This past week was a difficult one for most of us. The untimely death ( from the complications of acute Leukemia at age 52) of a committed Christian wife and mother, who together with her husband, a Pastor, was very involved in a wonderful ministry in an inner city area in Kingston Jamaica. The horrific and brutal killings in Jamaica, especially that of a young woman about to attend law school and her mom, both of whom were beheaded. The unbelievable report of a gunman in Oslo Norway, posing as a policeman and calmly and apparently with some glee, shooting to death scores of young people - just simply staggering and macabre! Then just yesterday, news broke about the death ( from the reports about her, almost predictable ) of Amy Winehouse. The question could very much be on the lips of many; : "where was a loving God in all of this?" Especially in respect of the young people in Norway and Jamaica! The question also emerged during a visit with the Pastor's wife and the answer which she shared with those who loved her and wondered why God had allowed her ( of all people) to become ill, and so seriously, as she related the story to me was; " God is sovereign and can do what pleases Him"! It's a story I shared with her husband after she died, as we all sought to find words of comfort in this most difficult period in his life. And it is a question which has exercised the minds of many Christians and people of faith, and even people of no faith, for centuries. Why should a young girl with so much promise, have her life snuffed out by someone with a mind crazed with revenge and bitterness? Why! Why!Why!
But as much as these questions occupied my mind this week, one issue caused me much agony and provoked a series of e mails to a select group of my church members back home. Not seeking any responses, although I received a gracious one. And as I agonized the Lord led me through various passages in the Bible which then formed the basis for a part 11 of the discussion - there was a part 111 also but that's for another time - both of which e mails are set out below. Finally the Lord who is indeed sovereign led me to reflect deeply on a meditation which speaks very clearly about waiting upon on Him for answers to questions about life which baffle us. Whether the context is a new ministry, unexplained events, ilness, or our journey as sinners in a broken world, all of which may be a subject of great concern for us in one form or another. The key point was that, however puzzled we are, we should wait with deep prayer and unyielding faith, as we seek to negotiate our way as people of faith in these troubling times.
I am thinking aloud. And writing. The gay issue is so " in your face", in the media, and in the church too, in this country. At least the Episcopalian church where we worship when visiting with Kimare and Kurt. On Sunday, the preacher, a retired Bishop, used the story of the wheat and tares to justify " not judging anyone". And in particular gay people. He never had to but I suppose he felt compelled to do so. No mention of sin. No mention of the cross. Just God's love for all who come. What Bonhoeffer terms cheap grace. I recall once advising a member of the church who was living with with his girlfriend, unmarried, and who had come before me - as a Chalice Bearer - for Communion, that such behaviour was unacceptable, as I understood it. I mentioned it to the then Rector, now Bishop Thompson, and he took action quietly, as indeed the late Bishop Spence had done in the past. So what do we do with such a person who is a practicing and publicly known gay person living with a partner? Serve them Holy Communion, without any counselling! So, for them why did Christ die?
I am troubled. Quite so. But God is sovereign and is aware of everything. That's why He led me to read Timothy. I am intrigued by the father-son relationship between Timothy and Paul, having had, like many others, a similar relationship with the late Bshop Spence. And I was not even aware that it was the second book which draws our attention to what willl happen in the last days - men will not put up with sound doctrine; Scripture is useful for rebuking.......We must preach the word in season and out of season. It's very painful to see these things happen in front of your very eyes in the church, and to hear it being validated on CNN - Cafferty Files today. I often wonder if I am too harsh or judgemental! But how can one call sin something else when " we carry around in our bodies the death of Christ so that Christ's life may be revealed though us". But then how can one repent of what they feel to be so 'natural'. Like being black or white. When I was growing up, I did not fell like a 'sinner. It is only since I have matured in the faith that I realize how much " wickedness" there is in me, and spend my days asking God to " cleanse the thoughts of my heart........" and pray Palm 51 every night. It is quite a revelation that as we draw closer to God we realize how far from Him we are in the flesh, and thus yearn for a " pure heart" and an individed heart
But then again that agonizing does not include my sexual orientation. God loves them, that I know, as He loves all who He has created. But we all have to die to self, even our sexuality if needs be, in order to gain new life in Christ. We must be full of compassion and mercy like our Lord. But the one thing we cannot do, is to be comfortable with sin. Ours or anybody's. That would be to deny what took place on Calvary. And what can take place when the Holy Spirit empowers us - the impossible, or seemingly impossible. Perhaps we dwell too much on this issue, as greed is like idolatry. A rampant problem in all of humanity. So too envy, and anger. But even worse is the sin of unbelief. For without faith it is impossible to please God....... Lord I believe! Help thou my unbelief.......and pray without ceasing for the renewal of the church, beginning with me....and also the children of Israel. Lord teach us how to pray for those who are involved in the discussions between the members of the Anglican Community on this thorny issue. Peace.
........amazing! After last night's agonizing, this morning, during my devotions, on the way to one passage of scripture, which I located eventually, the Lord arrested my hand and placed it on another one. Amazing indeed, as it added another dimension to my struggles. And so did the one I was seeking too.
"The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord.....flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside the body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body......you are not your own, you were bought with a price.........do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God .....sexually immoral. idolaters,adulterers, homosexual offenders, thieves, greedy....and that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were just justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.......actually I had been led to again to read the high priestly prayer at the start, before searching for the warnings from Israel's history......protect them by the power of the name - the name you gave me.
Along the way too came Bernard of Clairvaux's :
Jesus, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see,
And in thy presence rest
By this Name we are thus protected, and by His Blood we are sanctified...we are therefore no longer our own. So what then prevents us from giving up all things for the sake of Christ, including our sexuality, if that is the will of God.
Our goal is to be able to live the words we sing....When I survey the wondrous Cross....love so amazing so divine, demands my life my soul my all. So if we have to "give up" ...mother, spouse, child, even our very life to follow Jesus...then why is our sexually so precious...if indeed we accept that lifestyle to be sinful and part of the broken-ness of what reigned in human life since the sin of Adam. Bernard of Clairvaux - a Christian mystic of the eleventh century -also had profound words to say on that subject of the fall, and which are relevant to this discussion. As we have not one, but two reasons to be in debt to God. And therefore none whatsoever to make any claim on God.
THE DOUBLE DEBT
Bernard of Clairvaux
Verse: Hebrews 9:14
God certainly is well within his rights in claiming to himself the works of his own hands, the gifts himself have given! How should the thing made fail to love the maker, provided that it have from him the power to love at all? How should it not love him with all its powers, since only by his gift has it got anything? Man, called into being out of nothing by God's free act and raised to such high honor, how patent is his debt of love to God's most just demand!
How vastly God has multiplied his mercy too, in saving man and beast in such a way! Why, we had turned our glory into the likeness of a calf that eateth hay; our sin had brought us to the level if the beasts that know not God at all!
If then I owe myself entirely to my Creator, what shall I give my Re-Creator more? The means of our remaking too, think what it cost! It was far easier to make than redeem; for God had but to speak the word and all things were created, I included; but he who made me by a word, and made me once for all, spent on the task of of my remaking many words and many marvelous deeds, and suffered grievous
and suffered grievous and humiliating wrongs.
What reward therefore shall I give the Lord for all the benefits that he has done to me? By his first work he gave me to myself; and by the next he gave himself to me. And when he gave himself, he gave me back myself that I had lost. Myself for myself, given and restored, I doubly owed owe to him. But what shall I return to himself? A thousand of myself would be as nothing in respect of him....were an offering far too small.
It makes you wonder if Isaac Watts and Clairvaux collaborated to write " When I survey the wondrous cross....but Bernard lived from 1063 and Watts from 1674.
So then the question is not " why then did God make us this way"? But rather, having made us and re-made us in Christ, how would He have us live?
This is where the passage I was searching for places a 'bookend" on all of this agonizing.
I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact brothers that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they passed through the sea............They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the
spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did......We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did - and in one day twenty three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did - and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did - and were killed by the destroying angel.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall" Cor. 10:1-12 NIV
Amazingly the hymn The Wondrous Cross appears in my Classic Devotional Bible on the page opposite the Corinthian passage on Sexual Immorality.
So what do I make of all of this. God is always speaking and we must be always listening. God's love for all broken mankind, Adam's helpless race, came at a price. There is no cheap grace. We accept this free gift of love, by loving in return and giving up all claims of self. Sexual issues are only but part of the brokenness of mankind.....idolatry - the enthronement of something other than God on our hearts - seems to be at the root of all evil.
May God continue to have mercy on all of us, as we are so guilty and only Jesus can set us free!
BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO WAITS
Verse: Daniel 12:6
It may seem an easy thing to wait, but it is one of the postures which a Christain soldier does not learn without years of teaching. Marching and quick-marching are much easier to God's warriors than standing still. There are hours of perplexity when the most willing spirit, anxiously desirous to serve the Lord, knows not what aprt to take. Then what shall we do? Vex itself by despair? Fly back in cowardice, turn to the right in fear, rush forward in presumption/ No just simply wait.
Wait in prayer, however. Call on God, and spread the case before him; tell him your difficulty and plead his promise of aid. In dilemmas between one duty and another, it is sweet to be humble as a child and wait with simplicity of soul on the Lord. It is sure to be well with us when we feel and know our own folly, and are heartily willing to be guided by the will of God.
But wait in faith. Express your unstaggering confidence in him, for unfaithful, untrusting waiting is but an insult to the Lord. Beleive that if he keeps you tarrying even till midnight, yet he will come at the right time; the vision will come and not tarry.
The final word, for the time being, on this agonizing, about homosexuality and Christianity, about the sovereignity of God even when the evil of murder and the finality of death confront us, is expressed so much more profoundly by a meditation by OSWALD CHAMBERS than anything that could emerge from my own thoughts.
THE NOTION OF DIVINE CONTROL
" How much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him". Matthew 7:11
Jesus is laying down rules of conduct for those who have His Spirit. By the simple argument of these verses He urges us to keep our minds filled with the notion of God's control behind everything, which means that the disciple must maintain an attitude of perfect trust and an eagerness to ask and to seek.
Notion your mind with the idea that God is there. If once the mind is notioned along that line it is easy as breathing to remember --Why, my Father knows all about it! It is not an effort, it comes naturally when perplexities press. Before, you used to go to this person and that, but now the notion of the Divine control is forming so powerfully in you that you to God about it. Jesus is laying down the rules of conduct for those who have His Spirit, and it works on this principle God is my Father, He loves me, I shall never think of anything He will forget, why should I worry?
There are times, says Jesus, when God cannot lift the darkness from you, but trust Him. God will appear like an unkind friend, but He is not; He will appear like an unnatural Father, but He is not; He will appear like an unjust judge, but He is not. Keep the notion of the mind of God behind all things strong and growing. Nothing happens in particular unless God's will is behind it, therefore you can rest in perfect confidence in Him. Prayer is not only asking, but an attitude of mind which produces the atmosphere in which asking is perfectly natural. " Ask, and it shall be given to you".
That Dr. Sandra Morgan asserted, virtually on her deathbed, that God is Sovereign, is a reminder that we ought to carry with us all the time. Whether visiting the sick, reading the news online, watching CNN, traveling abroad or when at home, or when struggling with our own issues deep in our souls. And the Sovereign God whose promise to Abraham in the backwaters of Palestine, when he was a wandering nomad of no consequence, compared to Alexander the Great or the mighty armies of Rome, is being fulfilled in the "children of Abraham " who now number in excess of 3 billion across the world, will always provide an answer. But in His own time and according to His will and purpose. And only in and through Jesus Christ by His Spirit who is transforming our will into the will of God day by day, in response to our faith and obedience.