Paradise Lost: In Virginia, in Jamaica and Barcelona. Redeemable only in Christ Jesus

The lowest number of gold medals won at the two premier track and field competitions, The Olympics and the World Games, since Beijing 2008, by Jamaica is four.

Twice we got seven. And on one occasion, in respect of gold medals, we were in joint first place with Kenya. Relegating the mighty USA to third place!

How then did the mighty fall in #London2017 when we won one “degeh degeh”, gold medal ! Two responses have invaded my mind since. One a straightforward issue which emerged elsewhere from many other observers, who instead of ‘ tekkin bed’, took to social media and ‘ exhaled ‘.

And so I wrote these two posts:

FACEBOOK

All good things come to an end #UsainBolt #FinalBolt #London2017. Still a proud Jamaican

Thing is that we have been on a Gold medal binge #UsainBolt #realshellyann #FastElaine #OmarMcleod for a long time. While other much richer and more populous countries were experiencing drought. We just need to get used to not winning all the time. Hard! Especially #FastElainelosing But c’est la vie.

Non controversial. Nothing most people would find objectionable. But there is another deeper philosophical, and more so, theological ” challenging to the soul”, issue, which has haunted me since then. Related to the post above , but has it’s genesis in the reality of #Jamaicableeding about which a senior journalist #EricaVirtue commented on tonight as I write.

Her ‘ beef’ is the role political parties have played in two specific centres of violence in city Kingston. The current flare up in msyhem murder in Rockfort in Eastern Kingston. And Tivoli in Western Kingston.

She uncompromisingly assigns parenthood of Rockfort to the opposition PNP and of Tivoli to the ruling party, the JLP. Paradise Lost.

This week, data shared through the media, revealed that over 900, I repeat, 900 persons have been murdered to date, in my beloved country. A disaster. A national crisis.

And though murder most foul is a terrible thing. Final and irreconcilable. Yet many women who have been violated, raped, and scarred for life, feel as if something has died within. Paradise Lost indeed! Tragedy in an irrational world. A world we cannot comprehend and plumb the depths of its brokenness.

And so for a long time, one of my favourite theologians Oswald Chambers, has been telling me, and this week in my #bedtimedevotions, reminded me, again, that ” the basis of this world is not rational, but tragic”. It does not discount the beauty of God’s handiwork which we celebrate daily. But asserts that Paradise has indeed been lost.

So, when disaster struck in London, first with Bolt in 100 metres Men, then #FastElaine in 100 Women, and then the 4 x 400 men’s relay, then the 4 x 100 mens relay and finally the 4 × 400 women’s relay, we now understand why. Tragedy strikes often in life and it is inevitable. There is no getting away from it. There is no absolute predictability about life.

What happened in #Beijing2008, did not mean, ipso facto that the same thing would happen in #London2017. Or #Tokyo2020 for that matter!

It may be cataclysmic; in the form of a Category Five Hurricane like Katrina, a Tsunami like the one which caused such devastation on South East Asia many years ago, or a 8 or 9 Ritcher scale Earthquake which killed hundreds in Tibet recently. Until now, the word is that folks in ” Katrina country “, have still not recovered.

It may be the ” C” word. Cancer which suddenly strikes a relative. And if not treatable, ( Thank God many are) treated properly, proceeds to devastate mind and body, and finances too in many instances.

It may be the betrayal of the greatest trust a woman can place in a husband or partner. Her life. Her body. Her dreams for the future. Only to be crushed in a moment of madness. Or lust if you prefer. Or wickedness if there is no remorse. Tragedy strikes! Sometimes accompanied by an unwanted and untreatable virus. Sometimes the roles are reversed but not often. But such statistics are of little moment to a hurting and confused and inconsolable soul. Tragedy of immeasurable proportion shatters a family. And to what end. For what purpose! And some cry, where is God!

Paradise Lost by the internationally acclaimed poet, John Milton, was a popular book, almost required reading in my day. It’s all about man’s disobedience and the consequences thereof. It’s the poetic interpretation of the theological assertion that we live in a broken world. Because of Sin! Disobedience which created a world of tragedy.

A world of smallpox, thankfully now eradicated. Of poliomyeliyis. Of HIV/AIDS. Of strains of the sexually transmitted disease Gonorrhea, which are proving very difficult treat.

A world of Genocide. Biafra. Rwanda. Cambodia. Hitler. Stalin. The trade of African Slaves. Of ISIS.

A world of sudden death from a heart attack, a Stroke, blood clot in the Lungs, motor vehicle crashes.

A world of Racism raising its ugly head in ‘ Confederate ‘ minds in the land of the free and home of the brave. A world where increasingly created beings are triumphantly declaring that there is no God. Shaking their fist at him!

And in the midst of this comes a crucial Word from the Lord. In fact two Words. From memory:

” I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart I have overcome the world “.

The final verses of John 16. Just before, on the night that He was betrayed, Jesus, in His High Priestley Prayer in chap 17, prayed for His disciples.

“Come into me all who are burdened and heavily laden and I will refresh you”. Luke.

The challenge for us in this world is to ” abide”, remain in Jesus. For in Him alone do we will find peace in a broken world. Even when the forces of evil attack us!. Even when the Lord allows, or sends, misfortune to overtake us. And through abiding in Him we will bear much fruit for the Lord. Fruit that will last.

In this context, one of the things we must vigilantly guard against is worshiping man. No matter what He or She has done for us. And there is a very, very, thin line between celebrating our heroes and heroines and worshiping them. I believe in some cases, certainly with Usain Bolt, we crossed that line. Perhaps the British press even more than us. Hence the devastation in #London2017 caused some to ‘ tek bed’, or ‘tek on’ Gatlin. And that’s tragic and carries with it consequences if we allow our love for, and appreciate of, Bolt and company, or anyone else or thing, to dethrone God from the center of our lives.

One day this week, and I posted it on Facebook, whilst doing my morning exercise walk, I heard a voice, as clear as day, saying:

Are you washed, are you washed, are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb. Are your garments spotless, are they white as snow, are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb.”

For this ‘ Lamb of God’, The Crucified and Risen and Ascended Christ Jesus came, not to condemn, but to rescue us from this broken North Korean madman world. This casually kill another human being and walk away, captured on security camera world. This White supremacist ” Go back to Africa ” world. This #Barcelona13 world. This Paradise Lost which cannot be fixed world.

So be very sure, be very sure, your anchor holds and grips the solid Rock. This Rock is Jesus. And by His Stripes we are healed. And protected from evil. That’s why Peter said to the cripple:

Silver and gold have I none, but on the name of Jesus get up and walk.

So even if we only win one bronze, or none at all in #Tokyo2020, we can still rejoice, if our garments are spotless and we are washed in the precious Blood of the Lamb.

I leave you with one of the most important ‘ conversations ” in the Bible. And there are many! One that I have been led to read and reflect on. Repeatedly! And which experience by St. Paul both validates and and inserts Christ and Him Crucified, into this issue of Paradise Lost. ‘Listen’ carefully:

” We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such deadly peril, and he will continue to deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us as you help us with your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many”.

2 Corinthians 1: 8-12 NIV.

This is the key to understanding life and its many mysteries. Tragedy and Joys. Despair and Hope. Paradise Lost and Eternal Life. ” Not to rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead “.

So because God, with mighty power raised Christ from ” the dead”, everything in life, every desperate and seemingly hopeless situation can be ” Redeemed “. Even death.

And Rockfort, with it’s thousands of rounds and huge cache of automatic weapons and murdered citizens! So too Tivoli. And Micholle Moulton’s ” Zimbabwe “. So too Zionist Israel and belligerent Palestine. Even Syria and ISIS. Virginia and other areas, filled with White Supremacists, ‘armed to the teeth’, and ready to rumble with Blacks and Jews.

No midnight is too dark for God to act. In our personal lives, with relationships, our finances, our health, wayward children, drug addicted relatives and difficult neighbours.

But we must learn to rely on God and not ourselves, our leaders, past and present, even Marcus Mosiah Garve, whose birthday we celebrated this week. Thus triggering, once again, the debate of whether or not we ought ‘ teach Garvey ‘ in our schools. By all means yes, and celebrate Bolt too.

But be ever mindful of the songwriter who penned these words of eternal Truth and Hope. About Paradise Lost. A special, very special, hymn which came to mind as I wrote this morning.

HYMN

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 what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!

2 Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness, Take it to the Lord in prayer.

3 Are we weak and heavy-laden, Cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge— Take it to the Lord in prayer; Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer; In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there. Amen.

Sermon on Independence, Family Life and Christianity by Dr. Las Newman

St Andrew Parish Church Sermon of Sunday August 13, 2017

  1. Text: Genesis 37:12-28/ Romans 9:1-5;10: 5-15

Introduction

Over the last few days we have celebrated 55 years as an Independent and sovereign nation, amidst some level of fanfare. One of the questions that confronted us as we marked this 55th anniversary, was this: should we be proud or angry over what has become of Jamaica in the five decades since the achievement of Independence, and as we have traveled along the road to full freedom, self-government, and nation-building?

On the one hand, we look at and recognize and acknowledge the plusses/improvements in the condition of our country, in almost every sector of the society – in health, in education, in agriculture, in physical infrastructure, and in the relative prosperity of our people.

On the other hand, the negatives stare us in the face- the rampant evil, the murders, the violent crimes, the selfishness, the breakdown in law and order, and the phenomenal rise in the number of criminal gangs across all the parishes.

And we ask why? What has led to this?

• What has led Jamaica to this level of decadence that no right-thinking Jamaican can be proud of? As some bravely continue the fight for a better Jamaica, others are feeling a sense of hopelessness and despair over the condition of our people.

• They ask, can Jamaica solve the problem of increasing gang warfare and corruption, and the growing culture of death that surrounds us? I know of no other city in the world where there is a monument erected in memory of children killed under tragic and violent circumstances than in my city, the city of Kingston, where over 1600 children and youth from age 0-18 have been murdered over the last decade. I often call attention to the monument erected in 2008 at the intersection of Church and Tower streets, right there in Justice Square in downtown Kingston, opposite the Supreme Court and the municipal offices of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation.

It is a monument of shame and a sad reflection on the kind of people we have become over the five decades of Independence.

THE OLD TESTAMENT READING

The Old Testament reading for today, Genesis 37, is a story that reminds us of the way in which the old selfish and evil motives of jealousy, greed, bad-mindedness, and personal feelings of hatred and wickedness in the human heart, can undermine family life and lead to domestic violence and tragedy.

It is a story that illustrates the way in which these negatives attitudes can affect our striving for better family life, a better community, and a better country. As they say, ‘Fix the family and we can fix the nation’. A lot of problems stem from very, very bad family life.

The story of Joseph and his family in Genesis 37 is a sad story about the effects of bad family life on a nation. We read:

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him’. (Gen. 37:3-4) And so, Joseph’s brothers planned to eliminate him.

They came up with a scheme to get rid of him. They decided to grab him and throw him into a pit and leave him to die. But later, on reflection, they decided to do something else. They decided to trade him to strangers for twenty pieces of silver.

‘….Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.”

And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. (Gen. 37: 23-28).

Can you imagine selling your own blood brother for money, because of jealousy and envy! What a sad state of affairs! And yet, isn’t this what is happening to some of our people in some sections of Jamaica? We read reports of women selling their children for cash, for a piece of land, for anything that they think can help them out of their material poverty, and reports of young girls from our schools caught in the web of human trafficking. Where are we going as a country?

THE NEW TESTAMENT READING

In the New Testament, we read of St Paul’s mental anguish as he reflected on his own heritage, and the life of his own people. He writes about this in his letter to the Roman, chapters 9-11.

‘ I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.

For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.

Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.

Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised![a]Amen. (Rom 9:1-5)

What was Paul lamenting over? He was lamenting over Israel’s rejection of the special relationship and the privileges they had with Yahweh. He was lamenting over the abandonment of the spiritual heritage they had received as a people.

He says, ‘theirs was the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.

5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah”. (Rm. 9:4-5)

What a heritage! All that heritage was given up in the search for self-governance and independence. And what was his response? He wished he could disassociate from them- be ‘cut off’.

He was angry. He regretted the actions, the behavior, the character of his people. He was disappointed and disillusioned by the choices, the behaviors, the action they made.

What is the lesson for us in Jamaica, at this time? What can we learn? The lesson Is that:

Firstly, WE HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE SIGNS OF DECAY AND SIGNS OF RADICAL DEPARTURE FROM OUR SPIRITUAL ROOTS AND OUR SPIRITUAL  HERITAGE?

When you see the deep divisions and destructive tendencies in family life in Jamaica, when you see the behavior of our people on the streets, in the communities, at the scene of a road accident, you ask yourself, why are our people behaving in such shameful and cruel ways?

How can we expect to have a better society? How does this help to build up our nation? Isn’t this kind of thing standing in the way of our true progress and development?

DECLINE IN APPRECIATING OUR CHRISTIAN HERITAGE

Today, there are noticeable signs of decline in recognizing and appreciating the Christian heritage of our country, Jamaica, Land we Love. As we move along the journey in yet another year of marking milestones of our Independence, those things which have been profoundly significant in the life of the people, and establishing the foundation of this nation, seem to be in danger of being forgotten and relegated to a place of less importance.

On August 16, 2013, four years ago, the lead story in The Gleaner carried the headline: “Goodbye, God? Irish Scientist Predicts Atheism Will Overtake Religion in Jamaica”.

The story was that an Irish scientist, Dr. Nigel Barber, predicted that by the year 2041, that is 24 years from now, the majority of Jamaicans will not believe in the existence of God. This prediction, it is claimed, is part of a global trend that suggests that as societies develop and become more affluent, the less need they have of religion. As more and more development takes place, gradually religious beliefs will disappear.

This prediction takes place at a time when the church in Jamaica is being challenged on many fronts and from all directions. It comes at a time when the church is engaged in a battle to save its own integrity and defend the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, against hostile attacks. It come at a time of weakness when in some churches attendance and membership are steadily in decline.

The last census in 2011 indicates that church attendance in some denominations is on the decline and membership is weakening. The Anglican Church in Jamaica, for example, has declined by 76% over the last fifty years, while the Roman Catholic has declined by 49% over the same period. On the other hand, the local Pentecostal Churches have grown by almost 2,000 % over the past 50 years (since Independence) and the Seventh Day Adventists have grown by over 300%. [Sunday Gleaner, October 21, 2012].

We must pay attention to the signs of decay and departure from our spiritual roots and our spiritual heritage? What are some of these signs?

Among the signs are the phenomenal rise in Biblical illiteracy, the displacement of biblical values, the relativisation of morality–what is right for me is my business, what is right for you is your business, and the deepening secularization of society, including devaluation of human life. Human life is not held as sacred anymore. As one professional in the health sectors reflecting on the slaughtering of our own people, said recently, ‘human life in Jamaica today is cheap’.

Given our strong Christian heritage and foundation in Jamaica, the question is, are we in danger of losing this heritage? Are we weakening the foundation on which the nation was built? Has the church become significantly weaker in its influence on society, and is now being marginalized?

If the answer is, yes, how did we get here? What should we do? How should we respond?

A Second lesson we can learn from the biblical story in today’s readings is that,

 

WE HAVE TO HOLD ON THE TRUTHS THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US.

It is up to the church to hold on to and defend the truth and integrity of the Gospel of Christ and the integrity of Scripture. As St Paul says, this Gospel is universally open to all and available to all, without distinction, without discrimination. However, the Gospel is not cheap. It is costly. It is very demanding.

In his letter to Romans St Paul said four things about the Gospel and what he has discovered about it.

 

(i) He says he is obligated because of it. ‘I am obligated”, he says. He owes something to it.

(ii). He is not ashamed of it. He is not embarrassed by it.

(iii) He is eager to proclaim it. He can’t wait to get to Rome to preach the good news.

(iv) Those who deliver it are wonderful foot-soldiers of it- ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ (Romans 10: 15), quoting the Prophet Isaiah (52:7).

This is the character of the true Gospel that we must defend. We sang passionately, the hymn:

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him Who brings good news, good news Proclaiming peace, announcing news of happiness.

Our God reigns, our God reigns Our God reigns, our God reigns Our God reigns, our God reigns

Waste places of Jerusalem break forth with joy;

We are redeemed, redeemed.

The Lord has saved and comforted His people

Your God reigns, your God reigns!

 

We hear lots of voices calling out to us to go this way and that way. How do we distinguish between the false prophets, on the one hand, and the voice of God, on the other? How do we know which is the right way we should go? Do we follow our feelings and our rational ideas, or do we find out what God wants? What shall we do?

 

Our response must be to remain resolute and steadfast in the defense of our faith? We must stand guard against those who would lead us astray. We must hold on confidently to the fact that our God reigns over nations and over the entire universe, despite the rebelliousness and defiance of his human creation. In the end, he will triumph victoriously and reign over all evil.

 

Today, sadly, we have some young Jamaicans among us, the new generation, who are flirting with the alien philosophies of Agnosticism and Atheism. They write learned and influential articles in the newspapers. They argue that as a secular democracy Jamaica should not be influenced by religion. And even as a pluralistic society, Christianity should have no more influence on society than any other religion.

 

They openly challenge the church on its belief in God as Father, the Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth. They question, how do we know for sure that God exists? It is not enough for them to hear Christians sing, “don’t tell me that God is dead, He woke me up this morning”. Instead, they demand rational and credible answers to their questions. And when the church is unable to answer effectively they ridicule and challenge its message. How can we have some many churches, they ask, and as a country we have so many problems?

How do we respond effectively to this challenge?

 

A Third lesson for us is that, WE MUST NEVER GIVE UP HOPE FOR JAMAICA. WE HAVE TO DEFEND THE LIBERTIES WE HAVE ACHIEVED AND STAND UP FOR WHAT WE BELIEVE.

 

St Paul made it clear that despite his lamentation over the misguided and degenerate ways in which his fellow lived, despite their heritage and the privileges they had received, he will not give up hope.

As he says in the 10th chapter of Romans, ‘Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:1-4)

 

There are those who see the marked decline in the influence of the church in Jamaica since Independence and are in deep despair over the future of our nation. Like the disciples in the Gospel who were challenged by the contrary winds on the sea which threatened their boat, and their life, they need the reassuring words of the Master, ‘Take Courage’, ‘Don’t be afraid’.

They see, for example, articles of influence in our news media, such as one in our newspaper in November 2011, that focused on what was the paper titled, ‘The vanishing institution of Christian marriages in Europe’. One person responded and commented that not only in Europe but also in Jamaica he wishes to see all things Christian disappear.

 

We are being challenged and in response, we must hold on to and affirm the strong Christian heritage we have in Jamaica. It is indisputable that in the past, every Jamaicans was taught in the home, at school, and in the wider community, to acknowledge God. We used to have a strong Christian heritage of respect for the church. From the contribution of Christian missionaries in the 18th century to the collapse of the slave society in the 19th century, over 179 years ago, the Christian Faith has been strongly proclaimed in Jamaica. Even before the abolition of the deeply entrenched system of slavery in 1833, and the amazing achievement of full freedom at emancipation in 1838, and political independence and national sovereignty in 1962, over the past five decades, the church has been well planted all over the country, in every town and village.

 

We grew up to respect the church, to care for it, to support it and to affirm its value to society, a value and role we appreciated in education (schools/colleges/universities), in health care (hospitals/health centers etc.), agriculture (the JAS), finance and commerce (mutual societies, credit unions, etc). The church was there ensuring a quality of life that restored and reflected the dignity of black African slaves and all human beings created in the image of God. We sing the hymn “We love thy Church, O God, wherein thine honor dwells, the joy of thine abode, all earthly joy excels”.

 

As we sing such hymns, let us be mindful of the fact that increasingly, more and more of our people are singing a different tune, some totally disrespecting the church. As the nation struggles to moves forward, more and more Jamaicans are apparently losing respect for the church. Like other institutions that helped us on our way to where we are today, the church is being subjected to abuse and neglect and dismissed as being irrelevant and an obstacle to progress. We must reject these attacks. We must stand up for what we believe and reaffirm our strong commitment to the spiritual heritage of respect for the church in the society, and respect for strong family values.

 

As long as the church continues to be on the side of those who are foot soldiers of the Gospel – fighting for and defending the fearless and unfettered proclamation of the Gospel of peace, the Gospel of hope, and reconciliation, it will prevail and continue to be a strong influence for good in the society. Jesus said,  –

 

‘I will build my church and gates of hades will not prevail against it’. (Mat. 16:18) -AMEN-

 

AMEN-

Murder in Jamaica, Disappointment in #London2017 and Comfort in Christ Jesus

As death approached last night, and suffering, laboured breathing, caused tears to flow, I reached for ‘ Walking with God through Pain and Suffering’, by New York Times best selling author Rev. Timothy Keller.

Then the news came, from my cousin, a physician, able but not allowed, ” Its all over”. My aunt, who was like my second mother, I spent years with her, a gentle soul, was no more. Gone to glory. Just like my mother, and all the saints who went ahead of her.

So what did Keller share which touched my soul! And not just for me and my cousin and family, but words for a nation ‘ familiar with suffering’.

1980: 889 murders, and a terrifying record it was. First seven months of 2017: 893 murders. A tweet from one of Jamaica’s very senior and very insightful journalist, Earl Moxam

http://jamaica-star.com/article/news/20170809/youth-leaders-want-action-following-micholle-moultons-murder

For if truth be told, like so many other Jamaicans, the continued barbarity and vulgarity of the ” death of innocence”, literally and metaphorically, has occasioned great pain and anger and bewilderment in our society. More than the death of my aunt. More so than the fifth place of #FastElaine or #UsainBolt third place, at #London2017. And trust me, if you are on social media as much as I am, you will understand that, to say the least, as a people we are not, apart from a few wise ones urging #Perspective, handling this thing well at all. And I gather it got worse this morning, with the news coming of our failure to reach the 4×400 Mens Relay Finals. Once a #SureMedalEvent.

So the wickedness, and the attendant rumours, which resulted in the shooting death of Micholle, and injury to her sister, was like a dagger in the heart of an already traumatized nation. ‘ Mi caan tek this no more’, was the collective cry of a hurting people.

Into this vortex of pain and suffering Keller inserts thoughts about the inevitability of death and of suffering in this world. Starting with a quote from Ernest Becker – the denial of death:

“I think that taking life seriously means something like this: that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived reality of the terror of creation…..of the rumble of panic underneath everything. Otherwise it is false.”

And one from Shakespeare: ” Each new morn New widows howl, new orphans cry, New sorrows strike heaven on the face”

” When we hear of a tragedy, there is a deep-seated psychological defense mechanism that goes to work. We think to ourselves that such things happen to other people, to poor people, or to people who do not take precautions. Or we tell ourselves that if only we get the right people into office and get our social systems right, nothing like this will happen again. ( Maybe he has Jamaican friends) But Becker believed such thinking fails to ” take life seriously “, or to admit the ” lived truth of the terror of creation…..of the rumble of panic underneath everything”. That panic comes from death. Death is irreducibly unpredictable and inexorable.”

And finally: ” ……No one is immune. 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, and comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our careers – something will inevitable ruin it. No amount of money, power, and planning can prevent bereavement, dire illness ( Aunt Monica had severe Alzheimer’s disease, and to a lesser extent so did my mom), relationship betrayal, financial disaster, or a host of other troubles from entering your life. Human life is fatally fragile and subject to forces beyond our power to manage. Life is tragic! We all know this intuitively, and those who face the challenges of suffering and pain learn all too well that it is impossible to do using only your resources. 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.”

Then this morning I awoke and was led to this Word by the Holy Spirit:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit…….

For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.

As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone by and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. Psalm 103.

Only the God whose Son Jesus Christ suffered and died on an old wooden cross, so that in Him, we may be reconciled to the Father, can comfort us in times of trouble. Can comfort my cousin. Can comfort Micholle’s mom. Can comfort a hurting and confused nation.

Not man! Not PM Holness as much he tries. Not the joy of winning any more medals, of whatever colour – desperation has set in- at #London2017. Not Police Commissioner Quallo. Certainly not President Trump in the face of pure evil in North Korea. Not the weatherman in the midst of the hurricane season. Not even the best doctors when real trouble comes knocking at our doorsteps. Only God.

And His ways are beyond ours. But because we know that in Christ He is ” familiar with suffering “, we trust Him. For Peace. And Justice. Even in death. Aunt Monica’s and Micholle’s.

For truth be told, as the songwriter puts it:

” I have no help but thine; nor do I need another arm save thine to lean upon:

it is enough, my Lord, enough indeed, my strength is in thy might, the might alone.”

A final word of caution to those who continue to reject God’s offer of grace and mercy in this troubled world:

Keller – ” ….as a man who seemed to about to lose both his career and his family once told 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.” Peace.

An Indepence message from a Jamaican Christian

There is literally a world of difference between the expectations of Christians and non-believers in through what prism, what kind of glasses, we view Independence, and how we can make a difference. At least there ought to be!

For all Jamaicans at home and abroad, believers and non-believers, the single greatest challenge we face as a nation, after 55 years of being a sovereign nation, is the existential reality of #Jamaicableeding. #Trelawnybleeding #Hanoverbleeding #StJamesbleeding

The horrific level of homicide which has already claimed over 700 precious lives, and made our nation infamous in the eyes of the International community.

Yes, thank God, and thanks to the efforts of leaders in many spheres of life, we have made progress. In infrastructure ; roads, houses, airports telecommunications, electricity, and provision of potable water!

Yes, we have made some progress in how we conduct our politics, especially elections. Our democracy thus remains robust. Aided by a fairly vigilant and effective press. A thriving and very vocal human rights community and a justice system which is creaking but nonetheless functional. A police force and to a lesser degree the army, greatly in need of renewal, and reform,  but still a bulwark against the forces of evil on our society.  And a very active and multilayered civil society. Including trade unions, professional bodies and other non-governmental organizations.

Yes, there have been advances in public health, in agriculture – in particular diversification. Yes we have made progress in Industry and Commerce. In education. And always our sportsmen and women have continued to carry the flag high and make us the envy of much richer and more populous nations. #London2017 So too, our cultural icons in art, music, poetry and dance.

But we have failed miserably as a society in how we have handled our economy. How we have treated with the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor. And the huge numbers of ‘ unplanned settlements’, is a direct consequence of this failure. How we have failed to create jobs for our graduates; thus migration to greener, even though much colder, pastures continues to drain our country of its human resources , despite the benefits of ” as you blink the money come”.

We have failed spectacularly in how we have treated family life, and our values and attitudes. Shocking! When compared to life in the 60’s. Thus contributing significantly to distressingly crude, vulgar and violent way, which far too often, has become the ‘ new normal ‘ in how we relate to each other in Jamaica. My God, almost as if we conspired to export ” The Mooch ” to America.

So how do we fix Jamaica. Two ways! Combined national effort, and requesting Divine Intervention. And Christians are expected to be involved in both activities!

” Pray for city, for if the  city prospers, you too will prosper “, Jeremiah declared.

The former requires the kind of political and organisational skills, along with patience, determination and the shaping of a collective vision, hitherto unknown and unachieved in modern Jamaica. For there is no way that we can tame the Crime monster and achieve Singaporean type growth rates with the present political arrangement. There is no way we can reset the default settings of our nation’s values and attitudes with the present social arrangement. So someone and some group of people who believe in the future of our nation, need to, accepting that this is an Herculean task, begin to work together to rescue this nation.

Requesting Divine Intervention is far more simple. But far more important, for we know that:

” Unless the Lord builds the house those who build it labour in vain.” Psalm 127.

So two things, one of which was my, ‘ song in the night last night’, and the other I found nestled beside the Word of God which I read prior to retiring to bed last night, I recommend. The first one directs us as believers to request that our Lord ‘ search’ our hearts. For there is much about which we as believers need to repent of, if any ” revival “, any ” streams of refreshing ‘ is going to come from a holy and just God.

THE SONG IN THE NIGHT

Search me, O God, and know my heart today, Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray; See if there be some wicked way in me; Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin; Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within; Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame; Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine; Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine; Take all my will, my passion, self and pride; I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee; Send a revival, start the work in me; Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need; For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

The second one is just as simple yet just as profound:

I firmly believe a great many prayers are not answered because we are not willing to forgive – Dwight Moodie, one of the greatest American evangelists.

Found beside this Word:

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your father in heaven may also forgive you of your trespasses “. Mark 11: 25.

O God, would that in every place, in the homes, in the communities, at the workplace, on the radio and TV, in the Parliament, in the boardroom, in the classroom, in the police force and the army,  on the roads, in the buses, on the soccer field, O God in the church, and between believers and nonbelievers – especially on social media, there would arise a spirit of forgiveness in this nation.

Finally I would recommend that we consider seriously advice from a theologian who has greatly influenced my understanding of Who God is and what it means to be a disciple of Christ; the late Rev. John Stott.

” When a society goes bad, it is not the fault of the society, but the Christians within, who are meant to be ‘ salt and light ‘.

Controversial, no doubt, but only advanced, I believe , for us Christians, to understand the high calling we have in any society. Independent or still a colony of some great power. For we are the Ambassadors of The Most High God. Creator of Heaven and Earth. And in Christ, the Redeemer of all mankind and soon coming Judge of the Living and the dead. And not just onlookers wringing our hands in distress, and wondering what has become of our beloved nation.

So let us build together, forgive each other, ask God to forgive us and pray for mercy and wisdom. So that Jamaica under God, may prosper materially and spiritually. For man does not live by bread alone, my Word from the Lord this morning, but from every Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Happy Independence.