I found her on the ground. Bawling! Around her, a set of women held her tight, trying to console her. But she was inconsolable. I had just reached home ( safe) in Kingston, when I got the call, that a member of my staff’s – who I had know from she was a teenager – child had died. So I spun around and went straight back to Clarendon. Thank God for the highway! But I was of no help to her. We could only pray for mercy, and for comfort. Thank God her mother was, gone to glory now, a woman of deep and unshakable faith. And with her help and the help of others, in due course, by the mercy of God, healing took place. Not totally! But healing nonetheless.
I can’t begin to imagine how Jodiann Fearon’s mother is feeling right now. In the midst of the controversy swirling around her child’s death! But what I do know, is that only God can comfort her. Not the Minister of Health, not the Prime Minister, not the family’s lawyer, nor the doctor who appeared on their behalf at the Post Mortem. Not whether or not protocols were followed, not the news of the cause of death, not even the outpouring of love and shock and disbelief that in Jamaica in 2020 – whether COVID-19 or not, whether her personal doctor was at fault or not – a cry, a desperate cry, for help, was the subject of debate for so agonizingly, and who knows maybe fatally, long. Only God!
I pray God that her family’s faith is God is not shaken. And if so not irreparably! I pray God that others who have died, or missing, as in the case of Janet Deen, under different circumstances, may not be the last straw that kills faith, not just in Jamaica as a place to raise children, O God what a irony now, do business and thrive, not just survive after COVID-19 #EmilyShields, but in the God who loved us, even unto death, in Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, on a Cross.
Last night I read, what perhaps was, if not the beginning of the end of faith in Europe, where once faith in God once thrived, and was exported to the “ New World”, then at least a serious contributor to the decline:
Suffering and Glory, the second to last chapter in the late Rev. John Stott’s Seminal Work – The Cross of Christ:
“On 1 November 1755 Lisbon was devastated by an earthquake. being All Saints Day, the churches were full at the time, and thirty of them were destroyed. Within six minutes 15, 000 people had died and 15,000 more were dying. One of the many stunned by the news was the French philosopher and writer, Voltaire……he first expressed his protest in his Poem on the Disaster of Lisbon, which asks why, if God is free, just and beneficent, we suffer under his rule. It is he old conundrum that God is either not good or not almighty. Either he wants to stop suffering but cannot, or he could but will not.”
Stott then goes on to build a case to counter that kind of misunderstanding of God, admittedly the position adopted by a great many people in the Western world, including some of the popular intellectuals of the day right here in Jamaica. A case which in my mind was summed up in a post I shared on facebook last night :
The fact of suffering undoubtably constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation ……the cross of Christ is the proof of God’s loving solidarity with us in our pain…For the real sting of suffering is the apparent God-forsakenness of it all…I could never myself believe in God were it not for the cross – John Stott #JanetDeen #JodiannFearon
This week, I was inspired to write three emails to my church – one is very short. ( smile). About a nation in crisis. Because of COVID-19! On account of the growing lack of faith of the church, and even apostasy! On account of the great divide between rich and poor; and the glaring lack of care, even disregard, in the minds of some, about this national crisis! On account of murder most foul, and a precipitous decline in, and erosion of – a nuh nutten – our moral foundations! Many rivers to cross indeed, and over hills and valleys! Thank God for Jesus that “ Father forgive them for they know not what they do” is withholding God’s wrath from this land. But for how long! And certainly Christians “ ought to know what they do”. And what not to do:
Thoughts which triggered two posts on Facebook this week:
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. No one shall be found among you who who makes a son or a daughter pass though fire, or who practices divination, or is a smooth-sayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. Deut.18:9-11 #Syncretism
For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You must remain completely loyal to the Lord your God. Although these nations that you are about to dispossess do give heed to soothsayers and diviners, as for you, the Lord your God does not permit you to do so.” Deut. 18:12-14 God’s people cannot become #unruly Lest they too will be driven out.
THE FIRST EMAIL
Psalm 1:1-3 opened up itself to me this morning. Just like that! I wasn’t searching for it. Longing for a Word, especially a prophetic Word, from the Lord in #COVID-19 times, yes. But this was totally unexpected! Advice is the key word here. Like “ Whose report shall you believe. We believe in the report of the Lord” – Ron Kenoly! Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked – says the Psalmists.
So who are the wicked, whose advice we have followed over the years? What is the path that the sinners tread, and who are the scoffers who have led us astray? Intriguing questions aren’t they for a nation in crisis. And when you take the long view, from Independence until now, what went wrong, why we have arrived at regularly, over 1000 of our people being murdered, and “In 2008, then housing minister Dr Horace Chang said that about 30 per cent of the population lived in informal settlements or had no security of tenure”. Why does this almost vulgar inequity still haunt our land and not sear our collective consciences! Why!
Why are so many people “following “ Kartel on Instagram – over 1 million – and worse, his lifestyle on the ground. This convicted murderer and unapologetic destroyer of morals! And yet dare you say anything about him on social media, or in Gaza where he, the self-styled world boss, rules supreme! Why all of a sudden bad words, expletives, that one could not dare to utter in my home during my youth, why have they become “ fashionable”, and styled adhesively “ creative language”.
Why has our economy failed to grow, meaningfully, not the anemic growth we’ve come to expect, under successive governments? And thus the steady loss of our most skilled people to “ greener pastures”! Why has so much of what passes for church deteriorated into almost cult like activity led by modern day Apostles, and their wives; and in so many cases why has the so called prosperity gospel, which is no gospel at all, taken root in this country? While at the same time, those churches that ought to know better given their history, many of them have not escaped the dangerous influence of the liberal theology now sweeping much of North America and Europe. A great reversal of the Vital Christianity that the Wesley brothers and Wilberforce et al, in obedience to, and based on their “ delight in the Law of the Lord”, once championed.
So who are the evil ones that “ planted the weeds in the midst of the tares”, and despoiled a once fair land? I don’t think anyone of us can honestly say that “ I was not there when they crucified my Lord”.
Nor can we claim that our hands are clean, in the appraisal of why the steady decline in the nation’s moral and social and economic history and current state.
The question is whose advice we are now following. Yes, after repentance and cleansing of our souls. Hopefully! If not, then certainly COVID-19 I believe presents us, as church, and as a nation, with its almost existential challenge, to reflect on whose “ advice” are we following. And if we can honestly say that “ I believe in the report of the Lord”, what next? If we as church, “ meditate of the Law of the Lord day and night”, and in this dispensation “ I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection”, what “ fruit in season “ are we bearing, as church, in this barren and desolate land,
For we can easily point fingers at the politicians and entertainers and “ village lawyers” in the media and at our Universities and Big Money, and miss the eternal message from the Psalms. “ Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked”. The question then is, “ what advice have we as church, given to this nation”? Have we truly reflected the suffering Christ to the poor and vulnerable and marginalized? Have we spoken truth to Power, or have we protected our party and highlighted the ills of the other. Which is the MO of the current age on Twitter! Have we then behaved like them, the wicked who don’t know the suffering Christ. And forgot what the Lord God of Israel said, “ Do not be like them”. Are we so absorbed with ourselves and our worship and our salvation, that we have failed to notice, and be prepared to be Salt and Light, in the midst of the steady decline in the nation’s moral and economic and social life?
I am ( continuing to ) reading again, John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. And one of the clear messages towards the end of the book, is that there is no glory with Christ, without first suffering with Him. Not like Him, clearly, but with Him. For a servant must be like his master. I fear we have become too comfortable in this land of wood and water, and hurting people; and people led astray by scoffers and the wicked. And perhaps as a result a pregnant woman died because there was only fear and no compassion. And a blind girl is robbed of her life, and yet life goes on, without missing a beat. Until COVID-19 comes and everybody is fearful of their lives. A great leveler is it not so. Perhaps the Lord allows these things to happen so that we might take the time and think. About what it means to be a Christian in this Fallen World. He didn’t think about the privilege of being like God, but humbled himself, and in obedience died on an old wooden cross. For Jamaica land we love. And for the whole world! I wonder what He is thinking now of us. Who clam to follow His advice! May God have mercy on our souls.
Lord renew thy church beginning with me: Lord renew the church that the church may renew the nation(s) who follow your advice to repent, and your example of grace and mercy for the even the wicked who turn to you.
THE SECOND EMAIL
Two things are acting in concert in my office during these #COVID-19 times. I have lot less patients, and most of them are seriously stressed about the Virus, and welcome an opportunity to talk; which under normal circumstances might not have been possible, or at least, not for any great length of time.
One of the things we talk about, and many of them are committed Christians, is how this Virus has affected their church life! And one in particular shared the, “ silver lining”, that these unusual times facilitate, demand even, that we engage in deep personal reflections. And guess what I read on the way to my early morning prayers in my Classic Devotional Bible, this morning:
Contemplation is like sleep in the arms of God – Bernard of Clairvaux ( a favorite saint of yure of the late Bishop Freddie Reid).
Also as I began my prayers “ What a friend we have in Jesus “ came to mind as I realized once again how faithful God is in watching over me night after night:
“ Living Lord, you have watched over me, and put your hand on my head, during the long, dark hours of might. Your holy angels have kept me from all harm and pain. To you, Lord, I owe life itself. Continue to watch over me and bless me during the hours of the day.
Rule over me this day. O God, leading me on the path of righteousness. Put your Word in my mind and your truth in my heart, that this day I neither think nor feel anything except what is good and honest…….
ON GOING TO WORK
Give me dear Lord, a pure heart and a wise mind, that I may carry out my work according to your will…….
So what Word did the Lord place in my heart yesterday during my early morning devotions – reflections? One for the ages. One that all Christians, early in the faith – even in Sunday School – and mature, ought to commit to memory and pray without ceasing. This is the introduction from the night before:
Oswald Chambers –
What Do You Want?
Do you seek great things for yourself?
Are you seeking great things for yourself, instead of seeking to be a great person? God wants you to be in a much closer relationship with Himself than simply receiving His gifts— He wants you to get to know Him. Even some large thing we want is only incidental; it comes and it goes. But God never gives us anything incidental. There is nothing easier than getting into the right relationship with God, unless it is not God you seek, but only what He can give you.
THE WORD OF GOD
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
Philippians 3:7-16 NIV
Yesterday, I was inspired to write this:
I am ( continuing to ) reading again, John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. And one of the clear messages towards the end of the book, is that there is no glory with Christ, without first suffering with Him. Not like Him, clearly, but with Him. For a servant must be like his master.
And as we read the very Word of God this morning about wanting to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, one cannot fail to notice that, part of the process of knowing Christ, is “ participating in his sufferings” and “ becoming like Him in His death”. But perhaps the most instructive part is the bookend ……the mystery…and so somehow to attain resurrection from the dead. Immediately Peter’s first sermon comes to mind:
“ save yourselves from this corrupt generation”.
Part of the problem I believe why many of us, and I am the first to cry “mea culpa”, don’t grow in Christ, don’t proceed to maturity, is that one, we don’t Ike the suffering part…we instinctively rebel against the thought, and two, we really don’t believe deep in our hearts that we are all that bad. Certainly not part of this “ corrupt generation”. And consequently, our desire to get to know Christ, in the way that Scripture demands, is at best, lukewarm. And even in our best times, unsustained. As elements of this sinful world entice us to ‘dethrone God from our hearts’! And there are many, including what Oswald Chambers warned against, “ wanting things from God”, instead of desiring God Himself in Christ Jesus.
This is not just theological musings. This kind of personal reflections has resonance for how we live in this “ corrupt society”. For how we treat one another as brothers and sisters, made in the image and likeness of God, with sacrificial love. Even how we react to, or if we had been in the situation how we would have treated, the plight of that young girl who died shortly after delivering her baby this week? Where was the compassion, where was the singular determination to save a life, in fact two lives, rather than “ following a protocol”. And as a physician I am aware of the reasons why protocols are put in place, but for God’s sake, how can established rules and regulations override the need to save a live, regardless of whether or not somebody else is at fault; if in fact that were the case, as we don’t really know.
This desire to know Christ, and participate in His sufferings and even become like Him in His death, would surely, if the church were a militant church, demand and agitate for, and become involved in, the provision of adequate housing and better living conditions for the 30% of Jamaicans who live in squatter settlements. And out of which “ evil’ has arisen all kinds of wickedness and crime and suffering, even amidst the good and pure and encouraging signs, that has caused the nation so much pain and angst. For make no mistake, the blood of Jasmine Deen is not only on the hands of her killers, assuming the worst, but on the hands on those of us who claim Christ, but are not willing to suffer with Him in order to build a more just society. But join in enjoying the ‘ delights of this world”, like everybody else in this corrupt generation.
And if sacrificial love is demanded of us, for those made in God’s image, how much more it is required for those who have been washed and sanctified like us, in the precious blood of the Lamb – the church. What a scandal then it is that we, as a rule, the exception may exist, don’t relate much to those outside our denomination, nor even pray for them on a regular basis. Or closer home, don’t relate well to those in our own church who we don’t know well, nor make the effort.
Indeed these unusual times call for an unusual preoccupation with the things of God. Including God’s Word and Sacrament! And since in a sense, we have not been participating in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, although we celebrate the death of Christ in our hearts, and His glorious Resurrection also in our love for Him, we need to delve deep into God’s Word in these times. Hopefully then, when COVID-19 would have passed, we will emerge a more mature and determined church, anxious to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. And to have this power manifest in our individual lives and in the collective witness of not just the Anglican Church, but the Church of God everywhere.
Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew thy church that the church may renew the nation(s) through the suffering church.
THE THIRD EMAIL
Whose report shall you believe, is a question posed, and answered, in a song by popular Gospel artiste Ron Kenoly.
A conversation which ought to lead us to examine who are we listening to, as Christians living in this “ corrupt generation”?
It’s a vital, and almost existential question for the people in America, as they seek to open up their economy ravaged by COVID-19. Whose report shall they believe? The scientists, or the Governors, or the 45th? The same challenge confronts us here in Jamaica! To whom shall we turn, for advice, in these unusual times? I would suggest that the meditation written by Chris Tiegreen below, poses a more serious question? How much have we, the people of God, been listening and obeying God throughout the generations in Jamaica, in America, in Europe; and therefore in this time of serious challenge be guided by the One in whom we should have placed our absolute trust?
You must listen to Him. Deut. 18:15
Two verses earlier, Moses told the Israelites that they must be blameless before God. The practices of the Canaanites around them could never be allowed to rub off on God’s people:
( in fact when I read the preceding verses, I was moved to post this on Facebook: thinking about how syncretism, and Obeah is one such example; and there are more subtle ones…new age philosophy posing as church is another; liberal theology – the reinterpretation of Holy Scripture in defense of man’s desire to be popular, and current, is yet another.
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. No one shall be found among you who who makes a son or a daughter pass though fire, or who practices divination, or is a smooth-sayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. Deut.18:9-11 #Syncretism)
The law God had given through Moses had to be fully integrated into the lives of those who believed it. The righteousness taught be God had to be passed down from generation to generation. These people were to be blameless.
As we know from Scripture ( and from our experience, sadly, here in Jamaica and the world), the practices of the Canaanites did eventually rub off on God’s people. The law was never fully integrated into the national life of Israel – only periodically and through a few good kings and priests. The righteousness of God often skipped several generations ( hmmm), as fathers and mothers neglected to teach it to their sons and daughters. The people weren’t blameless at all.
That’s why another prophet was needed. The laws and the prophecies of Moses pointed to Jesus, who would implant life and righteousness into the hearts of of those who believed in Him. The fulfillment never came from external rules but from an internal Spirit. That’s why God spoke to the Israelites through Moses and said: “ You must listen to him”. There would be no other way to fulfill God’s requirements. Jesus is the only means by which human beings can become holy.
Many Christians, however, believe in Jesus without ever really listening to Him. We read His words and try to follow them – a futile attempt unless His own Spirit is given free rein within us by faith. We become religious followers of Jesus without spiritually fellowshipping with Him. We listen to God’s words and miss His heart.
Moses emphasized to Israel how important it was to listen to another prophet/Messiah who was to come. In Him all humanity would see its true Savior, a teacher/deliverer/miracle worker who would show us the way to the Father. He would not dismiss God’s rules, but fulfill them within us. Our spirits would be made alive together with Him, and our character would be changed. But only if we listen – obediently listen – to Him.
How many observe Christ’s birthday, but how few His precepts! – Benjamin Franklin.
Comment: So the point is that, if we are accustomed to listening to Christ, when the crisis comes, and it is very much here with us, and with the whole wide world, then knowing whose report to believe, is so much easier. And many more crises, and mini-crises, will come. Those who have been obedient and accustomed to hearing the Word of God, will know what to do. And not be in any doubt and follow the wrong voices. Whether it be our own inner voice, the voice of the 45th, or any other “ Caesar” whose authority we need to respect, while ultimately “ giving to God what belongs to God” – listening and being obedient to Jesus His beloved Son.
Lord, renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew the church ( Anglicans, Methodists, United, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists, Moravians, Church of God, All Evangelical Churches…..in Jamaica, in Cuba, in Antigua, in Guyana, in Belize , in Barbados, in the UK, USA, Spain, France, Italy, Nigeria, Kenya, China, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama …that the worldwide Church of God, may renew this COVID-19 infected world. In and though obedience to Christ and Him Crucified!