Monday, March 5, 2012

Solving difficult problems with the mind of Christ

Joel Andem, Kelvin " Richie Poo" Tyndale, Livity Coke, Tesha Miller, and Christopher " Dog Paw" Linton, are household names in Jamaica. And they were very much in the news this past week. Why? Claims and counterclaims to the contrary that these known gang leaders, who most Jamaicans believe, rightly or wrongly, to be responsible for the deaths of a great many persons in our crime infested society, and who are being held in a High Security Remand Centre manned by soldiers, have been the subjects of abuse from the army. That was the " talk of the town" this week. And as you would expect, apart from the human rights activists and well thinking journalists, they received very little sympathy from the society, as they are regarded as " terrorists". Admittedly, at a much lower level of notoriety than those responsible for the unleashing terror in Pol Pot's Cambodia, or Stalin's Russia, or in Hitler's Germany, or in pre-apartheid South Africa, but nonetheless, together with others, regarded by many as contributing significantly to the over 1500 persons who were killed in Jamaica in 2010. So we are not talking about angels here! Hence my dilemma. One part of me, my " fallen" nature, felt that they were getting only a small part of what they had been accused of dishing out to grieving families. The other part of me, my " redeemed self ", was confronted by words from Holy Scripture. Words from my blessed Christ Himself. "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you......... If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that........But love your enemies, do good to them,and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your father is merciful". Luke 6:27-36 NIV. So, rather than harbouring any thoughts of condemnation them, and wishing any evil on them, I began praying for these notorious criminals and banished all thoughts of revenge from my mind. Full appreciating that part of the issue, as advanced by the Commissioner of Police, may reside in an attempt to gain public support in order that they may escape the harsh scrutiny of the soldiers, return to the custody of normal guards, and thus be in a position to continue to give orders to their cronies on the outside. But I was resolved to arrive at a position that regardless of the situation, they like anyone else were to be treated humanely and kindly. Thus began a serious conversation with the Lord this week , about " knowing the mind of God", and " having the mind of Christ". As in these challenging times, and indeed throughout the ages, only those who have the " mind of Christ" , have been able to, and continue, to "think straight", when confronted by serious ethical and moral issues. I have been greatly assisted in this conversation by my Lenten discipline - reading John Stott's " Decisive Issues facing Christians Today". Following the opening chapter, about which I wrote last week, Stott continues with another question: Complexity: Can we Think Straight? ......." We should certainly not underestimate the complexity of the issues which confront mankind today. True, every generation has felt baffled by its contemporary problems.......yet the number, scale and gravity of the questions facing us at the end of the 20th century do seem unprecedented, owing particularly to the scientific revolution. for example, the problem of war and peace has always troubled the Christian conscience, but the development of nuclear weaponry has greatly aggravated it. ( I wonder how we regard the current situation involving Iran, Israel and the USA). Similarly, the new micro-technology has added to the problem of long-term unemployment ( clearly Stott had no inkling of how another problem, "casino economics" would play out in the downturn in the world economy and lead to the "occupy wall street" protests), while the unraveling of the genetic code and the possibility of genetic engineering have necessitated the new filed of " bio-ethics" ( an field which is has already run into serious controversy over end-of-life issues). According to Stott, some Christians have given up in despair at arriving at common Christian position on difficult contemporary issues, as there are whole spectrum of Christian views - as we know very well in Jamaica whenever the issue of the death penalty is debated either privately or publicly. Whilst others have posited glib and naive answers to complex issues. He however wrote that " we dishonour God if we assert that there are no solutions, and also if we offer slick solutions. For on the one hand he has revealed his will to us, and on the other hand he has not revealed it in a set of neat propositions." It is from that context of despair and oversimplification of complex issues that Stott then advances a third and better way of having a : CHRISTIAN MIND And for support, among others passages of Scripture, he turns to St Pauls exhortation in Romans 12 for the " renewing of your mind"......... " Paul exhorts us, however, not to be conformed to the world, but instead to be " transformed" by the renewing of our mind with a view to discerning God's pleasing and perfect will. Here, then, is the apostle's assumption both that Christians have or should have a renewed mind, and that our renewed mind will have a radical effect on our lives, since it will enable us to discern and approve God's will, and so transform our behaviour. the sequence is compelling. if we want to live straight, we have to think straight. if we want to thinks straight, we have to have renewed minds. For once our mind are renewed, we shall become preoccupied not with the way of the world, but with the will of God, which will change us. For Christian conversion means total renewal. The Fall led to total depravity( a doctrine rejected, I suspect, only by those who misunderstand it; it has never meant that every human being is as depraved as he could possibly be, but that every part of our humanness, including our mind, has become distorted by the Fall.) So redemption involves total renewal.........our old outlook led to conformity to the crowd; our new outlook had led us into moral non-conformity, out of concern for the will of God. Our fallen mind followed the way of the world; our renewed mind is engrossed with the will of God, as revealed in the Word of God. Between the two lies repentance, metanoia, a complete change of mind or outlook. Paul writes not only of a 'renewed mind', but also of 'the mind of Christ'.He exhorts the Philippians: " let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus". (2:5) That is, as we study the teaching and example of Christ, and consciously put our minds under the yoke of his authority ( Matthew 11:29) we begin to think as he thought. His mind is gradually formed within us by the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ. We see things his way, from his perspective. Our outlook becomes aligned to his. We almost dare to say: "we have the mind of Christ". ( 1 Corinthians 2:16)" Its gets even more interesting and informative as Stott then proceeds to share his viewpoint on how we can understand all contemporary issues, with a Christian mind based on four foundational and historical truths about the Bible. Creation The Fall Redemption The End which then he argues allows us to have a better appreciation of The Reality of God....we learn to evaluate everything in terms of the glory it gives to, or withholds from, God The Paradox of Man....unique dignity as creatures made in God's image and a unique depravity as sinners under his judgment The Future of Society ....we must serve, but there are limits to what we can achieve. We must wait, but have no liberty to do so in idleness. A chapter which is then followed by two fascinating chapters on "Pluralism: Should we impose our views" and " Alienation: have we any influence". All of which I hope to write about in more detail, by God's grace, next week. But already I am beginning to wonder if possible explanations of some of the disparate views held by Christians in Jamaica and Africa in general, and our fellow Christians in North America and Europe over the question of Homosexuality, may be emerging. Some of the disparate views held by Evangelical Christians and more " moderate or conservative" voices in Christianity over the issue of sharing the gospel with the Jews, the Muslims and others of " faith" may be emerging. In fact part of the conversation included my writing a series of notes to some members of my church, locally and abroad, on the issue of evangelism and Muslims and Jews. And which conversation, in terms of my contribution, ended in this fashion: "During my walk yesterday, as I prayed about our conversation, the Lord reminded me that: "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body" ( 2 Cor. 4:10). And as I write, the Spirit of the Lord reminds me of a verse which has kept me sane in the midst of my personal struggles...... " For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows". 2. Cor. 1;5. In the sense that Christ's death compels us to preach to good news to all people. Black, white, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, whoever. With the same passion and love in our hearts that caused our Lord to leave "his throne and his kingly crown", and, " camest to earth for me". But then it was too late to send this addition to the conversation, as I had to go to work. But God does not forget. So last night in the dead of night this verse came back in my mind. And then this morning, at this hour, which is unusual, as my normal hour for getting awake is 6:15am-6:30, the Lord added to the conversation. Beginning in Proverbs and then to Jeremiah: " 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 17: 9-10 ...... in response to the repeated rebellion of His people Israel. And later on the Prophet cries out: " Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved,for you are the one I praise". Finally, and the Spirit of the Lord placed this thought in my head, we need to return to St. Paul's theology of "Christ and him crucified". As it is when we take our eyes off that cross, when we stop " carrying around in our bodies, all the time, the death of Jesus", that we no longer think with our minds, like Jesus did. Peace. Lucien The point of all of this is that revenge has never been and will never be, part of Christian thinking, as judgment belongs to God, and God alone. So no matter how badly others treat us, and persecute and even kill us, we have a higher standard to follow. Christ Himself who died for the ungodly and is merciful to even the wicked and ungrateful. Even to those in prison accused of murder. Even to those politicians accused and convicted at the " bar of public opinion" of corruption and malfeasance of all kinds. Even to those talk show hosts, alive and deceased, who in their heyday were and are notorious for disrespecting and questioning the reality and relevance of the God of Abraham and His Son Jesus Christ and His body the church. Without even realizing that many, if not most of their freedoms, of speech and movement and of human rights, flow not just from living in a democracy, but rather living in a society sustained by laws that presume that all men are created equal under God - the Creation. And have only gone bad because of " the Fall, and can be made better, can be redeemed on account of the Redemptive Blood of Christ, shed on the Cross. And at the end it is appointed to all men to die and then comes the judgment. Then Joel Andem, and Livity and Richie Poo and all of us will meet Him who created and sustains us with His grace.