I returned to my home in Jamaica on New Year's day and was soon greeted with the news in one of our print media that, " THE ORGY of violence which resulted in more than 1,600 people being murdered across the island last year has continued in 2009 with 13 persons killed in the first 48 hours".
And the carnage on roads continued with three dying in one crash on New Year's day with others following as the days passed. That was my introduction to the New Year. But other "stuff" happened before the old year passed which did not augur well for the new. In a gated, previously crime- free, community in Miami where I spent the Christmas holidays, manholes went missing and so did car tyres. All four on a car right next door, and five other vehicles were reportedly vandalized. On the International scene we grieved, once again, as yet another New Year's disaster took place in a night club - this time in Thailand, and once again the Israelis and the Palestinians are at war.
So where is the Happy New Year that we were all wishing for each other? What is the basis for making all those resolutions? What is the basis for some very prominent pastors, " predicting", that despite the forecast for a downturn in the world's economy, Jamaica will enjoy good economic fortune this year. My Bishop answered this very question in a very insightful sermon this morning at church. New life and new beginnings and happiness, as one year passes into another only comes when there is a new life in Christ Jesus. Otherwise we are trapped in the same old problems which flow from one year to another relentlessly, thus fulfilling the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes that, "there in nothing new under the sun".
So what was my experience with the Lord this past week as we entered a new year? Not necessarily in that order, but the following things happened to me. Firstly, I woke up one morning with a song in my heart - " Do you hear what I hear", and having some difficulty recalling this not unfamiliar Christmas carol in its entirety, I " googled " it and found a wonderful revelation. Initially I thought the message from the Lord was all about the importance of listening carefully to Him. But on reflection on the sequence of the Carol I found additional messages.
Said the night wind to the little lamb.
" Do you see what I see?
Way up in the shy, little lamb.
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as the kite......
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
"Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song high above the trees
With a voice as big as the the sea..
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
"Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king,
Do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold--
Let us bring him silver and gold...
Said the King to the people everywhere,
"Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people, everywhere,
Listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light.....
First of all, only those who listen carefully to the Lord will truly hear what He is saying. Only those who believe and trust in faith will hear God speaking. Secondly the message from the Lord is passed from one medium to another until the King reveals the truth to everyone - that we should all pray for peace, and that only the Christ child can bring us goodness and light up the darkness of our lives. Finally, as the Bishop pointed out this morning, in this context of the song arising in my heart at this time, New Year is all about Christmas. And Christmas is all about a new dispensation - what the theologians call the year of the Jubilee.
The second message was even more pointed, and follows on the first. Those who hear God, even " beyond the sacred pages of Holy Scripture", must be obedient to His revealed Word in Scripture. One morning, last week, my meditations and a " voice in my head", led me to this dramatic passage of Scripture.
" So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven".
Acts 26:19. NIV.
St. Paul was testifying to the authorities to whom he had appealed for justice after the Jews had sought to have him killed for spreading the " gospel". And in doing so, recounted the story of his conversion on the road to Damascus, and about which vision from heaven he now affirms his obedience.
The point here is that God is a talking God and will inform us of His Will. So we ought to be very careful as children of God, to indulge in passing resolutions, which are not ordained by the Lord. And making optimistic predictions which flow from the " foolishness" in our hearts rather than from the Word of God. But the important thing is to be obedient when the message is clear.
So how do we know when God speaks ?
I got an answer from Oswald Chambers on Day 2.
WILL YOU GO OUT WITHOUT KNOWING? OSWALD CHAMBERS' MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST JAN 2.
"He went out, not knowing whither he went." Hebrews 11:8
Have you been " out" in this way? If so, there is no logical statement possible when anyone asks you what are you doing. One of the difficulties in Christian work is this question ---" What do you expect to do?" You do not know what you are going to do; the only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing. ( This was the essence of the prayer of a young pastor who prayed for us at my workplace on the first working day in the year) Continually revise your attitude towards God and see if it is a going out of everything, trusting in God entirely. it is this attitude that keeps you in perpetual wonder -- you do not know what God is going to do next. Each morning you wake up it is to be a " going out", building in confidence on God. " Take no thought for your life...nor yet for your body" ---take no thought for the things for which you did take before you " went out".
Have you been asking God what is he going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what he is going to do; He reveals Himself to you. Who He is. Do you believe in a miracle-working God, and will you go out in surrender to Him until you are not surprised an atom anything He does?
Suppose God is the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him -- what an impertinence worry is! Let the attitude of the life of be a continual " going out" in dependence on God, and your life will have an ineffable charm about it which is a satisfaction to Jesus. You have to learn to go out of your convictions, out of creeds, out of experiences, until so far as your faith is concerned, there is nothing between yourself and God.
Wow! " God does not tell you what he is going to do; He reveals Himself". Is Christmas an answer for all of us who are seeking to know God's will and predicting, and planning for, all kinds of things about which know nothing?
The last two messages are very clear and rooted in Scripture. One is a passage that I have been searching for. And the Lord woke me up in the middle of the night this past week to point me to it.
" For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him". Philippians 2:29 NIV.
No equivocation here. Journeying with Christ, in the new year or the old involves suffering. Sacrifice. Leaving behind attitudes and behaviours and places where we used to go, things we used to watch, and "stuff" we used to do and say. Plus the' persecution' from those who oppose us - even within the family.
Lastly, the Christian life is not about our deserving anything from God. Good economic fortune. Health and strength. Healthy relationships. Freedom from thieves and robbers, gunmen and fatalities on our roads. But rather being the recipients of God's mercy and being in a right relationship with Him, in and through the Christmas and Good Friday experience - culminating in Easter.
This is what I was told to read last night. And it began like this.
CHRIS TIEGEN EXTRAVAGANT MERCY JAN 3
" I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners "
............IN DEED God desires to be known in His mercy. Not just mercy, in fact but extravagant mercy. Incomprehensibly extravagant mercy. Mind-boggling mercy.....
ROMANS 9:14-16 & 11:32
" Just as it is written: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all. For he says to Moses;
I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whim I have compassion.
It does not therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy......For God has given over all men to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all".
So last night I prayed with all my heart for mercy. Not for good fortune. But for God's mercy. For all my family. And myself. Immediate. Extended. Community. Church ( Anglican/Episcopalian, Baptist, Moravian, Roman Catholic, United, Church of God, Pentecostal and Seventh Day Adventist, all Evangelical churches) Internet. Road Safety. Work...as I recalled the experience of someone who was invited to go with someone else for a visit with family. The person suddenly feeling weak and tired, declined and instead, in obedience to a feeling deep in the soul, went upstairs to pray. Moments later, the person with whom the individual would have been travelling, was killed in a hail of bullets - in the car. The person testifying was not a Baptized Christian but grew up in the knowledge of God and prayed regularly.
Our God is a mysterious God, and is not to presumed upon, but to be listened to, and obeyed and to be asked for mercy. In the new year and in the old as He reveals Himself to us more and more in and through the Christ whose birth created a New and Eternal Life. Amen.