A New Year’s Message: Of trusting in God regardless of the Times

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 the church that the church may renew the nation(s) – A  prayer for the Decade of Evangelism
NEWS
The start of a new year and the endless possibilities ahead and the memories and lessons  experienced and learnt, trumps everything; at least in my book. Notwithstanding the suicide bombs in Russia, the extreme cold weather causing havoc with flights and lives in North America, Violence in Iran, #Teamshaggynfriends4kids fever in Jamaica as the winner of The Voice Tessanne, teams up with Internationally acclaimed  performer Shaggy and friends for a charity event to earn millions of dollars for a local Pediatric Hospital. Absolutely, everything else pales in comparison with the awesomeness of a new year.
THE WORD OF GOD
So what did The Lord say to His children through his medium at the beginning of 2014?  This week I was moved to write four , very short,   messages. All to do with the need to keep our focus on God, and God alone in the midst of the trials and temptations of this life.
THE FIRST ONE – TO  INFLUENTIAL PERSONS WHO HAVE THE POWER TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN MY COUNTRY, INCLUDING POLITICIANS AND JOURNALISTS. ALL BECAUSE A YOUNG PASTOR LISTENED VERY CAREFULLY TO THE LORD AND WAS OBEDIENT.
1.     Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
beneath his wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.
Refrain:
God will take care of you,
through every day, o’er all the way;
he will take care of you,
God will take care of you.
2. Through days of toil when heart doth fail,
God will take care of you;
when dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you.
(Refrain)
3. All you may need he will provide,
God will take care of you;
nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.
(Refrain)
4. No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you;
lean, weary one, upon his breast,
God will take care of you.
(Refrain)
The referencing of the words of the Hymn above, was one of the highlights of a powerful sermon, preached by a young Pastor, Rev. Larius Lewis,  last night at the Watch-night service at St. Andrew Parish Church….IN KINGSTON JAMAICA
All in the context of the invitation issued to the Shepherds by the angels to go and see baby Jesus. Then he made the historical observation, hitherto unknown by me, and I would dare say most of the congregation, that Shepherds then,  were not good people. In fact,  they were  part of the worst aspects of Jewish society. They would ill treat the sheep, kill them and sell the meat, and then tell the owners that wild animals had attacked them. But it was this kind of ‘lost people’ that God first invited to see the Savior of the world. The question the young preacher then posed,  rang in our ears, ‘ would you invite a gang of criminals to see your new baby or grandchild?. But God by His grace and mercy was from then,  calling the lost and helpless, as He is now,  (in 2014…my words but the implication is clear) calling all who are lost to ‘see  Jesus’.
And on reflection is makes sense, as if we cast our minds back to the well known verse, ” I am the Good Shepherd”, made by Jesus, it stand to reason that they were some, well,  ‘god awful’ ones. Further,  if one reads the entire chapter of John 10, the point is made even more dramatically, although Jesus was speaking metaphorically, in the one of His most famous sayings: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and to destroy; but I have come that they ( the harassed and lost and unprotected sheep…for a full explanation we have go back to Ezekiel 34..an important chapter in the Bible)  may have life and have to the full….or ‘more abundantly’..KJV..
The second point he made about the shepherds was that, it took a great deal of faith, to believe that God had sent the promised Savior in the form of a baby lying in swaddling clothes in a manger with animals, and lying in a feeding trough.
From there he went to question if we would  trusted God in that situation!
Another point he made,  by way of a  true story,  of how while he was teaching for two years before entering Ministry, he overheard a conversation between two teachers, lamenting the state of the profession,  which went like this. ” What a way teaching gone to the dogs”!  And then came the rejoinder. ” No,  teaching has not gone to the dogs, but the dogs have come into teaching.” In that context then, he observed that we now live in a society, where like the ‘fall from grace’  of the shepherds in Jewish society in the time of Jesus, many of our professionals, people once held in high esteem in the society – the politicians, the teachers, ‘men of the cloth’…are now behaving in a way which has betrayed the good name of the profession and has made people cynical. But this is the world into which Jesus came and issued the invitation, that He had not come for the ‘healthy’, but to call sinners to repentance. The implication being that all who are lost, as we all are in one way shape or form, in the presence of a Holy God, have been called by God, invited, to share in the life of Jesus, and to find peace and wholeness.
Finally, he made the point that we must trust God in all situations; as whenever Jesus is in any situation, we can be assured that God will take care of us. Like the woman with the issue of blood; like the woman at the well who had many husbands and none of then belonging to her, who after Jesus had entered her situation, went and told the town, “come see a man’; like the woman the young priest went to see in ICU, who responded to his song for her ” God will take care of you”, by responding in song, ‘ God will take care of me’. Thus showing the kind of faith which we all need to attain, even in the midst of her dire situation. Then in a gesture that moved all our souls, he sang the song made famous by The GRACE THRILLERS… ” can’t even walk without you holding my hand.
All of this was his way of saying, as inspired by The Spirit of God, that in 2014 we should:
” Turn our eyes upon Jesus
Look full into His wonderful face
And the things of this world…like all the trials and temptations
Will look strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
My prayer for you, my wish for you, my gift to you, as we journey together in this ‘demon possessed valley’ where …. BIG BRIDGE, Westmoreland — The reputed leader of the feared Alma Gang, 29-year-old Torneal Haughton, also called ‘Malta’, was shot and killed during a reported shoot-out with the police here yesterday afternoon….lived; where Tessanne lives; where the good, the bad, and the indifferent live, is this simple message. That we may trust God, and turn our eyes on Jesus , the Savior of the world, in 2014. And be patient and confident, as the Shepherds who were invited to see baby Jesus, had to wait, according to the young preacher, 33 years for that prophesy to be manifest.
May the God of Jacob be with all of us in this New Year. And may we trust in Him to take care of us, what ‘er betide in this New Year.
Amen.
Comment: As we go into the new year it is imperative that, despite the crime wave, here in Jamaica, and in other countries across the world, we remember that the God who sent His Son to die for us on the Cross, will take care of those who believe that Christ is the Savior of the world. Regardless of how seemingly hopeless it may appear. In Jamaica, in Syria, in The Sudan, in Iran and in inner city Chicago.
 THE SECOND MESSAGE – A BIT MORE PERSONAL. SENT TO THOSE WHO THROUGH MY PROFESSION, HAVE BECOME ‘ MY CHILDREN’….ONLY SOME OF THEM. IN ADDITION TO THE TWO AND FOUR GRANDS THAT GOD GAVE TO MY WIFE AND MYSELF. BUT THE ADVICE  SHARED BASED ON THE WORD, WILL, IAM CERTAIN, WILL RESONATE WITH OTHERS NOT SO CLOSE, AND WITH THOSE WHO PRAY WITHOUT CEASING FOR THEIR OWN LOVED ONES IN THE ‘TOPSY TURVY’ WORLD. THERE IS ALSO A SUBLIMINAL SUB-TEXT; THAT READING GOOD BOOKS OUGHT TO BECOME A PRIORITY, EVEN, MORE SO, IN THIS SMART PHONE ERA
Many years ago, I read this quote from C.S. Lewis ( one of the most widely read, not just theologian, but wise persons,  in the history of the church..and in fact even in secular society). It left an indelible impression on my then young mind. This morning I had reason to recall it as The Lord led me to reflect on His Glory – the Shekinah…Hebrew term.
As I read the word of holy Scriptures, the glory of Tessanne’s victory came to mind; so did Usain Bolt’s many victories, with his signature ‘to de worl’ pose; so did the feeling we had when Obama was sworn in as the first black President of the USA; and latterly Mandela’s famous speech in the dock…” I have fought against white domination, I have fought against black domination….and then the majestic closing words which must have brought a lump to many a throat……but if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
But compare all of this glory to :
” O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all
the earth!.
You have set your glory above
the heavens…….Psalm 8:1
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the works.
 of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language where
their voice is not heard…..Psalm 19:1-3 ( if you recall this is a verse quoted in the Internet ministry last week)
Then consider the glory of God as manifested in the heavens, and the glory is ours in Christ.
” What is man, that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You have made him a little lower than
the heavenly beings ( angels KJV)
and crowned him with glory and honor…..” Psalm 4-5
” Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may share in his glory”. Romans 8:17
Why  am I being led to write to  you young people who I love, to whom the God who makes no mistakes, and with whom there is no issue of chance,  has brought us together? For perspective in life ! As you mature and enjoy, or aspire to share in,  the wonderful gifts of  marriage, of sex, of children, of professional life, of the various pleasures that life has to offer:  all of which  God by His grace has given to us to enjoy within the context of marriage; remember always that  self-control, discipline, patience,  denial of self in material things, at the very least; and if it God’s will and purpose,  persecution and suffering, are part of the journey to that glory. This is what, as Christians, we have ‘signed up for’. So be self controlled and alert,  as the devil is like a roaring lion, telling you otherwise, in so many ways, and via different sources and distractions.
If you keep this perspective, the vast difference between earthly pleasures and glory, and the promised glory to be had in Christ Jesus, now and eternally, even, and especially through suffering of some sort,  you will not fall into the trap that many have. With the attendant trials to family life and health. And worse of all  trouble in your soul.
May the God of Jacob, whose Word has be given to keep us from trouble and sin, guide and keep you safe in Christ Jesus in 2014 and beyond.
LWJ
THE THIRD MESSAGE – SENT TO MY ANGLICAN CHURCH LEADERS. TRIGGERED BY A DISCUSSION  WITH ONE OF JAMAICA’S LEADING THEOLOGIANS AND HIGHLY RESPECTED PREACHER, BAPTIST MINISTER BURCHELL TAYLOR. AGAIN C.S.LEWIS FEATURES IN THE DSICUSSION.
An encounter with Rev. Burchell Taylor, a reflection on words from C. L. Lewis’ ” The Problem of Pain, and meditation on a song in my heart as I awoke this morning led me to 1 Peter. And to this Word in particular along with others.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:9-12 NIVUK)
Lewis asserted that there was an a priori acceptance of wrong and right in the society into the early church was formed. And thus the Apostles preached to persons who understood that they were sinners. But in the time of Lewis, that had changed. For many reasons as he with his brilliant mind  together with philosophical and historical training, discerned!. As we were discussing yesterday, at Rev. Brown’s funeral outside during the long tributes, the situation in Jamaica is far worse. So Burchell reflected that we as Christians, must not only challenge people with the Word to convict them of Sin, but must more importantly, in this society, become the embodiment of the Word, in how we live.
The Word above then reflects this truth, in a profound way. But also reminds us of who we are in Christ, and who we were B.C. And our true and only calling. To glorify God!
No doubt in 2014 we need to take these fundamental truths on board as we seek to minister to an increasingly secular and lawless society. With tragic effects and manifestations on the roads, in the communities, in the homes, in the schools, at the workplace, in the media and ‘entertainment’…with a ‘sting’.. sector.
Happy New Year
LWJ
THE FINAL WORD – WRITTEN BUT NOT SENT, AS GMAIL WAS ACTING UP.  UNTIL THIS MORNING WHEN, AT LEAST MY SERVICE RESUMED. ORIGINALLY MEANT FOR THE SAME GROUP OF POWERFUL PERSONS WRITTEN TO IN THE FIRST MESSAGE.  C.S. LEWIS AGAIN FEATURES ; THIS TIME WITH AN ADDITIONAL INSIGHT INTO HUMAN BEHAVIOR AND THE PLAN OF THE EVIL ONE. A PERSPECTIVE WE NEED TO KEEP IN MIND , CONSTANTLY, AS WE GO THROUGH THE YEAR.
Two profound thoughts occupied my mind this week. One from the Bible. The other from C. S. Lewis.
The first one from the Bible answers a lot of questions, not all, about the  response of some people, throughout history of mankind, to  the Gospel. The second, from C. S.Lewis’ ” The Problem of Pain’,  offers a perspective on why contemporary man is so ‘lukewarm’ to the Gospel. ( and into my mind comes the thought- which is rooted in Scripture – thank God for the remnant.)
THE FIRST PASSAGE
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up…….. when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. (Matthew 13:3, 4, 19 NIVUK)
The implication on this passage is crystal clear. When we share the gospel, make sure that people understand what we are saying. Otherwise Satan will come and ‘take it away from them’.  Their lives will be no better, as they will  not be moved to repent; and the question then arises of our stewardship of the Word. The flip side of this argument however , is that if people understand and yet reject the ‘good news’, then their ‘blood is on their own heads’.
THE SECOND PASSAGE -WHICH I TWEETED LAST NIGHT
@lucienforJesus: A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to the Christian life. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad.#CSLewis #Jesuscameforme
 The Biblical teaching which no doubt inspired this profound observation by Lewis is to be found  – one of several – in the passage below.
THE BIBLE
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)
I shared this last observation with my church leaders yesterday. Pondered on it last night, and hence the Tweet. This morning, I awoke and another Lewis observation, this time from Screwtape Letters came  back into my head; having read the passage many years ago and having been arrested by its truth from that time.  It offers an example of how the devil trains his minions to tempt people to move away from the basic Christian doctrine of sin.
SCREWTAPE – WRITING TO WORMWOOD, HIS NEPHEW AND JUNIOR DEVIL IN TRAINING ABOUT THE VIRTUES OF ENCOURAGING PEOPLE  TO  BELIEVE IN A ‘HISTORICAL’ JESUS WHO CHANGES WITH EACH PASSING GENERATION
“……….. The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact ( the Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine( the Redemption) operating on a sense of sin which they already had – and sin, not against some fancy-dress law produced as a novelty by a ‘ great man’, but against the old, platitudinous, universal moral law which they had been taught by their nurses and mothers. The ‘Gospels’ come later, and were written, not to make Christians, but to edify Christians already made.
The ‘ historical’ Jesus, then, however dangerous he may seem to be to us at some particular point, is to be encouraged. About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their Christian life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their advancement, but failing that, as a means to anything – even to social justice.
The thing to do is to get a man first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think that they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop ( in today’s world the analogy would be quite different – to a big house, a fancy car,  good job, a good man or woman…my words. Fortunately, it is quite easy to coax humans round this corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the grounds that ‘ only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilizations.’
You see the little rift? ‘ Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’
That’s the game.
Your affectionate uncle.
SCREWTAPE.
Comment: No wonder Jesus called the devil a ‘liar’. As he has done so much damage over the years, and continues to woo away the unsuspecting, even in the church, from the central doctrine of Redemption  built on the historical fact of The Resurrection. I believe this extract from Lewis’ Screwtape letters, written as an ‘instruction manual’ to young devils in training, explains a great deal about the misunderstanding by politicians, journalists and many others in the society, including, sadly, very sadly,  church members, of the Word of God.   Our role then, as enlightened Christians, is to ensure that persons understand the central thrust of the Faith- to call people to repentance, by The Word and how we live.
I pray God that I have helped to make someone understand the Faith a little better and by God’s grace and mercy, will be empowered to continue to do so in 2014.
Peace.
LWJ
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