We are not a Super Bowl people, as American style football does not appeal to most Jamaicans. Track and Field? Now you are talking. Soccer, especially Brazilian type soccer, and of late Spanish " tick tack" soccer. Especially when Lionel Messi's Barcelona FC is playing. Yea man. And of course cricket, lovely cricket, except when we are losing. As is the case right now down under in Australia. Therefore the less said about that sport for the time being, is the best thing. So for a Superbowl ad to be the talking point in my country this past week is no small matter. This " teaser' from Volkswagen featuring white males talking Jamaican, and which has had 4 million views on YouTube, has taken my country literally by storm. Everybody, I mean like everyone, including the Prime Minister, is talking about it. Can you believe it! Most like it, and are highly amused and even more thrilled about the Jamaican culture taking the world by storm. A few are upset. But hey, that's life. And in any case nobody is really taking them on.
Sadly though, what everybody, including the Prime Minister is also talking about, is the extreme wickedness and barbarity which occurred in my country this past week. Two youngsters, 4 year old, Rushaine Burford, and 14 year old, Shariefa Saddler were brutally murdered. One, Rushaine, tried to escape under a bed and was shot repeatedly by a man who had an issue with his grandmother. The other one, Shariefa, her body was thrown from a car on to the sidewalk like refuse. In " broad daylight"! So on this Super Bowl day, we are definitely not " happy campers". What is the solution? Only God knows! A theme I explored during a sermon that I delivered at my church today. Finally I was asked to share some thoughts on " Stress in the 21st Century; How to Cope" with a church group this past week. And one of the interesting things I gleaned from a top USA Medical School site, Mayo Clinic, was that spirituality is listed as one of their recommended stress management techniques. The rationale given is profound. Spirituality, among other things gives life context. Wow! This coming from as secular an organization as you would find anywhere in the USA.
So what did the Lord reveal this week in the midst of all this levity, on the one hand, and grief, on the other? A couple of things! One was a reminder that he is Sovereign over all mankind, and is in control of our lives even before we are born, and equally so when we die. The latter issue came to me in a simple, but profound Word from the Book of Proverbs, to which I was led, to read and to send as a word of comfort to a friend whose wife died this week.
" When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down,
but even in death the righteous have a refuge"
Proverbs 14: 32. NIV
The first revelation from the Lord, a Word from Jeremiah, led me to deep reflection and to use it for the basis for the sermon today. And in fact provoked additional thoughts as I came home from church to read the Daily Gleaner and found an article from one of our leading journalist, Ian Boyne, quite intriguing. Especially since he is also a Pastor. The essence of his article was a questioning ( as posed by others) of the relevance of religion in my country when we are plagued by so much barbarity even when , as a country we are world famous for having so many churches. So the question he posits, that many are asking, is why is the church not being more effective in converting souls and thus bringing relative peace to a troubled nation. Further, he argues, many people, even those who were at one time strong believers, are " turning off" religion. And therefore what is the answer to all of this conundrum( my words)? Interestingly, at the earlier service today at my church, our Rector, Rev, Sirano Kitson, addressed this very same issue, of how to spread the good news in a " Post religious era". One of his assertions, was that we need o get back to basics and simply pose the question, " Do you love Jesus", rather than " do you believe in Jesus"? of course the need for us to manifest the life of Christ in word and deed was also emphasized. So how did the Word from the Lord address all of this?
" The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.......
...to uproot and to tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant"
Jeremiah 1: 4-10 NIV
One other revelation before we proceed. Last night the Lord woke me up, very gently this time, to read this Word.
" Stop trusting in man,
who has but a breath in his nostrils.
of what account is he?"
Isaiah 3: 22. NIV
The point here is that it is really very hard to argue with a God who, not only created us, but knew us before we were formed in the womb. And set us apart for His own purpose, before we were born. What's the point of arguing with that kind of power? This is the exact point, made in a different way, to which the Lord is referring us in this forum, in this part of the world tonight, when He invites us to consider what he told me last night. Who are you, O man, because all that keeps you alive is the breath I give you, to be someone in whom people ought to place their trust? Who are you, the greatest scientist who ever lived, the most intelligent agnostic who ever lived, the most persuasive atheist who ever lived, the most charismatic leader who ever lived; what power do you have so that people place their trust in you, when all you have " is breath in your nostrils. Who are you really. Perhaps the young people would add, " Seriously"!.
But amazingly, this is exactly what many on earth have decided to do, what they have elected to spend their time one earth doing? Arguing with God rather than just obeying Him. carrying on like that even to their very graves. To what end, as there is only one winner in all of this, no matter how high sounding the arguments!
One of the things that struck me this week, as it has on numerous occasions, and so forcibly, it almost leads to tears, is the following haunting Word from the Book of Deuteronomy.
" Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me, and keep all my commands always, so that it may go well with them and their children forever".
And here we have, once again, a situation where our precious, precious children ( I have four grandchildren ranging from 6-1 year old) are being murdered and their bodies thrown away like garbage. Have mercy! And this never had to happen. The problem, as I pointed out in the sermon today, is that ever since Adam disobeyed God, electing to listen to foolish high sounding arguments from Satan instead, evil has been let loose upon all the earth. And God in Jesus Christ, out of love and compassion for we who He created for His own purpose, has decided to give us a " second chance" to live with Him and to delight in His presence. And instead of singing " Your grace and mercy, brought me through, I am living this day because of you; I want to thank you and praise your name. Your grace and mercy brought me through", many have elected to argue with God. And question, and even " trash " the Word of God, the
Holy Bible. What madness!
Finally, as I consider the questions posed by Ian Boyne in his column in The Daily Gleaner today....www.go-jamaica.com. we are to remember that, conviction of sin is ultimately and solely the work of the Holy Spirit of God. Whether in the first instance, or when a person develops doubts, having been baptized. What we are called to do, what we are " set apart" to do, is to life up the name of Jesus in all that we say and do. This is what Jesus declared publicly shortly before His death.
" But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to to myself. He said this to show the mind of death he was going to die". John 12: 32.
Further, He also said: " No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" John 6: 44.
Finally for those Boyne feels are honestly seeking the truth, but who do not accept Christ as Savior:
" Then they asked him, What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, The work of God is this; to believe in the one he has sent. John 6: 28-29 NIV
Sadly, very sadly Christianity is never going to be a popular faith. People from time immemorial, like the now ubiquitous X Box, or smart phone, have become fascinated with their own intelligence. Their own ability to " work out things". So they continue to argue. And the Sovereign God has a completely different agenda.
" Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding. But in all our ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths". Proverbs 3:5-6.
Ultimately it all comes down to one single issue: Did Christ die for you and for me? If he did, then as the Scriptures declare, " you are not your own. You have been bought at a price ( of Blood). if not then you are on your own in a very dark and unpredictable world. The problem is that, flesh and blood", mere man with but breath in his nostrils, cannot comprehend these things. Only those empowered by the Spirit of the Sovereign God can. And the Spirit will not come to us unless we repent and accept Christ as Lord and Savior and become baptized. The problem also is that it takes the humble in heart to make the first step. No wonder the Scriptures declare:
"God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble".
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you in due time.
cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you 1 Peter 5: 5-7 NIV
I close with the words of wonderful hymn. Words which inspire. Words which give our life context. Words which explain what it means to be " set apart" for God in this 21st Century. Words which challenge us to follow Christ. Words which explain the nature of life to us. Words which encourage. Word which speak about the love and power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth the Son of the Sovereign God. Words which if held closely to our hearts will help us to become humble. And then who knows what the Spirit of the Lord, who knew us before we were born, and who set us apart for His own purpose, in and through Christ Jesus, might do for us and for our nation. Indeed for the entire world.
O Jesus, I have promised
to serve thee to the end;
be thou for ever near me,
my master and my friend;
I shall not fear the battle
if thou art by my side,
nor wander from the pathway,
if thou wilt be my guide.
O let me feel thee near me:
the world is ever near;
I see the sounds that dazzle,
the tempting sounds I hear;
my foes are ever near me,
around me and within;
but, Jesus draw thou nearer,
and shield my soul from sin.
O let me hear thee speaking
in accents Clare and still,
above the storms of passion,
the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me,
to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen,
thou guardian of my soul....
I pray God, that as the Word of God came to Jeremiah, we too might hear the Lord Jesus speaking to us in, " accents loud and clear". And therefore stop arguing with the Holy One of Israel, and obey Him, so that it may go well with us and our children. In life and even more so in death, when He will still be a very present help in times of trouble. Forever! Amen