A New Year’s Message about the origins of Affluenza and ISIS: And of Christ The Redeemer

GM: AN OLD MESSAGE FOR A NEW YEAR

Last night, in fact, early this morning, as I slept, two passages of Scripture entered my mind.
The first one is a Revelation of the Cosmic battle that is raging at one level about the Root cause of Sin.
Whilst  at another level we are preoccupied with the manifestations,  the symptoms, of Sin; murdering a bus driver in an inner city for $700; selling polluted gas at some stations; the vulgarity which has characterized, so far, the phenomenon of Donald Trump; defeating ISIS in Ramadi, and hoping to drive them out of Mosul in Iraq; the flight of the ‘Affluenza kid’ – too rich to know right from wrong: Seriously! – and Bill Cosby’s spectacular and very disappointing ‘ fall from grace’.

In the midst of all of this, and as we approach a New Year 2016 AD – Anno Domini, which is the Latin for ‘ the year of our Lord, lest we forget – Jesus reminds us that:

” The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full ( more abundantly) “. John 10:10

The challenge for the Church, in 2016, and has always been throughout the ages,  is to insert this narrative into a conversation dominated by: Star Wars, ‘The Force Awakens’; Sting, the ‘ bashment party of the year’; Lebron James vs Steve Curry or ‘ MSN’  of Barcelona in La Liga vs Sanchez et al of The Gunners in BCL; Justin Bieber in the US and Popcaan in Ja; the agenda and focus of a  DjmillerJA and Cliff Hughes in Ja, and CNN and The New York Times in the US; and most importantly in this age, the discussions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

So as we contemplate this eternal struggle to make an Old Story, The Gospel of Christ,  relevant in a changing world, this is where the second passage of Scripture helps us.

” A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will beat fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will test on him –
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of  power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of God – and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. ” Isaiah 11:1-3

I close with the observation that all of Scripture points us on one direction:
‘to have the mind of Christ’.
But that wisdom, that knowledge, that power which the Holy Spirit imparts to us,  to  ‘ build up the body of Christ’ – The Church – and to fight against the Thief who has come to Destroy, comes only when,  as Bonhoeffer states:
‘ When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die’.

Otherwise, my understanding, is that  we are building a Church whose foundation is ‘ Cheap Grace’. And children of Cheap Grace cannot rescue a country from ‘ murder for $700’. Or from the madness of Affluenza!

I pray God then, that in this New Year, we will be prepared to ‘ die to self’ and follow the Only One who gives Life, and Life more abundantly. Even Christ Jesus. Otherwise, as we say in Jamaica, ‘ dog nyam we supper’.

Or in the more acceptable language of the Bible, The Thief who has come, not just to steal and kill us, but to destroy our very souls, will overcome us. And continue to reign in Jamaica and in the US and elsewhere!

But only for a time, as the Old and unchanging  Message from the Cross,  is that Sin and Death and all Evil have been overcome. Forever!
Peace. And Happy New Year when it comes tomorrow.

And so we sing with the song writers, one of whom bids us: ‘ hush the noise ye men of strife and hear the angels sing’. And another who helps us to sing the glorious song;  at the end of the year, at the end of a particularly difficult struggle, and a song all who love Jesus ought to sing daily, even in the midst of the struggles of life.

Your grace and mercy, brought me through. I’m living this day because of you.
I want to thank you and praise your name. Your grace and mercy brought me through.(2015) And will sustain me in 2016 and forevermore.
O Jesus!

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Murder and Rape – The Worst of Times: Christ and Christmas – The Best of Times

GM: CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT SINGING A NEW SONG EVEN IN THE MIDST OF WAR

Charles Dickens famous lines, ‘ It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, from his novel A Tale of Two Cities, came to mind as I began writing on this Christmas Eve morning.
A day of ‘ Grand Market’ in my country; a time when the final shopping for gifts take place, and the children especially ‘have a good time’, hanging out with friends, and the older ones go partying.  A day when the Christmas song ‘ It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’ takes on new urgency. Hams to be baked, Sorrel to be tasted to make sure it’s right, final touches applied to the house, the right outfit for Christmas Day to be inspected, or bought; all in a frenzy of excitement for ‘ the birth of Christ’. The best of times indeed!

But then in the midst of this, while I am far away from home, came the news yesterday of a tragedy. Right in the heart of the Christmas celebrations!  News that gunmen shot and killed one my patients. A gentleman! A quiet man! A thoughtful man! A teacher at a prominent high school, who,  according to the tributes on Facebook, touched the lives of many.

As I went bed late last night, and whilst doing my devotions, something triggered the recollection of ‘ all things work for the good of those who love him’. And I found myself asking the Lord, ‘ How does this make sense in the brutal killing of one if your servants’?

And this morning as I write about the best of times, and the worst of times, words from the Psalm appointed for Christmas Day, come into my mind. Perhaps that’s the answer from the Lord. Who knows!

Psalm 96

‘O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth….’

And immediately words from  another ‘ more famous’ Psalm ‘ spoke to my soul.

‘ By the rivers of Babylon ( words also from a Bob Marley song) –
there we sat down and wept
when we remembered Zion…
How could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.’. Psalm 137

So how can we sing the Lord’s song, a new song of Hope, of Joy, of Peace, in this ‘ strange land’ of murder most foul in Jamiaca. In a ‘ strange land’  of  kidnapping and rape in Syria. In a ‘ strange land’ where to wish someone Merry Christmas may be deemed offensive.

Perhaps the answer from the Lord began as I read a story on Twitter yesterday by Donna Brazile about how President Obama’s faith in Jesus has influenced his actions. And none more important than the speech he made at the funeral of the Pastor, his friend, who along with other members of the congregation, had been gunned down by someone who they welcomed into a Bible Study session. How he changed the script presented to him, and wrote most of it himself. Why?
Because of what he had read how the grieving families, by the grace of God, made a decision to forgive the killer.
Forgiveness in the midst of pain and sorrow. The best of humanity emerging and escaping from the shadow of death and the clutches of evil, urging retaliation!  What the writer of the article called the essence of the Christian faith. And so, at a point in time in the speech, I read how  POTUS bowed his head, and slowly and haltingly, at first, began to sing, Amazing Grace.

Then last night I had a vivid dream. A dramatic dream. I was preaching. ‘ It’s not about having the ‘ victory in Christ’; its not about certainty that angels encamp around us; but it’s all about Mercy. And therefore we need to Repent. And pray for Mercy.

Perhaps this Mercy is what Lady Saw, now back to Marion Hall,  was trying to get across during a riveting interview with @djmiller on #rjrfm94 yesterday. This,  as she expressed shame and regret about her ‘ former life’, as a dance hall artiste known for her slackness; that God had not forgotten her even when she was being disobedient to Him #Mercy. #SaultoPaul

So how can we ‘ sing a new song’ in a strange land of wickedness and evil? Because in the midst of evil, at the appointed time God sent His Son. At Christmas! A Mystery surely. But the full and complete expression of the Grace of God, who in Christ, came to die, so that all our sins, including the murder of this gentle soul may be forgiven. For all, every single human being alive or dead, at one time, ‘ had sinned, and fallen short of the Glory of God.
That’s why his Christian wife, and those who loved that High School Teacher,  will be able to sing, in faith,  ‘Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me’, at the funeral. For it is only by the Grace of God, by His Mercy, why there remains pockets  of goodness and love in this world. For if the world was still in the BC, Before Christ, mode, God alone knows what would have become of us. For there would have been no forgiveness for  those who harm us. No repentance for sins. Only the awaiting of God’s wrath upon the earth – the worst of times. People who claim that there is no God, really don’t understand history, and don’t have a clue  from what we have been Redeemed, from  the worst of mankind.

So tomorrow, or tonight,  let us thank God for Jesus, for because of Christmas we have the best of times, even as evil in many and various forms, continues to swirl around us. For the end of Psalm 96 promises that:

He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the people with his truth. Vs 13.

For the blessed hope that we have in the midst of pain and grief, is that ‘ this same Jesus will come again’, to Judge the world. We pray God then, even as we grieve about the worst of times, and celebrate the best of times, that He may continue to ‘ open doors so that we can declare the mystery of Christ’.
That all people may come to know of His Amazing Grace. For it’s only when we fully comprehend this Grace that we can truly with understanding sing Joy to the World.
Peace. In fact  Shalom. 

Miss Universe, The Voice, and Mary The Mother of Jesus

GM: CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT CELEBRATING GOD’S PRESENCE WITH US

In the midst of grandfathering here in Miami – went to the latest Stars Wars Movie hours after arriving;  then with great delight, two of them tried to declare me bankrupt in ( X Box) Monopoly the same night, and the following night all four came together and with my wife we had a wonderful time – yesterday morning I found a quiet moment before church,  and read this wonderful and instructive meditation.

As we consider the profound reality of God’s presence with us in Christ Jesus, a passage of Scripture which came to mind, as I contemplated this message, reveals the huge difference that Jesus Christ, the Incarnate One, God with us,  makes.

The Word of God

http://bible.com/111/heb.12.18-21.niv You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”  The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

This was the God that the Children of Israel, the Chosen Ones, to whom The God of Abraham revealed Himself in special way. A God, in a sense, far off, whose face no living creature could see and live.

But because of  Christmas, and on account of the Atonement wrought on the Cross, we have Redemption of our sins. And on account of the Resurrection of Christ we also, who were baptised, have been raised to a New and unending Life, in whom God, the same God of Abraham, lives.

What a Mystery! What Joy! What Peace! What Power. To endure persecution and suffering; to fight for Justice for the weak and powerless; to live a Righteous life, and to be obedient and loyal to a holy God, in the midst of moral confusion; to have courage in the face of ISIS and murderous gunmen; and to search for the stray, bind up the wounded, comfort the grieving, go after the lost and rescue the perishing,  care for the dying.

This is the context in which we need to understand what Brother Lawrence , one of the mystics of the early church (1605-1691) wrote about

CONTINUE IN HIS PRESENCE

Brother Lawrence

Verse: Proverbs 8:30….then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I  was daily his delight, (31) rejoicing in his inhabited world and always delighting in the human race.

There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God……
If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but practicing the presence of God. If I were to be responsible for guiding  souls I the right direction, I would urge everyone to be aware of God’s constant presence; if no other reason than because his presence is such a delight to our souls and spirits.

It is, however, also necessary. If we knew how much we need God’s grace, we never lose touch with him. Believe me make a commitment never to deliberately stray from, to live the rest of your life in his holy presence. Don’t do this in expectation of receiving heavenly comforts, simply do it out if love for him.
Put your hand to the task! If you do not right, you will soon see the results

Comment: It cannot be by coincidence that the Sermon at #StMatthewTheApostle Episcopalian Church in Kendall Florida, was all about Mary. The one who  had a servant heart, and believed the Angel, that she,  who was poor, unmarried and  of no account in the eyes of  mankind,  but who God ‘ regarded highly’, would give birth to Son of God.

Like #JordanSmith, the winner of #TheVoice2015 who sang the haunting song below, Mary had no idea what  God’s plans in all of this was, but she believed, and was rewarded. Not with material blessings, but with the very presence of God in and with her, and all of mankind!  And as Father Jamie said at the beginning, many are searching for a blessing this Christmas; the lonely, the brokenhearted, the financially distressed and the emotionally overwhelmed.
And the greatest blessing  awaits all who would believe – The Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion. Where as the songwriter declares in faith: ” Here O my Lord I see thee face to face…..”.

So as we enjoy the company of family and friends, and share in a meaningful way with the poor, and the lonely, whether we are Miss Universe for a few minutes, or for an entire year #SteveHarvey, whether we are in Miami, or  ‘ on the rock’ in Jamaica, let us be determined to believe, as Mary did, that Jesus Christ, is ‘ the Lord of all Creation’. And that ‘ He lives, He lives, within our hearts’; once we believe.

And since like Jesus, belief is a gift from God, cry out to Him this Christmas, in the same way a father many years ago,  cried out to Jesus. And about which  story  I was led to  tweet last night.

I believe help my unbelief Mark 9:24 So that like Mary I may believe and that you O God may #PerformMiracles #MerryChristmas

For, we too wish to have The Peace and the Joy, that only the Crucified Christ, ‘ Heaven’s Perfect Lamb’, can bring. And it ought to be our prayer, that as this Christ lives in us, out of us, in a mysterious way, will flow ‘ streams of living waters’, the promised Holy Spirit, who Only can bring Peace to a Troubled World.

Mary Did You Know Lyrics

Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered
Will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You’ve kissed the face of God

Oh, Mary did you know

The blind will see,
the deaf will hear,
The dead will live again

The lame will leap,
the dumb will speak,
The praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your Baby Boy
Is Heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding
Is the great I am

Moses, ISIS and Christmas

GM: CHRISTMAS IS ALSO ABOUT FAITH AND HOPE

The Lord does amazing things all the time, if you watch and listen carefully.

Today I began ‘my devotions’  knowing that I have limited time. But then this happened:

Recalling that I woke up with Zechariah’s  – John the Baptist father – song on my heart, I begin with the Benedictus:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel…..
and when I arrive at ,
‘ That we should be saved from  our enemies: and from the hands of all that hate us,’;
this sobering thought came into my mind.

That, if we focus on ISIS,  what happened in San Bernardino,  the threat of Zik V – the headlines of the Daily Gleaner today, or our current personal health financial our domestic issues, we would have missed the point the reason why  Christ came into the world.
Listen again to the words of the Benedictus:

‘To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers: and to remember his holy covenant.’

For the reality of life, like it or not, believe it or not, is that God called Israel unto Himself, not because He loved them anymore than we the Gentiles – all who are not Jews. But that His people might bring Him glory across the whole earth. And so Israel, so the Church in these times.

For who in the world has not heard about Moses and his staff that ” parted the Red Sea “. Very few, I would suggest. They may not have heard of Christianity and salvation in Christ Jesus, but they have heard of the God of Moses.

Yesterday I listened to Emily Shields, one of our popular talk show hosts on #rjr94fm, and Moses called to speak to her. And without missing a beat, she asked him he had a staff. Now I don’t know if she is a committed Baptized child of God, but she certainly has heard about Moses.

So here is the thing, as the young people love to say:
Regardless of what is happening around us, once we are in Christ, once we believe that Christ came, whenever, Christmas we know so we celebrate it, and that He died and was raised from the dead, we have a blessed Hope, in the midst of every storm. That ‘ we shall be saved from our enemies: and from the hands of all that hate us’. Regardless of how such enemies manifest themselves!

In this context then, the Lord reminded me of these promises in the Book of Isaiah:

” But now, this is what the Lord says –
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
‘ Fear not, for I have redeemed you:
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When ( not if) 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.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel your Savior.
Isaiah 43:1-2 NIV

Have mercy! Have mercy. As I read these glorious promises, tears of gratitude moistened my eyes. O Blessed by the Lord God if Israel indeed.

But the Lord was not finished. For on the opposing page highlighted in green,  were these famous and profound words.

‘ 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?
Isaiah 43:18 &19 NIV

Followed by this:

Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob,
you have not wearied yourself for me, O Israel. Isaiah 43:22

Now you don’t have to be any great theologian to recognize the promise of  salvation in Christ Jesus, the ‘ new thing’, in all of this.
So what’s the take home message.

Less of Moses, less of ISIS, less of our daily troubles, and more of crying out, wearing ourselves in prayer to God, in and through the Name of Jesus. Especially when we are passing through the ‘fires’ of life.
For He who promised to ‘ Save us from all our enemies: and from the hands of all who hate us’ is faithful. And will lift us up on eagles on the Cross of Calvary, whenever we turn to Christ Jesus.
This then is the song the Lord placed in my heart to close ‘ my devotions’ this ‘ busy’ morning.
Peace.

THE SONG – inspired by Psalm 91.

You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord
Who abide in His shadow for life
Say to the Lord
“My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!”

And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His hand.

The snare of the fowler will never capture you
And famine will bring you no fear
Under His wings your refuge
His faithfulness your shield.

And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His hand.

You need not fear the terror of the night
Nor the arrow that flies by day
Though thousands fall about you
Near you it shall not come.

And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His hand.

For to His angels He’s given a command
To guard you in all of your ways
Upon their hands they will bear you up
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of His hand…

Spike Lee and Chi-Raq: Jesus and Christmas

GM:  CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT MERCY

As the song says ‘ It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’. This with the ads on TV, the fresh crisp cool air in Jamaica and the wintry conditions in the Northern climes. Along with the Christmas carols,  the already packed malls, and grandchildren with their ‘ wish lists’.

There are very few people in our part of the world who do not get excited by  Christmas. Even wars in the past have been temporarily put on hold because of this Holy Season; and now in Jamaica an important Election has been ‘ postponed’ until the season is over.

What’s the magic? What’s the Power?  From whence cometh, quo vadis, this Joy and Peace?
Families coming together!  The Carols! The Christmas Gifts! Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer! Santa Clause! Grand Market night, when on Christmas Eve, at least in Jamaica, for in the USA the shops close at 6:00 pm, people are up shopping and just ‘ being on the road’, until the wee hours of morning.

Maybe all of the above for some. But in the eyes of the Lord, its all about Mercy! And having received mercy, we are to have mercy on others. Just like John the Baptist, as was prophesied by His father Zechariah in the magnificent words of The Benedictus which opens with the grand words:

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel:
for he hath visited and redeemed his people.
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us: in the house of his servant David….
And continues:

‘ And thou child, shall be called the Prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people; for the remission of their sins….. To give light to them that sit on darkness, and in the shadow of death’…Luke 1.67-79

How did I get there? Reading a meditation by CHRIS TIEGREEN on The Good Samaritan in Luke 10

……When we read this (story) as a moral instruction and decide which character we ought to emulate, we naturally avoid the portrayal of the indifferent priest and Levite and want to think we are more like the Samaritan. ….
But eventually God makes us look deeper at this parable and see it as a striking picture of our  world. In the big picture, our race had fallen into the hands of robbers; and left for half dead. We have been ravaged by the wages of sin and we suffer.
This parable is not just a lesson on what to do, it’s an illustration of what has been done for us ( in Christ Jesus)….. God shows us which character we really are. The answer He reveals is humbling. First and foremost, we are not the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan. We are the victim.
Then comes the observation that triggered this message.

Everyone who has ever really known Jesus by faith has first known helplessness. We once lay beside the road and hoped someone would stop. He did. He was our good neighbor. By God’s design, this should have been the beginning of compassion for us – we don’t just become merciful by thinking of others in need, we become merciful by experiencing mercy. When Jesus spared us, He gave us a sobering command: Go and do likewise. vs 37.
The Samaritan in the story looks a lot like Jesus. So should we.

Comment: It cannot be coincidence that last night I watched Spike Lee on CNN discussing his soon to be released movie Chi-Raq with Don Lemon. A movie which makes the point as I understood it, that what’s happening in Chicago with black on black violence – they executed a six year child recently – and other ‘ hoods’ is comparable to the war in Iraq and the trouble ISIS is causing.
And when we think about Jamaica and #QuadrupleMurder we appreciate the comment by Tiegreen that ‘ our race had fallen into the hands of robbers…and left half-dead’. When we think of people undergoing severe financial distress and suffering  from life threatening illness and  ‘ depression inducing’ family problems “Violenceagainstwomen we begin to understand the enormity of the problem confronting the human race on account of Sin.

And into this world at the first Christmas came God in Christ. In love and to show Mercy! And we being ‘ delivered out of the hands of our enemy Sin and Death’, on Calvary, are called to show mercy’ to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow if death’.
That’s the Christmas that I know. The other things are great. Love the Carols. Love the Season! But Mercy is at the heart of it!