Yes, I am aware that it’s almost Christmas, and that I ought to write about something that will lift up our spirits. But Christ didn’t come to help Macy’s and KFC sell more stuff and to bring joy and peace to a disobedient world. But rather to ” destroy the works of the devil”. Including ignorance about Who God is.
Ignorance is a hell of thing. And in our context where men filled with all kinds of evil thoughts, and driven by evil intent, behead not one but two women in a once peaceful district, such lack of knowledge about God, can lead to literal hell in Jamaica. Which is precisely where we are as country now, for a great many people, despite the veneer of civility projected on Television ads, “ Jamaica no problem”.
We are not war with each other. At least not officially. We are not fighting against an evil regime like those desperate people in war torn Syria. We are not fighting against invaders like the people of Afghanistan have been doing for over fifty years, as one Uber driver told me recently; nor struggling to maintain their Independence like the people of Eritrea, as another Uber driver told me on my way back to the airport.
So what the hell are we fighting for, and killing off in excess of a thousand precious souls made in the image and likeness of God, year after. Four in Dover, three in Portmore, and the beat goes on. And on! May God have mercy on us all.
So why can’t we live like one big family like Serena and Venus? Because, as one of my favorite theologians, the late John Stott wrote in his book ‘ Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today’:
“ when a society goes bad, it is not the fault of the society, but the Christians within, who ought to salt and light.”
So when we all get upset because we are distressed over the senseless murders, and feel so impotent to do anything about it, let us remember, at least from a Christian point of view, and I am not even sure that all Christians would agree with John Stott, that the onus rests with us, the disciples of Christ, to be “ salt of the earth and light of the world”. Not with Major General Anthony Anderson and the well respected head of the army, known to many, simply and familiarly, if not fondly, as Rocky Meade, and their command over the SOE’s.
History is replete with stories how individual and collectively Christians have fulfilled this mandate to be salt and light in a decaying society. And of course, it all began on the Cross when the seemingly disgraced and defeated Christ exulted “ It is finished “. The victory over sin and death and evil!
So exhibit A, the story of how a nation regained its soul, is as good as any to cite in defense of John Stott’s proposition based on the Word of God.
Part 1: Christians in a non-Christian society
1. Involvement; Is it our concern ?
It is exceedingly strange that any followers of Jesus Christ should ever have needed to ask whether social involvement was their concern, and that controversy should have blown up over the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility. For it is evident that in his public ministry Jesus both “ went about ….teaching …..and preaching” ( Matthew 4:23; 9:35. RSV). In consequence, ‘ evangelism and social concern have been intimately related to one another throughout the history of the church……
Historians have attributed to John Wesley’s influence rather than any other the fact that Britain was spared the horrors of a bloody revolution like France’s.
The change which came over Britain during this is well documented in J. Wesley Bready’s remarkable book , England before and after Wesley, subtitled The Evangelical Revival and Social Reform. His research forced him to conclude that “ the true nursing-mother of of the spirit and character values that have created and sustained the Free Institutions throughout the English-speaking world”, indeed “ the moral watershed of Anglo-Saxon history”, was “
the much -neglected and oft-lampooned Evangelical Revival”.
Bready describes “ the deep savagery of much of the 18th century, which was characterized by “ the wanton torture of animals for sport, the bestial drunkenness of the population, the inhuman traffic in African negroes, the kidnapping of fellow countrymen for exportation and sale as slaves, the mortality of the parish children, the universal gambling obsession, the savagery of the prison system and penal code, the welter of immorality, the prostitution of the theatre, the growing prevalence of lawlessness, superstition and lewdness; the political bribery and corruption, the ecclesiastical arrogance and truculence, the shallow pretentious of Deism, the insincerity and debasement rampant in Church and State – such manifestations suggest that the British were then perhaps as deeply degraded and debauched as any people in Christendom.
But then things began to change. And in the 19th century the slave trade was abolished, the prison system was humanized, conditions in factory and mine were improved, education became available to the poor, trade unions began, etc., etc.
“ When , then, this pronounced humanity? – this passion for social justice, and sensitivity to human wrongs ? There is but one answer commensurate with stubborn historical truth. It derived from a new social conscience. And if that social conscience, admittedly was the offspring of more than one progenitor, it nonetheless was mothered and nurtured by the Evangelical Revival of viral, practical Christianity – a revival which illumined the central postulates of the New Testament ethic, which made real the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of men, and which directed heart, soul and mind, towards the establishment of the Kingdom of Righteousness on earth.
The Evangelical Revival “ did more to transfigure the moral character of the general populace , than any other movement British history can record”. For Wesley was both a preacher of the gospel and a prophet of social righteousness. He was “ the amen who restored to a nation its soul’.
Comment : Wow! If anyone can not locate the headlines in the Gleaner today, then we are blind.
If anyone can not locate the corruption in politics, the trafficking of human beings, the lewdness of some of the dancehall lyrics, the “ big up your ….. self”, the behavior of the taximen and the coaster drivers, the fascination of and dependence on, Lotto, to “ bruk outta brukness”, and other current social ills, then we have no discernment. The point is that the situation we face in Jamaica is “ nothing new under the sun”, and what God has done elsewhere, He can do for us, right here in Jamaica, under the gun, under corruption, under immorality and under loss of hope. But only in and through Christ and Him Crucified.
In this context then I was led to write to my Church. About ignorance about Who God is. And how should the Church, the body of Christ, function in this society.
THE FIRST EMAIL
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
As I read the Gospel reading for Sunday, the final verse had a lasting impression on me. And the following thoughts came into my head.
John the Baptist is safe in heaven with Jesus. Don’t worry about his salvation. But John was “ born of women”. However, if you recall the narrative leading up to the most famous verse in Scripture, “ For God so loved the world……..not perish but have everlasting life”, John 3:16, “ unless you are born again you cannot enter the kingdom of God”. Born again of the Spirit, a gift given to repentant sinners who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And even the least of those is greater than anyone who is born “ of women”. Of the flesh. For “ flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of God”.
Why is this important? Read the Gleaner headlines this morning about the continued “ bloodshed following bloodshed in the land….and the land mourns”.
And then consider this passage of Scripture which I was led to read yesterday at 37,000 feet up in the skies as the huge 747 bounced about like a ping pong ball in turbulence caused by wind.
THE WORD OF GOD
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
Ephesians 1:15-21 NIV
Read it again. The same ( incomparable) power which is available to us who believe, is the same power, the same mighty strength that God used when He raised Jesus from the dead. Isn’t this mind blowing. And this and other passages calmed soul in the midst of danger. Including this other one “ O ye of little faith, why did ye fear”. This as Jesus who was sitting in the boat in the midst of a terrible storm got was awakened by the frightened disciples, spoke Peace to the wind and sea, and “ there was a dead calm”. And so the rest of my trip, thank God was uneventful. But I was left haunted by the words, “ O ye of little faith”.
In addition to which I was also led, in recent times, I always carry my Bible with me when I travel, to “ Without faith it is impossible to please God”.
What’s the connection all of of this to the gospel and the reign of terror in Jamaica?
Those in the kingdom of God, even the least, those who truly believe in that Jesus died for their sins, and was raised from the dead with power, for their sanctification – the gift of the Holy Spirt – are greater than any evil power let loose in the land. And possess the same power to fight against evil that currently stalks the land like a roaring lion, that was used by God to raise Christ from the dead.
So why are the people of the kingdom just as afraid and bemused, and perhaps even helpless, in the struggle to overcome evil in the land.
Only three answers are possible. The fourth one, that all of this is the will of God, does not appeal to me. For Jesus died to “ destroy the works of the devil”.
So we are left with:
• the reality that many Christians don’t fully understand the power that is available in Christ Jesus
• the reality that many Christians don’t fully believe what the Bible says
• that the prayer life of many Christians, and the collective Church, is “weak and faint” according to the hymn writer.
Food for thought isn’t it. The land is mourning because of evil, but also because of unbelief of people who are “ in the kingdom of God”.
Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew thy church that the church may renew the nation(s). A prayer crafted many years ago for a Decade of Evangelism. And imprinted indelibly in my mind by Bishop Herman of blessed memory. And who famously told us that “ You can’t give what you don’t have”.
So if we lack faith, let us cry out to God for help, like the father whose son was attacked by demons and who cried out, “ Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief”, which was my cry essentially yesterday, as I cried out to the Lord:
“ I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears”. Psalm 34. Listen again to this song which has become my anthem, and remembering it, not the song in and by itself, but the word of God, brought me peace yesterday. In the midst of the storm.
THE SECOND EMAIL
If you have been reading the messages I have been led to send, and I hope you have, the one today will be recognized, as I have, as a direct response to the last one about the power of God which ought to reside in the church to fight against evil.
Read carefully, as I have, and see the “ more and better particulars “ about the antecedents of this wonderful feature of God and His Church. A reflection which I read this morning in my early morning devotions, by opening randomly Chris Tiegreen’s book.
Remember this verse as you read. It came to me as I read past the passage of Scripture which inspired this meditation from Chris Tiegreen:
“ And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God gives to those who obey him”. Acts 5:32. NRSV
THE GOD OF AUTHORITY
The One Year Wonder of the Cross Devotional
Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
Acts 5: 16
God has not worked so clearly in every age of church history. We wish the miracles of Acts were an everyday experience, but they are rarer than we hoped. We long for God’s power to be made visible all the time in miraculous ways.
Or do we? We forget that those early days were more than about miracles. Yes, the onlooking world was drawn to Christians, but that was not a one-dimensional attraction. Before the miracles of Acts 5, there was the persecution of Acts 4, and the elimination of Ananias and Sapphira, for their dishonesty before God ( Acts 5:1-11). The believers were in awe of God, not just because He healed a few people, but because His Presence defined their lives. And His Presence was more than a supernatural sideshow; it was holiness and love, power and purpose, an overwhelming sense that they were under authority from above.
We often long for God’s miracles without His holiness and authority. We are on a futile search for a one-sided coin. When God works in our lives, it’s in His complete presence. He doesn’t show up in power without showing up in authority. His love and His holiness are inseparable. If we want God, we have to want all of Him.
If you want to impact your world for the mission of Jesus, don’t forget the terms of the calling. We aren’t simply called to display His power; we are called to represent all of His attributes. In order to do so, we have to live them. In our desire for a miracle-Lord, we have to take the “ Lord” with the miracle-working”. Otherwise we are searching for a God who doesn’t exist. We really want an idol.
Awe and submission are prerequisites to seeing the power of God. And seeing the power of God is a prerequisite to affecting your world for Him. When we respect the progression, God works. He may not work the way we expect Him to – that’s where the awe comes from – but He will work. And it will always , in one way or another, be miraculous.
Obedience is the key to every door – George McDonald.
Lord renew the church beginning with me; Lord renew the church that the church may renew the nation(s).
Peace and in obedience.
As I wrote, strains of this song came into my mind: “ Holiness, that’s what I long for……”
THE THIRD AND FINAL EMAIL
“For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
2 Corinthians 1:5 NIV
This passage of Scripture above came into my mind today. As it did 37,000 feet up in the air on Wednesday. The point is that, in the context of today’s message, if you believe and the Holy Spirt is with you, if God’s presence is going to define your life, if God’s holiness and love and authority in you leads to the manifestation of His Power, then persecution will follow as night follows day. But thank God for Jesus, so too will consolation. Praise God.
Comments : No further comments. I rest my case. Jamaica’s future is in the hands of God. Not our political or business or Civic leaders. And the obedient Church is who the Lord has raised up to do His will. Just like John Wesley. To restore to nation its soul.