Sunday, June 6, 2010

Crisis in the nation: crisis in our souls. A moment of decision

Hopefully life will never be the same in my country after the crisis last week when over 70 persons civilians, in one area - Tivoli Gardens - lost their lives and four members of the security forces - in total - as the state responded to an open declaration of warfare by gun toting criminals. This against the background of over 600 persons having been killed by gunmen during the period leading up to the " war". One of the most telling events that took place after the events of last week was the raising of the Jamaican flag in the Tivoli Gardens area by the security forces expressing the collective national desire that no longer should one " state" be allowed to exist within the wider national borders. As previously, this was the case when the security forces, for years, could not openly patrol that area of Western Kingston. And whenever they attempted to capture any criminals there, they were met with open defiance by heavily armed men and vilified by powerful men and women in the society. How did we ever tolerate that madness for so long is beyond comprehension!
So, now that the military has showed its intention and ability to root out criminals wherever they are, many " dons" - powerful alleged gang leaders - have began to turn themselves into the hands of the police, having been thus identified by public pronouncements of the security forces. Consequently the murder rate has fallen dramatically across the island from a high of up to six per day, down to one or two daily. Many people now have greater level of hope that, as a nation, we have turned the corner in the struggle to rid our country of this terrible scourge - of so much blood running on our streets and of so much pain in the communities. Many others, in high places, and with considerable influence are busy meeting and planning to fix - or to make significant progress - the political, social and economic challenges that have all contributed to this outrageous situation where gunmen could have gotten so powerful to have openly challenged the state.
Never again should we allow over 70 of our own brothers and sisters to die so ignominiously, whether because of what we, or they, have done, or what has been left undone. Never again should we become so numb to the deaths of our people that over 600 can perish at the hands of gunmen and society does not rise up in sustained unison and demand an end to such brutality
No longer can civil society allow the kind of relationships which existed between powerful gangsters and political parties and which power sharing almost led to the death of democracy in our country. Political arrangements must be put in place to mitigate against that kind of unholy alliance. Pressure must be brought to bear on our leaders so that the consequences of such behaviour are manifest and swift.
No longer can civil society afford to ignore the plight of the thousands of Jamaicans who live on the margins of society - hopeless, desperate and easy " fodder" for those flush with ill gotten gains and who wish to control the lives of people. No society can hope to live in peace until and unless it provides for the "least " among them. People in the lower economic strata of the society must have a sense that others care about their situation. That the government cares. That business leaders care. That the church cares.
No longer can the entertainment industry be allowed to glorify the " gun culture" without swift reaction from the society. No longer can we allow corrupt cops to facilitate the ease with which criminals have been allowed to escape the long arm of the law. Equally no longer can we afford to withdraw our support from, and openly criticize without nuance, the security forces because of many " bad apples". A healthy balance must be found in this instance and also in our correct upholding of the human rights of each individual without sending the wrong signal to an already brazen criminal section of the society. No, it cannot any longer be business as usual if we are to learn any lessons from this dark period of our history and make progress going forward. We need to galvanize every Jamaican living here, and those in the wider diaspora to respond to this challenge to our nation. It was Winston Churchill who famously said after the British forces defeated the Germans in one battle early in World War Two. " It's not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is hopefully the end of the beginning". This is kind of attitude with which we must arm ourselves in the days ahead after this crisis in our nation. This time of distress marks the beginning of the end of the madness.
This week also, the Lord spoke about the change which must take place when we accept Christ. Life can never be the same again, as our desire to live for Christ is going to provoke a crisis in the life of every believer. I was first reminded by meditations on words of verses of well known hymns.

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 thou nearer,
And shield my soul from sin...........

The crisis for every believer, young or mature, is the constant battle with our inner sinful nature and the temptations of the world around. And many try desperately to fight these battles on their own, and some are even more foolish and assume that there are no battles at all. Truth is, unless this crisis takes place without one's soul, until there is a deep awareness of one's inability to manage the temptations within and without, a realistic understanding of the power of sin, then you will never truly desire, and feel the need for Jesus - to guide, direct, sustain, protect with power and with love. You will never love the Lord with all your heart. And without that beginning you will never ever be able to love your neighbour as yourself. For to do that, one has to be filled with a spirit of thanksgiving to the God who set us free from sin and death in and through Christ Jesus. And which thanksgiving then through the power of the holy Spirit flows over into love for the destitute, and hopeless, the sick and the bereaved - for that's where we once were. Blind and unable to see. Wretched and without hope. So thanks be to Jesus, life is never the same again.
Another hymn send the same message.

Hark, my soul ! it is the Lord
" Tis thy Saviour, hear his word;
Jesus speaks, and speaks to thee,
'say poor sinner, lov'st thou me

I delivered thee when bound,
And, when wounded, healed thy wound;
Sought thee wandering, set thee right
Turned thy darkness into light.

These words could easily have been written for combined forces of America and Britain when confronted by the axis of evil posed by Hitler and his desire to exterminate the Jews, rule over Europe and propagate the doctrine of Aryan supremacy. So too they could have been written for the people of Tivoli gardens, even though they might not accept it publicly, and even for the wider society now experiencing a greater measure of hope. But most of all they apply to us believers who were fast bound in sin, fatally wounded, even though we might not have been aware of the bondage and the wounds. But thank God for Jesus, in and through whom God sought all mankind and turned out darkness into light. Thus fulfilling the words of the Psalmist who declared many thousands of years ago:
" Weeping may remain for a night
But rejoicing comes in the morning"
Psalm 30:5 NIV

Equally powerful was the message from St Paul to the Corinthian church about the absolute need for all believers to learn to rely on God and not on ourselves, and the Lord will often provoke a crisis in our lives to make the point.

" We do not want you to be uninformed brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead".
2. Cor. 1:8-9. NIV

Finally powerful words of encouragement in the midst of the crisis. Few words, but words which greatly comforted me personally, and no doubt words for my country at this time.

" I know where you live - where Satan has his throne."
Revelation 2: 13
That Jesus knows my address. That He knows the temptations that I am going through. That He knows about the evil that confronts me. That He knows about my very thought and my every movement. How then can life ever be the same again? The same worrying. The same powerlessness to confront sin and resist temptation. How could it be if Jesus knows exactly where I live and what my country is going through at this time. Praise God indeed. But this message for some is a double edged sword, and in fact, the meditation triggered a text message to many to that effect.
" I know where you live - where Satan has his throne. Rev.2:13. This message can either be a promise for protection or words of condemnation. The choice is yours. And perhaps for the nation also as " Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord". Ps 33:12. But remember that God cannot be mocked"

So as we go through this dark period in our history, and the world watches, as others have had their own crisis too, let us turn to the God who saw the children of Israel in trouble and delivered the when bound in slavery in Egypt with His mighty hand. The God of Jacob who saw them wandering in the desert, floundering from sin, and then set them right, and so too and all of us who have fallen short of His glory, with the Light of the world - Jesus Christ.
We who believe in God's mercy, know that with His help, better days are ahead for Jamaica. With His help, rejoicing will come in the morning. But we all have to get to that crisis point where we understand that life can never be the same again. In the same way that life can never be allowed to remain the same in Jamaica. But that depends on how we handle the crisis in our land and the crisis in our souls. Pray God that we will all make the right decision and declare like the hymn writer:
O Jesus I have promised to serve thee.......