Lord renew the church that the church
may renew the nation(s).
I read my Bible to see what men ought to do;
and read the newspapers to see what men are doing - John Newton.
She was definitely not a happy camper - the mayor of our capital city Kingston, a Government Senator and a Vice president of the party to boot! The budget debate had just ended. The government and by extension the party, and indeed the entire country was celebrating the inking of a new IMF deal, which would bring in a lot of well needed foreign exchange, albeit still borrowed money. And on both major television programme, in prime time, two senior members of the opposition party were featured. And so in disgust she sent out a tweet which was the talking point of the week in Jamaica, as though not explicit, it contained the abbreviation for a well known expletive.
Elsewhere, what caught my attention was the recent attacks on Syria by Israeli planes, reportedly in an effort to stem the flow of weaponry to the their deadly enemy the Hezbollah. Definitely not a good sign for the Middle-East. Nor for my country as the violence continues unabated, and so too in the USA with a spate of killings this week
Closer home, one Tyson-Gay from the USA served notice that he will be a force to reckon with in Moscow this year, as he posted the best time, 9.86 in the men's 100 M in the just concluded Jamaica International track and field meet in Kingston. So too, serving notice with good wins, but less spectacular times, were our own VCB in the womens's equivalent and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the 200 M.
So in the midst of tweeting and violence around the world and efforts by our sportsmen and women to keep our spirits up, what did the Lord say this week?
FIRSTLY - from His Word, three important messages, as this week I was led to read the entire book of Habakkuk - it's just three chapters - during my devotions, and importantly, the review of the book in the KJV.
a) " How long, O Lord, must I cry out for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you 'Violence!' , but you do not save?- 1:2. NIV
It's a verse that we here in Jamaica can identify with, as we experience the continued assault on our sisters and brothers and even children who are murdered with impunity by wicked gunmen, on almost a daily basis. We have almost lost count, and are progressively growing hopeless about the ability of the state, or anyone else for that matter, to staunch the flow of blood on our streets. So " How long, Lord?" is a cry from the lips of many persons of faith.
Interestingly, however, the KJV review suggests that the prophet is disturbed about the intense wickedness of Of Judah, and God's seeming reluctance to judge than with the failure of the people to repent and less concerned, unlike his contemporary Jeremiah.
So, are we here concerned about God's reluctance to judge the wicked, to destroy the gunmen, and not equally concerned about the rising, in general, rebellion against the commands of God, as found in Holy Scripture. I don't know how many of you read young Daniel Thwaites' articles in the Gleaner www.go-jamaica , but today in one entitled 'The Jookinest ' People in the World http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130505/cleisure/cleisure4.html young Thwaites ( his dad is a government Minister and a Pastor) argues, based on his knowledge and understanding of the dance hall lyrics and the effects on the young, that our young people in particular are 'hypersexed'. Which really is nothing new as other more prominent journalists including the award winning Ian Boyne have been making the same point for years! However, his solution, like many others, does not include a call for repentance before a Holy God. Does not wonder why God is taking so long to act.
b) Then when faced with the 'judgment ' that the Lord orders - the invasion of Israel by the Babylonian hordes - Habakkuk cries out;
" Your eyes are too pure to look at evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?"
Chap 1: 11. NIV
And so the KJV review explains that rather than lifting the prophets burden, God adds to the troubles of His people, and the prophet wonders why.
And recalls that in this passage comes one of the grandest declarations of Scripture: The just shall live by faith. The righteous will be preserved in the day of trouble because they have depended upon God and are, in turn, dependable.....swift retribution will be the lot of the haughty invaders, who will learn the emptiness of tyranny and the vanity of idolatry. One day then all of this madness will end, but we the Baptized must remain faithful to a God who has proven Himself faithful.
c) Not much commentary is provided on 2: 3 " For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it shall speak, and not lie ; though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry" KJV. But this is a passage of Scripture about which a patient who is a Pentecostal pastor spoke to me some time ago, and I have never forgotten it. The reality is that when God makes a promise, and all promises are fulfilled in Christ Jesus ( 2 Cor.1:20) we must prove ourselves dependable by waiting patiently for it. And one of the subtle things which may cause us to lose faith and follow a secular agenda, is a call to be " compassionate" in the face of evil. Especially when the subjects are vulnerable children living in a dance hall 'hyper-sexedcountry'. So we who are bear the Name of Jesus, who died on the Cross so that all who would follow Him, can escape from sin and death, must be ever vigilant to present the Word to a rebellious people, in season and out of season. And which obedience to the Word of God has always been the only way to deal with the challenges facing any society.
d) Finally at the end of the chapter comes perhaps one of the greatest declarations of faith in the Bible:
" Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails,
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pan
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet will I rejoice in the Lord
I will be joyful inn God my Savior."
In the sense that, though crime continues unabated, though things " tun up", and times are hard, though men continue to rebel and be cynical about those who trust in God; though there is no end in sight to Jamaica's troubles, though our children behave like adult criminals as the headlines suggested recently, and though they continue to ' get busy' we will rejoice and be faith to God, wait on the vision and not take things into our very 'fragile hands' and cause the Lord to punish us even more.
SECONDLY - in a very dramatic the Lord led me to write a note in response to the tweet by the Mayor to a set of journalists and other senior members of civil society.
Angela Burke Brown's - the Mayor of our capital city, a Vice- President of the ruling party, a Government Senator - outrageous, egregiously outrageous, tweet should not only trigger condemnation of an individual, but should serve as a tragic reminder of the extent to which the body politic, in particular, in addition to other aspects of our society, including the media if truth be told, has lost it's moral compass. And therefore any moral authority to rescue children who attack bus drivers, and even their own peers. Children whose behaviour in bathrooms shock even the liberal minded journalist George Davis. But dear God, forgive us, as these are children whose moral compass has been shaped by what we, all of us, by what we have done or left undone, have taught them.
It's therefore time not only for introspection, and condemnation, but also for seeking a "higher ground".
This is one of the lessons, I learnt this morning in my devotions, among others, as the Lord led me to read and reflect on a hymn which is more popular in the Pentecostal circles than the traditional churches. And which hymn featured in a service I attended at the University Chapel last Sunday. I had no idea that it was in my Anglican hymnal until this morning.
I am pressing on the upward way;
new heights I'm gaining every day,
still praying as I'm onward bound,
'Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.'
Lord lift me up and let me stand,
by faith, on heaven's tableland.
A higher plane than I have found -
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
2. My heart has no desire to stay
where doubts arise and fears dismay.
Tho' some may dwell where these abound,
my prayer, my aim, is higher ground.
3. I want to live above the world,
tho' Satan darts at me are hurled;
for faith has caught the joyful sound,
the songs of saints on higher ground.....
It is instructive to note, however, that I was led to this hymn after dwelling in a more traditional Anglican hymn, which teaches us among other things, that the " higher ground", is a Person, and not a place. And that Person, Jesus, did not stay on "higher ground", but left His throne and came to rescue Mayor Brown from wayward behaviour, Cliff from unbelief, journalists from the overbearing power of the state, schoolchildren from societal misdirection, and a sinner like me, and all of us, from sin and death unto everlasting life. And that's why Bishop Gregory, a Shepherd of those who ought to seek the "higher ground", spoke so well, and was so relevant and 'rea'l yesterday.
1.Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
be thou my best thought in the day and in the night,
both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.....
3. Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
be thou my whole armour, be thou my true might;
be thou my soul's shelter, be thou my strong tower;
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.
I pray God that all of us will seek this "higher ground", Christ Jesus Himself, and let Him be our best thought - on twitter and on Face-book. And so help to rescue this nation, and the nation's children from unbelief, cynicism and the kind of egregious behaviour which has provoked such a firestorm on social media and elsewhere in this land.
So what do we make of all of this rebellion against God; man's solutions and God's commands? Someone once wrote that in the midst of 18th century England when rebellion against a Holy God was far worse than obtains in 21st century Jamaica, John Wesley " restored the nation's soul". This is the call for the church, a renewed church in Jamaica, to help to restore a nation's soul. If the 'anthem' in the dance hall is as young Thwaites describes it, promoting quantity and quality of sex; if the level of discourse in the body politic approximates the kind of vulgar tweet sent out by the mayor; if all the church can do is to " want to escape hell and get to heaven and leave the sinners down here" - the complete opposite of what Christ did; if our sanity and sense of achievement depends in large part on the exploits of our sporting heroes and heroines; if all we can do is to devise practical solutions to deep spiritual problems, then indeed we have lost our collective soul.
Thus the need to ask the Lord to " plant our feet on higher ground". In Christ and Christ alone as all other ground is like sinking sand. How long, Lord, will we take to discover the eternal riches which God has provided for us in Christ Jesus? How,long, O Lord will it take for our young and old alike to listen and obey the Word of Scripture read in my church this morning:
" We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything. In the past he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from the heaven and crops in their season; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy". Acts 14:15-17. NIV
The fact is that throughout human history God has acted to rescue mankind from itself. Even in the darkest moments of war and famine, whether in Somalia, the Middle-east, war torn Europe, Colonial Africa or in the killing fields of Cambodia. We who trust and believe in the crucified and Risen must continue to bring hope to young and old alike, the unbelieving and the cynical, despite the forces of evil which currently hold sway, as the vision says one day " God will wipe away every tear".And the earth will be filled with the glory of God as waters cover the sea.