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.