Lent, Malaysia Airlines and Becoming like Christ

I read my Bible to see what men ought to do; and read my newspapers to see what men are doing – John Newton

Lord renew thy church beginning with me; Lord renew the church that the church may renew the nation(s). – A prayer for the Decade of Evangelism in the Anglican Church.

NEWS 

The big news this week, at least for me, is that Ash Wednesday, still celebrated as a national holiday in Jamaica, and which was observed this week, marked the onset of Lent. A time for serious introspection about one’s spiritual journey. A time for a renewed emphasis on fasting and prayer. A time for ‘giving up’ and ‘taking on’, in order that one may draw closer to God. A period which climaxes in the glorious celebration of Easter, after the celebration of the Passion of our Lord on Good Friday. A friend and Christian brother who is a Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, and a well known Environmentalist in my country, Peter Espeut dedicated one of his regular columns in The Daily Gleaner to the story behind the observation of Lent. 

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20140307/cleisure/cleisure2.html

The other big news this week was, or is,  the still developing story of the missing plane which disappeared suddenly from the radar screen, en route from Kuala Lumpur  to Beijing. All 239  souls aboard are presumed dead and lots of questions are yet unanswered. Chief of which is how did two persons with passports stolen and reported as long as two years ago, managed to get on the flight. The latest news available on Twitter as I write can be seen in the link below.

@BBCWorld: Seas off south Vietnam scoured for any signs of missing #Malaysia Airlines #MH370 jet after possible debris sighting http://t.co/49ebMp9bH3

Other local news news which caught my attention included the fact that the Vibes Kartel’s fate should be decided this week. Guilty of murder or not!. More news about artistes producing videos with live sex, and condemnation from  some church groups. And controversy over the appointment of one of the commissioners to enquire into the Tivoli Incursion, during which seventy plus Jamaican died A matter which,  so far,  has caused at  least one  brave Government Senator,  Senator Imani Duncan-Price, to ‘break ranks’ , with her party and join with those who have called for the removal of the controversial commissioner, whose legal opinion about whether or not police are allowed to return fire when gunmen use women and children as shields, and fire from behind them at the police, has angered many persons.

THE WORD OF GOD

In the midst of all of these stories playing out in the nation and across the world, The Lord spoke in the following ways.

(A)  A  Sermon

First, I was privileged to share the Word at a Anglican Church in the rural area on Ash Wednesday. The text was from the well known Old Testament story in the Bible.

” Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:7-12 NIV)

An examination of the text was contextualized in the reality of ” how far God by His grace has carried this nation on Ash Wednesday 2014. Amidst the reality of Vibes Kartel and his outrageous lyrics; Tommy Lee and his ‘demon’ songs, this ‘tun up
( very challenging)  economy’ – affecting everybody; sickness ; violence in  the nation, women being beheaded,  children and children killed;  the declining numbers of persons attending church and the ineffective witness of many church members.

And three key points found in the text and the story of Hannah and Samuel, and Dagon ( the god of the Philistines)  and  The Living God, and the rescue by God of the children of Israel from the Philistines, were examined.
1. The faith of Hannah who cried out to God for a son, and God answered her and that of our forebears; the decision by Hannah to offer the best to The Lord; a requirement dealt with extensively in the book of Malachi as God is great King and worth of respect.

2. The sin of the children of Israel in  placing ‘ other gods’ – idols-  before the Living  God, resulting in the death of Eli’s sons, the loss of the ark of God, and the ‘routing’ of Israel, on two occasions, by the Philistines. And only when the Israelites were prepared to give up their idols and trust in God, and when Samuel cried out to God, did God rescue them from the Philistines.

3. The story of how Dagon the god of the Philistines  was found face down on the floor when left overnight  beside the Ark of God. And when returned to its place, was found on the ground again and broken up the second time. A story which  showed that evil and a holy God  cannot co-exist.

Two conclusions were then drawn.

a) that the ultimate Ebenezer in life, the goal of the journey, is not a place but a person, Jesus Christ.
b) that sinful man cannot co-exist with God; flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore our journey with Christ, in Lent and in life, is to so allow and accept God’s discipline, in whatever way He choses, whether by temptation or by trials, to assist us in dying to self, and living by the Spirit of Christ only.
As then and only then will we as children of God have the power to defeat the forces of evil, as manifest in the lives of Kartel, Tommy Lee. The forces of evil which cause people from the ‘wrong address’ as depicted in the Etana video, to be tempted to do wrong to survive; forces which are leading our children astray, and which forces, even in the church are leading people astray; forces which are at the root of the culture of violence so pervasive in our country and responsible for the loss of so many lives and battering of the good name of our country

(B) A Text message and e-mail
Second, on night of Ash Wednesday, starting  my Lenten discipline by continuing to read a good book, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis I was struck by Lewis’ warning that because Christ’s intention is to make us perfect, ‘the ride will be rough”…i.e. the Christian journey. And therefore was moved to send out the following except from the book as a message by text and by e-mail

The Message

“The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, ” Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your  natural self, but to kill it.  No half-measures are any good. I don’t  want to cut off  a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down…Hand over the whole natural self, all of the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.
C. S. Lewis.  Mere Christianity.
LWJ

Perhaps the most severe discipline that we need to engage in during Lent, and accept it as a life long journey, is the reality that Christ has not just come to “torment the natural self, but to kill it”. And no half-measure will be accepted.

Lewis further expands on that point in the following except:

” This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. it is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the church has a lot of different objects – education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects – military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading book in his own room……that is what the State is there fore. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.
In the same way the Church exist for nothing  else but to draw men into Christ., to make them little Christs. if they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God made man for no other purpose.

(c). Third.  An e-mail sent to some folks after the God led me to read a very profound passage of Scripture.

The Message

Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was. (Mark 3:11, 12 NASB)

When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:7 NASB)

Something to think about as we wage war against the forces evil in this 
country. Wherever they rear their ugly head! In crime and violence; in the music videos; in the dancehall; in the classrooms; wherever bacchanal reigns; wherever corruption is; whatever stronghold, argument or pretension  that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we hold captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ Jesus ( 2. Cor. 10:3-5) In the same way that the ‘unclean spirits’ fell down before Jesus.
LWJ

One of the most puzzling things to consider in this life, is that though the ‘good people’ in Jesus’ time, and even now in today’s world, were unsure of His identity, the ‘evil forces’ against whom He came to wage war, on our behalf, knew, and still know,  precisely who He was, and is. Further, the mystery is that, when The Lord is pleased with those who follow Him, wonderful, amazing and powerful things happen in the war against evil. Even to the point where ‘enemies’ become friends, and help us in our journey. So even the worse gunman, the desperate prostitute, the most cynical journalist, the most corrupt politician, the most outrageous dance hall artiste can change, the most challenging circumstance can be overcome, and change can happen, if we surrender complete to Christ, and become holy in the eyes of God.

(D)  A message triggered by another revelation late last night

When Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘ He is out of his mind’.  Mark 3:20. NIV

Did you know that Jesus’ family thought that he was mad…had gone way off track…a fanatic perhaps…whatever…but definitely in need of help?
But then Jesus calls us to follow him…to take up our cross daily and follow him. 
In the excerpt below, C. S. Lewis, and the Bible supports him that ultimately Jesus’ intention is to make us perfect – in Him.

“The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, ” Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your  natural self, but to kill it.  No half-measures are any good. I don’t  want to cut off  a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down…Hand over the whole natural self, all of the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.
C. S. Lewis.  Mere Christianity”

Doesn’t all of this sound a little crazy…way off line in fact. What would your friends and relatives think of you, if you were to really commit yourself to following Christ. To really surrender to Christ. Leave all the things and places and friends that previously meant so much to you. And  begin to attend Bible study regularly, worship at church regularly, lift up the name of Jesus at every opportunity, spend most of your time thinking about how to contribute to the building of the kingdom of God. Accept that your natural self cannot enter that kingdom and commit to dying to that self each day, and live for and in Christ alone.
People would begin to think that you are  bit weird, wouldn’t they. That you had lost it completely. That you had taken this thing too seriously. And were definitely in need of help….get a life man.
Interesting isn’t it!. Food for thought.
LWJ

What is the upshot of all of this revelation as we wage war against evil in Malaysia, so that no  more souls will plunge to sudden death in our ‘friendly skies’! As we wage war against evil in in Ukraine and Russia so that ‘peace will break out across the world’! As we wage war against evil in Jamaica, in our music, in our schools and in our communities, the body politic and even in the church!
Two things. One is that only those who are perfect in Christ, can effectively wage war against evil on a permanent and sustained basis. Two is that for us to gain perfection – holiness – we have to start the journey of death to self. People may think we are crazy, and  have become fanatics, even weird,  and wish to ‘take charge of us’. But be of good courage, and even your critics and detractors may become your best supporters in the long run, God willing. And Lent is a good time to begin the journey.
Peace.
LWJ

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