Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Good News for the New Year: Extra, extra , tell all about it

" Go tell it on the mountain,
over the hills and everywhere;
go tell it on the mountain,
that Jesus Christ is born"

The above refrain for a well known Hymn, captures the essence of the news that Christmas brings. For while we are all concerned, for different reasons, about the "fiscal cliff" in the USA; arriving at an IMF agreement in Jamaica; Peace in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine; an end to the conflict in Syria; the ongoing " bloodletting" in Nigeria as war rages between Muslims and Christians; and other International and local issues, the dominant news for the season is that Jesus Christ is born. And as children of God, we the Baptized and faithful, need to tell everybody - on the Internet, to our next door neighbours, our colleagues at work, our family members, and all with whom we come in contact.

But Christmas is ending and a New Year beckons. So what other news did the Lord share with His servant this week!. One of the routine things I do when in Miami, used to be to see a good movie, now it's to buy a good book. And the Lord always provides one, even though one has to spend some time in Barnes and Nobles looking for it. Eventually I found one and on starting to read it, I was moved to send the following note to members of my local church, and to some of the hierarchy.      

  December 28th

Jesus sought me when a stranger
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

Oh, to grace how great debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
prone to leave the Lord I love;
here's my heart, oh, take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

( Inspired) Thoughts: Let these words of this glorious hymn " Come thou fount of every blessing",  be an anthem for all of us, as we enter the New Year. For this is the defining  problem throughout the ages - prone to wander from the God I love -  of the human race in general, and even more acutely so, the church in particular. I started reading a book which I bought in Miami yesterday, and continued it on the flight down last night. 

The book is entitled, " Rediscovering the  Church  Fathers: Who they were and how they shaped the Church". It's all about the lives of some selected individuals who lived and wrote between the end of the 1st century and the close of the 8th. Including Origen, Ignatius, Cyprian, Ambrose and others. Fascinating reading so far. The one phrase which has stuck in my mind, and which no doubt influenced the ( Inspired) thoughts concerning our , " prone to wander", was:  " What does it mean to be Christian in a " Christian society".? As prior to Constantine becoming the Roman Emperor in 306, the lines between Christianity and the Graeco- Roman society, were sharply drawn. And, as the writer described it  very graphically, " in a certain sense the bodies of the martyrs  were the boundaries of the church". The problem which began with the Constantine era, and  no doubt bedevils the church until now, was that the church became inundated with persons who had no sense of the original purpose of Christianity - to love the Lord Jesus sacrificially even to the point of death, and to love each other as Christ loves us. And many joined up to further their own ends.

The church has come a long way since that time, and the lines have become even more blurred, because all of us, and I pray constantly for my soul as I am so guilty, of being " prone to wander from the God I love".  As we are not willing to suffer, and  to be "strangers"  in this material world, so that we may through our witness proclaim Christ and Him Crucified as our one and only goal in life.  And a church of that predisposition cannot impact the society, in the way that God expects us to do,  and suffered and died to so enable us  to be " the light and salt" in a dying world.

We pray God for the grace to recapture the kind of love for Jesus and for each other, as we enter into a New Year full of promise, if we remain faithful to Him who " sought us when a stranger", and " interposed his precious blood to rescue us from danger".

May the Lord's Peace be with us all at St. Andrew's and the wider Anglican community now and forevermore.

Sent from my iPad

Comment: I would suggest that a major objective of the church in the New Year, under attack from many powerful forces in a secular world - I just read today where Piers Morgan the powerful CNN personality, in an recent interview with Rick Warren, suggested that the church ought to edit the Bible in essence to  accommodate "modern" thinking on homosexuality - has to seek to recapture the kind of piety exhibited by the Early Fathers of the Church. Thus recommitting itself to love the Lord Jesus without apology, and to demonstrate this love for the God who became man and died for our sins, by loving one another deeply, and loving the outcasts, the vulnerable, and the poor. In essence to be even more faithful to the God " who interposed his precious Blood, to rescue us from danger. And not to be so prone to " wander from the God we love", when tempted by secular forces with their own agenda, by the devil with his - both of them often reaching common ground -  and by our own inherent weaknesses.  

The next message is part of a three part message sent to members of the press this week in an ongoing discussion on, " The Correct Faith". Though the topics have a local flavor, all of us in societies across the world can relate to the basic questions posed. Which essentially is, " What role does the free press play spreading the Word of God in today's world"? A question which recognizes the tremendous influence that this Fourth estate has in any democratic society, and the proper use of which power can greatly assist in the formation of good moral and values in an age where " everything goes". And hence the huge problems that many countries face in terms of the  kinds of gratuitous violence which was on display in Connecticut last week. And for a clear minded perspective I would invite you to read the following blog sent to me by a Christian friend and professor at our local University. 
Hi Lucien Jones,

Brendan Bain thought you'd be interested in this:

Brendan Bain also included this personal message to you:

Hi Lucien: I think you'll appreciate reading this. (I'm just reading your Dec 23 letter. Brendan
December 26th

" The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and release from from darkness for the prisoners........"
Isaiah 61: 1 NIV

Thoughts: What is news? Further what is good news?  How does news help a people to develop and prosper? And what is the ultimate aim of development?  How then can the bringing of the  " good news" of the Gospel be the remit only of the church and the religious, in a country where it was primarily, not only, but substantially the Gospel which " set our enslaved forebears free"?. 

 Does this " good news" have any role to play in setting our people free from corruption; in promoting justice; in curbing what some argue is profligate spending on themselves by the government in times of austerity; in protecting our children whilst in the care of the state; in teaching our parents how to take care of their children; in proving our children with an  alternative to the teachings of the " Teacha" ( Vybes Kartel, a local dance hall artiste of usual crassness but extremely popular with the youngsters)  ; in  rescuing our people from poverty and an anemic economy; from substandard education; in rescuing a nation from the " sin of Cain" who murdered his brother, as we have been doing for so many years?
Have we really come to such a full understanding of this good news so that it is no longer relevant to our situation?  Really now! The Word of God!
Is it a philosophical decision that the " gate keepers of news" have taken, after considered thought, or is it a practical decision which has evolved over the years?  And who decides? Management or Cliff who is in the trenches? Bad example as Cliff is also management! Or is it a perfect example?
How can we begin to inform the public about the killing of that young mother,  demand solutions from Minister Bunting and the Prime Minister and the Commissioner, warn people about how gangs operate, portray the sadness of a grieving family, and help our people to understand the root cause of this evil in our society -Sin. All at the same time! Is this beyond our wit. Or just out of reach of our will. Or are we satisfied when, on occasion,  we report what Bishop Gregory, or Bishop Blair have to say about this national scourge?

If these kinds of thoughts do not enter our minds, then have we really celebrated Christmas. Or just X-Mas. Perhaps herein lies the root of the problem. What Oswald Chambers calls " Amiable Religiosity".

It is still appropriate in my tradition to wish you a Merry Christmas, and of course all of us hope, and some will pray, for peace in our beloved and beleaguered nation, in the New Year. But will that happen without the acceptance, by all, Church and State, Civil Society and the Fourth Estate,  of the " Good News" that Christmas brings!   

December 29th

 Finally an edited version of  challenging Word sent to Senior Leader in my country in respect of a particular issue, but generally posing the question of the role of the Word of God in shaping Policy. In the sense that, if we as a nation really begin to Trust in the God of Jacob in the New year, then the Blessings which the Sovereign Lord promises, will come our  way.  But it will call for a different kind of faith. The kind of faith that Elisha knew about and practiced when, in the midst of danger, he prayed that his servant's eyes might be opened so that he may see that " there are more of them that are with us than them which are against us". This is what the Lord asks of all people throughout history and which faith we are is being invited to experience as a nation in the New Year. Hence the prayer which under-girds this Ministry:

"Lord renew thy church beginning with me,
Lord renew the church that the church may renew the nation(s)"

The Message.

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.

You said, No, we will flee on horses.
Therefore you will flee.
You said, We will ride off on swift horses.
Therefore your pursuers will be swift.

A thousand will flee at the threat of one....

( A prophetic word which I first met in Deuteronomy 32:30 when Moses was about to die and warned the children of Israel not to turn away from the Lord. And if they did what would happen to them. I have often thought and written about my country with this verse in mind, especially in respect to the gangs and murderers in my country.)

....Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are they who wait on them.
Isaiah 30: 15-18 NIV

I then proceeded to read the verses after this prophesy and those preceding it. And what I found triggered this message to you. Essentially the Lord was admonishing His chosen people for seeking an alliance with Egypt rather than obeying Him and trusting in His faithfulness. And great strength to rescue them.

" Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but who do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or seek help from the Lord....."  Isaiah 3:1 NIV

Which words then reminded me of a similar Word in Psalm 34, which if I am not mistaken was the foundation for a message I sent to you years ago.

Blessed in the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on  earth -
he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.

No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great  strength.
A  horse is a vain hope for deliverance:
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.  Psalm 34:12-19

I pondered on what does it mean to be " a nation whose God is the Lord". And the promised blessing. A thought then came into my head about who this allegorical Egypt is. And I say allegorical deliberately, as I am reading a book which I bought in Miami on Thursday morning, prior to returning  to Jamaica that very night.  And during which flight I did more reading.

The book is entitled " Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who they were and how they shaped the Church",  by  Michael Haykin a Professor of  Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In it, he chronicles the highlights of the lives and writings of  early church Fathers who lived from the end of the 1st Century until the close of the 8th Century. And one of them, Origen who is acknowledged as one of the great Patristic Theologians, used this method, though not exclusively, nor without controversy, of interpreting the Scriptures........


And so the Word ended as it began. With reference to the lives and work of the early Fathers.  Further, the question of " What does it mean to be a nation whose God is the Lord', is one which should occupy our  minds and hearts as a people as we look forward to the New Year, with some trepidation, but with enormous and undying hope. Hope that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who sent His Son to suffer and to die over two thousand years ago, will never leave us to our own devices, but, because of Christmas we can be assured that He will  be with us in 2013 and beyond. And equally an assurance that the " Right hand of the Lord is not too weak to save us",  and therefore we must be careful not to seek alliances with individuals and forces in the midst of trials, as such foolish and dangerous choices will come back to haunt us, as we well know and have experienced, individually and as a nation.
Happy and a God-filled  New Year to all in a few hours.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas and the potential of, and protection for, our children

So it's almost Christmas. Arrived in Miami three days ago and was welcomed by a cold front the day after. In the forties. It's cold..brrrr, although, thank God, today was much warmer. Have not been able to watch much news here as this is grandchildren country. And they monopolize the television. Especially when they are one and two year year olds. Glimpsed the Miami Herald briefly today and read about a another case of someone " going off at the deep end", and gathering an arsenal of guns to defend himself from attack. Thank God this case ended without loss of life. But apparently it was close. Not even Twitter I had much time to check. Children are special but grandchildren trump everybody. Especially girls. So we did not have much time to delve into world and local affairs in the last couple of days.
Yes, before I left home, Americans were still grappling with post New Town shock and horror, burying their dead with much angst and pain. And anger. Heard that President Obama, in an no nonsense mood, delegated to to VP Joe Biden the awesome task of coming up with plans to deal with gun control. Not in the distant future, but " right now". The Syrians rebels are still struggling against the Bashir regime , and reportedly getting help from elements of Al Qieda, while the governing forces are being backed by Iranian fighters. Thus posing serious challenges for American foreign policy in that area.
Back in Jamaica, we are still awaiting the conclusion of a deal with the IMF, while the country languishes economically.
But in the midst of all of that, the Christmas Carols are playing, hordes of people are shopping, the Christmas cakes my wife brought up are almost done - everybody loves grandma's baking - dinner parties, and dancing parties are on in earnest, and presents are already being opened.
In fact it was while watching a video of a birthday party of one of my grandchildren that a Word came from the Lord this week. And which message was sent to a group of journalists with whom I have been having an online
" conversation" about " the correct faith".
Last night for the first time I watched the youtube version of the Gangnam Style which has literally taken the world by storm - one billion plus views and counting. Early this morning I awoke with the words of one of the most popular Christmas Carols, " Once on Royal David's City" on my mind. So off I went to youtube and watched it also - max of any version, three hundred thousand views.
And then the thought came into my mind, that this kind of comparison is really a metaphor for the stark choice that humankind faces. Gangnam Style or Once in a Royal David City! What this world has to offer, or He Who came down from Heaven. The choice that all of us must make for ourselves and our children. Which one will you make, especially for your children?
For them to grow up following; "a girl who gets hotter when the night comes" and " a guy whose heart bursts when the night comes": or a child who " through his wondrous childhood would honor and obey" , his dear mother, and because day by day like us he grew " he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness."?
I would suggest to you, that these are not ordinary questions for most of you who hold the exalted position of being the, "keeper of the gates", through which news is channeled to that segment of humankind living in Jamaica. But rather existential questions for both you and your viewers and listeners and readers. I pray God that you will chose wisely as you read the words of both songs - googled, cut and pasted below - which for most of you, would already be familiar words.
And to posit that the " magic of the popular video is in the rapid fire clips and the music, rather than the words, which, " gets into people's heads", is only to make the choice even more urgent and profound, as this is precisely the objective of the marketeers of what this world has to offer, " to get inside the heads of our children, and us too". And to what end! Compare that objective with the Promise of the Creator God as recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, words which just came " into my head". And as I went searching for them instead I found this:
" This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him." Deut 30:19-20 NIV.
English Translation:
Oppa is Gangnam style
Gangnam style
A girl who is warm and humanle during the day
A classy girl who know how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee
A girl whose heart gets hotter when night comes
A girl with that kind of twist
I’m a guy
A guy who is as warm as you during the day
A guy who one-shots his coffee before it even cools down
A guy whose heart bursts when night comes
That kind of guy
Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Now let’s go until the end
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh- Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh- Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh
A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays
A girl who puts her hair down when the right time comes
A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all
A sensable girl like that
I’m a guy
A guy who seems calm but plays when he plays
A guy who goes completely crazy when the right time comes
A guy who has bulging ideas rather than muscles
That kind of guy
Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Now let’s go until the end
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh- Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh- Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh
On top of the running man is the flying man, baby baby
I’m a man who knows a thing or two
On top of the running man is the flying man, baby baby
I’m a man who knows a thing or two
You know what I’m saying
Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh- Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh- Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh
Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.
He came down to earth from Heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.
And, through all His wondrous childhood,
He would honor and obey,
Love and watch the lowly maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.
For He is our childhood’s pattern;
Day by day, like us He grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew;
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love,
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in Heav’n above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in Heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
Where like stars His children crowned
All in white shall wait around.
My children, and grandchildren, thus far, have been the beneficiaries of a solid education, built on the foundation of their Jamaican experience. And thank God, in a time of great uncertainty, in America, and even worse back home in Jamaica, they have stable jobs. So I have much to be thankful for about their life here in the USA. But I wondered, as I went through the mall yesterday, watching people totally absorbed in the material culture; as I overheard the ( spontaneous and apparently unprovoked) profanity while shopping yesterday; as I observed the many cars parked in the driveways whilst on the way to church, I wondered about what will happen to my grandchildren here in America.
What kind of life will they lead? How will they be influenced by this very powerful culture? Will they choose the way of the gangnam style like lifestyle or will the words of Once in a Royal David's city rule their lives? Only time will tell.
And we know, without a doubt that God can protect His people anywhere. This was a comforting Word from the Lord this week, as I was led to read and reflect on the words of the following Psalm:
" If the Lord had not been on our side -
let Israel say -
If the Lord had not been on our side,
when men attacked us,
when their anger flared against us,
they would have swallowed us alive;
the flood would have engulfed us
the raging waters would have swept us away..
Praise to the Lord who has not us be torn by their teeth....."
Psalm 122: 1-6 NIV
The death of the children in Connecticut is not a simple matter of gun control and parental responsibility. The fact is that the devil is after our children to destroy them, in the same way when Herod was told of Jesus' birth on that first Christmas, his plan was to kill him. For who knows what plans God has for them! But God warned the shepherds not to go back the way they had come after following the star and finding the Christ child. And then Rachael "mourned for her children", as Herod in a fit of anger, having being outwitted, then ordered the death of all the first born boys.
So we have to ensure that, like Israel, " the Lord is on our side", so that evil ones will not just lead our children astray, but destroy them. How?
One sure way is to adopt Mary's reaction to the news shared by the angels, as recorded in Luke gospel, which was the subject of an intriguing sermon today at St. Matthews Aglican church in South Miami.
Having been reassured that God can do the impossible - cause her a virgin to be with child - Mary's obedient and trusting response was, " Let is be unto me according to thy word". Luke 1:38. The preacher explained that this was the reason why Mary was chosen to be the mother of the Incarnate One, Jesus Christ. Because she had a heart for God. Not because she had any special personality or beauty or intelligence. Further, that like Mary, David was so chosen over his brothers, because he was a man after God's own heart, " And God looks on the heart, and not on the outside".
So let us humble ourselves before God with a believing and obedient heart. A thought which was the subject of a message to a few of my church leaders this week, sent with great care.
I was led to read and reflect on John 6, again, this morning. And to understand the full context in which the Gift of Holy Communion was promised and prophesied. From the bread of heaven given by God, not by Moses, in the desert - manna - to the true Bread of heaven - Christ Himself.
And which promise has been fully accepted in the Anglican tradition. But there is another matter. The realization that Jesus knew who would accept and reject that central doctrine. And then came these profound words. " That's why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him" John 6:65 NIV. Wow!
The question then arises, why would God enable some and not others? The answer came into my head without any thought.
" God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble"
1 Peter 5:5 NIV
Further: " Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time". The next verse.
Comment. With great care. One explanation, from the Word of God, why many, within the church, and perhaps even within the leadership of the church, are not only unbelieving, but in their action betray Christ, is this issue of lack of humility. Having served in many positions of leadership of different kinds, I know that, and have seen, how such exalted positions can lead to pride - The very death of the Christian life. As in such a state, God will not enable us to come to Christ. Although outwardly, we might claim Christ, inwardly we are far from Him.
I pray God that all of us might escape from the devil's plan to lure us into the camp of the proud - it is not hard as our sinful nature makes us so vulnerable, and so " prone to wander" - and thus prevent us truly feeding, with faith and reality on the true Bread of God, Who only can protect us, and the entire church from evil. Thank God for Jesus and His mercy. Thank God for the gift of humility which we must nurture without ceasing, even as we pray without ceasing, lest we fall into temptation.
LWJ Sent from my iPad
So we too, this Christmas season, have to cultivate " a heart for God", even if we think that we are unworthy, and the Lord will use us, as He did with Mary and David, to do great things for him. And not only to protect our children from evil. Who knows then, as the preacher observed, who knows what great contribution to humankind, to peace in our world, to the reduction of poverty in the world, to the rescuing of people from darkness unto life eternal, will a child brought up in the fear of the Lord achieve.
All because of Christmas, which trumps all news on earth. And which true celebration is fully manifest not in malls, or in parties, or the exchange of gifts, but in the stirring of the human heart which responds to the life, death and resurrection of Mary's little child. Amen.
Merry Christmas when it comes - as we say in Jamaica - on Tuesday.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Death in Sandy Hook Connecticut: life in Christ Jesus

It takes a particularly sick mind to kill six and seven year old kids, twenty of them,  in Connecticut. It also takes a very sick mind to enter a movie theater in Denver Colorado and shoot patrons to deaths, twelve of them. Again it takes an extremely sick mind to enter a school in Columbine Colorado and murder twelve kids and a teacher. Unfortunately this kind of malady resides in the minds of people all over the world and not just in the USA. In China, where kids again were stabbed and injured. In Syria where it takes a particularly sick mind of the leadership there to orchestrate the deaths of nearly 40,000 of their own people. And we can well recall the same sickness in Cambodia, during the reign of the Pol Pot regime ( 2 million between 1975 -1979) ;  800,000 murdered during the genocide in Rwanda in 194; 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust in Nazi Germany from 1938-1945, during the reign of Adolph Hitler, and  7 million perished  in the " forgotten holocaust"  from 1932-1933 in Stalin's Russia. And the list goes on throughout the history of mankind. We here in Jamaica know only too well about the kind of minds resident in our beautiful isle, that would collectively murder, year after year, for umpteen years now, over a thousand persons annually. Including women and children. And rape grandmothers and young girls, separately or en mass.
And into this kind of world, with many possessed in this kind of mindset, came the first Christmas. And the next.  And the next. For over  2000 thousand years now. And who knows when either the violence or the Christmas will end.

This week, with the " strong hand of the Lord on me", I awoke one night, before the events at the Elementary School in Sandy Hook unfolded, to read Ezekiel chapter2 & 3. A Word of Scripture which challenges us in the church to speak to " rebellious people everywhere", those who know the word of God, and call them to repentance.

 " Son of man, I am sending you the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, This is what the Sovereign Lord says, and whether they listen or  fail to listen - for they are a rebellious house - they will know that a prophet has been among st them. And you son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not  be 
afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house..........The Spirit then lifted my up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the Lord upon me."
Ezekiel 2: 3-3:14 NIV

I then pondered these things and went back to my bed. The very next day, for no apparent reason, I found myself staring at a book written by John  Haggai, entitled,  "Lead On ", with a subtitle " Leadership that Endures in a Changing World. So I began reading, for the first time, this book which I got in Singapore when I attended a Leadership in Evangelism Course way back in 2002. As I read, I found reference to the book of Ezekiel again. This time 22: 30. In Haggai's book, first written in 1979,   it reads as follows. 
" At all levels, our worlds societies plead for leadership - in our educational system, in international politics, in our Christian churches. The masses look for true leadership. The world does not need a coterie of elitists who talk love and compassion while isolating themselves from real people. It does not need a retinue of cliche-spouting, self-avowed " quick fix" magicians. The world is looking for men and women - and leaders -committed to God and compassionately concerned for people. The world needs leaders who will exert that special influence over aching people looking for a way to resolve their personal crises. This influence carries the stamp of beneficial permanence.
Through the prophet Ezekiel, god described the crisis in leadership in Ezekiel's day: ' So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.' "
Ezekiel 22:30)  KJV

As is my accustomed habit, encouraged by the word, I read on and found trouble. Deep trouble. The kind of mind which has been on display throughout the centuries, rebelling against the Living God, and resulting in the kind of mayhem we now see played out on our television sets, almost daily across the world. Whether in Sandy Hook, Connecticut or in Bashir's Syria.  The 23rd chapter of the book of Isaiah makes for very difficult reading.  Extremely graphic language is employed by the prophet to describe the extent of Israel's sinfulness and rebellion against the Holy One of Israel - The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The problem we in the western world , in particular face, is that bereft of any appreciation, in  large part,  of the extent of the sinfulness which has invaded the souls and minds of " Adam's helpless race ( as aptly and poetically described by Charles Wesley) we seek all over the place for answers to these increasingly frequent " spasms of violence"  taking place in formerly quiet and also in not so quiet neighborhoods. Ezekiel's Israel offers us a " peek" into the minds of people who reject the God who has manifestly and repeatedly revealed His Love, Mercy, Compassion and Power to them.

" The word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, there were two women, daughters of the same mother. They became prostitutes in Egypt, engaging in prostitution from their youth. In that land their breast were fondled and their virgin bosoms caressed. The older was named Ohalah, and her sister was Oholibah. They were mine and gave birth to sons and daughters. Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem.......When she carried on her prostitution openly and exposed her nakedness, I turned away from her in disgust, just as I had turned away from her sister.  Yet she became more and more  promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.....Therefore Oholibah, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will stir up your lovers against you, those you  turned away from in disgust, and  will bring them against  you from every side.... Ezekiel 23 1-4& 18-22 NIV.

As I pondered these things I began to understand more deeply why Oswald Chambers, the great Christian writer once wrote that " The basis of life is tragic".
In the sense that this deeply ingrained rebellion against the Sovereign God,  as revealed in Holy Scriptures, resulting in countless tragedies, on  the one hand, and repeated acts of greed, lust, idolatry, uncontrolled and dangerous anger, slander, malice, immorality, on the other (and seemingly lesser sins) hand, is the " default" nature of all mankind since Adam. And the world has never understood nor is willing to confront it. This then is reason why we had the first Christmas. Since mankind was unable to free itself from this bondage to sin and death, since there was no one  found to stand in the gap for humanity, since there was no one righteous found in Sodom and Gomorrah, for whose sake  God would have spared  the city from destruction, God Himself, in the person of 
Jesus Christ stood in the gap. For what Haggai's book  on leadership left out and moved on from, was the very next verse after Ezekiel 22:30.

" So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads as they have done, declares the  Sovereign Lord". Ezekiel 22:31.

This reflection left me with the very clear understanding, that the reason why people do not love Jesus, or not enough, has to do with the reality that we do not understand how much He loves us, and has saved us, through His sacrificial and redemptive death on the cross of Calvary,  on account of our sinful nature,  and continues to save us from,  "  the wrath of God". For the wages sin is death  but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus - the Word of God.

So what does all of this have to do with the massacre of twenty young innocent children and six brave teachers in Sandy Hook Connecticut, and the injuries sustained by twenty children in Henan China? I would suggest that at the very least we begin to look a little deeper, a little past  what CNN and BBC and Fox news has offer, for explanations for " the basis of life being tragic". Scripture teaches that gun control, which may be the eminently sensible thing to do in America at this time, will not provide " beneficial permanence" about which Haggai advances, as one thing that Great Leadership ought to provide. St. Paul has it right when he complains bitterly in the first instance: "  So I find this law at work. When  I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in god's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

And in the same passage, he  provides the eternal answer to this great question which confronts all of us whether we want to admit or not. Whether we think about it or not. It is manifest itself, " this body of death", more dramatically in some than in others. In Denver Colorado, in Columbine, in Sandy  Hook, in the streets of  Kingston Jamaica. But in all of us it is very much there, and only by the mercy of God, or by, so far, great machinations, does it not all flow out into the public sphere.

" Thanks be to God - through  Jesus Christ our Lord!. "   Romans 7: 21-24 & 25. NIV

The problem is, as I was led to write last night to a young professional struggling to understand this " correct faith", the topic of a series of correspondence between myself and one journalist in particular and others in general, is that we do not understand the extent of our sinfulness, and so fail to appreciate what God in Christ has done for us. And so therefore fail to understand the problems that a dying world faces. In this respect,  I offered him and also myself, and all who would read these words, a prayer for this Christmas - and beyond.


Dear.......I must admit that I have not thought about you much in recent weeks.  Even though we have had extensive discussions on the faith in the past, Perhaps this has happened because you have not been to church for a while. But tonight, as I pondered on the day's events, before engaging in my devotions, prior to retiring to bed, you came into my mind. Why? As like the many who are disturbed about the awful things which took place in Connecticut yesterday, most  of us do not fully comprehend the extent to which Sin has perverted  and corrupted the mind of mankind, thus corrupting individuals,  families, communities and nations.   Because if we did, if we had any idea, if we fully apprehended the sinfulness of Sin, then we would love our Lord Jesus, who died for the sins of mankind,  with our heart. But we do not. As we do not fully perceive these things.
And so the following well known prayer came into my mind, and thank God for iPads, I quickly searched and found it. As I prayed the words for myself, I thought about you and your struggles to understand the faith.

      O Heavenly Father, we have loved thee, but not enough; we have sought thee, but not diligently; we have seen but not perceived; we have heard but not understood; we have hoped for things heavenly, but clung to things of earth, and our hearts have been far from thee, the Holy One; but now, O Lord, draw us near to thee, that the time to come be not as the past, but that finding, perceiving, understanding and loving thee above all things, we may have rest and joy in thy service; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I pray God, that for you and for me, the time to come may not be as the past, but that we here in Jamaica, in China, in the USA,  and indeed across the entire world may fully understand Sin, and thus the reason why Jesus died, and therefore how much God loves us, and from what he has rescued us - everlasting damnation.
Sent from my iPad

Monday, December 10, 2012

Great Sermon by Bishop Howard Gregory: The Anglican Lord Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands

Let us pray.
Gracious God, who sent your own Son to prepare the way for our salvation, give us the grace to heed his word and accept his forgiveness of our many sins. In the name of Jesus Christ who lives with you and with us, now and forever. Amen.
Luke 3:4-6
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
And the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Today is the second Sunday in Advent.  As such, it has that over-arching theme of the season, namely, the second coming of Christ in triumph and the need for human readiness in face of such an impending reality.  This Sunday, however, has as a particular focus, the messengers of God – those who have served to herald the activity of God through the ages, including those who heralded the coming of Christ in humility the first time, and those who seek to herald his second coming, and the reality of the Kingdom which he has already inaugurated, but which he will bring to fulfillment on his return.
In the context of the readings and the Advent season, the person of the messenger of God, seems to be a reference to the religious leader, whether prophet or priest.  Nevertheless, it is true to say that the messenger of God is not restricted to a religious functionary within institutional religion.  Just the very thought of assigning the designation of “messenger of God” to anyone, is likely to create difficulties for some in the modern and increasingly secular world.  Indeed, it is true to say that even when identified with religious figures, developments within the life of individual ministers/church leaders in the international and national arenas, have at times raised serious questions in the minds of people concerning the credibility and integrity of individuals who dare to claim the designation of messengers of God.  In the wider context though, we are also seeing, as part of the functioning of the post-modern society, a sense of suspicion toward, and the questioning of every institution and person of authority, the messenger of God being no exception.  So in the midst of a modern and pluralistic world we question the relevance and authority of such a person, since after all, much of life is organized around our subjective perceptions and choices.
Notwithstanding these realities, we are still left with the fact that there are persons who through the ages have been faithful messengers of God and, as such, had an authentic word from God to deliver to those who would listen and those who refuse to listen.  In the gospel for today we encounter one such messenger, namely, John the Baptist, as he undertook his mission as presented by St. Luke.
One of the features of Luke's Gospel is that it employs temporal markers to situate the Good News within a historical landscape (cf. Luke 1:1-5). So while the word being proclaimed by John the Baptist is "in the wilderness" around the Jordan, it is in reality being proclaimed within the wider context of the wilderness of the political world: during the reigns of emperor Tiberius, governor Pilate, and "ruler" Herod. Luke is quite intentional in situating the advent of the revelation to John the Baptizer in the context of the temporal framework of the native ruler Herod, the local but foreign governor Pilate, and the final authority who sits above all, Tiberius.  Luke is making it clear at this point that the drama that is to be played out is not a religious one which has no contextual relevance to the political system of governance.  Clearly, Luke is from the outset pointing us to the fact that the activities and the word which the messenger of God has to deliver is not just for some kind of esoteric community of the religious but, the wider reality of the civil and religious community.
Additionally, as one commentator points out, “this is a top-down look at the political reality of the day. In a sense, this would situate the word, which comes to John, and the Messiah whose path John prepares, in very bottom-up terms; the small, the unexpected, the apparently trivial comes as answer to the problems of the hierarchical political structure under which it is apparently pinned. So the messenger and the one who becomes the very embodiment of the message, the Messiah, Jesus, are not just part of the status quo, but voices and actors from the very bottom of the rung with a word that speaks to the highest reaches of the system of governance”.  Here is clearly a word to those who constitute the system of governance and are not favourably disposed toward those at the bottom of the rung who would call them to account, even as it is a word to those at the bottom of the rung who seek to retreat behind the claim of impotence and inability to influence what happens in governance.
But Luke does not allow the religious community to somehow drift into the background as if the revelation to be manifested in John is for a secular and unholy order of governance and civil society.  So Luke does not stop with his focus on the political order. He goes on to list the "spiritual" or "religious" power-structure as well. Not only are Tiberius, Pilate, and Herod noted, but the high priests Annas and Caiaphas are highlighted as well. There may be a sense in which the religious parallel to the political hierarchy is intentional, representing another strand of leadership which must also be addressed by the revelation of the messenger.
It is then into a world that stands under the jurisdiction and control of these various authorities that John makes his entry as the messenger of God.  The word comes to John in the midst of the messy reality of a world defined by both secular and religious powers.  It is a wounded world, and like a two-edged sword, the word comes to John, dividing religion and politics, interjecting itself in both the political and religious realms?
What then is the nature and content of the message which John has to deliver?  The first thing to note is that it points to God as the principal actor rather than focusing on the person of the messenger.  By drawing on the quotation of Isaiah 40:3-5, which forms the text, Luke wants us to see this new initiative that is coming to fruition as the fulfillment of God’s promise made to Israel. In its original context, this quotation, in Isaiah, had to do with a promise of return from Exile. God will make straight paths through the wilderness, a smooth and easy return -- in essence a new "exodus" -- bringing the people of Israel out of bondage and back to the Promised Land. The path is for the people; God-made, God-led. This is the proclamation of the prophet (Isaiah), made to the people; it is declarative, promising, hopeful.
Luke then locates John the Baptist, the contemporary messenger, within the framework of God’s liberating activity by recalling and renewing the promise of old, and giving it current application, even while noting that the current application requires a new interpretation. So John is now the one who is out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. The path is by the people, who are called to repentance, to return themselves to their Lord; God-focused, human-centered action. This is the promise of the prophet himself (John) who calls for a different kind of return to God; his message is one of exhortation, challenge, command. So then, here are two aspects to the message: one promises God's action, the other calls for human action/response.  And, for the Church, that two-fold action of God on the one hand and human action on the other continues through subsequent ages.

That ongoing divine activity was highlighted a few Sundays ago, when the Church observed the feast of Christ the King, which has as its central focus the fact that Christ our risen and ascended Lord has begun his reign, and that all the powers of this world are subject to him, and furthermore, all evil is being brought down.  The ultimate end of human existence in the divine providence is the return of Christ and the final defeat of all principalities and powers which have been purveyors of evil and have rejected the message of the gospel.  That is at the centre of Christian hope, and I am prepared to affirm that there is nothing that politicians, economists, or the managers of this global environment have to offer which contains for me any sense of an alternative hope to the Christian hope, and which is credible. 

In the meanwhile, the role of the Church, that is, all of us, is to proclaim the truth of the message of the gospel.  We will never be able to do it by matching forces with the powers of this world.  Indeed, our efforts may look very feeble and we may even be perceived as weaklings and the vulnerable of the world, but the day of judgment comes and Christ will call persons to account.
Another manifestation and affirmation of the divine activity in human affairs is in the Church’s observance of the season of Advent in which we have now entered.  It is a time of preparation for the reception of that great divine activity known as the Incarnation, in which God not only affirms his power and control in entering the world with all of its distortions and frailty, but that he has the power to redeem human life and the world from the grip of any force of evil.  That reality was demonstrated at the birth of Jesus Christ and is recalled and celebrated each succeeding Christmas.  Advent points us to the ultimate fulfillment of our hope of the coming of the end of the age, while affirming that the climax of the story is the supremacy of God, and the participation in his reign and rule by those who in their own time have been alert, watchful, prayerful, and pursuing a life of holiness.

But one of the things about faith affirmations is that they run the risk of lifting us into the realm of the ethereal whereby we lose our sense of being grounded in the realities of life.  It is for this reason that I am pleased to have worshipping with us members and supporters of the National Integrity Action Jamaica.  [The National Integrity Action (which began with its antecedent institution National Integrity Action Forum) was launched in January 2009 with its main purpose being “to build public awareness of the critical importance of and steer a comprehensive action plan in the national struggle against corruption in Jamaica.”

The aims are to help:
-         Combat the corruption plaguing the Jamaican society
-         Reduce the level of frustration amongst champions of integrity
-         Contribute to concrete results which can dispel the pervasive perception that Jamaica is amongst the most corrupt of Caribbean countries.]
Many of us Jamaicans make corruption a partisan political issue which one party and its followers use to gain political mileage over against the other.  Indeed, it often becomes a kind of comic circus of a tragic nature, by which millions of dollars and creative energy are put into investigations of the outgoing political party by the incoming one, in one of the most wasteful exercises, achieving absolutely nothing of consequence at the end of the day.  So what then is corruption?
In a release issued by the Office of the Contractor General on December 9, 2010, corruption was defined as follows:
“Defined generally as the abuse of public office for private gain, corruption, which is often driven by individual greed, will manifest itself in ways which are inimical to the national security and political and socio-economic interest of the world community of countries, of which Jamaica is a part.  Its impact is incredibly wide.
Corruption erodes the quality of life, leads to human rights violation, steals political elections, distorts financial markets, reduces investor confidence, increases the price of goods and services, undermines or destroys confidence in critical public institutions, and enables organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish”.
Corruption comes in many guises: bribery, extortion, fraud, trafficking, embezzlement, nepotism and cronyism.  For some of us Jamaicans, corruption is a kind of conversation piece for the verandah, as it is deemed not to have anything to do with us but with politicians, public servants, the “big man”, and the party “faithfuls”.  And yet corruption is something which involves all of us as members of this society.  Yes, when we pass cash to a policeman to avoid getting a ticket; do not bother to have our car go to the Examination Depot to have it passed for a certificate of fitness, but send along some extra cash with the papers; or when we purchase goods from persons we know are not legitimate and boast of the bargain price, we are complicit in the corruption in this society.  I recently learnt of the man who was caught stealing orchids from someone’s garden in Upper St. Andrew, and who was chased and held.  It turned out that he was on a mission to steal the orchids for the “big man” who was waiting on him in his BMW parked further down the road.
In a similar vein, the nation would have heard the Minister of National Security giving a speech in Montego Bay recently, in the wake of the rape of that household of women and girls.  In that speech he appealed to his audience to report wrongdoing in their neighbourhood, and his offering as a specific example the fact that if scamming is known to be going on in their neighbourhood they are to report it.  To which a loud chorus of “NO!” was forthcoming from a gathering of women.  Not surprisingly, there are persons who would like to see the government and the police ease up the pressure on scammers.
The National Integrity Action may cringe at the thought of being identified as messengers of God, but they are certainly calling us as a nation to confront and reject in our system of governance, our social and economic relations, and in our own lives the moral evil of corruption which is plaguing our society and contrary to the will of God for his people.  For the Christian, as I hope for the NIA, the call to stand against corruption is grounded in God, constitutes a part of the divine action, even as it demands human action and response.  But, the messengers of God, whether prophet, priest, or lay persons, must not only be persons who are possessing of a sensitive moral conscience.
The messenger of God understands that the message which he or she has to deliver to the society is of God, so that the locus of authority does not merely reside in self and the dictates of one’s moral conscience, because, not only can the conscience be deceived but, the truth is that not everyone who presents himself/herself as having a call and message from God is duly called of God.   As the old gentleman was heard to say after having to deal with an ill-natured, and ill-tempered minister, “Look at it eh, some went, but were not sent”, echoing a prophetic condemnation of false prophets found in the Old Testament.  With that strong sense of being called and entrusted with a message, the messenger of God in Scripture was able to claim the formula of the messenger – “Thus says the Lord”- authority.  And the truth of the matter is that to be a faithful messenger of God, the very people and institutions to which you are sent will wear you out, without heeding the message. The mission to get legislation passed to allow for accountability and the prosecution of corrupt public servants who are found to be corrupt, to get legislation to have a single agency deal with matters related to corruption, and the mission to get legislation to govern election campaign finances, will weary the spirit of the most committed messenger.  Have you not noticed that it is with the departure of Contractor General, Greg Christie, from office that the society is not ready to beatify him?  At last he is in no position to cause offence to those whose social status he apparently overlooked and so belittled them by bringing them under the microscope of his jurisdiction! Thankfully, renewal for the messenger comes from God. 
The messenger of God must have the capacity to empathize with human hurt and alienation – individual and social. As such, the messenger must be related to the actual context of “political power, social crises, economic needs, and cultural transformations” within which people live.  The messenger of God of old did not have on blinders which allowed them to see only that thing called the “religious”.  They saw life as people lived it.  They saw the suffering, the injustice, the frustration, and with particular reference to corruption, they knew that in the long run the primary victims are the poor.  Those politicians and others who love to say that the Church must not concern itself with politics but only with religion, have no idea what the Judeo-Christian religion is about.  Not to mention the fact that Christians who subscribe to this view have no appreciation of the prophetic condemnation of religion that is focused on ritual and worship experiences but which neglect the weightier matters of justice, hospitality, care for the outcast and stranger, etc.

Think also of the cutting words of a Hosea, Joel or Amos, with the plea for justice.
For example, Amos 5:24:
Let justice roll down like waters,
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The truth is that authentic messengers of God do not make good friends of those who control society, because the latter do not want things to change in favour of those who hurt and are oppressed.  Attempts to discredit messengers in our world are many and some of us choose to remain na├»ve or to simply maintain our loyalties. 
The messenger of God never loses sight of those who hurt and the context of life.
The messenger of God offers credible moral leadership arising out of prophetic moral imagination (moral vision).  It was the prophet Jeremiah who said, “where there is no vision, the people perish”, and which words are embedded in our national anthem.  Another way of expressing the same idea is that the society looks at things in terms of how they are, while the messenger of God looks at things in terms of how they should be. If a society is to move ahead it needs men and women of vision who can imagine things as they could become.  People who simply maintain things outlive their usefulness eventually.  So, the society needs people possessing of moral vision to guide it.

At various times we have been blessed with such persons of moral vision within Caribbean society.  Part of the tragedy of the situation is that we often lack the kind of social, political and religious leadership necessary to build on the moral vision bequeathed to us.  We need the messengers of God more than ever who have the moral and spiritual imagination which serves as a guide and critique for society.
The messenger of God stands under the judgment of the message which he/she proclaims. So the messenger of God lays no claim to an “holier than thou” posture.  This is one of the most difficult aspects of being a messenger, but it is based on the premise that the truth of what is proclaimed does not originate with the messenger but is of God. The prophet Ezekiel had some very harsh words of judgment for the false prophets who claimed to have been receiving their vision from God and speaking on behalf of God.  In Ezekiel 13:1+ we read:
The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are prophesying; say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: “Hear the word of the Lord!”  Thus says the Lord God, Alas for the senseless prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! …… They have envisioned falsehood and lying divination, they say, “Thus says the Lord,” when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they wait for the fulfillment of their word!
Pray, therefore, my brothers and sisters, that:
1.     God will raise up men and women, ordained or lay, who will be messengers to our community of faith and the world;
2.     That our messengers will be persons of sensitivity to the hurt, alienation, and the realities of life in our context;
3.     That they will be persons of moral and religious vision and that we may be responsive to their proclamation;
4.     Pray also that the messengers of God will be faithful and sincere knowing the account that we must give to the one who has called us.