Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Renewal of the Church: Created to be like God - in and through Christ

Over time, I have come to understand that when the Lord wakes me up in the early morning to pray and to read and then to write, usually 4:00 am, although this morning it was 3:30 am, and I was tempted, only briefly, to watch Serena Williams play in the Australian Open finals, it's something more important than at other times. I woke up with two thoughts on my mind, and still fighting sleep, in fact I tried to go back to bed: "now to him who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine". And the renewal of the church - beginning with me. So I prayed for the renewal of the church : my own Anglican congregation at St. Andrew Parish Church and the wider Anglican church; the Baptist church; the Moravian church; the Methodist church; the United church; the Roman Catholic church; the Seventh Day Adventist church; the church of God churches; the Pentecostal churches and all the Evangelical churches - for renewal, so that the nation may be renewed.
I even prayed for the Jehovah's witnesses and the Mormons who are not part of the body of Christ.
Then I opened the Bible and turned to the book of Ephesians from where the quotation that was in my heart is recorded - still fighting sleep. And read and prayed. And read and prayed. And then I was told to write this.

" As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love, make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism,; one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all............

It was he who gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets and some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of Christ of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the while body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
So, I tell you this, and insist on it, in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
You, however, did not come to know Christ that way......... You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in your attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness............

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up in accordance with their needs that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice. be kind and compassionate to one another forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality........

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light ( for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is the light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

Wake up , O sleeper
rise from the dead
and Christ will shine on you.

Be very careful, then how you live - not as unwise but as wise making the most of very opportunity, because the times are evil.............speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Ephesians 4-5:21 NIV

I suppose there is much that I could comment on, but was given no such instructions. The Word of God is sufficient in itself.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bush and Obama. Sin and Jesus

I usually check on with my friend Jean Lowrie-Chin's blog before I start writing on a Sunday night. And if you really wish to see a very moving video, from The Washington Post on what can only be described as, "The Obama Day", visit her blog. Which brings me to the story which I saw online recently. An elderly man came up to the marine guarding The White House and said. " Can I speak with Mr. Bush?" The guard replied and explained, kindly, to this senior citizen, that Mr. Bush no longer lived in The White House. The following day the same gentleman returned and posed the very same question to the guard, and received an unchanged answer. On the next day, when the old man came again asking the same question, the guard by now, quite exasperated, challenged the gentleman why he was behaving in this way - asking the same question time and time again. At which point the old man said simply, "I just love to hear the sound of it" - that George W. Bush no longer lives here.

One of things that struck me in my meditations and "double listening" ( to the world and to God) this week, is that a lot of the excitement about, adoration of, and fascination with, Barrack Obama, has its genesis in the diametrically opposite emotions which Bush provoked in the minds of so many across the US, and indeed the world. For a extremely useful perspective on this issue check out Ian Boyne's article in today's Daily Gleaner in the In Focus section. All well thinking people across the world literally and metaphorically "breathed a sigh of relief" when # 43 left and # 44 assumed office. Never in modern history has a US president been so ill informed, arrogant, perhaps even guilty of lying, and just behaving like a " perfect idiot" like "George W". Which poses the question of how could he ever have been elevated to such a high office, or even come close to it? He was virtually the laughing stock of the world on account of his " Bushspeak", language. Undermined the US foreign policy of working closely with its Europeans allies in pursuing his, dangerous, doctrine of pre-emptive strikes. Presided over the meltdown of the American economy on which the rest of the world depends so heavily. And on his watch, men were guilty of " even inventing ways of doing evil", in Iraq and in " Gitmo".

So, no wonder then , in addition to the powerful message of hope that the ascendancy of a black man to the highest office in previously "Jim Crow " America, and Obama's consummate political skills, that people across America were determined to have their," coronation" on Obama Day.

And to, as one woman said in the Washington Post video, " breathe in the same air that Barack Obama breathed on that day."

In this middle of this orgy of excitement came a word from the Lord, which speaks to the very same issue, of our not being able to appreciate fully His goodness and mercy to us, unless we come to fully understand how wicked we were - inventing ways of doing evil - before being rescued by Jesus' great act of Redemption on the Cross of Calvary. It's a very sobering message as we contemplate how different Obama is from Bush and the potential that this transition has for the US and indeed for the entire world. As one issue is about what can happen if Obama succeeds. The other is what is very sure to happen if we do not listen and understand - God's immutable Word.

This is how the message unfolded:

" A cry is heard on the barren heights,

the weeping and pleading of the children of Israel,

because they have perverted their ways

and have forgotten the Lord their God.

Return, faithless people;

I will cure you of your backsliding."

Jeremiah 3: 21-22 NIV - part of the reading for today in my church.

The question is how did they get there? How could they have forgotten the Lord. This same people who were rescued by miracles by God from bondage in Egypt. What happened?

It continued:

" After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come', he said, 'Repent, and believe the good news'."

Mark 1:14-15 NIV Part of the Gospel reading for today.

Then the Spirit of God led me to a passage which is often quoted in the "Christian" argument that homosexuality is an sinful act - in any context. In public or in private. But what many fail to appreciate, is that this passage contains a message which is an indictment against all "unredeemed" humanity. Not just one set of humanity.

This is how Romans 1:18-32 begins.

" The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of all men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen being clearly understood from has been made, so that men are without excuse........."

This morning, my security guard - on the way to church - companion, was able to quote Psalm 19, word for word as we discussed this issue, and he is not baptised, and which Psalm came to mind as I read the first section of Romans 1:13-32.

" The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the word of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language

where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,

Their words to the ends of the world....."

So having declared that mankind had no excuse for not knowing God, for " suppressing the truth", God's Word then addresses, in particular, why men and women have become homosexuals - " God gave them over" . That is, mankind reaped the reward of persistent godlessness and rebellion against a God who had revealed Himself, with power, to all mankind. So it is not that God did evil and allowed people to fall into sin. But rather, that the outcome of persistent rebellion against God leads inevitably to evil - of all kinds. And it is the "all kinds of other evil", that we have all committed, that St. Paul addresses in the less well known and read third section of Romans 1:18-32.

"........Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil, they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do these things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very same things but also approve of those who practice them".

Wow! Makes you wonder if we have been too hard on George W. Bush. As which one of us can claim that we are not represented in this very instructive passage of Scripture? Has our focus on the, admittedly sinful, acts of homosexuals, acted as a distraction from acknowledging our own sins and responding correctly to Jesus' call: " Repent and believe the good news".

Heartless..disobeying their parents....filled with every kind of depravity...insolent...full of murder....inventing ways if doing evil...." Does that not explain fully what is happening in Jamaica? What happened to Bush and his cronies! Why Osama bin Laden acted on 9/11 in the way that he did! Why, " everywhere is war", according to the late Bob Marley? And can such disobedience to parents, inventing ways of doing evil, heartlessness be cured and controlled by teaching people about family life, or by community policing or " hard policing for that matter, or " social interventions"? Is the replacement of Bush by Obama going to change " heartlessness in Israel and in Gaza? Or in Afghanistan or Iraq? Will such change make a difference to the greed and arrogance on Wall Street? Or the wickedness in Zimbabwe and in the DRC? ( Congo)

No, the reality is that, as my new Sunday morning traveling companion friend, who loves reading and quoting the Bible, has discovered, but not yet acted upon, is that unless we understand how wicked we are, we will never come to truly love Jesus. To want to know Him and what He has done for us on Calvary. To have our souls wait on him, " as the watchman waits for the morning", according to the Psalmist ( 130). To abandon every other pursuit in life until we gain this life giving and life sustaining salvation.

But, as the final part of the message indicates, this kind of evaluation of self, is hard for modern man and woman to " stomach". I was so struck by the reflection that it formed the basis of a text message sent out to many on my address book who have, until now, resisted the call to " Repent and believe the good news" - That " God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life " John 3: 16 . The most popular verse in history.


" I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness". John 12:46

IN WORD We live in a dark kingdom( Colossians 1: 13). The Bible is very clear and consistent about that. Our understanding was darkened ( Ephesians 4:18); we are surrounded by powers of darkness( Ephesians 6:12); we ourselves have done deeds of darkness( Romans 13:12); our motives are dark( Corinthians4:50 and even when we see god, we see Him very dimly ( 1 Cor. 13:12). In fact, Paul goes so far as to say that we were darkness( Ephesians 5:8).

This is insulting to the human ego, to say the least. We think we're fairly well educated and wise. We even have an intellectual era we refer to as the enlightenment. So when Jesus implies that He has come into the darkness, we might wonder where all this alleged darkness is. Aren't we pretty bright folks?

No, Jesus really is the only light this world has ever seen. We can't find illumination anywhere else. He's the One who through God once said "Let there be light," and there was light. We're the ones who shrouded this planet in a sinful haze of spiritual blindness. He came back into it with all the radiance of a million suns.

IN DEED Plato told an allegory of people who saw each other as shadows. They thought that they could see clearly enough, because shadows were all they knew. Like Plato's cave dwellers, we think we're well informed; and when we encounter light, we feel the pain of of brightness in our maladapted eyes. We turn back to the darkness we're so comfortable with.

Do not dabble in the wisdom of this world. the world no longer has anything to offer you. Its interpretation of life are but shadows; its knowledge is untouched by the light of truth. Do you really want understanding? Open your mind exclusively to Jesus and let Him shine.

Will these words cure us of our "backsliding"? Will they place in proper perspective Obama's role in history? Will we view George W. Bush in a different light? Will we read the book of Romans with a different perspective? Will we be humble enough to obey Jesus and repent and believe the good news? Will we understand better that social interventions in and by themselves cannot never cure mankind of " all kind of evil"? Will we ever appreciate fully that the " good news" is not about Jesus, not about the many messages in the Bible. But Jesus Himself. That only in Him and through Him can we ever be free from God's wrath and remain forever in His love. Thank God for Obama. But O God, we thank you so very much more for Jesus Christ, Son of the living God and our Blessed Redeemer.