I was at my desk contemplating the day, and the past week. And in particular the fact that our Prime Minister was on television at the Mannatt Commission, defending himself, his honor, his party and ultimately the good name of the country, against one of the nation's top lawyers. That's when it all started. The message for this week. It came in bits and pieces as I recalled what the Lord had been saying during the week. And the events unfolded. The savage murder, by stabbing to death, of two women by someone whose mind must have been " unsound", whether by cocaine or otherwise. The completely unnecessary subjugation of a Prime Minister to humiliating cross examination. One whose mind I have come to appreciate, by working with him, is one of the finest we have had, and who has so much to offer this nation. But who, as another with a very sharp mind, Ian Boyne, pointed out in a searching article in the Gleaner today, was not perceptive enough to appreciate how revolting to the majority of Jamaicans, was the behaviour of one ( Dudus Coke), the protection of whose constitutional rights, led us down this sad and sorry path. A story redeemed only by the fact, as Boyne again with discernment noted, that in the process, Coke's reputed Tivoli Gardens empire has been significantly degraded, and thus we are able to boast of a 40% reduction in the murder rate. Thank God who works in a mysterious way His wonders to perform indeed!
Then yesterday, and today two messages of hope. One from a thanksgiving function to celebrate over 40 years of service to one of Jamaica's top high schools - Glenmuir High School. A church school which has been driven to spectacular heights of scholastic, sporting and cultural excellence , by a devoted headmaster Clement Radcliffe. A most inspiring story indeed and one which together with the superbly managed organization of the function left me feeling extremely good about my country and its future. The other came from a wonderful sermon delivered by a young man at my church this morning. A message contextualized in the pain and grief of the murder of the two women, one with whom he worked closely, and the challenges and pain of past mistakes, personal and collective, faced by many of us in this society and indeed the world. A message of hope which challenged us to acknowledge our pain; turn our eyes upon Jesus - the source of Living Water, and Who is able to do far more than comfort us in our challenges, but more importantly, cleanse us from sin and lead us into a new relationship with God; and thus empowered we can go and tell others about the love and power of Jesus to set us free. All of this based on a reflection on John 4 and the encounter that Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well, who had been subjected to divorce and shame and humiliation on five separate occasion. And was now in a " common law" relationship with another man.
One of the things I recalled, was a reflection by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and which thoughts helped in no uncertain way, to place in true perspective, my anxieties about the many and varied challenges faced by most of us in Jamaica today, and indeed across the world
THE ESSENCE OF THE GOSPEL
Verse Philippians 4:6
Anxiety is the characteristic of the Gentiles, for they rely on their own strength and work instead of relying on God. They do not know that the father knows that we have need of all these things, and so they try to do for themselves what they do not expect from God. But the disciples know that the rule is " Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" ( Matthew 6:33). Anxiety for food and clothing is clearly not the same thing as anxiety for the kingdom of God, however much we a should like to persuade ourselves that when we are working for our families and concerning ourselves with bread and houses we are thereby building the kingdom, as though the kingdom could be realized only through worldly cares. The kingdom of God and his righteousness are sharply distinguished from the gifts of the world which come our way. That kingdom is none other than the righteousness of Matthew 5, and 6, the righteousness of the cross and of following Christ beneath that cross. fellowship with Jesus and obedience to his commandment come first, and all else follows. Worldly cares are not part of our discipleship, but distinct and subordinate concerns. before we start taking thought for our life, our food and clothing, our work and families, we must seek the righteousness of Christ.....If we follow Jesus and look only to his righteousness, we are in his hands and under the protection of him and his Father. And if we in communion with the Father, nought can harm us. We shall be assured that he can feed his children and will not suffer them to hunger. God will help us in our hour of need, and he knows our needs.
No doubt it was this clarification of what we should be anxious for - God's kingdom, the righteousness of Christ, the cross of Christ - that led to the next set of inspired reflections, and which then triggered this passionate e-mail.
It is still one of the tragedies of human history that the " children of darkness" are frequently more determined and zealous than the " children of light". Martin Luther King.
" For though we live in this world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to God".
2 Cor. 10:4-6 NIV
I'll share the context which generated this note. But does it matter really. The real issue is that, we Christians are in a war to rescue people from darkness to light. And, even though we have the divine weapons, we behave as if we are in a time of relative peace, and that we are relatively powerless. What a tragedy! What an indictment on the body of Him who left heaven, to rescue the souls of all mankind. From whence has come this strange and comfortable, and less urgent theology. Only from the evil one. May God save us from his wiles.
What was operating deep in my soul was the fact that, confusion about what we should be anxious for, was causing us to lose focus, and cloud our vision. And thus for a lack of vision, our people were perishing. And I distinctly recalled the words from Hosea 4:2-3:
" There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed".
So no wonder there is an evil spirit in my land which causes so much bloodshed. Whether by those of unsound mind. Or by those of very sound but misguided minds - by greed, vengeance and lust for power. Little wonder that there is an evil spirit abound in my country which causes so much lying, cursing and adultery - uptown and downtown; in high places and in the common places of life.
And almost immediately the Lord sent His message of hope. The kind of hope generated by the work of Clement Radcliffe and the sermon by young Frank James. In the midst of the Mannatt madness and the many other challenges facing my nation
A BALM IN GILEAD
Verse Jeremiah 8:22
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole,
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul!
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work's in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again
If you can't preach like Peter,
If you can't pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say he did it all.
Part of, if not the entire problem is that, we Christians do not recognize our true calling " To give ourselves away", completely to God. And therefore our only anxiety should be for the building up of the kingdom. That is the source of Martin Luther King's travail - that those of the kingdom of darkness are most zealous( in promoting evil) than we the children of light are ( in building up God's kingdom). As one very perceptive young pastor told us on a retreat on Saturday morning, the ( misunderstood biblical) concept of tithing, the giving one tenth of one's resources to God, may have led us astray in that we believe mistakenly, that accordingly, only one tenth of our time and activities, belong to God. The rest belongs to us - to pursue our own delights. Not so. All things come from God, and of His own we should return to Him. Which is everything. That's is the only way the kingdom of God, " will come on earth as it is in heaven". That is the only way that this country will change, and be rescued from the madness that now engulfs it. In that attitude lies the Balm that will " make the wounded Jamaica whole".
Then the following morning I was led to read:
" Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.........For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should o longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though once we regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, that god was reconciling the world to himself, in Christ not counting men's sins against them. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God." 2 Cor. 5:11-20 NIV
So then, let us be anxious only to try and persuade men, because Christ's love compels us to do so. Let us recommend without ceasing, He who is the only Balm that can heal this country. Let us once again :
Turn our eyes upon Jesus
And look full into his wonderful face
And the things of this world will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
For in doing that, we will begin once again to exercise the divine power available to us to destroy strongholds that have captured the minds of our people. Captured by zeal of the children of darkness and who can only be set free by the zeal of the children of light. Set free from shame and disgrace. Set free from a lack of wisdom. Set free from anxieties about this world. Set free from the desire to murder, and rape and destroy. Set free from past mistakes and terrible memories. Set free from stubborn wills and disobedient hearts. Set free to worship God in spirit and in truth. Set free to build up the kingdom of God here on earth.