Monday, October 31, 2011

The Spirit of God and the spirit of this age

Do you think that Americans are ready to elect a Mormon as President, or even to give the idea serious thought? I know in the UK it probably would not fly, and certainly not in my country. Reading the well respected Economist this week on-line however, at least one writer thinks that it may not be a major issue. And in the same way Americans got past Catholicism with JFK, they may well see Mitt Romney's allegiance to the Mormon faith as a non- (political) issue. The argument being advanced is that Mormons are now considered, by some, as Christians. In our situation in Jamaica, twenty thirty years ago, the Adventist,s specifically the SDA church was not considered mainstream Christian. Now they are, unless you combine all the various Church of God denominations, the largest, and still growing, Christian denomination in my country. Further, both the constitutional head of state - the Governor General, and the political leader - the Prime Minister, are practicing members of the SDA church. Interesting times indeed!

So at a time when leadership is changing across the world, some peacefully, others more violently; when religious issues continue to make headlines across he world...will Sharia law now replace whatever was there before in post Qaddafi's Libya?...; when protests against the 1% who control most of the wealth across the world are mushrooming; when many folks are undergoing severe financial and emotional stress in their personal lives; when even young people are threatened with serious health issues, what did the Lord reveal to His people this week?

A revisit of a most important issue in the Bible- living by the Spirit vs living by the sinful nature. It began in Galatians.:
" So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so you do not do what you want." Galatians 5:16-18 NIV

This assertion that the Spirit - placed in us by virtue of our baptism into the death of Christ - is in conflict with the sinful nature - placed in us by the sin of Adam, is one of the most profound issues which confronts mankind worldwide and transcends all other political, economic and social priorities. As this is the precise reason why the God who the Psalmist describes as " you who sit enthroned between the cherubim", the God who "presides in the great assembly", the God who " the heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim the work of his hands", this God came to earth as man in Christ Jesus, so that we could live by the Spirit and not perish by living by the sinful nature. So that we could be holy, as God is holy; and not kill our brother as Cain did; and not rape our sisters...and not hate each other because of the difference in skin colour, because of which people from Africa in general and South Africa in recent times have had to suffer for centuries, or because of our ethnic background as they did in Kosovo, or even more significantly in 1938 Germany, or difference in political allegiance the manifestations of which have wreaked havoc in my country for years and which huge problem the new PM has vowed to tackle with all his energy. But more importantly, by living by the Spirit we are ushered into a new and eternal life which this world cannot comprehend, nor worse accept.

No doubt this emphasis on loving each other, rather than fighting against each other constantly, led to my being called to read 1 John 1. And in particular:

" God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another , and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins. he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. if we claim we have not sinned we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. 1 John 1: 5-10 NIV

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the messge you have heard. yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shinning.
Anyone who calims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoevr loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not knw where he is going becuse the darkness has blinded him.

1 John 2:7-11. NIV

One of the great " veranda" topics in Jamaica, trending now like Yahoo news, is how the former PM Bruce Golding lied and how this new PM is no better as he was part of the corrupt lot. The problem with this attitude, as with the " remove the Kenyan" anti-Obama movement in the US, is that, it would have us take our eyes off our own sins. And all of us have so many. That's why the Cross is so critical and central to the Christian religion, for if we claim we have no sin, we make out God to be a liar, as this is why He sent His only Son to die for the sins of all mankind. Each Sunday morning as I go to church to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, or Lord's Supper, or whatever name is attached to this most holy event, I thank God for the body and blood of Jesus that cleanses us from all sin and heals all diseases. As I realize more and more each day, that " nothing in my hand I bring before God, simply to His Cross I cling. So therefore I have little time to countenance those who would spend all their time " recalling" the sins of Mr. Golding, or young Andrew Holness, or President Obama, or the man next door, or that sinful woman down the street, as in the final analysis, we will all have to face the judgment seat before a holy God, who offered his Son as an atonement for our sins. And what will we say to him? " Look at that man, or that woman, at his or her egregious sin.

The other topic of course, is the age old question of homosexuality, which according to the news has now arrived at center stage at the recently held Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference. Clearly no committed Christian, reading John's Epistle can countenance hatred against anyone. The question which arises for those of us who agree with the the unvarnished truth, (but clearly for some an uncomfortable revelation) of Holy Scripture that the practice of homosexuality is a sin, is how to explain that truth with compassion and humility, and counter the growing culture which has successfully labeled anyone who holds that view, that we " hate " homosexuals. A position which is far from the truth, but nonetheless is a campaign being waged with unrelenting fury by the gay movement and those who sympathize with them

Finally, for those who are struggling with serious trials, persecutions and challenges in their lives, the message from the book of Revelations, received in the dead of night, this week, should be comforting.

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and the kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord's day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches:.......

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever.! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write, therefore, what you have seen............
Rev. 1: 9-19 NIV

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars - I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that i have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live upon the earth
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will be able to take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and of the city of my god, the new Jerusalem which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the church. Rev. 3:7-13 NIV

So, in Christ, we are all called to suffer. To be patient. And to endure. And the God who has placed before us an open door that no one can shut, will protect us from all evil. No one can take us out of his hand. And He will reveal those who are faithful in due course. Whether they be Mormons, SDA, Church of God, Anglicans, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Gays or ......Our business is to be faithful to Him who has called us into His marvelous light in and through His Son Christ on the Cross of Calvary. As He who has the Son, hath life, but he who does not have the Son has no life at all - that's what the Scriptures teach us. Regardless of what religion or denomination, or political party, or ethnic background, sexual orientation, or skin colour we have or claim. So this week let us concentrate on our own sins, repent before a loving and compassionate God, and pray that we may live by the Spirit and not by the sinful nature, which leads us into all kinds of quarrels and bickering and distracts and prevents us from enjoying the joy and the peace and the holiness that are ours in Christ Jesus, when we live by the Spirit. Amen.