Sunday, January 6, 2013

Choosing a road named humility" in 2013: A resolution that leads to God's grace and mercy

Despite some success with road fatalities last year, one single crash, resulting in the death of three persons, a grandmother, a mother and daughter, all Jamaicans living abroad, and who were on their way to the airport, wiped out any notion that things were much better on our roads. And that 2013 would automatically  see a dramatic reduction in road deaths. So too murder. The data for Jamaica for 2012 was encouraging, but since the start of the year we have already witnessed some vicious killings. No as horrific as what took place in the Phillipines, but serious enough to warrant concern.What then will 2013 bring with respect to other social ills? The breakdown in family life; the corrupting influence of some aspects of popular music on the minds of the young; the huge gap between the rich and poor in  my country; the loss of hope in respect of  students graduating from tertiary institutions and their inability to find a job; the grinding poverty of many of our people; the increasing amounts of persons who no longer attend church; the apparent lack of vision of our political leaders, or at the very least their inability to articulate that vision clearly that persons may be inspired to do great things for their country. A sentiment echoed by at least one Caribbean publication which nominated Kirani James the Grenadian Olympic 400 metre champion to be Caribbean person of the Year, as according to them, no Political Leader in the Caribbean was up for contention. Perhaps the only Leader to catch the imagination of the world was President Obama, who was voted by Time magazine to be Person of the Year.
No doubt many persons across the world are reviewing the events of 2012, as we are doing on television as I write even now. And as  has happened since time immemorial. And to what end! Should we listen to the French philosophers who  declared that : " The more things change, the more they remain the same", in English, and Plus ca change, plus ce la meme chose...en francais. Or is there some way to get off this roller coaster called life and find a different pathway. Ultimately, one that will lead to peace and fulfillment and joy.

Perhaps a single thought expressed at the end of sermon shared today by the Anglican Bishop of 
Jamaica, could be the point of departure for a reflection on this issue. The setting was the journey of the three wise men to find the Christ child. They came one way,  but ( warned by the angels)  went back home using  a different route. And the key question here  for people of faith in God, is,  having experienced the Risen Christ, having had an encounter with Him, have we remained the same, do we have the same attitude to life, or have we been so transformed by the experience, that we have chosen a different pathway.  In that context then I will share the inspired thoughts that the Lord placed in my heart during this past week.
Tuesday morning  
    Early this morning, at 5:00 am, after going to bed following watch night service at about 2:00 am, I was awakened to read and share this message. It is of great importance.

Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
and who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He will be like a bush in the  wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
he will dwell in the parched lands of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, 
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its root by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and it never fails to bear fruit.

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 17:5-10 NIV

Inspired thoughts: herein lies the crux of the problem of all mankind. " The heart is deceitful  above all things, and beyond cure". This is the ultimate judgement from The Creator of Heaven and Earth, and all things that live within it". This is the observation from The Holy One of Israel, who is so Holy that no man can see His face and livel This is not the foolish rantings of an inconsequential bystander! This is not the profound discovery of a great philosopher. Or the lyrical style of a poet of yure. This is judgement by the One who posed the ( existential )  question to Job:

" Have  you ever given orders to the morning,
 or shown the dawn its place". Job 38:12 NIV

This then is the context within which we can begin, only begin,  to understand the gift of Christmas and the gift of a New Year. As the Creator God, who searches the heart  of all mankind, and has found us all, beyond cure, with great compassion, which is new every morning, and each New Year,...... I understand why this week the Lord woke me up to read, " Because of his great love we are not consumed, for his compass ions never fail. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV.....
......This gracious God then, became man - Incarnation - and suffered and died for us, whose hearts are beyond cure. So then, how can we not love the Lord Jesus, and praise His Holy Name. The Name that is above all names, as the Preacher reminded us at the service.
I pray God my family members, let this Name protect us all from all evil this New Year.
Let us commit to Believe on Him. Let us commit Repent of our sinful and unbelieving  ways. As faith in that Name comes first by an act of will, and not by " our own (limited, very limited)  understanding of life. 

 Precious Name, O how sweet,
Hope of earth and Joy of Heaven.

Happy New Year.

Comment:  The distinguishing  feature of the Christian faith is the revelation that the heart of mankind is beyond cure; that  only a Holy God alone understands this; that only a Loving  God alone can cure it; and that only a God who is prepared to " empty Himself",  become man and die on a Cross can be a worthy sacrifice for the incurable heart of man. That's it!  That's why we love the Lord Jesus.... so much, as the gospel song I heard on the way back from church today reminds us. " Accept these prayers from a grateful heart.....Every time I think of you the praises start.....I love you so much, Jesus". So the pessimism that the French Philosophers offer a confused world is not the only offer in town. Nor is the triumphalist dogma of the post modern age that " god has died", (must be a common "g",as  they could not be talking about my God) to be taken seriously, as many of the advocates of this simplistic notion, are carried right into the church for burial when they died. As we have seen here in  Jamaica and across the world time and time again. The reality is that the same God who searched the heart in the time of Jeremiah, is still searching the hearts of all mankind even until this present time. And the results are the same. Everybody needs Jesus. This island needs Jesus...goes the popular song. But that is true of America, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Grenada, the UK, everywhere. As the corruption of the human heart is responsible for all the ills in the world. Social, political,  moral and economic.

The above message was the most significant one for this week. But the doctrine of grace, God's unmerited love and favor and act of empowerment,  by which all of us are led to seek God in Christ, came through regularly this week. And which grace alone is the means by which the human heart is transformed and cured and led to follow Christ. It's an important, nay critical lesson for us to appreciate, lest we feel that our Christian  lives and works, make us " better than " unbelievers". And so another , a more personal note, was penned this week,  to members of a team that I had had the privilege of working with during the course of last year.

Wednesday morning
As we "celebrate" the " success"  of achieving the BELOW 300 target - latest available figure 258 - , in respect of road fatalities during 2012. And as we give thanks to God for all those  ( only a few included here) who helped in making this happen . And as we mourn with those who suffered loss during the year. And as we plan for the future, let us remember the words which form the final section of a three part prayer which I have been blessed to pray each morning on arising for many years. The three part prayer:  On Waking; On Rising; On Going to Work,  was written by Jacob Boehme ( 1575-1624) an influential German Lutheran Mystic. The General Caption of the Prayer is : " A Morning Watch". And in my Classic Devotional Bible the verse which is referenced is 2 Chronicles 7:14. If anyone is interested I can send you, in due course, the other two parts.

On Going to Work 

Give me, dear Lord, a pure heart and a wise mind, that I may carry out my work according to your will. Save me from all false desires, from pride, greed, envy and anger, let me accept joyfully every task you set before me. 
Let me seek to serve the poor, the sad, and those unable to work. Help me to discern honestly my own gifts that I may do the things of which I am capable, and happily and humbly leave the rest to others. Above all, remind me constantly that I have nothing except what you give me, and can nothing except what you enable me to do.

 This morning, in particular, I was struck by the awesome truth contained in the final sentence. There is a reason for this, and it has been building up for a couple of days now. It has a name. Humility. A topic about which the Lord has been speaking in various ways, and about which I will write in another forum. I pray God that by His grace, I will learn more and more about this truth and manifest it in my life. And this is my prayer for all who may read this note inspired by the Lord during my devotions this morning. That we have nothing except what the Lord gives us, and we can do nothing except what He enables us to do.  Amen.
Sent from my iPad
This note about humility was influenced by a sermon on the subject which my Rector,  Canon Sirano Kitson, preached one Sunday morning recently. And also a reading of the following passage from;  " Rediscovering the  Church Fathers: Who they were and how they shaped the world, by Michael Haykin, a professor of Church history and Biblical Spirituality at Southwestern Baptist Seminary. Excerpts from Chapter 6. " Being Holy and  Renouncing the World: The experience of Basil of Caesarea."

" A key area in Basil's thinking about monastic and episcopal leadership was the responsibility of the monastic leader and bishop to be a man marked by humility. For classical Greek authors " humility" and its cognates were totally negative terms and derogatory in meaning. They regarded humility as the mark of a social inferior, and it was often associated with adjectives such as ignoble, servile, abject, downcast, and servile......

It is not all that surprising that the anthropocentric worldview of the pagan Greek authors would regard humility as shameful. In their eyes, there was nothing exalted about the position of a social inferior, for example, that of a slave. By contrast, the theocentric   ( ipad's spell check  cannot manage this word) worldview of the New Testament saw in humility one of the best ways to describe man's relationship to God. In the mind of the New testament authors, humility teaches us how lowly men and women really are before God.

Ultimately, it was the fragrant humility of Christ's life - from his humble birth through his life of selfless service, to his humiliating death on the cross - that transformed the meaning of this word. He was humility itself. As he said in Matthew 11:28-29: " Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Christ here describes himself as the ultimate embodiment of humility. Henceforth all who genuinely call him Lord, would seek to reproduce in their lives their masters's humility. And when the early Christians reflected on the meaning of Christ's coming into this world, his humility was central to their reflections. A good example of such  reflection is Basil's Homily 20, Of Humility. Like many of his sermons, it cannot be dated more precisely than saying it was given between 363 and 378,
Basil begins by  explaining just how necessary it is for men and women to to strive to be humble:

Would that man had abided in the glory which he possessed with god - he would have genuine instead of fictitious dignity. For he would be ennobled by the power of god, illumined with divine wisdom, and made joyful in the possession of eternal life and its blessings. But, because he ceased to desire divine glory in expectation  of a better prize, and strove for the unattainable, he lost the good which was in his power to possess. the surest salvation for him the remedy of his ills, and the means of restoration to his original state is to practice humility and not pretending that he may lay claim to any glory through his own efforts but seeking it from God.
.......the sermon's focus, in a sense, is the acquisition of glory - the glory lost by Adam in the garden, that glory by which a man is " ennobled by the power of god, illumined with divine wisdom, and made joyful in the possession of eternal life ad is blessings". It cannot be found through wealth and political power - which brings with it  " a glory more unsubstantial than a dream" - nor " strength of arm, swiftness of foot, and comeliness of body" or human wisdom. What is rue glory then ? Simply this: knowing the living God.

Final ( inspired) comment: There is  more, but the above reflection ought to suffice for us  to learn more about this critical issue of humility in the Christian journey. And by which facility alone, can we access the Grace of God,  and thus " return home by a different route" - transformed and empowered, and not just satisfied as my Bishop explained this morning, which sadly is the end  result of many a  Christian journey. And being satisfied with " personal satisfaction" cannot help a nation to be transformed by the presence of  Christians - the salt of the earth.
Also the issue of what transpired in the garden when Adam disobeyed, is portrayed in terms of the desire of divine glory and the lack thereof, leading to something less noble. Far less! Finally this reflection , in my mind, opens up a clear understanding of why the continued influence of the Greek pagan thought, which rules the mind of the post modern man, even though he or she may not realize it, to the extent that such notions leads then away from the path of humility. And there are sufficient examples in the market driven economies of the world to make the issue fairly impatient of debate.

I pray God then as we reflect on the events of 2012, we may realize that the only thing that matters from one year to another, is not the recollection of what shook the world or the news of the day. But rather, how  far along the way, are we on this road called humility?  The only one that leads to an experience with God through grace. And thus truly , having come here as part of the sinful race of Adam, with hearts incurable on account of sin, and therefore estranged from the Living God, at the end, in and through Christ Jesus, we may return to God, " along a different route". Amen.

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