One minute she was sitting there playing with the children, "getting in the Spirit", in response to the service held by the Itinerant preacher - and she herself was a pastor - and a few minutes later she collapsed and was rushed to the local hospital where she was pronounced dead. It was the second time that morning, within a few minutes, that someone had collapsed in my office. Fortunately the first event had a different result, although at the time I feared the worst. The message for me - all week long? Life, on this side of heaven, is a very tenuous affair indeed, and not to be taken for granted.
So, one day all the hype about the US presidential elections will end. Hopefully Obama will prevail, but his tenure and influence on this world, whatever may be the hopes and aspirations of many, will end one day. So too the most wonderful thing in this world - to be young and in love, or even to be middle aged or old and in love. One day that glorious romance will come to an end. So too, all the great achievements to which one can aspire - a dedicated journalist or lawyer, committed to revealing the truth, defending democracy, fighting injustice, and sharing useful information; a committed social worker; the best teacher in the world; a great mother; a father who is there for his family; the most creative and highly acclaimed artist, a caring physician; a politician who made a difference; a really great artisan; a highly respected and well loved manager; a successful businessperson...... Nothing on this good earth will last forever.
So what did the Lord who not only walks beside, but more importantly, goes ahead of us, each day, reveal to and through his servant during this week, when being ahead of us He would have known about this impending sudden death, and thus prepared us.
First and foremost, before the sudden death of this lady, I was led to reflect on passages from one of the most important books in the Bible - 2 Corinthians. And as I spent time meditating deeply on sections of this profound book, I recalled my former spiritual mentor, of blessed memory, Bishop Herman Spence telling me about an invitation to preach for a week long stint in the Bahamas, and how he decided to spend the time expounding on this book. The verse which first struck me was:
" So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal". 2 Cor. 6:18 NIV
The point here is that for far too many of us, even we who claim Christ, the joys and sorrows and challenges and aspirations of this life consume our time, energies, money and emotions. As if this life is all that there is. So we get upset easily, get depressed without struggling, set earthly targets for our lives, and spend out time worry about every imaginable thing as if we do not have a Father in heaven and therefore our lives are subject to the "ordinary forces" of this world.
So I spent some time this week asking the Lord to give me the inner strength, to " fix my eyes" on the unseen, the eternal, and not just the visible and and temporary - as important as they may be. And the joy of this approach to life was very liberating indeed - even though it is a struggle as Satan tries to keep you captured by " the tyranny of the immediate".
The second passage was equally profound and even a bit disturbing - and I have been reading this section of the Bible for years without really coming to terms with the deeper meaning, and I am sure there is more to learn.
" We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed". 2 Cor. 6:10 NIV
Two points stayed in my mind. One that, like the lady who died, forever to this life, so are we called, in a spiritual sense, to die to self and live for Christ. That is basic Christianity. And if one is not prepared to undergo that experience, daily, but wishes to hold on to the " temporary and the seen", then there is no power, nothing of the life changing power of Christ in that person's life - no matter how often the church attendance, how much the giving of money, how long the prayers and how diligent the reading of scriptures. The other point is that, we are called to constantly " fix our eyes on the unseen" - only by those who choose not to believe - reality, of the Redemption wrought on the Cross of Calvary. As by, " carrying around", by constantly remembering and drawing on the power of the death of Christ to overcome sin and death, so will the life of Christ, with power, be revealed in our bodies. That is the only source of power to make a difference in this crazy world that believers have.
The final words from this chapter tell us even more about the "unseen power", that we have at work in our bodies, once we believe. I pray God that all of us will believe these things and so drastically alter our lifestyles, so that through us, the lives of unbelievers may be rescued, and even our own lives may be transformed. But there is a price to be paid.
" For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.....though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen......"
2. Cor. 6: 11-12& 16-17 NIV
Three other revelations/inspirations then followed in this theme of the unseen and eternal:
One was a reminder of a song.
As the deer pants for the water,
So my soul longs after you.
You alone are my heart's desire
And I long to worship You
You alone are my strength, my shield,
To you alone may my spirit yield
You alone are my heart's desire
And I long to worship You
The other a meditation from an old Saint found in the Classic Devotional Bible in which
the words " But thanks be to God, who always leads in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance and the knowledge of him" , appear.
Following which, and long ago I ceased believing in coincidence, I read this passage a couple night ago.
OSWALD CHAMBERS MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST OCTOBER 24
" Now thanks be to God who always causeth us to triumph in Christ"
2. Cor. 2:14
The viewpoint of a worker for God must not be as near the highest as he can get, it must be the highest. Be careful to maintain strenuously God's point of view, it has to be done every day, bit by bit; don't think on the finite ( the temporary - my words). No outside power can touch the viewpoint.
The viewpoint to maintain is that we are here for one purpose only - to be captives in the train of Christ's triumph. We are not in God's showroom, we are here to exhibit one thing - the absolute captivity of our lives to Jesus Christ. How small the other points of view are - I am standing alone battling for Jesus; I have to maintain the cause of Christ and hold this fort for Him. Paul says - I am in the train of a conqueror, and it does not matter what the difficulties are, I am always led in triumph. Is this idea being worked out practically in us? Paul's joy was to be a captive of the Lord, he had no other interest in heaven or in earth. it is a shameful thing for a Christian to talk about getting the victory. The Victor ought to have got us so completely that it is His victory all the time, and we are more than conquerors through Him.
" For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ." We are enwheeled with the odour of Jesus, and where we go we are a wonderful refreshment to God
Finally after reading this passage I was led to reflect on another passage which places the entire message this week into proper perspective and why it is so important for us to spend time listening to what God is revealing to us through events and by His Holy Word, and inspired words.
I even, early this morning , when I read it, send out the message by text to all the pastors in my telephone directory on my cell phone.
" For I am resolved to know nothing while I am with except Jesus Christ and him crucified....My message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words...so that your faith may not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power"
1 Cor. 2:2-5 NIV
I pray God that we will all reflect on these things, so that by being determined to know nothing else but " Christ crucified", by carrying around the death of Christ in our bodies, by fixing our eyes on the unseen and eternal, God 's power may flow through us to to others , and bring peace to this mad country of Jamaica, where sudden death from the gun or from motor vehicle crashes, not natural causes, have unleashed untold terror and grief in our communities. And which power to change things does not come from Obama or any wise man, but from God Himself at work in our mortal bodies. Amen