High Risk

On Saturday, March 4, 1933, Americans were nearing the end of the Great Depression. This had been brutal period of almost four years as the nation experienced upwards of a quarter of the population unemployed while many had lost everything. It was a truly depressing and fearful time for  society.  This newly elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt, stood on the east portico of the capital building facing Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.  Roosevelt’s hand rested on his family 1686 Dutch Bible – opened to I Corinthians 13.   After Chief Justice Hughes administered the oath of office, Roosevelt remained at the podium to address the American pubic in what is considered, by many experts to be the best of all presidential inauguration speeches.

‘In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.’

Roosevelt was calling the people to a same mindedness, to a determination of will with a unified goal of bringing the United States back from the brink.  The President knew that the nation could not survive if division prevailed, fear controlled, and hatred ruled.

The remainder of the speech frankly outlined the problems and difficult solutions, but it was actually his introductory words that have stuck with us even to today.

‘So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.’

Later, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, suggested that the famous phrase was adapted from a 1851 journal entry of Henry David Thoreau in which he had written,

‘Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.’

In these words, Thoreau, followed by Roosevelt put their finger on the root cause of the problems the nation faced, and the problems our nation still faces  – fear.  The fear of poverty, the fear of war, the fear of famine, the fear of inadequate healthcare, the fear of not getting more than others, the fear of those that look different than us, the fear of those who live differently than us, the fear of those who worship differently than us, the fear of those who speak differently than us, the fear of those that come from other countries, those that have a different pigmentation, those that those who have a diet different than us, that drive differently than us, those that dress differently than us, those who values and beliefs are different than us, we fear sickness and death, we fear different political systems, we fear the unknown.

Fear divides us, fear depletes us, fear consumes us, fear paralyzes us, fear pushes us onto the wrong path, fear leads us to run back to our fantasy of past, fear erases our memories, fear capitalizes on our doubts, fear pits us against each other, fear keeps us from noticing others, fear keep us from truth, fear causes us to hate, to react, to label, fear leads us to lay aside the  example of Jesus, fear leads us to forget the sacrifice the Son.

Fear perilously puts us at high risk.

Christ came to conquer fear. 

Fear seeks to stop life. 

Christ came to give life.

God invited Moses to join him on Mount Sinai to discuss life, primarily how to live life.  The talk is referred to as the ‘Law’, but the word ‘Law’ does not translate well – our idea of ‘Law’ elicits a response of ‘how do I get around this?’ or a ‘let’s look for the loopholes?’, but this ‘Law’ was, and is, a gift.  The discussion wasn’t a ‘get your life in order’ talk or a ‘get these people in line’ lecture but a constructive and positive, ‘this is how to live in this creation’ given by the creator himself. An exclusive discussion between Moses and God the creator – giving the ‘how’ to live in his creation.  It was obvious to Moses, and probably all humans, that up to this point, they have failed miserably at their attempts to figure it out on their own. It was a gift to be invited to this discussion with the creator, Moses knew this, the people he was leading did not.

Moses sat with God on Mount Sinai as the two were discussing life. Not in metaphysical way, but in a ‘Here is how you do it’, way for a humanity that really had no idea how to do anything except to survive. See, God was moving the people to a ‘Get up and walk in peace,’ way of life.

While the 2 sat up on the mountain, down below the people returned to fear.  They had spent their entire lives justifiably living in fear, their parents and grandparents had known no other existence, it was passed down generation to generation without a second thought.  Now, free and delivered from slavery, when they could no longer visually see their human leader Moses,  they automatically to their fear.

Fear is often the most comfortable place to which we can run.  

Fear is always the quickest path back to chaos, disorder, and whatever else defines the opposite of peace.  

There truly is ‘nothing to fear but fear itself.’ 

God interrupted their conversation to let Moses know what was going on at the bottom of the mountain.

‘You’ve been gone for forty days, Moses,’ God said, ‘in your absence, the people have returned to fear and all the emotions and actions that accompany fear.  They have taken the gold which was given to them by the fearful Egyptians and wasted it on the gods of the Egyptians. Aaron has molded a calf out of the gold – since that is what they knew in Egypt.  In looking at the golden calf they began to talk about their old, comfortable gods they had in slavery, the gods they could see, – Aaron recognized the mistake and declared that they were to worship the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but it was too late, the damage was done. They were back in fear mode, they had returned to worshipping a false god.  This has avalanched into a full fledged orgy.’

God was disgusted, he was done with the people, Moses managed to talk God back from destruction.  Moses reminded God that they people were immature, they were not accustomed to freedom, that they had no clue about the peace God had for them, Moses reminded God that these were his people…..and yes, he probably told God that the people ‘are idiots, an ignorance that only God cure.’

Moses went down, the people did not get to receive God’s gift of ‘how to have peace and life’ – but they would later, when they were a little less ‘idiot’ inclined. 

For now, though, the people needed to be pulled back from the brink of disaster, the people needed their leader to help them deal with their very comfortable fear.

Moses came down the mountain surely uttering many words of disgust. 

The only thing that can unite a divided group of people is an irrational fear that throws all truth out the window.  People of faith quickly forget the ‘why’ of their faith and exchange it for truth for fear, fear then unifies  – it exchanges their same minded unity for mindless mob minded division and chaos.

Fear urgently brings chaos – chaos perverts our recognition of value, it diminishes rationale and distorts hope, it fogs our view of God.  It prompts us to throw away the gold of God’s deliverance, it leads us to devaluing of God’s creation and his created – respect, honor, and dignity are replaced with disrespect, hatred, impulsiveness, and  ultimately, lasciviousness and wantonness.  

Fear urgently ushers in chaos. 

Fear is a favorite tool of politicians, religious leaders, your  friends on facebook, the pundits on your favorite cable network, the guy next door, and sometimes even those living in your house. 

Fear is the easiest, and most used, tool in Satan’s toolbox, it is the quickest and most efficient way to divide and conquer.  It destroys nations, organizations, relationships, families, individuals, and churches.  

The only tool of Jesus – was love that accepts and embraces.  Love brings about peace and order.

While fear places us in the category of ‘High Risk’ – peace and order place us in a place of patience, love, faith, hope, and unity.

Peace and order permit us to be of the same mind in what genuinely unifies us. They pave the way for us to be agents of calm, confidence, trust, and hope. They pave the way for others to catch a true hint of Jesus.

This is what is the apostle Paul was addressing in the church of Philippi. He had surmised that the church was at high risk. Two, hardworking, long proven, workers in the church are divided. The issue, for Paul, was that this division would threaten the entire church, they were at high risk of choosing sides, of dividing up, of losing their mind – their ‘same mindedness’.  We are not told what has caused these two individuals to split, only that they have also lost their same mindedness, we don’t need to know, we just know the solution – ‘be of the same mind.’

Two very different mindedness options, two extreme opposites states of life, same mindedness and mob mindedness.  One is guided by the common belief held in the heart and the mind – the other is guided by selfish agendas, raw emotions, disregard for others, vitriol, hatred, and a settling into hopelessness.

Same mindedness reminds us that we are actually attempting to head toward the same goal even when we are set on different avenues of getting there. We can peaceably disagree when we are of the same mind.

The destructive impact of the absence of same mindedness among the two warring individuals in the faith community of Philippi was that it could move the group of believers into mob mindedness.  Taking sides, fighting over stances, adopting the negative feelings of the original two were the exact things that would lead the entire faith community to fear – fear that my side will lose, pride that I am right even if this is not really my fight or my concern, fear that doesn’t need a rationale reason.

Paul speaks of ‘having the same mind’ often in his letter to his friends in Philippi. It can, at times, even sound somewhat cult like, an attempt to make everyone think the same and an effort to hinder the actual thinking of each individual.

As Mitch led our Tuesday Night Bible Project, he illustrated this ‘same mind’ concept in a manner that really allows us, in our time to understand.  He shared that on an American football team, each team has 11 players on the field during play. Off the field, each of these players assuredly have different opinions, disagreements, life practices, background, etc, than each other.  However, once they are on the field, in the playing of the game, they have the same mind – to get the ball, or keep the other team from getting the ball, across the goal line. To be effective, they can give their opinions to a point, but, eventually, one person will have to make the call and the others, to be successful, will work together to move the ball down the field.  If personal selfish, ‘non-same minded’ agendas interrupt, or if disagreements emerge, the game will be lost.  This is same mindedness.

Paul, as he speaks of having the same mind is speaking to, and about, having the same goal line.  In chapter 3, verse 15, he calls on those who are mature.  This word mature is not speaking to an accomplished and completed believer, one who is perfect, but, instead to those who are on the field, permitting the righteousness of Christ to transform them.  It is not a haughty or arrogant position, but a state of ‘becoming’. 

Paul explains, ‘I have not already obtained this nor have I already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.’

Philippians 3:12-14

Much like the coach’s half time speech to the team about working and striving together, not addressing their decisions and opinions – that – will take place after the game, the coach is talking about now, as the team returns back to the field, the team same mindedness.

Same mind – get the ball down the field.  Same mind – keep the other team from getting the ball down the field.

Paul then coaches the Philippians, and us, in practices aimed at strengthening ‘same mindedness’ as he says – 

‘Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

The Grip of Fear

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Luke 4:18-19

After Jesus finished reading these words, he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 

Then, from his seat, Jesus said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

The religious leaders that were present spoke well of Jesus and they were amazed at his gracious words. However, as the dialogue progressed, the leaders began to feel the sting of Jesus’ words.  He spoke to their lack of compassion, their absence of concern for the oppressed, their failure to provide for the hungry and homeless; Jesus confronted their failure to address the very real social and physical needs that existed among the people of their community. The leaders became increasingly defensive.  In reaction to these confrontative words they did what humans do when we do no have a true defense, when we have heard uncomfortable truth – they turned to hostility, violence, and vengeance.

More than two thousand years later the church is still hesitant to take up his mission.

Jesus stated that his calling, matching the prophecy that pointed to him, was to address the very real oppression, misery, poverty, hunger, homelessness – the pain of existing as marginalized people. 

At the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention, Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, brought forth a resolution condemning alt-right white supremacy.  In committee, McKissic’s motion was denied the approval needed to be forwarded onto the floor of the convention for a vote from pastors and other delegates in attendance.  The much needed proclamation would have been dead if it had not been for some white Southern Baptist pastors, who let go of their own fears, and joined the pastors of color, insisting that this resolution receive a vote.  These pastors knew that standing up to racism was a risk for which they would surely suffer backlash, and probably be blacklisted by many SBC leaders and faithful – they identified and named their fear deciding to take the risks  – it was the right thing to do. It was what Jesus would have done and it was what he was calling them to do in that moment.  Thanks to these that took a risk, confronted their fears and prepared for the consequences, the resolution did eventually get a vote and did pass. 

It is very human for our fears to stand in the way of us living out the call of Christ in our own lives.

Our gospel passage for today comes after Jesus’ experience with the harassed and hopeless – a large swath of humanity,  Jesus prepared his apostles for a mission to address the physical, mental, and social needs of society. He equated the desperate state of the existence which he had witnessed, to that of a person being skinned alive and the skin then being cast away.

As Jesus sent the apostles out, addressing his concerns for the marginalized people and  all of the periphery of humanity – this same section of humanity that he had highlighted back on that day in his hometown. He knew that once the comfortable lives of the powerful and entitled were threatened, there would be an uproar. He was fully aware that his apostles would be confronted with this same human guttural reaction.

The apostles were called to go to their own people, a people that were lost and divided.  A people looking for the Messiah but blinded by their own false prophets, corrupt politicians, and hardened religious institutions.  This was where the message would begin and then, it would go to the world. Ultimately it would brought even to us.

But first, going to their own would be the most difficult.  This group would judge them the most harshly, reject them the most viciously, and hate them the most blatantly.

However, there would be some that would would hear and see – 

Some would be freed,

Some would grab hold of hope,

Some would, for the first time, know love.

Some would finally find peace.

It would be these that would hear, and these that would accept – the words The Kingdom of Heaven is Near.

Jesus set our to prepare his apostles as they were confronted by their own fears.  He named their fears, the worst of the worst things that could happen.  He did not soften it, he did not deny it, he did not diminish it, he honestly named the rejection, the accusations that would be hurled, the fists would surely fly, humiliation was guaranteed – they was fears that could be named, and the names were intentionally verbalized out loud.

The worst of the worst fear – death, was addressed by Jesus as he said, do not be afraid of those that can kill your body but not your soul. 

Naming fears allowed the apostles to identify the worst, to know the extreme realities they will face.  The fears of answering Jesus call – a call of helping the oppressed and hurting, the marginalized, the abused, the neglected, the outcast, the hated. 

Later on, Jesus will name this calling – ‘Taking up our Cross’.  This is what  he was calling on the apostles to do and it is what he calls us to do even now, ..especially now

This term ‘Take up your cross’ would have been understood in the day.  It referred to the marginal people (primarily slaves and rebels) that resided within the Roman Empire who were the targets of the punishment of death on the cross.  These people, due to their social and legal status, were despised, hated, and often feared – their primary offense was that they did not align themselves with, or submit themselves to, Rome’s authority.   And, those who helped these people always knew that they too risked the same fate.  When scripture calls us to love others, care for others, show the compassion that no one else is willing to show to others, there is always a risk.  It always requires us to Take up our Cross. 

‘To take up the cross is to identify with those that threaten the empire.’

Warren Coats

I have a pastor friend, here in Norman, that is in the middle of experiencing the pain of Taking Up His Cross.  Recently, he attended a Black Lives Matter rally here in Norman.  While there, he was asked why he, a white male pastor, was in attendance at the rally.   His response was ‘It is where Jesus would be, it is where God has called me to be.’ He mentioned this experience to his church last Sunday and by the time his head hit his pillow Sunday evening, he had been alerted that four families in his church had already announced they were leaving the church because of his involvement with the movement.  This is painful for a pastor, this is threat to a church, this is the cost of Taking Up Our Cross

Jesus made an odd statement – 

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace’

It would appear that Jesus has a disconnect with his own words where he is announced at birth with peace; peace was the first words to his followers following the resurrection.  These two statements appear to be incongruent, they seem to contradict each other.

The truth is, these two statements are totally congruent and even dependent on each other.  At the time Jesus sent out his apostles, the Jews were still looking forward to the coming Messiah.  Their anticipation was that this Messiah would actually bring a political peace.  Not only would they not be oppressed or attacked, but, that they would become the world power.  The peace would be grounded in that human force of a nation that was the ultimate empire.

In actuality, the Messiah, Jesus, came for a peace for all persons regardless of nationality.  It is, and was, a peace that would be unacceptable to those who did not want to release their power, their control, their status.  Reaching out to, and caring for, the marginalized and oppressed is seldom welcome, advocating for the periphery of society is often a threat.

This was the complaint of the prophet Jeremiah. As he had spent most of his life proclaiming the coming attack and take over by the Babylonians, and some time jail, hated and rejected by even those he consider his friends.  All hoped for his demise because they didn’t want to hear truth God gave him to deliver. But, even as he complained to God he admitted that there was a burning deep within him that called for him to proclaim God’s truth, to go where, God led him to go, to speak the words that God gave to him to speak.  Even though he was gripped with fear, he knew that he had to Take Up His Cross, he could do no less.

This is God’s Highest Calling, to go to those living in desperation, to care for the marginalized, to be the compassion of God to those who have spent a lifetime of being dismissed, despised, abused, and hated.

This is the reason that Jesus pulled his, still fresh and in the middle of learning, disciples, out of school.  He moved them from mere students to the level of proclaimers, to being apostles.  There was an urgency that could not be ignored. 

‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;  it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.’


Jesus was differentiating his call over the hope of an empire of the people.  He was heading off those who would try to rise up and take over.  Push Jesus to act  forcefully. Like Judas did. It is the highest calling, to sacrificially act with the embrace of Jesus, to name our fears and Take Up Our Cross to meet the same world that Jesus called ‘harassed and hopeless.’

It is our Highest Calling. 

The Lord has already told you what is good, and what he requires of you: do what is right, love mercy, seek justice for all,  and walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 

While German pastor and theologian, Detirich Bonhoffer, was imprisoned in a German concentration camp during World War II for his words and actions against the Nazi politicians and their atrocities, a fellow pastor visited him.  Shouting through the barbed wire fence, the pastor asked Bonhoffer why he was there, why had he not just stayed out of the political situation and kept his mouth shut. Bonhoffer responded by asking, “You ask why am I in here, the real question is how is it that you are not in here with me?’

Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, sat on the stage of Passion City Church last Sunday with Pastor Louie Giglio and African American Christian Musician LeCree – to discuss the killing of Rayshard Brooks the day before and the burning of the restaurant where the death took place:  

“We’ve got a real bad situation. We don’t need to let this moment miss us. It has to hurt us. It has to hurt us. And we as Caucasians until we’re willing to just pick up the baton and fight for our black, African American brothers and sisters, which they are as one human race, we’re shameful, We’re just adding to it.  Our silence is so huge at this time.

We cannot be silent. I think before we start to jump into action we need a personal period of contrition and a broken heart. Not just criticize the people that burnt down that restaurant, we got  to have a heart for the Rayshard Brooks and others … We’ve got to have a sense of empathy of what led to this.” 

This is the tip of the iceberg of incredible amounts of frustration and pain that the whole spectrum of the African American community…. most of us white people are just simply out of sight, out of mind. We’re oblivious to it. We cannot let this moment pass.”

Isabel Wilkerson, author, The Warmth of Other Suns , who began calling for empathy in 2016, says:

“We may be clueless and awkward around the subject of race, but we know what the Gospel demands. That we keep working at being better neighbors.” 

The question for us, is how are we going to respond to our highest calling?  How are we going to live out the Greatest Commandment?

How are we going to love God and love our Neighbors as ourself?

In these past months we have seen the best and the worst of humanity. The best and the worst of those who call themself Christian. 

Jesus prepared his apostles by first showing them how God feels about oppression, misery and marginalization – It was undoubtedly a confrontation of their own prejudices and bigotry, then he helped them name their fears, then, they went out.

What will it take for us to have empathy for our fellow humans? What will it take for us to accept the call of Jesus?