I got up this morning with a popular verse of the gospel singer Sinach in my head:
” Way -maker, miracle-worker, promise-keeper, Light in the darkness; My God that’s Who You Are”
And then watched the video:
And truly “God is here working in this place, and we ought to worship him”.
I also got up in time to witness the changing of the guard in women’s Tennis. As 21 year old, clearly the future of women’s Tennis, Naomi Osaka, of Japanese and Haitian parents, defeated a worthy opponent Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the Australian Open.
I am a serious Serena Williams fan(atic), but class is just class, and perhaps, but never count out Serena, according to former PM Portia Simpson Miller ” time come”.
This week, and I got up thinking about it, there was a call to return to the former Values and Attitudes program.
A call made by two former Prime Ministers! I couldn’t agree with them more. For like up North, there is a crisis in how our values as a people has gone ” south”. Where videos of young girls, in particular, performing all kinds of vulgarities, is the ” talk of the town”! Where the value of a human life, to gunmen and too many others, including some who drive on our roads, is worth no more than that of a cockroach! And where one’s word is no longer your bond, within and without the hallowed halls of the Church and State!
A word of caution however, from one of my favourite theologians, Oswald Chambers: ” You can’t have Christian Values without Christianity “. Just putting it out there for consideration!
Let us consider what Bruce Golding and P. J. Patterson advanced:
“I don’t know about the other countries in the Caribbean, but I know in Jamaica there are serious disagreements about what is right and what is wrong…..”
We need to get to a stage where people come to expect certain things and where people will instinctively refuse to accept other things. [I am] talking about a culture of integrity,” he explained.
“What I’m talking about is beyond the bounds of legislation. No one can draft that into codified law. I’m talking about a situation where something might not be illegal, but it is just plain wrong and the society accepts that it is wrong,” he continued. Golding was speaking on the topic: ‘Governance, Transparency and Ethics: Developing lasting values across the region’.
Twenty-five years ago, Patterson put forward the idea to enter into a national conversation on the institution of social programmes that would teach discipline, good manners and respect for self and country, sharpen communication skills, as well as develop mediation skills by using peaceful conflict resolution.
Despite the best intentions, the Values and Attitudes Programme, as it was called, did not gain the traction which had been hoped for and, in time, it became a ‘political football’. The programme eventually came to an end but was relaunched in 2003.
“I’ve heard Prime Minister [Andrew] Holness make a number of statements that are almost indistinguishable from what PJ had put forward 25 years ago, and I’m just wondering whether the former prime ministers shouldn’t make ourselves ready to lend support to get the discussion going,” Golding said to applause.
“Let us see what are the things that will define our values and our thinking of right and wrong,” he added.
In sharing similar sentiments, Patterson noted that he had also suggested at a Rotary Club meeting in Hanover last year that the four former prime ministers play a lead role in revamping the campaign.
“As Bruce said, every pronouncement that is made, however it is articulated, comes out with the central things. We need to change our patterns of behaviour. It is time we move from talking about it, now that we seem to be saying the same thing, to acting on it,” Patterson reasoned.
“The message to go forth from this conference [is] that there is a suggestion that the political leaders should seek to invoke the help and support of those of us who have retired. We are prepared to get on board and put this thing at a level where the whole nation accepts. This is not an orange or green business, this is a matter of where we are as a nation,” he said.
Orange is the colour used by the Opposition People’s National Party while green is the governing Jamaica Labour Party’s.
And consider also a ‘ response ‘, not sure a direct response to Golding and Paterrson, but a useful response to consider:
The nation’s values and attitudes need to be reset and the Church has a crucial role to play in bringing this about, according to a senior official in the Ministry of National Security.
Acting Chief Technical Director Shauna Trowers told a research conference, hosted recently by the School of Religion and Theology at Mandeville-based Northern Caribbean University (NCU) that the Church was one of the most powerful agents of socialisation.
“It is through religion that we will assist in fixing the (deviant) mind, and through love and hope from the word of God,” said Trowers, who has responsibility for research, rehabilitation and diversion policy at the national security ministry.
“Government cannot provide religious instructions, it cannot build character, it cannot invoke those moral attitudes and self-control upon which the balance of the social structure must rest,” Trowers told the conference , which was being held under the theme – ‘Religion and Crime Prevention – A Focus on Jamaica’.
Can’t be a coincidence then, that this week I was inspired to write to members of my church about the importance of Justice and the origin of the Human Rights Story.
A message sent out on Martin Luther King jr Day! For if as a ” Christian ” Nation we haven’t grasped the importance of both Righteousness ( discussed in the final message) and Justice, no amount of calls for different values and attitudes is going to make a difference.
Still reading a book by New York Times award winning author, Rev. Timothy Keller. Reading and rereading. And praying and now writing – in contrast, though an excellent read, so loved the drama of the engagement, finished Michelle Obama’s book very quickly.
Title – The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy. The ( essential ) message – God loves all people. Not just the children of Israel! And God, in Christ Jesus, shows how much loves all people when He died on Calvary – while we were still sinners. His enemies!
An extract provides ‘resources’, which can help us to see the world as MLK jnr did; in need of both Justice and Righteousness. At the same time! Especially in this millennial and modern age, where so many consider God irrelevant. At best! And non-existent. At worst!
Perhaps the most telling quote of the book which has geo-political, philosophical and theological ramifications is : “ Jonah refused God’s mission largely because he did not want to extend mercy to pagans…he was too closely aligned to Israel’s national security interests”
PART ONE –
The book of Jonah shows not only that justice was important to God but also the preaching of repentance and God’s wrath. How, practically speaking, can we combine evangelism and doing justice?
One proposal is to see these two things as “ two wings on an airplane.” While that analogy conveys the necessity of both,it does not describe how integral they are, how one leads to the other.
Another model sees helping the needy as a mere means to an end. We give people things so that they may turn to Christ. That does not fit with Jesus’ teachings that we should give without expecting in return ( Luke 6:32-35…you will be sons of the Most High,because he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful) and we should serve the needs of our neighbors even if he or she does not share our faith) Luke 10:25 -37……Good Samaritan.
A third mistake is to insist that doing justice is all we need to do to declare God’s good news, as if helping the marginalized were evangelism. Nor should we treat justice as optional work that we may get to if we have the time or money. All of these very common common formulations lack biblical nuance.
We must realize that since all our social problems stem from our alienation from God (Genesis 3:1-17), the most radical and loving thing you can do for a person is to see him or her reconciled to God.
Yet while preaching repentance is fundamental, doing justice must be inseparably attached to it. The Old Testament prophets regularly declared that while you may be religious and fast and pray, if you don’t do justice, your religion is a sham ( Isaiah 58:1-7). Isaiah said that if we don’t care for the poor ( Isaiah 29:21), then we may seem to honor God with our lips but our hearts are far from from him ( Isaiah 29:13).
The New Testament is no different. Like the prophets, Jesus condemns people who make lengthy prayers but exploit the poor ( Mark 12: 38,40). And both 1 John 3:17-18 and James 2:14-17 likewise state that if you say you have faith in Jesus but see someone “ without clothes and daily food” and do nothing for “ physical needs”, such faith is “dead”. All this to say that compassion for the poor is an inevitable sign of a living relationship with God and an experience of God’s grace. Those who truly know they have eternal life only because of the free, charitable grace of God, will be charitable.
So preaching repentance is fundamental, but doing justice must be inseparably connected to it. This combination of doing justice and preaching judgment – and therefore offering grace – goes together not only theologically and philosophically but also practically.
When the world sees the church doing evangelism, making converts, it only sees us increasing our tribe, adding to our numbers and increasing our power. When it sees us sacrificially serving the needs of our neighbors whether they believe as we do or not, then it may begin to see that believers are motivated more by love than by the desire to accrue power.
In Christian theology our belief in the God of judgment and grace is the basis for doing justice in our society. In the eyes of those outside the church, it is Christians doing justice that makes belief in the gospel plausible. Doing justice for our neighbors, whether they believe in Christ or not is, paradoxically, one of the best recommendations for the faith. Like Jesus, we must be mighty in both word and deed ( Luke 24:19).
PART TWO –
They also go together philosophically: Our Western culture is secular, so it is widely believed that moral values are socially constructed rather than God given. As is commonly asserted, “ No one has the right to tell anyone else what is right or wrong for him or for her”. It is a cultural given that every person determines his or her moral values. Nevertheless, it is just as strongly held that all people are obligated to support equal rights, justice for all, and care for the poor.
This is one of the great contradictions of our society today. It insists that all morality is relative and then it demands moral behavior. What if someone has the temerity to ask, “Why should I sacrifice my time and money for people far off who are starving? Why do I have any obligations to embrace people of other races and beliefs? Why should I be unselfish?’
The culture can manage only two answers, both inadequate. The first answer is that to do so serves your own self-interests. Many thinkers have pointed out the foolishness of basing self-sacrificial behavior on pragmatic self-interest. The other answer is that these values are simply self-evident, but for many people in the world they are not.
These modern beliefs – that we must all be committed to equal rights and justice but that there are no God-given absolutes – undermine each other. Modern secular education teaches every child that they must be true to themselves, that they must identify their deepest desires and dreams and pursue them, not letting family, community,tradition, or religion stand in their way. Then it calls for justice, reconciliation, and benevolence, all of which are basic forms of self-denial, even as it encourages self-assertion. It teaches relativism and calls people to be ethical. It encourages self-seeking and calls people to be sacrificial…..
Christians can make a major contribution here. The Philosopher Charles Taylor, in his book Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, points out that modern society is “ on the deepest level incoherent”, with Reagan’s to morality. Our culture demands impartial benevolence towards all people, social justice for every oppressed class, and the reduction of hunger, disease,and suffering everywhere in the world, “ while ( at the same time) in principle defying that any such moral value is other than an arbitrary, subjective preference “.
One reviewer of Sources of Self, himself an atheist, admits that Taylor’s thesis makes him very uncomfortable. He writes:
“ Perseverance in virtue will……require self-sacrifice. And self-sacrifice seems to require some transcendental justification or motivation, of which the most common, and perhaps the most logical, is belief in the existence of God. Or so Taylor argues, circumspectly. Since modern freedom entails the rejection of transcendence, modern virtue is wholly contingent. Can we be good for long without God? Taylor’s doubts are daunting”.
Christians, of course, share all those moral commitments – to human rights,equal human dignity,universal benevolence, and the interests of the poor. Indeed it is widely and well argued that those values were imported by secular, modern society from the Bible. Christians have the resources for “ perseverance in virtue” and self-sacrifice. They come not just from belief in God and the afterlife in general but from every feature of the Christian gospel – the incarnation of Christ, his atoning death on the cross, and the hope of the resurrection. The more Christians draw on these resources and love their neighbors, the stronger society can get.
And the final message which those who would seek the help of the way-maker, miracle-worker, promise-keeper God, Who Only can shine His Light in the darkness of our culture and teach us, not only right from wrong, but Who is The Truth, Christ Jesus, ought to consider well.
THE FINAL MESSAGE
Unless we understand the Grace of God, we will not make much progress in fighting the evil which has beset so many of our people. From top to bottom!
As I continued my #latenightdevotions,a passage,a companion passage, that I’d read before starting my devotions came to mind.
From Keller’s Book: ” The Prodigal Prophet; Jonah and The Mystery of God’s Mercy.
CHAP 12 – OUR RELATIONSHIPTO GOD’S GRACE
RUNNING FROM GOD ( JONAH 2:1-10)
One of the messages of this book, is that anyone, even a successful prophet ( or preacher), can be in the dark about grace. Jonah’s fears, prejudices, and emotional breakdown all stem from his blindness to the reality of grace.
In chap 1 he runs away because he finds God’s grace and mercy an inexplicable mystery. In Chapter 2, in the belly of the fish, we find him wrestling with that same mystery. It is only when he has a breakthrough in his understanding about grace that he is released. Only then can he become a fearless preacher. The main purpose of the book of Jonah is to get us to understand grace.
If Jonah failed to understand the mystery of God’s grace, it is most certainly possible for us. Ignorance of the depth of God’s grace causes our most severe problems. Until we understand it, we are, like Jonah, just a shadow of what we could be and should be. The doctrine of the grace of God is that which sets Christians apart from all other faiths. It is the central message, the ‘ gospel ‘. “ The gospel is bearing fruit throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace” ( Colossians 1:6)
It is an understanding of god’s grace that makes a person a Christian and not merely a moral person or a religious person or a nice person. This is a truth that, when it is grasped, is electrifying. When Martin Luther finally understood it, he went from being an anxious, guilt-ridden seminary professor to a lion ready to take on the world by Himself……