This week, the " revolution in Egypt from witnessed from a distance , and motor vehicle crashes back at home, dominated my thoughts. In fact, on the very day that we, who are working in the arena of road safety, declared, based on the current data, that we were making progress compared to last year, " all hell" broke loose. Four persons were killed in one crash on that very day - including three members of one family. Mother, father and a baby. Having struggled to absorb that news, the very next day, there was another crash where many persons were injured, but thank God nobody, so far, died. That's Thursday and Friday. Then on Saturday morning, one of our very own, a key member of our team, narrowly escaped severe injury, when the car in which she was traveling, was hit by someone who did not obey the rules of the road. That very morning I felt so burdened by the events of the past two days, so much so that I started praying for all the members of our team - for God's protection from evil. Only to hear, within a couple of hours, news of my friend's crash. Is there a connection between evil rampant in Jamaica, and the events in Egypt? I have no idea, but some of the revelations that the Lord shared this week might provide a clue. For a wider context you may wish to turn to two excellent articles; one by an experienced journalist in today's Daily Gleaner and the other by Bishop Gregory, an Anglican Bishop in today's, The Jamaica Observer.
First up was a new understanding of a verse from a well known experience of Christ - His Transfiguration.
" A voice came from the cloud, saying, " This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him". Luke 9:35 NIV
What was Jesus saying that we should listen to, in particular at this time in the nation's and the church's history? I got an answer soon. In the form of a meditation on Mercy, not from a date of this week, but from one far from these times.
THE MERCY DILEMMA CHRIS TIEGEN MAY 21 2010
Verse : Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy
In WORD Have you ever noticed something odd about how we respond when people offend us? have you ever really thought about our natural reaction? Our first gut feeling in such cases is to respond in kind, to return ill will for ill will, to rise to the same level of spite with which we've been treated. Why is that?
We know the options that are available to us. We could respond with equal offense; we could choose simply to not to care; or we could respond with a demonstration of mercy. But almost invariably, our first reaction is to meet evil with evil. We are offended first, and then we have to talk ourselves into a gracious attitude and a merciful response. It is never the other way around, where we first feel merciful and wonder why we aren't more offended. the natural self has its preferences, and this is one of the strongest. the options are before us, but the impulses know only of one.
Somehow, we must reverse the impulses. We must learn to think of mercy first. How can we do that? How can we alter something that is so ingrained, so unyielding a part of our sinful nature? How can mercy become more natural to us than our sense of vengeance?
In DEED The key is to ask the question that's really underneath the others. How can we be more like God? Moses asked for a glimpse of God, and God passed by, he defined Himself as " the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin" ( Exodus 34:6-7). That's the core of who he is. That's what we're really asking asking here; how can we more like that/
We have two options: We can try to reform the sinful human nature, or we can ask God for His nature. The former approach has never in history proven successful. You have probably seen that for yourself, so give it up. Our only remaining option is to ask God. He offers us His nature. We must ask and believe he will give it. He always does.
So does that give us a hint as to what is taking place in Jamaica, in respect of the road fatalities and the events in Egypt? Is a lesson to be learned in how we care for one another as we drive, walk and ride? Most Jamaicans would readily appreciate that if our warring brothers and sisters in our inner cities and in our schools would only learn to forgive, then our murder rate would plummet and we would be such a better nation. Further, if more of those of us who live relatively comfortably, in the sense that we don't have to worry where the next meal is coming from, would have mercy, personally and structurally, on the less fortunate - justice - then our country would be more peaceful. And best of all, if our leaders in politics and in the entertainment arena could begin to display publicly, more examples of mercy and forgiveness towards each other, and also in the homes between mother and father, then perhaps our children would learn to have mercy also. But is the Christian West about to have mercy on the largely Muslims populations in Egypt and in the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, and wish for them peace. Or do we only wish them stability only to ensure that it does not " rock our economic boat" here in the West? A perplexing question indeed.
And a challenging section of Scripture was presented this week in that respect. It really began with two references to the " children of Ham". One in the song of Moses in Deuteronomy and the other in a Psalm. A term which refers to the Egyptians, from whom God rescued His chosen people, Israel with great
" signs and wonders". And concluded in the book of Galatians, where the context is " freedom from the law" and a discussion about the son born in the ordinary way - Hagar's son born from Abraham. About whom the Scriptures say:
" You are now with child
and you will have a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord will hear of your misery.
He will be wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility
towards all his brothers
and then this:
" Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says. For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. Hos son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as a result of the promise.
These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: this is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above her is free, and she is our mother........
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of the promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son. Therefore, brothers, we are not of the children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.........
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge your sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself. If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.".
Galatians 4: 21-5: 1 and 5:13-18 NIV
A number of issue are settled in these verses. One that there is a spiritual battle going on between the sinful nature and the Spirit. And which, as Chris Tiegen points out, cannot be resolved by human effort. We need the nature of God, and to be led by the Spirit, in order to live a life of freedom for which our Saviour Jesus Christ died. Then and only then can we really live a life which is characterized by mercy - to all with whom we live. Those who love us and those who offend us. Two is that, the children of Ham, the Egyptians who are Muslims, have as their "father" Abraham. Just like the Jews and the Christians. All who are part of a monotheistic religion - one God. The difference is that Jews, through Isaac, are the children born of the promise, and not in the ordinary way like the children of Hagar - the Muslims. That's why they ( the Jews) and the Christians can speak confidently about serving the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob - who later became Israel, and the reason behind ( some of ) the Rastafarian claim to be of " twelve tribes", of Israel.
The key issue here, in the context of mercy, is whether since from Biblical times until now, the children (of Ham) born in the ordinary way and who have no inheritance with the children of of the promise, should be left on their own, or should they receive mercy from us. Clearly Jesus died for all mankind, and the Scriptures also state that we Gentiles who now believe in Christ, were at one time...." separate from Christ, excluded from the citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." Ephesians 2;12-13. NIV
So the message is clear: anywhere in the world where there is turmoil and injustice, darkness and ignorance about God and salvation, we Christians need to exert our influence and become " salt and light in that society". Especially in spreading the good news of salvation only in and through Jesus Christ " to the uttermost parts of the world". It was therefore a great joy to see a picture sent around the Internet, of Christian Egyptians forming a human shield around their Muslim bothers and sisters as they prayed. So it is not just a matter of " self-interest" in the price of oil, or even in the security of the state of Israel, why we should have an interest in the children of Ham, but simply because God loves them, as He does all mankind, and especially those who suffer and are under persecution.
So let us continue to pray for those who are in imminent danger on our roads, in our schools, in our war -torn inner cities and in the Middle East and North Africa, and heed the words of Thomas Benton Brooks:
" The more godly any man is, the more merciful that man will be".
Finally a hymn, which came into my mind on awakening one day this week, provided the bookend for my thoughts on
Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
he has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Refrain: Glory, glory Alleluiah!
Glory, glory Alleluiah!
Glory, glory Alleluiah!
His truth is marching on
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment-seat:
O be swift my soul, to answer him; be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across he sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me,
As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on....
I pray God that we may indeed endeavor through the power of the holy Spirit, to live so that men can be set free from death on our roads; from vengeance in their hearts; from injustice and poverty; and from persecution and bigotry of all forms. In Jamaica, in Israel, and in Egypt and in the USA. As there is evil in the world, in our hearts and in the mind and person of the " Evil " one, against whom the only protection is to be " led by the Spirit of God".