Thursday, January 6, 2011

A New Year's Message about New Beginnings

Apologies for the lateness of this Internet Ministry this week. The holiday spirit lasted a bit too long. But it was good to celebrate with family and friends. By now all the New Year's messages have been read and analyzed. By now the resolutions have been made. And by now most of the media houses would have started the process, if not already completed it, of looking back at the significant events of last year that impacted our lives. Many of which , if not resolved quickly, are going to make this new year, and an old year very quickly. This observation was made by the Anglican Diocesan Bishop in Jamaica, in a sermon he delivered at my church on the first Sunday of the year, and which could have been entitled: A New Beginning.

So having heard from world leaders, our own Prime Minister and the leader of the Parliamentary opposition, various leaders from civil society, what is the message from the Lord that He sends through this medium.
Firstly that He is a great God, and is greatly to be feared. This message came time and time again as I meditated on Holy Scriptures, inspired writings and hymns of the church in the days leading up to the new year and since. Perhaps that which struck me most profoundly was the Psalmist declaration that:

" The heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,
your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?
Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?
In the council of the holy ones God is greatly to feared;
he is more awesome than all who surround him.
O Lord God Almighty, who is like you?
You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you."

Psalm 89: 5-8 NIV

The question is, if God is so feared in the heavenly realms, from which one single destroying angel could, " put to death a hundred and eighty five thousand men" (according to Isaiah 38:36)
then how much more should we mere mortals in Jamaica and the world fear Him, worship Him and place our trust in Him. This is the challenge for my country this year. Not so much to place their trust in political leaders and civic leaders to rescue us from the crime and violence and corruption in all levels of society and blatant injustice being meted out to the voiceless and the poor, though we must trust them too. But rather to fear God and obey Him who is greatly feared in heaven much less on earth. This is the kind of " New Beginning " about which my Bishop preached.

But it was not only the Holy Scriptures which led med me to praise this mighty God, but two hymn-writers. One well known, the other less so. And so my soul soared this morning when the Spirit of the Lord led me to reflect on the greatness of God in the words of this wonderful hymn:

O Lord my God! when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand has made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed:

Refrain : Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great thou art! How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee,
How great thou art! How great Thou art.

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees:
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze;

Refrain: Then sings my soul........

And when I think that god His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die - I scarce can take it in.
That on the Cross my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Refrain: Then sings my soul........

Then Christ shall come with shouts of acclamation
And take me home - what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim , my God how great thou art

Refrain : Then sings my soul....

Wow! We have the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, just over 7000 ft high , but O what grandeur of God's mighty hand we can see on going up even half way the mountain compared to those who have climbed to the summit many times. Recently we experienced a Storm with awesome lightning spells and mighty thunder. So we here in Jamaica have no excuse for not acknowledging this mighty God and worshiping Him, and so reap the benefits of the prayer of Moses for his people, who this same mighty God inspired him to pray. " O that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it may go well with them and their children, forever!". So that our children may no longer have babies when they are teenagers. So that our children may no longer fight and kill each other at school and at the transport center. So that our children may no longer fall prey to wicked gunmen and become " shottas", and wreak havoc on the society, die by the gun and bring so much pain to their parents, especially the mothers. In fact the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the greatness of God, as seen in nature, as declared by the Psalmist, is the part of the reason why judgment came on all mankind as recorded in the book of Romans:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it pain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Romans 1:18-20. NIV
And Psalmist points to the " evidence".

The heavens declare the glory of God,
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4 NIV

But what really touched my soul was not only the message to fear God based on the wonders of nature, but some words from another hymn, " My God , How wonderful thou art", about which I spent a lot of time considering many things these past days.
The key verse was :

Yet I may love thee too, O Lord,
Almighty as thou art,
For thou hast stooped to ask of me
The love of my poor heart

The full version is:

My God how wonderful thou art,
Thy majesty how bright,
How beautiful thy mercy-seat
In depth of burning light!

How dread are thine eternal years,
O everlasting Lord,
By prostrate spirits day and night
Incessantly adored.

How wonderful, how beautiful,
The sight of thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,
And awful purity.

O how I fear thee, living God,
With deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears!

Yet I may love thee too O Lord
Almighty as thou art
For thou hast stooped to ask of me
The love of my poor heart

No earthly father loves like thee
No mother, e'er so mild
Bears and forbears as thous hast doe
With me thy sinful child

One of the messages that the church will have to sharpen, and emphasize in this new year, and make manifest in our actions, if we are to really have a New Beginning" in this land of so many unbelievers and skeptics, is the fact that this awesome and Almighty God, in Christ Jesus, on the Cross of Calvary, emptied Himself of all His Divinity - except love - and " stooped to ask of us the love of our poor and sinful hearts'! What amazing grace! No wonder Charley Wesley, the great evangelist could exult in song:

" Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God shouldst die for me?

The church of this self-emptying God in Christ Jesus, will have make the " Word become flesh", in its love for the voiceless and the disenfranchised, much more in an unbelieving society otherwise there will be no new beginning but the same old year with the same problems.
In fact I watched a documentary on CNN where the church in " Black America in Atlanta", was busy trying to deal with the mountain of debt that their members owed, even to the point of intervening in the lives of those who were on the verge of losing their homes on account of debt. And finding jobs for those who were unable to do so. The I wondered how much more we here in Jamaica as church should be trying to mobilizing resources for those suffering in this tight economic climate.

Finally a personal word for the hearts of believers and hopefully then to inspire unbelievers - who are, a not, insignificant part of this Ministry. A word from one of the great poets, which really touched my heart in this new year, and if thought about regularly, could lead to a serious renewal of individuals, the church and thus this nation. As the basis for renewal in the lives of mankind, is an acknowledgment of sin and then repentance before an Almighty God and loving God, as shown most dramatically in and through the birth, life, and glorious resurrection of Christ Jesus.

Verse : Matthew 21: 13
' It is written, he said, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a "den of robbers'.

Thy mansion is the Christian's heart,
O Lord, thy dwelling place secure!
Bid the unruly throng depart
And leave the consecrated door.

Devoted as it is to thee,
A thievish swarm frequents the place;
They steal away my joys from me,
And rob my Savior of is praise.

I know them, and hate their din,
Am weary of the bustling crowd;
But while their voice is heard within
I cannot serve thee as I would.

Oh! for the joy thy presence gives,
What peace shall reign when thou are here!
Thy presence makes this den of thieves,
A calm delightful house of prayer.

And if thou make this temple shine,
Yet, self-abased, will I adore;
The gold and silver are not mine
I give to thee what was thine

I pray that, this year, my country will see a " New Beginning" in and through the Almighty God who is greatly feared in the council of the holy ones in heaven. In the Almighty God who " stooped to ask of us the love of our poor hearts", in and through the reason for the Christmas Season, and the Lord of all time, even Jesus Christ. I pray God that such a new beginning will start in the hearts of mankind, where now, too often, " a thievish swarm frequents the place, and robs my Savior of His praise". As to praise this Almighty God is why we were made and why we exist. And because, as a nation, we neither fear Him nor dedicate our lives to praise Him, " bloodshed follows bloodshed, and the land mourns", as explained years ago by the prophet Hosea ( 4:2). But all of this can change overnight if only we accept the word that says: " Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord", and who knows that He may:

" throw open the floodgates of heavens and pour out such a blessing on us that we will not have room for it". Malachi 3: 10

May the God of Jacob bless all who fear Him and place their trust in His unfailing love, as manifest in and through Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour.