The lines from one of Bob Marley's songs, " burning and a looting", became a reality for the much vaunted " civilized" British culture last week. They were clearly shocked as bands of well organized ( tweeting and BBM's) marauding youths trashed and set fire to buildings in many towns. Thus setting off " fire alarms", literally and metaphorically in this first world state. Many youths were reacting to the " alleged" execution of one Mark Duggan by members of a specialized British police force. Others were clearly just upset with the British society in many many ways. While others were mere opportunists, running away with loot that they did not need, and then either being turned in by their own parents or pricked by a still functional conscience and then acknowledging their guilt. It was, and continues to be a major embarrassment for the normally stoic, "stiff upper lip" British society, quite concerned about the damage posed to the image of a nation privileged to host the Olympics next year. We shudder to think of how quickly such a scenario could play out in Jamaica, and perhaps in many parts of the world, where the behaviour of the young has become so unpredictable, so well organized by the available technology and so incredibly powerful. Recent events in Iran, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Syria attest to this new development across the world. One of the reports which stuck in my mind as I listened to the news on Radio, was the point made by a social worker in Britain......I think his name was Peat, and he spoke on Beyond The Headlines with a local journalist...was the observation that many of these young people were from homes where, for at least two or three generations, the mothers were teenagers. And the inference was that the quality of discipline at home left much to be desired, and hence the vital need for interventions in the schools - the only place left where some kind of proper socialization could take place. A point which took me back to the last two messages that I wrote - maybe a bit " heavy" for some - tracing the history of the church and its role in shaping the foundations of western society. Well here we are in a society which has elected, for the most part, to ignore the benefits of the Christian religion - so many churches in Britain have been closed down - with a consequence that many of these youths have no exposure to the moral guidance that Christianity offers. Their religion in now Football at Man U, or Chelsea or Arsenal.
In the midst of these reflections this week the Lord spoke in different ways. Powerfully in a re-read of the story of the Prodigal son....."When he came to his senses....." Luke 15: 17 NIV
And I prayed to God that many of our people would come to their senses and realize how dependent on an Almighty God they are. And how hopeless life is when people do not have a relationship with the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Of all mankind and all that exist on land and in the sea. And the consequences for societies which have de-linked the search for order and peace from the pursuit of transcendence which religion offers. The story is a well known one across the world. How a young man demanded his " share of the estate" from his father. How he went on squandered his money, and when all was lost suffered immeasurably until he came to his senses and decided to return to his father in penitence. And having made that decision, all kinds of wonderful things happened, long before he arrived back home. But he had to reach that nadir in his life. To the point where the narrative reveals that " this son of mine was dead but now he is alive". Far too many persons in this world are " dead", but think they are alive because they do not really understand what life is all about. And worse, the joys and benefits of eternal life - which begins once someone " comes to his or her senses", and surrenders that life to Christ. It's an explanation for many of the ills of societies across the world. In Lagos, Nigeria; in Moscow, Russia; in Singapore; in Jo'Berg in South Africa; in Philadelphia - the city of music in the USA; and of course in London, England. How I wish that our leaders here in Jamaica, and in America, would "come to their senses", and admit that they cannot manage to govern a society where we are beheading our neighbours, and where we produce people who would kidnap their neighbour and sexually abuse them for years. And then turn to the Creator and ask for help.
This brings me to the second Word which struck me powerfully this week. " I tell you that in the same way - that there is rejoicing when one sheep out of ninety-nine is found - there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine persons who do not need to repent". Luke 15:7 NIV
This Word brings us back to the observation of the social worker in Britain about the need for more interventions in the schools. Some time ago, while asleep, i clearly heard the Lord's voice speaking about the need - for Anglicans who have many many " church " schools - to focus more on evangelizing those schools rather than expend our energies evangelizing elsewhere. Perhaps the Word is different for other denominations, but clearly there is a crying need for church members to become more involved in schools across the globe. In fact if memory serves me right , one of the features of the so-called dark ages or Medieval Ages, about which I read in Robert Royal's book, was the policy of church to build a primary school wherever there was a church building. In order that that people would be brought up in the fear of God. As this lack af any fear of God is a prime cause for much of the anti-social behaviour now rampant in our schools, in our communities, and in our homes across the world. Not just in the UK, or the Caribbean. People who really fear God, are afraid to do certain things.
Last night, this time I was dreaming, and the Lord spoke to me about King Uzziah. So I got up and read the passage in Isaiah. And two things struck me.
One was the clear message from Isaiah:
In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne....woe to me I cried. I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live m among people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty. The one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With that he touched my mouth and said, See, this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sins are atoned for.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, here am I. Send me!.
And he said, Go and tell this people
Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.
make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.
Then I said, For how long, O lord?
And he answered:
Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and until the fields ruined and ravaged,
until the Lord has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid to waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.
Isaiah 6:1-13 NIV
As I write and reflect on the fact that the prodigal son " had to die" before he could come to his senses. The clearly Isaiah speaking thousands of years before had the same message. To the children of Israel and the prophesy about their exile into Babylon. And so the eternal message from One who speaks from heaven, according to the writer to the Hebrews, should carry even greater weight.
" So, as the Holy Spirit says:
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the desert,
where your fathers tested me and tried me
and for forty years saw what I did.
Hebrews 3:7-9 NIV
And so there is going to much tribulation for societies who fail to hear the Word of the Lord. As people ,despite the warning and teaching of the church will be "forever hearing but never understanding". That's the first message. The other one is that, we the church have to be intentional and obedient about warning those who do not believe. Not just that there may be peace and righteousness in London, in Egypt, in Kingston, Jamaica, in Lagos, Nigeria, in Toronto, Canada, but more importantly, that there maybe rejoicing in heaven whenever one sinner repents. And so the words of Francis Havergal echoes across the ages.
LORD , SPEAK TO ME, THAT I MAY SPEAK
Vs. Isaiah 6:8
Lord, speak to me, that I may speak
In living echoes of thy tone;
As thou hast sought, so let me seek
Thy erring children lost and lone.
O teach me , Lord, that I may teach
The precious thins which thou dost impart;
And wing my words, that they may reach
The hidden depths of many a heart.
O fill me with thy fullness, Lord,
Until my very heart o'erflow
In kindling thought and glowing word,
Thy love to tell, thy praise to show.
O use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as thou wilt, and when and where;
Until thy blessed face i see,
Thy rest, thy joy, thy glory share.
Finally, a word to my church this past week, and which warning should cause all church members across the globe to pause and reflect on their stewardship of God's Word.
As in the final analysis, it is the church, the body of Christ, which God has appointed to reconcile the world to Himself. And to cause men and women to " come to their senses" , by the power of the holy Spirit, throught the spreading of the good news - the Gospel of Christ
This morning, during my devotions, I was led to read this very profound meditation. After which reading I was led to a related passage of Scripture.
As the " leading " church in the Diocese, and more importantly as individuals journeying with the Lord, in a country that is desperately need of God's Love and Mercy, the sharing of which with all is our mandate, we need to reflect deeply on both of these passages.
THE GIFT OF INSUFFICIENCY
" Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."
IN WORD Jesus declares with emphasis that he is the source of our life. This should be a huge relief to us, but sometimes it is an affront. The human ego balks at the declaration in verse 5: " Apart from me you can do nothing." But once we let it sink in, we realize that this is really the only to accomplish anything lasting. Its stand to reason that eternal fruit can only come from an eternal source.
Human pride gets in our way. Self-effort and self-sufficiency may be admirable qualities to unspiritual eyes, but nowhere in the Bible is anyone rebuked for being too dependent on God. The Bible does contain numerous rebukes for being too self-reliant The glory of God is the centerpiece of the universe, and everything that points to it is blessed. Self-reliance doesn't point to it. God -reliance does. Lasting fruit can only come from Jesus Himself.
IN DEED Every one of our days should begin with a " declaration of dependence." We should start each morning with an emphatic acknowledgment: " Lord, i am insufficient in everything I will encounter today. I have insufficient wisdom to make the decisions I' ll be required to make. I have insufficient skills to manage the conflict that may arise. I have insufficient resources to minister to the people I'll encounter. I am entirely dependent on You."
The blessing of the Gospel is that in our insufficiency, Jesus is sufficient. Salvation began when we recognized that out righteousness was insufficient to coexist peacefully and eternally with a holy God, and it has continued ever since into every arena of our lives. We are deficient in every meaningful way. Embrace that deficiency, and let the eternal Vine be your life.
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ' I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear. so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes so you can see.
Those who I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent....and as I write I recall Jesus' saying that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than for those who do not need to repent.....Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come and eat with him, and he with me. Revelations 3:14-20. NIV
The question therefore arises, not so much about the state of the British society, or the Jamaican, or the Nigerian, or the Singaporean, or the American, or the Canadian, but more profoundly, the state of the church in these countries and across the world. Are we sufficient, or insufficient? As sufficient people cannot cause
others to " come to their senses". And if you cannot, what purpose do you serve in the kingdom of God?