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.