Sunday, August 17, 2008

Celebrate with Bolt and Fraser but trust in God through Jesus Christ

They call it the greatest show on earth. And so it is. But for us in Jamaica it is celebration time. First Bolt, and now Shelly-Ann Fraser -with all three medals going to Jamaica in an unprecedented turn of events - making it two gold medals so far. And with an expected,
at least, four more to come, this Olympics is turning out to be Jamaica's best ever. The excitement is at a fever pitch, so much so that although we were in church this morning
when the women's 100 metre final was run, at the end of the service, just before the dismissal, the ( very happy female) priest announced the results, and spontaneous applause burst out. From the Prime Minister down to the ordinary man on the street, all who have been interviewed on radio or television, have been showering praises on Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart. Perhaps the most insightful comment however, came from Shelly-Ann's mother who spoke about her love for Jesus, about the possibility of even the gunmen - she lives in a tough inner city community - having their children doing as well as her child ( if they change their ways) and about the need for parents to keep close to their children. The PM spoke about the resilience of the Jamaica spirit as manifested in the high level performance on the world stage, and assured us that if we applied the same attitude to some of our pressing social problems,
like crime and violence, there is no doubt that we could overcome them. The one disappointment, however, was that once again Asafa Powell, perhaps and deservedly so, more
popular worldwide than Bolt, failed to live up to the huge expectations of him.
So how did the Lord prepare me for this level of excitement, and what is His message for us this week. The message began with the words of a hymn. I wrote about it last week, and this week, time and time again in my early morning devotions ,I was drawn back to it and to meditate deeply on the words:

1. O Jesus I have promised *** 4. O Jesus, thou hast promised
To serve thee to the end; *** To all who follow thee,
Be thou for ever near me, *** That where thou art in glory
My Master and my friend: *** There shall thy servant be;
I shall not fear the battle *** And, Jesus I have promised
If thou art by my side, *** To serve thee to the end
Nor wander from the pathway *** O give me grace to follow
If thou wilt be my guide. *** My Master and my friend

2.O let me feel thee near me: *** 5. O let me see thy foot-marks
The world is ever near; *** And in them plant my own;
I see the sights that dazzle, *** My hope to follow duly
The tempting sounds I hear; *** Is in thy strength alone
My foes are ever near me, *** O guide me, call me, draw me,
Around me and within; *** Uphold me to the end
But, Jesus draw thou nearer, *** And then in heaven receive me,
And shield my soul from sin. *** My Saviour and my friend

3.O let me hear thee speaking
In accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion,
The murmurs of self-will;
O speak and reassure me,
To hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen
Thou guardian of my soul.

Key messages : O Jesus I have promised.....I shall not fear the battle if thou be by my side; ..the sights that dazzle... the tempting sounds...foes ever near me...around and within....shield my soul from sin; O let me hear thee speak....above the storms of passion....speak and make me listen.....thou guardian of my hope to follow in thy strength alone....and then in heaven receive me. My Saviour and my friend.

So while for a few days, the name of Bolt and company would be on the lips of many, the Lord reminded us that the name of Jesus is to be on our lips at all time. To worship Him, to listen to Him above the passions of this world --and the excitement of the Olympics creates so much passion. To understand that He is the guardian of our souls - so easily tempted away from Him by the tempting sounds and dazzling sights. I pray that young Usain is properly handled, so that
what has overtaken so many of our sportsmen and women, and other famous people - pride, womanizing, abuse of drugs, the excessive love of money, breakdown in family life - does not befall him.
And not only that we should call on the name of Jesus constantly, but of equal importance,
that we should believe in Him as our only Saviour, trust Him as our only hope, and only then
will we be able to be obedient to His will. The message? It is not possible to obey God unless
we first believe and trust in His Son, regardless of the circumstances. One of the great problems why Christianity is failing to impact the lives of many people around us , is that fact that too many of us are trying to be obedient, to live a Christian life, and to witness to others, ( and failing, thus resulting in a dilution of the witness of the church, at best, and ridicule at worse) without a complete trust in the power of Christ to change our lives. " My hope to follow
duly, is in thy strength alone".
Two passages of Scripture to which the Lord led me helps us to appreciate this truth.
One from the great chapter of faith in the book of Hebrews.

" And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him,
must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him"
Hebrews 11:6 NIV

And the other a lesson in perseverance found in the gospel lesson appointed for today in my church.

".....A Canaanite woman ( an outsider to the Jewish faith) from that vicinity came to him, crying out, Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering from demon-possession.
........He answered, I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.
The woman came and knelt down before him. Lord help me! She said. He replied, It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.
Yes Lord, she said, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.
The Jesus answered, Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted. And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Matthew 15: 21-28
Whatever the complete understanding of this passage may be, for me, and I think for this nation, the important message is that we must persevere in praying ( O let me hear thee speaking) regardless of what God may appear to be saying to us about the crime and violence.
We are all dying, sadly for some very literally, and also metaphorically, for the murders to stop. Just this week the headlines in one newspaper " screamed" - Merciless! As gunmen killed three persons on one street. One of whom was a young girl who had just given birth to a baby.
So it would appear that God is not listening. But He is, and we must exercise the same faith that this non -Jewish woman demonstrated and was duly rewarded. How much more should we who
know Christ, trust Him.
The world is being powerfully influenced by Jamaican music, Jamaican food and Jamaican sportsmen and women. But all of that cannot help when people are in a crisis. When a relative develops HIV/AIDS; when a child gets caught up with gangs and becomes a murderer;
when marriages and relationships fail; when drug abuse threatens to destroy an individual and a family; when news of a terminal illness comes, or sudden death of a loved on; when the sexual orientation of a husband or wife or child is finally revealed; when sexual temptations of fornication and extra-marital affairs rise up; when family homes are threatened with foreclosure; when jobs are lost and there is no income. And when a child is demon-possessed people need to know how to turn to the One True Almighty God, as manifested in and through Christ Jesus. Olympics will come go, and so will the joy of the gold medals, but troubles, which are always with us, don't set like rain or storm, as often there is no warning. We who claim Christ, ought to encourage
others who don't, by our faith and our actions, just like the Canaanite woman, to trust Him, even in the most difficult times- and to persevere. This instruction is conveyed in a meditation
from a book which I use before retiring at nights;


Why are ye so fearful, O ye of little faith? AUGUST 12
Matthew 8:26

When we are in fear we can do nothing less than pray to God, but our Lord has a right to expect that those who name His Name should have an understanding confidence in Him. God expects His children to be so confident in Him in any crisis that they are the reliable ones. Our trust is in God up to a certain point, then we go back to the elementary panic prayers of those who do not know God. We get to our wit's end, showing that we have not the lightest confidence in Him and His government of the world; He seems to be asleep, and we see nothing but breakers ahead.
" O ye of little faith"! What a pang must have shot through the disciples----" Missed it again!"
And what a pang will go through us when we suddenly realize that we might have produced downright joy in the heart of Jesus by remaining absolutely confident in Him, no matter what was ahead.
There are stages in life when there is no storm, no crisis, when we do our human best; it is when a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we relay. If we have been learning to worship God and to trust Him, the crisis will reveal that we will go to the breaking point and not break our confidence in Him................
In a reply to a friend who asked today, what makes Jamaica, a small country, produce such outstanding athletes, among other things, I mentioned our " can do " attitude.
That, as a people, we are blessed with self-confidence and unafraid of anyone - sometimes too much so for our own good. And that a school motto of one of our prominent high schools, sums it all up. Fortis cadere non-protest - the brave may fall but never yield. Further, that is why Asafa is such an enigma and a disappointment, as we Jamaicans thrive under pressure - like Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser. The question we must answer as Christians, is why we are so confident
in our own abilities, but so lacking in faith in an Almighty God - who has demonstrated His power and His love for us, again and again, day by day and throughout history and even more so, on the Cross of Calvary. How can we sing the popular song : "God is so good to me,
how can I let Him down, how can I let Him down." And then turn around and do just that, by not trusting in Him in every situation.
So as we continue celebrate the performance of our athletes in Beijing, let us remember the message from the Lord - that we are helpless and weak, fearful and of little faith,
all because we have not placed our entire trust in the saving Grace of His Son. Because
the Name of the Lord Jesus is not constantly on our lips - asking for mercy.
So this week let us promise and ask the Lord Jesus for Grace, to follow Him to the end.