Saturday, 27 August 2016

“The Seventh Day—Jericho”

A Devotional Thought
By: Sylvan A. Lashley, University President, Interim

“I have given into thine hand Jericho”… Joshua 6:2. “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30).

The day dawned bright and early as the assembled hosts awoke with keen anticipation. It was the seventh day, Sabbath! The fitness gurus had already seen to it that the people were prepared—it was the seventh day. An early, hearty breakfast, the promise of good weather, with all the attendant logistics, charted the day, as to the marching order—the ark, the priests, and then the remnant. It was the seventh day.

The reverberating echo still sounded—“I have given into thine hand Jerichoooooo?. The parsers were already at work—“I have” denoted the present tense, and “given” a past tense, culminating into the present perfect. The action had already been completed in the past, with an overlap into the present and the future in man-made time. The act of marching was a sign of obedience, followed a full faith in God’s apparent illogical yet clear instructions, and the foolishness of man’s rational logic. The hands of faith reached out across the chasm of the impossible to touch the hands of effort. And there it stood—the wall—11 feet high and 14 feet wide, with a 35 degree upward angular slope, leading up to vertical gigantic and taller stone walls, massive and impregnable, and forbidding.

To march once for six days, and then on the seventh for seven times, represented the threshold of the human and the Divine, the divide of faith and rationality, of obedience and trust. Instructions were clear and copious—“no noise on the first six days”; a sequenced order of priests then ark, and people in sequined robes, a steady plod around on the seventh-day, then the blast of trumpets, then a shout, glorious and cascading—600,000 men besides women and children, a logistical feat of no mean order. It was the shout of faith that led to the shout of victory.

Within each of us, there is that Jericho--cocky, snug and self-assured, and yet an Israel on the outside, trying to get through the walls. We live in a time of logic and rational thought, a time of proof and physical evidence, yet God is still in charge. He challenges us in the present perfect tense, and assures us of His protection and guidance. The chasm of disbelief must be crossed by the bridge of faith and obedience, for faith without works is dead. We cannot be guided by our limited vision, for man does not see as God sees. What seemed impossible by man was possible with God. What about your own life today? Is there some insurmountable mountain before you? May the Jerichos within fall before the steady march of Scripture and “Thus Saith the Lord”.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

The Anxiety of Uncertainty—the Antidote

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A Devotional by Sylvan A. Lashley
University of the Southern Caribbean
April 9, 2016
Scripture Setting: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with Thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” 
(Phil 4:6-7).

 We live in an age of economic uncertainty and lack of predictability and increasing personal and social insecurity. Recent events in Trinidad/Tobago point to such uncertainty, with the recent hike in petroleum at the fuel pump, taxes on online shopping, increased taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and luxury cars and the implications of a higher resultant cost of living.  Champagne tastes and mauby money represents the colloquialism by which the present scenario has been described in some places.  Several reading this missive, won’t be directly affected by the increase consumption taxes on some of the items, but higher costs on food items and inflation will be the result of the removal of gasoline and diesel subsidies.  Such events can give rise to organizational and personal uncertainty as persons grapple with the impact of a higher cost of living and a lower value in the paycheck. 
 The best news is that the Christian has a higher hope, yet even in the staunchest Christian there might remain some lingering apprehension about the portentous times ahead.  Research suggests that there is a certain anxiety level that is a corollary to uncertainty.  A team of researchers in Quebec (Douglas, 1994) developed the “Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale (IUS), the degree to which people seek out and desire predictability. High levels of IU were linked to anxiety disorders and to more worry and to brain processes such as “emotional regulation, threat detection and safety detection (Nature Reviews in Neuroscience, 2013), centered in the pre-frontal cortex.
Yet, there is an antidote prescribed in Scripture—“Do not be anxious about anything” (Phil 4:6-7); “cast all your cares upon Him” (1 Peter 5:7); “do not be anxious about what you will eat or what you will drink…” (Matt 6:25-34); “for I know the plans that I have for you…” (Jer 29:11); “trust in the Lord with all of your heart…” (Proverbs 3:5- 6); “cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you (Psalm 55:2); “He will not let your foot be moved for He who keeps you will not slumber…” (Psalm 121:3-8); “he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty”. How then shall we live, act, plan and implement?  We have an antidote—a daily connection, a faith full of action.  We are forewarned, forearmed, pre-muscled and strengthened. What about you? What is our uncertainty and anxiety index in our lives, schools and churches? We are prone to cut back and reduce. Are these not logical and rational matters where we count the costs, or shall we act on another level, where despite the costs, we expand our efforts, by faith, to preach the gospel in our schools, and churches.  That is the question of the hour--you tell me now

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Gentle Whispering of the voice of God!


Scripture Setting: 1 Kings;  After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire,  there was a sound of a gentle whisper. 

When God spoke to Elijah on Mount Sinai, He could have done so in the wind earthquake or fire. But He didn't. He spoke "with the sound of a gentle whisper" (1Kings 19:12). God asked, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (v. 13), as Elijah hid from Queen Jezebel, who had threatened to kill him.

Elijah's reply revealed what Almighty God already knew---the depth of his fear and discouragement. He said, in effect, Lord, I have been most zealous when others have forsaken you. What do I get for being the only one standing up for you?" (see v. 12).

Was Elijah the only one serving God? Absolutely not! God had seven thousand other people in Israel "who had never bowed down to Baal" (v. 18).

Perhaps today, in the depths of our individual or collective fears or despair, we may think we are the only one serving God. That may well happen immediately following the height of a resounding successful exploit in God's name, as it did for Elijah. The Psalmist reminds us to always "be still and know" that He is God. The sooner we focus on Him and His power, the quicker we will see relief from our fear and self-pity.

Both the clashing cymbals of our failures and the loud trumpeting of our successes can drown out our God's gentle whisper. To tune in to God's voice we must tune out this world's noise.

Today, it's time for us to quiet our hearts to be with Him as we meditate and reflect on His Word.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Be Ye Also Ready….

Sabbath Devotional Reflections
By Dr. Sylvan Lashley 
University of the Southern Caribbean

Matt 24:44 - “Be ye also ready for in such  an hour as you think not, the Son of Man Cometh” 

The concept of readiness rises to the fore in eschatology as Christians conjure up their own images in their calculus of the Second Coming.  The gap period between the pronouncement of Jesus in Matthew 24 and the actual appearance beckons analysis.  Is readiness a pious, quiet retreat into a corner given to much prayer and fasting, a single act, a lifestyle or what?  Throughout the gospels, Jesus uses several examples of readiness—the virgins with lamps ready and trimmed, the picture of a bridegroom, and the parable of the master of the house and the thief. There is uncertainty in the hour of His return, but certainty in the fact that He will. Noah’s role was to engage his public by building an ark. He knew the flood was coming soon, but just not exactly when.    We are all building an ark, for that rainy day. We are building because we believe, without a doubt, that a glorious event will take place.  Therefore the act of waiting is one of engagement and action rather than simple inaction. Our glorious belief shows evidence by our more glorious present actions.
In 1976, Francis Schaeffer published a major documentary, How Should we then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Schaeffer surveyed ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment,  the rise of modern science, portrayed the decline of societal values, the new order of decline, violent chaos and growing shortages and economic uncertainty.  His vignettes formed the basis for the rhetorical question, "how shall we then live?"  Translated into Adventist eschatology, Schaeffer’s work has meaning and relevance.  How shall we then live as Seventh-day Adventist Christians in the 21st century?  
The purpose of our individual lives and church organizations, whether schools, universities, unions, conferences or hospitals is to prepare the world around us for the soon and immediate return of Jesus through the good news of salvation.  The urgency of the certainty becomes paramount because we are even more uncertain about the timing.  How shall we then live?  My rhetorical response is that we shall live by responsible engagement at multiple levels and through diverse means. The Christian should be actively engaged in spreading the good news to others, whether it be by preaching, witnessing, lifestyle and our organizations such as universities, and hospitals are institutional means for the delivery of the gospel. We have resorted to many meetings and committees in our systems to gather politically correct consensus, such that the most of the time is spent in planning rather than doing, but our bias should be always towards action.  Engagement calls us forth thus:
1.   Outreach to those around us, not merely contented with in-reach activities of self-nurture
2.   Knowledge content—spiritual mental preparedness and acuity through personal Bible study, discussion and reflection.
3.   Attitude and lifestyle, as exemplars to the world around us
4.   Perception –an ability to understand the signs and wonders around us

Our universities and schools should differentiate from other universities toward a natural comparative and contrived competitive advantage by a holistic curriculum that prepares students for radical and active engagement through witnessing, and lifestyle. For that very reason, we here at the University of the Southern Caribbean have determined now to review our curricula to produce a USC person who is getting ready for the Second Coming, and helping others to get ready for the same. For this we remain unapologetic—each graduate of the university shall follow a four-pronged plan upon entry—an academic plan of coursework leading to an accredited degree that allows entry into the job world, a spiritual life development plan leading to a personal decision to follow Christ and a commitment to service, a personal-social development plan leading to a sense of well-being and self-actualization, and a health/lifestyle plan that encourages healthy choices, leading to a realization that is conversant with the knowledge that our bodies are the temple of God. 

        Ultimately, we must prepare each student in attendance, whether of our denomination or not, to be a gospel evangel of health and wellness, spiritual development,  family and community, occupation and work, and personal self-actualization. This then encompasses the full state of energized and active readiness, through the gospel of active, visible or invisible engagement to make a difference wherever we are, to build some ark for surely the glorious rain of the soon-coming Saviour is fast approaching.  How then shall YOU live?  

Searching the Scriptures—Beware!

A Sabbath Morning Devotional

Sylvan A. Lashley
University of the Southern Caribbean

John 5:39 - “Search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life”…

           Don’t get me wrong—searching the scriptures is a delightful, and admirable occupation.  You’ve grown up in the church, right?  If you have, then you know about the memorization of Bible passages, the memory verses that are the key points of weekly Bible study, and the “Morning Watch” texts that large numbers of people memorize, that daily devotional feature.  I recall that my mother had me repeat from memory all thirteen texts at the end of each quarter, stating both text and reference.  I stood up proudly with my little self every 13th Saturday at church to repeat the texts.  Then, of course, in my little home church, we’d often repeat the morning devotional texts—the entire church in the Sabbath afternoon program would stand up—“Monday’s text—and we all stood up; Tuesday’s text, and we all stood up in waves, and so on, to repeat the daily text.  And then, I got to college to the first Bible class, “Christian Beliefs” and for the final we had to know 110 texts. I can still remember many of them.  And of course, if you had done theology, one knew the texts on the Sabbath, the sanctuary, the state of the dead and the resurrection—we knew texts for everything.  Thus, the textual approach to Christian living still resounds with many of us. It is part of our heritage.  And those of us who went beyond the texts, could repeat and quote and give the page number of large portions of the spirit of prophecy books authored by Ellen G. White. I had always admired folks who could repeat large swathes of Bible verses, just like young Jews did in the time of Christ.  In fact, many could repeat the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. And so it was, I wore the phylacteries (those little leather bags the Jews carried) of texts and scriptures symbolically on my person. I could use a text in a flash.  If you were shorter than I was, my famous quote would be “the wicked shall be cut short”.  I had a text for every moment, the product of my time.
          It was within this context that Jesus issued His famous words—after all the priests, Sanhedrin and Sadducees had it made. They knew the Word; their  knowledge was vast, superior and impressive, yet it did not impact their lives.  They studied daily, hung phylacteries from the arm, or across the forehead,  but there was little impact on the inner heart.  Jesus was challenging  the hearers to have a deeper knowledge of the Word, a knowledge that would lead to a change in conduct, and eventually to eternal life. There was no guarantee to eternal life by mere reading or knowledge of the Word.   Having head knowledge of the Word was insufficient for it was the heart knowledge that counted, and together with the head knowledge, would lead to an outward change in conduct, behavior and destiny.

          We are at a time of life when we might place greater emphasis on the meaning of the Word for our lives, and step beyond mere diligent memory. Thus, every Sabbath/Sunday school class unit should be a witnessing agent to the community.  We have a personal imperative to move away from a quantitative knowledge and analysis of scripture to a qualitative and reflective experience, to emphasis the gift of eternal life, for the Scripture is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, that end being the saving power of the Gospel for eternal life, yet  even the devil quoted Scripture to Jesus.   May God’s blessings remain with us as we study His Word, searching the Scriptures so diligently that they become a part of our daily living toward a soon-coming Savior, to eternal life.

Profit and Loss—Dangers of a Balanced Budget!

A Sabbath Devotional
By Sylvan Lashley
University of the Southern Caribbean

Mark 8:36 - "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

         We are caught up in the enigma of profit and loss in financial and business affairs.  Countless financial statements are produced all hoping to show that there is more profit than loss.  Likewise, we are caught up in life’s affairs, in the work of doing and being, of eking out a meaningful existence in trying economic times.  Life for some has become a zero-based sum game where the profit made equals the loss that you incur, so that in a two-player encounter, one player’s gain is another player’s loss, the social and economic result being zero.  Reduced to one player only playing against himself, we are engaged in a zero-based life struggle—we balance budgets, and appear to gain as much as we lose.  Yet, it is not enough to balance a budget, for balancing a budget, while noteworthy, in the larger sphere of life, leaves us with a zero sum.   At the point of zero sum, the risk is 50-50 and the strategic value becomes most important since balance approximates a condition of static equilibrium.
         It is now that Mark 8:36 begins to make sense for even if a man gains the entire world in perfect balance; he is still at the zero sum, because he has lost his soul.  In his famous sermon no. 92 of July 6, 1856, the noted Charles Spurgeon expounded on the text further.  Alexander the Great gained the power of empires, Croesus gained the wealth of riches, and Solomon gained the trappings of great wisdom. Says the poet quoted in Spurgeon, "if thou art rich, thou art poor, for like an ass, whose back with ingots bows, thou bear'st thy heavy riches but a journey, and death unloads thee…give me neither poverty nor riches." But to lose the soul suggests an incalculable and unrecoverable loss, for it is a gift from the Maker, lent to us for a time, of intrinsic value and great capabilities (Spurgeon, 1856) to be returned to the Maker. 
         At the University of the Southern Caribbean, we go beyond balanced budgets of zero-sums to the strategic value of the soul, to the value of life beyond the grave. The pomp of circumstance, the power and position, the glitter of academic prowess and the ease of luxury pale into comparison, for what shall it profit a man if he gains the entire world and in the end, loses his own soul. A fearsome reality awaits us, for the good that we do may matter little, if it does little for the world around us. The Christian is called to avoid the dangers of a balanced budget, to think outside of the box, to throw the box away.

“The Lawful versus the Expedient”—a Calculus

A  Devotional Exposition
By Sylvan Lashley
University of the Southern Caribbean

1 Corinthians 10:23. 1 Cor 6:12-15 - All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not

“I can do what I want, when I want, wherever I want, and whenever I want, because it satisfies and pleases me”, might well be a post-modern maxim in an age of “don’t worry, be happy”. Yet, no man lives alone on an island.  Context becomes the clarion call for the good that we would do.
   Today we deal with a complex topic to discover further precepts for Christian living, and propose an ethics driven by the belief that we are indeed our brother’s keeper.  The phrase, “lawful versus the expedient”, might well relate to the modern concepts of present day political correctness illustrative of the importance of the interplay of regulation, subject and context, timing and balance in relation to the precepts of Christian living.  We have an occasion and opportunity to demonstrate how our theology informs our ethics in a practical way.  To be lawful means that the conduct is regulated as proper, and to be expedient goes to the heart of the act of the law.   In order to enter the apparent controversy of the lawful and the expedient, one must have a subject, a context, a rule, and timing.  The subject falls within and becomes colored by the context.  Both subject, which is definite, and context which is indefinite, are enveloped into the legal framework of the society or organization—the rule.  Together this tripod of subject, context and rule is governed by timing and balance.  This then is our interpretive framework.
  If we apply this system to the issues of food, sexuality and dress, we derive implications for Christian living.  There was nothing wrong with the food per se (the subject). Yet within the context of Greek custom, if it was offered to idols, the use of the food might well run against the rules of the Christian society--we do not worship idols and won’t use food offered to idols if we know that it has been because of the possibility of lingering doubt in the minds of new believers.  Yet, there is no need to pursue the matter of food’s origin to the nth degree, or who grows it.  But, there was everything wrong with fornication because it ran against the sanctity of the body, and in this case, the laws governing food and fornication are distinguishable, because one is wrong and the other is not.  Food is “indifferent” but fornication is not, thus requiring another analytical framework, for while fornication is wrong, and food is “right”, food can also be “wrong” based on its context.  It is not the good we do that makes us saintly, but rather the resultant impact our actions have on other believers, for their own salvation.   When one considers the subject of hats where Paul calls for covered heads, the application of our tripod becomes clearer—the subject (heads should be covered), harks back to the accustomed context of the female prostitutes whose heads were clean-shaven, to the regulation of clean Christian living juxtaposed against timing—the recent  Greek converts could become confused by the continued bare headedness in church, a situation, not wrong in itself, but one which could cause confusion to a new believer.  The clash-point in both food and dress occurs when the actor (Paul) has to make a decision—should he eat the food that was offered to idols (isn’t food, food), or should females wear hats in church to cover bare, shorn heads?

The implications for us today are real—we are to be sensitive to the concerns of others in the Christian journey—there are things which are right for us to do but which become wrong because of their salvivic impact.  Thus, not all things which are lawful are expedient.  Is there then any room for Christian revolution and change?  How do we move to the next step of Christian progress?  It is love for our brother that will guide our steps in the journey to the Kingdom.  In essence, all things are lawful that are not forbidden by law, but the present circumstances or context may alter the case. The limiting principle of our Christian freedom becomes our neighbor’s soul salvation. Our liberty should not be a hurt to others