Sunday, December 27, 2009

O hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing

Not even the news of an American Airlines plane crashing in Jamaica before, or an attempted terrorist attack on another plane on the same day, affected our Christmas spirit here in Miami. Forty two of us, yes 42, gathered for the traditional Christmas dinner. Some flew down from Toronto, while others came by car; some from Connecticut, and others from Maryland, fleeing the stormy weather; some flew up from sunny Jamaica to chilly Miami; others had but to drive a few miles. Some came for a few days and are back home already; others will stay for a while. We ate the traditional ham and others delicious fare; we drank the sorrel - virgin and alcoholic; then came the desert and finally the-must-play- a -game- of -kallooki, which went on until two am. So we, blood relatives, in laws, close friends, neighbours drawn together to celebrate birth of the Christ child, met and had a wonderful time. Thanks be to God.

But in the midst of the celebration, safe in the bosom of my family and encircled by friends, two verses of Scripture posed a question which, I suppose, has haunted the minds of so many people over the years, and which caused my amazement in my own mind. How could they? How could we? How come it is so easy to recognize our relatives and friends and to love them and and spend quality time with them, and yet fail to recognize our Maker. I have been in deep and persistent intercession for people who I know, but who do not know the Lord in a personal capacity as Redeemer and King, and I wonder why. Why it is so hard for them to submit to the One who loves them so much - even unto death on a Cross?

" He was in the world and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him". John 1:10-11. NIV

Here was the Creator of heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in it, coming to earth in human form - incarnate - and yet they rejected him, and continue to reject him to this very day.

Why? How can one not recognize and receive the One who made us

One meditation that I read this past week, in terms of an answer to the question, struck me very forcibly and also the words attributed to Edmund Sears , " O hush the noise ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing". No doubt we have not recognized the God-Man Christ partly because we have not been listening carefully enough to the Word of God, but have fallen prey to the " noises" of this world - and they are so many distractions, within and without. But they is more.


" Do not suppose that I Have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." Matt. 10:34

IN WORD Isaiah prophesied about the coming " Prince of Peace" (9;6). The angels declared peace on earth in Luke 2:14 as they announced the coming Lord. But Jesus had a different declaration. He will be the source of much division on earth. They will draw swords against each other in heated conflict over His claims. The fact of His cross and resurrection would become history's greatest scandal. When persecution comes , friends and family members will turn each other in. And when judgement comes, He will be the dividing line by which families and nations are split..............

So the answer lies in the stubborness of the human heart, and not so much that they cannot see, but they refuse to see. And therein bring the sword and judgement on their own heads.

The refusal, the rejection was on the songwriter's heart when he penned the following words and on which I was led to reflect this week.

Thou didst leave Thy throine and Thy kingly crown

When Thou camest to earth for me .

But in Bethelehem's home was there found no room

For thy Holy Nativity

O come to me heart Lord Jesus

There is room in my heart for Thee.......

Thou camest O Lord with the living word

That should set Thy people free

But with mocking scorn and a crown of thorns

They bore Thee to Calvary

O come........

Finally the Lord validated his message the rejection of His Son by mankind, with some words from 2 Corinthians

" Therefore since through God's mercy we have this ministry ( a new covenant) , we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by settting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot the light of the gospel of of the glory Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants for Jesus' sake. For God who said, " Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2Cor.4:1-6

So the Lord is saying that we should respond to this incredulous situation, where men and women have rejected Jesus, not by losing hope, but instead by being bold, as all of this has been prohesied by God's word. Further, our responsibility is to preach the gospel without deception or distortion, and to focus on Christ and not ourselves, and so " commend ourselves to every man's conscience". Part of the problem, and a big part too, is that we try too hard, because the need is so great and people are so stubborn and time is so short. Forgeting that " salvation" is God'd idea not ours. We are to called to preach and to live the gospel with patience and integrity. And the more we carry out that task faithfully and live a repentant life, then God Himself will use our efforts for His glory and His honor. So for the New Year, let us pledge to

" O hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing", about the glory of God as revealed in and through Jesus Christ - the Prince of Peace.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas and true peace

The big news for me, at one level, this week, was the huge tax package announced by the government. No doubt influenced by our need to return to a borrowing relationship with the IMF on account of devastation that the world recession has had on our fragile and open economy. However, regardless of the cause, folks are angry one the one hand, and bemused on the other. Was there no alternative to yet another hike in the gas tax? How could they tax basic food items, including vegetables? How are we going to pay the light bill which is now subject to GCT? Why didn't they place a one off tax on the banks, some which made huge and unexpected profits this year ? The basic truth is that, as a nation we have been living above our means for many years and have accumulated a huge debt and now the " chickens have come home to roost", and it has taken a IMF rescue plan to wake us up to reality. But that is only one side of the story. What has happened to all this money that we have borrowed over the years? Who has benefited? Why are the poor being asked to bear the brunt of this " wake up call"? Why have successive governments and leaders been so ineffective in charting a path to create wealth for our country which once enjoyed a relatively high standard of living and a position of some eminence in the world compared to our situation of misery? How much has corruption in high places accounted for our dire economic and social situation?No doubt everyone will have his or her own answer to these and other equally disturbing questions, but as I ponder on them from distance among family in Miami where I have come to spend the Christmas holidays, there is yet another, and more important question we have to face. What is the Lord's will in all of this? Are these things taking place only by chance or for solely secular reasons? In this season of " God doing the impossible" in and through Mary, and of angels bearing good news about the Christ child, what does the God of all Creation, of Israel, of the USA and of my country Jamaica and the entire world have to say about our situation? And the God who is always ahead of us provided a startling, to some, but a continued, warning to to others, in a Psalm I read this week - the one following the Psalm appointed for this week in my church. Actually Psalm 80 has some very direct words for us too, but I was more struck by those in Psalm 81." Hear O my people, and I will warn youif you would but listen to me, O Israel!You shall have no foreign god among you;you shall not bow down to an alien god.I am the Lord your God,who brought you out of Egypt.Open wide and I will fill it.But my people will not listen to me;Israel will not submit to me.So I gave them over to their stubborn heartsto follow their own devices.If my people would but listen to me,if Israel would follow my ways,how quickly would I subdue their enemiesand turn my hand against their foes......Psalm 81:8-13 NIVThere are three issues here; is Jamaica special to the Lord and where is the evidence for it? Further, is it anymore special than any other nation? And finally, despite the many and varied hardships that we are encountering, has God really " ...given us over" ? The answers to them and many other profound and simple questions in life are to be found in the ultimate objective of the Christmas story....." For God so loved the that we should not perish but have everlasting life" - John 3:16 the most popular verse in the Bible. The evidence for the special love the God has for all mankind, ans His provision for our " rescue", is the sacrificial death that the Christ child, now a fully grown Man, and fully God, died on the Cross of Calvary.
There are many hymns that attest to the sufficiency of the blood of Christ, but the following one, and not by chance, helped me a lot in my devotions this week.
Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
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.....

The reality is that though Jamaica has some peculiar problems, and many leaders in various spheres of life, and perhaps those in politics given their power and hence responsibility have more to bear, have a lot for which to answer, but nations all over the world are in turmoil. From America, to the EU, to Russia, to Pakistan, to Japan, to South Africa, to Palestine. All on account of sin, and the alien gods that they have erected in place of the " living God of Jacob, of Moses, of David - who wrote many of the Psalms - of Mary, of John the Baptist and of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our case many, especially the young, had placed their hopes in the Prime Minister Golding. As many others, throughout the years, for different reasons, had placed their hopes in their favourite politician. Joshua, Uncle Eddie, Sister P, Busta, Manley and now "the driva". So Americans, and by extension, the " free world", should be warned against placing too much hope in Obama, and equally so the Russians about Medeyev and Putin.This is the essence of the message of Christmas to the politically correct, " Happy Holidays" world. That, only in and through Christ will there ever be lasting peace in this world, and more importantly, in the next.So let us all dry our tears, shed our fears, and follow the advice of the hymnwriter and focus on the sufficiency of the " Blood of Jesus", and spread the good news far and wide, to Prime Ministers and ordinary citizens alike, that Jesus is the answer to every problem known to man, and even for those that we do not yet know about. For only He can do the impossible, and of which supernatural dose, my debt burdened, "shotta" ( murderers) infested, country is desperately in need of right now.

Therefore, on the basis on the Redemption wrought by the Blood of the Christ child :

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......this Christmas, and every day, in Jamaica,in the Caribbean, in America, in Canada, in the UK, in Nigeria, in Singapore, in Russia, in Chile, in Costa Rica, in Uruguay, in ........we all come.

I pray God that we shall all celebrate the birth of the Christ child this week Friday, in the full knowledge that it is only on the basis of His shed Blood on the Cross of Calvary, which followed His birth in Bethlehem, that sinful and disobedient mankind can escape the wrath of the living God and find true merriment and true peace in this troubled world. Merry Christmas to you all.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas, only the beginning, not the end

It just got worse and worse. The Tiger Woods story. What a shocker! I really did not get too deep into the stories as I thought this was just another case of a sporting icon whom we have come to realize has - as many others have shown before him - " feet of clay". And is very mortal and subject to the same temptations that all mankind struggles with. But man, this guy almost sounds like a pervert. At least based on the media reports so far, and many may be
" jazzed up" to help promote sales. When you stop to think however, this kind of ( precipitous) fall from grace has been the lot of so many high profile persons when the deeds of darkness are brought into the light. So why are we surprised!
The same mad virus of evil, a different strain but equally virulent , has afflicted many of the youths in my country. This week some of them shot to death an elderly couple who I met recently. Just today, another one disguised as a driver of a minibus transporting unsuspecting passengers, tried to run a red light and smashed into a car in a filter lane, resulting in one of his passengers dying - 200 yards from where another two drivers of the same mode of transport, and afflicted with the same madness, smashed into each other two weeks ago. The result? Three dead the same night, and over time. To date, the count has risen to seven. So whether it is sex, or murder or mad driving or abusive behaviour on account of drug use, greed for money and power as we know only too well in Jamaica and in New York, there are so many kinds of evil just waiting to enter and express itself in our brothers and sisters, our sporting and entertainment icons and our leaders. So what does all of this have to do with Christmas? Everything as the babe in a manager came to die - for the sin of all mankind. Those of Tiger Woods, of Magic Johnson, of Michael Jordan, of Charles " locked up in prison " Barkley, of Andre " drug user" Agassi, of Serena " meltdown" Williams, of Flo Jo, of " hands of god" Maradonna, of the " shottas " in Jamaica - the gunmen - of the mad minibus drivers, of Buju Banton, of Bob Marley, of " gully " Mavado, of " gaza Vibes Kartel, of Norman Manley, of Alexander Bustamante of Michael Manley, of Edward George Seaga ( four of our former political leaders). And less we forget for my sins and yours.
As the Bible declares that " all of sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" And further that,
" the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus". That's why the warning in the epistle of John is so important, " If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is far from us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:8-9. NIV

So Christmas came, not just because God so loved the world and desires peace for all mankind - that's the first part. But more importantly Jesus came because of how God views sin.
That's the dramatic message in a meditation I read this week which, if I had forgotten why, I will forget no more.


" My God, my God why have you forgotten me"?

IN WORD Are you aware that every crack of the whip on Jesus' back, every thorn piercing His scalp, every stroke of the hammer and thrust of the spear is what god thought about our sin? Have you considered that every time Jesus struggled to breathe, cried out in thirst, tried to heave His body up against the pull of gravity, it was punishment deserved. Not by Him, of course. By us.
Does that sound harsh? Surely we aren't all that bad, are we ? We're human of course, and therefore imperfect; but do we really deserve such punishment?
According to the Bible we do. And if we really think about it, as well intentioned as we assume we are, we can all recall times when we have shunned the personality of the Holy for something that utterly violated it. On purpose. What cosmic treachery! We are foolish if we think it was just an innocent mistake and that God will overlook it. Look ( beyond Christmas) at the Cross to see what God thought about it.
Jesus knew the answer to His question in verse 34, even as He asked it. He was not seeking the divine reason behind His suffering; he was pointing us to it. The quoted psalm that begins with this cry of anguish ( Psalm 22) speaks of God's deliverance of all His people. That's the answer. He was forsaken so that we wouldn't be.

IN DEED " God man him who had no sin to be sin for us" ( 2 Corinthians 5:21). Whenever your faith grows apathetic, whenever our sense of His grace grows dim, whenever your mercy towards others finds its limits, think of what of that. Contemplate the staggering absurdity of the infinitely Holy suffering the consequences for those who rejected His holiness. Let your cry become " My God, why haven't You forsaken me?" and be grateful. let His grace amaze you and prompt your zealous, passionate worship.

The reality is that unless we love Jesus for reasons as expressed above, Christmas will only be an opportunity to share with family and friends, to be extra nice to those in great need, and to dress up and go to church. Unless we too declare " My God, my God, why have I forsaken You" and allow the writer of Psalm 51 to speak to us deep in our hearts and then elicit the response:
" Against you, you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight....psalm 51:4 NIV
then Christmas will have no deep and sustained meaning for us. We all need to pray that the advice of Oswald Chambers in a meditation from which I was led to write a text message and send out, becomes our experience this Christmas as the Christ child comes to us again.

....The entrance into the kingdom (of God) is through the panging pains of repentance crashing into a man's respectable goodness; then the Holy Spirit, Who produces these agonies, begins the formation of the Son of God in the life...
So as we remember and pray for Tiger Woods and the wicked gunmen in Jamaica, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq and all others afflicted by the virus of sin, including ourselves, let us this Christmas remember in the words of one of our leading gospel singers that " This island needs Jesus". So does Tiger Woods and all unredeemed mankind whose public and once exclusively private sins provoke so much outrage. And the Blood of Jesus is sufficient to cleanse us from all our sins known to others and known only to God. So thank God for Christmas. Thank God for Jesus. Bless Jesus for Good Friday and thank God for Easter. All because of Christmas.
What's the best gift then that we can pray for others? That the panging pains of repentance may come crashing into his or her respectable goodness. Amen

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A second Christmas message - Thank God for Jesus

This week was not a good one for me. A terrible motor vehicle crash in the northern part of my country resulted in multiple deaths, including two promising youngsters from an inner city neighbourhood. As I read the story my heart went out to the mother who must have tried so hard against difficult odds, to bring up her children to be achievers rather than the regular drop outs which sadly is often the case in that kind of circumstance. And those of us who are involved in promoting road safety, had to be scrambling trying to get the nation back on track to avoid more carnage, especially during the Christmas holidays. Also having just visited Russia, one cannot help but identify with the continued trials they are having, with so many dying in a night club this week. And the continued slaughtering of human beings continues unabated in Pakistan, in Somalia , and certainly in my country, is so distressing. Equally distressing this week was the revelation of corrupt cops caught providing security for known criminals and getting involved a fire fights in one rural area.

However, thank God, in the midst of this pathos, and madness, my West Indies cricket team, the performance of which, in recent times, has been quite embarrassing, turned in an encouraging performance against the redoubtable Aussies, and hopefully something better is just around the corner. Plus it is just very difficult to remain sad - even though some do because death or some other major issue bring back sad memories - as the Christmas season of joy and good will to all mankind comes to us with a rush. Christmas carols gives one such a emotional lift, as do the lights and the vibes, and yes the shopping for gifts, and the plans to be with family and friends. Christmas in Jamaica is just so special.

Then this morning, and during the week, the Lord sent a message to us and all mankind. The one this morning at church was very special. We celebrated as a church family, the witness of our patron Saint Andrew as in " St. Andrew Parish Church". The pastor reminded us of the turning point of Andrew's life, as he and another un-named disciple, were originally disciples of John the Baptist..." and then they saw Jesus". In the sense John's Gospel records in chap 1:36..." When he ( John) saw Jesus passing by, he said , ' Look the Lamb of God". And later on Jesus saw them following ans asked them what did they want, to which they asked him where was he staying. An answer which was followed by an encouragement to come and see. After which encounter, their lives were never the same again. So Rev. Franklyn Jackson, using the encounter as a point of departure, told us that we are to follow in the footsteps of Andrew and:

1. ...make Jesus the focus of our lives. Fix our eyes on Him...not on the pastor or by extension the Bishop. And therefore our attendance at church, our involvement in the life and witness of the church, our sharing of our time and money and talent, must be because of our love for Jesus. And not be given or withheld, because we like or dislike the Pastor. A very profound statement in light of how many of us are so easily upset with " fragile human beings" and thus lose our focus and withdraw our support for the church, or give that support commensurate with our love for the pastor.

2... not just see Jesus but stay with Him. And appreciate that Jesus is our forever friend and will never leave us or forsake us. Any leaving, is caused by us going on a different path and not the Lord going away.

3....not only to stay with Jesus, but to spend time with Him and to learn from Him. Spend time in the word. Spend time in prayer. Prioritise our lives to make time spent with Jesus the number one priority.

4..finally having come to Jesus, having fixed our eyes on Him having stayed with Him and learnt from Him, it is time to go out, like Andrew did and tell others about the Lord. Spread the Gospel. Engage in serious and personal evangelism. He even went on to suggest that my Church, situated in the middle of the capital city, could become the leading center for evangelism in this region. A very serious challenge to consider. Why evangelism? The Pastor made a very telling point. Among other things...inter alia.... Christmas will never come again, but advent, the heralding of the second and final coming of our Lord, to judge all mankind, will one day come again. So our job is to focus on advent and warn people to repent rather than place all our focus on Christmas.

This kind of call for action, especially at Christmas, having placed Advent and Christmas in the right perspective, is so timely for those of us who are wondering how will our country ever be rescued from the violence, the carelessness, the rampant immorality and the hopelessness which are so much a feature of everyday life in my country and in many parts of the world.

Secondly, the Lord, pointed out in a very deep meditation, that despite all the problems that we face, He is an Almighty God, and His supernatural powers are available to us who have faith and willingly give thanks to Him in all things.


" How many loaves do you have?" Mark 6:38

IN WORD It is a common human tendency to focus on what we lack. Whether we are looking at possessions or problems, we usually zero in on the downside and try to figure out what to do about it. We may have most of what we need towards a certain expense or be mostly pleased with a project. But that's not what we usually see. We ignore the ' most' and focus on the little bit that still needs fixing. Our dissatisfaction and want loom larger to us than all that God has already provided. We grow quite discontent with just a small element of imperfection. The glass for most of us is always half - or even only 10 percent - empty.

Jesus did not look at his circumstances this way, and he did not teach His disciples to do so either. He knew what he ha already been given, and He knew the God who promised to supply all our needs. When five thousand men and their families needed feeding, Jesus counted a small handful of fish and loaves - and gave thanks! He took what they had in hand and looked to heaven (41). And instead of focusing on the five thousand men and their families for whom there was mo available food, Jesus gave thanks for what they had. it wasn't much, but it was what God had provided. And God never falls short of meeting a need.

IN DEED Could it be that we often miss out on God;s supply because we focus so much on the need and so little on the what he has already given? Has Jesus given us a lesson here in praying for provision? There was no pleading, no reminding God of how many people are hungry or how little food there is, no prayers of anguish for the provision Jesus hoped would come but suspected might not. Jesus went through none of these rituals we go through when we see a great nee and a lack of resources. Resources are never insufficient when God is involved. So Jesus gave thanks. And the text is succinct and understated as it tells us in verse 42: " They all ate and were satisfied".

Could it be that we are missing the connection between the Pastor's challenge to focus on Jesus, and the challenge in the meditation to do the very same thing - at all times, but particularly so in times of need when the resources are seemingly insufficient. The fact is that on that first Christmas, God provided all the resources that we would ever need to live an abundant life in this universe. As with Jesus' subsequent death and resurrection, came the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who fear God, and believe in the sufficiency of the shed Blood of His Son. We need therefore to develop an attitude of thanksgiving at all times in all situations - whether seemingly insurmountable violence, challenging economic situations, difficult to change human behaviour on our roads, painful and distressing immorality in the nation - sex in basic schools is really the pits, especially when a mother, in response, and she is by no means peculiar, is reported to have said that : " dat a natural someting".

And an attitude of thanksgiving will always lead to praise, and so I spent some time this week meditating on, and accepting the words and thoughts expressed in one of my favourite hymns.

And found much peace, that comes with a true understanding of Christmas, in all of these messages. May you too find God's peace in this message and share it with others who are so desperately in need - the anxious parent, the nervous worker, the confused wife, those inflicted with a terminal illness, the hopeless youngster, the grieving family, the downcast leader, and the persecuted Christian.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation;

O my soul praise him who is thy health and salvation:

All ye who hear,

Now to his temple draw near,

Joining in glad adoration

Praise to the Lord, who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth,

Shieldeth thee gently from harm and when fainting sustaineth:

Has thou not seen

How they heart wishes have been granted in what he ordaineth?

Praise to the Lord who dost prosper thy work and defend thee;

Surely his goodness and mercy daily attend thee:

Ponder anew

What the Almighty can do,

If to the end he befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him,

All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before him!

Let the Amen

Sound from his people again:

Gladly for ay we adore him.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Mystery of Christmas explained: My grace is sufficient for you

So many thoughts competed for attention in my mind this week. The sheer joy of being home after a long journey and to be reunited with loved ones. The deep gratitude to the Father for protection going and coming - so many times each day I prayed to the Lord in the words of the Psalmist: " Keep me safe O God; for in you I have taken refuge". Psalm 16:1 NIV. Offering up many prayers " pleading the Blood of Jesus" against all kinds of evil - inside and outside. The stark reality of the level of violence worldwide, and in particular in the country where a few days ago I spent some time - as I listened to BBC and viewed the video scenes of the blast that killed many persons on that train on its way from Moscow to St. Petersberg. In fact I recalled a colleague who visited Moscow some time before I did , telling me of his traveling on that very train to Russia's second largest city. The brutish life in the ghetto where my church has had a presence for over thirty years, and which ministry is now being threatened by the mass migration of many of the residents for fear of their lives as gunmen wreaked havoc in the community. And, further, in the very same community, coming face to face with the harshness of life at another level, when I encountered a 14 year old teenager, attending a prominent high school, and now pregnant for the second time and facing the wrath of an irate mother. I wondered if she had been born under different circumstances, perhaps her life would have been less tempestuous.
Maybe. Just maybe. But who knows! And then the disappointment and the angst of facing another year when our death rate on the roads will almost exceed the target of below 300 we had set and expended all our energies to achieve, in order to prevent more grief and pain - there is already too much from homicides - in the homes of our people.
But then this morning again there was sheer joy. As one is not really back home until we find ourselves in the house of the Lord on a Sunday morning. So I rejoiced. And rejoiced even more when I heard the carols over the airways this evening, as although Lent/Good Friday/Easter is the most solemn season for Christians, for me Christmas is the happiest time of all.
So what did lessons did I learn from the Lord in all my travels , reflections and rejoicing? The single most important fact of the Christmas story - God became a little child, and " emptied himself of all but love", in order to save mankind from sin and death. God made Himself vulnerable, and as the Scriptures reveal in the well known and loved passage in Philippians 2:6-11 NIV;

Your attitude should be the same as Jesus:
Who being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness,
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death -
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

It it the great mystery of the world and that's why the song writer could exult in the famous words:

Amazing love, how can it be
That God, my God shouldst die for me

And later, the same writer wrote;

It's mystery all, immense and free
But O my God it found out me.....

Why should God of all Creation humble Himself in this fashion? Another hymn writer no doubt moved by the same mysteriousness of God, and perhaps seeking to answer this very question penned the following lines in the well known and beautiful hymn, " My God how wonderful thou art";
But I may love Thee too O Lord
Almighty as Thou art
For Thou hast stooped to ask of me
The Love of my poor heart

But the Lord did not stop there. This week I was led, again, and this time with a more profound understanding, to learn precisely how the Lord intends for us to live a life which reflects this
" upside down approach to power". How He expects us to empty ourselves so that He may fill us with His power, and in the same way that Christ was raised up in the highest place, we too, in Christ, may live a resurrected life. The opening words may be well known to many, but not many, or not enough of us pay attention to the thoughts of St. Paul that follow the Lord's mysterious instructions:

" To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from em. But he said to me, " My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness". ( Most of us stop there ) Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why , for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong"
2. Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV.

So which one of us can claim to " delight in weaknesses, in insults, in persecutions.....which one of us can, with all honesty, claim that " we will boast more gladly about our weaknesses? But this is precisely, according to the language on the street, " how the thing set up". This is how God in His mystery, has established His Kingdom. This is how Christ was raised from the dead - because He emptied Himself. And so must we, if we are to please God. So must we if we really hope to rescue young girls, living under harsh conditions, and lead them to a new life in Christ Jesus. So must we if we really hope to successfully beat back , by " pleading the Blood of Christ", the gun culture, not just the reality of gunmen, which has overtaken our country. So must we
" delight in persecutions and insults" so that God 's power may be made perfect in our weakness, so that our people may not die on in such great numbers on our roads and in our communities.
And so must we, across the world, in Moscow or in Seattle, in Afghanistan or in Pakistan, wherever violence rears its ugly head, for whatever reasons, so that out of our weakness, God's power may flow and bring true and lasting peace to a troubled world
The problem is that too many of us have been living " designer Christian lives"; lives which are far removed from the ruggedness and demands of the Holy Scriptures, but instead fashioned in the minds of " teachers" who tell us what we wish to hear. And yet still we hope for and expect to have the power of God work through us, or even worse, work for us!
At the same time, just to validate His message about humility, God led me to read a meditation, out of which I constructed the following text message and sent it off to many persons in my cell phonebook - some of whom have tremendous power and influence - one of whom responded appropriately. May the Lord bless him and his work.

" God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble". 1 Peter 5:5. " For those would learn God's ways, humility is the first thing, humility is the second, humility is the third." St. Augustine - a famous Bishop of the early church


"Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven".
Matthew 18:4

IN WORD Most cultures love their children. Few give them any respect or honor. We look down on them. It's a loving condescension of course, but it is a condescension nonetheless. Adults don't aspire to have the status of little children or strive for their accomplishments. We spend most of our childhood hoping to grow up so that we can do more and more. We spire to adulthood.
This may be normal human growth, but it runs contrary to the kingdom of God, at least in terms of spiritual development. Our bodies grow, our intellects accumulate knowledge, our talents are developed, and everything about us matures upward. But to mature spiritually, we must go in the opposite direction. We must intentionally avoid seeking status. We must not try to earn spiritual respect. True spiritual maturity and respect in the kingdom of God are issues of humility. And in order to have them, we must become like society's least impressive contributors - children

IN DEED Humans can be quite ambitious. We admire the drive when it comes to athletics, art, business and every other area of human achievement. We like the prestige and the honor that accomplishments bring us. But when we transfer such ambition to our spiritual life, it misses God's purpose for us. He did not make us to be spiritually independent. We are entirely dependent creatures, who must learn that the way to grow up is to go down ( as Jesus did words).
Have you learned that status in he kingdom of God is an inverted version of the status of the world? The first will be the last and the last first ( Matthew 20:16). Those who wish to rule must serve ( Matthew 20:26). And the greatest in the kingdom of heaven has aspired to the humility of ...well, just a child. It's a hard lesson to learn, but it's a solid principle. Aspire to greatness - the greatness of being discounted like a child. It's the way up in the kingdom.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

From Russia with love: From the Cross with Grace

Thousands of miles away from home, deep in the heart of the country of Lenin and Stalin and all the ghosts of World War 11; outside the frigid sub zero temperatures discouraged any prolonged touring, even of the famous Red Square; inside a huge World Trade Center filled with 1800 people and over 90 Ministers of Governments from all parts of the globe, where an imperial Russian President ( who delivered the opening speech long after the start ) breezed in and out , with nary a gesture nor hand shake to anyone and surrounded by a phalanx of body guards ; we gathered to strike a mighty blow against the devastating pandemic of road traffic injuries which has been claiming over 1.3 million lives every year and injuring over 50 million people. The numbers were just staggering and so was the very dramatic video featuring simulated, but threateningly real, crashes, which made one almost jump out of one’s seat. For me, at one level, this was the most significant feature of the week.
But at another level, a supernatural level, way above temperatures and potentates of any kind, high above the routes of transatlantic aircrafts, from there through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit the Lord God was at work. Firstly through His holy Word He reminded me that:
“ Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens you are there; if I make my bed in the depths you are there; if I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”. Psalm 139: 7-10 NIV.
Then from the Old Testament reading for the past week in my church after Daniel in a dream was told of terrifying things to come and the power of rulers of this age, a powerful reminder of who rules, who we can depend on, who is ever faith faithful in times of trouble and who really has authority in this world and that to come and who has neither any need for bodyguards nor has pyjamas, “neither slumbers nor sleeps”:
“After that in my terrifying vision at night, I looked and there before me was a fourth beast –terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth, it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts and it had ten horns. While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them, and three of the first three horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like that of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully. As I looked, ‘ thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of days took his place. Daniel 7: 7-9 NIV
As I write these words, thoughts come flooding into my non theologically trained mind and therefore not presuming to fully understanding these mysteries. Thoughts of the suffering of road traffic victims and the awful consequences of sudden and violent death, of lifelong disability, of families thrown into poverty, of countries spending significant parts of their GDP in response to the crashes thus retarding their development and diverting money from schools and better living conditions. Of thoughts of the suffering caused by wicked gunmen in my country who seem to be under no authority and free to cause mayhem and provoke pain, fear and grief in the hearts of many who cry out in their angst and bewilderment, “ where is the Lord, will he not put an end to this madness. Thoughts of boastful men and women of influence who claim that there is no God , who lead our young and even some older ones astray into immorality, idolatry and the pursuit of a lifestyle marked by lack of any constraint – anything goes – lack of any kind of self-control or self discipline and which inevitably leads in the long run and sometimes, painfully and dramatically and publicly, into shame and embarrassment. And so the Psalmist affirms as we too must do, even in the face of tremendous suffering and a deep pain about the ways of this world and the effects on families and individuals and nations,that:
“The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty, the Lord is robed in majesty and is armed with strength” Psalm 93:1.
So true to his word, the Lord was with me: in the meeting of young Russian woman who was a believer and who observed that though, since Perestroika Russians have been going back to church, but that they do so more as a result of fashion but not with any deep belief; in the meeting of a wonderful young woman paralysed in a crash where two others perished, and who is possessed of a wonderful spirit, and shared her story publicly with the conference delegates, and shared with me privately that she was a child of God and a Christian; in the realization that a dear friend and fellow worker in the struggle to reduce road traffic injuries, and who works with a major international corporation was also a believer; of the sharing with another, who approached me on account of this Internet Ministry which the Lord sends across the world, about deep struggles; of meeting two young and in love patients full of the zest of life who were very close to me and whom I had not seen for a long time ; of the goodness of God in so many big and small ways during our long trip, and even before the journey began. So we thank God and sing as I sang repeatedly to the members of my team: “ The Spirit of the Lord is on my soul, I will dance like David danced”.
Finally in the quietness of a hotel room far from home, on a Sunday morning when normally I would be preparing to attend church, but had to settle with personal devotions, The Holy One of Israel, The Ancient of Days, led me through a mediation on an encounter with Jesus which is the one which has touched my soul, outside of my Lord’s Passion, in the most profound way. The meditation is by Chris Tiegen and the verse is Luke 7:47, but the reflection would not make sense unless the entire short powerful story, which goes right to the heart of the Christian life, is recalled.
“ Now one of the Pharisees invited him to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s home and reclined at the table. When a woman who led a sinful life in that town heard that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house she bought an alabaster jar of perfume and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. The she wiped them her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘ If this man were a prophet he would know who was touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner. Jesus answered him, ‘ Simon I have something to tell you’. Tell me teacher he said. Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed a hundred denarii and the other fifty. Neither of them had money to lend to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more? Simon answered , I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled. You have judged correctly Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon. Do you see this woman? I came to your house. You did not give me any water for my feet but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time she entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not pour oil on my head but she poured perfume on my feet. Therefore I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.

The reason why my soul trembles with the reading of this story, every time I read it, and in particular ‘the washing of Jesus’ feet with tears and wiping with her hair’ demonstrates the over powering love that we should have for Him who died for our sins on the Cross of Calvary and by His precious Blood and sacrifice of His Body brought into the very presence of God. And as the hymn writer puts it: “ Love so amazing so divine, demands my life my soul my all”. Any other response like the fashion believers in Russia and elsewhere, means that “ your canceled debt is a small one”, does not reflect what took place on Calvary, and therefore so is your love is commensurately small. This is the thrust of the meditation by Tiegen and one that should be a wake up call for casual, or part time, or immature Christians whose love for Christ is not based on the Atonement for sin wrought on the Cross.
“ He who has been forgiven little, loves little”. Luke 7:47
IN WORD The greatest commandment of all , said Jesus is to love with everything we have and everything we have. We are to have passion for the Almighty that exceeds all other passions. It’s what we were created for. But here in the context of fallen humanity, Jesus lays down a principle about our love. It is contingent on the mercy that we have experienced. The fallen human heart does not love the holy heart of the divine unless mercy paves the way. And where love is faint, grace has been missed. Simon the Pharisee demonstrated little love for Jesus. Curiosity perhaps. Some level of hospitality, of course. But little love if any. What does this say about his understanding of God’s mercy? According to Jesus , it means that he has missed it. He doesn’t have a clue. He probably sees himself as right with God already. And he sees Jesus as a prophet, a teacher , a troublemaker who needs a good lecture and not One who takes away the sins of the world. He does not know Jesus’ forgiveness and he does not know his own need. And his love for Jesus – and for God – is miniscule.
IN DEED What about your love for God? Does it overflow with gratitude? Does it weep at His feet? If not go back to the Cross. Get a good understanding of what happened there. Contemplate the huge chasm of what once lay between the deadness of your spirit and the life of your God. Remember the cold rebellion – that chilling apathy towards your Creator - that we’ve all started out with. Understand that we were separated from any claim on His goodness. Everything that brought us back to Him was all grace – nothing else. Pure unbridled mercy. A love that knows no restraint and accepts no resistance.
Few people really understand God’s mercy. Become one of them. Know the magnitude of His grace. And let your love for Him reflect it.

So what did I learn this week and of what precious thoughts from the very mind of was I privileged to hear and to to be reminded ? That God is still in charge despite the many and exceedingly difficult challenges we face. That the Sovereign God rules even when circumstances seem out of control. That the Ancient of days has revealed the full extent of His love and His mercy for all who believe in the Atonement for sins that Jesus wrought on the Cross. That we are to love God in Christ Jesus as we have been forgiven much. That the Sovereign Lord is with us wherever we are and in whatever circumstances. That our response to all of this is gratitude and worship. With other believers in Church on a regular basis and love for suffering and fallen humanity. And so we sing with deep conviction and great love:
Your grace and mercy, brought me through. I’m living this day because of you. I want to thank you and praise your name. Your grace and mercy brought me through. Amen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

An early morning story

This past week one of the highlights was the televised execution by lethal injection of one of the now famous DC snipers – the other to our shame and disgrace being a Jamaican Thank God I was at work when it happened. How can something so gruesome as the death of another human being, regardless of the wrongs, nay heinous crimes he committed attract such public attention?
Another highlight was a video published on YouTube which featured a young Nigerian female author who spoke very passionately about the dangers of “ A single Story”. She went on to explain how single stories about Nigeria in particular and Africa in general, repeated over time has led to the formation of a stereotypical image of her country and continent as backward, full of poverty and desperate for rescue by the more “ advanced” countries. This view does not tell the other stories of a vibrant creative people, of poets and actors and film producers, of a beautiful country and a region filled with great natural resources on which the rest of the world depends.
As I reflected on this very powerful video, I wondered whether I too had been guilty of telling “a single story” about my country in this Internet Ministry with a particular focus on the crime and violence and rampant immorality in the nation. For if truth be told , Usain Bolt and Bob Marley aside, we too have a great number of creative , vibrant God fearing people who have helped to maintain us as a civilized and warm people despite the mayhem being created by others. So in addition to my “ single story”, contrary to the views of gay lobby groups in the USA in particular, not everybody in Jamaica wishes that any harm come to homosexuals. Contrary to the views of many who live in the rural areas of Jamaica, not everywhere in the capital Kingston is a haven for gunmen. Contrary to the views of many takshow hosts and the average Jamaican, the police force is not riddled with corrupt cops – no question that far too many are criminals but that’s not the only story. Contrary to the view of many Jamaicans perpetuated over the years, and no doubt aided and abetted by very high profile cases, not every politician is a thief and involved with criminals. And contrary to the views many of our people at home and abroad, Jamaica is not a “ basket case” which cannot never recover from its many social and economic ills.
However in the midst of this reflection, the Lord reminded me of the most important “single story”. First of all, the author of this story is God Himself as revealed in and through Christ Jesus.
“ Simon I have something to tell you”. Luke 7:40
IN WORD The King of the universe, the One by whom all things were created, has singled out a man – a simple, somewhat pretentious man – to whom to impart some eternal truth. What a privilege! A spoken word, straight from the mouth of God incarnate and into the ear of a lowly, corrupt human. What will Simon do with such a treasure? How will the divine revelation -- in his own home, nonetheless – forever change his life?
Scripture does not tell us the rest of Simon’s story, unfortunately. As with so many others Jesus encountered, we are left to wonder what happened in the end. What Simon do with this eternal word?
The question points to another aspect of divine revelation. Not only is it an awesome privilege to receive it; it is also an awesome responsibility. Woe to the one who hears divine counsel and does not respond appropriately. Did Simon? We don’t know. The issue is left hanging – just as it is with us.
IN DEED Have we also heard the eternal voice of our Savior? Has the divine counsel come down to us as well? Of course it has. It has been put on printed pages and more widely distributed than any other collection of words in the history of the world. For those who believe it , it is also accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit. But we mat nevertheless read this revelation as casually as Simon might have heard it.
We must constantly remind ourselves: What a privilege! We must also remind ourselves: What a responsibility! An eternal treasure has been given to us. The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, has pulled us aside, as He did with Simon, and whispered: “ I have something to tell you”. Only one response is appropriate: grateful worshipful obedience.
Jesus has a word for us. He has spoken. Has that really sunk in? Let it! Whatever He has said, He has trusted you with it. Worship and obey.

Secondly, God spoke about His Son. The only story of importance in this universe.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created : things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers, or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:15-20 NIV
Finally yesterday at church – I am writing this note in the wee hours of the morning, high up in the sky approaching London – we had a most wonderful service led by the young people. The singing, the playing of the instruments were of the highest quality and really transported one’s soul into the very presence of God. So too the sermon, shared by one of our youngsters who has a ministry to young boys in particular living in an inner city community near to the church. And I made notes. The context. The end of times and how we are to prepare to meet God.
My notes.
How do we prepare...step one ...get in the book of life. By baptism. Step two wise...look at your role model...gaza or gully ( there is a terrible competition between two rival dancehall artistes and who have large numbers of followers and which rivalry has become increasingly violent in recent times and attracted the much debate in the society) ...the way you live...keeping ourselves from sin...step a good role model...four ..stand side by side with those who are must persevere...happy are they who persevere....resist bad influences....O Lord you are my portion and my cup ....the most important step....six pray and go ur way...keep me safe O Lord for in you I have taken refuge

So we thank God that His story is the only real story worthwhile in life and that He did not keep it to Himself but has revealed it in and through His Son Jesus the Christ. I pray God that we who believe will in faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit help to change the prevailing pessimistic story , that the more things change, the more they remain the same and that “ nutten naw gwaan” and tell the story that in Christ Jesus “ God a gwaan” and is changing the lives of people all over the world. Even the Mohammeds and Malvos of this world.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Satan is a terrorist; he comes to kill. But the Blood of Jesus opens the door to the abundant life

It's not an easy thing to wake up in your community and find a dead body on the street and no one knows what happened. Sadly for many people who live in the inner cities in my country this is what life throws up every so often. And that's the less scary part. Many are witnesses to both criminals snuffing out the lives of fellow citizens and police carrying out extra judicial killings and are frightened out of their minds. Add to this people willing to do anything to make a quick buck, and who were caught selling cards to 'schoolers' this week with the pictures of a famous dance hall artist proclaiming that " mi murder people inna broad daylight". This is frightening stuff and part of the reason why one specialist on security matters and a former cop was heard on radio this week asserting the Jamaica has become a " crime factory". As when you feed this idea of violence to very impressionable children, then it is no surprise that this matter of murder is now a cultural issue and therefore not amenable to simple and simplistic solutions. And this cultural penetration and thus formation has been happening for years in front of our very eyes.

How does one respond then to a situation where over 1200 persons have been killed to date. And it appears that we are heading for the record breaking 1600 which happened a few years ago. Fire the top cop and appoint someone else! That's apparently where the government is headed. Give the job to the former head of a special squad who was known to drive the fear of death into the hearts of even the most hardened criminals, but who was also suspected, but never proven, of sanctioning extra-judicial killings! That's what he is asking for in the headlines of one of our daily newspapers. As a people we are becoming despondent, battle weary, even hopeless that things will change anytime soon.
Ans so in the midst of this confusion and hopelessness, for those who have ears to hear, the Lord sends a comforting Word. As I read the headlines this morning, featuring another one who wishes to be our saviour, the Word of God as written in the Psalm appointed for today in my church came flooding into my mind.

" Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed is he whose help is in the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea and everything in them --
the Lord who remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down....
Psalm 146: 3-8 NIV

And this message of "do not place your trust in mortal men" is at the heart of the next message from the Lord. For too long in my country we have sought " salvation" in our politicians, and if truth be told, they have encouraged it, in their quest for power. We once had a " Joshua" who strode like a Colossus across the nation and on the world's stage, and when he died, that very day, his plans came to nothing. At another time we had a " Deliverer" and when he demitted office on that very day his plans came to nothing. Next came the " Black (or was it Fresh) Prince", then " Mamma P" and when they left office, the result was the same. Now we have " the driva" who is having a hard time negotiating the journey. And if not our political leaders, we have sought " salvation" in various police squads, sundry intellectuals, controversial and divisive talk show hosts, and others. All to no avail as was the case in Cambodia, the "killing fields" continue to be washed with the blood of our people.
This was the situation with the children of Israel when the Word of God came to Elijah and the rain ceased and famine was upon the land, all because they were under a judgement from the Lord, having turned from the living God, Yahweh, and sought salvation from a foreign god, who was no God at all. So in 1Kings 17: 1-16 we read the story, which was the subject of a great sermon at my church today, of a time when " a jar of flour was never used up and a jug of oil never ran dry". All on account of the Word of God and the obedience and faith of Elijah and a widow even when the situation was desperate and hopeless.

The point is that circumstances are never as hopeless as they seem, for those whose hope is in the God of Jacob, of Isaac, of Moses and of our Lord Jesus. This is the essence of a wonderful meditation which I read with great joy and thankfulness and which triggered a spate of text messages announcing this good news.



The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full ( more abundantly) John 10:10

IN WORD Satan is a terrorist. He will try to hijack us from the path ( of faith ... of walking by faith and not by sight) God has us on or hold us hostage for an unacceptable ransom that flies in the face of God's will for us . His mission is to steal our joy, terminate our lives, and degrade our relationship with God, and he's very aggressive about it. if there is anything he can do to interrupt our abundant life, he will attempt it.
The believer must resolutely fix his our her eyes on God and His Word and remain unswerving in devotion to Jesus. When we abide in His fellowship, we will be tempted by the enemy to resort to human wisdom rather than godly guidance. For example, a bill may scream at us that we cannot remain in the calling God has given us ---it isn't financially feasible. A relationship may drain us of the energy that god gave us to serve Him. or we may be accused of weaknesses that urge us to deny our usefulness to god. The enemy's tactics are limitless, but his intention is plain: get the Christian off track. He wants us to mistrust Jesus and start making decisions based on fear and anxiety.

IN DEED We must always remember Jesus' mission --giving us abundant life. it may not always be easy or comfortable, but it will be good and founded on His joy. hen we are confident in God's will, and circumstances arise that seem to contradict His will, e must know where they come from and cling fast to god. if we let circumstances constrain us, Satan will manipulate them indefinitely, stringing us along our whole lives in uncertain, fear-induced steps.
Our faith must fix its gaze on Jesus and not waver. Do not negotiate with the terrorist when he threatens. His tactics will rob us, kill us and leave us devastated. God's voice must be the only one we hear. It's the key to abundant life.

Wow! I recall a young lady struggling to remain faithful, yet desirous of having a child, being told by a friend that she should " come out of the church and have the baby", and then go back in the church. Satan the terrorist is at work all over the place and it is only God's Word that can keep him at bay. Foolish people, including some Christians, believe that they can "manage" him and have suffered immeasurably on account of such underestimation of the power of sin. Fear is gripping the hearts of our people, on the one hand, and a carelessness and callousness about life, decency, morality and good order on the other hand; all orchestrated by the "terrorist:

So what's the answer to this " terrorist". The response from the God of Jacob from the time of the children of Israel until now, is not what is, but who is, the answer. And the very Word of God that led Elijah to the widow whose jar of flour never ran out, and whose jug of oil never ran dry", is the same One who says:
" In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe". Hebrews 1:1-2. NIV

And it is not just a matter of calling upon His name as it were a magic wand, but much more according to an extended reading of the Epistle appointed for today.

Now the covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In the first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. The ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room
to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered up for himself and for the sins of the people had committed in ignorance.........

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by the means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once and for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of an heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more , then will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit, offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.
Hebrews 9:1-14 NIV

I thank God for this timely reminder of the life giving nature and power of the Blood that my saviour shed for me and all mankind on the Cross of Calvary. So now, like my Pentecostal friends, I have begun to "plead the Blood of Jesus" in every situation that I face now, and I am confident based on this revelation, not my discernment, that God in His mercy has heard my cry and will hear all who, with repentance in one hand, and obedience in the other, cry out to Him for mercy. So the message in these times of hopelessness is for who who trust in the living God of Jacob and our Saviour Jesus, is to believe that the Blood of Christ opens all door, protects from every evil and removes every stain of sin from our hearts.

Finally the words of the hymnwriter invites us to come closer to the One whose blood has set us free from fear and death.

I am thine O Lord. I have heard thy voice,
And it told thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith,
And be closer drawn to Thee


Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed lord,
To the cross where Thou hast died,
Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord,
To they precious bleeding side.

Consecrate me now to Thy service Lord,
By the power of grace divine;
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope,
And my will be lost in thine.


Pray God that faith in the sufficiency of the Blood of Christ will rescue individuals, rescue the church and in turn rescue a nation.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Peace and security in the midst of the storm: What a gwaan? God a gwaan

There is a well known phrase in our country which reflects, in more than one way, the attitude of many Jamaicans in this time of economic crisis. " Nutten naw gwaan". Which when translated to standard English means that, "Nothing much by way of improvement in their lot in life is happening, and further, what can you do for me", thus reflecting a kind of dependency previously unheard of, in our once very proud society.
But even if we resist the dependency , the attitude of hopelessness can be very infectious as we face major social and economic challenges in our national and personal lives. The murder rate continues unabated, despite the election promises of the relatively new administration - in fact breaking news tonight is that the Commissioner of Police has resigned, and which departure, clearly has more than a little to do with the spiraling murder rate. Our economic management team may stumble for a while, at a time when we are busy negotiation with the IMF, as the Governor of the Central Bank resigned this week also, amidst speculation, in the media, that his actions and that of others at the bank exceeded the terms of his contract. Jobs are scare, industrial relations are under tremendous strain in many sections of the society, scandals about government officials are popping up in the media, and people are beginning to wonder to whom must they turn for economic and social salvation.
In the midst of this conundrum, this angst about the state of our nation, and the widespread perception that " nutten naw gwaan", a sermon by young priest in church this morning, was greeted with thunderous applause - an unusual occurrence in my very conservative Anglican church. What was her message? Perhaps she recalled the words of the prophet Habakkuk when he wrote thousand of years ago:

" Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no olives on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign God is my strength........" Habakkuk 3:17-19. NIV.

So in strength of the prophets of old, she declared that though many may say " nutten naw gwaan" " God a gwaan". In sense that the Sovereign God is still active in the lives of men and women in their personal lives and in the life of a nation. The young curate cited many examples of God's continuously goodness and mercy to His children and to this nation, and the one I recall is the fact that, every time a baby is born, it is God who acting in the life of a nation and of a people. But we can add others, despite the many trials that people are experiencing, every time we awake in the morning we need to give thanks. Give thanks for good news from the doctor, and safe recovery after surgery. Good news about our children at school. Safe travel when we go abroad, and even traveling locally - the news last night carried the story of three men perishing in a motor vehicle crash. Give thanks for the joy of a long and wonderful marriage; the privilege of having parents live for a long time; the joy that grandchildren bring. The performance of our athletes, the quality of our "conscious" music; the dedication of some of elected officials; the protection offered by vigilant and uncorrupted policemen who regularly place their lives on the line for us; the love and prayers of the ordinary and unsophisticated Jamaican people. So God a gwaan in many and various ways in the midst of trials - many have suffered much. And the tears reflect the same deep pain whether or not the family member who passed on, died of illness, on the roads or by the gun. Whether the relationship ended with or without violence. Whether or not the child who got into trouble was a model student or not.

In addition to the message from the young priest, Oswald Chambers in one of his meditations raised the issue of faith, in the midst of challenges, this week - the same point raised by Habakkuk many years ago.


" Without faith it is impossible to please him." Hebrews 11:6

Faith in antagonism to common sense is fanaticism, and common sense in antagonism to faith is rationalism. The life of faith brings the two into a right relation. Common sense is not faith, and faith is not common sense; they stand in the relation of the natural and the spiritual; of impulse and inspiration. Nothing Jesus Christ ever said is common sense, it is revelation sense, and it reaches the shores where common sense fails. Faith must be tried before the reality of faith is actual. " We know that all things together for good," then no matter what happens, the alchemy of God's providence transfigures the ideal faith into actual reality. Faith always works on the personal line, the whole purpose of God being to see that the ideal faith is made real in His children.
For every detail of the common sense life, there is a revelation fact of God whereby we can prove in practical experience what we believe God to be. Faith is a tremendously active principle which always puts Jesus Christ first - Lord. Thou hast said so and so ( eg Matthew 6:33), it looks mad but I am going to venture on Thy word. To turn head faith into a personal possession is a fight always, not sometimes.
God brings us into circumstances in order to educate our faith, because the nature of faith is to make its object real. Until we know Jesus, God is a mere abstraction, we cannot have faith in Him; but immediately we hear Jesus say ---" He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father", we have something that is real, and faith is boundless. Faith is the whole man rightly related to God by the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Finally another part of the message of faith " in the midst of the storm". This time a hymn , the words of which have been in my heart all week, and even flooding my mind on my awakening in the mornings and influencing my prayers a whole lot.

O Jesus, I have promised
To serve thee to the end;
Be thou for ever near me,
My Master and my Friend:
I shall not fear the battle
If thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway
If thou wilt be my guide.

O let me feel thee near me:
The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
The tempting sounds I hear,
My foes are ever near me,
Around me and within;
But, Jesus draw though nearer,
And shield my soul from sin

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

O Jesus thou hast promised
To all who follow thee,
That where thou art in glory
There shall thy servant be;
And, Jesus, I have promised
To serve thee to the end:
O give me grace to follow,
My Master and my friend.

O let me see thy foot-marks,
And in them plant my own;
My hope to follow duly
Is in thy strength alone;
O guide me, call me draw me,
Uphold me to the end;
And then in heaven receive me,
My saviour and my Friend.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

President Obama, homosexuality and Sin

This week was dominated by President Obama. The award of the Nobel prize for Peace, caught the world , and I daresay himself too, completely off guard. My own personal and immediate view was that this accolade was a bit premature, but I was not unsympathetic to the reason (s)shared with the public why the directors of of such a prestigious body acted in the way that they did - impressed, like so many others across the world, with President Obama's ability to inspire hope, peace and justice and thus be able to usher in a refreshing new approach to International dialogue and co-operation in what hitherto had become an increasingly uni-polar and dangerous world.
But it was not the award alone that stimulated a lot of thought about President Obama, but rather his address to a Gay-Rights Lobby in Washing ton D.C. I saw it on CNN eventually, having not planned to watch it, but providence intervened. Inter alia, he assured the group, that in his opinion, the loving relationship between two men or women is of the same value as that between a man and a woman and equally so the different family arrangements. Against this philosophical backdrop I suppose, he announced the different policy initiatives that his administration had taken to remove some of the injustices which had been meted out to gays and lesbians. And compared their situation to that of black people and their struggles against injustice in white America.
Two thoughts came into my mind as I reflected on his speech and the rousing reception that it triggered from the audience. One, have we as Christians been guilty of, or party to, meting out injustice to gays and lesbians? In the sense that though most Christians, whose faith rests on the unchanging nature of God's Holy Word as ultimately manifest in Christ, the Word made flesh, regard homosexuality as a "sinful" lifestyle, have been sought to protect them and any other group from injustice, hate and neglect? Some of the issues raised by President Obama, as a secular leader; the right to serve in the army; the right to security of tenure in a job; the right to a civil union and the attendant social benefits - visitation in hospital and legacy rights for example: are issues that we as Christians need to reflect on deeply. The second question that arose in my mind, is how does one ensure justice for individuals whose lifestyle is clearly in defiance of God's command, and who are unapologetic, without encouraging such a lifestyle and also not being unmindful of some of the objectives of some of its leaders - the equating of a homosexual lifestyle with that of a heterosexual union as ordained by God. And that was my greatest fear for President Obama, a self confessed Christian.
So what did the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is always ahead of us, preparing the way, say to His child this week.
The message began in the book of Galatians which our Bible study group completed this week.

" My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you...."
Gal.4:19 NIV

The most important doctrinal lesson that all who claim to be followers of Christ need to learn, including President Obama, is that we cannot have a right relationship with God, we have no claim to holiness before , we cannot be disciples of Christ, unless the Son of God is being formed in us more and more each day. So it is not our good intentions, not our interpretation of what constitutes justice or not, not our good works, not our ability to inspire hope in a world desperately in need of good news and hope for a better and more secure future that matters before God primarily, but whether or not His Son, who died that sinful man may be reconciled to a Holy God, is being formed in you and I.
And that's the living Gospel truth. Otherwise Christ's death on the Cross of Calvary would have been an irrelevant bit of history in the life of human kind. But we know better, that the events that took place on the Cross, has once and for all defined human history. What is confusing the world and an honestly caring, but nevertheless ill informed about his religion, President, is this issue of Sin and sins.
The following meditation helps to explain the difference which is the thrust of this message from the God of Jacob this week.



" Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned". Romans 5:12

The Bible does not say that God punished the human race for one man's sin; but that the disposition of sin, viz, my claim to my right to myself, entered into the human race by one man, and that another Man took on Him the sin of the human race and put it away ( Heb. 9:26) - an infinitely profounder revelation. The disposition of sin is not immorality and wrong-doing, but the disposition of self-realization - I am my own god. This disposition may work out in decorous morality or in indecorous immorality, but it has one basis, my claim to my right to myself. When our Lord faced men with all the forces of evil in them, and men who were clean living and n=moral and upright, He did not pay any attention to the moral degradation of the one or to the moral attainment of the other; He looked at something we do not see, viz., the disposition.
Sin is a thing I am born with and i cannot touch it; God touches it in Redemption. In the Cross of Jesus Christ God redeemed the whole human race from the possibility of damnation through the heredity of sin. The condemnation is not that I am born with a heredity of sin, but if when I realize Jesus came to deliver me from it, I refuse to let Him do so, from that moment I begin to get the seal of damnation. " And this is the judgement" ( the critical moment), " that the light is come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the light."

As I write, the words of the song writer come into my mind. Words from the penultimate verse of that great hymn:
Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
When thou camest to earth for me.....

Refrain: O come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee

Thou camest O Lord with the living word
That should set thy people free
But with mocking scorn and a crown of thorn
They bore thee to Calvary

O come to my heart Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for thee

One of our political leaders whose base was in the, now much feared Tivoli Gardens area, and probably where the very popular term " Don" emerged, once claimed that " everybody want to be a Don. Well there is only one Don". An outburst which was to earn him the dubious title and much lampooned sobriquet of " The One Don". An observation which sums up the reason behind sin which entered the world through Adam, and which lies at the heart of the debate about, not just homosexuality, but Sin. Mankind inherited the disposition to claim the right to be him or herself, or in other words to be his or her own god. To be his or her own "Don". And God says NO. And left His throne and His kingly crown, became man , incarnate, in Christ, and died on the Cross so that we may receive the disposition - to trust Him alone, the only truly God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob. And the problem with many of us, even within the church, much less the homosexual community, is that we are not prepared to relinquish our "sovereign rights" over our bodies, our minds, our souls, and our sexuality, to the God who created us in His own image and calls us to be Holy as He is Holy. An image which is marred, but not destroyed by Sin, and which can be made whole again, only in and through Jesus Christ.
It is the opposition to this world view that has fueled, among other things, the abortion debate - it is my body; the homosexual debate - it is my right to live how I please; the gambling debate - it is my right to use my money as I please.

Finally my eyes "happened upon" a meditation from The Complete Works Of Oswald Chambers which i would have read tomorrow but which is very relevant in our understanding of human nature and how to reach out to non-believers and passionate but ill informed Christians.

The Disposition of darkness.
" The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God ; for they are foolishness unto him. ( 1 Cor. 2:14)

The word " disposition" is used here in the sense of the mainspring that moves me. Apart from a knowledge of Jesus Christ, and apart fro being crumpled up by the conviction of sin, men have a disposition which keeps them perfectly happy and peaceful. The natural man is not in distress, not conscious of any disharmony in himself; he is not " in trouble as other men ", and is quite content with being once-born; the things Jesus Christ stands for have no meaning for the natural man. The Bible refers to this disposition as one of darkness --" being darkened in their understanding" ( Ephesians 4:18RV). We preach to men as if they were conscious of being dying sinners, they are not, they are having a good time, and all our talk about the need to be born again is from a domain they know nothing about...there in nothing attractive about the Gospel to the natural man; the only man who finds the gospel attractive is the man who is convicted of sin. Conviction of sin is produced by the incoming of the Holy Spirit because conscience is promptly made to look at God's demands and the whole nature cries out, in some form or another. " What must I do to be saved?"............
When Jesus comes He comes in he upsets the this false unity; he comes not as a Comforter, but as a thorough Disturber. " if I had not come...they had not sin" --- then why did he come? If I was peaceful and happy, living a clean upright life, why should Jesus come with a standard of holiness I never dreamt of? Simply because that peace was the peace of death, a peace altogether apart from God. The coming of Jesus to the natural man means the destruction of all the peace that is not based on a personal relationship to Himself.

And such a relationship does not come to once-born people. A hard message but one that we must not resile from presenting to the world, whether to Presidents or homosexuals, or those going to church for many years but living a disobedient lifestyle. Otherwise we are being traitors to the Cross of Christ, and therefore guilty of preferring the " darkness" over " the light", the basis for the final judgement from the God of Abraham. So let us pray without ceasing for ourselves, President Obama and all others with good and decent intentions for the upliftment of all mankind, that we may realize that God does not intend to redeem the world and make it right, but that in Christ, and through His death on Calvary, He has already accomplished that great task, and for which, and in return, all He requires is that we believe. Amen

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Rape in St. Lucia: Sin across the world

Socially, nothing dramatic happened in Jamaica last week that really touched my soul. Yes the murder continues - five men invaded a house and killed a female security guard and shot two children. And people were killed in the western part of the island and police killed three men, one of whom was reportedly wanted for stealing a coffin last year, apparently looking for hidden money. Sad but true. Murder most foul, and other socially destructive behaviours have become almost routine in my country. But on the other hand, I listened a radio broadcast of an interview with a young Jamaican girl who was savagely and cynically - apparently it is par for the course in that station - in our sister Caribbean island of St. Lucia. The pain and the terror that this obviously poor but proud Jamaican national - created like me in the very image of God - suffered, was almost palpable, and at one section of the interview it was as if she was about to" go mad" on account of her terrible ordeal. So the madness that is wreaking havoc in my country is spreading across the Caribbean, and if truth be told, across the entire world.

So our God, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is always ahead of us, warning, encouraging, teaching, judging but yet and always loving, led me to focus on Sin. Not just your every day acts of sinfulness, but the very foundation of the kind of madness which would move a policeman to so terrorise another human being placed in his care.

The first passage on this issue of Sin was found in my continued reading of that much celebrated theologian Oswald Chambers, famous for his " My Utmost for His Highest"



The Divine and the Human - " But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power of may be of God, and not of us. ( 2 Cor. 4:7)

........The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is not only that " God was manifest in the flesh," but that the same thing will take place in anyone who receives the Holy Spirit; he receives from God a totally new heredity, the life of the Son of God, " until Christ be formed in you". Human nature is the home where the Divine manifests itself. Holiness Movements are apt to ignore the human and bank all on the Divine; they tell us that human nature is sinful, forgetting that Jesus Christ took on Him our human nature, and " in Him is no sin". It was God who made human nature, not the devil; sin came into human nature and cut it off from the Divine, and Jesus Christ brings the pure Divine and the pure human together. Sin is a wrong thing altogether and is not to be allowed or a moment. Human nature is earthly, it is sordid, but it is not bad, the thing that makes it bad is sin. Sin is the outcome of a relationship set up between man and the devil whereby man becomes " boss" over himself, his own god ( see Genesis 3:8).. No man was ever created to become his own master, or the master of other men; there is only one Master of men and that is Jesus Christ.

One of the great tragedies of our times, orchestrated by the devil, is that we place a focus on the

the " branches" of sin, the easily seen, and much vilified, but yet superficial; but not much interest is placed on the "root", the very foundation of sin, from which all socially destructive behaviours flow. This is of paramount importance for two reasons. One, is that for those who do not transgress the superficial nature of sin, and therefore think that they are " decent and good citizens", the gospel of Christ's Incarnation, death and resurrection is of no value to them. Two, and this is related to the first point, unless we are convicted of how badly Sin has marred our souls and separated us from a Holy God, we will never understand how much the God of Abraham loves us, and how much that love is manifest in the death of Christ on the Cross of Calvary seek Salvation in and through Christ. To bring home the point very dramatically our young priest told the story this morning how a pastor, having borrowed his wife's spanking new SUV, had the misfortune to drop the keys in a toilet. he therefore had no choice but to reach down into the " mess" and rescue his wife's car keys. And in the same way God in Christ Jesus, out of love, not of need, reached down and " pulled us, every human being if we would just believe", out of the " mess" of sin and death.

The second passage is like some court cases - just a mention. No big trial, but the very mention sends creeps down spine when we consider the implications.

" Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The Lord rebuke you, Satan!" The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, " Take off his filthy clothes."

Then he said to Joshua, " See I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garment so you."

Zechariah 3:1-2 NIV

Satan and evil are real issues in life and somehow for whatever reason God, allows them to exist.Thank God that this and other Old Testament passages, prophecy about the coming of Christ- in whom all sins are taken away. For those who have no protection from a loving God, because they have rejected His Son, Satan rules easily often with devastating consequences.

Finally, even for us who claim Christ, the devil is allowed some freedom to terrorize us, but only with God's permission, and for His express purpose. And He, when His purposes have been accomplished, will rescue us. But in the meanwhile life, because of evil, can be challenging.


" Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. Luke 22:31

IN WORD We wonder why we have trials sometimes. Jesus gives us a glimpse of one reason right here. Satan has asked it of Simon Peter. It is quite possible that he asks it of us as well. And this is no polite request; some translations of this verse capture it more strongly: " Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat". (RSV). The enemy of our souls boldly asserts his right to fight to retain what he has long held. We are targeted for sifting by the one we want to leave behind. And Jesus lets him do it.

The verse is rich implications for us. For example, isn't is interesting that Jesus gives no indication of having put up a fight for us? Certainly he prayed for Peter, but he apparently did not resist the demand in the first place. Jesus does not say that he prayed for Peter to be spared from the sifting. In fact, He seems quite willing to let it happen, as though Satan is actually doing the bidding of the Lord. What the enemy means for evil, God means for good. He lets the evil one behave his way with us -- for a time.

IN WORD Nowhere in the Bible does God promise to spare us from temptation. Our faith will be assaulted in numerous ways, ad while God is not the author of this, He specifically allows it.

The enemy of our souls, the evil one who has held this world in his grip from the early days of creation until now, fights against our trust in God. As he did with Job, he may insist to God that our faith is not genuine because it has not tested. If he can prove that it is not, he can slander the Almighty with his skepticism. God takes him up on the challenge.

Do you ever feel as if all hell is sifting your faith to see what remains? Hang on. You are in a process God has allowed, and that He will also strictly limited. Your sifting will not last. Your faith will, and there be no chaff to it. Trust in God's sovereignty over the enemy.

One of the striking things about the interview with the young lay who has her dignity trampled all over by this " child of the devil" was her assurance that " God naw sleep". Very much akin the the Psalmist's declaration:

" I lift up mine eyes to the hills

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord

the Maker of heaven and earth

He will not let your foot slip --

he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed he who watches over Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep...."

Evil will be conquered, whether now or at some other time. But until then it is a very real issue and is spreading its tentacles across the Caribbean. Why? In large part because, rather than hold on to the old time religion, tried and proven by our forebears, we have succumbed to the beguiling temptations of modernity and New Age, which are really "old age" manifestations of human rebellion against God "dressed up" in more sophistry. Many ordinary folks, even though not Baptised, still fear God and look to Him for justice in a land where human life and human dignity are of little worth to many. All on account of Sin. The challenge for the children of God, born not of human flesh nor of a husband's will, but born of God, and given that right on account of our belief in Christ, is to accept that we too will be sifted by Satan, in order that our faith may be proved genuine. For those who face Satan the accuser and the tormentor and the tempter, without Christ, it is not enough to pray that God may still have mercy on them, but in addition, we need to become 'broken bread and poured out wine' - allow the Christ within us push us to preach the gospel by word and deed, in love, in the same way Christ pursued us with His extravagant love. Then and only then will policemen, whether in Jamaica or St. Lucia; gunmen whether in Jamaica or in Antigua; kidnappers whether in Jamaica or in Trinidad will turn and repent and seek forgiveness from God in and through Christ. And so allow young and old women and men, to live in peace and with their dignity.
Lord renew thy church beginnning with me: Lord renew the church that the church may renew the nation(s)