Beyond Christmas and beyond Pain and Suffering lies the Cross of Calvary

I read my Bible to see what men ought to do; and read my newspapers to see what men are doing.

Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew the church that the church may renew the nation(s)

THE NEWS

1. On the day before I retuned home, having spent a most enjoyable time with friends and family in Miami, I opened my phone to read of the tragedy that took place in my country Jamaica on Christmas Day. One online newspaper reported that five person had been murdered on that day of Peace and Goodwill towards men.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=57439

What untold sadness and grief and pain must have overcome the families of those five persons. Especially on this the most popular of al holidays in my country! if truth be told however, jamaica is not peculiar in that respect; experiencing tragedy around Christmas time. One well recalls the horror, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which killed over 300, 000 person; and the ten year anniversary of which event made the news in the USA this past week

2. The Christmas story continues to dominate the news both in Jamaica and in the USA, even as the Day of celebrations and attendant events recede into the background.

Yes the breaking news of the plane missing over Indonesia, and the continued story of the two slain policemen and the protests over police brutality in the USA held my attention. But the major news for me were the two stories above.

Both of which issue raised in my mind, as I spent time in the richest country in the world, the question of how to minister to people in a materialistic age, when it appears they that really do not need God; on the one hand. While on the other, how do you minister to people in the midst of their suffering and pain; and worse, to those who are the architects of such misery. Perhaps an early quote from a book mentioned later ought to exercise our minds. As it certainly did for me as I read and reflected on it it on the flight back home tonight.

” A man who seemed about to lose both his career and his family once said to me, ” I always knew, in principle, that ‘ Jesus is all you need’, to get through. But you don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have”.

THE WORD OF GOD

So, in the midst of human suffering, and the story of how the God-Man – a man of sorrows and suffering – unfolded, what Word of word of inspiration did the Lord send?

THE FIRST MESSAGE – Sent out on WhatsApp, speaks directly to the dilution of the Christmas message, which seems to be the ‘big story’ of this materialistic age. A ‘minimalist’, appreciation of the suffering of Christ, and His Resurrection, which according to The Rev. Timothy in his new book ” Walking with God through Pain and Suffering’, is at the root of the inability of Western Societies to handle suffering. And hence rage at God, ” Why me”, or ” Why would a loving God permit this”, when trouble strikes. This, according to Keller, comes about because so many live a lukewarm Christian life. A point he develops in this fascinating book, as Jamaica’s tragedy on Christmas day, and so that which occurred ten years ago in the Indian Ocean, cry out for answers. And which is the point Jesus is making, all because we do not, or to be more accurate, no longer in the Western world, appreciate how sinful we are before a Holy God, and how The fall of Mankind in the Garden of Eden, has brought untold suffering to the world. The only answer to which is the Savior of both Creation and all mankind, The Christ-child; who would later become The Savior of the World, in and through Suffering and Pain, as ordained by God.

THE MESSAGE

BEYOND CHRISTMAS
Jesus says lukewarm love for Him, part time love for Him, is useless, and even dangerous. We have to die to ourselves, our desires, ambitions and love only Him…..because we are wretched in our sins. That’s why He came to die for us. All of us

THE WORD OF GOD
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were either one or the other. So because you are lukewarm – neither neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say ‘ I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing’. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can covet your shameful nakedness, and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. ( O Jesus have mercy on my soul for that is how I am seen by a Holy God).
Those who I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent ( of all our presumptuous and pride). Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door ( today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…Hebrews 1) I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelations 3: 14-20. NIV
Probably one of the most important messages I have ever written. Why? Because too often we have separated Christmas from Good Friday and Easter. And that was never God’s intention. For what God has joined together let no man, no society, no civilization, set apart.
How did I arrive at this passage. During a reflection on praise song? Praise to the Lord the Almighty, the King of creation……..shieldeth thee gently from harm, or when fainting sustaineth.
May the God of Jacob continue to shield us from spiritual harm and error, and sustain us in a spiritually hostile world. Amen

THE SECOND MESSAGE – sent out on WhatsApp also, features the Salvation story as recoded in Isaiah, many many years before the first Christmas. A history Salvation promised to a people who had rejected “their maker”, The Holy One of Israel. And so His wrath was stored up against them. The same wrath which hangs over the head of ‘all who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’. But who , thank God, are saved from this terrible wrath of God, only in and through accepting the gift of forgiveness of sins, wrought by The Christ-child on the Cross of Calvary. Every other narrative, whether told at Christmas or otherwise, is either false or ‘lukewarm’ Christianity – useless and dangerous.

THE MESSAGE

CHRISTMAS – THE COMING OF THE EMMANUEL, GOD IS WITH US – IS THE SALVATION PROMISED TO CHILDREN OF ISRAEL
In that day you will say: I will praise you, O, Lord.
Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord is my strength and song; he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:1-3

WHY WAS GOD ANGRY?

1.Because these people have rejected the gently flowing waters of Siloah and rejoices over Resin the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them…..

2. When men tell you to consult the mediums and spiritists who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.

3. Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from my people….. What will you do on the day or reckoning child…..
SO TO WHOM WAS THE CHILD JESUS WAS PROMISED
The people walking on darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned….
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…..
AND WHO IS THIS CHILD JESUS
And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

THE TAKE HOME MESSAGE FOR ME AS I WAS AWAKENED TO READ ISAIAH 7-12 EARLY THIS MORNING?
That those to whom Salvation, Jesus Christ, was promised, and therefore we too in this age, were is serious trouble with God, and subject to His wrath. In fact they had been banished to Assyria on account of their repeated rebellion. And eventually only a remnant was allowed to return to Jerusalem. Consequently they were living in darkness and in the shadow of death. But thank God for Jesus the offer of Salvation, reconciliation with God by grace, came to them. But they had to draw it – accept and receive it. Sadly only a remnant, a small group of people, relatively speaking, in this age also, recognize their desperate state before a Holy God, and are prepared to ‘ draw from the well of salvation. Pray God all of us will realize that we are #BlindPitifulNakedPoorWretched and accept the only Christmas Gift that matters. #ChristourSavior

THE THIRD MESSAGE – again a WhatApp message, set me thinking a lot about my own life, and how I have reflected this necessary and ‘about turn’ in my Christian witnesses. Lest I too be accused of being ‘lukewarm’ and diluting the Christian message, in an era when materialism is proving to the downfall of so many human beings, who are in imminent danger of ‘perishing’. And for whom we need to travail in prayer and in Christian witness. ” For they know not what they do”!

THE MESSAGE
Something to think about. As when Christ comes into our lives, He comes to disturb us. If no profound change takes place, then I question if you have met the Crucified Christ. And so would Tolstoy and all of the early Saints of the Church.

GOOD AND EVIL CHANGED PLACES

LEO TOLSTOY – ONE OF THE GREAT RUSSIAN AUTHORS WHO WROTE ‘ WAR AND PEACE’. CONSIDERED ONE
THE BEST NOVELS EVER WRITTEN. AND ALSO THE CLASSIC ‘ ANNA KARENINA. A MUST READ IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN IT. A CHRISTIAN TO WHOM IS ACCREDITED THE FAMOUS QUOTE: I BELIEVE THAT THE WILL OF GOD IS MOST INTELLIGIBLE EXPRESSED IN THE TEACHINGS OF THE MAN JESUS

VERSE: LUKE 23:43….Jesus answered him, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

Five years ago I came to believe in Christ’s teachings, and my life suddenly changed ; I ceased to desire what I had previously desired, and began to desire what I formerly did not want. What had previously seemed good to me seemed evil, and what had seemed evil seemed good.
It happened to me as happens to a man who goes out on some business and on the way suddenly decides that the business is unnecessary and returns home. All that was on his right is now on his left; his former wish to get as far as possible from home has changed into a wish to be as near as possible to it. The direction if my life and my desires became different, and good and evil changed places……

THE FOURTH AND FINAL MESSAGE – sent yesterday, features an introduction to a book, and an early discussion on one of life’s greatest questions. The Problem of Pain and Suffering! Whether #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter; Whether in The Indian Ocean or in Jamaica; Whether in #HorrorinPesharar or #Remembering9/11; whether a plane lost over Indonesian waters today or over Malaysian territory last year. And as I continued to read this remarkable book, during the flight home tonight, after having, ‘posted a message’, to senior leaders in all spheres of life in my country yesterday, two other issues resonated with me in these additional excepts;

” Over the years, I also came to realize that adversity did not merely lead people to believe in God’s existence. It pulled those who already believed into a deeper experience of God’s reality, love and grace. One of the main ways in which we move from abstract knowledge about God to a personal encounter with him as a living reality is through the the furnace of affliction. As C.S. Lewis famously puts it, ” God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain”.
THE RISE OF THE IMMANENT FRAME’
In the early modern era, Christianity was ascendant in Europe and in the New World colonies as well. But over the next five hundred years, things changed. As philosopher Charles Taylor asked, ” Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable” Over the past five centuries, the original faith-filled and religious societies of the West have slowly become more secular…..Belief in God is allowed but regularly challenged as problematic and seen as just one option for life among many others…….Because there is no transcendent, supernatural order, outside of me – which gives rise to the term ” the immanent frame” – it is I who determine what i am and who I will be…… The shift to this new sense of self, Taylor argued, required an enormous new growth in ” confidence in our powers of moral ordering”. In older times, there was a much greater humility about our ability to understand the universe…..
THE MESSAGE
If you are looking for a good book to read: for a better understanding of God; for a deeper relationship with Him; or just tired of the standard answers that do not explain your pain or your circumstance, Rev. Timothy Keller’s new book might be a revelation.
This New York Times best seller of several books, most of which I have read, has an extensive ministry in Manhattan, and which ministry is spreading across the USA. Mainly because he dedicated time after the worship service to listen and respond to the questions of the doubters and skeptics, about which experience he shared in the book that brought him fame; The Reason For God: Belief in an age of Skepticism.
The title of his new book, which I just bought and began reading is : Walking With God Through Pain And Suffering.
Excepts ….
INTRODUCTION
The Rumble of Panic beneath Everything
I think that taking life seriously means something like this: that whatever man does on this planet had to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation….. of the rumble of panic underneath everything. Otherwise it is false…..
Suffering is everywhere, unavoidable, and its scope often overwhelms. If you spend one hour reading this book, more than five children throughout the world will have died from abuse and violence during that time…. Thousands die from traffic accidents or cancer every hour, and hundreds of thousands learn that their loved ones are suddenly gone…..comparable to the population of a small city being swept away every day…
Shakespeare understood this when he wrote:
Each new morn
New widows howl, new orphans cry
New sorrows strike heaven on the face.
…….Therefore, no matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and success with our career – something will eventually ruin it. No amount of money, power, and planning can prevent bereavement, dire illness, relationship betrayal, financial disaster, or a host of other troubles from entering in your life. Human life is fatally fragile and subject to forces beyond our power to manage. Life is tragic.
……We all need support if we are not to succumb to despair. In this book we will argue that inevitably this support must be spiritual.
LET THE AFFLICTED HEAR AND BE GLAD
…..But at the same time I learned that just as many people find God through affliction and suffering. They find that affliction moves them towards God than away. Troubled times awaken them out of their haunted sleep of spiritual self-sufficiency into a serious search for the divine. Suffering, ” plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul”
Comment: Having suffered during very trying times, and survived only by the grace and mercy of God, I can attest to how much those experiences have drawn me closer to God. And thus I write. And write! For at the end of the day, everything is but a passing mist unless you belong to Christ. Regardless of how well you have lived and where! As the same judgement awaits all.
Peace, and in that context I wish for you a New Year in Christ Jesus.
LWJ

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