A New Year & A New You

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This is what the Lord says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” —Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 (Read all of Isaiah 43)

Thoughts on Today’s Verse…

The year is gone, finished, past. We cannot reclaim it or undo it. We cannot rest on the great distance it has brought us. If tomorrow dawns, it will be another day, a new opportunity, and the time to show our faith in Jesus as Lord. Let’s journey forward, knowing that God already inhabits the future and promises to provide us refreshment on our journey there.

My Prayer…

Lord of all eternity, please help me to learn from my mistakes this past year, but not to dwell on them. Please help me not rest on my accomplishments in this past year, but use them to further your work in me and through me. Please help me not quarrel with those who injured me yesterday, last month, or this past year. Instead, O Father, lead me in your paths and help me see your mighty works this next year. In Jesus’ name and by his power I ask it. Amen.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The source of this post is not known. It is quoted from my daily devotional reading.

Bold Faith: Piety, personal agenda or God’s will?

Jesus’ ministry was marked by His preaching to pious, religious, Jewish people, who, by Biblical accounts, held many prejudiced beliefs about Gentiles.

In St. Mark’s gospel, the story is told of how Jesus honoured the faith of a Syrophonecian woman as she begged Him to cast a demon out of her daughter.

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”   [Jews regarded Syrophonecians as dogs.]

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Jesus spoke in terms to which the Jews could relate.  His play on words was really a challenge to the Jewish disciples who were listening to His conversation with the Syrophonecian woman.  This begs the question – was Jesus indirectly addressing deep-seated prejudice and self-righteous piety that may have been in the hearts of his disciples?

I believe that Jesus was fully aware of the woman’s faith and was prepared to redeem her daughter from the grip of the devil.  But Jesus’ message was clear:  Salvation is not reserved for a few.  It was the Jews’ responsibility to accept Jesus’ teachings and spread the Good News to other nations.

Two dimensions of faith: trust and belief

Faith is the universally acceptable response to the Good News.  Responsive faith has two dimensions – belief and trust – both demonstrated by the Syrophonecian woman’s bold declarations that Jesus could rid her daughter of the demon and her belief that the Good News of salvation was also for the Gentiles.

Recent events have given rise to my own reflection on how declarations of faith can appear to be a veil for self-righteous piety and the promotion of personal agendas.

 

Belief or self-righteous piety?

  • The US Supreme Court’s ruling that makes same-sex marriages legal, has led to an uproar of debates in many Christian communities with quotes from the Bible to justify labelling ‘us’ against ‘them.’

It’s not my intention to make or break the case for same-sex marriage here.  I have a greater concern.  I question if the reaction in some Christian quarters is really about deeply rooted fear of others who are ‘different’?  I also question, if in the heated debates and hubris, have we strayed from the baseline teachings of Jesus – love of God and our neighbours?

The core belief of our Christian faith is love.  Jesus’ death is the greatest manifestation of love, motivated by our need for redemption.   If we agree that all of us are beneficiaries of God’s redemptive love, shouldn’t our faith lead us to embrace diversity as we proclaim the Good News?

Trust in God or a personal agenda?

  • And speaking about proclaiming the Good News, I recently learned that a prosperity preaching televangelist asked his congregation to purchase him a $65M private jet.

The intention to purchase the private jet was “to help empower the ministry to reach the lost and change precious lives around the world.”  Fair enough.  But I am led to question if the televangelist’s trusting faith has more to do with his own agenda, than the big picture of God’s plan when the televangelist declared: “I can dream as long as I want to. I can believe God as long as I want to. If I want to believe God for a $65 million plane, you cannot stop me. You cannot stop me from dreaming.”  I won’t judge the motivations and faith of the televangelist and his followers.  I will say, though, that the messages are mixed.

True faith expresses bold humility

There is much we can learn from Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophonecian woman:

  • Falling at Jesus’ feet was an act of humility, setting the stage for her bold declaration of trust and belief.
  • The woman had a trusting faith as she begged Jesus to heal her daughter.
  • Before receiving Jesus’ confirmation that her daughter was healed, she boldly declared her transcendent belief in God’s universal plan of redemption for all people.

May we, like the Syrophonecian woman, have faith that is marked by bold humility as we declare the Good News and receive the blessing of answered prayers.

Christ in you, the hope of glory.  That’s why glory matters.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

@glorymatters

Sermon on the celebration of Jamaica’s Emancipation by Bishop Howard Gregory

An outstanding sermon by the Rt Rev Howard Gregory, Lord Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands on the occasion of Emancipation and Independence celebrations.

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This sermon was preached at St. Andrew ( Anglican) Parish Church in Kingston Jamaica by the Rt. Reverend Howard Gregory, The Anglican Diocesan Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman island. It made such an impact on me that I requested the full text so that wider audience might benefit from this sermon which locates Jamaica in a complex historical space and challenges the nation to seek a deeper understanding of the Freedom gained at Emancipation.
Lucien W. Jones.

THE SERMON

An Independence Sermon preached in the St. Andrew Parish Church, on August 2, 2015

Let us pray.
Almighty God, you have created us, called us, chosen us to be your people. We wait now to receive your word of guidance and blessing. Grant unto us ears to hear, eyes to see, and faith to respond to your love and leadership. In the name of Christ. Amen.

Numbers 14:6-10
And Joshua…

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The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church

Martyrs of the Twentieth Century (Memorial) – 

Martyrs are Christians who have been put to death because they chose to remain faithful to the gospel and counted “the truth as it is in Jesus” dearer than life itself. In the twentieth

century more Christians suffered for this reason than at any other time in the Church’s history — there are the three million Armenian Christians who died under Turkish brutality during the first World War; the million Orthodox who perished in the Soviet Union in the 1920’s and 30’s; the unknown number of Albanians who disappeared in their government’s efforts to suppress Christianity; the hundreds of Germans, both Protestants and Catholics, who died because they resisted Hitler and his Nazi regime; the Burmese Christians who were killed simply because they believed in Christ; the hundreds of African Christians who suffered because they condemned the terrorism of colonial authorities and Black nationalists alike; and the many who were killed because their Christian witness made them oppose racism or social and economic injustices. If we were not careful, the sheer number of martyrs might stagger our efforts to remember them, and why and how they died. So, today’s memorial is meant to be a small act of resistance, a refusal to be silent in the face of terror and injustice. We collect our intentions around a thankful remembrance of the Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century and learn anew the ancient truth, that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Almighty God, who chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, teach us to honour your Martyrs of the Twentieth Century, that we may stand fast in your truth, proclaim your salvation in the world, and fulfil your commandments in love; through Jesus Christ our Lord,who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  The source of this post is not known.  It is quoted from my daily devotional reading.

Women’s rights & freedom of responsible choice

female-symbol

In the week that has followed International Women’s Day, I have read with interest some very impressive statistics on the progress women have made over the years. Earning the right to vote, ascension to leadership in Fortune 500 companies, success in male-dominated professions and legislation protecting safety, pay scales and employment access were in the mix of articles and social media posts published on or around March 8.

In spite of the progress, we must lament the fact that far too many women with limited access to economic opportunities continue to be persuaded or forced into prostitution and human trafficking situations, where they are sexually exploited for the profit and entertainment of unscrupulous men.

Just one month before International Women’s Day, the 2015 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition was released with the model on the cover removing her bikini bottom, leaving very little to the imagination. Appallingly outrageous!

But before you think I’m going to take a prudish position on this, I’ll say that I am thrilled that feminism has earned women the right to make our own choices. We can boldly be who we want to be, choose what we wear and how we wear or not wear what we want to wear. Bravo!

What I find appalling is the consensual use of a woman’s body as a sexual object to market men’s entertainment products. I am disappointed that the model on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover has chosen to have her body used in this way. It does nothing to uplift the portrayal and image of women and it is a slap in the face to the many women and men who are working so very hard to build respect and gender equality.

It is unfortunate that the media is neither an enabler nor a game changer in the quest for genuine gender equality. The 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report states that 74.4% of leading roles in Hollywood movies are portrayed by men. With the majority of movies telling men’s stories and women who too often play secondary roles as lovers, wives and girlfriends, it is no small wonder that stereotypes of women as sex objects continue to be perpetuated.

I am not advocating censure. I am advocating opportunities and choices for women to be positively portrayed in the media, which influences public perceptions. Bearing in mind that men make up approximately 50% of the population, women need to make responsible choices about the opportunities they accept in the domains of advertising and entertainment. In spite of any progress women make in the corporate, academic or any other field of economic activity, the portrayal of women in the media holds an even greater influence on the way in which women are perceived and treated by men.

I stand fully behind the programs that support women’s professional development. Kudos to the women and men who have launched projects to increase the proportion of women on corporate boards and in senior leadership positions. But since we believe in freedom of choice, not all women will choose to ascend the corporate hierarchical ladder, if and where it exists, in the new corporate world order.

The focus must be on empowering women and girls to develop their talents in whichever field they desire, and to have the self-confidence to decline offers of economic gain that objectify them for the benefit of men’s entertainment.

Christ in you, the hope of glory.  That’s why glory matters.

@Glorymatters

http://www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

 

When turning the other cheek doesn’t work

It took me a really long time to understand Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek. But on the day that I did, I gained a whole new perspective on how Christians should respond to oppressive laws, acts of injustice and also when violent, physical retaliation in the form of war, is appropriate.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus made the case for heartfelt motivations being of a higher order of righteousness than compliance with religious laws.  Jesus declared the blessed outcomes of resulting from right attitudes – in the ‘beatitudes.’ By calling into question the motivations for using religious laws as the standard for righteousness, He equated intention with action – the person who secretly lusts in his heart is just as unrighteous as the person who acts on lust and commits adultery.

Jesus gave some pointed advice on how to directly respond to unjust, oppressive laws.

Under Roman law at the time of Jesus’ ministry, persons of higher social rank had the right to slap the face of a person of lower social rank – but the slap had to be given with the left hand as the right hand was reserved for religious actions and could not be defiled.  So if someone wanted to slap another person in the face with their left hand, they would have to deliver the blow to the right cheek of the other person, who had no right to retaliate. Clearly an unjust, oppressive law. If the person receiving the slap were to turn his left cheek, the slapper would have to use their right ‘holy’ hand.  By following Jesus’ suggestion to turn the left cheek to be slapped, it would mean that the oppressor would have to stop and think before striking again.  He would have to consider firstly, if he should defile his right hand, an unrighteous act in the way of thinking in that era. Secondly, he would hopefully question himself as to whether or not his action was right and fair to the other person.

Using a radical form of non-violent action as the line of defense is the principle I believe that Jesus was advocating. This principle is not unlike our modern day principle of moral suasion where an appeal is made to the conscience to consider what is fair and what serves the common good.   Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Ghandi are two examples of persons who followed through on the principle of non-violent protest and moral suasion.  Similarly, the United Nations, as an institution, seeks to avert war and its underlying causes of injustice, poverty and oppression, through diplomacy and dialogue.

But does there come a point when violent, physical retaliation is appropriate? I believe that there is.

We know that Jesus taught in the synagogue.  Some heard and accepted His teachings and others didn’t.  Many of those who didn’t, continued to oppress and extort their fellow citizens.  On one occasion, Jesus had a violent response to the heart-hardened money-changers, when he overturned their tables, smashed up their ill-gotten material gains and drove them out of the synagogue.

In today’s world, we have terrorists wreaking havoc wherever and whenever they can.  For all the diplomatic interventions, economic sanctions and other non-violent initiatives, these terrorists continue to torture and murder innocent people of various religious, ethnic and political persuasions.  The principle of moral suasion and non-violent intervention has not pierced through the hearts of these perpetrators of violence and terrorism.  In these circumstances, as difficult as it may be, war can be justified.

Christians must join together in prayer for right outcomes in the current war on terror. We must pray that the weapons of war will be broken and that the sources of funding for terrorist activities will be eliminated once and for all.  We ought to pray for the terrorists and be hopeful that transformation is possible. As was the case with the apostle Paul, many in the terrorists’ ranks can be radically converted.  We must also to pray for the victims of war – regardless of their religious affiliation.  Above all, we need to be involved, when the time comes, to contribute to rebuilding all that was lost in war and to promote the principle of moral suasion and non-violence as the best route to a peaceful world.

I don’t believe in work/life balance

Work Life Balance

Although I tried it for many years, I no longer believe in work/life balance, and here’s why –

The term work/life balance implies that there is work and then there are other things in life.  According to this way of thinking, finding the balance means that there has to be a trade-off.  In the end, one or the other suffers.

As someone who enjoys working hard, I do cherish time spent with my family and people I love, as well as volunteering and having my ‘down time.’   For many years, I tried unsuccessfully to find a balance between my work and all the other things I wanted to do in life.  Trying to fit in one hour of long distance running, preparing supper, spending quality time with my husband and family, working on communications plans for the two social activities I was involved in, working on my latest art project and then factoring in two hours commuting to an 8-hour day job… all left me tired, frazzled, overweight and unfulfilled.  Then I tried to cut down some of my social activities in pursuit of the ideal balance between work and the other things in my life.  I got the same result – not enough sleep, weight gain and frustration instead of fulfillment.

Then, one Saturday morning a few years ago, I woke up feeling tired.  I was overwhelmed when I read the uncompleted items on the previous week’s “to do” list that was running and ruining my life.  The reality check came when I tried to add another set of commitments for the coming week to the list of “to do’s.”

Realizing the impossibility of accomplishing all of the tasks, I had an honest dialogue with myself about what mattered most to me in my life at the time.   Instead of identifying specific actions, I considered what my priorities ought to be.  Here’s what I came up with –

  1. My spiritual well-being,
  2. My family and the people I love,
  3. Developing my talents and career and
  4. Serving other people.

Overarching all of these priorities was my health and well-being and the need for a holistic, balanced way of life.

What I realized was that if I stayed true to my priorities, I wasn’t making a choice between work and life.  My priorities covered every aspect of my life, of which work is only one component.

Since then, I have reframed my thinking about how I manage my time and energy.  Treating my priorities as assets and the hours in a day as a portfolio, I invest my time and efforts in activities that matter most while ensuring that my health and well-being are not compromised.  Since I’m most alert and productive in the early morning, I spend my first waking hours in meditation and getting ready to start my work day early, allowing for more time in the evening to spend time with my family and with people while being involved in social activities.  Then there are boundaries I set on the commitment and number of volunteering opportunities that I’m involved in.

It’s simple, but then again it’s not that simple.  Having it all is eventually possible.  It’s all about setting priorities and making choices that are appropriate at a given time in life.  As King Solomon stated, “For everything in life there is a time and a season.”  These are wise words to live by.

Christ in you, the hope of glory!  That’s why glory matters.

Visit my website www.camilleisaacsmorell.com