Sunday, September 21, 2008

Politics, Wall Street, Murder and Temptation: Thank God for the Lord's Prayer. " Lead us not into temptation"

Is there any limit to the kind of evil that man is capable of doing? We in Jamaica came face to face with that question this past week. And many others continue to do so around the world. Not being satisfied with "ordinary" murder, which continues unabated in the land, a group of teenagers went a step further this week, and dismembered another teen, much to the horror
of the entire nation - and we are past being shocked easily, having, "walked in the shadow of death", for so long. And to add insult to injury, a rumour was spread that the boy had also been sodomised. So much so, that when the autopsy results were released, the father was quick to point out, almost in relief, that no such thing happened. But his son was still very dead!
And while the nation grieved, it also held its collective breath, as another youngster was reported missing and a massive manhunt was carried out searching for a little girl, eleven years old, who did not come from school. Sadly that situation which remains unchanged as I write. Then this week news broke of the massive bomb blast in The Marriott Hotel in Pakistan's capital city, killing scores of people, including a female security guard leaving behind four, now motherless children.

Certainly mankind has been faced with evil throughout our existence: the civil war in Rwanda;the Holocaust in Germany; the slave trade out of Africa; Apartheid in South Africa, to name a few. But why would teenagers, hack to death, with machetes, another teenager? Why do people abduct children and either kill, them or demand money in exchange for their lives? Why do fanatics main and kill innocent people in their quest for revenge or what they consider
" justice"?

Those are serious questions that as a nation and as a world we grapple with. But there are even more profound questions that we need to pose to ourselves. Are we capable of carrying out such heinous crimes? Do we have it within us to inflict such pain on another human being and his or her family, given the "right " circumstances? What makes us different? And are we that far removed when we hurt others with our deadly barbs, lies, malicious rumours, and snide remarks? Are we that different when we allow anger, bitterness, and a sense of vengeance to dominate our thoughts? Is there any less pain in the heart of wife or husband, when, after many years of conjugal bliss, unfaithfulness rudely - or some other activity which affects the relationship - interrupts the joy of marriage, because there is no physical abuse? Is 'consensual' sex with a young foolish, easily influenced and needy, teenager worse than rape? Is pornography a private matter or does it, " fly the gate and let in the pirates", in a home and in a community? Does internecine fighting and squabbles, name calling, the hurling of insults, the assassination of character, within and between political parties remain in that arena, or are there consequences for the wider society? Is there an element of greed in the meltdown of the US financial markets, and what does that say about how individual economic decisions can affect an entire nation and in fact the whole world? Finally as we reflect on these things, are thoughts, though unwelcome and unprovoked, and not acted upon, just as bad?
So, from whence cometh all this evil, which cannot be constrained, restrained or privatized, but works through every facet of life, once released, to affect the nation, the community, the homes, the mind with potential and very real, devastating consequences?
As these questions float into my mind, based on the events which took place locally and internationally this week, it cannot be a coincidence that the Lord provided a meditation on Temptation for my reflections and which answers, in some measure some of the questions posed.


" Lead us not into temptation". Luke 11:4

IN WORD Temptation is a struggle for all who have ever tried to live a godly life. Godliness doesn't come naturally to us, and we are constantly tempted with what does: ambition, lusts,
bad habits, self interest, conflicts and more. The natural self is much harder to live with once we have decided not to follow it anymore. It just won't go away. Most of us will go through stretches when we can successfully subdue it. But those stretches don't last. We give out, and the sinful nature is still there. All we have to do is let down our guard and relax for a minute, and it quickly reminds us of the old thing it offers us.
Much of " Christian living" literature tries to address this problem. We are encouraged to starve the sinful nature, ignore it, talk back to the devil who feeds it, beat it into submission, and more.
These can all be helpful and effective techniques. But there is another that should come before all of them. We should ask God to lead us away from tempting situations. We often determine to subdue the flesh and then live in a climate that cultivates it. We decide to abandon lust, but watch programmes that provoke it. We decide to break a habit of food or drink or other substance, but we do not rid our environment of that substance. We want to starve the flesh, but we don't really want to.

IN DEED Jesus gives us an acceptable - even commanded - model prayer. Ask God to lead you away from temptation. Cooperate with Him. Ask yourself why can you be so embracing of temptation and be so hesitant in faith, when it really should be the other way around. The deceitfulness of the sinful nature is subtle. The only effective counterattack is a firm " no" and an appeal for divine assistance. It's OK to ask for that; Jesus tells us to. Don't hide your temptations from the One who is glad to oppose them. Point them out and let Him steer you away.

As I reflected on the events of this week in church this morning, the joy of taking part in Holy Communion was very special. I pondered deeply on the fact that, in Christ Jesus, in the act of remembering His death and Resurrection, in taking part in His Body and His Blood, and in
" seeing Him face to face", in the Holy Sacrament, all of my sins, every single one of them, done or left undone, every action or every unwanted evil thought, was washed away. And further, because the Spirit of Christ is being formed in me, more and more each day, so too, the power to resist temptation. It was a very liberating thought and I wondered, why were people so reluctant to enjoy this fellowship with Christ and so find rest for their souls, and escape from the evil which is so pervasive in the land and has the potential to lead one into all kind strange behaviour.
No doubt this is why the words from the following hymn came into my mind this week, and I had to Google it, as only the first line of the third verse came to mind.

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine forever.........

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me.
And on his shoulder gently laid,
And home rejoicing brought me.....

The great reality of life is that though because of our sinful nature, foolish though we are, we continue to stray. But according to Jonah, in the OT reading for today, " God who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger an abounding in love, and who relent from sending calamity", is always calling us back to Himself in Christ Jesus to forgive us of our foolish ways. The sad thing in my view, is that so many people continue to resist opening themselves up to the God to whom "all hearts are open and all desires known". Who continue to resist the call to repentance, and through whom then, the evil that abounds in the land, continues to bring weeping and much pain, as sin is not a private matter, but one which wreaks havoc across the entire land. And if we as Christians have such a hard time dealing with the temptations caused by sin, how much more difficult it is when there is no God Almighty to rescue those who do not call upon His name in truth, and thus protect the land from it's consequences.
Let us then renew our efforts to be faithful in worship and in our private devotions so that the Christ Who is being formed in us more and more each day, will enable us to pray to the Father, to lead us away from temptation, and to share the good news with others, for the glory of God, and the rescue of our nation.
This is the essence of the message contained in verse in the Psalm for today and which struck me most forcibly. It is best read using the NIV:

" One generation will will commend your works to another".
Psalm 145: 4