Ultimately, only the reality of death helps to coral the limitless possibilities, that life on earth has to offer. Yes, illness may achieve the same end. But it has to be something serious. Otherwise mankind, with gay abandon, pursues his or her dreams; most times selfishly, with not much thought, for another fellow traveler. Relatives, yes, friends and co-workers yes, king and country maybe, God or a divine being, yes, in some cases. At least in this generation! As it wasn’t always like that. Not in Jamaica. Perhaps forged out of a common history of being the descendants of former enslaved people, or indentured laborers, the sense of community ran deep in the country in which I grew up as a young man. Sadly now , for many reasons, we have become, what the late very talented writer and journalist, Ian Boyne, termed “ an atomistic society”; fragmented, not cohesive, doing our own thing, and the ‘devil take the hindmost’.
COVID-19, did not cause the fragmentation of our society. It has only exposed the reality. Some are always a’at risk’. While others, not so much. And the two parts of our society, for the most part, live separate lives. Then death intervened this week and took away two prominent citizens of our country. Both of whom had contributed much to national development. Others died too! The ‘at risk’ in Denham Town. Murdered! Two teenagers. The ‘at risk’ in other parts of the country. Murdered!
A 2007 Picture. Michael Gordon and Patrick Virtue. Two childhood friends. One left us shortly after. The other this week #Gonetoosoon
Michael Gordon, a childhood friend and a renowned photographer whose work touched the lives of many, died of natural causes this week. And so did Professor Freddie Hickling, a colleague, and internationally acclaimed Psychiatrist and Pan-African advocate -and of black consciousness in general.
Death is a great leveler. For, according to the ‘Good Book”, the Bible, “ it is appointed for all mankind once to die, and then the judgment”. If that is the reality of life, and is what Christianity teaches, then what is this life on earth all about. A question that ought to cause us to cease pursuing life with gay abandon here on earth, largely ignoring the plight of the people ‘at risk’ around us, except for the occasional, and captured on social media for good effect, giving of gifts to the poor.
I don’t know where Freddie Hickling, my colleague has gone. Nor Michael ( Curly) Gordon, my friend! Nor the over 1000 persons who were murdered last year; or the over 400 who lost their lives in a motor vehicle crash. But what I do know, is that no matter where you live on earth, or how you have lived, or how you have suffered, and were not able to fulfill your God given potential, death welcomes all to a common destiny. A common “ for ever and ever Amen”!
It is in this context, I believe, that I was inspired to write and send two emails to my church. One inspired by a well known hymn. The other by a verse of Scripture which reminded me, once again, just in case I had forgotten, and tempted to go off and pursue my own dreams, that life on this planet is war. Between Satan and the unsuspecting! And even more so between Satan and the child of God. Both are ‘ at extreme risk’. But one has a Savior. The other is without protection. That’s the “ breaking news”, for this week. For like it or not, and believe it or not, there is a supernatural world out there. And a supernatural battle for our souls. The “ forever and ever “ part of us! So COVID-19, in that context, is not the real war; not really a skirmish, a battle perhaps. But definitely not the story of life!
THE FIRST EMAIL
After we both woke up this morning, thank God, and on going outside to pick up the newspapers, thinking about Christ and the power of His resurrection, I sat down to begin my early morning devotions. And once again “ New every morning is thy love”, came into my head. So I opened the hymn book but never got to that song of praise, as this other hymn arrested my attention. And taught me all kinds of things. God indeed, is quite mysterious:
1. God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year,
God is working his purpose out and the time is drawing near; nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
Comment: Places things in sharp perspective doesn’t it. Lest we forget. That the purpose of God, in all this majesty and beauty and fascination and wonder that this world has for us, is that one fine day, His glory shall cover it all – as the waters cover the sea. And that the song writers of yure must have been people who had great discernment into the mind of God. No doubt, therefore, they experienced much suffering. It certainly doesn’t appear that way now, that soon the glory of God will cover the earth one day. But in these COVID-19 times, when the entire world is under some kind of lockdown, and struggling to open back up, who knows, we have a glimpse of the power of God and even in a sense, the glory of God. Winston Churchill once said famously, after the defeating of the Germans in the Battle of Britain: This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is certainly the end of the beginning. Many of my patients, mostly fundamentalists, although I am not quite sure what that term means anymore, are quite sure that these are “ end times”. And so there is no “fixing it”. Who knows! Only God.
2. From the utmost east to the utmost west wher’ e’er man’s foot has trod,
by the mouth of many messengers goes forth the voice of God,
‘Give ear to me, ye continents, ye isles, give ear to me,
that the earth may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea?
Comment: Even now we can discern the voice of the missionaries who came to the isles and the distant continents from what was once a place where Vital Christianity took hold. Where the Methodism of John and Charles Wesley stirred the conscience of a nation. Where William Wilberforce and His friend Prime Minister Pitt, planned and plotted and executed God’s plan to rescue African slaves from the clutches of evil. From being transported to the West Indies in a ship hold in 4ft by 18inch spaces for six weeks. From 600 in the ship on loading to 200 on arriving. Watched the movie Amazing Grace last night!
And now in these COVID-19 times when the UK is being sadly ravaged by death and sickness, and so too France and Italy and Spain, all countries that once sent forth Christian missionaries to the utmost east and utmost west, but now all experiencing serious loss of faith in Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, what do we make of it? I think I read somewhere that over 90% of young people in the UK, perhaps teenagers, do not have a personal relationship with Jesus.
There is a Poem that has often intrigued me and it came to mind just now as I am writing. The Moment of Time by T. S. Eliot. No doubt a profound reflection on the state of his beloved country, and thus this extremely gifted poet wrote a poem which ends like this:
………But it seems that some thing has happened that has never happened before; though we know not just when, or why, or where.
Man have left God not for other gods, they say, but no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first reason,
And then money, and power, and what they call life, or race, or dialectic.
The church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what do we have to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressive backwards.
No doubt Thomas Stearns Eliot, born in the USA, but who then migrated to the UK, wrote prophetically if not sadly about the state of British society, and if truth be told, Europe too, and despite the veneer of Christianity which gives the impression that the USA is still a Christian country, it too may very well be counted as “ advancing progressively backwards”. At least spiritually!
Jamaica should tek sleep and mark death. Lest we too fall under judgment. And COVID_19 may just be a wake up call to a world, which one day will be covered by God’s glory, that despite the appearance of progress, it is going backwards.
3. What can we do to work God’s work, to prosper and increase
the brotherhood of all mankind, the reign of the Prince of Peace?
What can we do to hasten the time, the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea?
Comment: Serious question isn’t it, for you and for me. And for all children of God in this COVID-19 age!…the brotherhood of all mankind, the reign of the Prince of Peace. Social distancing and brotherhood at first blush seem mutually exclusive. But God looks at the heart not at the physical distance between people. Where is our heart in all of this? What is our desire? For the thing to end and for us to go back to normal? But was normal, promoting the glory of God? Was that which obtained in “normal”Jamaica, the murder, and murder most foul, the toxic masculinity, the wrong addresses, the corruption in the body politic, the sexual misconduct in the very church of the Living God promoting the brotherhood of man and the reign of the Prince of Peace? So what can we do, as church, as washed and sanctified to do God’s work, in this “ corrupt generation”, advancing progressively backwards? What!
To be continued. Have to go to work.
Lord renew thy church as we “ stand with empty hands with our palms turned upwards”. Nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to the cross I cling……
Cont’d……what can we do to do God’s work, to prosper and increase the brotherhood of all mankind, the reign of the Prince of Peace
Before I left for work, on arriving in May Pen and this morning the following thoughts came to mind; that’s why theology, an understanding of God – before we can properly, and give Him the glory, do His work – is important. Inherent in what was revealed to me, as I make so such claim. But not as a study in and by itself, otherwise our faith will lose its vitality, and why so many seminarians, and prominent ones too, in the USA and elsewhere, can admit that they don’t believe in the resurrection nor the Virgin birth. But as one who is diligently seeking to know this God of Jacob!
First point. The Old Testament knowledge of God. Remember what Moses ( on arriving in May Pen this one came to mind) said to the children of Israel when Pharaoh’s army suddenly threatened them at the Red Sea; and terror came into their hearts – in the same way perhaps that many of my patients are absolutely terrified by this COVID-19 pandemic?
“ You only need to be still”.
“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.””
Exodus 14:10-14 NIV
Part of the challenge, and this Word from the Lord is repeated throughout the OT, “ Be still and know”, is that, many are in this New Testament dispensation, are still of that OT understanding of God. That He will do everything, we just have to have faith and to pray, and worship Him.
Consider then the “ more and better particulars” of the New Testament. And as I write another passage comes to mind. In addition to those already lodged there:
“He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.””
Luke 24:46-47, 49 NIV
As we consider this passage, we must be cautious, as Elijah and others, including David “ and the power of the Hoy Spirit came upon him”, had power. The same Holy Ghost Power which was promised to the disciples, and to all of us who are baptized. But in these last times, God’s power has been poured out on all flesh…those who are baptized, who have died with Christ and raised in Him to be a “ New Creation”. So we have been given Power to do the works of God, “ to prosper and increase the brotherhood of all mankind and the reign of the Prince of Peace”.
Consider further this reality – glory to God. Every time I read this Word, unbelief knocks at my door.:
“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. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
Ephesians 1:17-23 NIV
So the same Power that God used when He raised our Savior from the dead, is available to us who believe. No wonder our forebears coined the phrase “ Belief kills and belief cures”.
Finally, and there is no finality here as the Scriptures are littered, filled is perhaps a better term, with similar instructions, this Word came to me. A Word that has been with me for some time now. Truthfully, more the first part than the second. But I am being obedient:
“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
2 Corinthians 4:10-12 NIV
What does all of this mean? How does this answer the question that the hymn writer posed, and answered? “ Fight we the fight with sorrow and sin, to set the captives free, that the earth may be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea”.
So the first order of priority as St. Paul said famously, is to preach the forgiveness of sin in Christ Jesus. This is what the Power from on High, the same Power that raised Jesus from the dead, has been given to us to do. Primarily! That’s what the promised Holy Spirit has been sent “ to reveal all truth””; the same One who will “ convict men of Sin, Judgment and Evil”.
So that like John the Baptist in the blessed song of His dad, what we know as the Benedictus, may be fulfilled in us. With great Power!
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel who hath visited and redeemed his people; and hath raised up a mighty salvation for us: in the house of his servant David ……..That we being delivered from the hands of our enemies: might serve him without fear; In holiness and righteousness before him: all the days of our life……To give knowledge of salvation unto his people: for the remission of their sins……..To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death……
Yes, there is a lot more for us to do, in keeping with God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. But we must never forget, even in these COVID-19 times, when the focus is perhaps on loving our neighbors whose lives have been devastated by the downturn in the economy, and affected by the virus itself, or family members, that we are called to “ fight the fight with sorrow and sin”. For inherent, not even inherent, explicit in the Word of God, is the sorrow that “ the wages of sin is death”. The eternal sorrow from which we are called to rescue “ the brotherhood of all mankind”. Jews, Muslims, atheists, New Age people, people who don’t care about a relationship with our Savior, but who are in danger of being under God’s righteous judgment if we do not obey His Word.
As the reign of the Prince of Peace is only for those who accept the Salvation which His Atonement on Calvary offers.
So we have been given the Power to preach the Gospel. The Good News of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, for the forgiveness of sin, and the blessed Hope and present reality, of Eternal Life in Christ Jesus.
I said finally, but another well known passage comes to mind. Not as a bookend. But as an instruction for a life in Christ. One that I quoted already. For, and the final verse of the hymn, tells the same story, “ All we can do is nothing worth unless God blesses the deed, if our desire is not for Christ and Him Crucified, we cannot do God’s work, to His honor and glory – as the waters cover the sea. It will involve sacrifice, even death to self. And it certainly will involve suffering with Christ. Not in the same way He suffered, but in His company. As a servant is no greater than His Master. AS St. Paul admitted, we are not quite there as yet. But this must be our goal. Before we can renew this COVID-19 country and world of ours; with its many and varied problems. Including Sin and sorrow!
“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 3:10-16 NIV
Lord Jesus Christ Son of the Living God, may you renew thy church beginning with all who are baptized, with Power from on high this day, and at this time, so that the church may renew this troubled country. And troubled world. Even in the midst of COVID-19. Amen.
THE SECOND EMAIL
You know how it feels when “ a light bulb shines suddenly in your head”. A kind of Eureka moment. But not quite, as it is the Lord who reveals these things to you, and not that we have discovered them. I was at my desk, having lunch. A chance to read the Word of God, and to take off that mask! An opportunity to read a commentary on God’s Word. But this time the Word was alone sufficient. No explanation necessary. This is the Word:
“Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.
He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.””
Revelation 12:7-12 NIV
There is a lot to, what the Americans term “ unpack” in this Word. But for now, the key message which got into my soul yesterday, was the Word highlighted.
That “ woe to the earth and the sea…………He is filled with fury”.
What does that mean? A lot! But in this context, in this message from the Lord this morning, it means that we Christians are in a war with Satan. For it is his intention, sole intention, sole purpose, to “ steal, kill and destroy”, the people of God. How? By enticing, by seducing, by encouraging them to become disobedient to God, and to forget all His promises which are “ Yes” in Christ Jesus and Him Crucified and Raised from the dead. And not only the people of God, although principally so, but all mankind. So as the Word of God says, “ because we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men”. And save them from being destroyed! For that is why Jesus was sent by His Father, and willingly accepted His Father’s will, to die on the cross of Calvary – to grant us victory over, Sin, Death and Evil.
Therefore the war against COVID19, and the war against poverty, and the war against injustice, and the war against immorality, and the war against inequity in our society, and the war against Crime and Violence, the war against drug abuse, the war against scamming, all have their locus in this war with Satan, who is filled with fury, because he knows his time is short. For in Christ, we have the victory over him, he is still active and powerful, and will be until the Lord finally comes again to judge the living and the dead. The Parousia!
Therefore is it critical that as children of God, we are made aware, and never forget, that there is a supernatural world, and that supernatural things are happening in that world, which affects all of us in our pursuit of the national development plan of Jamaica :
The comprehensive vision of the national development plan is to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
A plan which is eerily familiar to what was happening in the world before God acted decisively and brought about the flood which killed off all mankind. Except Noah ( and his family) because he found favor with God, in the midst of a world which had become wicked and disobedient:
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
Genesis 6:5-8 NIV
“For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;”
Matthew 24:38 NIV
So we who live in a world where, “ people are eating and drinking, marrying – even same sex marriage now and babies being born to surrogate mothers and ‘given’ to same sex couples with great fanfare – and giving in maarriage”, that is living our normal lives, as we see fit, need to remember always that we in a war with Satan who is like a roaring lion seeking to devour people. That is, get them to be disobedient to the Living God.
That is the context in which I believe I was led to read this mediation from Chris Tiegreen this morning and to share:
Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law but under grace – Romans 6:14
It’s a nice theory. In principle, we died with Jesus, the law is no longer our master, therefore sin is no longer an issue and grace rules. There is only one problem with it; we still sin. And though we try not to, it happens a lot. While Paul assures us that sin is no longer our master, it often seems so…well masterful.
Why is that? Is this passage of the Bible wrong? Of course not. Or as Paul is fond of saying, “ By no means!” When the Bible declares us free from sin, it means that we are free from sin. It isn’t just a removal of the label from the same old disobedient acts. It isn’t just an imputed righteousness that means that we are clean in God’s eyes but still filthy in our own. It means that sin has lost its power. Really.
That means, of course that any time we say we couldn’t help this or that sin, we really could have. It doesn’t mean that the temptation wasn’t real and powerful, or that the flesh wasn’t really weak, or that the enemy wasn’t incredibly deceptive and persuasive. But we can’t get away with implying to God that our sin was unavoidable. He won’t buy it. A Savior died to free us from it.
How can we tap into that freedom? We’ll explore that in the next few days, but it begins with grace. When God freed us from the law bu fulfilling it for us, he freed us to something else. Instead of being preoccupied with legalities, we can be preoccupied with Him. And the holiness of His very present Spirit will fill us with everything we need to follow Him well.
Many Christians have given up this battle, assuming that victory over sin is theoretical rather than practical. Avoid that temptation. Somehow in our unity with Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are really free. We may struggle with how to appropriate that victory, but we should never assume it isn’t available ( That is Satan’s plan). It is. Believe it. We have a much greater Master than sin.
Let grace be the beginning, grace the consumption, grace the crown – The Venerable Bede.
Lord renew thy church beginning with all of us who are aware of the enemy’s plans to sow unbelief and promote unawareness among your church; Lord renew thy church in tue knowledge of your Son Jesus and Him Crucified, so that your church may renew the nation(s) under attack by the evil one.
The roaring lion who seeks to steal, kill and destroy – especially our most vulnerable, the children.