Do you hear what I hear, A song, a song, high above the trees…..a verse from a Christmas Carol.
I read my Bible to see what men ought to do; and read my newspapers to see what men are doing – John Newton.
Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew thy church that the church may renew the nation(s) – a Prayer.
What did I hear this week – from the ‘newspapers’.
(1). That Pope Benedict is Time Magazine’s Man of The Year. For the following reasons as posted on their online webpage:
“He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century
Read more: Person of the Year | TIME picks the person who most influenced the news each year….”
(2).That Crime and Violence continues to be a major problem for my country Jamaica
Adrian Frater, News Editor The Daily Gleaner http://www.go-jamaica
Montego Bay, St James, is on the edge again.
Residents cower in the wake of the latest violence, which is reminding them of several similar periods of bloodletting they had to endure in the past decade.
Twelve persons’ lives have been snuffed out by ruthless criminals in several incidents, including a triple murder and two double murders in the past week.
In the latest incident, a 36-year-old woman, Monique Watson of Rose Heights in St James, was shot and killed by a gunman who reportedly walked into her hairdressing parlour and shot her at point-blank range.
(3) That one does not have to profess Christianity to be magnanimous and compassionate… contextualized in a column written by our award winning journalist Ian Boyne, writing in the In Focus section of the Daily Gleaner today
……One of the striking things about Mandela is his appeal to every shade of the ideological spectrum. I have read right-wing extremist publications which have praised him since his death, forced to agree that he turned his back on an easy path of recrimination and revenge. There was nothing inevitable about his path of forgiveness and peace which he took. It was the road less travelled. Even Marxists who have pointed to the many problems which beset capitalist South Africa still concede that Mandela was an extraordinary leader.
A SPIRITUAL MAN
Interestingly and incidentally, Mandela did not profess Christianity. Indeed, he seemed quite indifferent to any religion at all. But he clearly was a spiritual person. His life proves that one need not be a Christian to be magnanimous, compassionate, loving and forgiving. One does not have to be a Christian to be a good person. Nor does one have to be religious to be touched by humanitarian values.
It is noteworthy that many politicians who have professed Christianity have been hateful, vengeful, bitter and oppressive, while a humanitarian like Mandela, who was not even certain about an afterlife, could have lived so selflessly and so compassionately…….
(4) Tessanne Chin is ” trending’ right now in Jamaica, as the finals for NBC’s The Voice comes up tomorrow Monday December 16th. The entire country, and the extended family in the diaspora is just waiting to exhale. The mobilization to have everybody with a Jamaican connection in the USA voted ten times and download her songs on iTunes, in the words of the young people, has been ‘amazing’. so we wait with bated breath.
THE WORD OF GOD
What did I hear from reading God’s Word this week, as I contemplated Mandela’s Memorial service, his Funeral, and the countdown to Tessanne’s appearance in the finals of The Voice. A call for repentance, as we acknowledge the high profile nature of personalities in the news this week, but note that the Christmas message trumps everything else, every time, everywhere. For while the exploits of Mandela and Tessanne chin gladdens our hearts, the message of the Christ child causes us to pause. As the Christmas message is essentially a call to bow down before the Almighty ‘made flesh’, and repent and be baptized.
THE FIRST MESSAGE SENT LEADERS IN CIVIL SOCIETY IN MY COUNTRY
As I was led from one section of Holy Bible to another, without any thought on my part, one thing struck me in both passages: The Sovereign God who, with His
” great power and outstretched arm made the heaven and earth and its people”, ” handed over” to wicked men, under the Old Covenant, His Chosen people, and in the New Covenant, His Son Christ Jesus.
In the Old Covenant, those who refused to be subject to the ‘yoke’ of the Babylonians, were promised punishment. Further, God warned His people, not to listen to the foolishness of the ‘prophets’ of the day.
And now under the New Covenant, which He made with all men, with the death of Christ on the Cross, all who subject themselves to the ‘yoke’ of Christ, repent and be baptized, will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
On the one hand, refusal to submit resulted in punishment, and obedience led to peace; on the other hand, obedience to the yoke of the Son leads to peace, and disobedience to everlasting punishment. And so once again, as God did in under the Old Covenant, He has placed before us life and death. We must chose life in Christ Jesus. And in order to fully submit, and find life, in Christ Jesus, we must leave behind our own ambitions, our own desires, our own understanding of life, our own passions, what others claim is ‘wisdom’, but in fact is pure foolishness in the sight of God; in fact our very own selves.
What does all of this have to do with TessAnne and Mandela? The lives of both are ” trending ” now in Jamaica. But across the entire world, only Mandela is ” trending”. Why? I listened to TessAnne last night and was blown away by her rendition of ” Bridge over troubles waters”. And tweeted about it, and was retweeted. She put her whole soul into that song. And we enjoyed it and felt ‘lifted up’. But Mandela gave his life for others. Sacrificed his marriage, his family life, his physical being, his all for others. And thus we praise him and salute him today and for the rest of the week. And ‘lift him up’. How much more then, shall we love and adore, praise and lift up the Name, bow down and submit to Him, Jesus the Christ, who suffered and died for me and for you, so that we may not perish, but have life, and life more abundantly.
I pray God that you too will lift Him up as you read the very Word of God, from Jeremiah and from the Acts of The Apostles, and find the peace that invaded my soul yesterday as I read;
” But the eyes of The Lord are on those
who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love.
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine”. Psalm 33:18-19 NIV
THE WORD – JEREMIAH
Early in the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord : this is what the Lord said to me: ‘Make a yoke out of straps and crossbars and put it on your neck. Then send word to the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon through the envoys who have come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah.
Give them a message for their masters and say, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Tell this to your masters: with my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him.
All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him. ‘“‘If, however, any nation or kingdom will not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon or bow its neck under his yoke, I will punish that nation with the sword, famine and plague, declares the Lord, until I destroy it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your interpreters of dreams, your mediums or your sorcerers who tell you, “You will not serve the king of Babylon.” They prophesy lies to you that will only serve to remove you far from your lands; I will banish you and you will perish. But if any nation will bow its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let that nation remain in its own land to till it and to live there, declares the Lord.’”’ (Jeremiah 27:1-11 NIVUK)
THE WORD – ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
‘Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him……..
‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’
Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:22-24, 36-47 NIVUK)
THE SECOND LESSON ALSO SENT TO LEADERS IN MY COUNTRY –
IS ALL ABOUT HOW GOD’S WORD TRUMPS EVERY OTHER WORD. EVERY OTHER PHILOSOPHY, VERY OTHER IDEOLOGY EVER TO BE CRAFTED BY MAN
On my way to work, for some reason I turned on the radio – very unusual for me of late – and tuned in to BBC to listen to commentary on Mandela’s Memorial service. I heard, and heard about, Obama’s very special tribute to Madiba. Once again, I was very impressed, and almost got goose bumps listening to him, as I very much did during his speech after his victory in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries way back in the early days. But there was a jarring note as I listened to him quoting the words of the poem which Mandela used to inspired him during the, ” long dark night of the soul”, on Robben Island. “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” It really disturbed my soul as the whole concept of one being the captain of one’s soul runs contrary to my understanding of the Christian faith. And as listened to the commentary on RJRFM and NationwidenewsFM on the way home, I thought about it even more.
Last night then, as I was led to read a section of St. Augustine’s “Confessions” ( that Bishop of the early church and he who has been credited with having had a profound influence the mind of all of us in the Western world) , I was led to the passage of Scripture from St Paul’s letter to the Colossians as set out below. And then this morning to the passage from the book of Corinthians.
A lot of thoughts came into my head as I contemplated this revelation. However I am constrained only to make the following comments. I quite understand why Mandela and others would have been drawn to the profound words in the poem. I quite understand why President Obama, an orator of no mean order, and a man who has an acute sense of history, forged in the crucible of his life experiences, would be drawn to it also. But as children of God, ” washed in the Blood of the Lamb”, we have to be eternally vigilant, to proclaim at all times, to Whom we look, and from Whom, our salvation comes. So, with the Colossians passage in mind, examine the poem, as Augustine examined Circero’s ( the celebrated Greek, or was it Roman, Poet) Hortensius, and was led to understand that wisdom comes only from God. As Job found out also…..the beginning of wisdom is to shun evil. Let anyone should boast before this Almighty God.! As we do so, perhaps, just perhaps, we might find that, in the same way the American people, and we too in Jamaica, are discovering that within us, in Tessanne, was a pearl of great price undiscovered, so too, in these Scriptures, I pray God that we may discover pearls of inestimable value. For the ages!.
THE WORD OF GOD – COLOSSIANS
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8 NIVUK)
THE WORD OF MAN – INVICTUS BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
THE WORD OF GOD – ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.”
‘Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’ (Acts 17:22-29, 31 NIVUK)
THE WORD OF GOD – 1ST CORINTHIANS
For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel – not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ (1 Corinthians 1:17-28, 30, 31 NIVUK)
THE THIRD MESSAGE – AGIN SENT TO LEADERS IN MY CHURCH.
I have long ceased believing in coincidence. So when I read a word one night and an even more important Word in the morning, and think of those who are in error as far as the Truth is concerned, I am led to write accordingly. I pray God for mercy for my many, many sins without ceasing. I pray God also for mercy for those who do not know the correct faith, or who have turned away or continue to ignore the Truth. For the consequence of both my sin and the error of others is the same. Death!
THE WORD OF GOD FROM THE BOOK OF JAMES
” My brothers, if anyone of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-29 NIV
A COUPLE NIGHTS AGO
EXCERPT FROM AUGUSTINE’S CONFESSIONS
“…..But while I would not let this man offer sacrifice for me to his devils, all the time I was offering myself as a sacrifice to them because of my false beliefs. For if we ‘ play shepherd to the wind’, we find pasture for the devil, because by straying from the truth we give them food for laughter and fill their cups with pleasure.” Book 1V, page 72, the final paragraph.
Final Comment: I would humbly suggest to you then my friend(s) that this is no ordinary conversation about the correct faith. This is no exercise in theological reasoning or a philosophical debate, but rather a desperate appeal for you to turn to the living God. To The One who handed over His Son to die for you and for me. To The One who offered Himself as a sacrifice for all mankind on Calvary, so that we should live and not perish. And save your soul.
THE FOURTH MESSAGE – SENT TO PEOPLE OF INFLUENCE IN MY COUNTRY.
I HOPE IT MAKES YOU AS UNCOMFORTABLE AS I DID AS I WROTE AND CONTEMPLATED WHAT THE LORD WAS SAYING. WHICH IS A THOUGHT TRIGGERED BY A SERMON BY A YOUNG PRIEST TODAY IN MY CHURCH. THE EXCERPT BELOW IS WHAT ISENT TO MY CHURCH FAMILY AS I DISCUSSED THE WORD FROM THE LORD.
……And I took pictures and heard a great sermon. Almost full length. And on a subject that people need to hear. Even if it makes them uncomfortable, as one of Rev. Larius’ former tutors suggested that sermons should accomplish…I agree ….perhaps not all the time, but certainly sometimes…. Things are changing. For the better! At least from a non-regular 6:30 person.
SERMON – BY REV. LARIUS
Came to him as he meditated on the gospel reading about John the Baptist and Jesus. Firstly, that the people of God must always speak up and speak out for the truth. No matter what is cost! John was executed by King Herod because he accused the monarch of committing immorality. And then he expanded on that theme for a while. Secondly that John, while in prison, had doubts about who Jesus really was…..”are you the one, or is there someone else to come”. Jesus answered him by pointing to the evidence, evidence and not with words….the deaf hear…the blind see…captives are set free…and the good news is preached to the poor. So must we rely on the evidence of God’s goodness and faithfulness in our lives, not if, but when we lest expect it…. trials, illnesses, and pain and even the death of loves ones come. At that time rather than grieve, or give up as some have done, in the face of great trials…bring to mind, look again at the evidence at when god in former times, demonstrated His faithfulness. And the One who was faithful then, will remain faithful always, even when you cannot understand why.
THE MESSAGE – AGAIN SENT TO PEOPLE OF INFLUENCE IN MY CHURCH
With all the talk in Jamaica and indeed across the entire globe, about Homosexuality and Christianity, and no doubt the Pope’s ” enlightened/compassionate views” on the matter which inter alia contributed to him being named, Time Magazine’s Man of The Year, this Word of God struck a chord in my heart this morning. I came upon it as I did an extended reading of the Gospel appointed for the third Sunday in Advent in my church, Matthew 11:2-11.
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.’ (Matthew 11:20-24 NIVUK)
Comment: The important point that Jesus was making was that all who witnessed His miracle had no excuse, if they kept on living a sinful life. And therefore they would be judged more severely at the end of the age when He would come again not as Savior but as Judge of ” the living and the dead”.
Now, what do we read into this as we approach Christmas in Jamaica as 2013 draws to a close. At a time when violent crime continues to the number one concern for our people. At a time when the economic situation has never been worse, and ” no dollars nah run”, and everybody is feeling the pinch. At a time when homosexuality continues to be a ‘hot button” issue in Jamaica.
The following thoughts came into my mind.
1. The main reason why Sam Sharpe is my favorite Nation Hero is that he taught black people, that because Christ died for them, no man had any right to enslave them. The most liberating message that mankind has ever heard. That all men under God are equal. So we in Jamaica, have no excuse, and for others who have not had this ” miraculous experience”, it will be more bearable for them than for Jamaicans at the time of Judgement. The same thing applies to John Wesley’s UK, and those European nations, to whom the Gospel was preached, after the fall of the Roman Empire. Also the USA where the Pilgrims went, fleeing from religious persecution elsewhere.
Are we in Jamaica suffering any more than Barbados or Trinidad on account of our disobedience to the Word as preached by sam Sharpe? I have no idea, but if we do not repent we are in trouble.
2. All who sin, all who do wrong, and who have been exposed to the ‘ cleansing’ Word of God, whether through this forum, on radio, or other electronic media, and ignore it, should take heed. Whether they are homosexuals, heterosexuals ‘living in sin’, Doctor’s acting in collusion with others to commit fraud, Politicians acting corruptly or breaking the rules with impunity, Dancehall artistes promoting gun lyrics, journalist’s willfully defaming others, Businessmen taking advantage of the poor, those who rape young schoolgirls……
But then another Word struck me last night. From the same Gospel account by Matthew.
” As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ (Matthew 9:9-13 NIVUK)
So with whom might Jesus be ” having dinner”, if He were here this Christmas. I would suggest that the following might be considered: with the homosexuals living on the streets in New Kingston , those heterosexuals who have ” gal in a bundle”, perhaps with Kartel( a top dance hall artiste injail on a charge of murder), maybe even Dudus ( currently serving time in the USA and one of the nation’s most famous gang leader) , dare I say Azan ( a junior Minister who lost his job and was recently reinstated after being accused of, at the very least, breaking the rules and regulations established by the government), the ” shotta bus drivas” ( bus drivers who drive extremely fast and oftentimes carelessly…hopefully with ” me and my house” who have sinned in what we have done and in what we have left undone.” This issue of mercy is not an easy one. By no means.! The key thing at the end of the day, is to accept that Jesus came for you, and for all who have sinned. If you claim to have no sin, despite being exposed to the Word of God, day after day, then it will be more bearable for Sodom, in the time of Judgement than for you. As then you would have rejected the mercy offered to you by the suffering and death of Jesus, the Son of God. And according to the Word, God Himself! What a tragedy! What madness! To so trample on the precious Blood of the Lamb. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy!
As I close, this issue of Mandela, not confessing Christianity, at least not publicly, yet being the embodiment of the evidence which Jesus pointed to, when asked by John if he ( Jesus) was the one to come or should he look for another person, as was discussed in the sermon this morning, is bothering me deeply. Very deeply! We need to consider these things as we wait for Christ to come again into our homes and hearts this Christmas. For if there is no evidence of the Christ living in and through us, what’s the point of saying ” Lord, Lord”. Apart from the fact that Jesus had a challenging answer for that question, How will my country be rescued from the high levels of violence so pervasive in our communities, and which is retarding our development as a nation, and causing untold grief in the hearts of loved ones? How will our young people be set free from the levels of immorality which is so common place in our schools; and which will blight the future of these individuals and the nation if left unchecked? How will my countrymen and women be set free from false beliefs about life and about the nature and person of God; the result of which incorrect understanding of life, as St Augustine points out, is to ‘ give the great pleasure to the devil”? How will all of this happen if there is no evidence of the Christ in us in this nation. So is there no John the Baptist in Jamaica? Is there really no Balm in this Gilead?
What a challenge for me and for you and for the church as we celebrate Christmas!