Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Visa issues, a divided nation and Healing through the Body of Christ

This week the nation woke up to read in the newspapers, that the US Government had revoked the visa of a Government Minister and a Deputy leader of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party. This was big news indeed, as most Jamaicans have close links with the USA, through family and business interests, and so the privilege of traveling unencumbered to that country, is a highly valued one. Speculation continues to be rife about the reason for this drastic action by the US, and further, whether or not similar treatment will be meted out to other officials. What did not make the news, however, is the Annual Healing Conference, sponsored by the Anglican Diocese in Jamaica, and which event now attracts persons from all over the Caribbean, especially from the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and Belize. This "institution" is now heading for its fortieth anniversary, and there is no doubt that our country is deeply in need of the kind of healing that the Anglican church in particular, and the wider Christian churches, are promoting, through this and other such efforts.

The national debate over the issues emerging from the request by the USA to extradite "Dudus Coke", a reputed Don in the Prime Minister's constituency, including the Gleaner's reporting of the " confidential" information released by WickiLeaks, has left the country deeply divided and troubled. Although trending down, thank God, the extremely high incidence of murder in our island has badly affected the psyche of our people, leaving many hopeless, embittered - blaming the political leaders, past and present, active and retired - vengeful and extremely fearful. Although reportedly on the upturn, the recent devastation of the standard of living occasioned by the worldwide recession, and some would contend, misguided policy decisions, has left many Jamaicans poor, hopeless and bewildered. The repeated shocking incidences of murder in our schools, teenagers killing other teenagers, has sent many into deep despair, wondering about the future of our country.

And so the country is in deep need of healing - politically, economically, morally and socially. But what the Annual Healing Conference is advocating is that, even more importantly, the country needs spiritual healing. In the sense that, unless those who have a mandate from Christ, to be healers, to be agents of reconciliation to God, according to the preacher at the Healing service this morning - Cannon Steve West from Trinidad - there will be no lasting healing in this nation. Cannon West used as his text that well know passage in the Bible, John 15:1-8, where Jesus declared that:

+ "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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. If a man remain in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

Using this text he made several observations. One, that once we accept the fact that Jesus is the true vine, then all other "vines", all others who would try to promote themselves as examples or leaders whom humans beings ought to emulate are imitators (or pretenders - my word). Secondly, that pruning is a painful process - the inference here is that when we are undergoing suffering and discipline it maybe a sign that the Lord is " pruning" us for better works. Thirdly, that we must make every effort and determination to remain in Christ, through obedience to His Word, as we are called not to be successful but to be faithful. Fourthly, that there is no room for unproductive labour, no room for doing nothing as a disciple of Christ, lest we be cast away and burned. Fifthly, in Christ we are all called to produce fruit, and fruit that will last. Finally, once we are in Christ , and His word remains in us, then our prayers will always be answered. As the same power which raised Jesus from the dead is available to us, by faith and by obedience. And therefore what tremendous things we can accomplish for the glory of God, if we believe and obey. In this context a reminder from the Bishop of Jamaica, Alfred Reid, in his presentation during the conference, that " all Christians are healers" is worthy of note. As with this kind of understanding of the power and the mandate that we possess as people of God, rescued from sin and death by the Blood of the Lamb, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, there is no limit to what we can achieve as healers, in a land deeply divided by political tribalism, economic stagnation, social unrest, all leading us to be morally adrift and thus easy prey to the " wild animals" that have overtaken our people.

Whilst pondering these issues, twice this week, the Lord led me to reflect on a passage in Jeremiah:

" The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond all cure. Who can understand it?
I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."
Jeremiah 17;9-10. NIV

Then this morning He led me to reflect on the words of a well known hymn.

Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
try me, O Lord, and know my thoughts I pray;
see if there be some wicked way in me,
cleanse me from every sin and set me free

I praise thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
fulfill thy word, and make me pure within;
fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame,
grant my desire to magnify thy name.

Lord, take my life, and make it wholly thine;
fill my poor heart with thy great love divine;
take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender - Lord, in me abide.

O Holy Ghost, revival comes from thee;
send a revival - start the work in me;
thy word declares thou wilt supply our need;
for blessing now, O Lord I humbly plead.

I believe that in all of this the Lord is sending a message that the pains, angst and trials; the many tears that have been shed, the embarrassment, the shame; the many nights of sheer terror, all are pointing to the fact that the Holy One of Israel, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and Father of Lord Jesus Christ,
is " cleansing this nation". That He is calling the many healers who claim Christ to a deeper relationship with their Savior, and that He is cleansing the church also, so that church " already clean because of the Word", can truly become agents of reconciliation to God and to each other in this nation. In the same way that the Psalmist prayed for " a pure heart" so that he could then call sinners to repentance. For at the root of all our troubles, whether manifested in visa cancellations, revelations by Wickileaks, murder most foul in the communities, gross immorality masquerading as popular music, violence in the schools, indiscipline on our roads, and rage and unforgiveness in the church, is the " deceitfulness of the human heart, and which heart is beyond all cure". All manner of ills in a society begin right here. And only the God who alone can search the heart, can also heal it". And that He has done in and through the shed Blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. That's why the songwriter was moved to express the prayer......" fill me with fire where once I burned with shame". There is such a great need for us to be dreadfully ashamed about the state of our nation and to beg God for forgiveness. And God being a God of Mercy is waiting with open arms, to forgive and to forget.

Finally a meditation by one of the great preachers of our time. And which meditation speaks to the need for us to have a deep desire to know Christ much more than we do now, and which process begins with a cleansing of the mind. The only way to truly remain in Christ and become a healer - healers in a nation so desperately in need of healing.

A. W. Tozer
Verse : Psalm 139:23

The author of the celebrated devotional work, The Cloud of the Unknowing, begins his little book, with a prayer that expresses the spirit of the deeper life teaching:
" God, unto whom all hearts be open....and unto whom no secrets are hid, I beseech thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of thy grace, that I may perfectly love thee and worthily praise thee. Amen."

Who that is truly born of the Spirit, unless he has been prejudiced by wrong teaching can object to such a thorough cleansing of the heart as will enable him perfectly to love God and worthily to praise him? Yet this is exactly what we mean when we speak about the " deeper life" experience. Only we mean that it should be literally fulfilled within the heart, not merely accepted by the head.

Nicephorus, a father of the Eastern Church, in a little treatise on the Spirit-filled life, begins with a call that sounds strange to us only because we have been for so long accustomed to following Jesus from afar off and to living among a people that follow him afar off. " You, who desire to capture the wondrous divine illumination of our Savior Jesus Christ - who seek to feel the divine fire in your hearts - who strive to sense and experience the the feeling of of reconciliation with God - who, in order to unearth the treasure buried in the field of your heart and to gain possession of it, have renounced everything worldly - who desire the candles of our souls to burn brightly even now, and who for this purpose have renounced all the world - who wish by conscious experience to know and to receive the kingdom of heaven existing within you - come and I will impart to you the science of eternal heavenly life - ".

Such quotations as these might easily be multiplied till they filled half a dozen volumes. This yearning after God has never completely died in any generation. Always there were some who scorned the low paths and insisted upon walking the high road of spiritual perfection. yet, strangely enough, that perfection never meant a spiritual terminal point nor a state of purity that made watchfulness and prayer unnecessary. Exactly the opposite was true.

I pray God that we will all seek to heal this land. That we will ask God to search all our hearts "so deceitful and wicked", and cleanse us from every sin. So that in a deeper relationship with Christ we may truly become healers, so that God may pour forth the Spirit of His Son through us in a dry and thirsty land. All for His honor and Glory. Amen