This week the recent discussion in my country about the airing of a controversial ad which purports to spread the message of tolerance and love for gays caught my attention. Especially an interview on radio during which a local pastor advanced the well known theory that, this was all part of a larger, world wide plan, to promote the gay lifestyle.So far the electronic media has declined to air the ad. Also the gift of a book entitled, " The Peacemaker: A Biblical guide to resolving personal conflict", from an a old friend visiting Jamaica gave me pause - especially since it happened on the day after I was involved in a major dispute with another Christian over an institution for which have some responsibility. And therefore the next morning during my prayers, the Spirit of Lord led me to pray for unity and peace in my country; unity and peace in my church; and unity and peace with this aforementioned individual. Continuing in that vein, the same Spirit led me to reflect on the kind of gift that those with influence in our two major political parties, could offer my country next year on our fiftieth anniversary as an independence state. Is it possible to agree on a set of principles and policies, within the context of a competitive democratic state, which would transcend petty partisan politics and shape the governance of my country for the next fifty years, regardless which party is in power? And thus put us on a path of economic independence, and giving us an opportunity to rear children in a peaceful and orderly society? Is it possible for our churches to put aside their denominational differences and shape a moral vision for this nation? Is it possible for even my Anglican church, in particular, to dispense with " worldly agendas", at every level, and seek to craft a vision of how this church can contribute to national development, within the context of building God's Kingdom here on earth?
For that to happen though, the Lord spoke very clearly, we need unity of purpose in every sphere of national life. And without any doubt the first priority is an agreed understanding of who is this God about whom most Jamaicans seem so familiar, and Americans too - God bless America is the common refrain of all Presidents. One of the strongest messages the Lord sent, came from a Russian writer and a Jewish tax collector, and which message I sent to the rich and powerful in my country yesterday, on a day when I celebrated life in a special way. And no doubt, perhaps deep in my subconscious, the thought that, it is more blessed to give than to receive, triggered the sending of this "gift". I offer no apologies for what the purists may see as exegetical adventurism as I was simply being obedient.
It started with the story of Zaccheus.
" Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zaccheus ; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was..............When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, " Zaccheus, come down immediately, I must stay at your house today..........
Zaccheus stood up and said to the Lord, Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.
Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
The Message: Zaccheus repented of his foolish thinking, and was forgiven. Who was Zaccheus? A chief tax collector! Ultimately, who is the chief tax collector.
The Prime Minister, and his fellow ministers. But Zaccheus was also rich, and therefore prominent and privileged. Who are the rich and privileged in any society? They too need to hear the gospel
The story continued with Fyodor Dostoevsky ( 1821 - 1881). A promising literary career seemed to await the young atheistic socialist....But in 1849 he and other Russian intellectuals were arrested for studying the forbidden subject of French socialist utopianism. Four years of Siberian exile and imprisonment left him psychological scars, epilepsy and the Christian faith. His life was characterized by physical hardship, poverty and great literary productivity...Crime and Punishment....The Idiot....The Possessed brought him world recognition....Dostoevsky was concerned with the justice of God and the idea that " if God does not exist, then everything is permitted.
And the the message ended with:
IVAN HAS NO GOD. HE HAS AN IDEA
Verse : Habakkuk 1:11 " Then they will sweep past like wind and go on - guilty men, whose own strength is their god."
You see, I never had any of these doubts before, but it was all hidden away in me. It was perhaps just because I did not understand these ideas surging up in me that I used to drink and fight and rage. It was to stiffle them in myself, to still them, to smother them.
There is an idea in Ivan; he is not Rakitin. But Ivan is a sphinx and is silent, he is always silent. It's God that's worrying me. What if he doesn't exist? What if Rakitin's right - that's an idea made up by men? Then, if he doesn't exist, man is the chief of the earth, of the universe. Magnificent! Only how is he going to good without God? That's the question. I always come back to that. For whom is man going to love then? To whom will he be thankful? To whom will he sing the hymn?
Rakitin laughs, Rakitin says that one can love humanity without God. Well, only a sniveling idiot can maintain that. I can't understand it. Life's easy for Ratikin - " You'd better think about the extension of human rights, " he says, " or even of keeping down the price of meat. You will show your love for humanity more simply and directly by that than philosophy."
I answered him, " Well, but you without a God, are more likely to raise the price of meat if it suits you and make a ruble on every kopeck." He lost his temper.
But after all, what is goodness? Answer me that, Alexey. Goodness is one thing with me and another with a Chinaman, so it's relative thing. or isn't it? Is it not relative? A treacherous question! You won't laugh if I tell you it's kept me awake two nights. I only wonder now how people can live and think nothing about it. Vanity! Ivan has no God. He has an idea
Final Message: Zaccheus, politicians, rich and powerful men in any society, intellectuals all need to know God in and through Christ. All need to repent of their foolish ways. Otherwise they just have an idea about Him like Rakitin....and in that kind of scenario " anything goes". Raising prices to make money....crafting policies to stay in power....seeking knowledge to advance self. In that scenario, we don't have to love one another, we don't have to stop to give thanks, we don't have to sing praises to God. And then to what end that kind of life. Vanity!
Recent public events...black Friday, and the life and death of a prominent and powerful figure should give us pause. The kind of politics we practice should give us pause. The god who some powerful men serve, should give us pause. Especially as we approach our 50th birthday. On my 60th, the Lord has send a message through me. I pray God that those who have ears to hear will indeed hear. Too many of us only have an idea. And thus we really do not have any idea of the justice of God that led to to the death of His only Son. That's why Christians exult in the word of God that states: " Now there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.". Having an just an idea of God, and being entirely satisfied with that idea, is a dangerous thing. For individuals and for a nation. At the very least let us even try like Zaccheus to " see who Jesus is".
N.B. This note does not require any response except perhaps to send it on to someone who might be in need of this kind of reflection.
And for those who only have an idea of who God is, the Lord led me to reflect on a passage on Colossians this week which offers a really concise explanation of the
" Gospel", preached by the Christian church.
" He ( Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over al creation. For by him all things all things were created; things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn among the dead, so that in everything he may have supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation - if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Colossians 1:15-23 NIV
You really cannot get any clearer understanding of who Jesus. And those who persist with an "idea" of whom God is, need to be confronted, with all humility, but with insistence, that "Christ was before all things and in Him all things hold together". But for this truth to sink deep in any society the prayer of the Psalmist has to come true.
" How good and pleasant it is when brothers ( and sisters) live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard, down opon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore".
Psalm 133 NIV
The great problem in any society is a church in disunity. A church afraid to declare to all sinners with compassion and humility - and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God - including homosexuals and adulterers and drug addicts, that, "Once ( we) you were alienated from God because of ( our) your evil behaviour, but now he has reconciled ( us) you"..... through the death of Christ on a cross". And like Zaccheus, all who have sinned need to repent before a holy God, whose intention is to " present us holy in his sight, without blemish. This is why " God decided to come down in human form, not just to Zaccheus' home, but to the heart of all who are longing for Him. But repentance comes first. Not just some public relations exercise, or public education spreading the " gospel" truth about gays".
Further, a church is in disunity when it does not confront the rich and powerful about justice for all. For example, about the continued marginalization of the poor by the policies of those seeking to pass IMF tests by cutting government expenditure, when the IMF itself is advising the rich governments to spend more in their countries. How ironic! How hypocritical! But the greatest threat to justice in any country, best exemplified by the near suicidal action of the politicians in the USA recently, is the extent to which social progress and economic advancement is held hostage to vulgar partisan political practices ultimately in pursuit of power. And all churches, who claim that Christ is their head, should be united in rooting out this evil from our land. Finally, a church is not united when individuals fail to put aside their personal differences in pursuit of a higher good - the glory and honor of God. As what's the use of winning an argument, if in the end we displease the very God who gives us the ability to reason and the protection to live in peace
Finally, in this context of unity and peace, the Lord led me to read and reflect on one of the all time great hymns - in praise of God, and about which activity the great poet and writer Dostoevsky was concerned.
When we walk with the Lord
in the light of his Word,
What a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey!
Trust and obey!
For there is no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.
Not a shadow can rise,
not a cloud in the skies,
But his smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt nor a fear, Not a sigh nor a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey..........
I pray God that people all over the world may come to know the true and Living God through Jesus Christ. I pray God that people may put aside all their " ideas' about the God of all Creation, in whom all things hold together. I pray God that all who claim Christ may live in the Light as He is in the Light and in Him there is no darkness at all. As there is so much darkness in the way we practice our politics, understand morality, seek to achieve personal wealth, build our countries, and worse of all live out the Christian religion. May the God of Jacob, and the God of Zaccheus grant us forgiveness of all the wrongs we have done, set us free in and through the redemption wrought on the Cross of Calvary, and lead our respective nations to true peace. In the name of Christ. Amen