Two powerful thoughts came into my mind this week. One, that Lent is about self-denial and not about self-delusion. A thought supported by a statement shared by a priest, inter alia, during a Lenten Devotion presentation last Thursday, when he quoted Psalm 14 ( 1) " The fool has said in his heart that there is no God. The other, that there ought not to be any other context to this Internet Ministry during Lent, except the reality of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. So yes, there may be issues in Spain, or Chile, Costa Rica, or Singapore, the USA, UK, Africa, India, Australia, Pakistan, and God knows that there are sufficient issues in Jamaica to engage one's mind. But this is a time for a deep reflection and meditation on the only reality in this world - God as revealed by the power of the Holy Spirit, in and through Christ Jesus. For what shall it profit a man or woman to be knowledgeable of the world's problems and to try and respond, if that action is not informed by, not only God's will, but of equal importance, God's presence.
So let me start right there and share some of what the Lord led me to reflect on this week, following my continued reading of Bonhoeffer's Ethics, and writings of other Saints of yore.
" When the Bible calls for action it does not refer a man to his own powers but to Jesus Christ Himself. 'Without me ye can do nothing' John 15:5. This sentence is to be taken in its strictest sense. There is really no action without Jesus Christ. All the innumerable different activities which in general assume the appearance of action are, in the judgement of Jesus, as though nothing has been done. This saying of Jesus demonstrates more clearly than any other saying in the Bible that all action is entirely bound up with Jesus Christ and no clearer distinction can be drawn than this between true action and all kinds of false action".
Wow! This is indeed " heavy " stuff. No wonder the Christian religion has come under fire throughout the ages, for being too exclusive, as you cannot get any more exclusive than this.
As this is not just a man speaking, but God-Man. Fully God and fully God. A great mystery. But equally so the only reality. But being misunderstood, or being ignored by the world at large is not the real problem. The bigger and more serious issue, is that we, as children of God, quite often, do not live as if this statement by Jesus is true. So we make plans and engage in actions, to " save the world" and do not bring them before the Lord in any serious way. For both Christians and non - Christians, whether or not they accept the truth of the statement, the reality is that, since Christ is going to judge all actions taken by all mankind, all lives lived, all doctrines held dear, then unless such thoughts, lives and actions are directed by Jesus Himself, then all would have been to no avail. The reason why a proper understanding of this statement is so critical to the life of a baptised child of God is as follows, as explained by Bonhoeffer.
THE PROVING OF GOD'S WILL
Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God. Romans 12:2.......This (and other sayings) show the error of the view that the simple recognition of the will of God must take some form of intuition which excludes any sort of reflection and that it must be the naive grasping of the first thought or feeling to force itself upon the mind........The will of God may lie very deeply concealed beneath a great number of available possibilities.......The will of God is not a system of of rules which is established at the very outset; it is new and different in each situation in life, and for this reason a man must ever anew examine what the will of God may be. It is no longer a matter of man's own knowledge of good and evil, but solely of the living will of God; our knowledge of God's will is not something over which we dispose, but it depends solely upon the grace of God, and this grace is and requires to be new every morning. This is why this proving or examining of the will of God is so serious a matter. The voice of the heart is not to be confused with the will of God, nor is any kind of inspiration or any general principle, for the will of God discloses itself ever anew to him who proves it ever anew."
Let me take a break from Bonhoeffer and share with with you, the hymn that has been on my heart all week, even to the extent that my wife has singing it too.
I wake up with it. I go to bed with it. Even at mid-day I marvel at its teachings.
New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.
New mercies each returning day,
Hover around us while we pray;
New perils past, new sins forgiven,
New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven
If on our daily course our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
The trivial round the common task,
Will furnish all we need to ask,
Room to deny ourselves a road
To bring us daily nearer God.
Only,O Lord, in thy dear love
Fit us for perfect rest above;
And help us this and very day,
To live more nearly as we pray.
Close examination of, and reflection on, these words will not only validate what I have been saying, about daily proving what God's will is, but also help us to reflect more deeply on this issue of self- denial and Lent.
So back to Bonhoeffer and his assertion, based on a deeper understanding of Holy Scripture, that the only reality is Christ Jesus in all spheres of life - not just the Christian perspective.
" So how does a man set about this 'proving what is the will of God'? The crucial precondition for this is that this proving takes place solely on the basis of a ' metamorphosis', a complete inward transmutation of one's previous form, 'a renewing of the mind, ( Romans 12:2) a 'walking as children of light ( Eph. 5:8). This metamorphosis of man can only be the overcoming of the form of the fallen man, Adam, and conformation with the new man Christ......the new form , by virtue of which alone the proving of the will of God is possible, has left behind and beneath the it the man who in his defection from from God won for himself the knowledge of good and evil. it is the from of the child of God who lives in unity with the will of the Father in the conformation of of the one true Son of God".
One of, if not the greatest problem in the church today, and hence its relative, as compared with the early church, ineffectiveness, is the lack of appreciation and belief in this profound truth. That only those believers, who have by virtue of, " dying to self", by deep prayer and commitment to knowing only Christ, and identifying with His death, day by day, and have undergone this 'metamorphosis, by God's grace ( put on Christ) can 'prove' God's will. It is not an overnight thing. It is not something that happens immediately on being baptised or on becoming Confirmed. Or even by virtue of going to church regularly over many years. But rather, as Bonhoeffer explains, it follows on an appreciation of the utter " wretchedness" of one's life before a holy God, and a clear understanding that our knowledge of good and evil has separated us from our original union with God and marred the "image" of God within us. And from which " helpless" position, we can only be rescued by Christ, not being with us, alone, but living in and through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit of the living God.
This knowledge has such profound implications for the work of the church in continuing the Ministry of reconciliation done by Jesus. For as Bonhoeffer reminds us, and about which I will write more extensively next week, Jesus died, not just for us who believe, but for all mankind.
So God has, in Christ Jesus, pronounced fallen man free of sin, and has in Christ made a new man, into which new, reconciled and renewed state, all can enter by belief. Our role, then as part of this renewed mankind is to, in the power of Christ and Christ alone, share this gospel, this truth with the gunmen, the rapists, the prostitutes, the robbers, the profane, the " rampin shop people", the " get on baad at carnival time people', the " good people in society", the rich and the poor, the mighty and the lowly - all mankind. Judgement is for the Lord. Our responsibility is to know, to live and to share this faith.
Finally a word from A. W. Tozer ( 1897- 1963) - PANTING AFTER GOD
Within the hearts of a growing number of evangelicals in recent days has arisen a new yearning after an above-average spiritual experience. Yet the greater number still shy away from it and raise objections that evidence misunderstandings or fear or plain unbelief. They point o the neurotic, the psychotic, the pseudo-Christian cultist and the intemperate fanatic, and lump them all together without discrimination as followers of the " deeper life".
While this is of course completely preposterous, the fact that such confusion exists obliges those of us who advocate the Spirit -filled life to define their terms and explain their position. Just what, then do we mean. And what are we advocating?
For myself, I am reverently concerned that I teach nothing but Christ crucified. For me to accept a teaching or even an emphasis, I must be persuaded that it is scriptural and altogether apostolic in spirit and temper. And it must be in full harmony with the best in the historic church and in the tradition that marked by the finest devotional works, the sweetest and most radiant hymnody and the loftiest experiences revealed in Christian biography.
To speak of the " deeper life" is .....to insist that believers explore the depth of the Christian evangel for those riches it surely contains but which we are as surely missing. the " deeper life " is deeper only because the average Christian life is tragically shallow.
They who advocate the deeper life today might compare unfavorably with almost any of the Christians that surrounded Paul or Peter in early times. While they may not as yet have made much progress, their faces are toward the light and they are beckoning us on. It is hard to see how we can justify our refusal to heed their call.
What the deeper life advocates are telling us is that we should press on to enjoy in personal inward experience the exalted privileges that are ours in Christ Jesus.; that we should insist upon tasting the sweetness of internal worship in spirit as well as in truth; that to reach this ideal we should if necessary push beyond our contented brethren and bring upon ourselves whatever opposition may follow as a result.
I thank God each year for this period of reflection and the seeking of a deeper understanding of the faith. And which deeper understanding can only come, if more and more, year by year, day by day, moment my moment, Christ lives in and through me. This is the only true meaning and purpose of Lent. Any other is self-delusion and will be so judged in the fullness of time. Amen