Sunday, November 28, 2010

God's Love in Christ Jesus in response to the wretchedness of the human heart

Many years ago, as a young "revolutionary" - if you were a child of the 70's and not determined to change the world then something was seriously wrong - I recalled reading a book entitled " The Wretched of the Earth", by Frantz Fanon. Also recalled reading " Soul on Ice " by Eldridge Cleaver, the then famous Black Power revolutionary. This was all in the mix when many in the world were flirting , and if not having a serious "affair ", with Communism and Socialism and various other
" isms". All in an effort to change the circumstances of millions of people oppressed; in the case of Fanon and the Algerians provoked by colonial France; or suffering from the effects of racism in the USA, as was the case of the Black Power movement; or from capitalism which weighed heavily on the working class and spawned the various revolutions and ideological warfares across the globe.

All of these memories entered my head as I read a verse in Scripture which caused me to reflect very deeply on this Advent Season, the start of which, in my church's tradition, we celebrated this past Sunday and will continue each Sunday until Christmas day. The verse is from the Prophet Jeremiah who was encouraging the Children of Israel were living in exile, on account of their repeated rebellion against God, that the "idols" of Babylon had no power.

"Hear what the Lord says to you, O house of Israel, This is what the Lord says:
Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by the signs in the sky,
though the nations are terrified by them.
For the custom of the people are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter
Like a scarecrow in a melon patch,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
be cause they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good."
Jeremiah 10:1-5 NIV

Compare this with Jeremiah's description of the Lord's power.

" But God made the earth by his power;
he founded the world by his wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.
When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
he makes the clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
he sends lighting with the rain
and brings out the wind from his storehouses"
Jeremiah 10: 12-13 NIV

The verse points us in two directions. Primarily that, as the Bible indicates, the Kingdom of God which Jesus ushered into being, is about power, and not about talk. Or about the symbols of power that mankind values so much - the car, the house, the clothes - and which are as helpless s scarecrows, as they cannot walk by themselves. That's why since Jesus came on earth, the world has never been the same again. Countless millions of people have died with His Name on their lips and they entered into another world. Handel's Messiah, arguably, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written and recorded was inspired by a love for Christ, as so too countless other scores written by the famous and the ordinary alike. The entire foundation of Western Civilization, its values, its democratic ideals rooted in the idea of freedom, many of the great Universities - including arguably the best, Harvard - a lot of its great architecture, the origins of media, and so much more, were all inspired by the Christian Religion. A movement of God on earth which began in a small backwater state of history - Palestine - when a " itinerant" preacher was crucified at Calvary for claiming, not just to be the Son of God, but God Himself.
Secondarily, that although the Socialists, Communists and other revolutionaries were correct in identifying the " wretchedness" of man's environment as a great reason for mobilizing masses of people to rise up against their oppressors, in pursuit of a better life, they missed the fundamental problems. And it for this fundamental reason , missed by the revolutionaries, why Jesus came with great power to " set the captives free" and to " bring good news to the poor". As the basic problem with mankind, why there is so much suffering, why there is so much injustice - economic and social - why there is so much immorality and corruption, is that not only are the circumstances of some persons wretched, but that the heart of all mankind is wretched. This is why we have Advent and Christmas. This is why there is a Christian Religion. This is why God of Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob, against whom the Children of Israel, born of Adam like the rest of us, rebelled time and time again, intervened in the world which He, and no other God, created with power and wisdom. Therefore, unless those, both inside and outside the church, recognize this great truth, and bow down and repent of our naturally rebellious nature, and invite the risen Lord to enter into our souls, and create a " new heart within us , as King David prayed, then we will never have access to the kind of power that has transformed lives and nations throughout history.
It is this kind of power that our Prime Minister needs to effect change in a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world. It is this kind of wisdom that we need to transform the great swaths of inner cities communities into areas where people can live and thrive and achieve their full potential. It is this kind of sacrificial love that brings individuals with their passions and ambitions and transforms them into One Body, the church.
As I considered these things, this very morning, the Lord led me to two meditations, both of which speak to some aspects of the problems of the human heart. One of which I will share this week. The other next time. And which if acted upon, with humility and in obedience, will help in leading us to the " creation of a new heart", which is the only thing that can make a permanent difference in my country and indeed the world today.

Francois Felon
Verse Leviticus 19:18

Self-love must be uprooted, and the love of God take its place in our hearts, before we can see ourselves as we are. Then the same principle that enables us to see imperfections will destroy them. When the light of truth has risen within us, then we see clearly what is there. Then we love ourselves without partiality, without flattery, as we love our neighbour. In the meantime, God spares us by revealing our weaknesses to us just in proportion as our strength to support the view of it increases. We discover our imperfections one by one as we are able to cure them. Without this merciful preparation that adapts out strength to the light within, we should be in despair. Those who corrects others ought to watch the moment when God touches their hearts; they must bear a fault with patience till they perceive his spirit reproaching them within. Then they must follow his providence that gently reproaches them, so that they may feel that it is less God that their own hearts that condemns them. When we blame with impatience because we are displeased with the fault, it is a human censure and the disapprobation of God. It is a sensitive self-love that cannot forgive the self-love. The more self-love we have, the more severe are our censures. There is nothing so vexatious as the collisions between one excessive self-love and another still more violent and sensitive. The passions of others are infinitely ridiculous to those who are under the dominion of their own. The ways of God are very different. He is ever full of kindness for us, he gives us strength, he regards us with pity and condescension, he remembers our weaknesses, he waits for us. The less we love ourselves, the more considerate we are of others. We wait for providence to give the occasion, and grace to open hearts to receive it. If you would gather the fruit before its time, you lose it entirely.

So as we wait in this the Advent period of human history, let us ponder well the story of Jesus - who loved himself less, and was more considerate of others. And did not come to judge but to call sinners to repentance - in His first coming. The Second One will be quite different. Thus issued forth the Power, the Wisdom and the Love of God, all because of the wretchedness of the human heart

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