Friday, August 10, 2012

Perfect success in London: Spiritual success in Christ Jesus

What a gift my country got for its 50th anniversary as an independent nation! First, it was Shelly-Ann Fraser who won gold in the women's 100 metres at the Olympics in London yesterday with Veronica Campbell-Brown ( VCB) coping the bronze medal. Then today Usain Bolt won the 100 metres for men with Yohan Blake bringing home the silver. Tomorrow, when I am scheduled return home to my beloved country, will be a public holiday, as we will celebrate 50 years of our Independence, perhaps not coincidentally, from the now defunct, British Empire. There will indeed be dancing in the streets of Kingston our capital city, but also celebrations of some kind wherever Jamaicans live in the world. Whether in London, Birmingham, New York. Atlanta, Chicago, as it was in my son's home in Miami, where we gathered with other Jamaicans fully decked out in our colours, with one lady even outfitted with green yellow and black sandals. And we are hungry for more medals and so for the rest of this week, very little production will take place as most folks will be concentrating on the Games of the 30th Olympiad in London. What then does it take to attain the kind of perfection that is required for an athlete to perform successfully at this level? Whether you are an established legend like Usain Bolt, or Phelps, or a future legend like Gabby Douglas or Missy Franklin, the answer is sacrifice. A lot of sacrifice. No time off training for a year! Not being able to read the books which everyone is talking about! Time away from family! Special diets; special training; special vitamins. And of course at the end of it all, for the special few, a very special reward. This issue of perfection was the essence of the message that I heard from the Lord this week in the midst of all the excitement of the Olympics. A message which ought not to be lost on a nation beset with many and varied problems, not the least of which is how we treat each other, as Jamaica, unfortunately and quite tragically has the third highest murder rate in the world. A record about which we are not proud, and despite the associated horror and embarrassment, we have not been able to significantly reduce this awful national situation. It is a matter which occupied my deepest thoughts as I prayed for my country in church this morning ( where the national colours featured prominently). As the glory of success at the Olympics pales into insignificance when compared with the shame and pain associated with the horrific numbers of my fellow Jamaicans who die by the gun, the machete or the knife each year. The message came as I was moved to write to some senior members of my church in Jamaica during my devotions this week. First message - Wednesday August 1st. Perfection "So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power." 1 Samuel 16:13 NIV " Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil Spirit from the Lord tormented him." vs. 13. " Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me...." Psalm 51:11. NIV "..... Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit". Acts 1: 4-5 NIV So what's the difference, if with Christ in the new covenant, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit and so did the children of Israel, in the old covenant with him, at least those specially anointed by God.? " These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us they would be made perfect." Hebrews 11: 39 Perfection in Christ is one obvious answer. Is it the only answer though ? No doubt only a sinful human being could pose such a question as we are called to be holy as God is holy. Therefore no other answer is needed. So why is my soul still questioning? Perhaps it is what Chambers describes as, our seeing the end as the answer, whereas God sees the process as the end point. As in the very act of being obedient, believing in the Atonement wrought by Christ on the cross of Calvary, His purpose is being fulfilled, and not in the " practical outcome" on earth of perfection. Which is what I think is gnawing at my soul. There are clearly other issues. For example, why is it that the Spirit of God is not more evident in the lives of believers in today's world, as it was in the early days. But that's a different matter altogether. But I still cannot shake the idea that perfection on earth has a different, or perhaps more preliminary is correct, but still powerful, understanding than in heaven. Crucified in Christ comes to mind, but I await, as the lawyers term it, more and better particulars. In the meanwhile, definitely not by coincidence, I am reading a book entitled: " How to Listen to God", by Charles Stanley - Pastor of First Baptist church in Atlanta and host of IN Touch Radio and television. Never heard about him in all my life, but his was the only book to which the Spirit of the Lord guided me to read at the local Barnes and Noble store here in South Miami. Peace LWJ Sent from my iPad So the attainment of spiritual perfection is what life in Christ all about. But there is a further question of what really constitutes perfection, and how does it relate to our life in community with others. A thought which led to an answer and another e-mail back home. Second message - Thursday August 2nd. Perfection...more and better particulars Who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant." Phil. 2:6. That's one aspect of perfection here on earth. There may be more, but that one is worth much reflection as in it is bound up suffering, service to others, and defending the gospel even though we are one with God in Christ. And which incorrect or faulty or limited, understanding of the Christian journey, can, and has, in many instances, led to pride rather than, " making oneself nothing", as pride hinders perfect Christian service. Because the ultimate objective of that mindset, with tragic consequences for the church, and those to whom we called to witness, is personal gain or reward and not the 'lifting up the name of Jesus". In the same way that Jesus' only desire was to bring glory to His Father. The combination of pride and ignorance of the call to perfection is even more lethal to the cause of the gospel. No wonder then that the Holy Spirit is not as manifest in the church today as it was in the early days. And we are all guilty. May God have mercy on us and renew his church so that the church may renew ( truly emancipate) the nation. LWJ Sent from my iPad One of the things which we as Christians are required to do, is to sacrifice self, our own ambitions, our own right to do what we wish to do. So that God's will be done rather than our will. And God's will is that all should believe, all should know, that Jesus died for their sins in complete obedience to His Father's will, because our God is a God who is merciful even to the " wicked and the ungrateful". Which is the situation we were all in before being rescued by Christ's death on a Cross on Calvary. So Christians have a particular role to play in rescuing our family members, our co-workers, our neighbours, and in particular a nation engulfed in strife and murder. We have no other purpose here as disciples, as ambassadors of the Christ, who "made himself nothing....and took on the very nature of a servant" . One of the challenging things that believers in the 21st century have to guard against, in particular , is the insidious and beguiling temptation which today's society offers - success in secular and material terms. Success for a believer is achieving perfection in and through Christ Jesus, and not the accolades showered on us by family or friends or even a grateful nation after the Olympics; not the material things which we it the soon to be released i-phone 6, the new i-pad 3, the latest android or even the latest blackberry phone; and not the many and varied pleasures that the flesh offers. And there is great disagreement in many families about priorities in life. No wonder Jesus said that " a man's enemies will be the members of his household". Matthew 10: 34-36 NIV. Finally later on Thursday August 2nd another e-mail was triggered during my devotions. Perfect submission, perfect delight......writes to hymn writer. " And being found in appearance as a man; he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross". vs 8 writes St. Paul. " Therefore my friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence but much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose". vs 12-13. Perhaps it was last night or early this morning, I am not sure, that the thought came into my mind, that since we all need to have Christ living in us to make us good Christians, why doesn't God just place His Spirit in us and free us from all the trials of the " old man". Why is it so hard? And so the answer is in the two passages above. We have to be obedient. We have to be perfectly submitted to the will of God. We have to do that. But thank God he has not left us on our own to that task, " to work out our salvation with fear and trembling", but it is " God ( Himself) who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose". And St. Paul repeats this glorious and liberating, emancipating truth in 2. Cor. 1: 21. " Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come" ( Heavenly perfection when all our strivings will cease). Praise God for His unfailing love and mercy and grace. LWJ The problem why many of us do not even try to achieve spiritual perfection, achieve perfect submission to Christ, is that it is not only hard but virtually impossible on our own. And hence the Lord reassures us that, we should place our trust in Him and He Himself will make us " stand firm in Christ Jesus". A great liberating and emancipating reality. What we need to do is to " work our our salvation in fear and trembling". Which really means to follow the advice of Isaiah who said: " You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you". Isaiah 26:3. That's how we work out our salvation with fear and trembling - by keeping our mind fixed on God all day long and being mindful that he is with us in all situations. There is one main hurdle to overcome if we are going to truly become servants of the gospel, the good news of the life death and resurrection of Christ, and that is self-love. Perhaps the most dangerous and least understood feature of human nature. And which self-love has to die, if the life of Christ is truly going to be revealed in us, so that we may contribute to the rescuing of our nation(s). In this respect then, I found the following meditation, which I read in the dead of night this past week as the Lord taught me to listen to His voice, very instructive indeed. I pray God that as we continue to celebrate with our athletes, and celebrate this significant national milestone, we may, in pursuit of ultimate success, peace in our nation, truly learn to understand and then to abhor self-love. So that Jesus the Risen and Ascended Christ may truly live in us and help to renew our country. THE PROBLEM OF SELF-LOVE Francois Fenelon ( 1651-1715.......An Archbishop of Cambria...known to be deeply devotional and part of a quietistic movement in France) Verse : Leviticus 19: 18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Self-love must be uprooted, and the love of God take its place in our hearts before we can see ourselves as we are. Then the same principle that enables us to see our imperfections will destroy them. When the light of truth has risen within us, then we see clearly what is there. Then we love ourselves without partiality, without flattery, as we love ourselves. In the meantime, God spares us by revealing our weakness to us just in proportion as our strength to support the view of it increases. We discover our imperfections one by one as we are able to cure them. Without this merciful preparation that adapts our our strength to the light within, we should be in despair. Those who correct others ought to watch the moment when God touches their hearts; they must bear a fault with patience till they perceive his reproaching them within. They must follow his providence that gently reproaches them, so that they may feel that it is less God than their own hearts that condemn them. When we blame with impatience because we are displeased with with the fault, it is a human censure and not the disapprobation of God. It is a sensitive self-love that cannot forgive the self-love of others. The more self-love we have, the more severe are our censures. There is nothing so vexatious as the collisions between one excessive self-love and another still more violent and and sensitive. The passions of others are infinitely more ridiculous to those who are under the dominion of their own. The ways of God are very different. He is ever full of kindness to for us, he gives us strength, he regards us with pity and condescension, he remembers our weakness, he waits for us. The less we love ourselves, the more considerate we are of others. We wait for providence to give the occasion, and grace to open their hearts to receive it. If you would gather the fruit before its time, you lose it entirely . Amen

No comments: