of the media attention given to the Lambeth Conference ( meeting of Anglican Bishops every ten years) in the UK, where the issue of same sex marriages is now the cause of a deep division in the worldwide Anglican community. What kind of aberrant ( American ? ) theology, understanding of God, what kind of cultural forces which give meaning to the American - and increasingly a significant part of the globe - way of life, could seek to validate unrepentant practicing homosexuals as Christians. Two, on account of his importance in this country, and no doubt for the world if he becomes the next president, Barack Obama's theology and doubts about aspects of the Christian faith, which is the subject/headline of this week's Newsweek magazine.
Carefully how you listen Luke 8:18
IN WORD Many times we think that by hearing the Word of God and understanding its meaning, we have integrated it into our lives. We read numerous Bible passages and listen to countless sermons, thinking that if we have intellectually comprehended the message and agreed with it, it is ours. But Jesus' parable of the soils says that there is more to the story than than hearing and believing His Word. Some hear and believe and then fall away in times of testing. Others hear and believe and then do not mature because of life's worries. Hearing and believing are not enough.
Those who bear fruit for God and fulfill His purpose for their lives are those who first hear the Word, then believe it, then retain it, and then persevere in it ( vs 15). They let it sink into their hearts. They meditate on it. They build their lives around it. It becomes part of them, and they abide by it because it has reshaped them. it defines their identify - and their behaviour.
( It gives meaning to their lives and hence it is of priceless value - my words).
IN DEED Recent surveys and demographic studies have indicated that Christians and non- Christians in the USA have remarkably similar behaviour patterns ( I wonder what the result would be in Jamaica?). Why? Because many of us stop at hearing and believing. We are not careful about how we listen. We are like those of whom James speaks:
" Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like" ( James 1:23-24). This is a type of self-deceit (1:22). It gives the impression that we are growing in the Word, but we are growing in knowledge only. Real growth comes from real application--diligence integrating the Word into our hearts and then living it. Careful listening brings radical change and lasting fruit.
God's purpose for His Word is that it be unhindered by testing, worries, riches and pleasures. It is to be a seed that lands on our fertile soil, takes deep root, and grows steadily. Be careful. Listen in way that will fulfill His purpose.
My prayer is that my very precocious grandchild will grow up in a church that will encourage him to apply the Word to his life and not only to hear and believe. This too is my prayer for Barack Obama, that radical change and lasting fruit in America, and the American way of life, will come by His living out the Word after careful listening. This too is my prayer for those Christian leaders, who are anxious to teach and show God's love to all humanity - including unrepentant and practicing homosexuals, that they will teach not only about believing, but also about obedience. Finally, this is my prayer for myself and my country, that in the midst of the crime and violence that is the cause of so much pain, that we may listen carefully to what God is saying to us, about the meaning of life, about the priority we give to His Word, and how obedient we are to that Word.
And as I woke up this morning, excited about going to worship the Lord, He reminded me of the importance of Holy Communion - and no doubt how to maintain a focus on His Kingdom and what truly gives meaning to life - through these words by H. Bonar.
Here, O my Lord I see thee face to face;
Here faith would touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon thee lean.
Here would I feed upon the Bread of God;
Here drink with thee thee the royal wine of heaven;
Here lay aside each earthly load;
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.....
Then I prayed that all of us may be convicted of sin, and of our unworthiness
before a Holy God. As then and only then, will we cry out to God for help
and find that help in and through the Redemption wrought on the Cross
of Calvary - which is ultimately what truly gives meaning to life.