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 Perplexity of Me

 07.05.20

I vividly remember a friend in high school telling me that her mom was wanting to switch churches.  Since I also attended the same church I was very curious as to the reason.  The story was that her mom was mad at the pastor because he didn’t speak about sin enough.  She especially wanted him to preach about the sin of smoking. I found this amusing as my first memory of church was going to a small town First Baptist Church every Sunday morning and the doorway which we entered in was also the smoking spot for all the deacons.  Mom and Dad would tell us to take a breath and in we went.

Bobby Schuller, pastor of Shepherd’s Grove Church in Irvine, California, tells the story of being a new pastor, and coming up with what he thought was a genius marketing strategy to reach their surrounding area.  Most of the commercial business establishments in the immediate vicinity of their church building were bars, so Bobby thought it made sense to have match books made up with their church name and basic details. The plan was to give them free to the bars and then ask them to, in turn, give them to their customers.  Customers would stick them in their pockets and later, pull  them out and read the cover.  After he handed out several bulk boxes of matches to the bartenders and bar owners, several of his members were  aghast to find the name of their church on the match boxes they were given at the bar. Ironically, it was the effectiveness of his marketing scheme that landed him in hot water with several of church members and leaders.  They accused him of inciting people to sin by giving them matches.

As I have planned out this message, I have attempted to formulate a soften, and possibly humorous, way to announce the theme – However, I have to just be honest. Today we talk about Sin.

There is a high likely hood that even as I say this word, you are thinking of the sins that you most enjoy judging and condemning in other people, or, you are thinking of the sins that you are most ashamed and humiliated by in your own life. 

The apostle Paul makes a very personal revelation as he writes to the churches in Rome:

‘I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’

Apostle Paul (Romans 7:15b)

Philosopher and theologian, Philip L. Quinn, described the manner in which the three major world religions approach the subject of sin:

‘Sin is the concept of a human fault that offends a good God and brings with it human guilt. Sins’ natural home is in the major theistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These religious traditions share the idea that actual or personal sins are individual actions contrary to the will of God. In the Hebrew Bible, sin is understood within the context of the covenantal relation between Yahweh and his chosen people. To be in covenant with Yahweh is to exist in holiness, and so sin is a deviation from the norms of holiness. In the Christian New Testament, Jesus teaches that human wrongdoing offends the one whom he calls Father. The Qur’an portrays sin as opposition to Allah rooted in human pride.’

(Quinn)

Regardless of our definition, sin is, by all counts, a bad thing, and to be considered a sinner or sinful, is an even worse thing

This was the mission of John the Baptizer, to prepare the people for the arrival of the Messiah –  by preaching a message of repentance from sin.:

Let’s define Sin. 

The prophet Isaiah defined sin this way: 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, 

Isaiah 53:6a

God sums this up with the word Iniquity.

So, ‘going astray’ and ‘turning to our own way’ is our  iniquity.

‘Straying from God’, ‘turning away from God’, changes what guides our actions, reactions, responses, thoughts, plans, and agendas.  So, ‘Our way’ as opposed to ‘God’s Way’ is what points us in the direction of actions that are right or are that are sin.

Next let’s look at the first Sin to better understand,

Eve, perfect until the serpent tricks her into taking the forbidden fruit, OR, Eve, created with the ability to make her own choices, having already placed herself on the trajectory of taking the fruit as she would sit everyday, eating the the identical fruit as she could get from the forbidden tree, however, the more she stares at that same fruit on the forbidden tree, the more she wants the forbidden fruit.

She has had the choice of which way to look, God’s Way or Eve’s Way.  One way reminds us of truth, the other takes us to a fantasy deceitful world where anything forbidden will taste better.  By looking away from God, Eve has allowed her personal ‘wants’ to take over.

Enter the serpent, his job is pretty easy, he just has to point Eve in the direction of the forbidden fruit, she has already set her mind on it, she has already quit listening for the voice of God in the garden, or even looking his way,  so she can have a better and unhindered focus on this fruit that she does not have, she just needs a little nudge, a little encouragement, a little affirmation, that this bad choice is actually the best choice.

The same way that Eve ended up with a forbidden fruit, is the same was that we end up with forbidden fruit. It begins with our turning away from God, going astray, is a sometimes subtle, sometimes blatantly intentional, choice on our part.  At some point, it is a choice, that often comes in times of stress, boredom, grief, exhilaration, desperation, insecurity, arrogance, self-entitlement, and any other time we are longing for an escape, or we end up focusing solely on me or my cause.

It is then that the action, or inaction, manifests as sin.

And, as Paul states, once actions of sin, manifest in our life, it festers and soon becomes an automatic response.  We become enslaved by it.

Paul explains our sin problem by starting with the law.  

As Adam and Eve, due to their turning away from God, were expelled from the garden, they were separated from God.  This meant that God was no longer there, walking with them, telling them what would harm them and what was good.  This harm would be in regard to their relationship with him, their relationship with each other, as well as their relationship with all of God’s creation.  So, now, on their own, by their own choice, they were without God’s instruction; no rules, no laws – the wild west.

This is how life was for humanity for the next 3,000 to 4,000 years.  They did not know what was harmful, they did not know their actions that were literally killing them, each other, God’s creation, and especially their relationship with God.

They were the walking dead. Digging themselves into a deeper grave with every action and inaction.

Life was chaos, murder, unfaithfulness, deceit, jealousy, revenge, hopelessness, suspicion, hatred, betrayal, theft, destruction, abuse, threats – all without having been told that these things are harmful and wrong.

In our weekly Bible Project we ask questions, a lot of questions, and then we ask more questions.  Then, after we have exhausted asking the questions we begin searching for answers.  The process is often chaotic, especially on zoom, and sometimes overwhelming. It is not a process for every personality.  Since we began with the book of Genesis in January, we have had one consistent question, that has increasingly become a complaint, and most recently an acknowledgement that the lineage of Jesus includes a very shady group of individuals.  That constant, is the horrible actions and relationship of all most everyone we have encountered in Genesis.  They are a mess, they are miserable, they are mean and often vengeful, they are manipulative and calculating, they are dismissive and neglectful, they are bad parents, they are bad spouses,  they are often, very bad people. 

Last Tuesday Mitch Musgrove, in speaking about this issue and the sad state of affairs in the OT,  said,

‘[Throughout the Old Testament] God is painting us a picture of life without God.’    

Mitch Musgrove

So, after three to four thousand years of this misery of existence, Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God gave them the ten commandments, the Law.  How to live. Much more extensive than just ten bullet points it covered everything.

One rabbinical tradition is that the Law, the details of what is harmful or what was healthy, was offered to all nations – however, with the exception of the Israelites, all other nations said that they didn’t want to know what was wrong and harmful because they wanted to keep doing the things they figured would be wrong. They could already assume the the law was going to forbid adultery, murder, and theft, so they passed. They instinctually kind of already knew the error of their ways, but, without the law, they could claim ignorance.

So, now the Israelites knew what was already killing them.

They were no longer ignorant. 

However, now that they knew, this new knowledge, combined with their freedom of choice, put them on a perplexing journey. Their rebellious nature wanted to partake of the forbidden fruit – just life Adam and Eve,  and their new affirmation of right and wrong countered their temptation, this put them in a perplexing dilemma. 

Theologian C.S. Lewis said, 

‘No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.’

C.S. Lewis

So, Paul says the same thing that all of humanity has said for thousands of  years and still says today:

‘I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’  (Romans 7:15b)

 The great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, explained our perplexity this way:

“It was the custom of ancient tyrants, when they wished to put men to the most fearful punishments, to tie a dead body to them, placing the two back to back; and there was the living man, with a dead body closely strapped to him, rotting, putrid, corrupting, and this he must drag with him wherever he went. Now, this is just what the Christian has to do. He has within him the new life; he has a living and undying principle, which the Holy Spirit has put within him, but he feels that everyday he has to drag about with him this dead body, this body of death, a thing as loathsome, as hideous, as abominable to his new life, as a dead stinking carcass would be to a living man.” (Spurgeon) 

A. What is Paul’s manner of dealing with this?

First, he stands on the assurance, that, although we may be weak, God is not:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ 

Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:13)

Second, he adopted a life philosophy: 

‘beloved, 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. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. …for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.’

Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:8-9, 11b)

B. The mistake of religious institutions in regard to sin.

First, we have had the audacity to think that we can stop, control, and eliminate sin. Much of this comes from a misunderstanding of sin and the Law, but it has led to training believers (of all faiths) to be the exact thing we are told not to be – Judgmental and Condemning.  Both of which we do not know how to do without also being hateful, arrogant, and condescending.  Our approach has turned us into the opposite of Christlike.

Second, we have failed to truly understand that sin is just the tip of the iceberg, that it is actually something much different, often times something that could be better addressed with compassion, mercy, justice, grace, and love – however, our approach has been to rank sins without regard to the fact that all sin is a result of a deeper turning away from God and going astray.  We have made those sins that rank highest in our ‘most heinous’ list the ones we focus on – we love the word ‘abomination’.  Giving us even more reasons to judge, condemn, hate, chastise, reject, and basically be very unChristlike.

Third, since our sins are less heinous or are more invisible, we have made ‘Being a Christian’ to be an impossible journey, pushing the labeled sinners into the closet.  Once again, making us very unChristlike.

Fourth, we have missed the opportunity to go out on the journey that Jesus sent his disciples on. A journey to free the oppressed, to heal the sick, to cure diseases, and, as we are there, to tell that ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is Near.’ 

C. The Reason for God’s Desire that we Live Right 

Jesus said the reason is:

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly

Jesus (John 10:10b) 

Sin is the killer of right. 

Sin is the killer of mercy.

Sin is the killer of justice.

Sin is the killer of abundance.

God is the perfect father, who desires the best for us.  He does not bait us into sin, nor does he reject us because of sin. He does not desire us to carry around death but, instead, to live in freedom. He want us to live in Joy, that is why he has told us the things that will take away that joy.

Paul, as he explained the law, stressed that our obligation to the law in only until death, in the same way that a woman is obligated to her marriage vow until death of the spouse. So, as Christ died for us, we are not guided by the law, we live in the freedom of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As Christ died, he died our death, therefore we are free.  It is our privilege then to live in the freedom that he secured for us all.

The redemptive nature of grace is not just an eternal thing, it is a now thing.  God’s desire that that we not live in the flux of a perplexing life met with death at every turn.

Jesus is our resurrection from death. Jesus is our life outside of the tomb.

Jesus said to the woman who had been caught in the act of sin,

‘Go and sin no more.’

Jesus (John 8:11b)

He didn’t say this so that she could be forgiven, or acceptable – he said it because he wanted her to have life and to not have to carry that dead body around anymore.

Jesus says the same to us, in order that we too, can live in, and with, that joy.