Saturday, July 12, 2008

Navigating our way in a difficult world with Jesus Christ

As is the case with most, if not all of us, we do not understand what God is doing in our lives until much later. Such was my experience in quite a dramatic way, this week. I had been mulling over a very popular Jamaican phrase all week, in fact, ever since I heard it expressed most forcibly, some time ago, by an inner city resident. " Trouble don't set like rain". In the sense that, unlike bad weather, which gives ample warning, trials in life, oftentimes appear unheralded.

So, out of the blue, a middle aged female patient, whom I subsequently discovered had been recently diagnosed with cancer, came into my office, and died on an examination bed, before I got to her - and she was rushed into the room by my staff, immediately on arrival. In fact, when I got there, her husband was quite unaware that she had died. After sharing with him the bad news, and spending time consoling the family, I returned and committed her, in prayer, to the Lord - both herself and her husband are Christians. Then we had to clear the waiting room to allow the undertakers to prepare and remove the body. As this was uncharted waters for all of us, ( first in all my years in private practice) I asked a pastor, who was a patient to come and pray for us, in the same room, for, as you can imagine, all of us were quite traumatised by this very dramatic event. Interestingly, during her prayers, the priest quoted Isaiah's famous words:

" For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are my ways your ways......."
Word from Isaiah 55, from which book, the Old Testament reading is taken, in my church, for this Sunday, and on which I had been reflecting deeply.


" As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish.......
so is my word that goes out of my mouth;
it will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

A revelation which greatly encouraged me in understanding the divine assistance which this Internet Ministry receives from the Lord, and also the text message ministry.

After all of this was over, and I had time to catch my breath, I asked the Lord why He had sent this lady, not for my help, but to die in my office? And I got an answer. Eventually. In bits and pieces. A response, which all of us in Jamaica, where sudden death by the gun or on our roads, is now, unfortunately, a way of life, could do very well to ponder. But not only death. Life too. As for many around us, relationships go bad very suddenly and often without warning. And in many cases, there is nothing as devastating in life as what was perceived to be a good relationship, to suddenly and dramatically go sour . So too the advent of illness. Curable and incurable alike. Financial problems are legion in today's world. So we have much to think about in respect of " life coming at us very fast". And God knows.

But before I get to the answer to the question, again on reflection, He had prepared the way by placing in my heart, during my devotions one early morning the first few words of the chorus of an old hymn, which I had not sung for many years, and which words I could not recall. So Google came to the rescue, again, and I spent some time reflecting on this " gift" from the Lord.

Be not dismayed what e'er betide
God will take care of you:
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you


God will take care of you,
Through every day, over all the way:
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you

Through days of toil doth when heart doth fail,
God will take care of you:
When dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you.


All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you:
Nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you


No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you:
Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
God will take care of you



This morning, in the early hours of the day, the Lord, after leading me to reflect on a meditation

from Chris Tiegen, led me through the Beatitudes, as written by Matthew, and the ensuing
chapters ( 5-7) and taught me so much, how a life dedicated to knowing Him and serving Him, is so very different from life in this world - counter-culture is the word used by John Stott to describe this particular aspect of Jesus' teachings. And the one verse of Scripture which seems so relevant to this issue of ," Trouble don't set like rain", was :

" Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own." Matt. 6: 34. NIV

And, as I went for my exercise walk later, ( devotions come first - is what a good friend, who is now gone to glory, taught me many years ago) the companion verse came into my head.

" I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 17:33 NIV

What do I make of all of this? Firstly, that if we listen carefully, by placing a priority on hearing from Him, we will realize, over time, that God is always warning and instructing us. In many and different ways - through diverse circumstances and people. It therefore means that we have to believe that without His directions and guidance we would be lost in this world. That this world, without God, and even with Him, is a very dangerous place - both for body and soul.
But that even in the midst of the storms of life, in Christ Jesus, we are assured of the kind of peace which nothing on earth or in heaven can destroy.
Secondly, we have to develop, what Chris Tiegen calls " Holy Hunger" in order to hear from God, and whose meditation this morning led me to the Beatitudes - and more. A command which is also expressed in the latter part of Matthew's 6th Chapter:

" O you of little faith? So do not worry saying, " What shall eat? or 'What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow .......troubles of its own"

Matt 6:30-34 NIV

The development of this Holy Hunger comes only as the Spirit of God lives in us by grace and by faith more and more each day. And, such a hunger is in great competition with the "hungers" of this world. For the new 3rd generation, G3 i -phones; for the new sexual and heightened sexual experience; for, not just better, but super returns on our investment; for the latest information on the Obama campaign - is McCain running? In fact, just for the political high, some would wish that the Obama /Clinton race was still on track. Hunger for the latest dance hall song or music video or movie; for the latest " suss" (gossip); and even in the church for more "excitement" in worship, in prayer and in the sermon; for a more charismatic and decisive leader who can deal with crime or the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The message is that only when we have, by God's grace, in and through Christ Jesus, overcome the beguiling, enticing, and very seductive "hungers" of this world, will we bear fruit, a hundred times over. And which theme is the central message in the gospel appointed for today from Matthew 13. For too many of us respond like the farmer who sowed the seed on the path and which was eaten by the birds, snatched away by the devil, on account of lack of understanding. And God had prophesied this fact a long time ago about those who were not willing to humble themselves and seek Him first above all else:

You will ever be hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people's heart have become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them."

Matt 13:14-15. NIV

Others hear the word, but have no root ( hunger for excitement about God rather than for God Himself, who is found only in and through suffering with Christ Jesus) so when persecution and trouble - that don't set like rain - comes, they fall away and bear no fruit. And still others have the word choked by the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth ( or other hungers). Only those, who in the Luke version of the story, have a noble and good heart ( hunger for God) , who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
Pray God that as we, by grace, become more determined to know Jesus, at all cost,
as explained by Oswald Chambers in his book of meditations " My Utmost for His Highest",
we will bear fruits of righteousness in this beleaguered country, and indeed the entire world, where life comes at us at bewildering speed - and from so many different directions.


" That I may know Him"
Philippians 3:10

The initiative of the saint is not towards self-realization, but towards knowing Jesus Christ. The spiritual saint never believes circumstances to be haphazard, or thinks of his life as secular and sacred; he sees everything he is dumped down in as the means of securing the knowledge of Jesus Christ. There is a reckless abandonment about him. The Holy Spirit is determined that we shall realize Jesus in every domain of life, and He will bring us back to the same point again and again until we do. Self-realization leads to the enthronement of work. Whether it be eating, or drinking or washing disciple's feet, whatever it is, we have to take the initiative of realizing Jesus in it. Every phase of our actual life has its counterpart in the life of Jesus.. Our Lord realized His relationship to the Father even in the most menial work. Jesus knowing ....that he was come from God, and went to God, took a towel....and began to wash the disciples' feet.
The aim of the spiritual saint is " that I might know Him." Do I know Him where I am today? If not, I am failing Him. I am here not to realize myself, but to know Jesus. In Christian work the initiative is too often the realization that something has to be dome and I must do it. That is never the attitude of the spiritual saint; his aim is to secure the realization of Jesus Christ in every set of circumstances he is in.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sports, Mercy and Christianity

I suppose like most men I like sports a lot. So it was great to watch the Williams sisters play a really good final - at long last - at Wimbledon this week. And today's men's final between Federer and Nadal was " something special" - unless you are like my wife who hates to see Federer lose. Back here in Jamaica, we are all "waiting to exhale " and hoping that when we do in August, after the Olympics, our fastest women and men in the world will bring tears of joy to a nation as they mount the victory podium in Beijing, and listen to the national anthem.
But on another level, of what help is this great fun and enjoyment to us in Jamaica when wicked men can hack a woman to death and slit the throat of her 8 year old daughter? What manner of " animals" are these? Drugged up or just filled with evil? And the fact that one of the main suspects was killed, in like manner, in less than 24 hours, brings no joy, but further pain, as another life, made in the likeness and image of God is lost.
In the midst of this madness, the debates rage about crime plans, the effectiveness of peace treaties, hard policing, the cost of social interventions - up to 1Billion US is one informed estimate -preventive detentions and protecting civil liberties. And the very church, at least my denomination ( Anglicans), whose only purpose is to be a " light" in this very dark world, is caught up and deeply divided. Not over how to make a difference, but over issues of human sexuality, and a decision, by some, to back same sex marriages among practicing homosexual priests. Lord have mercy on us!
Which is exactly what the Lord spoke to me about this week. Mercy! Grace and mercy. Because the problem with our society is that the Sovereign God of heaven, the Creator of the Universe, is calling our nation back to wholeness, to peace in our homes, communities and workplace, in and through Jesus Christ - for no money, for free - and amazingly, we continue to reject this offer.
Jamaica would change overnight if we accepted this gift of mercy from God. But no, we are intent on " working it out ourselves" and seeking to get the church on board as a
partner to promote "social justice". And God is saying
to us this week, first through the gospel appointed for today in the Anglican church :
" Come to me, all you are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest". Matthew 11:28 NIV

A verse which reminded me of that great hymn

Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for,
And that thou bid'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O lamb of God I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
because Thy promise I believe
O Lamb of God I come......

The message is that all of us who are weary about the killings in our country, need to realize that " nothing but the Blood of Jesus", can wash away the sins of a nation.
Nothing but the mercy of God, wrought by Jesus on the Cross of Calvary, can free us from evil intent. Whether it is murder - in the womb or outside the womb - pride or bombast which is so dramatically on display in Zimbabwe, or greed - which is idolatry, and which sin, for many but not all, without and without the church, if we are honest, regardless of the debate about legality, and for which we need to repent, is at the root of the Cash Plus and Olint foreign exchange trading phenomenon. Whether it be homosexual or heterosexual immorality - sex outside of marriage and sex before marriage - pedophilia, prostitution, or addiction to pornography, nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash away our sins and bring wholeness to our bodies.
This fact of our helpless, " fightings and fears within and without", is the essence of St Paul's cry for help in the Romans passage appointed for today:
" When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God's law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging
war.......What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue
me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Further, in order to ensure that I did not underestimate this important message of depending on God and God alone, I was led to reflect on this passage of Scripture
this week during my devotions.

" We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about
the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened
that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many". 2 Corinthians 1:8-11.

Could it be that we in Jamaica have been made to " feel the sentence of death", and to experience the , " beyond our ability to endure", so that we might learn to rely on God and God alone and not on ourselves? Could it be that our " hardships that we are suffering", will only be removed when we begin to pray more effectively for mercy from God, and then He alone will get the honor and praise - and not Professor Robotham ( the sociologist) , Ian Boyne ( the journalist), or Minister McMillan ( the politician)? Then and only then will the nation be able to sing with Spirit and with truth:

Your grace and mercy,
Brought me through.
I am living this day
Because of you.
I want to thank you and
praise your name.
Your grace and mercy, brought me through.

Finally through a meditation by Chris Tiegen,
the Lord taught me this week a very important lesson
on mercy. That only when we have truly come to appreciate the extent of God's mercy on us, will we be able to accept and then reflect God's love, through our word and deeds, to others who are all in need of this love - whether they know it or not. This experience of mercy is what drives the true evangelist - to spread the Gospel; the true worshipers - to celebrate God's goodness and Sovereignty; the true disciple - to die to self and to live for Christ and to serve others in Christ; the true priest or bishop - to represent a merciful and loving God, but a God also of judgment to the congregation. It is this appreciation of helplessness before a Holy God, which the "liberal priests" in the Anglican communion need to experience so that they can ask for mercy. So too our nation's "wise men and women". So too the wicked, the misguided and the unrepentant. May the God who declares in Scripture that:
" For God has bound over all men to disobedience
that he may have mercy on them all"; (Romans 11:32
NIV) : may He have mercy on us all.


" Which of these three do you think was a neighbour
to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
Luke 10: 36

IN WORD The story of the Good Samaritan is one of Jesus' more familiar parables. it is an illustration of surprisingly good behaviour ( for a Samaritan) and of surprisingly bad behaviour ( for priest and Levites). We use it as a useful guide for ethical action -- going above and beyond the call of duty in the way of compassion.
When we read this as a moral instruction and decide which character we ought to emulate, we naturally avoid the portrayal of the indifferent priest and want to think that we are more like the Samaritan. We know in reality we have a little of both in us --some indifference tempered by some compassion, or compassion tainted by indifference. We're an unfortunate mix of all who encounter this victim.
But eventually God makes us look deeper at this practical parable and see it as a striking picture of our world. In this big picture, our race has fallen into the hands of robbers; it has been stripped, beaten and left for half-dead. We have all been ravaged by the wages of sin, and we suffer. This parable is not just a lesson on what to do, it is an illustration of what's been done to us. We stop asking which character we ought to be and God shows us which character we really are. The answer He reveals is humbling. First and foremost, we are not the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan. We are the victim.

IN DEED Everyone who has ever really known Jesus by faith has first known helplessness. We once lay beside the road and hoped someone would stop. He did. He was our good neighbour. By God's design, this should have been the beginning of compassion for us --we don't just become merciful by thinking about others in need, we become merciful by experiencing mercy. When Jesus spared us,
he gave us a sobering command: " Go and do likewise" ( v 37).
The Samaritan in this story looks a lot like Jesus.
So should we.

And as I end probably the most profound words on mercy ever written, flow into my mind:

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain
For me, who Him to His death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou my God, should st for me?.....

'Tis mercy all: the immortal dies;
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
'Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angels minds inquire no more....

He left His Father's throne above
So free, so infinite His grace--
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race:
"Tis mercy all, immense and free.
For O my God it found out me...

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray --
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heat was free.
I rose went forth and followed Thee...

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head.
And clothes in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th'eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own ...