It's difficult to recover when your week starts with the news of the death, the brutal killing of someone whom you have known for over twenty five years. Someone whom you have touched, held conversation with, and someone whose entire family you have come to know and to love. Someone who has become yet another victim of the senseless violence which is now so pervasive in my country. A business man, owned a thriving bakery in the heart a rural area, and on coming home one night, he was robbed, and shot several times. Yet he managed to walk away, waited on help to come, assuming that the killers had left. But they returned and without mercy pumped more bullets into a vital area. This was a good man, a helpful man, a family man whose only 'crime' was that he was successful. So we offered comfort to the family and prayed and prayed.
A couple of weeks ago another incident left me feeling numb. This time the ending was not tragic, but nonetheless highly disturbing. Another person I knew, found himself looking down a gun, held by a young man who had commandeered his car, and the memories of two of his brothers who had been captured and whose bodies had never been found, flooded into his consciousness. Understandably, though his life was spared, he plans to leave this place very soon.
Finally in my mind this week is the memory of a lady, a big woman, who did something very " out of order", in public, at her work place, and was very embarrassed to have to tell me about it. When pushed for an explanation she could only reply that " the devil made her do it".
In the midst of all this madness the Lord spoke very clearly through His Word, meditations from old Saints, and through an experience at the funeral of my friend today at a Pentecostal church. In addition I have been constantly reflecting on an Anglican ( gleaned from a discussion with an someone in high office) approach to differences of opinions on important issues within the church which states that: " On issues where people of faith differ after deep reflection and searching the Scriptures, even though there is disagreement, we should, with humility, hold the view that the Lord may have revealed something to the " other side" about which we may not yet have a full understanding".
The Word from the Lord began with some words the Psalm for the Anglican community for last week. Psalm 66: 18-19 NIV
" If I had cherished sin in my heart
the Lord would not have listened
but God has surely listened
and heard my voice in prayer".
and some from this week's Psalm
" No king is saved by the size of his army ( sounds like Gideon's experience doesn't it?)
no warrior escapes by his great strength
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance
despite all its great strength it cannot save
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine"
Psalm 33: 16-19 NIV
The next passage that struck me was the one from the book of Acts for today:
" Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
Acts 11: 19-21.
Finally some word from a meditation on John 15:5 " Apart from me you can do nothing".
By Chris Tiegen and which passage I read on May 14, comes just before the Gospel appointed for today John 15:9-17. NIV
.....Only Jesus can live the Christian life; we can't. We can only have Him live that life in us.
And which triggered a text message to a number of persons in my cell phonebook:
" Apart from me you can do nothing". John. Only Jesus can live the Christian life. Tiegen.
So let us not try so hard and end up despondent. But rather sing and pray expectantly: Come into my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee."
Finally today I went to the funeral in a Pentecostal church to " mourn with those who mourn".
And heard the following:
That God was going to avenge the death of the man who was murdered. " Murderer, blood is on your shoulder".
That mothers, whose children were involved in wrong doing, should repent of the sins of children.
That the church, not just the local Pentecostal church, but the whole body of Christ, needs to be in agreement and pray for the healing of the nation and protection from these wicked gunmen.
That personal holiness was pre-requisite to move God into action against evil. That all people should repent of their sins now. And that failure to heed the call to repentance and forgiveness will lead to destruction.
That who God decides to protect no man can touch. That the angels of the Lord encampeth around those that fear Him. And that when God decides to take vengeance, then people are going to perish.
Therefore all who had not yet repented of their sins, should hold up their hand and ask for prayer. Many did and a loving prayer of God's love in Christ Jesus was shared.
All of this shared with the kind of confidence about the knowledge of God's will for individuals, the body of Christ - the church - and nation, in some cases direct revelation from God, in other cases discernment from Scriptures, all of which is one of the hallmarks of the Pentecostal experience when compared to my own Anglican church.
So what did I learn from the Lord in all of this.
First and foremost, that personal holiness is the most critical issue facing Christians today in a Jamaica which is rapidly being overrun by evil. No "wishy washy" Christian can call upon the power of God, with confidence, for mercy in times of trouble. For the church to be effective in its witness in all times, and especially in times of great tribulation, we need to be determined to live a holy life, in big things and in small things. Individually and collectively. No Christian who is troubled by the state of the nation can afford to allow even " a hint of sin" in their life.
" If I had cherished sin in my heart the Lord would not have listened".
Therefore we all need to be constant and immediate in living a repentant life - for the sake of the church , the nation and for our own personal situation. Sin is not to be " hugged up", left for tomorrow, or be the subject of a great debate. But rather, to be recognized, be the subject of repentance, placed at the foot of the Cross, and accept God's forgiveness.
Secondly, the battle is not ours but the Lord's. Not only in terms of " Vengeance is mine says the Lord", but that only Jesus can live the Christian life. Only He, living in us, has the power to confront evil, forgive our enemies and those that persecute us, understand the Scriptures, live a Holy life, love one other, love those that hate us. So, it is when the Spirit of God abides in us, enabling us to live a Holy life, empowering us to be obedient to, and discerning of ,the Spirit of God, that ; " The Lord's hand will be with us and a great number of people will believe and turn to God". For my country to be rescued from evil, not only will the God's vengeance take place, but our people will need to turn to the Lord again. " Lord will you not turn and quicken us, so that thy people may rejoice in thee" - a prayer which we say at church, every Sunday, in preparation for the service.
Thirdly, we need to trust God, once we are determined to live a Holy life, and be confident in his promises - in public and in private. I was very sensitive to the fact that, this evening, here was a community under siege from gunmen - the area is rampant with gunmen and people are afraid. Not many have grills. None of them would have King Alarm or Hawkeye or any security firm to respond to a break in. Very few, if any would have a licensed firearm to protect them.
Yet there was a deep trust and faith in a Mighty God, who would be with them in the war against the gunmen. " No weapon will prosper against them" the Evangelist declared. Perhaps the greatest issue we face as Christians, is a lack of faith in a mighty God. A lack of trust. A kind of Christianity which is comfortable when it has " back up". Alarm systems. A personal forearm. Quick access to good medical care. Social safety nets - at worst. And even better a healthy bank account. As a result, for too many of us, our prayers are " anemic" and general. Lacking in the conviction that God can and has promised to do " abundantly more that we can ask or imagine". Yes there is the constant reminder that we serve a suffering Christ, and that, " not mine, but thy will be done". But I sometimes wonder if we do not use those things as an excuse for not placing our whole trust in a Mighty God, in all things. It's like we have an " exit clause", as a back up, if our prayers do not work.
In recent times the Spirit of the Lord has moved me to be in prayer for the whole body of Christ daily. The Roman Catholic Church, the SDA's, the Church of God, the Pentecostals, the United Church, the Methodists, the Baptists, the Moravian church, the Anglican church, and all the Evangelical churches. I believe we can all learn from one another. I believe that the power that will be unleashed in Jamaica from a repentant church and from a church in agreement about the remedy for the state of our nation, will cause evil to flee from this country. I believe that our very existence is dependent on the faith of the church, as the situation is entirely out of hand, as far as the security forces are concerned. They cannot manage the kind of evil which is spread abroad in my nation.
But " Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind....' says the Psalmist.