Sunday, December 4, 2011

Living by the Spirit of God; An offer which first begun at Christmas

This week the big story in my country was the resignation of a powerful Minister of Government, and Chairman of the ruling Governing party, over the
" mismanagement of funds", by an Executive Agency over which he had ultimate responsibility. The week before the head of that agency had been fired, and now this time the scandal claimed another casualty as more revelations were made public. The sum of money involved is huge - over US$ 400 million borrowed from the Chinese government to fix our aging infrastructure. And from the very outset the opposition party had been calling for greater levels of scrutiny and accountability of the program which had the potential to do good, but also to be abused. Recently, two government watchdog institutions had discovered gross irregularities, and so now civil society has joined the call for a forensic audit and to which call the new Prime Minister has acceded. How will this play out, only God knows, as so far the Minister has been found guilty only of having allowed these irregularities to take place under his watch. This week also, Presidential hopeful Herman Cain, pulled out of the race for the GOP nomination, based on the " continued distractions of alleged unfaithfulness", and the " hurt caused to his family". And I wondered, if these allegations are true, what made him think that he could get away with it in a country where the press is notorious for uncovering " dirt" about politicians. But then again, he may yet be not guilty

So with all of this stuff swirling around me what did the Lord say during this week. First of all He instructed me to send the following note to my church members one day this week. And the essence of the message is that all of us, inside and outside the church, should be very mindful of our vulnerability to be led by our sinful nature and do evil.

"Resolving this matter of the living by sinful nature and living by the Spirit of Christ is fundamental to the our growth in the Christian life. As we look around us we will observe from recent events, and some not so recent, that our natural self will always let us down. And not just in celebrated public ways, but in private where God still sees and knows. And judges. This reality came home to me very acutely as I pondered on recent happenings and reflected on that wonderful Communion Hymn:

" And now, O Father, mindful of the love
that bought us, once for all on Calvary's tree...

and in particular the second verse

Look, Father, look on his anointed face
and only look on us as found in him;
look not on our misusing of thy grace,
our prayers so languid and our faith so dim;
for lo! Between our sins and their reward
we set the passion of our Lord.

The point is that we just cannot manage to to please God in our sinful natural self. No matter how hard we try. The natural sinful self will always let us down. complaining too much! Quarreling not being sufficiently thankful and grateful! Being full of envy and pride! Lacking in compassion and mercy?
Falling regularly into all kinds of temptations...publicly and privately! Engaging in casual prayers and having a doubtful, unbelieving heart!
Even as church members, much less those who are unredeemed.

It is in this context then, that the Spirit of the Lord led me then to read the following passage from Jeremiah. And I had in mind current happenings and the consequences. But we too in the church need to " work out our salvation with fear and trembling", as the Scriptures command us. As otherwise, if the Spirit of Christ does not rule over us with absolute sway, we too can behave, in private and publicly, just like those who are unredeemed and walking according to the sinful nature. Because as St Paul observes in the New Testament and Jeremiah spoke about it in the OT in the passage below, ..." nothing good lives in me in the sinful nature".

Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
he will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert
in a salt land where no one lives

But blessed in the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
he will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
it does not fear when the heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
it has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond 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 175-10 NIV

The point is that according to Oswald Chambers, " we have to feed the Spirit of Christ in us". And that is all about prayer, and fasting if we are so moved, being obedient to the Word of God, doing good works, and not subjecting on mind too readily and too regularly to the influences of this world...TV, Radio, cable, music places, people.....taking Holy Communion seriously and regularly... surrendering completely to and obey for there is no other way......
as this matter of a deceitful heart is so very true and real.

Finally the Spirit led me to the warning in 1 Corinthians:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the same cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in 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 bodied were scattered over the desert.

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: " The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry. " 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 do not fall.
1 Cor. 10:1-12

The point is that we should not take lightly what is happening to unredeemed persons whether in " high " places or " low". We need to be reminded that it is only because " God looks on the anointed face of Christ in us", why we too do not suffer the same fate as those "whose bodies were scattered in the desert", as a warning to us. Therefore let us strive with all our might not to be guilty of " misusing God's grace" in Christ. Whether by languid prayers, dim faith, or more importantly allowing the " deceitful heart " of the natural sinful self to dominate our lives...and to grumble..and to commit idolatry...and to engage in immorality..and to take part in pagan revelry...and to quarrel often and rather than giving thanks always...and to doubt God's goodness and unfailing love. That leads to embarrassment at best, and death at worse. Above all things, we must constantly ask God to enable us so that the Spirit of Christ will " hold absolute sway over our lives", that God will " have thine own way", and that " Christ only, always shall live in us".

Then we can exult like the Psalmist:

How good and pleasant it is
when brothers ( and sisters) live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured out on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down on the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessings,
even life forevermore.
Psalm 133.

The reality is that everything that is happening around us is under the control of an all knowing and Almighty God. Every situation God knows about. There are no secrets about which God is not aware. God is in the midst of very situation and will act in His own time. It's reality which struck me very forcibly when I read the following Scripture this week:

Meanwhile, when a crowd on many thousands had gathered so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak to his disciples, saying: " Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs".
Luke 12:1-3 NIV.

This issue of hypocrisy, living one life in the public domain, and another in private and in your heart, is at the heart of why the Gospel of Light needs to shine into the deepest recesses of the human heart. It is the essence of the great message continued in the opening verses of John's Gospel to which the Lord led me this week:

" In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was with God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, but the darkness has not yet understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light......." John 1: 1-6 NIV

The reality is that all unredeemed persons are living in darkness, no matter how much they might think that they are enlightened. And sophisticated. And cool. And powerful. And wise. And rich. And hot. That's all an illusion, which is sadly exposed in times of trouble. And trouble will come to every living human being in this world. This is how we need to view ourselves in this world where life is being framed by illusions. That unless the Spirit of Christ lives in us, we live in darkness, and in the " shadow of death". Where hypocrisy, and greed, and wickedness of all kinds, and pride, and envy and immorality all rule in one shape or another. And there is no remedy, unless we repent and turn to Christ and claim the victory over sin and death which is ours in the Cross of Calvary. Herein lies the second challenge for us as Christians, is that no one is irredeemable. Whether he may be in a high position in society or low. Whether he may be accused of wrongdoing or appear to be a " good person". Whether the manifestations of a sinful life are public or a closely guarded secret. We therefore like John the Baptist are called by Christ to bring the gospel of Light to those close to us, and those far from us so that the message of God's redeeming grace in Christ Jesus may be manifest in our lives and in our teaching.
Ultimately, that message of the Light of Christ, shinning in the lives of men and calling all to repentance is the only route to true nation building. To the creation of a just society. To the building up of the Kingdom of righteousness and holiness in politics, in business, in the schools, in the communities, in the media, in the professions, and ultimately in the family. So as we continue to watch the US presidential race, and prepare for our own elections on December 29 th .yes the PM just called it ... we need as a church to redouble our efforts to reach out to those who have strayed from the faith, the lost, the wounded, the disillusioned and those being held captive by Satan. Our efforts must be greater and more sustained and more focused than those campaigning for political power, for we have the Lord God Almighty on our side, the love of Christ in our hearts, and the knowledge that unredeemed, unbaptized persons are in terrible danger. Not just of public embarassment or worse, but of eternal judgment. I pray God that the same fever which now grips the nation in respect of elections will take hold of us in the church and spur us on to rescue the perishing and those sitting in the shadow of death, and not gloat over their misfortunes and their being held in bondage by Satan. Amen.