So much happened in my country this week. But the most talked about one, Beenieman #versus Bountykilla, the lyrical clash from last weekend, was still trending; the term used on Twitter, one of the many social media platforms. I suppose even more so on IG, where it all happened, but since I am not frequently on the “ Gram”, I can’t comment.
Music has always been, and I suppose will always be, until “ thy kingdom come”, of great importance to Jamaicans. The lyrics, the beat, and the mood which the songs evoke, have shaped and influenced for good or for bad, in some cases very bad, how we think, how we relate to each other and how we understand and enjoy life.
Can’t ever forget, and I suppose there are many others, but “ To be young gifted and black”, by the late ( died earlier this year) great Bob Andy and the legendary Marcia Griffiths, comes readily to mind; a song which became almost like an anthem for young people in my era.
A song which together with the Black Power movement in the USA led by people like the Caribbean’s own Trini born Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, the must read book “ Soul on Ice” about the Black Panthers, and “ The Wretched of the Earth “ by Franz Fanon, and others, helped to “ free our minds from mental slavery”. Which of course was Bob Marley’s seminal gift to, not just black people, but to a world struggling under oppression of any kind.
Music which no doubt, although the fervor and passion has been muted somewhat by the ‘rat race”, until stoked again by the murder of yet another black man by the Police, helped to spawn the very relevant and current #BlackLivesMatter movement in the USA. Perhaps that’s the lens through which we need to see the brutal murder caught on camera of George Floyd, by a white policeman, whose heinous crime went unchallenged by three other colleagues; and who, therefore, in the minds of the protesters, and the world, were accomplices to the fact of murder. How did the culture, no doubt influenced by what they read, and what they listen to and how they interpret life, create such a monster who could calmly kneel on a another helpless human being’s neck, while he cries out “ I cant breathe”? And dies! Is the question of the ages.
Perhaps that’s how we should evaluate the awesome event which attracted the attention of over 350,000 Jamaicans, last weekend, and which was viewed worldwide by over 4 million people. And counting! How has the music, and in this case dancehall music, contributed to the development of our society, in this age of “sixteen ” and nine” and “ marrow flying” and “ romping shop” on the one hand; and “pure niceness” on the other hand, “ dweet for the love and not for the like”?
Perhaps a song which came into my head as I thought about #versus this past week, from way back then “ There is a girl…. living in my neighborhood…they call her sweetie…sweetie come…” captures the “niceness”, as they call it, that is the essence of the music, or used to be, in my country. But the fault lines which has accompanied the music in recent times is there for all to see. And none greater than the one, who even in prison continues to be more popular than #versus. And more influential in certain quarters #Gaza.
This week, just yesterday, we said goodbye to a well loved by all, and on both sides of the political divide, based on the many tributes, to the late Minister of Labour and Social Security, Shahine Robinson.
A reminder of the inevitability of death for us all, regardless of our social standing or how well we have served or not. And she served well. This very gracious and charming woman who I met only in passing from time to time at the Office of the Prime Minister. But always impressed by her ready smile and acknowledgement of another human being occupying her space, even temporarily. May her soul RIP.
But all these worthy of comment events, and happenings, ultimately find their relevance and understnding in the event which many Christians, but not all – and herein is the makings of another and much more serious #versus – will celebrate tomorrow. The Day of Pentecost. The birthday of the Church. The day on which, as Jesus, forever a disturbing figure in human history, promised, “ Power from on high” would come, as his disciples, “waited upon the Lord”, in Jerusalem.
This same Jesus who had been crucified on Calvary, and raised from the dead on the glorious Easter Morning, now on the day of his Ascension back to His Father, having been glorified, promised to send The Holy Spirit, “ Another Comforter”, to “ guide all who beleived in His Atonement for Sin, into all truth”. And what is this truth! Certainly part of the truth is that Benieman and Bountykilla, and Addie, and George Floyd and that wicked policeman are all sinners, and in need of salvation. Another part of the truth is that Shahine, if she was a child of God, washed and sanctified by the blood of Christ, has now, in Christ, overcome death, and is with Him in glory.
So in this respect, all of life, all that we do, all that we achieve here on earth, all that we learn, all that we enjoy on earth as “ pure niceness”, and therefore how we are formed, and not just informed, is in preparation for “ it is appointed for all men to die once and then the judgment”. It is instructive then that part of the truth is that The Holy Spirit comes to “ convict the world of Sin, Righteousness and Judgement”. This is what Jesus declared to His disciples, on the night before He died, for He would soon be no longer with them.
So Christianity then is very much #versus Islam or any other religion, in that The Holy Scriptures reveal that “No man cometh unto the Lord God except through Christ”. In this respect then the Evangelicals and their influence on right wing politics and attitudes in America #Versus Christians whose eyes are fixed only on the Cross of Christ, is a matter that is of great moment. As the brand of Christianity which is influenced by the old adage that “ the enemy of my enemy is my friend “, which can be the only explanation why some of the Evangelicals continue to defend Donald Trump, has lost its focus entirely and is in danger being cast into fire. So too the Liberal Wing of the Christian church #versus the remnant which has not bowed to Baal, has lost its focus in advancing a gospel that speaks only of God’s love and mercy, without mentioning Sin and God’s wrath.
I would hope and pray that in the midst of the terror that is COVID-19, as a people under siege, we take the opportunity to celebrate, and welcome, the coming into the world of The Comforter who is The Holy Spirit, Who alone can rescue us from the evils, and there are many in our culture and circumstances, of that which is #versus the love of God which is manifest most completely on the Cross of Calvary.
In this respect I pray that the words of an old Saint, from a reflection which came to my mind as I prepared for this weekend’s blog, will enter into our hearts and quicken our minds to love the only One who can rescue us from this corrupt generation, that snuffs out black lives with impunity, and cause Jasmine Dean, and so many others, to go missing. Even Jesus Christ!
SATURATED WITH THE SPIRIT
Hilary of Poitiers
Verse: Acts 20.24
Hoisting My Sails
The chief service I owe you, O God, is that every thought and word of mine should speak of you. The power of speech which you have bestowed on me can give me no greater pleasure than to serve you by preaching your gospel.
But in saying this, I am merely expressing what I want to do. If I am to actually use this gift, I must ask you for your help – ask you to fill the sails that I have hoisted for you with the wind of your Holy Spirit, inspiring my mind and my voice . I know that I am often heavy with stupor, so that I am too lazy to speak of you. And I do not spend sufficient time studying your Scriptures, to ensure that my words accord to your Word. Give me the energy and the courage to share the spirit of of the apostles, that like them I may truly be an ambassador of your grace.
Saturated in His Love
Although I am dust and ashes, Lord I am tied to you by bonds of love. Therefore I feel I can speak freely to you. Before I came to know you, I was nothing. I did not know the meaning of life, and I had no understanding of of myself. I had no doubt that you had a purpose in causing me to be born; yet you had no need of me, and on my own I was on no use to you.
But then you decide that I should hear the word of your Son, Jesus Christ. And that as I heard his words, you enabled his love to penetrate my heart. Now I am completely saturated in his love and faith, and there is no remedy. Now, Lord, I cannot change my attitude to my faith, I can only live for it .
Comment: Even now, having read this reflection many times, the breath and depth of the saturation of Poitiers love for Christ, affects my soul deeply.
Finally a message to my church forms a bookend to this week’s blog. A message about formation and not just information. A message about from Whom our strength to overcome, resides. The Comforter, The Holy Spirit the Crucified, Risen and Ascended Christ.
EMAIL TO MY CHURCH
I have been led over the years to understand that when the Lord speaks to you, it is for your own spiritual formation ( thanks to Sister Grace for the currency, and deeper understanding, of that word); and aslo to share with others for the same reason.
So my “ song in the night last night was:
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
This from the Apostle Paul who was rejoicing that the Saints in Phillipi had renewed their concern for him, not because he was in dire need, but because it was good for them to share in his troubles. For as Paul declared, he had learned the secret of being content in any and all situations, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. And then finally to explain his ability to rejoice in the Lord always, a lesson he taught them earlier on in the chapter 4, a lesson which highlighted the call not to be anxious about anything, but rather, in everything, to present your requests to God and experience the peace that transcends all ( human ) understanding.
So why is the Lord saying this to us through me , as I believe He is, this morning. In my context, yours may be different, it speaks to the caution to avoid having the need for distractions in your life; to pass the time. Or even as a way of life. What am I talking about ? Beenieman versus Bountykilla! The virtual dancehall clash over the weekend which attracted the viewership of over 400,000 Jamaican and to date, a worldwide viewership of over 4 million persons and counting. All of this at at time when the very existence of mankind is under threat. When every country in the world is in some kind of lockdown mode, and people, “ young and restless people”, tired of being isolated from each other and not being able to party, came up with a distraction which has filled the void in their hearts and souls.
And they are not alone! But we must do as they do. For many Christians, if truth be told, myself included, are either tempted to, or have engaged in, either binge watching of movies, or serials, on Netflix or Amazon, or just watching TV a lot. I will guarantee you that only the faithful few have been spending a lot of time on their knees praying to the Lord for mercy. Or wrestling with God for many reasons! Especially for a Prophetic Word in these unusual times. Praying for mercy for devastated New York! Mercy for the vulnerable in Nursing Homes! Wisdom for our leaders as they try to negotiate the treacherous path between “ Not dying from the Pandemic and not being devastated by the Recession”! Wisdom for our Church Leaders at a time when people are reluctant to re-engage in corporate worship but the witness of the church must continue unabated if we are to faithful to the One who died so that we may live, and be witnesses to His Resurrection Power!
Mercy, and Justice, for the family of Jasmine Dean; whose “missing status “ serves as a metaphor for the reality that there are other ills, other imperatives in our land, other than COVID-19. Mercy for those who have been scorned by their families after having contracted and recovered from the Virus! Mercy for the huge numbers of ordinary people who have suffered financial loss and who have no “ nest egg” on which to depend and carry them though these hard times!
But that kind of steady focus on the needs of others, and others far away, and to share in their troubles, comes only when God has been formed in our hearts by faith and by grace. Comes only when we have truly learnt to be content in all situations, and have stopped grumbling and complaining about every trial in our lives which comes along. Comes only when we can truly declare like Paul, “ I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”. For in a sense as some theologians have argued, “prayer is the greater works “ which Jesus promised and which Sister Grace highlighted on Sunday.
Why? Read again, as I was led last night, how Jesus declared that his leaving the disciples was good for them, for if he did not leave – and return to the Father – the Holy Spirit would not come and be with them. And which historic and ever present reality we are about to celebrate this Pentecost Sunday, would, according to Jesus, result in our being led into all truth, and people being convicted of Sin, Righteousness and Judgment. John 16:5-15.
This as Jesus declared that He had much more to tell his disciples, more than they could bear, but all would be revealed when the Holy Spirit came.
The spiritual reality then, is that when the Holy Spirit is truly formed in us we will be able to do all things by the Power of The Almighty God living in and though us. We will be able to bear all things, and rejoice in all situations, even during COVID-19. Not because our distractions have given us time and space not to think too much about the terror which is COBID-19, but rather because Christ has been formed in us, and in Him we are conquerors in every situation, as our minds are not on earthly things but our citizenship is in heaven, as Paul declared late in Chap 3.
And those in whom Christ is formed are continuously in conversation, in prayers and in supplication and requests, to the Father, in the same way that Jesus was alway in touch with His Father. Does this mean that we have no time to enjoy the many gifts and beauty that God has showered on this world! No, but we are not to allow them to serve as distraction from the greater work which is prayer. Especially in a time when the world is confronted by an existential threat to its survival!
Peace and in obedience.
Lord renew thy church beginning with Pentecost – will thou not turn again and quicken us O Lord: Lord renew thy church that the church may renew with Power a hurting and confused nation(s)
It is fatal to the carriage of justice if the judge only hears one side of the story. And what is true of justice, carries even more weight in the journey of life. Especially life affected by the great disrupter, which is the COVID-19 pandemic!. Therefore if all we have heard, and intend to do, is that our economy has been dealt a heavy blow, that there is a hole in the budget to the tune of 120 Billion dollars, unprecedented in modern history, triggering a return to a borrowing relationship with the IMF, and that it is now time to open up back for business in Jamaica, we have only heard one side of the story.
If all we have heard is that unless we continue to maintain physical distancing, keep our distance from others by at least six feet, in church, at work, on the beach, in the airplane ( some would prefer even more space, or perhaps not to be on board at all), and in the restaurant, preferably al Fresco -outside in the breeze – then the Virus will return and cause more sickness and even death, then we have only heard one side of the story.
If all we have heard is that for Jamaicans , some 30, 000, of our people, to return safely, whether by plane or by boat, the proper protocols must be in place, lest we let in people who have Corona, and we return to the Alorica situation which almost derailed our, up until that time, fairly good response to the Virus, then we have only heard one side of the story.
If all we have done then is to listen to the “ pressers”, the press conferences conducted by the government, read the Gleaner or the Observer or the The New York Times online, or watched Cumo live on CNN every night, or watched the “ millions” of videos circulating – I delete most of them – or spent much time lurking on people’s Instagram page – that’s what one of my young female patients admitted to doing – or posting and reading stuff on Twitter and Facebook and WhatsApp, then we have only heard one side of the story.
◦ If our only concern is for the scientists to find a vaccine for this thing, and so allow our children to go back to school safely, the tourists to return, and family to be able to travel, and for us to to be able to gather for Christmas later this year, then our thoughts are definitely not God’s thoughts, nor our ways His ways.
◦ So what then is the other side of the story? In a nutshell, and to cut a long story short, words from the Psalmist, to which I was led this week, tell the whole story in fact and not really the other side of the story
◦ “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it; for he has founded it upon the seas, and established it on the rivers”.
◦ And then my ‘song in the night’ -when the Lord speaks a word in your deep sleep – last night was another Psalm. One which has been corrupted by the secular world, “ you too bad mind, you too bad mind”, but yet one which speaks a true word from the Lord in this COVID-19 Pandemic. At least to those who have ears to hear. And for this, it was the King James Version etched into my memory from a youth, which emerged from my soul and into my consciousness in the early hours of this morning; I woke up shortly thereafter :
“Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.”
Psalms 61:1-3 KJV
For if we don’t hear the cry of the thousands of people who have been brutally murdered in our country, those whose blood cry out to nation; if we don’t hear the cry of the parents of Janet Deen, longing for a word of comfort or even closure, about their missing daughter, then we have missed the point of all of this plague on our nation and on the world.
If we don’t hear the lament of the 30% our population, created in the image and likeness of the Creator God who owns the world, those for whom Justice and a share of the goodness of God’s earth, are a hope and a wish, then we have not heard the message that this Corona Virus which has brought the world to its knees. Suddenly! And if we are not careful. For a very long time.
If we have not heard the cry of Jesus from the Cross of Calvary “ Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. In the midst of our former way of life, rushing here, doing that and being as big and as bad as we can be, with no regard for the owner of the house in which we live. Then for us, Corona is something to be feared, gotten rid of, and “moving right along’ back to our former way of life. Being politically tribal, taking talk from nobody, bashing the church, longing for Beenieman versus Bounty Killer, juggling on the one hand and on the other making money in the stock market, and minding our own business generally with little or no care for our brother or sister in need.
If deep in our soul there is no sense of shame and repentance even, about what we have done or left undone in this nation: if our hearts are not overwhelmed by where we are as a nation and what we have become as a people; if as church we have not learned from this pestilence on the land, to cry out to God for mercy, lest worse things befall our people, and the church whose prayers in large measure, but thank God for the Remnant, has become languid and faith dim, then may God have mercy on our disobedient and distracted souls.
In that context then, of yearning for the prophetic Word of God in the midst of the most terrifying experience that mankind in modern history has faced, that I believe I was led to write to my church this week. About the value of hymns and of being obedient to the Living God.
THE FIRST EMAIL ON MONDAY
The passage to which I was led this early moring is entitled in my Classics Devotional Bible Restoration and Protection Promised.
And begins with these words:
“But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
Isaiah 43:1-2 NIV
“Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true.” “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God. Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?””
◦ Isaiah 43:8-
“This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen,….
◦ “Yet you have not called on me, Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel.”
I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. Your first father sinned; those I sent to teach you rebelled against me. So I disgraced the dignitaries of your temple; I consigned Jacob to destruction and Israel to scorn.”
◦ Comment: The COVID-19 pandemic, and how it has consumed our thoughts and brought the world to a screeching halt, and from which it is now trying to ‘recover’, when viewed through the lens of Scripture, teaches us that, ultimately, we are not in charge of our lives.
◦ And more, that:
Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior.”
Comment: Therefore, for the Christian, which is the message from this early, 5:00 am revelation, the emphasis is not to be on how carefully are we going to manage the transition back to normal worship service at church, and in doing do, follow the protocols laid down by the state, and which laws like those of the Medes and Persians are inviolate. But whether or not we are going to be faithful to a God who has sustained us in the midst of the “waters and the fire”. For He who only is God, and there is no other, has promised, and He who has promised is faithful, “ there is no shadow of turning with him”:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
◦ And since we know that “ Every promise that God has made is “ Yes” in Christ Jesus and then we say the “ Amen” ( 2 Cor. 1:20), this promise, all of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ and Him Crucified, Resurrected and Ascended.
◦ “ The new thing” promised !
◦ Which brings to mind words of a meditation from Oswald Chambers which I posted on facebook last night:
◦ The Wisdom of Oswald Chambers – The unvarnished, undiluted, but no doubt uncomfortable, Truth, about the essence of Christianity. That’s why we believe the Word of God which reveals that we can enter into the very presence of God the Creator, through the Atonement wrought for us on Calvary. And ask for grace and mercy in times of trouble. With confidence!
His Ascension and Our Access
It came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven.
◦ LUKE 24:51
We have no experiences in our lives that correspond to the events in our Lord’s life after the transfiguration. From that moment forward His life was altogether substitutionary. Up to the time of the transfiguration, He had exhibited the normal, perfect life of a man. But from the transfiguration forward— Gethsemane, the Cross, the resurrection— everything is unfamiliar to us. His Cross is the door by which every member of the human race can enter into the life of God; by His resurrection He has the right to give eternal life to anyone, and by His ascension our Lord entered heaven, keeping the door open for humanity.
The transfiguration was completed on the Mount of Ascension. If Jesus had gone to heaven directly from the Mount of Transfiguration, He would have gone alone. He would have been nothing more to us than a glorious Figure. But He turned His back on the glory, and came down from the mountain to identify Himself with fallen humanity.
The ascension is the complete fulfillment of the transfiguration. Our Lord returned to His original glory, but not simply as the Son of God— He returned to His father as the Son of Man as well. There is now freedom of access for anyone straight to the very throne of God because of the ascension of the Son of Man. As the Son of Man, Jesus Christ deliberately limited His omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. But now they are His in absolute, full power. As the Son of Man, Jesus Christ now has all the power at the throne of God. From His ascension forward He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Comment: Finally all of this is assured, not in any deep theology but by a poem I was led to read in the midst of the storms of life over the weekend – you must realise by now that Satan never rests from attacking God’s people. A message not for me personally but for all of us who are fearful at this time, because of COVID-19. Or, anything else. Even death, which seems to be in the air:
BE STILL, MY HEART!
Verse: Hebrews 10:22
Be still my heart! these anxious cares
To thee are burdens, thorns and snares;
They cast dishonour on the Lord,
And contradict his gracious word.
Brought safely by his hand thus far,
Why wilt thou now give place to fear?
How canst thou want if he provide,
Or lose thy way with such a guide.
When first his mercy seat
Thou didst thine all commit;
He gave thee warrant from that hour
To trust his wisdom, love and power.
And he refuse to hear thy call?
Did ever trouble yet befall,
And has he not promise passed,
That thou shall overcome at last?
He who has helped me hitherto
Will help me all my journey through,
And give me daily cause to raise
New Ebenezers to his praise.Though rough and thorny be the road,
◦it leads me on, apace, to God;
◦ Then count thy present troubles small,
◦ For God will make amends for all.
◦ May the God of Jacob renew His church beginning with all who trust in His faithfulness, fully and completely manifest in Christ Jesus and Him Crucified, Risen and Ascended, so that the church may renew the nation(s) in these post the initial shock of COVID-19 times.
◦ In obedience.
◦ N.B. Ebenezer – thus far has the Lord carried us. Samuel!
◦ THE SECOND EMAIL ON TUESDAY
◦ The Gospel
◦ John 17:1-11
◦ Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
◦ ”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
◦ Comment: One of the questions which surely exercises our minds in this age, and has no doubt been the subject of many a debate over the ages, is what does it mean to be one in Christ. A question which may be legitimately posed – to each other, clearly not to God – after reading the Gospel for Sunday coming.
◦ Two thoughts came to mind. One that the behaviour of the disciples before Christ was crucified and rose from the dead, not only the fact that they all fled when Christ was captured and “ tried”, and not only Peter, but how they squabbled and schemed and doubted also, was dramatically different from after the resurrection and Pentecost – which cometh soon. Truly then they became a “ new creation”. And spent time together in the Word, the breaking of bread and assisting the poor and needy!
◦ It follows, therefore, assuming my theology, understanding of God is correct, that true biblical unity in Christ is not something that we as a church can work for, but comes naturally, or rather supernaturally, when children of God truly become a “ new creation “ in Christ Jesus. And are therefore protected from the world – the forces and temptations of a culture that does not acknowledge the Sovereignty of the Creator and Redeemer God – by the “ Holy Father”, by the precious Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The prayer of Christ on the night before He died. On His deathbed. Literally! And we know from Holy Scriptures that “ the Father always hears what Jesus says”.
◦ Of course all of this begs the further question “ how do we become a New Creation’? And the very profound words of Hebrews 11 come to our rescue. By faith Abraham. By faith Moses. By faith Gideon. By faith.
◦ There is another twist to the story this morning. The second thought! From last night. Oswald Chambers placed this idea in my mind. And it is very apropos, very relevant to this early morning discussion:
◦ OSWALD CHAMBERS
◦ MAY 18
◦ Living Simply— Yet Focused
◦ Look at the birds of the air….Consider the lilies of the field…
◦ “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin”—
✓ Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin”— they simply are! Think of the sea, the air, the sun, the stars, and the moon— all of these simply are as well— yet what a ministry and service they render on our behalf! So often we impair God’s designed influence, which He desires to exhibit through us, because of our own conscious efforts to be consistent and useful.
✓ Jesus said there is only one way to develop and grow spiritually, and that is through focusing and concentrating on God. In essence, Jesus was saying, “Do not worry about being of use to others; simply believe on Me.” In other words, pay attention to the Source, and out of you “will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
✓ We cannot discover the source of our natural life through common sense and reasoning, and Jesus is teaching here that growth in our spiritual life comes not from focusing directly on it, but from concentrating on our Father in heaven. Our heavenly Father knows our circumstances, and if we will stay focused on Him, instead of our circumstances, we will grow spiritually— just as “the lilies of the field.”
✓ The people who influence us the most are not those who detain us with their continual talk, but those who live their lives like the stars in the sky and “the lilies of the field”— simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mold and shape us.
✓ If you want to be of use to God, maintain the proper relationship with Jesus Christ by staying focused on Him, and He will make use of you every minute you live— yet you will be unaware, on the conscious level of your life, that you are being used of Him
✓ Who knows then, in this context, that COVID-19 has come to teach us to focus , to concentrate, on God alone, in and though Jesus Christ, rather than on our circumstances. And then the unity we crave as a church community and as a nation, who knows, may then “ flow from us like living waters”. Into our homes, our communities and our work places! Perhaps even into our politics. Now wouldn’t that be wonderful!
✓ All because Jesus prayed for us. On the night before He died. Over two thousand years ago. And that prayer is being answered by The Holy Father, even now in this age, and in the age to come.
✓ It’s all a mystery. As John Wesley wrote famously in his wonderful hymn! And it’s all the work of The Holy Father and not of our own desires and needs. We just need to believe and trust in a God who is faithful. And He has proven this by raising Jesus from the dead. This same Jesus who prayed for us as recorded in John 17 – the High Priestly Prayer.
✓ Praise God.
✓ Lord renew thy church as we place our trust in, and concentrate on this same Jesus Christ, Crucified, Risen and Ascended; Lord renew thy church that streams of living waters may flow from your “ New Creation”, and renew this embattled Corona Virus infected, and Sin infected, nation(s)
✓ In Obedience
✓ THE THIRD EMAIL ON THURSDAY
Song bird Savanna James and the choir master Audley Davidson posing. after church
✓ Corporate worship is now allowed for more than 10 persons. What a thing! God’s people are given permission to worship Him in His House. Shades of Moses demanding of Pharaoh that He allow the children of Israel to go and worship Jehovah God in the desert. But it is what it is, this disrupter named COVID-19.
✓ So I know , especially from the few who turned out last week, that the time is not yet right, that folks still, quite rightly so, have reservations about being exposed to the Virus. Yes, we all long for the fellowship and to worship together in God’s house ; “ we go celebrate O Israel”. But no, we are not quite ready as yet. Some!
✓ Then last night this encouraging song came into my heart in the dead of night when I was fast asleep. My “ song in the night” last night. One of Heron Wright’s favourite songs!
✓ In obedience, here it is:
✓ We have come into this place
✓ And gathered in His Name to worship Him,
✓ We have come into this place
✓ And gathered in His Name to worship Him,
✓ We have come into this place
✓ And gathered in HIs Name
✓ To worship Christ the Lord
✓ Worship Him, Christ the Lord ( make you feel like crying don’t. With joy!)
✓ So forget about yourself
✓ And concentrate on Him and worship Him,
✓ So forget about yourself
✓ And concentrate on Him and worship Him,
✓ So forget about yourself
✓ And concentrate of Him
And worship Christ the Lord,
✓ Worship Him, Christ the Lord.
✓ He is all my righteousness,
✓ I stand complete in Him and worship Him,
✓ He is all my righteousness,
✓ I stand complete in Him and worship Him,
✓ He is all my righteousness ,
✓ I stand complete in Him
✓ And worship Christ the Lord,
✓ Worship Him, Christ the Lord.
✓ Let us lift us holy hands
✓ And magnify His Name and worship Him,
✓ Let us lift up holy hands
✓ And magnify His Name and worship Him,
✓ Let us lift us holy hands
✓ And magnify His Name
✓ And worship Christ the Lord,
✓ Worship Him, Christ the Lord.
✓ Couple of thoughts came to mind as I wrote. That clearly I did not recall the entire song. We have come into this place, and He is all my righteousness, were the ones that featured in this song in the night. Except for the first verse, we can do all of these things, and continue to do them, at home. This is not a call to be be reckless, “ forget about yourself “, but I offer it for what it is worth, since I did not go to bed thinking that I should write to my church encouraging them to come back to corporate worship.
✓ That will take some time. This Word is just an encouraging Word.
✓ Two more encouraging words. One from two patients on consecutive days as we discussed COVID-19, the great disrupter. “ I have three friends and everywhere I go, they are there with me. Father Son and Holy Spirit!” The first time I heard it, I remarked, “ wow that a good way to express your faith”. But the second time meant that the Lord was encouraging me. And I hope you too.
✓ The other from the Daily Bread reading yesterday. My lunchtime devotions! Sometimes. Remember Sennacherib the awful Syrian leader who terrified Hezekiah and uttered all kinds of blasphemous words about the Living God. Threatening to destroy Israel. So King Hezekiah, after putting on sack cloth and ashes, sent to the man of God, the prophet Isaiah for a Word from God.
✓ This was part of the Word in 2 Kings 19 from the Lord to the wicked.
✓ ““ ‘But I know where you are and when you come and go and how you rage against me. Because you rage against me and because your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.’”
✓ As I read the Word I trembled inside. For the reality is that God knows where the wicked live. Those who rage against Him and against God’s people. And more importantly God knows where you and I live. And when we come and when we go. The exact address. This same “ Three friends” of ours. So be of good courage, for the Living God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, not only knows where we live, but lives in us. Praise God!
✓ That’s why we sing! Like no other religion. That’s why worship. Like no other religion. “ So forget about yourself ( in that context) and concentrate on Him and worship Him. Worship Christ the Lord.
✓ Lord renew thy church beginning with all of us as we lift up holy hands and worship You, in and though Christ the Lord; Lord renew thy church that the church may renew the nation(s) that everyone may “ Gather in His Name and worship Him”.
✓ THE FINAL EMAIL YESTERDAY
◦ Christians, church people, the called out people of God, like those who are not regenerated, not born again, have real problems. Sickness! O God, sickness of so many different types and levels of severity. And death that rudely steals away a loved one. And if we are not careful our Joy! Forever! And ever! O what pain we bear.
◦ Financial challenges – to put it mildly. Especially in these COVID-19 times! Divorce, separation, marital troubles, disappointments – descending levels of trials. Mental health problems. Again especially in these unusual and uncertain times. But for some, long before the terrors of the pandemic arrived. For me, it has been a revelation, the amount of patients who have been afflicted by panic attacks, anxiety and even depression, in the past couple of months. And are likely to be so stricken in the months ahead.
◦ In the midst of all of this, I woke singing “ Draw me nearer,nearer, to thy precious bleeding side”. So I went and found the hymn, “ I am thine O Lord”, in the hymn book. And as I reflected deeply on the words, again, as it is one of my favorite hymns, the theology the understanding of God, came home to me most forcibly. In a new way.
◦ When I arrived at “ I commune as friend with friend”, immediately my mind went to another great hymn, “ What a friend we have in Jesus” And the words, on this morning when COVID-19 is still the “ talk of the town”, went deep into my heart. O God, if we, as your church, who need to believe in a God like you who is so faithful, could only believe and practice these things, what a renewal would happen in this country. To your glory. So Lord, help us as we learn new things from the saints of yure, who must have suffered so much to be able to write about your love and faithfulness like this:
◦ I am thine, O Lord, I have heard thy voice
◦ and it told thy love to me; ( In Jesus we learn so much about the love of God)
◦ but I long to rise in the arms of faith, ( for even though we love thee Lord, our faith is often so dim and our prayers languid)
◦ and be closer drawn to thee. ( the ultimate goal of this life)
◦ Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to the cross where thou hast died, draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord, to thy precious bleeding side. ( as only as we contemplate always what your the cross represents, will we be able to truly love you Lord, and others for whom you died also)
◦ Consecrate me now to thy service Lord,
◦ by the power of grace divine;
◦ let my soul look up with a steadfast hope,
◦ and my will be lost in thine.
◦ Oh, the pure delight of a single hour that before thy throne I spend, when I kneel in prayer, and with thee, my God, I commune was friend with friend…..
◦ What a friend we have in Jesus,
◦ All our sins and griefs to bear!
◦ What a privilege to carry
◦ Everything to God in prayer! ( O Jesus everything )
◦ O what peace we often forfeit !
◦ O what needless pain we bear ! ( These two gentle rebukes got into my very soul)
◦ All because we do not carry
◦ Everything to God in prayer.
◦ Have we trials and temptations! ( All of us, bar none)
◦ Is there trouble anywhere ? ( Everywhere Lord, all over the place)
◦ We should never be discouraged ( Not by COVID-19, not by any circumstance)
◦ Take it to the Lord in prayer.
◦ Can we find a friend so faithful ( One of the favorite things my patients say, mostly Evangelicals, is, “ we don’t find any fault with Him”)
◦ Who will all our sorrows share?
◦ Jesus knows our every weakness
◦ Take it to the Lord in prayer.
◦ Are weak and heavily laden,
◦ Cumbered ( gave spell check severe problems) with a load of care?
◦ Precious Saviour, still our refuge,
◦ Take it to the Lord in prayer.
◦ Do thy friends despise thee, forsake thee ( a double whammy this COVID-19 is; sickness and when recovered scorned, because of fear, by friends and even relatives – a terrible but real problem).
◦ Take it to the Lord in prayer:
◦ In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
◦ Thou will find a friend there. ( Thank you Jesus).
◦ I close with a story I read last night for my bedtime devotions. From Mark. A familiar story. But this time read with fresh insight. One I haven’t quite worked out. Or rather the Lord has not revealed the fullness of it to me as yet; why did Jesus intend to pass them by? The other, “ their hearts were hardened”, and so they could not fully comprehend that when Jesus fed the five thousand, the Almighty God was at work in their midst. In the same way, many of us still have “ hardened hearts”, as we don’t fully understand, fully grasp the awesome reality that the Almighty God lives within us; and His mighty Spirit is poured out of us who believe. To rescue this COVID-19 world, this world of injustice and immorality, this world of sickness and death. #FromBullBayToSixMiles and beyond.
◦ Jesus walks on water:
◦ “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake.
◦ He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.”
◦ Lord renew thy church beginning with all of us who in faith “ take everything to you in prayer”; Lord renew thy church that the church may help to renew the nation(s) post COVID-19. And even during this terrible plague on the world.
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
I watched the original ( 1966) version of this highly acclaimed movie, last night. A script taken from a book of the same name, which I gather was at one time on the reading list for high school students right here in Jamaica. A movie in which a principled British Stateman stood to a King who would have his way. A true story of KIng Henry V111 and the Royal Chancellor of Britain, a man of God. The King won and the man of God lost his head. But not his soul! While it’s a moot point if the same assertions could be made of the King, and his vassal, Oliver Cromwell.
I had no intention of inculding this very profound commentary on British society during that long past era in this week’s blog on the Jamaican society in 2020. But I couldn’t help wonder if the famous lines “ what does it profit a man to gain so much and lose his soul’, directed at Thomas Moore’s accuser, who assigned words to him which were patently untrue, if those words aren’t accusing us today.
This as we struggle to open back our economy after, if that’s what flattening the curve means, or during if we are wrong, the most terrifying event that any Jamaican of this age, has had to live through. For that’s the most graphic message that my patients have conveyed in their description of how the virus has affected their lives. Absolute terror! That’s why many of them, some over age 90, others in their 80’s defied government orders and came to see their doctor. And were eternally grateful that I had not abandoned them in the midst of the most difficult period of their existence. They came to talk. To reveal their anxieties and even depression. They came to be assured that they did not have the virus. They came for other more mundane reasons. To refill their prescriptions. To get a check up. But mostly they came to share their fear of, and talk about, this pestilence on the land. Thank God we have been spared the horrors that have been visited on New York and London. Places where many of my patients, in the inner city in St. Andrew and in a fast growing rural town in the midst of the island, have many relatives and friends.
So after despite the Popcaan #unruly crowd, those who failed to maintain social distance, for whatever reason, many who did the right thing and stayed home ( except for the ‘misdemeanor’ mentioned), made the sacrifice, are now facing the threat, unless a vaccine is found quickly, of a resurgence of the virus, as the country, as it must do eventually, tries to open back the Economy. For while man ought not to live by bread alone, it cannot ignore the need for to put food on the table. Which is what the Government is valiantly trying to by seeking to bring back the tourists, shortening the curfew hours, and cranking up back the productive sector. Nothing working with that! In fact they are to be applauded for trying to balance people’s lives while balancing their pockets!
So why am I ( being led to ) resurrecting the ghost of Sir Thomas More and warning a nation about losing its soul? The problem is to found in the words of another famous piece of English Literature: “ It was the best of times. It was the worst of times”.
As before COVID-19 descended on Jamaica, and I dare say the world, but this morning we are concerned primarily but not exclusively, with Jamaica land we love, the normal to which many are now yearning for, as we open up our economy, was not a good place. Yes, as a people we have achieved much, and for which we are forever grateful. But, going back to over 1000 murders every year is not a good thing. Going back to 30% of our people living on Chronixx #Captureland is not a good thing. Going back to land where political tribalism of the worst sort, has helped to carve out enclaves known as “ Garrisons “ with the attendant and well now social ills, is not a good thing. Going back to an educational system where so many of children emerge barely functionally literate and thus contribute to our famously low levels of productivity, is not a goof thing. Going back to the kind of toxic masculinity, whatever the genesis, which has occasioned so much pain and angst in so many relationships, and death, is not a good thing.
Going back to a culture, where in particular one aspect of the genre of music, despite its claim to have currency in international circles, stands accused, for a long time led by one of the best minds in the land, the late Ian Boyne, of misogyny, of producing gun lyrics, of gross sexual immorality and of undermining the very moral foundation of the land in general and “Gaza” in particular, is not a good thing. Going back to a land in which privilege and power and hubris, all combine, in an unholy combination, to not only successfully engage in acts of corruption, but has arguably resulted in the kind of inequity which has plagued and stymied the development of the lives of ordinary Jamaicans #FromBullBayToSixMiles and beyond, is not a good thing.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly, and who knows the source of so much which has occasioned the “ worse of times” in Jamaica. Going back to a church divided not only by denominational cleavages, but more importantly by doctrinal differences. Not the least of which is the wholesale capture of large swathes of the church community by the “ prosperity gospel”. Which is no gospel at all, but an attempt, as one of my Bishop’s once said famously “ an attempt to sneak into heaven incognito”, by avoiding suffering, and dying to self with and in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, for all these reasons, and more, Jamaica, and the world, which before COVID-19 arrived was behaving very much like in the days of Noah when the flood came. Marrying and being given in marriage! Completely oblivious to the great sins of the time which “provoked “ God to bring disaster on the world. And to start over again. A world which had completely lost its soul!
A country and indeed the world – think climate change, world poverty, and how according to the classic Walter Rodney’s book, “ How Europe underdeveloped Africa, the build up of nuclear weapons – which in the solemn and accusatory words of The Encounter by John Newton was guilty of :
An evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame of fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career …..
For if truth be told, before COVID-19 struck, Jamaica, as described above, was guilty of being on a “ wild career”. Whether we like to admit it or not! And whether we would try to sugar coat the truth or not, and paint over the cracks with evidence of progress.
But there is a worse, and perhaps final accusation, from yet another great English writer. None other than T. S. Eliot in his seminal poem “ :
………But it seems that some thing has happened that has never happened before; though we know not just when, or why, or where.
Man have left God not for other gods, they say, but no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first reason,
And then money, and power, and what they call life, or race, or dialectic.
The church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what do we have to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressive backwards.
For truly if we examine critically, and with the discernment of the Holy Spirit, what obtained before COVID-19 , we will find a world and Jamaica sucked into its vortex, “ advancing progressively backwards”.
Question is, do we accept the accusation that COVID-19 is, or do we just ignore the realty, that one of the most terrifying experiences that our people have gone through, or still passing though, has come as a wake up call. And thus plan for a better Jamaica in the future under God. Or just return to our version of normality with the nation’s soul still at risk; like the children who live in the inner cities.
Questions which I posed to my church this week in a couple of emails and which thoughts embodied in them might help us on this Post COVID-19 journey.
THE FIRST EMAIL
G. Campbell Morgan
Verse: Exodus 10:26
“Not a hoof shall be left behind”. This was the final word of Moses in a persistent conflict against anything in the nature of compromise. Pharaoh had attempted to bring this about since after the fourth plague.
Note the the stages of these attempts. At the beginning he had declared that these people should not go to sacrifice to Jehovah their God. After the plague of the flies, the fourth, he suggested that they might sacrifice, but they should do without going away from the land.( Exodus 8:25).
This Moses at once refused. Then Pharaoh suggested that if they must go, it should not be very far away(8:28). On this Moses entreated for him, and the plague was removed, but he would not let them go. He proposed later, after the eighth plague ( that of locusts), that they should leave the women and children behind(10.8-11).
Moses refused. After the ninth plague ( that of the darkness), he suggested that the cattle be left (10:24). Then Moses spoke this final word: “ Not a hoof shall be left behind”.
That is the attitude of the man of faith. Evil is always suggesting some compromise. To listen to it, is to remain enslaved. The only way into liberty is to leave the land of evil; to go accompanied by the women and children; and to take the all property also. It is when that attitude is assumed, that men pass out from all bondage, and find the liberty which is in the purpose of God for them.
Comment: Many years ago, I ceased believing in coincidence. Therefore, for the Lord to ‘open up ‘ this meditation in my Classic Devotional Bible, on a morning when Jamaicans awake to learn, if they didn’t hear last evening, that we are opening up again for business, having been locked down by COVID-19, cannot be coincidence. But in a sense divine intervention!
So what do we make of this message? Is COVID-19 a plague sent, or allowed by God, to arrest us, as a church, and as a nation, and as a world, from compromising with evil. For a people who are to be a holy nation, read again the words of the epistle from last Sunday:
1 Peter 2:2-10
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light……:
Cannot compromise with evil. And God knows that, not only have we been guilty of compromising with all kinds of evil things in our land, but in some instances, O Jesus, we have been the very Pharaoh. Have mercy O God. Have mercy!
So I would suggest, and this meditation from the very heart of God, demands that, as we go forward, at the very least as a church, pray God as a people also , although we have limited control over that part, that “ not a hoof is left behind”, as we enter a new phase of our relationship with a Holy God. After what is, was, continues to be, a virtual plague upon the land.
Of course I could give examples, and perhaps begin with me first, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, God have mercy, but each one of us needs to look deep within our souls, and ponder on how much we have compromised with evil. And I am not just talking about the big ticket items, although that is without doubt a part of it – promoting same sex marriage, downplaying the evil of intimate homosexual relationships, flirting with, sailing close to the wind of legalizing abortions. But what may appear to be little things, little sins, white lies if you will, all add up in the mind of a Holy to rank disobedience. The meditations yesterday, or the day before, warned against “ fraternizing with bad things”. The one today is even more explicit in the warning: “ Not a hoof is be left behind”.
Finally note the injunction to “ carry the women and children and all property”.
We cannot be mindful only of “ rescuing ourselves individually “ from evil, but we must be responsible for our family, and extended family and church family and national family too. “ Not a hoof is to be left behind”! Really!
As I write St. Paul’s famous words come to mind, “ I am not guilty of the blood of anyone.” A passage of Scripture that bears much reflection:
THE WORD OF GOD
““Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”
And there is one in Ezekiel also about the people of God being appointed watchmen to warn the nation. And if we fail to warn them them we too will be under judgment. A passage Father Michael Elliott highlighted in my Bible many years ago.
I leave it there. Much more is in my mind, but I leave it there. For if we don’t spend the time reflecting on what the Lord is saying to us in the midst of the greatest and most terrifying event in the history of our world, then we are guilty of believing in coincidence in a world where God is always sovereign. And who knows might stand guilty of the blood of others.
Lord renew thy church beginning with all of us; Lord renew thy church as we are determined not to leave one hoof behind, and flee from evil, so that the church may renew the nation(s) who are so mixed up with evil, they can’t discern right from wrong “ ah nuh nutten”.
THE SECOND EMAIL
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”
The words of Psalm 133 greeted me as I opened my Bible this morning. And brought me back to “ Not a hoof is to be left behind”!
For to “dwell in unity” is to be one with Christ Jesus. A prayer that our Savior prayed on the night before He died. The “ High Priestly Prayer”, recorded in John 17. But to be one with Christ is to be Holy. Yes, to have fellowship with one another in God’s house. Yes, to share in the sacraments. Yes, to share God’s love with the poor and the vulnerable, and what one former Archbishop of Canterbury termed , “ the refuse of human society “. Those left behind in then, the Industrial Age!
So to be holy in Christ is to leave behind literally and metaphorically, more than what we normally consider important. Thoughts which came to mind as I went for my morning walk yesterday while reflecting on “ Not a hoof is to be left behind”.
Post COVID-19, we must not continue to fret. And to be fearful! For Scriptures teaches us that such activity “leads only to evil” Psalm 37:8. These evil things, like anger, and grumbling and worrying, are sinful for they individually or in combination, tell God that He cannot manage our situation. The same God who in Christ, assures us that “ I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but let not your heart be troubled I have overcome the world”. The end of John 16!
Perhaps we have forgotten, in this dispensation of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus, that many died in the desert during the Exodus, because of such evil things. Grumbling and complaining! And worse, when these things provoked Moses to wrath, it led to Moses being rebuked by the Lord, and being prevented from going into the promised land.
This list is clearly not exhaustive, and we can consider so many other things. But the essential point is that, one of the benefits that ought to flow to God’s called out people, which is what we are in Christ Jesus, is that after this kind of plague upon the land, we really need to consider how much we have been faithful as a people in pursuing holiness. Or have we been guilty of being disobedient to God’s eternal instructions to His people, in Canaan , and now in “ Babylon”: “ Do not do what they do”.
Are we, therefore, easily identifiable as Christians in this “ corrupt generation”? Do people see us as different? Do they see the Christ in us? Or more profoundly, do they see us at all? Or have we merged into, and become one with, the tapestry of the world.
A prayer which I send up to God with my grace in the mornings before breakfast, comes to mind as I write:
“ Consecrate me now Lord, with the power of grace divine. Let my heart look up with a steadfast gaze and my will be lost in thine. Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord to the Cross where thou hast died. Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord to thy precious bleeding side”.
Many of us will recognize it as a verse, and the refrain, from the well known hymn, “ I am thine O Lord, I have heard thy voice, and it told thy love to me; but I long to rise in the arms of faith, and be closer drawn to thee…
I am not sure when and why this prayer came to my mind. But it did. And did a long time ago! Perhaps the Lord knew that I needed it, as like so many of us, “ I am so prone to wander, wander from the God I love”.
And who knows, that God determined by His Sovereign grace, that the world needed a wake up call. Calling us, a people who are so prone to wander from His love, back to being a :
chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light……:
My friends in Christ Jesus, unless we ponder over these things, I would suggest that it will profit us little, if we seize the opportunity to return to church as it was before COVID-19, and make little or no change in our lives as God’s people. Called in Christ Jesus to “ dwell together in unity”. Then and only then will the blessedness of:
“ It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”…….be our experience. And help to renew this nation!
Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew the church that the church, renewed in unity in Christ Jesus, may renew the nations(s) that have wandered from the God who created and sustains them in Christ Jesus and the Power of the Holy Spirit. Whether they know or believe it or not!
Remember the Scotts who are Anglicans and who are in so much grief this morning, on account of the headlines in the Daily Gleaner.
May the God of all comfort envelop them with His love and mercy and power to persevere. This God who in Christ Jesus died on the Cross of Calvary so that in Christ Jesus and Him Crucified, we may become holy and be assured of the victory over Sin, death and all evil. Not a hoof is to be left behind! Truly in Christ and Christ alone.
At St. Luke’s Church October 2017. Dr. Paul Scott to the right, definitely, and I think his wife to the left…is that correct Archdeacon?
THE THIRD EMAIL
“Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
It is still one of the tragedies of human history that the “ Children of darkness”, are often more determined than the “children of light” – Martin Luther King jr.
I found this quote at the end of a very instructive passage of Scripture ( above) in my Classics Devotional Bible this morning. And what I get I share.
Comment: That’s the context in which we, the children of Light, must vow to “ not leave one hoof behind”. In Majesty Gardens! In St. Clements. In the Girls Home. In Ambrook Lane – helping Minke. Everywhere that injustice and inequity and suffering and hunger and anger and that which causes an assault on human dignity reigns; wherever the image deo is marred but not unrecognisable to the Creator and Redeemer God. There should the children of this God be, in rescuing the perishing and caring for the dying and going after the stray, and seeking to know God’s will in these COVID-19 times; in addition to , not rather than, turning our attention to opening up back the economy.
For indeed, what shall it profit a nation to welcome back tourists and plug the gaping hole in the budget and yet stand to lose its very soul because we have, ‘’ left our children – children of the wretched of the earth who have now become our nemesis as gunmen and those who don’t take telling and filled with thoughts of revenge and driven by toxic masculinity, as obtains elsewhere also – and aged and vulnerable, left them all behind”. Before, and now if we are not vigilant, also after COVID-19.
So is MLK jr right, are we asleep, or is his vision of the mission of the Christian, the child of Light, too ambitious or too demanding?
Lord renew thy church with a clearer vision of what it means to follow Christ; the One who died on the Cross to save the wretched of the earth – those in need of salvation. And not those who are very comfortable with their sins and their situation!
Lord renew thy church that the church may renew the nation(s) who ignore the plight of the wretched of the earth. In Fanon’s Angola, in MKL jr America, in Wilberforce and Wesley’s UK and in Sam Sharpe’s Jamaica. And in the whole wide world for whom Christ died. So that men may not perish but have eternal life. In India, in Pakistan, in China, in Italy, in Spain and in Germany
Ultimately, only the reality of death helps to coral the limitless possibilities, that life on earth has to offer. Yes, illness may achieve the same end. But it has to be something serious. Otherwise mankind, with gay abandon, pursues his or her dreams; most times selfishly, with not much thought, for another fellow traveler. Relatives, yes, friends and co-workers yes, king and country maybe, God or a divine being, yes, in some cases. At least in this generation! As it wasn’t always like that. Not in Jamaica. Perhaps forged out of a common history of being the descendants of former enslaved people, or indentured laborers, the sense of community ran deep in the country in which I grew up as a young man. Sadly now , for many reasons, we have become, what the late very talented writer and journalist, Ian Boyne, termed “ an atomistic society”; fragmented, not cohesive, doing our own thing, and the ‘devil take the hindmost’.
COVID-19, did not cause the fragmentation of our society. It has only exposed the reality. Some are always a’at risk’. While others, not so much. And the two parts of our society, for the most part, live separate lives. Then death intervened this week and took away two prominent citizens of our country. Both of whom had contributed much to national development. Others died too! The ‘at risk’ in Denham Town. Murdered! Two teenagers. The ‘at risk’ in other parts of the country. Murdered!
A 2007 Picture. Michael Gordon and Patrick Virtue. Two childhood friends. One left us shortly after. The other this week #Gonetoosoon
Michael Gordon, a childhood friend and a renowned photographer whose work touched the lives of many, died of natural causes this week. And so did Professor Freddie Hickling, a colleague, and internationally acclaimed Psychiatrist and Pan-African advocate -and of black consciousness in general.
Death is a great leveler. For, according to the ‘Good Book”, the Bible, “ it is appointed for all mankind once to die, and then the judgment”. If that is the reality of life, and is what Christianity teaches, then what is this life on earth all about. A question that ought to cause us to cease pursuing life with gay abandon here on earth, largely ignoring the plight of the people ‘at risk’ around us, except for the occasional, and captured on social media for good effect, giving of gifts to the poor.
I don’t know where Freddie Hickling, my colleague has gone. Nor Michael ( Curly) Gordon, my friend! Nor the over 1000 persons who were murdered last year; or the over 400 who lost their lives in a motor vehicle crash. But what I do know, is that no matter where you live on earth, or how you have lived, or how you have suffered, and were not able to fulfill your God given potential, death welcomes all to a common destiny. A common “ for ever and ever Amen”!
It is in this context, I believe, that I was inspired to write and send two emails to my church. One inspired by a well known hymn. The other by a verse of Scripture which reminded me, once again, just in case I had forgotten, and tempted to go off and pursue my own dreams, that life on this planet is war. Between Satan and the unsuspecting! And even more so between Satan and the child of God. Both are ‘ at extreme risk’. But one has a Savior. The other is without protection. That’s the “ breaking news”, for this week. For like it or not, and believe it or not, there is a supernatural world out there. And a supernatural battle for our souls. The “ forever and ever “ part of us! So COVID-19, in that context, is not the real war; not really a skirmish, a battle perhaps. But definitely not the story of life!
THE FIRST EMAIL
After we both woke up this morning, thank God, and on going outside to pick up the newspapers, thinking about Christ and the power of His resurrection, I sat down to begin my early morning devotions. And once again “ New every morning is thy love”, came into my head. So I opened the hymn book but never got to that song of praise, as this other hymn arrested my attention. And taught me all kinds of things. God indeed, is quite mysterious:
1. God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year,
God is working his purpose out and the time is drawing near; nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
Comment: Places things in sharp perspective doesn’t it. Lest we forget. That the purpose of God, in all this majesty and beauty and fascination and wonder that this world has for us, is that one fine day, His glory shall cover it all – as the waters cover the sea. And that the song writers of yure must have been people who had great discernment into the mind of God. No doubt, therefore, they experienced much suffering. It certainly doesn’t appear that way now, that soon the glory of God will cover the earth one day. But in these COVID-19 times, when the entire world is under some kind of lockdown, and struggling to open back up, who knows, we have a glimpse of the power of God and even in a sense, the glory of God. Winston Churchill once said famously, after the defeating of the Germans in the Battle of Britain: This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is certainly the end of the beginning. Many of my patients, mostly fundamentalists, although I am not quite sure what that term means anymore, are quite sure that these are “ end times”. And so there is no “fixing it”. Who knows! Only God.
2. From the utmost east to the utmost west wher’ e’er man’s foot has trod,
by the mouth of many messengers goes forth the voice of God,
‘Give ear to me, ye continents, ye isles, give ear to me,
that the earth may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea?
Comment: Even now we can discern the voice of the missionaries who came to the isles and the distant continents from what was once a place where Vital Christianity took hold. Where the Methodism of John and Charles Wesley stirred the conscience of a nation. Where William Wilberforce and His friend Prime Minister Pitt, planned and plotted and executed God’s plan to rescue African slaves from the clutches of evil. From being transported to the West Indies in a ship hold in 4ft by 18inch spaces for six weeks. From 600 in the ship on loading to 200 on arriving. Watched the movie Amazing Grace last night!
And now in these COVID-19 times when the UK is being sadly ravaged by death and sickness, and so too France and Italy and Spain, all countries that once sent forth Christian missionaries to the utmost east and utmost west, but now all experiencing serious loss of faith in Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, what do we make of it? I think I read somewhere that over 90% of young people in the UK, perhaps teenagers, do not have a personal relationship with Jesus.
There is a Poem that has often intrigued me and it came to mind just now as I am writing. The Moment of Time by T. S. Eliot. No doubt a profound reflection on the state of his beloved country, and thus this extremely gifted poet wrote a poem which ends like this:
………But it seems that some thing has happened that has never happened before; though we know not just when, or why, or where.
Man have left God not for other gods, they say, but no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first reason,
And then money, and power, and what they call life, or race, or dialectic.
The church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what do we have to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressive backwards.
No doubt Thomas Stearns Eliot, born in the USA, but who then migrated to the UK, wrote prophetically if not sadly about the state of British society, and if truth be told, Europe too, and despite the veneer of Christianity which gives the impression that the USA is still a Christian country, it too may very well be counted as “ advancing progressively backwards”. At least spiritually!
Jamaica should tek sleep and mark death. Lest we too fall under judgment. And COVID_19 may just be a wake up call to a world, which one day will be covered by God’s glory, that despite the appearance of progress, it is going backwards.
3. What can we do to work God’s work, to prosper and increase
the brotherhood of all mankind, the reign of the Prince of Peace?
What can we do to hasten the time, the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea?
Comment: Serious question isn’t it, for you and for me. And for all children of God in this COVID-19 age!…the brotherhood of all mankind, the reign of the Prince of Peace. Social distancing and brotherhood at first blush seem mutually exclusive. But God looks at the heart not at the physical distance between people. Where is our heart in all of this? What is our desire? For the thing to end and for us to go back to normal? But was normal, promoting the glory of God? Was that which obtained in “normal”Jamaica, the murder, and murder most foul, the toxic masculinity, the wrong addresses, the corruption in the body politic, the sexual misconduct in the very church of the Living God promoting the brotherhood of man and the reign of the Prince of Peace? So what can we do, as church, as washed and sanctified to do God’s work, in this “ corrupt generation”, advancing progressively backwards? What!
To be continued. Have to go to work.
Lord renew thy church as we “ stand with empty hands with our palms turned upwards”. Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to the cross I cling……
Cont’d……what can we do to do God’s work, to prosper and increase the brotherhood of all mankind, the reign of the Prince of Peace
Before I left for work, on arriving in May Pen and this morning the following thoughts came to mind; that’s why theology, an understanding of God – before we can properly, and give Him the glory, do His work – is important. Inherent in what was revealed to me, as I make so such claim. But not as a study in and by itself, otherwise our faith will lose its vitality, and why so many seminarians, and prominent ones too, in the USA and elsewhere, can admit that they don’t believe in the resurrection nor the Virgin birth. But as one who is diligently seeking to know this God of Jacob!
First point. The Old Testament knowledge of God. Remember what Moses ( on arriving in May Pen this one came to mind) said to the children of Israel when Pharaoh’s army suddenly threatened them at the Red Sea; and terror came into their hearts – in the same way perhaps that many of my patients are absolutely terrified by this COVID-19 pandemic?
“ You only need to be still”.
“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.””
Part of the challenge, and this Word from the Lord is repeated throughout the OT, “ Be still and know”, is that, many are in this New Testament dispensation, are still of that OT understanding of God. That He will do everything, we just have to have faith and to pray, and worship Him.
Consider then the “ more and better particulars” of the New Testament. And as I write another passage comes to mind. In addition to those already lodged there:
“He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.””
As we consider this passage, we must be cautious, as Elijah and others, including David “ and the power of the Hoy Spirit came upon him”, had power. The same Holy Ghost Power which was promised to the disciples, and to all of us who are baptized. But in these last times, God’s power has been poured out on all flesh…those who are baptized, who have died with Christ and raised in Him to be a “ New Creation”. So we have been given Power to do the works of God, “ to prosper and increase the brotherhood of all mankind and the reign of the Prince of Peace”.
Consider further this reality – glory to God. Every time I read this Word, unbelief knocks at my door.:
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
So the same Power that God used when He raised our Savior from the dead, is available to us who believe. No wonder our forebears coined the phrase “ Belief kills and belief cures”.
Finally, and there is no finality here as the Scriptures are littered, filled is perhaps a better term, with similar instructions, this Word came to me. A Word that has been with me for some time now. Truthfully, more the first part than the second. But I am being obedient:
“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
What does all of this mean? How does this answer the question that the hymn writer posed, and answered? “ Fight we the fight with sorrow and sin, to set the captives free, that the earth may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea”.
So the first order of priority as St. Paul said famously, is to preach the forgiveness of sin in Christ Jesus. This is what the Power from on High, the same Power that raised Jesus from the dead, has been given to us to do. Primarily! That’s what the promised Holy Spirit has been sent “ to reveal all truth””; the same One who will “ convict men of Sin, Judgment and Evil”.
So that like John the Baptist in the blessed song of His dad, what we know as the Benedictus, may be fulfilled in us. With great Power!
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel who hath visited and redeemed his people; and hath raised up a mighty salvation for us: in the house of his servant David ……..That we being delivered from the hands of our enemies: might serve him without fear; In holiness and righteousness before him: all the days of our life……To give knowledge of salvation unto his people: for the remission of their sins……..To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death……
Yes, there is a lot more for us to do, in keeping with God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. But we must never forget, even in these COVID-19 times, when the focus is perhaps on loving our neighbors whose lives have been devastated by the downturn in the economy, and affected by the virus itself, or family members, that we are called to “ fight the fight with sorrow and sin”. For inherent, not even inherent, explicit in the Word of God, is the sorrow that “ the wages of sin is death”. The eternal sorrow from which we are called to rescue “ the brotherhood of all mankind”. Jews, Muslims, atheists, New Age people, people who don’t care about a relationship with our Savior, but who are in danger of being under God’s righteous judgment if we do not obey His Word.
As the reign of the Prince of Peace is only for those who accept the Salvation which His Atonement on Calvary offers.
So we have been given the Power to preach the Gospel. The Good News of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, for the forgiveness of sin, and the blessed Hope and present reality, of Eternal Life in Christ Jesus.
I said finally, but another well known passage comes to mind. Not as a bookend. But as an instruction for a life in Christ. One that I quoted already. For, and the final verse of the hymn, tells the same story, “ All we can do is nothing worth unless God blesses the deed, if our desire is not for Christ and Him Crucified, we cannot do God’s work, to His honor and glory – as the waters cover the sea. It will involve sacrifice, even death to self. And it certainly will involve suffering with Christ. Not in the same way He suffered, but in His company. As a servant is no greater than His Master. AS St. Paul admitted, we are not quite there as yet. But this must be our goal. Before we can renew this COVID-19 country and world of ours; with its many and varied problems. Including Sin and sorrow!
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
Lord Jesus Christ Son of the Living God, may you renew thy church beginning with all who are baptized, with Power from on high this day, and at this time, so that the church may renew this troubled country. And troubled world. Even in the midst of COVID-19. Amen.
THE SECOND EMAIL
You know how it feels when “ a light bulb shines suddenly in your head”. A kind of Eureka moment. But not quite, as it is the Lord who reveals these things to you, and not that we have discovered them. I was at my desk, having lunch. A chance to read the Word of God, and to take off that mask! An opportunity to read a commentary on God’s Word. But this time the Word was alone sufficient. No explanation necessary. This is the Word:
“Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.
He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.””
There is a lot to, what the Americans term “ unpack” in this Word. But for now, the key message which got into my soul yesterday, was the Word highlighted.
That “ woe to the earth and the sea…………He is filled with fury”.
What does that mean? A lot! But in this context, in this message from the Lord this morning, it means that we Christians are in a war with Satan. For it is his intention, sole intention, sole purpose, to “ steal, kill and destroy”, the people of God. How? By enticing, by seducing, by encouraging them to become disobedient to God, and to forget all His promises which are “ Yes” in Christ Jesus and Him Crucified and Raised from the dead. And not only the people of God, although principally so, but all mankind. So as the Word of God says, “ because we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men”. And save them from being destroyed! For that is why Jesus was sent by His Father, and willingly accepted His Father’s will, to die on the cross of Calvary – to grant us victory over, Sin, Death and Evil.
Therefore the war against COVID19, and the war against poverty, and the war against injustice, and the war against immorality, and the war against inequity in our society, and the war against Crime and Violence, the war against drug abuse, the war against scamming, all have their locus in this war with Satan, who is filled with fury, because he knows his time is short. For in Christ, we have the victory over him, he is still active and powerful, and will be until the Lord finally comes again to judge the living and the dead. The Parousia!
Therefore is it critical that as children of God, we are made aware, and never forget, that there is a supernatural world, and that supernatural things are happening in that world, which affects all of us in our pursuit of the national development plan of Jamaica :
The comprehensive vision of the national development plan is to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
A plan which is eerily familiar to what was happening in the world before God acted decisively and brought about the flood which killed off all mankind. Except Noah ( and his family) because he found favor with God, in the midst of a world which had become wicked and disobedient:
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
So we who live in a world where, “ people are eating and drinking, marrying – even same sex marriage now and babies being born to surrogate mothers and ‘given’ to same sex couples with great fanfare – and giving in maarriage”, that is living our normal lives, as we see fit, need to remember always that we in a war with Satan who is like a roaring lion seeking to devour people. That is, get them to be disobedient to the Living God.
That is the context in which I believe I was led to read this mediation from Chris Tiegreen this morning and to share:
Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law but under grace – Romans 6:14
It’s a nice theory. In principle, we died with Jesus, the law is no longer our master, therefore sin is no longer an issue and grace rules. There is only one problem with it; we still sin. And though we try not to, it happens a lot. While Paul assures us that sin is no longer our master, it often seems so…well masterful.
Why is that? Is this passage of the Bible wrong? Of course not. Or as Paul is fond of saying, “ By no means!” When the Bible declares us free from sin, it means that we are free from sin. It isn’t just a removal of the label from the same old disobedient acts. It isn’t just an imputed righteousness that means that we are clean in God’s eyes but still filthy in our own. It means that sin has lost its power. Really.
That means, of course that any time we say we couldn’t help this or that sin, we really could have. It doesn’t mean that the temptation wasn’t real and powerful, or that the flesh wasn’t really weak, or that the enemy wasn’t incredibly deceptive and persuasive. But we can’t get away with implying to God that our sin was unavoidable. He won’t buy it. A Savior died to free us from it.
How can we tap into that freedom? We’ll explore that in the next few days, but it begins with grace. When God freed us from the law bu fulfilling it for us, he freed us to something else. Instead of being preoccupied with legalities, we can be preoccupied with Him. And the holiness of His very present Spirit will fill us with everything we need to follow Him well.
Many Christians have given up this battle, assuming that victory over sin is theoretical rather than practical. Avoid that temptation. Somehow in our unity with Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are really free. We may struggle with how to appropriate that victory, but we should never assume it isn’t available ( That is Satan’s plan). It is. Believe it. We have a much greater Master than sin.
Let grace be the beginning, grace the consumption, grace the crown – The Venerable Bede.
Lord renew thy church beginning with all of us who are aware of the enemy’s plans to sow unbelief and promote unawareness among your church; Lord renew thy church in tue knowledge of your Son Jesus and Him Crucified, so that your church may renew the nation(s) under attack by the evil one.
The roaring lion who seeks to steal, kill and destroy – especially our most vulnerable, the children.
I found her on the ground. Bawling! Around her, a set of women held her tight, trying to console her. But she was inconsolable. I had just reached home ( safe) in Kingston, when I got the call, that a member of my staff’s – who I had know from she was a teenager – child had died. So I spun around and went straight back to Clarendon. Thank God for the highway! But I was of no help to her. We could only pray for mercy, and for comfort. Thank God her mother was, gone to glory now, a woman of deep and unshakable faith. And with her help and the help of others, in due course, by the mercy of God, healing took place. Not totally! But healing nonetheless.
I can’t begin to imagine how Jodiann Fearon’s mother is feeling right now. In the midst of the controversy swirling around her child’s death! But what I do know, is that only God can comfort her. Not the Minister of Health, not the Prime Minister, not the family’s lawyer, nor the doctor who appeared on their behalf at the Post Mortem. Not whether or not protocols were followed, not the news of the cause of death, not even the outpouring of love and shock and disbelief that in Jamaica in 2020 – whether COVID-19 or not, whether her personal doctor was at fault or not – a cry, a desperate cry, for help, was the subject of debate for so agonizingly, and who knows maybe fatally, long. Only God!
I pray God that her family’s faith is God is not shaken. And if so not irreparably! I pray God that others who have died, or missing, as in the case of Janet Deen, under different circumstances, may not be the last straw that kills faith, not just in Jamaica as a place to raise children, O God what a irony now, do business and thrive, not just survive after COVID-19 #EmilyShields, but in the God who loved us, even unto death, in Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, on a Cross.
Last night I read, what perhaps was, if not the beginning of the end of faith in Europe, where once faith in God once thrived, and was exported to the “ New World”, then at least a serious contributor to the decline:
Suffering and Glory, the second to last chapter in the late Rev. John Stott’s Seminal Work – The Cross of Christ:
“On 1 November 1755 Lisbon was devastated by an earthquake. being All Saints Day, the churches were full at the time, and thirty of them were destroyed. Within six minutes 15, 000 people had died and 15,000 more were dying. One of the many stunned by the news was the French philosopher and writer, Voltaire……he first expressed his protest in his Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon, which asks why, if God is free, just and beneficent, we suffer under his rule. It is he old conundrum that God is either not good or not almighty. Either he wants to stop suffering but cannot, or he could but will not.”
Stott then goes on to build a case to counter that kind of misunderstanding of God, admittedly the position adopted by a great many people in the Western world, including some of the popular intellectuals of the day right here in Jamaica. A case which in my mind was summed up in a post I shared on facebook last night :
The fact of suffering undoubtably constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation ……the cross of Christ is the proof of God’s loving solidarity with us in our pain…For the real sting of suffering is the apparent God-forsakenness of it all…I could never myself believe in God were it not for the cross – John Stott #JanetDeen #JodiannFearon
This week, I was inspired to write three emails to my church – one is very short. ( smile). About a nation in crisis. Because of COVID-19! On account of the growing lack of faith of the church, and even apostasy! On account of the great divide between rich and poor; and the glaring lack of care, even disregard, in the minds of some, about this national crisis! On account of murder most foul, and a precipitous decline in, and erosion of – a nuh nutten – our moral foundations! Many rivers to cross indeed, and over hills and valleys! Thank God for Jesus that “ Father forgive them for they know not what they do” is withholding God’s wrath from this land. But for how long! And certainly Christians “ ought to know what they do”. And what not to do:
Thoughts which triggered two posts on Facebook this week:
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. No one shall be found among you who who makes a son or a daughter pass though fire, or who practices divination, or is a smooth-sayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. Deut.18:9-11 #Syncretism
For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You must remain completely loyal to the Lord your God. Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so.” Deut. 18:12-14 God’s people cannot become #unruly Lest they too will be driven out.
THE FIRST EMAIL
Psalm 1:1-3 opened up itself to me this morning. Just like that! I wasn’t searching for it. Longing for a Word, especially a prophetic Word, from the Lord in #COVID-19 times, yes. But this was totally unexpected! Advice is the key word here. Like “ Whose report shall you believe. We believe in the report of the Lord” – Ron Kenoly! Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked – says the Psalmists.
So who are the wicked, whose advice we have followed over the years? What is the path that the sinners tread, and who are the scoffers who have led us astray? Intriguing questions aren’t they for a nation in crisis. And when you take the long view, from Independence until now, what went wrong, why we have arrived at regularly, over 1000 of our people being murdered, and “In 2008, then housing minister Dr Horace Chang said that about 30 per cent of the population lived in informal settlements or had no security of tenure”. Why does this almost vulgar inequity still haunt our land and not sear our collective consciences! Why!
Why are so many people “following “ Kartel on Instagram – over 1 million – and worse, his lifestyle on the ground. This convicted murderer and unapologetic destroyer of morals! And yet dare you say anything about him on social media, or in Gaza where he, the self-styled world boss, rules supreme! Why all of a sudden bad words, expletives, that one could not dare to utter in my home during my youth, why have they become “ fashionable”, and styled adhesively “ creative language”.
Why has our economy failed to grow, meaningfully, not the anemic growth we’ve come to expect, under successive governments? And thus the steady loss of our most skilled people to “ greener pastures”! Why has so much of what passes for church deteriorated into almost cult like activity led by modern day Apostles, and their wives; and in so many cases why has the so called prosperity gospel, which is no gospel at all, taken root in this country? While at the same time, those churches that ought to know better given their history, many of them have not escaped the dangerous influence of the liberal theology now sweeping much of North America and Europe. A great reversal of the Vital Christianity that the Wesley brothers and Wilberforce et al, in obedience to, and based on their “ delight in the Law of the Lord”, once championed.
So who are the evil ones that “ planted the weeds in the midst of the tares”, and despoiled a once fair land? I don’t think anyone of us can honestly say that “ I was not there when they crucified my Lord”.
Nor can we claim that our hands are clean, in the appraisal of why the steady decline in the nation’s moral and social and economic history and current state.
The question is whose advice we are now following. Yes, after repentance and cleansing of our souls. Hopefully! If not, then certainly COVID-19 I believe presents us, as church, and as a nation, with its almost existential challenge, to reflect on whose “ advice” are we following. And if we can honestly say that “ I believe in the report of the Lord”, what next? If we as church, “ meditate of the Law of the Lord day and night”, and in this dispensation “ I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection”, what “ fruit in season “ are we bearing, as church, in this barren and desolate land,
For we can easily point fingers at the politicians and entertainers and “ village lawyers” in the media and at our Universities and Big Money, and miss the eternal message from the Psalms. “ Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked”. The question then is, “ what advice have we as church, given to this nation”? Have we truly reflected the suffering Christ to the poor and vulnerable and marginalized? Have we spoken truth to Power, or have we protected our party and highlighted the ills of the other. Which is the MO of the current age on Twitter! Have we then behaved like them, the wicked who don’t know the suffering Christ. And forgot what the Lord God of Israel said, “ Do not be like them”. Are we so absorbed with ourselves and our worship and our salvation, that we have failed to notice, and be prepared to be Salt and Light, in the midst of the steady decline in the nation’s moral and economic and social life?
I am ( continuing to ) reading again, John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. And one of the clear messages towards the end of the book, is that there is no glory with Christ, without first suffering with Him. Not like Him, clearly, but with Him. For a servant must be like his master. I fear we have become too comfortable in this land of wood and water, and hurting people; and people led astray by scoffers and the wicked. And perhaps as a result a pregnant woman died because there was only fear and no compassion. And a blind girl is robbed of her life, and yet life goes on, without missing a beat. Until COVID-19 comes and everybody is fearful of their lives. A great leveler is it not so. Perhaps the Lord allows these things to happen so that we might take the time and think. About what it means to be a Christian in this Fallen World. He didn’t think about the privilege of being like God, but humbled himself, and in obedience died on an old wooden cross. For Jamaica land we love. And for the whole world! I wonder what He is thinking now of us. Who clam to follow His advice! May God have mercy on our souls.
Lord renew thy church beginning with me: Lord renew the church that the church may renew the nation(s) who follow your advice to repent, and your example of grace and mercy for the even the wicked who turn to you.
THE SECOND EMAIL
Two things are acting in concert in my office during these #COVID-19 times. I have lot less patients, and most of them are seriously stressed about the Virus, and welcome an opportunity to talk; which under normal circumstances might not have been possible, or at least, not for any great length of time.
One of the things we talk about, and many of them are committed Christians, is how this Virus has affected their church life! And one in particular shared the, “ silver lining”, that these unusual times facilitate, demand even, that we engage in deep personal reflections. And guess what I read on the way to my early morning prayers in my Classic Devotional Bible, this morning:
Contemplation is like sleep in the arms of God – Bernard of Clairvaux ( a favorite saint of yure of the late Bishop Freddie Reid).
Also as I began my prayers “ What a friend we have in Jesus “ came to mind as I realized once again how faithful God is in watching over me night after night:
“ Living Lord, you have watched over me, and put your hand on my head, during the long, dark hours of might. Your holy angels have kept me from all harm and pain. To you, Lord, I owe life itself. Continue to watch over me and bless me during the hours of the day.
Rule over me this day. O God, leading me on the path of righteousness. Put your Word in my mind and your truth in my heart, that this day I neither think nor feel anything except what is good and honest…….
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…….
So what Word did the Lord place in my heart yesterday during my early morning devotions – reflections? One for the ages. One that all Christians, early in the faith – even in Sunday School – and mature, ought to commit to memory and pray without ceasing. This is the introduction from the night before:
Are you seeking great things for yourself, instead of seeking to be a great person? God wants you to be in a much closer relationship with Himself than simply receiving His gifts— He wants you to get to know Him. Even some large thing we want is only incidental; it comes and it goes. But God never gives us anything incidental. There is nothing easier than getting into the right relationship with God, unless it is not God you seek, but only what He can give you.
THE WORD OF GOD
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
I am ( continuing to ) reading again, John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. And one of the clear messages towards the end of the book, is that there is no glory with Christ, without first suffering with Him. Not like Him, clearly, but with Him. For a servant must be like his master.
And as we read the very Word of God this morning about wanting to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, one cannot fail to notice that, part of the process of knowing Christ, is “ participating in his sufferings” and “ becoming like Him in His death”. But perhaps the most instructive part is the bookend ……the mystery…and so somehow to attain resurrection from the dead. Immediately Peter’s first sermon comes to mind:
“ save yourselves from this corrupt generation”.
Part of the problem I believe why many of us, and I am the first to cry “mea culpa”, don’t grow in Christ, don’t proceed to maturity, is that one, we don’t Ike the suffering part…we instinctively rebel against the thought, and two, we really don’t believe deep in our hearts that we are all that bad. Certainly not part of this “ corrupt generation”. And consequently, our desire to get to know Christ, in the way that Scripture demands, is at best, lukewarm. And even in our best times, unsustained. As elements of this sinful world entice us to ‘dethrone God from our hearts’! And there are many, including what Oswald Chambers warned against, “ wanting things from God”, instead of desiring God Himself in Christ Jesus.
This is not just theological musings. This kind of personal reflections has resonance for how we live in this “ corrupt society”. For how we treat one another as brothers and sisters, made in the image and likeness of God, with sacrificial love. Even how we react to, or if we had been in the situation how we would have treated, the plight of that young girl who died shortly after delivering her baby this week? Where was the compassion, where was the singular determination to save a life, in fact two lives, rather than “ following a protocol”. And as a physician I am aware of the reasons why protocols are put in place, but for God’s sake, how can established rules and regulations override the need to save a live, regardless of whether or not somebody else is at fault; if in fact that were the case, as we don’t really know.
This desire to know Christ, and participate in His sufferings and even become like Him in His death, would surely, if the church were a militant church, demand and agitate for, and become involved in, the provision of adequate housing and better living conditions for the 30% of Jamaicans who live in squatter settlements. And out of which “ evil’ has arisen all kinds of wickedness and crime and suffering, even amidst the good and pure and encouraging signs, that has caused the nation so much pain and angst. For make no mistake, the blood of Jasmine Deen is not only on the hands of her killers, assuming the worst, but on the hands on those of us who claim Christ, but are not willing to suffer with Him in order to build a more just society. But join in enjoying the ‘ delights of this world”, like everybody else in this corrupt generation.
And if sacrificial love is demanded of us, for those made in God’s image, how much more it is required for those who have been washed and sanctified like us, in the precious blood of the Lamb – the church. What a scandal then it is that we, as a rule, the exception may exist, don’t relate much to those outside our denomination, nor even pray for them on a regular basis. Or closer home, don’t relate well to those in our own church who we don’t know well, nor make the effort.
Indeed these unusual times call for an unusual preoccupation with the things of God. Including God’s Word and Sacrament! And since in a sense, we have not been participating in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, although we celebrate the death of Christ in our hearts, and His glorious Resurrection also in our love for Him, we need to delve deep into God’s Word in these times. Hopefully then, when COVID-19 would have passed, we will emerge a more mature and determined church, anxious to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. And to have this power manifest in our individual lives and in the collective witness of not just the Anglican Church, but the Church of God everywhere.
Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew thy church that the church may renew the nation(s) through the suffering church.
THE THIRD EMAIL
Whose report shall you believe, is a question posed, and answered, in a song by popular Gospel artiste Ron Kenoly.
A conversation which ought to lead us to examine who are we listening to, as Christians living in this “ corrupt generation”?
It’s a vital, and almost existential question for the people in America, as they seek to open up their economy ravaged by COVID-19. Whose report shall they believe? The scientists, or the Governors, or the 45th? The same challenge confronts us here in Jamaica! To whom shall we turn, for advice, in these unusual times? I would suggest that the meditation written by Chris Tiegreen below, poses a more serious question? How much have we, the people of God, been listening and obeying God throughout the generations in Jamaica, in America, in Europe; and therefore in this time of serious challenge be guided by the One in whom we should have placed our absolute trust?
You must listen to Him. Deut. 18:15
Two verses earlier, Moses told the Israelites that they must be blameless before God. The practices of the Canaanites around them could never be allowed to rub off on God’s people:
( in fact when I read the preceding verses, I was moved to post this on Facebook: thinking about how syncretism, and Obeah is one such example; and there are more subtle ones…new age philosophy posing as church is another; liberal theology – the reinterpretation of Holy Scripture in defense of man’s desire to be popular, and current, is yet another.
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. No one shall be found among you who who makes a son or a daughter pass though fire, or who practices divination, or is a smooth-sayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. Deut.18:9-11 #Syncretism)
The law God had given through Moses had to be fully integrated into the lives of those who believed it. The righteousness taught be God had to be passed down from generation to generation. These people were to be blameless.
As we know from Scripture ( and from our experience, sadly, here in Jamaica and the world), the practices of the Canaanites did eventually rub off on God’s people. The law was never fully integrated into the national life of Israel – only periodically and through a few good kings and priests. The righteousness of God often skipped several generations ( hmmm), as fathers and mothers neglected to teach it to their sons and daughters. The people weren’t blameless at all.
That’s why another prophet was needed. The laws and the prophecies of Moses pointed to Jesus, who would implant life and righteousness into the hearts of of those who believed in Him. The fulfillment never came from external rules but from an internal Spirit. That’s why God spoke to the Israelites through Moses and said: “ You must listen to him”. There would be no other way to fulfill God’s requirements. Jesus is the only means by which human beings can become holy.
Many Christians, however, believe in Jesus without ever really listening to Him. We read His words and try to follow them – a futile attempt unless His own Spirit is given free rein within us by faith. We become religious followers of Jesus without spiritually fellowshipping with Him. We listen to God’s words and miss His heart.
Moses emphasized to Israel how important it was to listen to another prophet/Messiah who was to come. In Him all humanity would see its true Savior, a teacher/deliverer/miracle worker who would show us the way to the Father. He would not dismiss God’s rules, but fulfill them within us. Our spirits would be made alive together with Him, and our character would be changed. But only if we listen – obediently listen – to Him.
How many observe Christ’s birthday, but how few His precepts! – Benjamin Franklin.
Comment: So the point is that, if we are accustomed to listening to Christ, when the crisis comes, and it is very much here with us, and with the whole wide world, then knowing whose report to believe, is so much easier. And many more crises, and mini-crises, will come. Those who have been obedient and accustomed to hearing the Word of God, will know what to do. And not be in any doubt and follow the wrong voices. Whether it be our own inner voice, the voice of the 45th, or any other “ Caesar” whose authority we need to respect, while ultimately “ giving to God what belongs to God” – listening and being obedient to Jesus His beloved Son.
Lord, renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew the church ( Anglicans, Methodists, United, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, Moravians, Church of God, All Evangelical Churches…..in Jamaica, in Cuba, in Antigua, in Guyana, in Belize , in Barbados, in the UK, USA, Spain, France, Italy, Nigeria, Kenya, China, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama …that the worldwide Church of God, may renew this COVID-19 infected world. In and though obedience to Christ and Him Crucified!
Many years ago, I had the distinct privilege of accompanying then Prime Minister, The Most Honourable Portia Simpson -Miller to the United Nations General Assembly, where she gave a major speech supporting the call for Road Safety to be included in the Sustainable Development Goals. And at a side-meeting, before the going to the UN, Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, and Nelson Mandela’s grand-daughter Zoleka, and other dignitaries, issued a clarion call for road safety to be taken seriously internationally.
One of the highlights of the trip to NY was going to see Alecia Keys performing live in Central Park. Got two tickets from a friend at the UN, for a colleague and I, and so off we went. And walked miles, and miles, as it seemed like all the young people in New York had the same plan. Finally we got to the actual venue, only to hear “ standing room only”. That was too much for me, at my age then. So facing the prospects of standing for hours after walking for hours, we, well mostly me, decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel. That’s the closest I came to hearing this fabulous singer on stage. Well this week, the whole wide world got a glimpse of the prodigious talent, and great heart of this multiple Grammy Award winning artiste, as her new song and video were shown live on CNN this week. I watched the interview and listened carefully and then posted this on social media:
https://youtu.be/N63tvQBwSSw. It’s amazing that the words of the song were not inspired by the present Corona Virus crisis. But how appropriate, even prophetic they are! And the new video, just released, shot for the song now dedicated to those who were doing #AGoodJob, is just simply amazing. Thank you Alicia Keys. Good Job. Thank God for the inspiration coming deep out of the bowels of slavery, and sent to those who have risked their lives for others.
youtu.be/N63tvQBwSSw. The new video of the fabulous song by @aliciakeys #GoodJob Thank you #AliciaKeys Thank you Lord for this gift to humankind all over the world 🌍 Transcending race, ethnicity, religion and gender. Just simply wonderful
Alicia Keys – Good Job (Lyrics) youtu.be/J_5VC4E__F0 via @YouTube Last night I quoted the famous English poet Shelly : poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Tonight as I watched and listened to @aliciakeys on @CNN doing a #GoodJob for the Heroes in NY #Sotrue
In this song @aliciakeys is to #NewYork and #BlackandBrownPeople what #BobMarley is to the world. Just time for great compassionate America to value African Americans who are dying disproportionately in this #COVID19 Pandemic
This week also, I watched two movies about the life of a lesser known International figure, but no less a giant who demonstrated bravery and commitment to the God of all mankind when he joined with other people of conscience, in plotting the downfall of Adolph Hitler. He died a martyr’s death and the memories of his ministry lives on in his many books, Ethics and others, which have deepened the faith and helped many on their journey with the Lord.
All of this made me understand, even ore deeply, that we are, the whole world, in this thing together. Before COVID-19! And will be long after the Virus has gone. So the challenge, especially for people who place their trust in Jesus, Christians, in He who died for the whole wide world…for God so loved the world…I would suggest, is for us to learn to think Globally even as we act Locally in our particular context. For it is only in this fashion, that the great problems of : Climate Change; World Poverty; Pandemics; North South inequities …triggering mass migration rural to urban, and south to north; Institutional Racism; hegemonic ambitions…triggering the strains of of Bob Marley’s ‘war in the east, war in the west, war up north, war down south.
And for the Christian the great challenge of the 10/40 window
How many in the world have never heard the gospel?
Most of the people groups still very much unreached by the gospel live in places stretching across the maps of northern Africa and Asia. Christian missions strategist Luis Bush started calling this rectangular area or band”the 10/40 window.” He used that easy-to-remember name because it lies across Africa and Asia from 10 degrees latitude north of the equator to 40 degrees latitude north of the equator.
This week also, I was led to write letters to my church. Three of them ( not long) are included in this weekend blog. The first one reflects our need to think and act locally.
The second and third, progressively, reflect the other message of a global concern; surely one of key the take way messages from this terrible pestilence.
The First Lesson
Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd, “Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
The context is not the same, although in a sense it is, for although Jamaica is not “ the entire house of Israel”, it is a people whose grandparents and great-grandparents, for the most part slaves and descendants of slaves, who trusted God and chose Jesus over Barabbas, and now this generation has made Kartel and Spice and Bacchanal and their Political Leaders, more important in their lives than Jesus.
So, therefore, if you, “ with the eleven standing with you”, the called out people of God of this age, had an opportunity to speak to the nation in these COVID-19 times, or any other time, to a people who far too many have chosen Barabbas over Jesus, what would we say? Would we say things which would “ cut to the heart”, or would we gloss over the sins of the nation. A people who don’t even now how to blush! What “ arguments” would we put in the public sphere? Would we “ exhort a nation to save themselves from this corrupt generation”? Would we have the moral authority to do so? Or have we too, despite the external trappings, and even vestments, said to Jesus “ This is a hard teaching, who can accept it”? And turned away in our hearts and private lives, but still maintain in public, a veneer, a form, of godliness, but denying its power
Or on the other hand, having ‘denied Jesus three times’, and having wept bitterly, when Jesus “looked straight at us”, we have not yet responded to the eternal question that Jesus still poses “ Do you love me”….feed my sheep! For feeding the sheep, seeking Ezekiel’s lost, and stray, and vulnerable, and Lukes’ “ the least of those my brethren “, is a good and necessary thing. But Jesus still died for all of these people. And for Spice and Kartel, and “ I was once a good girl but now I loose”, and “ follow de leader”.
Good Friday is not a distant memory. Ask Rev. Kuck, who preached a sermon once on Easter, I remember well and reminded him recently, that “ after Easter we go back to Good Friday”. It, Good Friday, is in fact with us day after day. And who knows, that Good Friday has a message, an existential message in these COVID-19 unusual times. What then is the prophetic Word from the Church at this time?
I believe Bishop Howard had this in mind when at the end of his Easter sermon, which was viewed by some 8.7K people on the church’s Facebook site ( vs Spice and Minister Tufton on Instagram discussing COVID-19 which pulled in 227 K…hmmm), he warned the nation, that dependence on what our leaders said, and what the scientists predicted, cannot be the sole basis on which we can confidently say that “ we will get over COVID-19” one day. But rather depend on the the Power of the Risen Christ to infuse new life into us by His Spirit…in the same way God in the time of Ezekiel “ gave new life to the, ‘ can these bones live’….or words to that effect.
The existential reality though, is that the Spirit of God only comes to those who accept “ the hard teaching”. That in essence calls for repentance and to save oneself from this “ corrupt generation”. Which takes us right back to Peter and his first sermon. The First Reading for next Sunday! So what is our response? Lovely sermon! Or the essence of preaching. I am reminded of John Stott’s assertion in his seminal book “ The Cross of Christ”, at the end, that “ Preaching the Gospel is preaching the Cross.”
The only thing that can save us from this corrupt generation that continues to “ choose Barabbas over Jesus “.
For who knows, that this is the reason why COVID-19 is in the world. For as Oswald Chambers famously said: “ The Holy Spirit is often a Disturber before He is a Comforter”. A sentiment echoed by Rev. Jennings yesterday, I hope you will still find the time to watch, at lest the sermon, when he said, that Jesus often makes us feel badly before he makes us feel good.
A verse of Scripture which has “ kept me sane”, in the midst of the madness around me, in recent times, is, “ if you believe you will see the glory of God”. Which was Jesus’ response to Mary, before he raised Lazarus from the dead! This happening while Mary was concerned that her brother had been dead for days, and his body, in her mind, would ‘smell’.
It came to mind, as I ‘happened’ ( on my way to my early morning prayers in my Classic Devotional Bible) up another verse which speaks volumes to the lack of trust in the God who has proved Himself faithful on so many occasions. For us personally, and for this nation! As I had no intention of reading this challenging meditation by God’s evangelist, Missionary, to the China, James Hudson Taylor – perhaps there is a message there too, in this COVID-19 context.
Actually the Classic Devotional Bible assigned another powerful verse to the meditation, but for me this one, in these times, is the more contextually challenging one;
“ Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “ How long will you go limping with two different opinions? if the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him”. 1 Kings 18:21 NRSV
Clearly this verse presents a challenge for all of us who are terrified of COVID-19. And if we are honest, all of us are, in some way, and at some time, “ filled with fear”. Even as we practice safe hygiene and social distancing! But my mind, and the mediation below validates this view, is on Spice, and others, who on the one hand, sing and behave in the most outrageous manner ( don’t even know how to blush); and then I suppose “ in the national interest”, sing gospel songs during an interview with the Minister, trying to get people to “ tan a yu yard”.
And Spice is but one example of many leaders, and people outside and inside the church ( talk de truth) who try to, ‘go limping along with two different opinions’. Like those who leave church, or don’t bother to come at all, and join the Bacchanal! Like those who have brought our country to it’s knees, in respect of the introduction of gun violence in to this “once fair and peaceful land”, and then at the end of a political speech, exhort God to “ bless Jamaica “!
Like those who, without repentance, in flagrant disobedience to the Living God, commit all kind of perversions and immorality, and then head straight to church. Metaphorically. And who knows, perhaps even literally!
For those of us then, who have been troubled about the state of our nation, and the state of God’s Church, and the state of our own faith, and why COVID-19 “won’t just go away”, I believe this meditation is a Godsend this morning. From deep within the heart of one who trusted in the faithfulness of God, and in faith and in single minded obedience, planted a seed in China, the Christian Church which has now grown into a Mulberry Tree.And is under constant persecution!
THE COURAGE OF OBEDIENCE
James Hudson Taylor ( 1832 – 1905).
Verse: 1Kings 18:24
Want of trust is at the root of almost all our sins and all our weaknesses; and how shall we escape it but by looking at him and observing his faithfulness?
The man who holds God’s faithfulness will not be foolhardy or reckless, but he will be ready for every emergency. The man who holds God’s faithfulness will dare to obey him, however impolitic it may appear. Abraham held God’s faithfulness and offered up Isaac, “ accounting that God was able to raise him…from the dead” ( Hebrews 11.19 KJV).
Moses held God’s faithfulness and led the millions of Israel into the waste, howling wilderness.
“ And what shall I more say? For the same would fail me to tell” of those who, holding, God’s faithfulness, had faith, and by it, “ subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises…and out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens ( 11: 33-34)
Satan, too, has his creed: Doubt God’s faithfulness. “ Hath God said ? Are you not mistaken as to his commands? He could not really mean just that. You take an extreme view, give too literal a meaning to the words “ (O Jesus have mercy on us…my words).
How constantly, and alas, how successfully are such arguments used to prevent wholehearted trust in God, wholehearted consecration to God!
How many estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources,and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt!
All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on his being with them.
Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew the church that the church may renew the nation(s)…that go limping along with two different opinions.
1 Peter 1:17-23
…………..Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
Comment: The words at the end of the Epistle for next Sunday struck me most forcibly this morning as read it during my early morning devotions. And the old adage” Absence makes the heart grow fonder ( and the schoolboy mischief in me recalls the response of the cynic “ fonder of someone else”) came to mind. The point is that one of, if not the most important fruits of the Spirit is to have “ genuine mutual, and to love one anoter deeply from the heart”.
I can’t tell you how saitisfying it been for us, and I can speak for the others, as a Fellowship Group, to meet on Zoom. To see each other, to hear about the struggles and fears and joys and all the emotions that COVID-19 brings. And all aspects of life that goes on regardless of the Pandemic. What a Joy. But that is only a small group. How we all miss seeing each other at church. No wonder the joy that emerges each time we have a chance to worship together in the live streaming services; and ‘hail up’ each other on the Facebook comments. I haven’t seen Afeef Lazarus for years, and it was heartwarming to be able to see him joining in the chat on Facebook during the service.
One of the lessons that we surely must take away from this terrible pandemic, is that we must never take for granted again the sharing of Peace with each other on a Sunday morning. The short time we spend greeting each other after service. The hugs. The kisses. The pleasant exchanges. The Joy of Easter worship with a packed church and, being lifted up together by the “ Sound of Music” which greets the Risen Lord. But the ‘mutual love’ we have for one another ought not to end with loving each other. But just start. For ultimately, the love we have for one another, must find expression in how we treat the vulnerable, the Tuesday Charity folks, the chidren in Majestic Gardens, the lonely in St. Clements, the wards of the state in the Girls Home. The stranger, the widow and the orphans in our society, who Jesus loved and died for. Just like you and I.
I miss taking pictures, and posting them on Sunday Camera. And I still get to share some, courtesy of the technology, with my Fellowship Group. But most of all, I miss seing my church family. I miss going to Majesty Gardens. And even the small congregation at St. Clements – we really need to try and find a way to renew that Ministry. But is that the genuine love that we ought to have for each other? Is that the kind of love that Christ showed by ‘washing the feet of His dsiciples’? Is that the kind of love that He showed when He restored Peter, the broken and contrite Peter, to fellowship with Him. Pure grace! Is that the kind of love that ultimately drove Him to Calvary – not just Judas, or Pilate, or the Jews?
What then, or how does Christ’ love look like in COVID-19 times? When not only our country, but the whole wide world is experiencing extreme suffering; and even world hunger is being predicted. People unable to bury their dead. People being re-infected a second and even a third time with the Novel Corona Mystery Virus. Perhaps, just maybe there is a lesson here right in front of us,
For God so loved the world………..
Question then is, do we have a big enough love, or is our love parochial and selective? Do we hunger and thirst for redemption for the Jews, as St. Paul did. Or for the peple of China, over 1.4 Billion of them, as James Hudson Taylor did?
Do we hunger and thirst for the Muslims to accept the Good News that Christ died, and was raised from the dead for them too. And for all peoples of the earth regardless of which “ unknown god”, they serve, and as St. Paul did in Athens, and tell them about the God of all Creation who died for them – their sins – and was raised from the dead. Even if some of them reject you.
Do we hunger and thirst for the great America, and the almost now atheistic England, and France and Spain and Italy, from where Christainity ‘travelled ‘ to the New World? I am reading again, first about the life of William Wilberforce, the great Abolitionist in 18th Century UK, and now his partner ( the relatively unknown) Hannah More, in Eric Metaxas 7 Men, and then the companion book 7 Women. Both of whom had on their hearts, two great things from God Almighty: The Abolition of Slavery and the Reformation of Manners – the abolition of other social ills of that day. And the judgement of at least some historians, is that their actions, working together with many others, “saved England”, from the horrors of the French Revolution.
The point is, our love for humanity, our genuine love for one another must transcend, like Jesus on the Cross, the love of a Parish Church, a Denomination, a Region, a Religion, and embrace the whole wide world. Then and only then, will we be able to truly love one another at St. Andrew Parish Church, as Jesus loved us.
Lord renew thy church beginning with me: Lord renew thy church that the church may renew the worldwide nations.
The picture above, the Headlines in the Daily Gleaner for today, worth more than a thousand words, tells a tale of a nation, with its Minister of Health, and his team of health professionals, at the forefront, struggling desperately to contain the COVID-19 Virus now ravaging the entire world.
Based on the experience of other countries we were doing reasonably well with the number of positive cases, until this week when, largely on account of a controversial sequence of events in the BPO ( Business Process Outsourcing ) centres, the numbers spiked from just over 70 to now 163
Thus spawning further drastic action, and the inevitable lampooning of the government’s efforts, above, which to be fair, were hitherto, very commendable; attracting kudos from “ foreign’ , including the World Health Organization.
One of the ‘silver linings’ which has emerged during this otherwise ‘ill wind’, is the joined-up approach to fighting this crisis, as shown above with the Minister of Culture and her team, and the Jamaican entertainers, ‘stepping up to the plate’, and raising funds to purchase PPE’s ( protection) for the health care workers and others in the frontline like the police and the army. Add to Minister Grange, the hard working Attorney-General ( a lady who is not for turning ) the redoubtable Minster of Local Government, the affable Minister of Foreign Affairs, with the ‘man-in-charge’, the Prime Minister leading the team. And of course in the center of it all, the very cool under pressure, Minister of Health.
This team approach has been impressive at the many press conferences held to inform the pubic about the latest developments. Makes one wonder, and even dare to hope, if such an approach to dealing with other national crises, like the spiraling out of control homicide rate, and the ( interest declared ) other source of violence death -road crashes, along with other social ills -urgently needed urban renewal – in Kingston from #BullBayto SixMiles – and poverty reduction, couldn’t benefit from such a sense of urgency. Especially if you add members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition; if they are willing, and the Government wise enough to offer them a role, even temporarily, in order that as a nation we may together, find the will and resources to help us, escape from the moral and social abyss, now being revealed in the glaring light of COVID-19, into which we have fallen. As some of us fear nether God nor COVID-19, and are prepared to carry out their evil deeds regardless of the circumstances. And fleeing one lockdown parish to another, thus helping to spread the Virus, is but one of them:
The Denham Town Police are probing the deaths of three males and the injuring of a woman in two incidents today.
They report that about 2:30 a.m., a team was called to Torrington Park, Kingston 5 after residents heard explosions.
On arrival, a house was reportedly seen ablaze.
Members of the Jamaica Fire Brigade were summoned and the blaze extinguished.
According to the police, the bodies of 30-year-old Romario Raymond and 20-year-old Clifton Grant, both of Torrington Park addresses, were found inside the house and were subsequently removed to the morgue.
Hours later, 16-year-old Dave Tyrell of Drummond Street, Kingston 14 was shot dead and a woman injured by an unknown assailant about 9:45 a.m. on Bond Street.
The police report that Tyrell was standing along the roadway when he was approached by a gunman who opened fire hitting him.
The woman, who was in the vicinity, was shot and injured during the incident.
WHERE DO WE LOCATE GOD IN THE STRUGGLE? AT THE PERIPHERY OR LEADING THE TEAM
For me, however, and I would imagine for many other children of God who are praying without ceasing for the rescue of this nation, long before the advent of COVID-19, despite the Team Approach exhibited by the GOJ in bringing a sense of urgency to the almost existential threat which is COVID-19, insufficient attention has been paid to the Eternal Father, bless our land. Yes, the now almost de rigueur call for Prayer and Prayer Vigils have been made, but Jesus, our Saviour has not been placed, by a desperate nation, at the center of the battle. And this is a war. For anything bug that can kill so many people across the world, and bring the entire world to its knees, in three months, with the potential to make mankind extinct, cannot be something ordinary. But in fact extraordinary! And for that kind of struggle we need supernatural resources.
So what do we do as the “ called out “ people of the Living God. The Creator of Heaven and Earth and al that is within it! The Church mandates to be Salt and Light to a dying world, A Fallen World because of Sin. Which is the genesis ultimately of all that despoils the earth, all that leads to inequity among men, all that spawns homicide and road deaths, all that produces greed and envy and pride and immorality and disobedience to God’s commands to love Him with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
LIFTING UP THE NAME OF JESUS
The first and most important action that the Word of God points us to is to Lift Up the Name of Jesus. For that Name has Power in Itself. The essence of a Message posted on Facebook this week:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Ps 37:1 #COVID-19 surge. So let us lift up the Name of Jesus, yes hand washing and physical distance and masks, but now more than ever, lift of the Name of Jesus. For at His Name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. In every circumstance. To the glory of God.
The second, and seemingly simple, but very profound message that I was inspired to write about this week was the effect of Prayer. Which according to the Word of God, “can move mountains”. A message about it was posted on facebook and also sent to my church:
PRAYER TO A SUPERNATURAL GOD
After the “ Great Rumour” about #Lockdown in Kingston yesterday, which resulted in a run on the supermarkets, and untold stress, we need to fill our hearts with prayers, and “ bid the unruly throng “ of fear and panic and selfishness and irresponsibility that attends #COVID-19, ‘depart’. Along with “ a thievish swarm” that we know well. Perhaps! Or, on the other hand, don’t fully appreciate their danger; and for which our Savior died. This wonderful poem by the famous Englishman William Cowper, which touched my heart, again, last night, will help:
THE HOUSE OF PRAYER
Verse: Matthew 21:13
Thy mansion is the Christian’s heart,
O Lord, thy dwelling-place secure!
Bid the unruly thong depart,
And leave the consecrated door.
Devoted as it is to thee,
A thievish swarm frequents the place;
They steal away my joys from me,
And rob the Savior of his praise
There too a sharp designing trade
Sin,Satan, and the world maintain;
Nor cease to press me, and persuade,
To part with ease and purchase pain.
I know them, and hate their din,
Am weary of the bustling crowd,
But while their voice is heard within,
I cannot serve thee as I would. ( this, perhaps the take home message from this wonderful poem)
Oh! for the joy thy presence gives,
What peace shall reign when thou art here! ( Thank you Jesus…and the doors were locked for fear of the Jews, and Jesus came and said “ Peace be with you”).
Thy presence makes this den of thieves,
A calm delightful house of prayer.
And if thou make thy temple shine,
Yet, self-abased, will I adore;
The silver and the gold are not mine,
I give thee what was thine before.
PREACHING THE CROSS
Finally, last night, this: To preach effectively is to preach about the Cross of Calvary and what took place there. Which is in effect the Gospel. The Good news. Otherwise we are seeking popularity with no power to make a difference in this dying COVID-19 stricken world. Despite what may appear to be a form of godliness, but has no power to fight against evil:
PREACHING ABOUT THE CROSS
Stott – According to Galatians 5:11, Paul is being persecuted because he preaches the cross; according to 6:12 the false preachers are avoiding persecution by preaching circumcision instead of the cross. So the alternative for Christian evangelists, pastors and teachers is to preach either circumcision or the cross. To preach circumcision is to preach salvation by the law, that is, by human achievement . Such a message removes the offense of the cross, which is that we cannot earn our salvation; it therefore exempts us from persecution. To ‘preach the cross’ is to preach salvation by God’s grace alone. Such a message is a stumbling block, because it is grievously offensive to human pride. It therefore exposes us to persecution……
There are of course no Judaizers in this world today, preaching the necessity of circumcision. But there are plenty of false teachers, inside as well as outsider the church, who preach the false gospel ( which is not a gospel) of salvation by good works. To preach salvation by good works is to flatter people and so avoid opposition. …….All Christian preachers have to face this issue. Either we preach that human beings are rebels against God, under his just judgment and ( if left to themselves) lost, and that Christ crucified who bore their sin and curse is the only available Saviour. Or we emphasize human potential and human ability, with Christ brought in only to boost them, and with no necessity for the cross except to exhibit God’s love and so inspire us to greater endeavour.
The former way is to be faithful, the latter the way to be popular. It is not possible to be faithful and popular simultaneously. We need to hear again the warning of Jesus: “ Woe to you when all men speak well of you “ ( Luke 6:26).
Some thoughts as we ponder what next after COVID-19. What are the real lessons to be learnt and what is of little account! For the focus of our attention nationally, after COVID-19, ought not be only to assess what went wrong logistically, politically, and socially. But also spiritually! In the sense of what great harm has been occasioned in this country, and to our national development, by false teachers , spewing words that are popular, but have no power to fundamentally change how people love one another; inspired by a deep and abiding love for, and fear of, a God who died for our sins on a Cross. Until then, with the thing now on the loose, and you only get one chance with COVID-19, may this God, who in holy love died “ to bid the unruly throng of Sin, Satan and the world depart’, have mercy on us. And come what may, according to God’s will and purpose, we thank God for those who remain faithful to the cross.
The plan of God, is, and always has been, to make men holy. To dwell in us, as His Temple, by the Power of the Holy Spirit ; a gift from the Crucified and Risen Christ to a Fallen and sinful world. The Eternal Life which begins here on earth. So, yes, death from COVID-19 is a terrible thing. Especially for those who die alone, and for the relatives who in many instances are unable to comfort and then to carry out a proper funeral. But it is not the worse thing that can happen to our souls.
The Word of God has a final statement on that matter:
“ Now this is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”. John 3:19. Not far from John 3:16 – the most well known and loved verse in Holy Scriptures.
We forget, or omit, verse 19 , at our peril. A peril much worse than COVID-19.
Let us then reorganize our Team, place God at the Centre, and use COVID-19 to “ take sleep and mark death”.