Shadowland – Thought vs. Reality
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Deliverance from the Twilight Zone of Self
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Please turn to Matthew 7:21. “’Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.’ And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” Amen.
[Interval in the audio between the scripture lesson and the sermon]
Most of us know the term ‘twilight zone’. I tried to talk about it in Raleigh a few weeks ago: the twilight zone. And I was explaining for Amy’s [English is her second language] benefit, twilight is neither daylight nor night time. It’s half and half. It’s the twilight. It’s not in complete light and it’s not in complete darkness. And I think “The Twilight Zone” might have been some kind of television program that talked about a strange world of unreality there that was neither earth nor heaven. And you remember, Jesus mentioned it once — or it occurred once in a miracle that he worked. If you’d like to look at it, it’s in Mark 8. And it seems a very clear description of the twilight zone. Mark 8:22, “And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man, and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men; but they look like trees, walking.’ Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. And he sent him away to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’”
But the man said, “Yeah, I see. But they are men that look like trees walking. I can’t see their faces. I can’t see their features. I can’t even see that they’re men and they have legs; they just look like trees that are moving.”
It’s very easy for us to live in the twilight zone. We know what reality is. It’s stated clearly here, and we know all the verses, “…that we have been crucified with Christ and the world has been crucified to us.” We know that Colossians 3:3 says, “You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.” And we say, “Yes, yes, those are facts. We must ‘try’ to live in those.” That’s the twilight zone. That’s the twilight zone.
Unreal! You know it’s unreal. “Poison gas! Poison gas coming in here! Stop! Don’t breathe! Don’t breathe!” You don’t say, “I must try not to breathe.” Because, it’s a fact that this chapel is filling with poison gas, “I must try not to breathe. I must try to live in that reality.” Keep trying and you’ll die. Harrods [Up market department store in London]: when the smoking ban came in in some restaurants in America. Harrods’ sign: “Try not to smoke.” Very English; very polite; utterly unreal! A little guy in a corner, “Boy, I’m trying! I’m trying! I’m trying not to smoke.”
It’s not reality.
But I think it’s very easy for us who believe in the ‘crucified life’ to live in that twilight zone, to live in the realm of thought, not action. “Yes, I have been crucified with Christ, and I’m trying to live in that.” Well, if you’re trying to live in it, you’re not living in it. But too often we’re ruled by the sentiment, not by behavior. We’re ruled by a thought, not by action. We’re ruled by belief, but not trust. And it’s evident, when we’re caught off guard. It’s not evident here, because we’re all kind of conscious of what we’re talking about and what we’re singing about. But it’s evident the moment that person [a potential customer] says, “I’m going with Sea Gems [a competitor].” At that moment you only have to look at your reaction to find out whether you’re living in the twilight zone or whether you’re living in reality; whether you’re living in God, at his right hand, with self done away with completely, or whether you’re living in the twilight zone.
You know you’re living in the twilight zone when she says, “I’m going with Sea Gems; you’re stuff is just too expensive.” And you’re heart just goes, “Oh, another one! Another customer gone to Sea Gems! Well, I either ‘zippity-do-dah’ with a little tune, or trust in the Lord: [Pastor half sings] ‘Trust in the Lord and don’t despair he is a friend so true.’ Oh Lord… Well… Oh Father… Oh yeah…” By the time you get out of the store you’re a little happier. “Well, I mean God can still… Oh well…” That’s the twilight zone!
That’s why those who have shared the truth of victory, complete victory in Jesus say that it’s your responses and your reactions that express your carnal nature. It’s your responses and your reactions. It’s usually not your actions that you have time to prepare for. It’s your ‘re’-sponses and your ‘re’-actions! And that’s why the old preachers would say that. They’d say, “Look, don’t get all shook if your reactions are like that. Thank God that he has allowed some ‘symptom’ to come into your life that shows you’re not in the place of victory that you can be, and that he has given you.”
But that’s where it shows. It shows in the reaction or the response. And too often we live in that twilight zone, where we appreciate the sentiment. But it is a sentiment! “Yeah, we were crucified with Christ. I must hang on to that. We were crucified with Christ and the world has been crucified to me. I must remember that. Now, now — Oh! What’s that noise? Noise in the car? It’s a rattle! No! Not again! Oh, trust… Trust in the Lord… Oh, ‘the cattle on a thousand hills…’ Oh, ‘I will supply every need…’ Oh yeah, ‘He will supply every need…’” And you climb up. But you climb up out of a pit. That’s the twilight zone: where the first response, the first reaction, is the responsive reaction of the self ‘standing on its own’, not the self ‘hid with Christ in God’.
And that, too often can be our position. We hold strongly to Galatians 6:14; we hold to Colossians 3:3; we hold to Romans 6:6, “Our old self was crucified with Christ.” ”You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.” “We glory only in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to us and us to the world.” We believe all these things. We believe even Galatians 2:20 that, “It is not I that live but Christ that lives in me.” But it’s a ‘thought’! “I must remember Christ is in me. Christ is in me! It’s not me that has to face this thing! I don’t have to face these things, these difficulties, these financial problems! It’s Christ in me!” But it’s a thought! It’s a thought and a sentiment that we try to ‘remind’ ourselves of, rather than a ‘living reality’ that bursts out from us.
So that’s what the twilight zone is, you see. It’s not complete darkness, but it’s not complete light. And in England we have a saying, “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.” And it means you know, as you’re lifting your tea cup there can be a slip so that you drop some of the tea on to your tie. There’s oft a slip between the cup and the lip. It’s just a moment! And T. S. Elliot [1888 – 1965, American poet] says, “There’s just a shadow between the thought and the reality.” There’s often a ‘shadow’, just a little shadow’. But it’s that ‘shadow’ that reveals to you where you stand in regard to your position with Jesus, and whether the carnal nature is still alive within you. And the carnal nature of course does not want anything that God wants. Not at all!
So what can you do? There’s a strange verse that outlines it. It’s Matthew 11:12. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence.” The footnote says, “Has been coming violently.” “And men of violence take it by force.” Such a strange clause, “And men of violence take it by force.” Sooner or later it has to get out of the realm of thought. There is some introspection to be done; there is some self examination to be done; there is some revealing of our motives to be done. But sooner or later it has to be taken by violence. Sooner or later you ‘cast yourself into the grave’ with Christ.
Old Barth [Karl Barth, 1886 – 1968, Swiss theologian] puts it like this, “The man who is called to follow Jesus has simply to renounce and withdraw and annul an existing relationship of obedience and loyalty. This relationship is to himself. When he is called to discipleship, he abandons himself resolutely and totally. He can and must say of ‘himself’ instead of Jesus, ‘I know not the man.’” That’s a violent position to take, “Ernest O’Neil, I know not the man. I know not that creature. This creature who sneakily wants rest or wants protection, ‘I know not the man’. This little creature that wants chocolate, or wants comfort, or wants warmth, or wants somebody to encourage him, ‘I know not the man.’”
“I know not.” There has to be a standing apart from yourself. It’s a violent thing; you can’t coddle it along. You can’t ease it on to the cross and say, “Up, up, up Ada now, up, up, a little more.” You can’t, because Ada does not want to get on the cross; Ernest O’Neill does not want to get on the cross. The carnal nature doesn’t want to get on the cross! It hates the cross! It hates God! It will never be subject to those things.
So there’s a violence that has to be done, and probably it’s true, the violence has to be lived in throughout our lives. And where we lose it is, we lose that ‘sense of violence’. And we have some victory. And Satan is so shrewd. He will give us some victory, and allow us to get used to a little of the victory. And then gradually, we sink back into self, and the comfort of self.
We always want to plant sofas on the ‘Calvary Road’. We always want to plant little cushions to make it easier for us to walk on. And the very reality of salvation is that, it is never comfortable for us; it is never easy. Indeed, that well could be said to be the proof that it is real, which is probably where we get our wrong ideas, of course, that whatever is right is going to be ‘hard’ for us. Really, it’s whatever ‘is God’ is going to be against carnality. And it will always make carnality uncomfortable.
“He cannot accept this man even as his most distant acquaintance.” And I think we get into trouble there. I think we begin to accept this person as our most distant acquaintance. “Okay, okay, I won’t go for the things I used to go for. I know I don’t need that, and I don’t need that. I’ve been crucified with Christ, but maybe a little of this.” And that’s what he means. You cannot
touch even a little of carnality. You can’t touch even a little… “That looks a little innocent. Well, what harm would there be if I got this? What harm would there be if I got this?” So even the leather jackets, and the clothes, and the shoes have to be something that almost come, because we’re convinced Jesus does want us to have them.
It’s very easy to just ease out a little bit, by little bit, by little bit, by little bit, by little bit until Satan gets you right into the marshland again. And that’s why often we look at the missionaries and the old guys that went before us, and we think they were ridiculously hard on themselves. But they knew that it was right to ‘endure hardness as a good solider of Jesus Christ’, because Satan is always in the business of getting you to accommodate carnality.
“He cannot accept this man even as his most distant acquaintance. He once stood in a covenant with him which he loyally kept and tenderly nurtured.” And we have to remember that. For years we have thought of one number one, ‘uno’. We have thought of one person, and we have been loyal to that person, and we have served that person, and been obedient to that person. We have protected that person, and defended that person. We have promoted that person and helped that person. We have all the time looked after that number one person, and it is hard to deny ourselves that person, and to separate ourselves from that person.
It can only be done with violence. That’s part of the meaning of the thud of the cross into the ground, and Christ is nailed upon it. That’s part of what it means. It is violence done — not I agree with you, to the physical nature, but to the carnal nature; to the carnal nature that is enmity against God and that loves itself and is always looking out for itself and wants itself and will drag itself down into depression and self absorption whenever it can. Barth says, “But in the context of discipleship to Jesus which is a definite happening this is a very definite step.” And that’s why I mention it today. We’re going to have the covenant service this evening and communion. And it is, for us, going to be the last Sunday of the old year and the first Sunday of the New Year.
There is a definite step that needs to be taken. “It is not merely a new, and critical, and negative mind and attitude in relation to himself.” [Quoting from Barth] And sometimes I think you see, we live in sentiment; we live in thought; we live in the realm of thought. And what Barth is saying is, “It is not merely a new, and critical, and negative attitude in relation to himself. This will also be involved, there will be those things, but in and for itself in the uncommitted sphere of inwardness this might be present without the definite losing of a man from himself and therefore without a definite act of obedience.” He’s saying often you can have that attitude. You can think, “Yeah, I’m terrible! I’m horrible! I’m against God! I’m this and I’m that. I’m selfish! I’m impatient! I’m irritable!” So there can be a whole ‘living inside yourself’ of criticism and acknowledgement of what you are before God, and still no commitment of the self to the cross. That’s what he is saying.
“There can often be a great inward activity with no commitment, no violence done to the self. In this case discipleship will only be theoretical; it will not be an actual event. The call to discipleship will not have really reached and affected this man or he would have imprisoned and tamed and rendered it innocuous in the sphere of emotion or reflection.” And often I think we do that, you see. We live in the twilight zone. We think about it; we dwell upon it; we read books about it; and we eventually end up rendering it innocuous. ‘Noceo’ in Latin is to hurt. ‘Innoceo’ is ‘it doesn’t hurt us’. ‘It doesn’t hurt us!’ No pain, no pain. We just think about it, and dwell upon it, and meditate it. And we say to ourselves, “Yes, I’m trying to live in the cross with
Christ. I have been crucified, and I’m trying to realize that.”
He says, “No, no, you’re engaged in a whole mental circus that has nothing to do with the violence that needs to be done.” “An inner withdrawal from one self is not by a long way a breach of the covenant or denial of acquaintanceship with oneself.” So we tend to think, you see, “Oh, we’re withdrawing from ourselves, so we’re divorcing ourselves from ourselves.” He’s saying, “No, it can all be a mental game inside you.” “In itself and as such, if this is the whole of the matter it might be the most radical and obstinate denial of this breach or renunciation.” It might be the absolute denial of having a breach war with yourself, because you’re really thinking about yourself all the time. “Indeed, where this is the whole of the matter, it will certainly be such. Self denial in the context of following Jesus involves a step into the open, into the freedom of a definite decision and act, in which it is with a real commitment that man takes leave of himself, of the man of yesterday, of the man he himself was, in which he gives up the previous form of his existence.”
See, “gives up the previous form of his existence.” No longer ever thinking of yourself the way you used to think. No longer getting up in the morning and thinking, “How do I feel? What am I going to do today?” Not thinking of that! That is a being that no longer exists! That creature does not exist anymore. So it’s the taking leave of that,
“Hazarding and totally compromising himself without looking back or considering what is to become of him.” “Without considering what is to become of him.” Every time, every time whether it’s our marriage, or our future, or our money, or our food, or our clothing — every time we think of ourselves we’re sinking back into that morass. Satan persuades us, “No, no you’re not! You’re not! I mean, you ought to think a little.” No, you’re always in danger of that. You’re always in danger.
There’s only one way to walk the path. That’s it. The eye there, [Pastor indicates straight ahead] not there, not there [Not to the right or to the left] but there, the eye always on Jesus. Always ahead! Always away from yourself! That’s the only way to walk that way. It’s the only way you’re safe. You remember the guy who said, “Up the Matterhorn!” You remember, the wind howling around, and he stood up and was almost blown right off, and the guide said, “On your knees, sir, on your knees! You’re only safe when you’re on your knees up here.” So it’s the same. On the Calvary Road there’s only one way to walk it, and that is with your eyes on Jesus completely, and never on yourself.
“Hazarding everything for him without looking back or considering what is going to become of him, because what matters is not now himself, but that he should do at all costs that which is proposed and demanded, having no option but to decide and act in accordance with it — cost what it may.”
Zwingli: “’For God’s sake do something brave,’ was once the cry of Zwingli to his contemporaries. Not feel, or think, or consider, or mediate! Not turn it over in your heart and mind! But do something brave. If it is to do this that Jesus calls man in his discipleship then there can be no avoiding genuine self-denial.”
But that’s it, do something brave. Don’t think; don’t mediate. Don’t think, “Oh I must…” Throw yourself into it with Christ, and forget yourself. Make it a definite act, and keep doing that act every day. And encourage each other to do it. Then, the Holy Spirit will break out from us; then the designs will flow from us. Then the new moves in radio will flow from us. The whole thing will
burst open. Then we’ll walk on a different level. We won’t walk in the level of a better Marty, better Ernest, better Peggy; slightly improved Marty, slightly improved – we won’t walk on that level, that twilight zone where there’s a slight improvement. But we’ll walk in a definite level, a different level completely.
So it is a very real thing. The cross is a very real act of violence to ourselves. It is a glorious, complete, casting out of ourselves in faith. It is not Peter saying, “Feels wet! Well, freezing a little. It might bear my weight. No, cracking a little!” No, it’s not that. “Sure, the water will hold me because the Savior has called me that way.” Not looking out and saying, “Well, I wonder is it solid out there? It’s solid in here. I can walk on the water here. But can I walk on the water out there? Can I walk on it where I cannot see it?” It’s not that! It’s walking with complete and absolute abandonment to Jesus, for all the consequences, and all the future.
So it is a glorious thing. There is something valiant about it, something epic. It has something of the glory of the knights of old, see. There is something valiant about it. It is nothing petty, or mean, or miserly. And it is filled therefore with the glory of Christ. The ‘glory of Christ’ fills the tone of the voice, fills the eyes, fills every action! So that we are elevated above the world. So it is a definite, completely and utterly different route of life. And that’s what the cross is. And that’s what God calls us to today. Let us pray.
Lord Jesus, we see that you have made new creations, and that what we have put up with is the old creation, so often modified a little, ameliorated by a little touch of grace. Lord, we see that it slides back down off the cross, the whole way down the hill, until we’re back in the valley walking like ordinary men and women. We see how everything becomes dim and faded again. We see that we see only ‘men as trees walking.’ We do not see things clearly. And we retain so many of the traits of our old nature and our old selves.
Lord, we do not want that. We do not want this sneaking, carnal nature that longs to have its own comfort, and have its own way. Lord, we long to soar with the eagles above the world. We long to be with you and in you, Lord Jesus. We want to cast everything in with you Lord, and most of all ourselves that you might do the final violence to that self by destroying it on Calvary, so that we never regard it again, but look only upon you.
Holy Spirit, we know you will fill us and anoint us to overflowing when we say, “Yes,” completely to what our Father has done to us in Jesus. We ask you this day, Holy Spirit, to lead each one of us into complete and absolute surrender, that from this day forward and from this evening on, we may walk as new creations, with none of the old, and with new glories and new abilities being born in us every day. So that Lord Jesus, you may walk the roads of this world in your own power and your own Spirit.