At first we did not taken Storm Gustav, this "Act of God", seriously. We actually began to wonder why we had drawn the shutters, bought extra food and stored water, as the first few
hours were " nothing much to write home about". But then things got decidedly worse, as the wind began to howl, and torrential rain began falling. And fall it did, as if it would never stop.
All night long and far into the following day. We did not have to wait for the news to inform us that ten people were missing and presumed dead, and that many had lost their homes and that a few bridges were down, and that many many road were impassable. This was one " hell of a storm" - pardon the expression. The question of course is, was this really an "Act of God"?
Would a God who, many Jamaicans, including pastors,, were of the firm conviction that our success in the Olympics was due to His divine intervention, would this God then turn around,
within days and wreak havoc on this MFN - most favoured nation? We are taking about Billions of dollars of damage to our infrastructure and who can ever assign a monetary figure to the loss of a loved one!
Furthermore, what was so special about the Cayman islands, that seemingly so miraculously,
Gustav cut a path right through the middle of those two Islands, leaving relatively little damage in its wake? Is Haiti under a curse why so often so much suffering is visited upon that poverty stricken country by these "Acts of God. I have heard the theory that New Orleans is such a
" wicked city", perhaps pretty much like our capital city Kingston in the days of Henry Morgan,
when it copped the prize for the "wickedest city" in the new world, that God is so displeased with
" Big Easy" and hence its destruction by Katrina. So as Gustav, which has now morphed into a dangerous Category 3 Hurricane, once again threatens this city, is this further proof of God's will? Or perhaps being on the side of the Democrats, He just wishes to mess with the Republican Convention! That's a joke, but with all seriousness, many Americans, who perhaps assume that because their politicians constantly pronounce " God's blessing on America", are convinced that they are a MFN, and wondered where was God when that infamous attack on 9/11 took place. No doubt the present day Jews, even the secular non-believing ones, may feel that they too, and in fact, all Western countries, unlike Muslims ones are MFN's, in God's eyes. Of course, we in Jamaica know only too well how many of our politicians behave as if God is in their corner, and have even fallen prey to "prophets" who encourage such belief.
So the God, who is always way ahead of us, began teaching me, and all of us from the Old Testament reading, appointed for this Sunday.
" I f you repent, I will restore you
that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
but you must not turn to them".
Jeremiah 15:19-20 NIV
And it continued with the Lord leading me to a special prayer in the book of Colossians.
" For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of HIS WILL through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work.
Colossians 1:9-10 NIV
So three points are of importance here, in knowing God's will. One that the will of God is revealed by revelation from God. Not by speculation, theorising and by intellectual superiority. Two, that such revelation comes through prayer, by those, and to those, who have a repentant heart - those who continually ask God for mercy for their sinful state, their rebellion against God, and their disobedience. In short, those who have a different kind of worldview than non-believers - those who cannot, will not, and refuse to accept, the sanctifying blood of Christ on the Cross of Calvary. This renewing of the mind, this new worldview, that it is by God's mercy that we have been brought from darkness into light, that it is by God's mercy that we come to know HIS WILL, that it is by God's mercy that we are protected by storms and not because of any MFN status, that is the essence of the reading from the Epistle for this Sunday.
And three, that the purpose of God's will being revealed to those with a renewed mind, is that they may bear good fruit - not to enjoy public acclaim, or to reap personal reward, but to
bring glory to God's Son - the image of the invisible God.
" For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgements,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counsellor?..........
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to to test and to approve of what God's will is --- his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 11:32-34: 12:1-2 NIV
One of the great tragedies in the history, both recent and distant, of the Christian church is the
extent to which the " teachings of man" has replaced revelations from God. How many of us have been conforming to the pattern of this world, rather than being transformed by the renewing of our minds. So we glibly ascribe to the Lord all kinds of behaviours and promises that our puny little minds can dream up, and proudly pronounce them , with assurance, as God's perfect and pleasing will. Ignoring the Scriptures which warn us , " How unsearchable are his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out" - recently I heard, with my own ears, a pastor, blaming the recent fires in California on the fact that the state had recently passed a law allowing same sex marriages ! Yes same sex marriages, in my understanding of the Scriptures, are against God's holy will and purpose, but does that necessarily translate into God's immediate judgement of California? What then would become of us here in Jamaica, the murder capital of the world!
Finally on this issue of God's will, the gospel reading for today places everything in perspective.
GOD'S WILL is discovered and sustained only through our sacrificing our very lives and following the life of His Son Jesus Christ.
" Then Jesus said to his disciples, " if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up the cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it". Matthew 17:24-25 NIV
So will Gustav destroy "wicked " New Orleans? Will an earthquake, in a few seconds, destroy Jamaica - the murder capital of the world - one day? Is it the will of God that Obama ( or Portia or Peter or Bruce in the Jamaican context ) should become the next President of the USA? Has HIV/AIDS come to teach us that those who willfully oppose God's teachings about sex - fornication and homosexuality - and marriage are under judgement? Was it the prayers of the Christian right wing that resulted in George W. Bush becoming the President of the USA, and then to lead his country into - a most unjust and unpopular - war in Iraq? Is it the will of God that the communion of the Anglican church worldwide is now in jeopardy on account of the ordination of a practising and unrepentant homosexual to the high post of Bishop? Is it the will of God that all murderers should be executed? Is it the will of God that some of our struggling young people should migrate to greener pastures, or that those who have succeeded should return home? Is it the will of God that I should marry that lady or that man? Is it God's will that I should end this marriage and leave this abusive husband or bad tempered wife? Was it God's will that my child, the many starving children in Africa, or a sibbling, or my spouse, should die so young and so suddenly, and before me? Why could we not live together into a ripe old age and do His Work? Did God send alternative investment schemes to benefit his church, especially those working in the inner cities? Is it the will of God that I should have Diabetes or Cancer, or should I, in the name of Christ "rebuke it"?
Many people struggle with these personal, national and world issues! How do I really know God's will is a frequent question?
The answer from this message may not satisfy all the questions, but there are some important principles for us to consider. First you have to believe that He really exists and to trust Him with our lives as He is our Creator and loving Father. And we know that He loves us because His Son Jesus died on the Cross of Calvary for your sins and for mine. That by this great act of mercy we have been rescued from the sin and death unto everlasting life. Therefore we should live a life of repentance and seek to renew our minds through prayer, the reading of His Word, worship, and self-denial. Then ask for mercy, not only for personal or national needs, but that through us, the Name of His Son may be glorified through His church.
In other words, just like Gustav, do not take this matter of life lightly. Jesus raised a profound issue in the gospel today ," For what good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world and yet forsakes his soul". Like Gustav, it may seem a simple matter at first blush, but life sometimes comes at us very quickly and we have no answers and no defence, except to appeal to God for mercy. So this issue of the reality and well-being of our souls, which belong to God, should be paramount in our minds and our plans for life. As life is not merely about the physical, the predictable, the obvious, but equally so about the mysterious, the transcendental, the spiritual, the eternal. Someone in a Bible study class today raised the question of whether, during Gustav, God was saying to Jamaica, caught up in the euphoria of our success at the Olympics:
" Pay attention here! Celebrate yes, but do not go overboard. Do not worship these people. Worship me only, as all things have been created by me and to me belong all honor and glory. And I am your only protector"! . Equally so, God is saying to us in this message, do not judge, as judgement belongs to the Lord, but rather carry out good works in keeping with our call to repentance, to deny self and to follow Christ.
Let us resolve then, to keep our mind fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith, Christ Jesus and to guard our souls against evil, for as the Scriptures remind us:
" For who has known the mind of the Lord,
that he may instruct him?"
But we have the mind of Christ"
1 Corinthians 2:16 NIV