Saturday, April 7, 2012
" Champs", the now world famous high school track and field competition which has spawned superstars like Usain Bolt, VCB, Yohan " the beast" Blake, and Melaine Walker, was a big thing in the news this week. At last, Edwin Allen won the Girls section, beating arch rivals Holmwood Secondary for the first time. And Calabar High was triumphant in the Boys section, outclassing the ever dangerous Kingston College and last year's winner, Jamaica College. But that was not the key issue for me. In the USA the Trayvon Martin case continues to " gather legs", what with the many protests in pursuit of justice, and side shows involving media houses, media personalities, and revelations about both Martin and the man who shot him, Zimmerman. All quite immaterial to the matter at hand - should Zimmerman be charged for the shooting death of this young man. But that too, was not what held my attention this week. We even had two elections. One ecclesiastical, to elect the new head of the Anglican Church in Jamaica, and the other political, to elect persons to run the parish councils or municipalities across the island. Both went well, with the government gaining a landslide victory thus placing more pressure on the young opposition leader. And the more experienced Bishop of two contenders, being elected to head up the Church. But again, news of some magnitude, but not " the news" for me. Actually the news of this week began today, with the commencement of the the most important week in the church's calender - at least some churches - Passion Week. A time when Christians across the globe place a special focus year after year, and even Time magazine usually " catches the fever", on the final moments of Jesus' life on earth - his death on Good Friday and His glorious resurrection on Easter. This year on Good Friday I have been invited to preach on one of the seven " words" uttered by Jesus on the Cross. And as I read another of John Stott's book in preparation, I was moved to send out the following message to my church. This morning I was led to send the following message to some of the leaders of the church: Prompted by the Spirit, last night, I returned to John Stott's monumental work, " The Cross Of Christ ", a section of which I read during each Passion Week. In particular, the Chapter on Substitution, since I am preaching on , My God, My God........on Good Friday. And as I reflected on some of the points make by Stott last night and inspired by the hymn, new every morning is thy love, especially, " new thoughts of God", the following thoughts entered my mind just now in the midst of " my devotions". There are two main issues that present severe challenges to evangelism ....outside the church. One the Biblical injunction that " all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". Two, the Old and New Testament teaching that, " Without the shedding of Blood, there is no forgiveness". But there is an even greater challenge, within, the church! And which has implications not only for evangelism, but equally for the pursuit of social justice! For all Christians to fully apprehend the profound teaching and implications thereof, that " You are not your own; you were bought at a price (of the Blood of Christ). I would suggest that if these reflections have a measure of truth, and I believe, and would humbly suggest that, in the way that they came into my mind, there is divine guidance at work here, we ought to make them the subject of careful consideration and prayer. Among the many other revelations that the Lord is revealing to each of us daily, as His love is new every morning. Finally it is my prayer that beginning with me, this issue of us being not our own, being bought at a price, ought to be manifestly owned first and foremost, by all whom God has empowered to provide leadership in His church. The Lord's peace be with you. In Christ Lucien And then I was led to read this meditation and to send it to you, the church. How? I was going through the Bible searching for a passage in Romans, and "Saturated" caught my eye. Why? It's the name of a gospel song I've been singing now for a couple of weeks: Saturate me in your anointing Saturate me in with your presence. I've gotta have more and more of Your anointing, flowing in my life Saturate me, O Lord, today You can view and listen to it on YouTube. SATURATED WITH THE SPIRIT Hilary of Poitiers ( 315-368) ...born into a pagan family in France, educated in philosophy , and then converted to Christianity about 350....elected bishop of Poitiers three years later, though married. When the embattled Athanasius was banished for his orthodox opposition to Arianism in 355, Hilary rallied the leaders of the churches in Gaul to counter those who supported the Arian position, including the emperor.....exiled to Asia Minor where he wrote " On the Trinity", a cogent defense against those who did not hold the Son to be eternal but created by the Father( Arianism). Hilary understood that the Father and the Son have an identity of substance yet are two). Verse: Acts 20:24 " However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task given the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the to the gospel of God's grace. HOISTING MY SAILS The chief service I owe you, O God, is that every thought and word of mine should speak of you. The power of speech which you have bestowed on me cam give me no greater pleasure than to serve you by preaching your gospel. But in saying this, I am merely expressing what I want to do. If I am actually to use this gift, I must ask you for your help - ask you to fill the sails which I have hoisted for you with the wind of your Holy Spirit, inspiring my mind and my voice. I know that I am often heavy with stupor, so that I am too lazy to speak of you. And I do not spend sufficient time studying your Scriptures, to ensure that my words conform to your Word. Give me the energy and the courage to share the spirit of the apostles, that like them I may truly be an ambassador of your grace. SATURATED IN HIS LOVE Although I am dust and ashes, Lord, I am tied to you by bonds of love. Therefore I feel can speak freely to you. Before I came to know you, I was nothing, and I did not know the meaning of life, and I had no understanding of myself. I have no doubt that you had a purpose in causing me to to be born; yet you had no need of me, and on my own I was of no use to you. But then you you decided that I should hear the words of your Son, Jesus Christ. And that as I heard his words, you enabled his love to penetrate my heart. Now I am completely saturated in his love and faith, and there is no remedy. Now, Lord, I cannot change my attitude to my faith; I can only die for it. And as I write and consider these things another Word of God came into my heart: "....remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ". Ephesians 2: 12-13 NIV Amen. The great challenge for the church which celebrates the Passion of Christ this week, which ought to be concerned about injustice everywhere, which ought to be concerned with the physical, intellectual and spiritual development of our young people in all schools regardless of how well they do on the track or in exams, which ought to be concerned about good governance and leadership in the church and in the society, is how to teach effectively the message from the cross. That in the same way the God of the Universe, the Creator of all mankind, not choosing to hold onto His divinity, out of love for Adam's helpless race (according to Charles Wesley), choose to be obedient, even to death of a cross. And in carrying the weight of sin in His sinless soul, for once feeling the consequence of separation for His Father, which is what sin does to all mankind, cried out ( as many who suffer for many other reasons cry also to a God whom they know) " My God my God, what have you forsaken me. Can we begin to cry out to this same God, without ceasing, who ever lives to intercede for all who believe on His precious name, for help to overcome living by the flesh, and to live in obedience to the Spirit of Jesus living within us. As we are no longer our own. For the sad reality is that we have strayed very far from the fervor and focus that the early church had for, and maintained on, their Saviour. And thus the church does not have the kind of power to overcome evil which is so pervasive in our world today. For the Bible is very clear that " the kingdom of God is not about talk, but about power." Therefore in the final analysis, after all the debates are over, after all the elections are held, after court cases are done with, after we have celebrated again in London, hopefully the success of our athletes, unless the church possesses within itself the power to change a society whose young people are being increasingly held captive by the outrageous to the extreme lyrics of " a yassuh nice" - the name of a song which is now the drawing card of an ad on public television - all the worshiping and prayers and interventions will be to no avail. Unless the church possesses the power and the will fight against the many injustices that persons continue to suffer across the world, in Syria, in Myanmar - thank God for recent changes - and in Florida, then it will be all to no avail. And surely Jesus did not suffer and die on the cross and then leave a church which is neither hot nor cold to attend to the business of salvation, as throughout the history of the people of Israel, God''s chosen people, and the history of Christianity, God has always preserved a remnant of faithful souls to carry on His work. So we who claim to be disciples of Christ ought to be mindful of the fate of the Church in Laodicea which is described by John in Revelations. "To the angel in the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold not hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, " I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Revelation3:14-20 NIV Lent started off on a note of repentance. And now as it draws to a close and to a climax, the message is still the same. Repent and accept the Lord's discipline. Today we had the privilege of listening to the new head of the Anglican church preach a sermon on this very same issue...." My God, my God why have you forsaken me". And one of the things he observed as he closed his reflections on the issue, is the reality that, as Jesus was all alone under the weight of sin on the cross, and cried out to the Father in whom trusted, we too have to experience this kind of loneliness, often accomplished only in and through suffering, in order that " our eyes might be opened" according to the text from John. The question is, are we prepared to undergo the kind of suffering, which according to the scriptures, was the method by which Jesus learned obedience? Are we prepared to examine our lives as Christians and accept God's admonition if we realize that we have been neither cold nor hot? The Bible teaches that " without the shedding of Blood there can be no forgiveness". And only the Blood of Jesus is worthy to be shed for the sins of mankind. But we too can accept Paul's invitation to " join me in suffering for the gospel". Not in the same way that Jesus suffered. Clearly not! But yet having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, as St Paul encourages in Philippians, we can " take up our own cross and follow Jesus". In dying to our own ambitions. In crucifying our own passions. In Florida, in Syria, in Kingston Jamaica. In the Anglican church, in the Baptist tradition and even in the Sabbath keeping churches who do not celebrate Passion Week, but certainly celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Then and only then will the church be given the kind of power that will enable us to rescue our people. Otherwise the " useless" talk will continue. Amen
Yesterday, I thought about writing a Good Friday message. But the Lord was not in favor so it did not happen. Then this morning in my devotions, following the Liturgical tradition in my church which designates Psalm 130 as one of the readings for the Saturday vigil, the following verse triggered an instruction from the Lord to write a brief message. " If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are to be feared". Psalm 130: 3-4 NIV In very simple terms this is what Good Friday is all about. This message of forgiveness of sins, wrought on the Cross of Calvary by a loving God, who in Christ Jesus - what a glorious mystery - substituted Himself, as the penalty for the sins of all mankind. Hence the response of the very mystified Charles Wesley in writing one of the great hymns of the church: " And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour's blood? Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Just last night, I had reason to send the following text message to someone who is literally " under the gun". " The angels of the Lord encampeth around those that fear him". Psalm 34:9 But here we have an even more important reason why we should fear God. Not only because we need protection from evil, and who does not, but because we all need forgiveness of sins, as all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And t hat is not just a verse in the Bible, but a fact written on the hearts of all mankind by the Spirit of God. So let us begin to fear God this very day whether we are committed believers or not, as this is an opportunity that we should not pass. This then is the big news of this weekend. This has been the big news since two thousand years ago. This has been the only worthwhile news for all mankind. Even as we struggle in Jamaica to process the horror and recent revelation - in the kind of graphic detail that would offend even the most callous heart - of 7000 of our children being sexually abused in the past four years. Even as they struggle in Syria to overcome the horrors of a state turned against its people, as was the case in Libya, and to a lesser extent in Egypt recently. Even as we try to understand the unexplained tragedies visited on many countries throughout history: Rwanda, Jews in Nazi Germany, famine in Somalia, death in Siberia in Russia, the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade of my forefathers, the "killing fields in Cambodia", the genocide occasioned by years of abortions, the ravaging of Sub-Sahara Africa by AIDS, and the countless other personal and national tragedies during the life of mankind. According to the old negro spiritual, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord"?...we all should have an interest in the Saviour's Blood. We should all tremble. Whether we be politicians who have been responsible for much of the mayhem in my country and others! Whether we be business persons who have used our privileged status in the society to accumulate riches for ourselves and our families and left others " pick up the crumbs" and so suffer under the weight of poverty all of their lives! Whether we be professionals who have forgotten those who suffered much to enable us to achieve our " success' in life! Whether we be intellectuals who are so " bright" and " brilliant", that we have forgotten to give God the praise for waking us up each morning! Whether we be " good " Christians who have been so caught up with praising God and " keeping church" that we have had no time to " give one of these the least of society" a cup of cold water. No wonder Marion Williams whose video, " Were you there when they crucified my Lord", I watched, in a deep voice, in the midst of talking about , " causing me to tremble, exclaimed, " I can't stand too much of this song". I pray God that we will all learn to tremble - with holy fear - at the knowledge that, " If God kept a record of sins", no one could stand. Not one single solitary human being. I pray God that the news that God Himself in Christ Jesus on the Cross, died, once and for all, for your sins and mine, on Good Friday, will cause us to tremble. And the news tomorrow will be even better. Amen.