Monday, December 12, 2011

Jesus the very thought of thee

Tonight's message almost did not happen. We, my wife and I, had just returned from the Annual carol Service at church, and within a few minutes of starting, all I had written disappeared....happens all the time. So clearly what I thought about to write, was not the Lord's will, but mine. I then locked off the computer and thought I would write tomorrow night when my mind was more relaxed. And as opened my Bible and " happened" upon a meditation, the message from the Lord, and the accompanying passage of Scripture all came back. What's the message? Do not allow the media or the world to unduly influence our conversations and thoughts!
This message is so relevant to us here in Jamaica...and no doubt the USA also.... as the airwaves are being flooded with campaign ads from both of our two main political parties. All geared towards influencing an increasing mature and sophisticated electorate in pursuit of gaining state power the day of national elections scheduled for December 29th. But it is a message that has resonance outside of the election period, as the electronic and print media have become so much an important, if not almost an indispensable, part of our daily lives. Thus our conversation as home, our arguments in the public square, and the decisions made on our behalf, as is the case as highlighted in the USA this week on Yahoo news and the decisions that President Obama makes, are heavily influenced by the news carried by the media.....and increasingly, for better or for worse, by the social network organizations.
So how does that reality fit with:

" Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. The commandm that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates". Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV
This text comes in the middle of the Lord god warning the children of Israel, whom He had rescued out of the hands of their enemies with His strong right hand, not to forget Him. And thus he continues......when you eat and satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.....
How does one about God's commandments when you lie down...when almost everybody now has a Television in their bedroom? How do we about them when we walk on the road....when many young people have earphones permanently in place listening to the latest songs, or even watching the news on their mobile TV! These are indeed challenging times for people of faith, as we are under constant attack by the enemy, to be distracted from hearing the still small voice of God...even at church with all the noise that happens in some places of worship. So, our God who is God who promises " never to leave us nor forsake us", guided me to reflect on the words of a hymn and tonight, a meditation from a well known Christian of old.

" O Jesus the very thought of thee,
with sweetness fills the breast.
But sweeter still they face to see
and in thy presence rest.......

Actually I did not get much past the the first line, as just the very thought of Jesus, and how He has provided for me, and for all mankind, with power, filled me with so much joy, in the midst of my contemplating the challenges that we face as Christians.

Then just tonight this meditation " caught my eye".


Verse: proverbs 8:30

There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God....
If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but practicing the presence of God. If I were to be responsible for guiding souls in the right direction, I would urge everyone to be aware of God's constant presence, if for no other reason than because his presence is a delight to our souls and spirits.
It is, however necessary. If we only knew how much we need God's grace, we would never lose touch with him. Believe me. Make a commitment never to deliberately stray from him, to live the rest of your life in his holy presence. Don't do this in expectation of receiving heavenly comforts; simply do it out of love for him.
Put your hand to the task! If you do it right, you will soon see the results.

As I wrote and reflected on Brother Lawrence's message and the message from Deuteronomy, two thoughts came into my mind.
One, that it is God who makes us stand form in Christ Jesus...not our own ( the grand scheme of things...) efforts alone. " Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ". 1 Cor. 1: 21. NIV
Secondly, there is a hymn which speaks directly to the penultimate point made by Brother Lawrence...and amazingly it was in a sermon that I preached today.

" My God I love thee; not because
I hope for heaven thereby,
nor yet because who love thee not
are lost eternally.

Thou, O my Jesus, thou didst me
upon the cross embrace;
for me didst bear the nails and spear;
and manifold disgrace.

and griefs and torments numberless,
and sweat of agony;
yea, death itself--and all for me
who was thine enemy.

Then why, O blessed Jesus Christ,
should I not love thee well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven,
nor of escaping hell;

not for the hope of gaining aught,
not seeking a reward;
but as thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord.

So would I love thee, dearest Lord,
and in thy praise will sing;
solely because thou art my God,
and my most loving King.

So let us, love the Lord with all our heart, speak to our children often about Him; let Him be the focus of our conversation, and let all the neighborhood know that we belong to him. And the same God who rescued His children from the hands of the Egyptians with mighty power, will provide a way out for us in these times of distractions and heavy influence by the things of the world. But this can only happen if we listen to Brother Lawrence and learn to " practice " the aware of...the presence of God in lives and love Him...and obey Him..... only because He first loved us, and showed the full extent of His love for us by sending His Son, not just at Christmas, but to die on the cross for all mankind.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Living by the Spirit of God; An offer which first begun at Christmas

This week the big story in my country was the resignation of a powerful Minister of Government, and Chairman of the ruling Governing party, over the
" mismanagement of funds", by an Executive Agency over which he had ultimate responsibility. The week before the head of that agency had been fired, and now this time the scandal claimed another casualty as more revelations were made public. The sum of money involved is huge - over US$ 400 million borrowed from the Chinese government to fix our aging infrastructure. And from the very outset the opposition party had been calling for greater levels of scrutiny and accountability of the program which had the potential to do good, but also to be abused. Recently, two government watchdog institutions had discovered gross irregularities, and so now civil society has joined the call for a forensic audit and to which call the new Prime Minister has acceded. How will this play out, only God knows, as so far the Minister has been found guilty only of having allowed these irregularities to take place under his watch. This week also, Presidential hopeful Herman Cain, pulled out of the race for the GOP nomination, based on the " continued distractions of alleged unfaithfulness", and the " hurt caused to his family". And I wondered, if these allegations are true, what made him think that he could get away with it in a country where the press is notorious for uncovering " dirt" about politicians. But then again, he may yet be not guilty

So with all of this stuff swirling around me what did the Lord say during this week. First of all He instructed me to send the following note to my church members one day this week. And the essence of the message is that all of us, inside and outside the church, should be very mindful of our vulnerability to be led by our sinful nature and do evil.

"Resolving this matter of the living by sinful nature and living by the Spirit of Christ is fundamental to the our growth in the Christian life. As we look around us we will observe from recent events, and some not so recent, that our natural self will always let us down. And not just in celebrated public ways, but in private where God still sees and knows. And judges. This reality came home to me very acutely as I pondered on recent happenings and reflected on that wonderful Communion Hymn:

" And now, O Father, mindful of the love
that bought us, once for all on Calvary's tree...

and in particular the second verse

Look, Father, look on his anointed face
and only look on us as found in him;
look not on our misusing of thy grace,
our prayers so languid and our faith so dim;
for lo! Between our sins and their reward
we set the passion of our Lord.

The point is that we just cannot manage to to please God in our sinful natural self. No matter how hard we try. The natural sinful self will always let us down. complaining too much! Quarreling not being sufficiently thankful and grateful! Being full of envy and pride! Lacking in compassion and mercy?
Falling regularly into all kinds of temptations...publicly and privately! Engaging in casual prayers and having a doubtful, unbelieving heart!
Even as church members, much less those who are unredeemed.

It is in this context then, that the Spirit of the Lord led me then to read the following passage from Jeremiah. And I had in mind current happenings and the consequences. But we too in the church need to " work out our salvation with fear and trembling", as the Scriptures command us. As otherwise, if the Spirit of Christ does not rule over us with absolute sway, we too can behave, in private and publicly, just like those who are unredeemed and walking according to the sinful nature. Because as St Paul observes in the New Testament and Jeremiah spoke about it in the OT in the passage below, ..." nothing good lives in me in the sinful nature".

Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
he will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert
in a salt land where no one lives

But blessed in the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
he will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
it does not fear when the heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
it has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward a man according to his conduct
according to what his deeds deserve.

Jeremiah 175-10 NIV

The point is that according to Oswald Chambers, " we have to feed the Spirit of Christ in us". And that is all about prayer, and fasting if we are so moved, being obedient to the Word of God, doing good works, and not subjecting on mind too readily and too regularly to the influences of this world...TV, Radio, cable, music places, people.....taking Holy Communion seriously and regularly... surrendering completely to and obey for there is no other way......
as this matter of a deceitful heart is so very true and real.

Finally the Spirit led me to the warning in 1 Corinthians:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the same cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, their bodied were scattered over the desert.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: " The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry. " We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did--and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did -- and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did - and were killed by the destroying angel.

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.
1 Cor. 10:1-12

The point is that we should not take lightly what is happening to unredeemed persons whether in " high " places or " low". We need to be reminded that it is only because " God looks on the anointed face of Christ in us", why we too do not suffer the same fate as those "whose bodies were scattered in the desert", as a warning to us. Therefore let us strive with all our might not to be guilty of " misusing God's grace" in Christ. Whether by languid prayers, dim faith, or more importantly allowing the " deceitful heart " of the natural sinful self to dominate our lives...and to grumble..and to commit idolatry...and to engage in immorality..and to take part in pagan revelry...and to quarrel often and rather than giving thanks always...and to doubt God's goodness and unfailing love. That leads to embarrassment at best, and death at worse. Above all things, we must constantly ask God to enable us so that the Spirit of Christ will " hold absolute sway over our lives", that God will " have thine own way", and that " Christ only, always shall live in us".

Then we can exult like the Psalmist:

How good and pleasant it is
when brothers ( and sisters) live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured out on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down on the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessings,
even life forevermore.
Psalm 133.

The reality is that everything that is happening around us is under the control of an all knowing and Almighty God. Every situation God knows about. There are no secrets about which God is not aware. God is in the midst of very situation and will act in His own time. It's reality which struck me very forcibly when I read the following Scripture this week:

Meanwhile, when a crowd on many thousands had gathered so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak to his disciples, saying: " Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs".
Luke 12:1-3 NIV.

This issue of hypocrisy, living one life in the public domain, and another in private and in your heart, is at the heart of why the Gospel of Light needs to shine into the deepest recesses of the human heart. It is the essence of the great message continued in the opening verses of John's Gospel to which the Lord led me this week:

" In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was with God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, but the darkness has not yet understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light......." John 1: 1-6 NIV

The reality is that all unredeemed persons are living in darkness, no matter how much they might think that they are enlightened. And sophisticated. And cool. And powerful. And wise. And rich. And hot. That's all an illusion, which is sadly exposed in times of trouble. And trouble will come to every living human being in this world. This is how we need to view ourselves in this world where life is being framed by illusions. That unless the Spirit of Christ lives in us, we live in darkness, and in the " shadow of death". Where hypocrisy, and greed, and wickedness of all kinds, and pride, and envy and immorality all rule in one shape or another. And there is no remedy, unless we repent and turn to Christ and claim the victory over sin and death which is ours in the Cross of Calvary. Herein lies the second challenge for us as Christians, is that no one is irredeemable. Whether he may be in a high position in society or low. Whether he may be accused of wrongdoing or appear to be a " good person". Whether the manifestations of a sinful life are public or a closely guarded secret. We therefore like John the Baptist are called by Christ to bring the gospel of Light to those close to us, and those far from us so that the message of God's redeeming grace in Christ Jesus may be manifest in our lives and in our teaching.
Ultimately, that message of the Light of Christ, shinning in the lives of men and calling all to repentance is the only route to true nation building. To the creation of a just society. To the building up of the Kingdom of righteousness and holiness in politics, in business, in the schools, in the communities, in the media, in the professions, and ultimately in the family. So as we continue to watch the US presidential race, and prepare for our own elections on December 29 th .yes the PM just called it ... we need as a church to redouble our efforts to reach out to those who have strayed from the faith, the lost, the wounded, the disillusioned and those being held captive by Satan. Our efforts must be greater and more sustained and more focused than those campaigning for political power, for we have the Lord God Almighty on our side, the love of Christ in our hearts, and the knowledge that unredeemed, unbaptized persons are in terrible danger. Not just of public embarassment or worse, but of eternal judgment. I pray God that the same fever which now grips the nation in respect of elections will take hold of us in the church and spur us on to rescue the perishing and those sitting in the shadow of death, and not gloat over their misfortunes and their being held in bondage by Satan. Amen.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Joy and Peace cometh in the morning and even more so at Christmas

These are no ordinary times. In Jamaica, people are going through unprecedented financial stress. Weekly events like going to the supermarket has become a nightmare and prices continue to rise and incomes remain static or shrink. Health cost continue to soar, whilst caring for aging relatives and sending children to school are major challenges. At the same time the national debt, consuming upwards of 130% of GDP, almost as much as Greece, as we are reminded by one newspaper - The daily Gleaner - almost daily, has become a burden, limiting government spending and retarding economic growth. There is an outlet, of sorts, as people continue to migrate to the USA, the UK and other countries. But the financial strain is worldwide, as country after country are experiencing difficulties. Most famous was the recent downgrade of the US by rating agencies, then the meltdown in Greece, followed quickly by Italy and other EU counties are wobbling. But it is not only a matter of financial stress, earthquakes in various parts of the world, wars and rumours of wars in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, mass killings in Mexico, protests all over the USA, all contribute to a world living on the edge. When you combine this with deep personal tragedies, sudden death of young and even old ones in the family, fractured relationships, wayward children abusing even their grandmothers, it almost becomes too much for one to handle.

So we thank God that Christmas is coming, as this morning my church marked the first of four Advent Sundays, which will then climax its celebrations on Christmas day - the glorious event of our Lord " coming to help His people". And my God do we need help. Just this evening, in the midst of great personal angst, the Lord led me through His Word to read the comforting words from Isaiah.

" The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned...........

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
he will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accompany this.

Isaiah 9:1-7 NIV

And as I pondered how " the zeal of the Lord will accomplish this", the Spirit led my mind to the Luke passage:

" How will this be," Mary asked the angel, " since I am a virgin"?
The angel answered, " the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you".
Luke 1: 35. NIV

Wow! Alleluia! Amen! And so we lift up our voices with the words of the late great singer Sam Cooke: " Ain't that good news, man ain't that good news".

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light indeed. In my country the buzz is " call it Andrew, call it", as the new Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who under our Westminster type Parliamentary Democracy, has the sole right, within the constraints of the law - unlike the USA which has a fixed date every four years - to decide on what day national elections are to be held. And rumour has it that he will do so on Wednesday of this week, thus sending our nation into a virtual orgy of electioneering, climaxing some time after Christmas Day. So, it is not only Christmas which is coming in my country, but elections too. But according to Isaiah, "For to us a child is born, and to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders....and of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end".
What a day then, in my country, and even in Obama-land, or in the UK or Canada, when people would turn to the Son of God, and seek His peace. He, who places Princes and Prime Ministers and government on thrones and in power, and when He chooses, removes them in a day! What a day when our people would accept this Christ child into their hearts and discover the peace that " has no end". This is what Jesus promised on the night before He died when at the end of a long session with them before His "High Priestly", he promised: " I have told you these things, so that in me you will may have peace. in this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world". John 16:38 NIV

So though we walk through valley of the shadow of death, sadly for some literally, as well as for others very frighteningly metaphorically; and though we are held in the grip of high prices at the supermarket; and though we walk through the darkness of failed relationships and of wayward children; and though we are burdened by the onerous debt owed to the IMF, local banks and other agencies; though we are frustrated and disappointed, at times, with our political representatives; though we are blown away by hurricanes and have our infrastructure destroyed by earthquakes, and horrified by wars and rumours of wars and mass killings; the good news is that in Christ, despite all those things going on around and within us, God offers us Light in the Darkness and Eternal Peace in our souls. Now ain't that good news, or ain't that good news.

No doubt this what inspired the late Martin Luther King Jnr to write the following meditation which struck me forcibly this week and provided much inspiration at just the right time in my own struggles.


Verse Psalm 30:5 NIV

At the beginning of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, we set up a voluntary car pool to get the people to and from their jobs. For eleven long months our car pool functioned extraordinarily well. The Mayor Gayle introduced a resolution instructing the city's legal department to file such proceedings as might deem proper to stop the operation of the car pool or any other transportation system growing out of the bus boycott. A hearing was set for Tuesday, November 13, 1956.

At our regular weekly mass meeting, scheduled for the night before the hearing.... I ( said) " We have moved all of these months... in the daring faith that God is with us in our struggles. The many experiences of the days gone by have vindicated that faith in a marvelous way. Tonight we must believe that a way will be made out of no way. " Yet I could feel the cold breeze of pessimism pass over the audience. The night was darker than a thousand midnights. The light of hope was about to fade and the lamp of faith to flicker......

At noon, during a brief recess, I noticed an unusual commotion in the courtroom. Mayor Gayle was called to the backroom. Several reporters moved excitedly in and out of the room. Momentarily a reporter came to the table where, as he chief defendant, I sat with the lawyers. "Here is the decision that you have been waiting for", he said. Read this release."

In anxiety and hope, I read these words: " The United States Supreme court today unanimously ruled bus segregation unconstitutional in Montgomery Alabama," My heart throbbed with an inexpressible joy. The darkest hour of our struggle had become the first hour of victory. Someone shouted from the back of the courtroom, " God Almighty has spoken from Washington!"

The dawn will come. Disappointment, sorrow and despair are born at midnight, but the morning follows. " Weeping may remain for a night," says the psalmist, " but rejoicing comes in the morning.

As I read this, again, I almost felt like crying for joy too. Amen

No wonder the prophet Isaiah in the OT reading appointed today cries out to the Lord on behalf of a people walking in darkness,: " O that you would rend the heavens and come down". Isaiah 64:1 NIV

And indeed God Almighty not only came down and spoke to people from " Washington", to those walking in darkness and to and from work, many years ago in Alabama, but two thousand years ago He did rent the heavens and came down. And by the power of the Most High entered into the womb and heart of a believing virgin. So too, right now, at this moment, we too can experience the indwelling of the crucified and risen Lord in our hearts, if we only believe that He came at Christmas, but more importantly, died and was raised to new life at the first Easter. This is the good news of Christmas. Better than any promise that Obama, or our politicians can offer for as the psalmist advises;

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
the maker of heaven and earth
the sea, and everything in them-
the Lord who remains faithful forever.
Psalm 146:3-6 NIV

This morning at church we lit the candle of hope. The first of four. I pray God that this meditation will draw you closer to the Hope that is in Christ the King, whose coming at Christmas fulfilled the promise of a Mighty God, A prince of Peace, A Wonderful Counselor and an everlasting Father, and who alone can provide the kind of lasting peace that we so badly need in a troubled world. Amen

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Unless the Lord builds the house......

Two personal experiences affected me this week. One occurred at home. The other on the road today. In recent times, at home, we had erected a higher fence, as one day a strange man presented himself in my yard claiming " refugee status"....according to him others were chasing him. Then one day another young man presented himself, this time without any excuse. Just a plain thief. Fortunately I was at home to challenge him, and he ran. Needless to say, my wife was not a happy camper, as she had taken great care of what he had come to steal. So we put in an electronic gate. Then a few days later, in our absence, he simply proceeded to scale the fence, or the wall, and took what he had come for the first time, and more. So what were we to do now? Migrate? Get some dogs? Really, what kind of country is this! Well to cut a long story and debate short, the Lord instructed us to go on our knees and pray, using His Word.

"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain".
Psalm 127: 1. NIV

So we placed our security in the hands of the Lord, relocated the " prized objects" to the back of the yard, and moved on with our life.

We, my wife and I, went for brunch after church today. That's when the madness started at the first traffic light down the road from our home. We had the green light, but the traffic with the red light, to our amazement, just kept on coming. It was a good thing I didn't venture out very far. Then we realized that today was the conference day for the ruling Jamaica Labour Party, akin , but clearly on a much smaller scale, to the Democratic or Republican party's convention in the USA. And despite the warning from the police high command, the party supporters, in their exuberance were in no mood to obey the laws governing the movement of traffic in our land. So the madness reached a higher level at another traffic light, when we noticed a young man hanging out the window of a bus laden with supporters, and a young lady seated, well not really seated, but doing what can only be described as a lap dance above him, dancing to the music. The driver, not be outdone, then proceeded to rock the steering from right to left, again keeping time with the music, thus making the bus, laden with supporters, behave like a drunken soldier. Needless to say, a lone policeman in a patrol car, spotted by my wife, chose, perhaps wisely, to ignore all of this as they sped pass him in numbers. Of course, we were the only ones alarmed, as they were all having a " good time". So we wondered, after brunch, as we were again caught up in the traffic, if this kind of thing took place anywhere else in the world, as both political party supporters behave in like manner!

As I write, I am reminded of a title of a song made popular by one of our better gospel artists, Carlene Davis: " This island needs Jesus". As only the " Living God" can so change the hearts of people who " carry on" like this. No appeal from any politician, whether young or more mature, sports-personality, entertainer, journalist or any other leader in national life, can make a difference. So the Lord led me a particular meditation, one more time, in the midst of my own anxieties, and His Word this week to make it clear how we should proceed on the journey to know Christ better, and thus to make ourselves available to be the change agents of Jesus in this land. Or any other.

First of all, we need to get rid for any idea that our desire and prayers for God's blessings, even for the essential things of life, can take place priority over our desire to know God Himself, and to delight in His will. As it is the complete determination to seek and know God which will enable him or her to know Jesus. There can be no competition, no matter how great is the personal need. Whether it be personal financial distress.... health issues, security issues, relationship problems, or national problems....on the roads, in the Parliament, in the PM's Cabinet, on the airwaves or in the boardroom! All legitimate concerns but to be pursued after another priority has been established in one mind.

A. B. Simpson

Verse: Matthew 17:8

Once it was the blessing, now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling, now it is his word;
Once it was the gift I wanted, now, the Given own;
Once I sought for healing, now himself alone

Once 'twas painful trying, now 'tis perfect trust;
Once a half salvation, now the uttermost;
Once 'twas ceaseless holding, now he holds me fast;
Once 'twas constant drifting, now my anchor's cast.

Once 'twas busy planning, now 'tis trustful prayer;
Once 'twas anxious caring, now he has he care;
One 'twas what i wanted, now what Jesus says;
Once 'twas constant asking, now 'tis ceaseless praise.

Once I hoped in Jesus, now I know he is mine;
Once my lamps were dying, now they brightly shine;
Once for death I waited, now his coming hail;
And my hopes are anchored safe within the veil.

All in all forever,
Only Christ I'll sing
Ev'rything is in Christ
And Christ is ev'rything.

Not many of us , if we are truthful, think about God in Christ like that. We are far more comfortable with the blessings. But seeking His blessings alone will not make my country a better place. It will not lead to a renewal of either personal faith or the corporate faith of the church; a prerequisite for renewal in inner city life, on our roads, in our music, and in the decisions taken by Ministers of Government. We have to seek God Himself, in and through Christ, if we are serious about change in the behaviour of our people and ourselves. And then when we get to know God better, there is another step. The one taken by our Lord Himself, as recorded in the book of Philippians.

" Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death...
even death of a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name........."

Philippians 2: 5-9 NIV

So we seek to know God in Christ better day by day, and then having started on that journey, we commit ourselves to servant-hood. Dying to self, in the power of Christ, forgetting about ourselves, so that we may better find ourselves, and our true role in serving others. Then and only then will my country and your country change. No doubt it is this kind of revelation which led the hymn-writer to pen these words which touched my soul this week.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee:
I give you back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller, be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee:
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine's blaze its day
may, brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee:
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be........

I pray God that we may allow the " builder of our house", and the " watchman of our city", to reign completely in our lives. And so transform us with His grace, in and through Christ, that the Spirit of the Living God may flow through us and touch and transform the lives of people who we meet along the way in life. Whether in our homes or on the public thoroughfare. Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Death was in the air in my country this week. The nation awoke one morning to the news that two icons had died. One, a journalist, after a long and very public battle with cancer. The other, a sports administrator, sportsman, athletic coach, politician and confidante to two Prime Ministers was found unconscious and rushed to hospital but only to be pronounced dead. One, "Tino" Geddes was well known locally, while the death of the other triggered a call for a minute's silence by none other than male athlete of the year and superstar - Usain Bolt - at a gala event in Monaco attended by the King and watched by millions across the world. Such was the reach and fame of Howard Aris, the late President of the Jamaica Administrative Association, who guided the nation's athletes to their greatest ever performance in the last Olympic games in Beijing, and the two recent World Games in Berlin and in Daegu. And who, no doubt like many of us, was looking forward to even greater things in London next year. but that was not to be. Less dramatic, and certainly far less traumatic for the family than death was news of a more private nature, but equally troubling to my soul, of two young persons who suffered a stroke in recent times.

Death was in the air in my " conversation" with the Lord this week. Most notably, the Psalm appointed for this week, which I had read before, and which reading triggered a text message, but really as I read it again in preparation for church this morning, soul was troubled. For all who might have died and not accepted the love and forgiven of God in Christ.

" We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
The length of our days is seventy years --
or eighty, if we have the strength;
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Relent , O Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy, and be glad all our days.
Psalm 90: 7-14. NIV

" For your wrath is a great as the fear that is due to you". One of the central messages, often lost in this age of moral relativity and a re-write of the nature of God, attempting to turn Him into a benevolent Creator who is only full of love and compassion, is the reality of of the Cross of Calvary on which Jesus died so horribly. As it is on account of the wrath of God, which "all who have sinned and fallen short of his glory ", why Jesus suffered and died. He took on to Himself....the doctrine of substitution...the sins of the whole world. So that we might not suffer the consequences of God's wrath. A doctrine further explained in an extended reading of the New Testament lesson appointed for today in my church.

" Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope........

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, " peace and safety," destruction will come upon them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you my brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night
or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."
1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 NIV

The inescapable reality then is that the wrath of God awaits all those who have not accepted the forgiveness offered by God in Christ on Calvary. Little wonder then, that the sanke...Are you washed, are you washed, are you washed in the blood of the Lamb. Are your garments spotless. are they white as snow, are you washed in the blood of the Lamb ... came into my mind this evening and let me to sing. I could not recall the entire song so like any modern person I googled it....
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
Oh, be washed in the blood of the Lamb!
The point therefore, is that it does not matter whether you are a King or commoner. Of international acclaim or just of local iconic status. A man of power or a woman who lives in the backwater of Jesus once did. Someone who has influenced the lives of many for good, or someone who was a rascal all his days. A prostitute, or the choirmaster. Gay or straight. An Obama or a Rommney. A young bright Holness or a aging but experienced and passionate Portia Simpson-Miller. If you are not washed in the Blood of the Lamb, the wrath of God awaits you when you die, and even before that, for some. That is why the sharing of the gospel message is no ordinary thing to done in one's spare time. To be taught to children when all other exams have been successfully navigated. To be shared with a spouse or a friend, when they in the mood, or worse when we are in the mood. No! As people's lives are in eternal danger. People fall asleep, and die suddenly. Strokes and other warning signs come like a thief in the middle of the night. It is the supreme task that awaits every baptized share the gospel with urgency and with integrity. " Cleanse the thoughts of my heart O Lord, that I may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy a prayer we repeat, hopefully with understanding and belief, Sunday after Sunday in my church.
Make no mistake, God is indeed a loving God and full of compassion, as was exemplified in the gospel reading at church tonight ( John 8: 1-11) where Jesus confronted the accusers of a woman caught in adultery, and who were determined to stone her to death, with the now very famous words: " If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her".. And the narrative recalls that they all left, the older ones first. But though Jesus reassured the lady that he did not condemn her, he urged her " Go now and leave your life of sin". And that call to leave a life of sin , can only be fully realized among us when we accept Christ as Lord and Saviour and the only source of our righteousness.

Finally, to make the point...of our wretchedness before a holy God.... even more dramatically, my mind, of late, has been recalling a very profound commentary written by Blaise Pascal ( 1623-1662) , that great scientist, and arguably one the great minds in Western intellectual age 12 he had worked out the equivalent of of many of Euclid's geometrical theorems. At 19 he invented the first practical calculating machine...... whose inventions were even more significant than Steve Jobs. And who later became a great Christian apologist.


Verse : Psalm 51:1

The God of the Christians is not a God who is simply the author of mathematical truths, or of the order the elements, as is the god of the pagans, and of the Epicureans. Nor is he merely a God who providentially disposes the life and fortunes of men, to crown his worshipers with length of happy years. Such was the portion of the Jews. But the God of Abraham, the God of Issac, the God of Jacob, the God of the Christians, is a God who fills their souls and hearts of his own, a God who makes them feel their inward wretchedness and his infinite mercy, who unites himself to their inmost spirit, filling it with humility and joy, with confidence and love, rendering them incapable of any other end other than himself.

All who seek God apart from Jesus Christ, and who rest in nature, either find no light to satisfy them, of form for themselves a means of knowing God and serving him without a mediator. Thus they fall either into atheism or into deism, two things which the Christian religion almost equally abhors.

The God of the Christians is a God who makes the soul perceive that he is her only good, that her only rest is in him, her only joy in loving him; who makes her at the same time abhor the obstacles which withhold her from loving him with all her strength. Her two hindrances, self-love and lust, are insupportable to her. This God makes her perceive that the root of self-love destroys her, and that he alone can heal.

The knowledge of God without that of our wretchedness creates pride. The knowledge of our wretchedness without that of God creates despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle way, because in him we find both God and our wretchedness.

I pray God that this message will impact someone's heart and allow them to urgently feel their inward wretchedness before God, and understand that unless they are washed with the blood of the Lamb, even Jesus Christ, the wrath of God cometh like a thief in the night. But joy cometh in the morning for all who have accepted the grace of God freely offered to all who believe that Jesus died for their wretchedness. Amen

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Spirit of God and the spirit of this age

Do you think that Americans are ready to elect a Mormon as President, or even to give the idea serious thought? I know in the UK it probably would not fly, and certainly not in my country. Reading the well respected Economist this week on-line however, at least one writer thinks that it may not be a major issue. And in the same way Americans got past Catholicism with JFK, they may well see Mitt Romney's allegiance to the Mormon faith as a non- (political) issue. The argument being advanced is that Mormons are now considered, by some, as Christians. In our situation in Jamaica, twenty thirty years ago, the Adventist,s specifically the SDA church was not considered mainstream Christian. Now they are, unless you combine all the various Church of God denominations, the largest, and still growing, Christian denomination in my country. Further, both the constitutional head of state - the Governor General, and the political leader - the Prime Minister, are practicing members of the SDA church. Interesting times indeed!

So at a time when leadership is changing across the world, some peacefully, others more violently; when religious issues continue to make headlines across he world...will Sharia law now replace whatever was there before in post Qaddafi's Libya?...; when protests against the 1% who control most of the wealth across the world are mushrooming; when many folks are undergoing severe financial and emotional stress in their personal lives; when even young people are threatened with serious health issues, what did the Lord reveal to His people this week?

A revisit of a most important issue in the Bible- living by the Spirit vs living by the sinful nature. It began in Galatians.:
" So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so you do not do what you want." Galatians 5:16-18 NIV

This assertion that the Spirit - placed in us by virtue of our baptism into the death of Christ - is in conflict with the sinful nature - placed in us by the sin of Adam, is one of the most profound issues which confronts mankind worldwide and transcends all other political, economic and social priorities. As this is the precise reason why the God who the Psalmist describes as " you who sit enthroned between the cherubim", the God who "presides in the great assembly", the God who " the heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim the work of his hands", this God came to earth as man in Christ Jesus, so that we could live by the Spirit and not perish by living by the sinful nature. So that we could be holy, as God is holy; and not kill our brother as Cain did; and not rape our sisters...and not hate each other because of the difference in skin colour, because of which people from Africa in general and South Africa in recent times have had to suffer for centuries, or because of our ethnic background as they did in Kosovo, or even more significantly in 1938 Germany, or difference in political allegiance the manifestations of which have wreaked havoc in my country for years and which huge problem the new PM has vowed to tackle with all his energy. But more importantly, by living by the Spirit we are ushered into a new and eternal life which this world cannot comprehend, nor worse accept.

No doubt this emphasis on loving each other, rather than fighting against each other constantly, led to my being called to read 1 John 1. And in particular:

" God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another , and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins. he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. if we claim we have not sinned we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. 1 John 1: 5-10 NIV

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the messge you have heard. yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shinning.
Anyone who calims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoevr loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not knw where he is going becuse the darkness has blinded him.

1 John 2:7-11. NIV

One of the great " veranda" topics in Jamaica, trending now like Yahoo news, is how the former PM Bruce Golding lied and how this new PM is no better as he was part of the corrupt lot. The problem with this attitude, as with the " remove the Kenyan" anti-Obama movement in the US, is that, it would have us take our eyes off our own sins. And all of us have so many. That's why the Cross is so critical and central to the Christian religion, for if we claim we have no sin, we make out God to be a liar, as this is why He sent His only Son to die for the sins of all mankind. Each Sunday morning as I go to church to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, or Lord's Supper, or whatever name is attached to this most holy event, I thank God for the body and blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin and heals all diseases. As I realize more and more each day, that " nothing in my hand I bring before God, simply to His Cross I cling. So therefore I have little time to countenance those who would spend all their time " recalling" the sins of Mr. Golding, or young Andrew Holness, or President Obama, or the man next door, or that sinful woman down the street, as in the final analysis, we will all have to face the judgment seat before a holy God, who offered his Son as an atonement for our sins. And what will we say to him? " Look at that man, or that woman, at his or her egregious sin.

The other topic of course, is the age old question of homosexuality, which according to the news has now arrived at center stage at the recently held Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference. Clearly no committed Christian, reading John's Epistle can countenance hatred against anyone. The question which arises for those of us who agree with the the unvarnished truth, (but clearly for some an uncomfortable revelation) of Holy Scripture that the practice of homosexuality is a sin, is how to explain that truth with compassion and humility, and counter the growing culture which has successfully labeled anyone who holds that view, that we " hate " homosexuals. A position which is far from the truth, but nonetheless is a campaign being waged with unrelenting fury by the gay movement and those who sympathize with them

Finally, for those who are struggling with serious trials, persecutions and challenges in their lives, the message from the book of Revelations, received in the dead of night, this week, should be comforting.

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and the kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord's day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches:.......

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever.! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen............
Rev. 1: 9-19 NIV

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars - I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that i have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live upon the earth
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will be able to take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and of the city of my god, the new Jerusalem which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the church. Rev. 3:7-13 NIV

So, in Christ, we are all called to suffer. To be patient. And to endure. And the God who has placed before us an open door that no one can shut, will protect us from all evil. No one can take us out of his hand. And He will reveal those who are faithful in due course. Whether they be Mormons, SDA, Church of God, Anglicans, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Gays or ......Our business is to be faithful to Him who has called us into His marvelous light in and through His Son Christ on the Cross of Calvary. As He who has the Son, hath life, but he who does not have the Son has no life at all - that's what the Scriptures teach us. Regardless of what religion or denomination, or political party, or ethnic background, sexual orientation, or skin colour we have or claim. So this week let us concentrate on our own sins, repent before a loving and compassionate God, and pray that we may live by the Spirit and not by the sinful nature, which leads us into all kinds of quarrels and bickering and distracts and prevents us from enjoying the joy and the peace and the holiness that are ours in Christ Jesus, when we live by the Spirit. Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A new Prime Minister and new thoughts about an Eternal God

Just this evening I had the privilege, along with many other Jamaicans, of attending the ceremony at which our youngest Prime Minister ever at age 39, Andrew Michael Holness took off charge of the reins of power. People came from all walks of life. Some carried their " party hats", and cheered both the incoming and the outgoing Prime Ministers at every opportunity. Even one past PM was warmly received also as the crowd was in a festive mood. Both men of God, one who prayed at the beginning for the nation and our leaders, and the other who gave the benediction at the end, prayed with conviction and clearly under the power of God's Holy Spirit - so touching and appropriate were their prayers. When it was the new PM's his turn he spoke well and gave a clear indication of the issues that would be a priority under his watch. The Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen spoke well too. Very concise, touching the right points and his facility with the English language was refreshing. As was the former PM. But this new PM sounds like a no-nonsense man and seems willing to tackle the age old problem of tribal politics and garrison politics which has resulted in lines of demarcation separating communities, the breach of which can and has resulted in death and mayhem. He spoke about the upcoming 50th anniversary of our Independence and his hopes and aspirations for a new Jamaica. We wish him well and wait to see how he performs. Just today also , yet again, along with millions of people across the world, I had the privilege of sharing in " the body and blood of Christ", by participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion, or The Eucharist, or " Lord Supper" as some term this most wonderful event. All baptized and confirmed - the next step in the spiritual development in my church - persons are welcomed. Each Sunday morning I prepare and look forward to meeting Christ face to face by reflecting on the words of a great hymn: Here, O my Lord I see thee face to face; here faith would touch and handle things unseen; here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace, and all my weariness upon thee lean. Here would I feed upon the bread of God; here drink with thee the royal wine of heaven; here would I lay aside each earthy load; here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven. I have no other help but thine; nor do I need another arm save thine to lean upon; it is enough, my Lord enough indeed, my strength is in thy might, thy might alone. This week, also, the Lord reminded in very dramatic fashion, that when I am weak, then He is strong. And so I went back to the Corinthian passage and read the relevant passage again: ....My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2. Cor. 12: 9-10 NIV I wonder if this new PM realizes that if he wishes to be strong in the Lord, as he rightly said this evening, that he has to be prepared to be the sight of men and of God. I wonder if he sincerely realizes that " he has no other help but thine" O Lord. Further, I wonder how many Christians delight in insults, weaknesses, persecutions, and difficulties, so that Christ's power may be made perfect in their weakness. Perhaps not, as this kind of living, is counter-culture, and counter-intuitive. But if we really wish to see a better Jamaica, a prosperous Jamaica, then we need not just a new Prime Minister, but a better understanding of who God is, and whose glory we seek. This week, in fact last night, I read a very disturbing passage of scripture: The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. 2. Thessalonians 2: 9-12 NIV The reality is that the concern for the poor, about which the new PM had much to say this evening, is not the worse thing that is happening in my country nor in the world. Just like how, in today's world, receiving the news that she is pregnant and not ready for a baby, is not the worse thing that can happen to a woman. It could have been HIV. Similarly, those who take responsibility to chart a new course for a nation need to appreciate the fact that perishing spiritually, is far worse than being poor. Yes, Jesus had a special concern for the poor and dispossessed, the persecuted and the ill treated, and so should we, but ultimately He died on the Cross of Calvary, in love, that " those that believe on Him should not perish, but have everlasting...eternal... life". The essence of John 3: 16. So when I read that those who stubbornly refuse to to believe the truth about the life,death and resurrection of our Lord Christ, who we see face to face, not on TV, not at King's House, but in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and cntinue therefore in doing wickedness, will be sent a "powerful delusion", so that they will believe the lie " of Satan ", then is it not time for us, the baptized ones, to reach out with urgency, with faith and with the power of the Holy Spirit, to rescue our people from this imminent and eternal danger. This is the challenge for the church in any country. Whether they live in countries experiencing the " Arab Spring", or where " youth " is being empowered, or where " Wall street " is being challenged. To respond in love and in faith, to the " clear and present" danger that confront those who are not under the protection of the God of Jacob. No doubt, in order to validate the message of imminent danger at every level that we face, the Lord led me to reflect and send out as a text message the first verse of this hymn, which I was reading for the first time, but which was in close juxtaposition to a favourite..."New every morning is the love". Now that the daylight fills the sky, we lift our hearts to God on high, that he, in all we do or day, would keep us free from harm today. May he restrain our tongues from strife, and shield from anger's din our life, and guard with watchful care our eyes from earth's absorbing vanities O may our inmost hearts be pure, from thoughts of folly kept secure, and pride of sinful flesh subdued through sparing use of food. So we, when this day's o'er, and shades of night return once more, our path of trial safely trod, shall give the glory to our God All praise to God the father be, all praise, Eternal Son to thee, whom with the Spirit we adore for ever and for ever more. Finally a prayer which the new PM, and all world leaders, and leaders in different spheres of life, could adapt and adopt for their own situation. All in keeping with the message from God that " I have no other help but thine O Lord. FOR GOD'S GRACE IN OUR HELPLESSNESS - A prayer Peter Marshall - ( 1902 - 1949) A Scottish immigrant to the USA who served as Chaplain to the US Senate for two years. His life was eventually made into a film after the publication of a book by his wife entitled " A man named Peter". Verse: Judges 7:2 We know , our Father, that at this desperate hour in world affairs, we need thee. We need thy strength, thy thy guidance, thy wisdom. Thee are problems far greater than any wisdom of man can solve. What shall our leaders do in such an hour? May thy wisdom and thy power come upon the President of these United States, the Senators and Congressmen, to whom have been entrusted leadership. May the responsibility lie heavily on their hearts, until they are ready to acknowledge their helplessness and turn to thee. Give to them the honesty, the courage, and the moral integrity to confess that they don't know what to do. Only then can they lead us as a nation beyond human wisdom to thee, who alone has the answer. lead us to this high adventure. Remind us that a " mighty fortress is our God" - not a hiding place where we can escape for an easy life, but rather an arsenal of courage and strength - the mightiest of all, who will march beside us into battle for righteousness among world brotherhood. O our God, may we never recover from our feeling of helplessness and our need of thee! In the strong name of Jesus, our Lord, we pray. Amen O God indeed, may we never fail to realize how helpless we are without your help. In Jesus name, who died so that we may not perish, we pray.Amen

Monday, October 10, 2011

Youth and power: Christ and Salvation

This week a young man, Andrew Holness age 39, took the first step to assuming the highest level of political power in my country. We all wish him well. This week also, another young man, age 23, full of promise and one of two sons of a Baptist Minister and his wife, who are both known to me, lost his life in a bizarre and tragic manner. So too did the son of another pastor and his wife, a well known public servant, neither of whom I know, but whose only child died in a bizarre and tragic manner. Then just this afternoon, I heard a most extraordinary interview, hosted by a well known and very impressive host on RJR's PALAV programme, by a popular young DJ, who is famous for his ability to play the right kind of music that party goers love. In the midst of all this excitement and sad news about young people, the lord sent a Word. The context was St. Paul writing to young Timothy who had been put in charge of the church in Ephesus, no doubt a big and demanding job. " Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity". 1 Timothy 4: 12 NIV The Word connects the lives of all of these young men. Alive and dead. Powerful and aspiring to power. Young people in Jamaica and young people in Lagos, in Jo'berg in SA, in Moscow, in New York, in Singapore. And not just young people but all peoples all over the world, as it has to do with ultimate power. In this life and the next. I tell you why. The interview with the young DJ revealed the power that music skillfully and deliberately played, can have over the behaviour of even the most sophisticated persons, and so much more those with less restraint, moving them to do things on a dance floor that they would never have imagined. The DJ even recounted a tragic episode, which was preceded by a graphic description of his ability to carry people to a hyped up edge, with one kind of music, and then "bring them back down" again with another. And how on one occasion when he was prevented by " an over zealous policeman", who ordered him to "cut off the sound", despite his plea to be allowed to " mellow them down", and his prediction that people would die that night unless the police relented, the policeman ignored his pleas, and later that night three university students lost their lives tragically in a motor vehicle crash. Prophetic or sheer coincidence? Multiply this episode several times over, across the world, wherever music or anything else that has the power to affect the behaviour of people, be it illicit drugs, prescribed medication, alcohol, the lust for power, poor self-esteem, depression, the exuberance of youth, testosterone driven behaviour of young males, the power of the gun, or otherwise, and we get an idea of the power that evil has, to use all of these things to wreak havoc in the lives of people created in the image of God. I had a conversation with the very knowledgeable, witty, and quite impressive host of the programme and his very energetic, articulate and bright young guest. And at the end I suggested that the new Prime Minister to be, would have a lot more on his plate than financial and economic issues, as important that those are, but equally so social and moral issues. I had in mind the level of immorality which is pervasive in my country, and manifestly so in the private and public behaviour of our young people, and perhaps so, on account of the kind of music to which they are subjected. He may or may not rise to the occasion, and might take the view that the resolution of such issues properly belong elsewhere. That depends on his spiritual awareness. Because I got the impression from the DJ with whom I spoke, who was having great fun inducing the uptown and others to " bruk out" ( behave in an out of control manner on the dance floor) that the effect that music was having on people, though he appreciated the dangers thereof, did not see it as something for him to correct. The problem for us in the church, who have a specific mandate from God to rescue people from sin and death ( in every way) unto everlasting life, in and through the telling of the gospel of Jesus Christ and his reconciliation of all mankind with God through the Cross of Calvary, is that there is a price to pay. And not many are willing to pay that price. This reminder came to me very vividly as I reflected this week on the words of a well known hymn. " Have thine own Lord! Have thine own way! And especially the words of the the last verse: Have thine own way Lord! Have thine own way! Hold o'er my being absolute sway! Fill with thy Spirit till all shall see Christ only, always, living with me. So moved was I, that I sent out the above words as a text message. As the message this week is very clear. The times are evil, and even the homes of the church leaders are under serious attack, much less so those whose lives have for the most part, been untouched by the gospel message, and therefore under less protection from evil. The young Mr. Holness will need to " think on these things" if he is to make any serious progress in promoting justice, peace and prosperity in my country. So too does the not so young anymore President Obama is he wishes to see America prosper again. The only and main agenda issue for resolution, despite what the tea-party advocates would have him believe, cannot be just the creation of jobs and the avoidance of any new taxes. Perhaps the recent riots in Britain and the scandals surrounding the newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch has already taught the young David Cameron that he, and the British Society will pay a heavy price if he avoids dealing with these social and moral issues. What the Lord is saying to young people, young leaders in any sphere in life across the world is that fighting evil requires an absolute surrender to the will of God, in any age and at any stage in life. As only the life of Christ born ( again ) in the lives of all people, by the Spirit of the living God, can rescue our children and older folks from the power that evil is exerting in this world. The call then is for purity and not just the kind of political unity that the young Mr Holn has been talking about. The call is for faith and the kind of sacrificial love which Christ demonstrated on the Cross of Calvary. And not just for the kind of understanding of the power of evil by this bright young DJ. The call is for us to set the right example for all to follow. And that example is not something for us to dream up, but to be obedient to - even Christ Himself. I pray God that more and more we in Jamaica, and around the world, will come to fully appreciate the power of the following words. Whether young or old. Powerful or aspiring to power. Grieving or rejoicing Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling Naked, look to you for dress Helpless, come to you for grace Foul, I to the fountain fly Wash me Savior, lest I die. And the God who is more willing to forgive, than we are to repent, will rescue us from all that is evil and set us free in and through Christ His One and Only, and Son. Amen

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Prime Minister speaks a word and the God of Jacob sends a Word

As I sit to write, in a few minutes our Prime Minister, who caught the nation completely off guard by his decision not seek re-election at the next party conference, which in our system of governance, means that we will have a new leader in November, is expected during a highly anticipated nation broadcast to share his thoughts on this sudden move. Regardless on his explanations, however, the entire country is taken up with a national debate on who will be the best person to lead this country until the next elections constitutionally due next year. In fact the PM has just concluded his brief address which highlighted the fact that the Dudus Coke affair - the breakdown in public trust despite exhaustive explanations - and his age - younger people are now leading countries all over the world including the USA and Britain - are the two issues which have led him to demit office at this time, and which will also give the party sufficient lead time to organize elections. This is a real shocker, as having apparently weathered the initial storm of the Coke extradition matter, most persons figured that he would continue to lead the country. In the midst of this confusion and much turmoil the Lord sent a word. And which word is shared in the following story which was sent to my church this week A remarkable thing happened yesterday. A Bishop of one the Evangelical churches came to see me. He was dressed in an ordinary shirt, no collar, no purple. Nothing to indicate his status. Perhaps that's why ( one of the reasons) - my Anglican heritage which coloured, pun intended, my understanding of who ought to be a Bishop - I had not asked him the question before, as I had known him for along time. But to fair, the other reason was the state of the nation, what with the current "excitement" in the air. So I asked him , " Bishop, do you have a prophetic word for the nation"? And without any hesitation, he referred me to the fig tree which Jesus cursed, and then he said that, in like manner, we are to " speak to the problems and not about the problems in the nation". And the same faith which the Lord promised to those that do not doubt would drive out the various spirits abroad in our land. The spirit of corruption etc....... And so I suggested that my understanding of his prophetic word was that we, the church, ought to be praying about the problems in Jamaica, and not just lamenting and engaging in " verandah talk". And he also reminded me that the same Jesus who spoke to the fig tree, is available in us and through us, by faith, to " speak to the problems in this land". And then we will be blessed. And so I should have hope for my country. So this morning I read the passage in Mark and found yet another instruction, indeed, a precondition to be fulfilled before God will answer our prayers. And having read and reflected I constructed a text message , and sent it to my "children", based on the revelation from a Psalm that the Lord placed in my mind early this morning. THE PSALM " One generation will commend your works to another, they will tell of your mighty acts." Psalm 145: 6 NIV THE CONTEXT The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, May no one ever eat fruit from you again. And his disciples heard him say it. Mark 11. 12-14 NIV THE PASSAGE " In the morning, as they went along, they saw a fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered! Have faith in God, Jesus answered. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, Go throw yourself into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him , so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11: 20-25 NIV THE TEXT MESSAGE Read Mark 11.20-25 and forgive all who have done you wrong and then pray with faith about every situation you face giving priority to that which will advance the God's kingdom. And so I did just that and used the message from Mark as the basis for my prayers for self, church and nation. So let us be obedient today and forgive, and member. pastor, bishop, self, family member, colleague, foe, politicians, journalists , and then offer believing prayers about all things, and God will, in and through a believing and forgiving church, bless this land, even as we contemplate the advent of a new political order. Indeed then there is hope for our beleaguered nation. Amen LWJ So, having reflected on the Word from the Bishop, what is the Lord saying to us at this time in the nation's history? One, is that we must not place our faith in the strength and wisdom of any man. History may or may not be kind to the PM, but the reality is that few other leaders have come to office with such high expectations based on the prevailing circumstances, the chequered history of achievements by past leaders despite many promises, and the welcome call for constitutional reform and a pulling back from the old style confrontational politics. So many young persons, some would say naively so, helped to usher him into office. Large sections of the media backed him and so did many of those with money and power! And now despite some significant achievements he is leaving office without satisfying the hopes of many who backed him. The call by Jesus, to " Have faith in God", is a call that has echoed across the ages. And the real issue facing us is whether or not " young", or more mature leaders in the future, will continue to depend on their own wisdom, or seek the wisdom of God as revealed in the written and living Word, even Christ Himself. Two, is that in the same way that Jesus " spoke to the problem", of "bearing no fruit", the church needs to take heed, as the other word from the Lord as pointed out to me by a young pastor, is to found in the readings for the Anglican church this week. Especially the words in the gospel which, not inconsequentially, are to found only a page away from the Evangelical Bishop's word to the nation. It's the parable of the Tenants which tells of how a landowner rented his well-taken-care-of-vineyard, to some farmers, and then went way on a journey. Whilst away he sent his servants to collect the fruit. However the story tells us that they treated his servants badly and even killed his son, for whom he thought they might have had some respect, and so in the end God declared that, " the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit......". Matthew 21:33-44. So clearly it is not only Prime Minister's stewardship which is under scrutiny at this time. More importantly divine judgment is on the church, the body of Christ. What fruit have we borne in this nation? Have we in the words of Isaiah, chap 5. 1-7 NIV guilty of the following observation: " ....................The vineyard of hte Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed: for righteousness, but heard cries of bloodshed". One of the sad features of the "reign" of " The President" Christopher Coke a.k.a Dudus , a self confessed drug and gun runner, is the amount of blood which has been shed in Jamaica by men carrying high powered weapons, and many would say, some acting under the influence of drugs. So Coke has much for which he has to answer to God and man in this country. This is why, despite the PM's consistent explanation that he was defending Dudus' constitutional rights and not his behaviour, many Jamaicans are angry and disappointed with him, as this man Coke was a terror to many, though a benefactor to some. The question that the church has to answer, therefore, is to what extent, by what it has done or left undone, has it been guilty of being party to the " bloodshed and cries of the poor"? And the charge becomes even more personal when we apply the question to our own stewardship. Is the Lord pleased with how we have taken care of his vineyard called Jamaica? Have we been resolute in spreading the Word? Have we been unrelenting in seeking justice for the poor? Have we been guilty of taking care of ourselves and family first and leaving the " stray, the lost, the sick and the weak" to fend for themselves, as recalled by the prophetic word of Ezekiel ( 34:1-6) and thus caused God's people to become " food for the wild animals". Have we really, with all our strength, tried to help young girls to avoid going into prostitution? Have we, with all our hearts, done enough to prevent young men from falling prey to " Dons" and wicked politicians? Have we challenged the rich and powerful to live a different life or have we joined the " vera chattering class", and spent our time speaking about the problem rather than to the problem? Have we become "comfortable Christians", attending to the needs of our congregations and leaving unmet the felt needs of those around us? Have we prayed without ceasing, crying to God for mercy and for wisdom, rather than despairing like unbelievers who do not know the power of the living God. Let us, if we are guilty, urgently repent of our sins, resolve to do better, lest the Lord take away our part in the kingdom and give away to others who will bear fruit. Three, is this matter of forgiveness. As unless we forgive the Prime Minister, and all those who were involved in the Dudus affair, including Dudus himself, and all other leaders for their roles in many other issues - Portia Simpson-Miller, P. J. Patterson, Edward Seaga, Michael Manley and others - our own prayers for our sins, and who is not guilty, will not be answered. That is how kingdom of God is so structured. So if we wish to have a more orderly country, a more prosperous nation, a more civil society, a more just society, then all our prayers will count for nothing until and unless we learn to forgive. That is part of the fruit which the God of Abraham looks for in a people, in whose hands he has placed his vineyard Jamaica. I pray God that we will indeed use this terrible time in the life of the nation, to learn to forgive, to learn to trust in God, and to resolve to bear fruit for the Lord, and not just to seek for our " salvation", either materially or spiritually. And the God of all comfort will bless the nation, bless the Prime Minister, and even bless those who have done much harm, according to His will and purpose, and He who alone searches the hearts of all mankind. Amen

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dudus, the Prime Minister, and the God of mercy and alone who can transform lives

Dudus is asking the wrong person for mercy. Christopher Coke, aka Dudus, that infamous Jamaican gang-lord who, by his own admission in a New York court has been convicted of serious crimes committed in the USA and whose story is so " large" that it appeared in the New York Times this week, is seeking mercy from the presiding judge whe the time comes for sentencing later this year. This is a man, the defense of whose " constitutional rights", by the leader of the country, prior to his extradition to the USA, almost brought down a sovereign government last year and resulted in severe erosion of the " political capital" of the Prime Minister. In fact news just broke today that the very same Prime Minister has decided not to seek election at the next party conference, on account of the " pressures of office". Thus paving the way for a new leader, if he stands by his decision and does not change his mind when he comes under pressure from loyal supporters. Many will readily associate the " dudus" saga with these " pressures, as well as the prevailing world economic downturn, from which Jamaica has not escaped, and the inevitable internal struggles for power that all political parties undergo. So can a judge who who has limited room in which to maneuver, grant Dudus mercy? Or does he need to appeal to another Judge? One who can punish not only in this life, but forever. And thankfully One who is slow to anger and full of mercy and can grant life not only here, but eternally, for those who would repent. And is there no hope for a politically, and no doubt emotionally drained, Prime Minister? Can he undergo a "metanoia"...a change of mind and a change in the things he cared for, and find favor with God, and with man and successfully lead this country? It is within this context that the Lord spoke this week. The message began in the book of Job......" The fear of the Lord - that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding. Job 28:28 NIV. And it continued with a reflection on that most instructive hymn: MY God how wonderful thou art.... and in particular the words of verse four ....Oh, how I fear thee, Living God, with deepest tenderest fears; and worship thee with trembling hope, and penitential tears...... So all men ought to fear God. Why? Have you read the book of numbers recently? No! Well neither have I, but the Lord guided my hand to open the Bible this week to read an amazing story which caused me great fear. It's a bit long but read Numbers chapter 16 for yourself. The story is about a man named Korah and his " crew" of 250. They became, according to the Bible " insolent", and using the language of the street, " dissed", Moses and Aaron ...although Moses made it clear later that they were in fact not merely grumbling against he and Aaron, but against the Lord himself. They claimed that " the entire community was holy", and therefore why did Moses and Aaron " set yourself above the Lord's assembly". After faithful Moses had fell on his face and prayed for them " in their madness". Then Moses sent for them to prove who was right. And they " dissed " him again by refusing to appear before Moses. Then the following day " IT " happened. The glory of the Lord appeared and warned Moses and Aaron to move away from the insolent ones - who apparently did not fear God - as he was about to strike them dead. But faithful Moses and Aaron prayed for them a second time - for mercy. "Fell facedown and cried out", is what is recorded in Scripture. But it was too late. The next day the Lord, in a way that removed any doubt about in whom He found favor, caused the earth to open up and swallow the 250 " insolent" ones, who did not fear the Lord. But the story did not end there. As the entire Jewish people accused Moses of " killing off the Lord's people". So " IT" happened again. The glory of the Lord appeared and warned Moses and Aaron to get away so that " I can put an end to them"........the whole Israelite community...all of God's people! Then Moses and Aaron had to take drastic action and " make an atonement" for the community...and the Word of God said that " Aaron stood between the living and the dead". And although it was too save 14700 who perished, the plague stopped and the people were spared. Lord have mercy. So clearly, it is not a good thing to grumble against, "diss" or in any way behave in a manner that suggests that we do not fear the Living God. And this is the problem that Dudus, and anybody else will inevitable face, when they live their lives in complete disobedience to the will of God. Especially in this age when, He who has made atonement for our sins, He who stands between the living and the dead, He who stands between the anger of the evil one and the Lord's people, His death on the Cross on Calvary is known to most people in the entire world today.....and is being made known more and more each day. In fact this message is the subject of a text message I was led to send out today following a late night encounter with the Lord: " The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full." John The evil one, the devil, only wishes to lead people away from the truth that God loves all mankind, and in Christ no matter what happened before, everyone can undergo metanoia, and become a new person and " have life to the full". As a reading of the prophet Ezekiel revealed today that , " every living soul belong to God". So yes Christopher Coke, and every living soul, no matter how wicked they are, or were, can undergo change and become a useful citizen according to God's purpose if he repents and has a change of heart. And a generous God, even if the American judge gives him a harsh and deserving sentence, will give him the same pay also that others who repented before have received - the gift of eternal life. The story gets better as in church we heard a wonderful " game changing sermon today" based on the same Ezekiel passage in chapter 18, and the gospel story in Matthew ( 21:28-32) of the two sons who, one of whom said yes to the Lord, but later changed his mind and became disobedient...and lost his " salvation". And the other son who was first disobedient and then had a change of heart, repented of his sins and found favor with God. And thus the Bible says that " prostitutes and tax-collectors are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you". The essence of the story is that we should not write off anyone. And more importantly ourselves. Whether we are terrible and infamous criminals or flawed Public Servants, whether we be " teenage prostitutes" led astray by the evil one in pursuit of economic gain or homosexuals led astray by the " spirit" of this age that tells us that our case is beyond help and beyond if the words of Scripture which tells us that " with God nothing is impossible", can be broken. Finally, the God who has rescued me time and time again from evil and from my own sins, woke me up again and said in the words of Scripture, again last night: " Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me, they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day.............Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. You must speak my words to them whether listen or fail to listen.... I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, You will surely die, and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself". Ezekiel CHAPTERS 2&3. NIV Hopefully then the Prime Minister will receive this message...or any other similar one from whomsoever God appoints ...... and take stock, as " all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". And therefore acts of "wickedness", deserving of death, is the fate of all " unredeemed " human beings....those who the devil can easily and kill and destroy their lives....make them unproductive, blind them to the possibility of living a different life..... on a higher plane.... a more morally upstanding life, better than the one we had before even if that one were " adequate" in the sight of man and in our own regard....., and with greater wisdom, and which can result in a different legacy. But all of which hangs on him having a " repentant heart".....create in me a pure heart O God ...cried out the Psalmist David...after he had committed the most egregious of all crimes....murder in an effort to cover up his adulterous relationship...and he was known as a man after god's heart. Hopefully Christopher Coke will receive this message, or any other of a similar nature from whomsover God appoints ,and repent and seek favour with the One who will judge the living and the dead and whose kingdom will have no end. And then, with an " undivided heart", He will indeed receive mercy - from the right(eous) Judge. So we pray for repentance for every living soul, that they may not die, not become unproductive, not fail prey to what is deemed to be " inevitable", but instead will accept Christ and the power to have new, productive and an unblemished life, and have it it more abundantly in every aspect of human endeavour. All because of the Atonement wrought on the Cross of Calvary by the One whose Blood covers us and washes away all our sins and allows us to become partakers of a new life in the power of the Holy Spirit. So let us never write off anybody as a hopeless case, and especially our own situtation in life regardless of past mistakes Amen

Monday, September 19, 2011

Famous abroad but suffering at home: Only God can help us!

With all due respect to VCB, Shelly Ann-Fraser, Melaine Walker and other athletic stars, Jamaica now has two authentic superstars - Johan Blake, and Usain Bolt. And with the fabulous run by Blake, just missing Bolt's world record in the 200, over the weekend, many would argue that I got the order correct. Sadly though, with all due respect to those who continue to hold our flag high, for me, the story of the week was the slashing of the throat of a ten year promising young man, by his sister. This is just too much. Too much to live with in a country, even where violence has been a part of of culture for far too long. But this act of barbarity, by a family member is just too much. And then over the weekend another person was beheaded. How does a nation, any nation, and many other nations are grappling with similar problems, deal with with this outrageous act of inhumanity? A few nights ago, the Lord woke me up to read a passage of Scripture with a message to send to select members of my church grappling with challenges inside the Anglican church worldwide. But on reflection , the message from the Holy Word of God is applicable to all situations which we find confusing, horrific, degrading to the human spirit and just simply barbaric. The following was the message: The context of all my messages is my prayer: Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew thy church that the church may renew the nation(s). Last week the Lord Lord woke me up to read the Ezekiel passage about being a watchman to the children of Israel, even though their hearts were stubborn. And which is ( part of ) the role of the church in any society today. This morning, at 4:00 am He woke me up to read a very intriguing passage of Scripture. But before reading it I was led to: " Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me though they had seen what I did. For forty years long I was angry with that generation; I said, they are people whose hearts go astray and they have not known my ways So I declared on oath in my anger, They shall never enter my rest. Psalm 95:7-11 NIV The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it. Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for the loaf they had with them in the boat. be careful, Jesus warned them, Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod. They discussed this with one another and said , It is because we have no bread. Aware of their discussions.............Jesus reminded them about the feeding of the four thousand with the seven loaves and the many baskets which were filled with left leftovers........and then , " He said to them, Do you still not understand" Mark 8:11-21 NIV I pondered for a moment and then used my reference Bible to read the story about Herod and his immoral lifestyle which John the Baptist denounced and for that lost his head. And also read two things this about the Pharisees. One earlier in Mark, where Jesus rebuked them for abiding by the traditions of men and setting aside the law of God. The other: " Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works works through the whole batch of dough? get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new patch without - as you really are. For Christ our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth." 1 Cor. 5: 6-8 NIV The context is the opening sentence of the chapter: It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, of a kind that does not occur even among the pagans: A man has his brother's wife. And therefore Paul ends the chapter with: I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.......but now I am writing you that you must associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside. God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you". One of the sad things about my country, and I am sure it is the experience in others parts of the world, is that many years ago, people saw the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod, begin to "work its way through the whole batch of dough", and warned the nation. But few took heed. My country was a relatively peaceful place. The kind of immorality, slackness and violence which is so much a part of our music and culture today, was foreign to us in the early days. And no doubt the experience is the same for other countries. The pervasiveness of the gun culture, the aggression that we have towards each other and to strangers in our communities, is in fact a "stranger" and an unwanted one, in the Jamaica in which I grew up. The animosity among the political leaders of our time, and the level of corruption in public life was unheard of in the early days. The unvarnished lack of respect for the basic laws of the land especially in the public square, the aggression between youngsters attending schools, the loutish behaviour of too many who enjoy the privilege of being on radio or television, and especially the behaviour of some of our "men of the cloth" is simply shocking. So Jesus' warning to " beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod - who had John the Baptist beheaded, in the final analysis because he Herod, was consorting with his brother's wife, and John rebuked him. So this madness which is abroad in my country, the country of Usain Bolt and Johan Blake, has been long in the coming, and now we are in a crisis and few have any answers. This week the God of all comfort, who comforts in all or sorrows so that we may comfort others who are going through the same troubles send a Word from Brother Lawrence who was a Roman Catholic mystic in the 17th century, and who work found favor more in the protestant churches than in his own. It's simple message. An old message which forms the heart of the gospel. And which if followed carefully will lead to the Revival about which the Lord has speaking to me through a hymn this week. And if the church undergoes a revival in any country that country will indeed be blessed and not suffer from the kind of barbaric acts at home even while we celebrate great things abroad. CONTINUE IN HIS PRESENCE Brother Lawrence Verse: Proverbs 8:30 There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God....... If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but practicing the presence of God. If I were to be responsible for guiding souls in the right direction, I would urge everyone to be aware of God's constant presence, if for no other reason than because his soul is a delight to our souls and spirits. It is, however, also necessary. if we only know how much we need God's grace, we would never lose touch with him. believe to live the rest of your life in his holy presence. Don't do this in expectation of receiving heavenly comforts; simply do it out of love for him. Put your hand to the task! if you do it right, you will soon see the results. To practice without ceasing, to be in constant communion with God, as Jesus was in constant communion with His Father, is the highest calling of the Christian life. Not just to go and do things for God. For if we are not careful, many of the things we end up " doing for God", has more to do with our own undisciplined imaginations, rather than as a result of the movement God's Spirit. And such endeavors, which do not spring from the abiding presence of God in us, have no power to fight against evil, nor can they bring about the kind of revival that this country needs. As this is what the songwriter expressed in the hymn: Search me, O God, and know my heart today; try me, O lord, and know my my thoughts today, I pray: see if there be ome wicked way in me, cleanse me from every sin and set me free...... O Holy Ghost, revival comes from thee; send a revival - start the work in me: they word declares thou wilt supply our need; for blessing, now, O Lord, I humbly plead The only was that God will search us, at our request is if we are in continually in His presence. Further, revival is something which comes from the Holy Ghost, not from Jamaica House or the White House. So no politician, no matter how gifted he or she is, can bring about a revival in the fortunes of a nation. Only God can. And such a revival begins with those of us who are completely surrendered to Christ, and stay deliberately and intentionally by asking, in His presence all day long. It that possible you may ask. Recently my Blackberry has been down. So no immediate access to my e -mails, no constant access to facebook, no tweeting - well I was really not on twitter in the first place, no BBM's requiring immediate responses, pictures to respond to. So is it a coincidence that God sent the message from Brother Lawerence at this time when my mind is not being bombarded continuously by my Blackberry? Technological advances have their place in a modern society, but when they begin to rob us of time which we absolutely need to spend in the Lord's presence, then we have some decisions to make. Listening to music has much to recommend it, and watching movies/TV or reading a good book can bring a lot of pleasure and help to stimulate the mind. Further, reveling in the exploits of Blake and Bolt and VCB and company on the track can bring us a lot of pride and promote a sense of community in our nation. But what is the priority for a child of God horrified by the winds of change around us. And even more fundamentally, what is the priority of a child of God who has been rescued by a generous and merciful act God in Christ Jesus on the Cross of Calvary? Is it not to " dwell in the house of the Lord forever", as the Psalmist wrote in the famous Psalm 27. Is it not to " Abide in the shadow of the Almighty, as the same Psalmist wrote in Psalm 91. Brother Lawrence is right, our role is to begin to practice the continuous abiding in the presence of the Lord and watch how His blessing will flow to, and through us, as a revival begins in the church and flows over into the community. Then and only then will sisters take care of their brothers and people will die of old age and not because they are beheaded or have their throats slashed. That's why we continue to lift up the name of Jesus in all we say and do. That's part of the reason why another Psalmist wrote the famous words: How good and pleasant it is when brothers ( and sisters) dwell together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes, It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessings, even for life evermore. So we pray for God's blessings, His revival on our nation(s) as we dwell in unity in the presence of God. Amen Praise God.