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 house.........you 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.
LWJSent from my iPad