Monday, January 14, 2013

What time is it? Time to trust in the One true God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

I read my Bible to see what men ought to do; and read the newspapers to see what men are doing -John Newton

The big news in my country  this week was already an open secret. That world superstar athlete Usain Bolt, and our " pocket rocket" fabulous female sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce would win the nation's top sportsman and sportswoman award for their stellar performances at the Olympic Games  in 2012. Also  a huge talking point, continuing from last week  was our Prime Minister's address to the nation in respect her government's handling of the country's affairs during their first year in office. In that respect the country is divided on whether or not she could have given more specifics about the impending deal with the International Monetary Fund, given our very worrying  economic circumstances. A situation which attracted the attentions of a media house in Chicago,The Chicago Tribune.  And whose rather negative, some would say realistic, outlook on Jamaica's economic state, triggered responses from both the ruling party and the opposition and excited the local press. Murder most foul, continues to be a problem in my country, and the shooting death of a Imani Green , young British girl from south London, over the weekend, and  who was visiting Jamaica with her relatives, has already hit the " foreign press". Thus further tarnishing our image as a country with far too high a murder rate , despite recent and welcome reports of a decline in the number of people who died in this fashion last year. 
Outside of Jamaica, but still near and quite important to us, on account of our relationship with Venezuela through the Petrocaribe Facility, President Hugo Chavez's state of health continues to attract attention here, and there were media reports of Jamaican pastors praying for his recovery. And  no doubt many others have been doing so quietly.

So in the midst of this news, what did the Word of God say to me this week. What important " good news" was revealed by the Spirit of God?
The first message was one which was inspired by an ongoing discussion with a group of journalists and others about " The Correct Faith", and a response to the previous set of messages. The question of belief, and what leads some to believe and not others, and God's grace was the highlight of this note.


CH sent me a gracious note in response to the last message assuring me that he reads them, but we have to agree to disagree. Fair enough, as that's all I ask. Because we know that it is only the Holy Spirit Who can convict someone of Sin, and thus lead them to believe in Christ. He and I are  are now discussing less controversial matters " behind the headlines".
In that respect, a quotation from Blaise Pascal which I " happened upon" this morning while reading a wonderful passage in the book of Ephesians led me to share these thoughts.

" No man ever believes with a true and saving faith unless God inclines his heart; and no man when God does incline his heart can refrain from believing".

According to the blurb in my Classics Devotional Bible -  Blaise Pascal ( 1623-1662) of the great minds in Western intellectual history, an eminent mathematician and physicist who at the same time was one of the greatest mystical writers in Christian Literature. By the age of 12, Pascal had worked out the equivalent of of many of Euclid's geometrical theorems. At 19 he invented the first practical calculating machine. Later he verified the theory of atmospheric pressure and formulated the theory of probability, a fundamental element of modern theoretical physics........His Provincial Letters ( 1657) is at once a classic in the literature of irony and satire, and a demand for a reemphasis on Augustine's doctrine of grace within the Catholic Church."

No doubt this complete dependence on the doctrine of grace, gave birth to the quotation above attributed to Pascal. Very interesting isn't it. And begins, only begins, to answer the question of why some believe while other do. So we continue to pray " with the incomparable great power available to us who believe" ( Ephesians 1:19), that God may incline Cliff's heart and those of others within this forum and outside, so that they, by God's grace, may come to believe.
In the same way that we, only by the grace of God, have come to faith in Christ. And this, according to Bishop Gregory, is not  only for the  personal satisfaction of being " saved", but  in addition,  for the purpose of transformation. So that " Justice and Righteousness" may always be uppermost in the minds of God's people. As it was in the mind of the prophet Isaiah, more recently in  the the mind persons like  Martin Luther King Jnr, and others, who helped to transform societies. And God knows how much our society is in need of transformation.
But only by the " Good News" of the gospel, and not only by The Headlines of today's' world.

Comment:  Belief  in the one Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, why some do and others do not, is a question with which many have struggled over the centuries. Why did some Jews, like Peter, James, John and  many women believe that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, whilst others like the Scribes and Pharisees did not? Why did Christianity spread so rapidly from " backwater" Palestine in the 1st Century to become the dominant religion in the huge Roman Empire by the 3rd and 4th Centuries? Why was there such a struggle in the 2nd and 3rd Century and beyond, thus triggering the writing of the Nicene Creed, to decide whether or not, Jesus and the Holy Spirit,  were both  one with the Father? Why in the 21st Century despite Christianity being the accepted faith of billions of people, why do so many refuse to accept the testimony of John,( writing in John 1) that:

" That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to to make our joy complete........

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have no sin, we make him out to be a liar, and his word has no place in our lives."  1 John 1: 1-10 NIV

This is news. Good news!  The reading of which, I was led  this morning at 5:15, when I could have done with some more sleep time. The essence of the message in 1 John, and in the quotation above from Pascal, is that it is only by grace, the mercy of God, that we come to believe. But that grace only comes into a humble heart.  A heart that accepts that we are sinners and in need of help. " Have  mercy on me a sinner " cried the man who was justified before the Lord. many years ago I wrote on the inside cover  of my Bible the following quotations.

" Without Jesus, god is an abstraction. - John 14:6-7

" Without the Holy Spirit, it is not possible to believe that Jesus is God. - John 14:26

" And the Holy Spirit will only enter into a humble heart - Psalm 51:17

And if we do not believe that we are sinners, then we " make  him out to be a liar, and his word has no place in our lives". This verse goes to the heart of the problem in the conversation with this experienced and highly esteemed journalist. And which problem is the " stumbling block " for the faith in Christ by many across the world. As they have yet to come to terms with the reality expressed in the  most popular verse in the Bible, John 3:16. Christ came on earth and died so that " Adam's helpless race" would not die, would not perish, would not be eternally separated from the One true Almighty God.
Is God a liar? Is God's Word untrue?   Was not John a witness to the Living Word?

The second word from the Lord was sent to group of leaders in church, politics and civil society. The message follows closely on the first one. What does it mean when we say that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God? And how that belief manifest itself in how we live in community with others and with the One true Triune God.


Two Words from the Lord have been reverberating in my head in the past couple of days. And brought to a climax this morning.

" Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown
when thou camest to earth for me......

" The inseparable link that God has established between Justice and Righteousness" - triggered
by Bishop Howard's sermon on Sunday.......The Christian life is not about satisfaction but about transformation."

Then this:    This morning's  reading of Philippians 2:1-9 triggered by the words of the hymn    .....Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit........each of you should look not only to your own interest ; but also to the interest of others........Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant........
humbled himself
and became obedient to death
even death on a cross...

The kind of attitude which is immortalized in the words of  Charles Wesley's s hymn:
" He left his Father's throne above,
so free, so infinite his grace!
Emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam's helpless race"

Comment: I don't know where this is going, but I feel the " heavy hand " of the Lord on me to write.  I don't even know to whom  I should address this note. No doubt to the church. But who is church!

" Wherever the word of God is preached and heard, there a church of God exists, even if it swarms with many faults" - John Calvin. A quotation tucked in between the words of Paul to the Philippian church.

Jamaica is at a crossroads. In the language of the streets we are in a veritable " preckeh". We owe far too much money. We produce far too little to satisfy our needs and to sell. We buy far too much form others. And the "chickens have not come home to roost".

And so we blame those who have borrowed, perhaps in many instances recklessly, on our behalf. Perhaps in some instances spent the money carelessly, whilst in other instances more base motives might have been  at work. But what role in all of this, for which there resides  some burden of responsibility, does the rest of civil society carry?

From those who by virtue of status and money have had the power to make a difference, but have in many instances, only satisfied the needs of kith and kin. From those who by the sacrifice of former slaves, have managed to gain an education, a passport to a better life, and again in many instances, have fallen prey to " selfish ambition and vain conceit", manifest in their lifestyle, and little regard for those who now share the circumstances of their forebears - enslaved by poverty and injustice and lack of opportunity. From the church, the body of Christ, that once " emptied itself on behalf of the poor and needy slaves", but now in many instances no longer has " Adam's helpless race" in their focus, but are guilty too, in some instances, of pursuing  "selfish ambition" and having " vain conceit".

In the meanwhile, the poor, the dirt poor, seek to survive. Thus prostitution is tempting; every kind of " juggling" is justified, whether legal or illegal ; little regard is paid to the once closely held values of a different and forgotten time. Thus the music and the culture in general mirror
the reality. As the society does not have the money to help. 60% of it being sucked out year after year to pay debt. Not enough to stimulate production and investment. Not enough to provide a social net for the poor. Not enough to provide basic services - health, education, water, light, roads.

We are all becoming dirt poor and living in a " bubble". Despite the outwards trappings of normality which exists in some parts of the society, Jamaica is fast becoming a economically " helpless race".

Is there a " salvation" available? Is anyone or group of people willing to " empty themselves of all but love" and  help our helpless race. Can it be the IMF!  Or is there, according to John the Baptist  " someone else to come"? 

What role does the church, the body of Him who emptied Himself for another helpless race, have to play? Is this a correct analogy, is this a insufficient theology, is this an incorrect interpretation of the Word of God. So why am I so moved to write!

Going to church is a very dangerous thing! You might meet a Judge there. Or a Savior. Depending on our attitude! But where else can we go, and who else can we serve! Interesting isn't it.
We thank God for the remnant and reservoir of goodness that continues to be the glue, the salt and the light that keeps this society going.  Whether in church or outside of church. But God has called his people, the body of Christ,  to a specific task,  in every society, and in every age.
And He has no favorites, as Paul revealed in Acts 10:34, one of the readings for the Anglican church this Sunday. So we, the church are mandated to follow the example of Christ and " empty ourselves" for all helpless people;  whether economically, socially, morally or spiritually helpless. Whether in Majestic Gardens, Tivoli Gardens, Cherry Gardens. Whether in Israel or in Palestine!  Whether in Venezuela or in Cuba! Wherever.
We pray God that by His grace He will cause men and women in this country to rise up and empty themselves for Jamaica's helpless race.  This is what Jesus did. This is what Sam Sharpe and others did. It is now our turn.

Sent from my iPad

  Comment: This week, I " happened" on a message I wrote, on a Sunday night just like this one, and posted is fresh on my .... in the heat of the Summer Olympic Games held in Beijing in 2008. It was entitled simply  " What time is it?" It chronicles the success of Shelly-Ann, Usain Bolt and many others, in whose performances, to this date, we continue to take great pride and find much joy. The problem though, is that though we glorify them, as we should, we have been guilty of not listening carefully to what they have been saying to  the nation. As has been the case with our other " prophets", from Sam Sharpe one of our National Heroes, to Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the most celebrated Jamaican ever. And one whose philosophy about  " up you mighty race", of a once enslaved peoples, helped to inspire civil rights activists in later years...according to the BBC's list of Historic figures. The message which has been lost on our journalists, and other public figures, is captured in a much repeated bible quote by Shelly-Ann ( pocket rocket) Fraser-Price, and which occurs in the Epistle, not the Gospel, written by John, as I  ( re) discovered this morning.

" ...Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world". 1 John 4:4.....and the context is that we have overcome the Spirit which denies that  Jesus has come in the flesh and is of God. So we are over-comers of all kinds of obstacles. No wonder this young lady can rejoice so much when she wins, as indeed she has had many challenges in her short life, but God has carried her through.
This is the message which is needed to be heard right now in Jamaica as many are almost getting hysterical about the failure of the government to sign a new IMF deal. As if, with that behind us, " economic " salvation" is at hand. And if not, we are doomed!

 " How sad". " How sad"! Observed my Rector this morning as He preached on the Baptism of Jesus, and the news that came down from heaven that Jesus was God's Beloved. And in Him,  He,  the One True Almighty God,  was " well pleased". Why? Because He " emptied Himself of all but love, and was prepared to die for Adam's helpless race". And we too, who are Baptized " with the Holy Spirit and with Fire", thus transforming us into " a new creation", how much also does God know us as " His Beloved"!
And if we are His " Beloved", how can we the Baptized, be guilty of seeking " our salvation", whether economically, morally, politically or spiritually, from elsewhere! How can we also  not follow our Lord and Master and " empty ourselves" ;  of  all the cravings of sinful man; the lust of our eyes; and the boasting of what we have or do. All of which according to ! John 2:15-17 are features of those who love " the world" -  that which we can see and touch and feel, and which has no place for faith in the unseen.

What time is it then? Time for this nation, our leaders, our professionals, to listen more carefully to what is really news. Good news! As recommended by our past and present heroes and heroines, and more importantly, as recorded in the unchanging Word of God. And with a heart humbled by the knowledge of the presence of Sin, believe in Christ and seek salvation from and in Him. Become transformed by the Holy Spirit. And then, and only then, will my country prosper and flourish, and be an example to the whole human race. As our national pledge calls on us to be. 

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