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Understanding our Spiritual Blessings

Moses the servant of God has died and God now charges Joshua with the task of leading the people of Israel into the promised land. The land had been promised generations ago and it was now time to take possession.

Joshua 1: 3 & 4 records the scope of the promised land ‘Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you….from the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river…land of the Hittites…the Great Sea…will be your territory.’ In modern-day terms from Egypt to Iraq, a vast territory. 

God gave His people much more than they enjoyed, settling for less than what was fully theirs. Whatever their excuse, sin, or lack of faith, the fact is there was so much more to enjoy than what became their reality.

How often as God’s people today, do you and I settle for less than what God has given us, not just promised, but given? However, there is might I say, an important component for success which was given to them generations earlier.

Joshua 1 verse 7 rifle’s in on the singular key for success ‘…be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.’ The message is the same to us, great blessings have been given to us, but the ‘how’ of making it a reality is not entirely up to you, it is up to God acting on behalf of His obedient children.

The problem we often have lies in our understanding of being ‘given’ something. We understand possession of an item, as having complete and total access to it, like buying a house. I have possession of it therefore I can do whatever I wish with it. To us, it is counter-intuitive to have been given something but not have access to it.

The problem gets even worse because what we consider as being blessed frequently means having ‘stuff’. However, this is not necessarily so when God blesses us. For example when we read Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church where he says to them in chapter 1 verse 3  ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.’ If you like me when I read that verse I said quietly in my head ‘okay, well I don’t understand what that all means so… next verse’. 

But being blessed by God is contained in the relationship He wants to have with us. It is about the communication, prayer, the questions, the deepening of the understanding between us and Him which is most important. It is a relationship in Christ, based on faith and grounded in the scriptures. 

Everything which happens to us, from God’s perspective, is centered around and geared to bring us closer in relationship with Him. In Christ, the spiritual blessings which Paul speaks about derives their origin in the Greek word ‘eulogeo’ meaning to bless, to speak well of, from which we get the word ‘eulogy’. Hence spiritual blessings are the good things that God speaks/acts on our behalf because of our relationship with Him.

Consider Job 1:8, where we get a rare glimpse of a conversation in the heavenlies and God speaking good of Job: ‘And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” 

What an amazing statement to be said of a man, by God! Here God is eulogizing Job!  He is speaking well about Job! 

These are spiritual blessings in heavenly places! What an awesome thought of God speaking well, even boasting in the heavenlies about us!

The conversations recorded between Job and God, speaks to us almost like no other about the relationship man can have with God. The scripture records at the end of the book, that the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning!

Israel’s taking of the land was dependent on obedience and the relationship with Him, not the reliance on human skill or military tactics. So too is our most lasting blessing, our relationship with God, in and through Christ.

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Relationship warning signs- eight questions to ask yourself

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Some relationships come with warning flags. Similar to the warning lights and gates at a railway crossing, ignoring them can place you in great danger. It’s almost like we have a built-in ‘relationship checker’ but the problem is it comes with an ‘OFF’ position, and often it gets into that position innocuously.  

We were built for companionship and relationship, indeed no man is an island no man stands alone. But sadly the relationship tool does not come with a manual and we have to figure it out all by ourselves. With that said, however, there is no greater satisfaction in finding and enjoying companionship with a soulmate.

First up you have to know yourself before you can give yourself. Nothing new, but it needs to be said because it is one of the foundational stones in a relationship. Know for sure, that time will reveal the foundation of a relationship just like it does in the natural world around us. When all the padding and fluff are stripped away over time, what remains is the core and when the core is solid, the building has the best chance of withstanding the storms that do come.

Here are eight questions you should ask yourself about your relationship thereby ensuring the ‘relationship checker’ is in the ‘ON’ position. 

  1. Am I an equal partner in this relationship? Am I in a ‘Child-Parent’ friendship? It is that we have ‘Responsible/Irresponsible’ roles? While not always a bad thing, but is it a source of irritation between you both?
  2. Am I settling for whatever reason? At its essence, all relationships involve some amount of compromise but it’s a horse of a different color when you know within yourself that you are connecting with someone way outside your values, mores, and traditions.
  3. Am I ignoring first impressions red flags? First impressions are lasting impressions for real and they are our dashboard lights before the head and heart flip the ‘override button’. One of the purest signals you will ever get will be first impressions.
  4. Am I growing in this relationship? Friendships that do not mature and make us better persons, becoming the best version of myself because of the interaction, mutuality, and stimulation will be severely tested over time. Iron still sharpens iron!
  5. Am I being myself? It’s all about being truly you and if this is not happening then be very careful how you proceed. It’s all well and fine being this ‘nice’ person but one day the mask will come off and the results can be hurtful. Someone once said it doesn’t take time to know someone, it takes honesty. I agree.
  6. Am I free to be myself? This is the flipside to #5. This occurs when one knows who they truly are but cannot be that person because they are ‘caged’ in the relationship.
  7. Am I trying to change this person? Admit it if you are, as this is not healthy for the relationship. Best to work on changing you if you so see the need to but not the other party.
  8. Am I being true to my values? Here I agree and quote from Matthew Kelly’s “The Seven Levels of Intimacy” an excellent read if I might say so:

 ‘A man’s true self lies within his values, principles, morals, and ethics. He can’t be his true self if you “take him away from these things”. If you do take him away from them, you can be certain of one thing: sooner or later, he will leave you to get back to his true self. Excerpt From: Kelly, Matthew. “The Seven Levels of Intimacy.” Beacon Publishing, 2005. iBooks.

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The COVID-19 pandemic will alter and shape the history of mankind beyond being a healthcare crisis. Allow me to share why I think so.

The COVID-19 pandemic will alter and shape the history of mankind beyond being a healthcare crisis. Allow me to share why I think so.

Looking at the world’s stage after 18 months of COVID-19,  I’m getting a little tired of the recurring themes in the news daily. We hear of COVID-19 protocols enforced or relaxed. There are two sharply drawn sides, the vaccine proponents and the anti-vaxxers. 

We hear of Social Distancing and stay inside versus others saying ‘let’s party’! There is a lot of information and likewise misinformation. News and fake news. The Left versus The Right and the age old ‘Good vs Evil’ narrative being played out. These recurring themes and messages align with the ‘Truth’ vs ‘Lies’ debate.  So powerful are the proponents that it has been rebranded-  Truth vs Alternative Truth. 

Sadly and unfortunately the alternative truth has had influencers at the highest level. Leadership & Authority have ignited and fanned the flames here. Notably political authority has been pitched against scientific authority leaving the masses often betwixt and between not knowing who to believe or trust. 

Let it not escape us that even though there has been a leadership change in the USA, the message and the movement of the alternative truth remains very strong today. It speaks to how deep the dogma runs and it must not be ignored. What is sad is that the children who have to go back to school in the US with face to face classes, are doing so within earshot of parents protesting ‘for masks’ or ‘no-masks’ in school, the shouting throng reflective of the times.

What is interesting to me is how blurred in some respects, the lines have become with both sides of the divide, Left and Right. On one hand the Pro-choice and Gay Rights movements speak to the right of personal choice and self-determinism. The Conservatives in response to the corona virus and the vaccine have been the ones saying ‘I have the right to choose’ , ‘my freedom is important’, ‘freedom is the patriotic thing’!

LEADERSHIP AND AUTHORITY 

The other thing to note in my estimation, is how the ‘alternative truth’ is questioning and redefining Leadership, Authority and Legitimacy with lies and deceit. 

There are three main types of Authority. There is Traditional, Rational-Legal and Charismatic authority.

Traditional Authority is by succession as in the case of a Monarch. Rational-Legal is given, appointed and approved by society. Charismatic Authority is by exerting considerable influence  and by the sort of person he/she is.

We have witnessed in our lifetime a huge swing of authority and leadership to the Charismatic, which has successfully challenged the two other forms of authority.

Challenges to authority and leadership are not new. Jesus’ authority was challenged by the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders and elders of the Jews.

Jesus makes his triumphant entry to Jerusalem on a donkey as the people waved palm branches, spread their garments shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’. He enters the temple creating quite a stir, driving out the traders ‘My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’  This could not go without the attention of the leaders of the day.

Three branches of leadership, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came and asked Jesus, who gave you the authority to do the things you were doing? Jesus’ answer came by way of a question: “John’s baptism- was it from heaven or from men?”

John the Baptists’ calling and ministry was validated by Jewish leadership and scripture. As a prophet, his ministry was to call the people to repentance and to declare the arrival of the Messiah. John gave Jesus his authority which was traditional authority. John baptised and announced Jesus as ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. 

When the religious leaders realized they were backed into a corner they answered ‘We don’t know where it was from’. Jesus’ reply was superb, ‘Neither am I going to tell you by what authority I am doing these things’. 

‘Jesus refused to answer the delegate’s question after showing that they were unqualified to assess him. The Jews were prejudiced, obsessed with their own power, envious of Jesus, unprincipled, lacking integrity, materialistic and spiritually blind. They were skilful manipulators and political chancers who did what served their purpose rather than what was right. Jesus had no time for them!’ – John Reed ‘The Authority of Jesus’

A NEW ORDER

The growing voices of dissent, questioning the authority of elected leaders not just in the US, but in Europe, Canada, South America and elsewhere is just a part of an ongoing movement of ‘new order of things’. One where alternatives are embraced and accepted. A new way of defining the family, a new way of defining marriage, new norms of working and new decentralized digital currencies emerging at a rate never seen before. What’s alarming is the push for global acceptance of the new order by powerful stakeholders often with punitive economic sanctions for nations who spurn these overtures.  

This ‘alternative’ movement is most attractive as it carries a philosophy of self-determinism. I can decide that ‘I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body and it’s ok’; ‘I prefer to identify as a man’. Wait for it, but soon you’ll hear ‘I prefer to identify as a child’. The ability to choose is a divinely given right of man but carries eternal consequences. But modern society has edited the ‘eternal consequences’ and are glorifying ‘my right to choose’. ‘I choose if I want to take the vaccine’. ‘I can choose whether to wear a mask!’ ‘The authorities should not tell me what to do, afterall what does science really say?’ ‘Can I believe this is good for me without some hidden agenda?’  ‘What is the truth?’

The ‘alternative’ movement is stronger than it has ever been, spurred on by leadership’s response to COVID-19. Its message is strong, there is money behind it and the media to spread the word is agile and vibrant.

I believe everything is in place except the person who will coalesce this movement,  gain legitimacy and authority by charisma and charm, and will make lies, doubt and alternative facts mainstream. COVID-19 has helped set the stage for this person to arise.

It is later than you think. 

Reichel Neil

reicheln@gmail.com

Is any among you suffering?

Life can throw curveballs at us that we never saw coming. From simple missed opportunities to life-altering circumstances, we all face the vicissitudes of life. While I have not had life-altering issues, I have seen my own step-children lose their father tragically and horribly.

The reality is that life’s not been fair to so many of us which leads me to ask where do we get the notion that life is supposed to work how we hope or expect? Is it from the stories we are told as children?  Was it from the nursery rhymes we learned as infants? I am left to wonder when kids throw temper tantrums which I know there are many reasons for doing so, but I just wonder if even at the tenderest of age, children learn and see expectations being fulfilled in stories and kids TV programs.  So when they are being denied something, there needs to be a demonstration of great displeasure by them until the demand is satisfied?

As adults where do we develop expectations about life? Is it by comparison with peers? In a certain social sector of my own culture where children are exposed to domestic violence, girls may grow up with the twisted and bizarre notion that a man displays his love for his spouse by physical beatings. Our society also shapes our expectations in our lives by imposing its values and norms on us.

I have three friends who have had to re-adjust their expectations in life when they lost their beloved wives due to cancer at a time in life when one is expecting to grow old together in retirement, sitting on the veranda watching the sunset each day. Life for them has been abruptly and permanently ‘bent out of shape’. 

There are no words for those going through life’s most challenging circumstances, but life must go on. I will always remember a tangerine tree in our backyard which was blown down by one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit our island. The fruit tree lay on its side and we decided not to cut it up but to leave it as is. Years went by and the tree eventually began to bear fruit because, despite its posture, its roots still nourished the tree and it produced wonderful fruit. Like the tangerine tree, we must all find a way to go on, to be resilient in the face of life’s most tumultuous storms.

M Scott Peck wrote the book ‘The Road Less Travelled’ and there he penned a great philosophical truth that weighs in appropriately here:

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth

The letter of the Apostle James, the half-brother of Jesus, offers practical wisdom in chapter 5 verse 13: 

 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.

I would never trivialize the pain of anyone going through painful circumstances and suffering, but the Apostle suggests a two-pronged approach to life, that of PRAYER in suffering and PRAISE in times of good fortune.

Praying when going through rough times must be the ultimate of choices for the believer. We are told by researchers that the average adult makes 35,000 decisions daily or about one every 2.5 seconds. Just like choosing to be happy is an act of the will, so too is the call to pray in tough times.

PRAY and PRAISE as you TRUST and OBEY.

Jesus turns water into wine

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The gospel of John chapter 2 verse 1-12 records Jesus’ first miracle at Cana in Galilee, of Him turning water into wine. The scriptures record that Jesus, his mother, his brothers, and his freshly called disciples were all attending a wedding when the wine ran out.

John wrote this gospel with the intent that you may believe in Him and in believing may have life in His name Jn 20:30,31. John states in chapter 2:11 that Jesus begins His signs and wonders in Cana and his disciples believed in Him. What can we take away from this unlikely first miracle involving Jesus’ mother?

A mother’s involvement

The first thing we notice is Mary his mother’s involvement in the wedding and the possible social embarrassment with the wine all finished. She involves Jesus in the domestic affairs of the moment, not the bridegroom who was ultimately responsible for the festivities. 

We often affirm that there is nothing that God cannot do. We sing ‘My God is so big, so strong and so mighty there’s nothing my God cannot do’. But, do we affirm similarly that there is nothing too small, too insignificant for God to notice and be involved with? Do we for example before starting up the car and pulling out to work offer a simple prayer for God’s protection and guidance as we routinely drive to work? Maybe we should.

A mother’s intuition

Then notice Mary’s intuition. Jesus had not up to this point in His 30 years of age done any public miracle. But Mary was convinced, she knew her son, the circumstances of his birth, and many things spoken to her about this child, she knew He was sent from God. How it would all work out, that she didn’t know. Her faith moved her to action: ‘They have no wine’ verse 3 of John 2.

Are you convinced of Jesus’ Lordship over everything and that as Paul the Apostle says in Colossians 1:16 ‘For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth…by Him and for Him.’ Do you share such a relationship with Him? Is it deep and intimate?  Does it go beyond head knowledge and move you to action? 

A mother’s instructions

Jesus rebuffs his mother’s attempt to involve him ‘My hour has not yet come’ verse 4. We have to wonder, what if Mary had stopped there and given no instructions to the servants? Would there have been a miracle? We don’t know but with her conviction she gave instructions. I would submit here that it is faith, demonstrated in action which brings results. 

Jesus’ mission and ministry on earth were ordained before time in the eternal counsel of the Godhead. I am over-awed even to think that man (woman), in relationship with God and by an exercise of faith in God, could influence the mighty working God in human affairs.

Persistent faith

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There is a call, a challenge for all of us to have faith, persistent faith. The kind that does not let go even in the face of no change in our circumstances. Should we pray over and over about a matter until God answers? The struggle is real when we read scripture passages that say we are to  ‘Ask and keep on asking and it shall be given you….’ Matthew 7:7 Amplified Bible. 

In a most unlikely town outside of Jewish territory, Jesus encounters a woman with ‘great’ faith. In Mark’s gospel chapter 7 verse 24, it is recorded that Jesus withdrew, retreated possibly for some downtime to Tyre, a seaside town in Phoenicia. In this greek township, a local woman hears of his arrival and earnestly entreats Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter.

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed” (Matt. 15:22 NASB) she cries out and does not get a elicit a response from Jesus and so she continues her plea. It appears that the situation gets so intense, Jesus’ disciples ask the Lord, and based on the tense used by Matthew in the original Greek, they were asking repeatedly for Him to send her away.

Maternal passion or faith?

The maternal instinct is not unique to humans. The animal kingdom exhibits strong maternal instincts as well. In her article, Maternal instinct in the animal kingdom Channing Sargent cites that female octopuses may lay thousands of eggs, they keep the developing babies in safe, bacteria-free surroundings where she does not leave them in the process however long it takes them to hatch. The longest such scientifically observed period was four and a half years. Once the littles ones are safely out, the mother passes away from starvation.

The Syrophoenician mother no doubt realized this was possibly her one and only chance, a never to be repeated opportunity for her child to be set free. This Greek woman might have heard of Jesus before evidenced by her correctly addressing Him as ‘O Lord, Son of David’ and hence makes her impassioned cry. It is not hard to emphasize with her especially if one has had a sick child or maybe we were the recipient of the faith of a mother or grandmother. What happens next shows the true measure of her faith.

The first response we get from Jesus is a terse statement about His mission being only to the Jews. This does not deter her and she pleads bowing down before him ‘Lord, help me!

 Jesus adds ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ Matt. 7:26. Her persistent faith replies, ‘Yes, Lord but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table’ (verse 27). At this Jesus remarks ‘O woman, your faith is great: be it done for you as you wish’ (verse 28). 

There will be times when the genuineness of our faith is proved by our persistence. It is evidenced by what we do and what we refuse to give up on. There are only two times recorded in the New Testament where Jesus commends ‘great faith’, both times by non-Jews, the other being the Roman Centurion soldier for his servant. Several times in scripture Jesus had to rebuke the disciples for their little faith, one being when Peter walked out on the water but then began to sink.

But God seems to honor faith, even mustard seed-sized faith. What seems to matter is the object of faith, the importance of hearing the Word of God for it to grow, its genuineness, persistence, and tenacity.

Why we don’t learn from past mistakes and 4 ways to wise up from them.

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Many of us have suffered hurt or loss emotionally, mentally, or financially from mistakes or poor judgment and if we are honest with ourselves sometimes we fall prey even spiritually not once or twice but several times. If we are rational beings, how come we trip up over the same issues over and over again?

Some psychologists have suggested when we make repeated mistakes we develop a ‘learning’ of that mistake. So like a dangerous cycle, we could develop a habit of mistakes that becomes more entrenched with every occurrence. 

Again the assumption is that we are rational beings and capable of objectively seeing our situation. Let me leave a quotation right here without any further comment.

‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’ 

                                                                        Anais Nin 

Somehow, however, we seem to get the message immediately when we suffer physical pain and recoil from harmful situations in an instant. I guess there is no rationalization of a punctured or burnt finger.

After some 62+ years, I am still enrolled in ‘Life’s University of Hard Knocks’ with graduation nowhere in sight, but let me share some things I have noticed so far.

  1. Call a ‘timeout’ as soon as the pattern repeats itself. Just stop, pause and acknowledge where you are. This is regardless of the ‘whys’ and who is to blame. 
  2. Get a coach versus your ‘best friend’. Friends are great to console and lean on in times of hurt, disappointment, and distress. If you truly want to learn from the mistake, find a coach or mentor who will give you frank, unbiased feedback. A coach will also work with you on a plan for the way out and will keep you accountable in the process of recovery. Some of my best outcomes occurred when I sought out a coach. 
  3. Embark on a journey of self-discovery. During this timeout or pause, it is a good time to try some new things. Learn a new skill, take up a new hobby, learn to play an instrument or a new sport. It can be a time for personal growth and also a time to rethink and refine values and priorities. I remember when I ended a 3-year relationship and thought I just needed someone different as I couldn’t deal with the idiosyncrasies of that person. I did a timeout of about two years before entering another relationship, but guess what? It was the same old me and no clearer about who I was and the sort of person I wanted to connect with. You do have to know yourself before you can genuinely give yourself. I entered a long-term relationship in which I had to make repeated compromises to my detriment. 
  4. Embrace personal change. Charles Darwin said ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change’. While I don’t see eye to eye with Darwin’s theory of evolution, I believe there is a seminal truth to this statement. Just as how doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is considered insanity according to Einstein, so too expect a new outcome in our circumstances if there is no personal change. We may need to toughen up emotionally, adopt a more frugal lifestyle if it’s a spending issue, or even something as simple as being true to ourselves in a relationship. 

Here’s the final sauce which might help the learning process. As ego-threatening as it might sound, you’ll need a dash of humility in the mix. Don’t get hung up on yourself, laugh, live and love.  

FAITH

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What is Faith? This is a question I’ve been asking myself in recent days. In search of answers, I have looked into several scriptural passages where faith was commended or those reprimanded for lack of faith.

I considered the Syrophoenician woman and the Roman Centurion, both non-Jews with pagan backgrounds, who were commended by Jesus as having great faith (see Matthew 15:28 and Matthew 8:10). This is contrasted with Jesus’ own disciples who were on more than one occasion rebuked as ‘men of little faith’ (St. Matthew 8:18; St.Matthew 16:8).  

The New Testament letter to the Hebrews chapter 11 is the scriptures ‘Hall of Fame’ of men and women of faith. Named heroes of the Old Testament are applauded for their ‘faith’ such as Abraham ‘…get out of your country…to a land I will show you.’ (Genesis 12:1) Moses, the epistle of Hebrews records, by faith, chose to identify with the sufferings of his fellow Israelites, putting at stake, his privileged position in Pharaoh’s household.

Some observations about Faith

Faith is often evidenced by our obedience to God. It may be a deep conviction, or small inner voice prompting some action to help alleviate some situation or person. The characteristic of faith is that the resources or capacity to help or change the situation may not be evident at the outset. In a very rudimentary example, if I need a car or house and I have enough money in the bank, then the action to purchase is not one of faith.

Faith appears to be asking for what only God can do or accomplish in a human circumstance. The healing of the paralytic comes to mind from St. Mark 2:1-5. Jesus was teaching to a packed house in Capernaum. Four men carrying one paralyzed on a bed, so determined to get him to Jesus, opened up the roof of the house and lowered him down in front of Jesus. Having done all they could, the scripture records that Jesus seeing ‘their faith’, healed the paralytic man. 

My own encounters of Faith

In 2015 there was a prolonged and serious drought in my country. Rivers which emptied into our two main reservoirs for the capital city of 1 million-plus people were dry and reserves down to only days of supply. The nations’ Christians were earnestly praying to God for rain, in as much that people gathered for prayer with umbrellas in hand, all expecting God to answer. The heavens were shut. 

I remember distinctly, on July 6, 2015, at about 10 pm I was at my desk working when I rose and walked to the bedroom window and uttered a simple prayer asking God to bring rain as only He could. I returned to my desk and within 15 minutes I saw lightning and heard thunder in the distance which in fact made me a little scared so I shut down my computer and jumped into bed. In a matter of minutes, there was a deluge of rain. I’m not saying it was because of my prayer that the rain came but it was so coincidental in timing with my prayer.

In 1997 I left my country to study in the USA. I was 48 years old at the time so it meant giving up my job, gathering all my little savings to facilitate this major move. I didn’t have all the money for the 4-year program at the time so it was a complete step of faith. Even though in the end it did not turn out as planned, it was an important stepping stone in my life.

My conclusion

I am but a child in the realm of faith even though I came to trust Jesus at the age of 11. I am seeing that there is a common theme of ‘not knowingness’ about faith. It is ‘not knowing how’ the desired outcome will be obtained but rather knowing ‘HIM’ who can. Faith replaces the ‘how’ with ‘HIM’.

The Blue Mountains

The Blue and John Crow Mountains in Jamaica were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site many years ago. With several endangered tree species, these mountains rise over 2,000 meters with Elfin Forest due to stunted and gnarled appearance of trees which are heavily coated with epiphytes including hanging mosses, ferns, and tiny orchids.

My attitude to Homosexuality

We live in a broken, fallen world where we all struggle with a similar range of sins as there is nothing new under the sun. The problem begins when we start to categorize into greater and lesser sins, particularly when it comes to sexual sins.

A day ago a friend sent me an audio recording of a conversation in Jamaica of a woman and her teenage son where she confronts him about his homosexual inclinations. The mother was in typical Jamaican fashion, intolerant and had a self-righteous attitude only interested in preserving the family’s and her ‘good’ reputation in the community. There was no empathy or attempt to understand or accept her son.

I wonder if that conversation would have taken place if her son had heterosexual tendencies seeing she was so interested in the public’s opinion? ‘Boys will be boys’ would have been the typical attitude.

In 1985 Sofia George released ‘Girlie Girlie’ a song about a young man and his sexual exploits around Jamaica and the world (https://youtu.be/OLyE0N_wi08?t=10). Our society is comfortable and unperturbed with behaviours such as this. This song became an international hit, a feat Sofia was never able to repeat with any further releases.

I confess that my response to the audio conversation was poor and typical of my Christian upbringing and consistent with the modern church’s attitude to homosexuality- ‘that young man needs the Lord and to be saved’.

As christians we were taught and read Moses’s list of unlawful sexual relations in Leviticus chapter 18 and 20 and somehow the homosexual act seems to be the one which stands out most and the most widely quoted. Why so, is another discussion.

The church and hence the society has been hypocritical in how we have viewed and handled the homosexual, hence one type of sexual sin is greater than the other. Do we as christians and our ‘christian’ society, knowingly discriminate against the gay person even though for example, he/she maybe the best fit for the job, or the ideal tenant for our house?

I think a reset and reshaping has to take place in my mind and attitude along the lines of the example which Jesus took towards the woman taken in adultery. “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone” says Jesus to her accusers, who were within the ambit of Mosaic law to stone her. I have often wondered if the situation were reversed and a man/woman caught in the act of homosexuality was brought to Jesus, what would have been his response? I don’t think it would have been any different.

I need to reshape my thinking, to seek understand the human sexual struggles in all its forms and to offer the same grace extended to me. I shouldn’t pitch one sexual sin as greater or lesser but rather have to same passion and concern of Jesus not to condemn, but to encourage to “Go now and leave your life of sin”.

I hear Jesus suggesting that whatever this broken world hands you, whatever poor decisions made, no matter the abuse or assault of others to you, it is possible by the grace of God, to leave the life of sin.

The search for Meaning or purpose in life

Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning has now sold more than 12 million copies in a total of twenty-four languages. Frankl was once asked to express in one sentence the meaning of his own life.

He wrote the response on paper and asked his students to guess what he had written. After some moments of quiet reflection, a student surprised Frankl by saying, “The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs.”

Life needs a cause greater than self for it to be truly meaningful and I so agree with:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said,  Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

I spent 21+ years working with a global pharmaceutical company, having steered the Regulatory function for the Caribbean up until February 2020. The most rewarding take away was not the registration of countless new drugs across the Caribbean, leading the company to be the dominant Rx leader in the region, or the fact that I maintained hundreds of product licences in line with seven Board of Health agencies in the region, a highly complex undertaking.

For me, my most rewarding accomplishment were the several lives I was able to make a difference in, evidenced by them reaching or going after their best life.

I helped Coach a Caribbean Pharmaceutical Marketing Executive make the difficult but necessary decision to pursue Medical School at the age of 50+, with children who would shortly be of age to pursue tertiary education for themselves. Today he is a practising physician.

I also Coached and encouraged a young Admin Assistant to pursue qualifications as a trained pharmacist. She enters the Internship phase of Certification next year.

I remember Trevor, a bike messenger contracted by the company with whom I had many informal Coaching sessions. I learnt that he liked auto mechanics but had a low estimation of self and never thought anyone would employ him as a mechanic. I Coached him to think beyond his current circumstances.

Some years after he left the company, I remember pulling into a well-known auto service shop and just as I exited my vehicle I was greeted with a loud “Mr. Neil!” It was Trevor in his overhauls, a wrench in hand and a huge smile. He was fulfilling his dream.

I believe that greatness lies within all of us and King Solomon in his wisdom said, ‘A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men’. I believe your purpose in life is as unique to you as your fingerprint, but it is the greatest most challenging task a person can undertake.  

Stop comparing your life with peers or family members but instead develop a healthy estimation of self, your life values and own your goals. No one is ever dealt a full hand of cards, but we must make the most with the hand received.

I can Coach you into your greatest dreams and into your purpose in life.

Let’s talk

The Mission of the Church

This morning September 29, 2020, Dr. James Dobson’s Open Letter to All Christians Regarding the Upcoming Election was published. Allow me to quote excerpts:

How will Americans, and how will you, decide who to vote for as our Chief Executive Officer? I have heard from dozens of friends and acquaintances in recent weeks who tell me they will base their decision solely on a candidate’s rhetoric, tone, style, or likeability.

 I’m voting for those who will support Israel…. I’m voting for those who will protect children from leftist curricula…. I’m voting for freedom in the suburbs… I am voting to support “In God we trust” and school prayer… I am voting for marriage… I am voting for life in all its dimensions. I am voting against euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. I’m voting for wisdom in handling the pandemic. I am voting for protection for the Church from oppressive politicians. 

If you love America and don’t want it to be “fundamentally transformed,” as Barrack Obama proposed, it is time to do three things:
1. Pray like never before that God will spare this great nation from tyranny and oppression of religious liberty. 
2. Volunteer to help your candidates. 
3. Vote for the candidates who will best uphold your values and convictions

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”- Jesus (Matthew 15:24)

Our Lord Jesus had one focus, one mission to bring the good news of salvation, deliverance from sin and to usher in the Kingdom of God to the Jews. The Jews were His sole attention. This is seen in several occasions in the Gospels.

Early in his ministry, Jesus also sends out His disciples with the same mission: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel”. (Matt. 10:5 & 6) It was only after “…his own did not receive him…” (John 1:11 & 12) that he sent out his disciples into all the world in the Great Commission.

The Syrophoenician Woman

The scriptures tell us that Jesus withdrew the coastal town of Tyre and Sidon, a Canaanite territory according to the account in Matthew 15: 21. Mark’s account says he did not want anyone to know of it. We are not given the reason in the gospels, but it could be inferred that Jesus wanted a little downtime.

While there, the account of the Syrophoenician woman who seeks out Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter is recorded. Jesus has a strikingly real conversation with the woman which is almost uncharacteristic of him: “It is not right for me to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matt. 15:26). In local parlance, Jesus ‘buff-ed’ (snubbed) her big time!

The point is, Jesus was razor sharp in his mission to the Jews and probably exemplified here more than anywhere else in the scriptures. Likewise he expects us as individual believers and the Church to be single minded in our call and mission to be salt and light in an evil world. We should not expect the world system to agree or collaborate with the Gospel. This is not the reality we should seek and it is not what our Lord taught.

It sounds to me that the desired outcome from this election according to Dr. Dobson, a highly respected church leader and bible teacher, should be a Commander in Chief who will protect the ideals and uphold Christian values and morals, if not personally, certainly in the public arena.

Apparently, the church and the society needs to be defended against the evil which will be foisted on it (again). Hence as members of the church we need to act and vote in a particular way.

There seems to be a desire of the Conservatives to return America to a ‘golden age’ if it ever existed, where the state and the church were aligned in unison and all was well. History records the dangers of such Church/State entanglements and I won’t enter that discussion here.

I will however underpin again that the church’s mission is to proclaim the Good News to all who are lost. It is not to ‘keep church’ and maintain a status quo. The US and worldwide church must awaken to the fact that we live secular, humanistic lost world, a world that needs the Saviour.

The US’s church leadership in 2020 is still bemoaning that prayer has been taken out of schools, same sex unions have been sanctioned and pro-choice agendas fixed and all that needs to be undone by a POTUS and we must all pray to that end. Where is the call from the church for a strategic, modern and dynamic thrust of Evangelism? Where is the call to prayer against the ‘principalities and powers in high places’? Where is the call for each believer to be salt and light and to live a life worthy of our calling?

Instead, the call is for church members should go out and volunteer among other things. Sadly, I see a lukewarm, weak and frail church which is fighting to maintain a comfortable status quo and not the overcoming church I read of in the last days.

Revive your church God!

Blood, bodies and bombs

I wrote the below article to the Miami Herald back in March 1997 as an assignment in a course being taken at Miami-Dade Community College. What I did not expect was that the Miami Herald called and invited me to a ‘open-house’ geared to the public on how articles and headlines are chosen for the daily newspaper. More importantly though, I saw the Miami Herald change (even temporarily) its approach and and began to feature stories of perseverance in middle of of hardship and struggle. I will post pics of the newspapers which followed.

Mr. Jim Hampton

The Miami Herald

Dear Mr. Hampton:

Our society today is titillated by blood, bodies and bombs. Often it is the causalities that make the headlines and front pages, and oddly enough, frequently come with a caution to excuse the explicit scenes, which really is a hype for what is to come. We are fascinated with murder, suicide and tragic death that we almost idolise the victims-even if the victim is the perpetrator.

Front page The Miami Herald Friday March 21, 1997: A family destroyed- double murder and suicide is given prominence with a quarter page article on subsequent page. Sunday March 23, 1997: The Miami Herald features suicide notes in an article covering over two thirds of a page.

Have we gone over-board with our empathy with the victims? I really prefer to call them perpetrators, and give them a sure fire way to make the next morning’s front page almost with dignity.

Is suicide a crime in this country, and do we sometimes justify the deed because of depression? How soon will it be before we begin to sympathize with murderers who have become movie stars and authors, entitled to royalties even while in prison.

Rene Rodriguez a movie critic makes a salient point commenting recently on Selena the movie. He feels that it would not exist today was it not for her untimely death. Public empathy supported by media prominence and speculation have fueled the flame of stardom.

Robert ‘Bob’ Marley the reggae ambassador of Jamaica is third in posthumous earnings worldwide. He became a superstar after terminal illness and death years ago.

It seems that life is too dull without a little speculation thrown in- What if he/she had…? The unknowns are made into stars when it seems profitable.

This preoccupation with death is not peculiar to our generation or even modern society. In a few days the christian faith will commemorate the crucifixion of their victor Christ Jesus, who’s teachings and life was validated by his death and resurrection. Pilate the Roman Governor was influenced by the masses to release Barabas, the rebel and murderer and what of Christ? Crucify him! Crucify him!

Where will it all end if continued unchecked? We may soon lament at the monster with an insatiable hunger for more and more gore, created by the appetizers now being served by the media and entertainment.

News must be reported, but society is now shock proof with gore and gruesome details. What is needed is balance; an unearthing of unsung living heroes that have quietly endured hardships of depression, despair, debacle and loneliness and have triumphed.

Maybe

Maybe….

What will be the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic which has swept the globe? I believe one will be the new levels of appreciation which will emerge.

Maybe for once we will truly appreciate the value of family and the support and togetherness, we all crave. So many are separated from loved ones now by quarantine or isolation not to mention those who have passed on alone, surrounded by strangers.

Maybe we will truly appreciate our jobs and the daily routine of work which brings its own intrinsic reward. Never before in modern times has every industry worldwide been impacted so significantly without exception.

Maybe for the first time at last, customers will feel appreciated and not a burden or bother. What an opportunity now for every business to reach out to existing and potential customers and deliver exceptional customer experience.

Maybe the ability to give and receive a hug will be more appreciated in a post COVID-19 world.

Maybe socializing at events, concerts, in restaurants, at the beach, in our parks or in church will take on new dimensions.

Maybe the freedom to travel once again, to experience different cultures and mores even for work will have new significance.

Maybe we will understand and value the work and sacrifice of our frontline health workers and supporting staff as they put their lives at risk for us.

Maybe at last, our teachers will receive the full recognition they deserve as not all of us have the patience to teach our children.

Maybe school won’t be such a dreaded place anymore, and classmates will have a new sense of bonding.

Maybe as taxpayers our contribution to national development will be recognized and every effort made by Government to protect the rights and wellbeing of its citizens.

Just maybe…  

What is truth?

An age-old question as relevant as ever today in a milieu of supercomputers, Alexa and Google. The definition, ‘quality or state of being true’ helps little to this great philosophical subject.

We all hold and treasure opinions, thoughts and ideals which we believe are true, for to cling to a belief known to be false, must take some mental juggling and self-deception. So how do I know that what I hold to is in fact truth? Where is objectivity in the opinions that I hold? Does it even cross our minds or matter?

In my country we just held general elections with the incumbent retaining power. The opposition party, against all the statistical facts, sincerely believed it would win. I guess it was obligatory on them to fight and hope for a win, but one wonders if some ‘TRUTHS’ were ignored and objectivity sidelined.

It’s election year in the US, a nation deeply divided ideologically. The Conservative Right saying we are ‘right’ for these times, ‘believe us not them’. The Liberal Left is saying ‘the Right is not ‘right’, the Left is ‘right’. Yikes, like it or not we all have chosen a side, Left or Right.

Where is objectivity? Are we even capable of a truly objective position? Dr. Gregory Sadler in a lecture said that Truth = Reality when we take ourselves out of the equation, take own subjective biases out, what is left is the residue of ‘Truth’. He goes on to say, ‘truth is the sedimentation of habit going on for centuries.’ Let that settle for a minute.

Philosopher Nietzsche in the essay The Invention of Truth & Lying, cites lying as the misuse of shared language. We hold this Shared Language because we desire to live, interact with others socially in the herd. The question is, do we value the herd and live in the Shared Language, rather than objective examination?

The trial of Jesus by Pilate started by the Jews the ‘Herd’, brought Jesus to Pilate on false accusations and misused Shared Language. ‘Are you King of the Jews?’ Pilate asks Jesus. Jesus replies, “Is that your idea or did others put you up to this.” The discourse continues until Pilate has an eureka moment. For an instant, he is able to step aside from the herd thinking and declares “You are a King then!”, a complete turnaround from his earlier question.

Jesus pins the moment and says “…I came into the world to testify to the truth.” Pilate’s reply is classic “What is truth?” The Divine embodiment of truth stood before him in a never to be repeated moment in history and he missed it. He was challenged with Shared Language of a new order but shrunk back because of political expediency.

The debate will go on but the question to ask about the political sides we take, are we sure that in my herd, am I being fed shared language so as to keep the pack together?

If moralizing for a moment could I suggest that we view the other side with more tolerance and space? You may not necessarily be right. All you have done is agreed with one side and what might be said of others could also be said of you.

Do what you will with humility and seek out truth.

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