Sunday, May 15, 2011

Preventable physical death and intentional spiritual death in Christ. A world of difference

Actually Bin Laden and the Muslims are the least of America's and Western world's problems. It is not that they are not real issues, as to disrupt air travel in the way that the terrorists have been able to do, and to kill many American and other personnel in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq is no small matter. However in the larger scheme of things, in terms of death and trauma, terrorism ranks far down the list. David Ward, the head of the FIA foundation - an organization funded to the tune of 300USD million dollars by the racing car industry worldwide - visited with us in Jamaica two weeks ago to be our guest speaker at our function to help the UN launch its worldwide Decade of Action for Road Safety 2010-2011. And at dinner one night, he made the point that after 9/11, many Americans shifted their mode of travel from flying to driving, with the result that the deaths from road crashes increased significantly, thus contributing to the frightening data driving the action by the UN. 3000 deaths per day - compared with the total of 3000 lost in one day from 9/11 - from road traffic injuries worldwide, resulting in in excess of 1.4 million deaths and 50 million injuries annually. Interestingly, the most recent report put out by The Commission for Global Road Safety, for which he is also the Executive Director - clearly a man who knows how to multi-task- makes the point that the four main Global Killers in 2008 were HIV/AIDS ( approx 2.4 m/year); Road traffic injuries ( 1.4m/yr); Tuberculosis (1.3m/year) and Malaria ( just under 1m/year). And of all of them only road traffic injuries was projected to show an increase in 2015. So preventable death is a constant companion with us in this journey called life, but serves no useful purpose, and in fact causes much anxiety and suffering for those left behind. And further, economies suffer too, as in all four of the cases cited above, growth and development of nations are retarded as a direct consequence.

This is in sharp contrast to death in the spiritual world, as the Lord pointed out to me, and reminded me time and time again this week. In fact, the foundation of the Christian teaching is that death to self is a prerequisite for spiritual growth and maturity. There is just no other way.
The message began with a reading from one of the most important teachings, in my view, on doctrine in the Bible.
Colossians 2 & 3 - edited. NIV

" So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.........

Since, then you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God........
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed which is idolatry. because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. but now you must rid yourself of all such things as these: anger , rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator........Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. let the word of God dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to god the father through him.

Can you imagine how different things might have been, if the head of the IMF, taken off a plane at JFK airport, stunningly accused of reportedly sexually assaulting a maid in a swanky New York Hotel, and reputedly a front runner for the President of France, had been brought up with word of God according to St. Paul's letter to the Colossians.? Can you imagine if Christians worldwide, in Africa which reportedly has the fastest growing Christian population; in America where huge swathes of the country are still populated by Christians despite the growing influence of secularism; in Europe where God has largely been relegated to a "backseat'; in China which has a huge potential for growth in the Christian population; in Russia where the faith is making a come back after years of repressive rule by the Communists; if in all these parts of the world, Christians were to take this call to die to self seriously, and " set our hearts on things above", how different the world could be. In a short time!

Diseases such as Tuberculosis and Malaria might still remain a challenge, and even that's debatable, as if justice and equity were to prevail, flowing from a resurgence of a true Christian ethic, funds would be made available to fight these diseases, as they are driven primarily by povery. But HIV/AIDS and road traffic injuries are driven by a poverty of the mind and not just physical privation. A situation which could be easily reversed by an adoption of the Christian ethic of avoiding sexual immorality and loving your neighbour as yourself. So we would not drink and drive, we would cut our speed, we would wear the protective devices and thus assist in significantly reducing road traffic injuries.

But the problem is not that simple, as the Lord reminded me again, and instructed me to use the passage as the opening prayer ( his request when we meet) as we met with our Prime Minister and Chairman of our local road safety council, last week to discuss road safety issues.

" Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the his mighty power. Put on the full armor of god so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the spiritual realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of of righteousness in place, and with your shoes fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all of this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish al the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of of the Spirit which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With that in mind be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

So do we wish to know whay many more Christians are not dying to self, and living according to the Spirit of the Son of God living with them, as St Paul encouraged and exhorted us to do?

" I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith by the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2: 20 KJV.

Do we wish to know why the kingdom of God - Righteousness and holiness in the power of the Holy Spirit - is not manifestly advancing and effecting change in societies around the world, as much as it ought to be, despite great numbers of people being Baptized in America, in Africa, in Latin America and in the Caribbean? Two reasons. One is that there is a serious lack of understanding of the need to die to self, and what that entails in the spiritual world. Secondly, on account of a gross underestimation of the struggle that is taking place in the spiritual realm, and accordingly the unfortunately triumphalism that exists in certain Christian circles, not realizing just how vulnerable we are and how weak we are unless we daily, minutely, put on the full armor of God. So we face two problems. The wrath of God on account of our refusal to die to self. The wrath of Satan through lack of knowledge. And so people die on our roads, terrorists flourish, poverty claims the lives of millions, immorality ushers in death, rage spawns mayhem and grief and results in funerals across the land, malice and greed destroy a nation's conscience, and sin saps the energy and vitality of many churches - which though having a reputation for being alive are very much dead in many instances, according to the word of God written to the church in Sardis in the Book of the revelations.

What's the solution? Deep Christian love, for God and for neighbour, as the Lord woke me up early this morning to remind, rebuke and instruct me. For if we die to self, and serve with all our heart, worship regularly, give to the poor, fight valiantly against evil, baptize thousands, sing lustily, conduct much praise and worship, and have not love, it counts for nothing in the kingdom of God. That the lesson from 1 Corinthians 13. A love that is not arrogant, not rude, not self seeking, that always protects, always hopes, always trusts always perseveres. A love that helps us to love those who do not love us, who hate us and persecute us. A love that can help us to love those who don't think like us, people of diferent religions, people of diferent cultures, peple of different races, people who don't love Jesus as we do. A love that can rescue the Bin Ladens of this world, the Dons of Jamaica, our political opponents, our estranged spouse, those who assault and rape women, those of no account in the eyes of many. The prostitutes, the homosexuals, the tax offenders, the cheats, the murderers - all for whom Christ died so that men may have life and and have it more abundantly - the subject of the gospel reading for the Anglican church today in John 10.

Finally the issue of self love. Which, according to Francois Fenelon " must be uprooted, and the love of God take its place in our hearts before we can see ourselves as we are". And that is the problem, about which I will write in another messge. As Felenon writes with some discernment: "..... the less we love ourselves, the more considerate we are of others". How do we uproot this self love? The Bible says we cannot. Only God in Christ can. That why the verse of " The Old Rugged Cross" still has so much appeal after all these years.

"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to your Cross I cling.
Naked, look to you for dress,
Helpless, come to you for grace.
Foul, I to the fountain fly,'
Wash me Savior, lest I die.