- GOD grant me these: the strength to do
- Some needed service here;
- The wisdom to be brave and true;
- The gift of vision clear,
- That in each task that comes to me
- Some purpose I may plainly see.
- God teach me to believe that I
- Am stationed at a post,
- Although the humblest 'neath the sky,
- Where I am needed most.
- And that, at last, if I do well
- My humble services will tell.
- God grant me faith to stand on guard,
- Uncheered, unspoke, alone,
- And see behind such duty hard
- My service to the throne.
- Whate'er my task, this be my creed:
- I am on earth to fill a need.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
On December 10, 1996 Jill Bolte Taylor experienced a stroke. A malformed artery in her brain ruptured and within 30 minutes, she was reduced from a highly functioning, PhD level neuro-scientist to a functional infant, curled up in a ball on her bedroom floor. Somehow, in the process, she managed to call a coworker, who quickly figured out what was happening to her and called for help.
Jill spent the next 8 years recuperating from her stroke and eventually reached a level she considers ‘full recovery’. Because of her understanding of brain functioning and anatomy she was able to write a compelling and detailed narrative of her stroke and recovery, which she entitled “My Stroke of Insight”. One of the truly amazing things she describes is the shutdown of the left hemisphere of her brain, which left her completely in her ‘right mind’.
Her right hemisphere was not affected by the stroke, so it naturally took over and became foremost in her awareness. In her right brain functioning, she reported that she felt an overwhelming sense of peace and well-being. She no longer had the perception of being a solid person with boundaries around her physical self, but felt as if she were a liquid and that she was united with the energy of everything in the universe.
She imagines that she experienced a sort of ‘Nirvana’. It was beautiful and peaceful beyond description – and she loved it! … so much so that choosing to re-engage her left brain and all its functions during her rehabilitation was very difficult indeed.
Bolte says that what characterizes the left brain is constant ‘chatter’. The left brain supplies the constant ‘self-talk’ which orients us to who we are, where we are, and where our body begins and ends. It houses our speech centers as well as the functions which allow us to read and think in a linear fashion and experience time sequentially.
With the right brain, it’s just the opposite. Instead of words, it thinks in pictures. The right brain is very in tune with the emotional content of our experiences – but it doesn’t have a category for Time. When in our right brain, we feel that time stands still and that we are One with the universe, completely non-judgmental and at peace with ourselves and others. The Right Brain is extremely aware of the essential connectedness of all things. ….
Now to illustrate how these two halves work, I’d like to ask you to help me with a little demonstration. I’d like the right half of the congregation ( my left) to repeat this word: “Peace.” Now the Left half (my right) of the congregation I’d like to repeat the word “Chatter”
Here’s how I’d like you to do this: Right Brain repeat P-E-A-C-E softly and slowly over four counts.
Left Brain repeat “Chatter!” quickly in a staccato fashion:
“Chatter! Chatter! Chatter! Chatter!” over four beats.
You can immediately see that the Left brain pretty much dominates most of the time unless we tell it to chill and allow the right brain functions to come forward.
With apologies to the health care professionals in the congregation today, we might say the Right Brain lives in what the Bible calls ‘the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding’ (Phil. 4:7), or what our text for today terms: “the mind set on the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:6).
God wants us to be in our ‘right’ mind - to be focused on the things above and upon His Peace - but there’s a bit of a paradox here:
As beautiful as it is for one’s Right Brain to dominate, without the left brain, there would be no definition of Human Being! We would live in a perpetual womb of peace and tranquility and have no motivation whatever to proceed beyond the ecstasy of the present moment, no reason to even protect ourselves from lethal attack because we would have little capacity to respond in a coherent way. So the challenge is: how to get the two minds to work together?
In the wisdom of God, we have a bridge between the two halves of our brain, called the Corpus Callosum, which enables the two parts to communicate and make us fully functioning humans, capable of living in the world.
Jill Taylor had enough of her left brain function and memory left that she knew she had to get back her full Left Brain Capacity in order to Live. Using this bridge between the two halves she was able to choose to recover, but also to become aware of the undesirability of certain aspects of her Left Brain, namely: being self-critical, judgmental of others, impatient and arrogant. Jill remembered the unpleasantness of this type of behavior and decided she did NOT want to recover many of these behaviors.
In the language of our lesson from Romans, she did not want her mind to be set on The Flesh, but on more spiritual and humane values that make life with others possible and even pleasant.
Let’s think about this a little more pointedly in terms of a very ‘fleshy’, very Left Brain activity: Worry, or what Taylor calls “Left-Brain Loops'
Many of us find ourselves consumed with worry about the future, worry about our children, worry about our finances, worry about our marriages. Worry Worry Worry. We are often completely distracted - even to the point of tears. Presumably it’s because we’re allowing our Left Brain to dominate – just giving in to the natural state of things.
But also consider that it’s our Left brain that has to process and apply something Jesus said: that if we would trust Him, and seek first the Kingdom of God we would have peace and all the things we worry about would be added to us. (Mt. 6:33).
So, probing a little deeper, we can ask, “Why do we fail to enter into the peace that comes with (rationally) trusting God?
Let me suggest that somehow, we perceive a positive value in our worry, anxiety and fear. This seems nonsensical. Surely we would think that there is no positive value in worry and fear.
But wait. “Perceive” is the important word here.
I would submit to you that worry – ‘setting our minds (left-brain) on the flesh’ gives us a perception – a false one - that we are doing something to prevent bad things from happening! The Left-brain thinks: “If I just go over this one more time, I can stop the catastrophe!” The only problem is that this simply doesn’t work – does it?! So why do we do that?!
Here, I think, is a key to understanding this dilemma: Our brains really don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy. If you imagine something happening, your body responds as if it really IS happening.
Olylmpic athletes know this is true and can profitably spend as much as 40% of their practice time mentally rehearsing their sport – the Body responding as if it were really skiing downhill or swimming to break a world record! Our bodies serve our brains faithfully and so carry out physical action in accordance with what the Brain dictates – even if it’s an imagined disaster!
And this is exactly what happens during WORRY. We become absolutely convinced that something terrible, something life-threatening is about to happen and we believe it is up to us to fend it off! … Because our bodies serve our brains faithfully, the body begins to act on this life-threatening event!
The digestion shuts down, blood is pumped to the extremities. The heart beats faster and the respiration speeds up. We are fully engaged in the classic fight or flight response, ready to take up the challenge. The only problem is that the disaster has not actually taken place and our bodily preparations are an exercise in futility. Worse, they can actually kill us slowly over time.
In other words, the Mind set on the Flesh is DEATH! Just like the Scripture says!
To illustrate this, think of taking a drive on a muddy country road. You come to a quagmire and get stuck up to the axles in mud. If your vehicle could be compared to your body and brain, the wheels (your body) would quickly report that they were stuck and couldn’t get out. The engine (your brain) would respond by speeding up and putting out more power to the wheels. The wheels spin and spin, but are still stuck. Now the brain thinks it is doing its job quite well, but the body is screaming out, “ No, No! We’re burning up back here! Stop!”.
This is a picture of someone stuck in chronic anxiety, constantly stimulated by adrenaline, holding on to the illusion that speeding up will solve the problem, but threatening to burn out through the effects of stress on the body.
What then, would actually get our car out of the mud? We could try to put something under the wheels to increase the traction, maybe also increasing the weight to the drive wheels somehow, or we could call someone to pull us out of the mud. In a word, we would have to take Action. Action is the antidote to Anxiety. But it must be effective action, not the illusory action of simply speeding up with no effect, not just empty ‘Chatter’. Somehow we must find an activity that both brain and body will accept as Action in order to reduce our anxiety. Happily, efficacious Action is both simple and easily accomplished.
One very simple Action is to write things down on a piece of paper. Especially late at night, or when we are tossing and turning in our beds, worrying about something, it is very helpful to actually get up out of bed and write down the things that worry us. Then we sketch out possible courses of action we think might fix the problems. When everything is laid out on paper, our brains will accept the notion that we have done something and we can go on to the business of falling asleep. We have made a tentative plan and written it down. This writing is the difference between planning and anxious worry. A plan can be written down, anxious worry cannot.
Beyond writing things down, it is necessary to actually do something; make arrangements to pay an outstanding bill, talk to someone you’ve been at odds with, complete a project you’ve been putting off. Do something that will relieve you of the need to worry.
As Christians, of course, the best Action available to us is prayer. Prayer is a decision to tell the Left brain to chill out! It’s a decision to cross the Corpus Callosum bridge and set oneself in our right (spiritual) mind!
Prayer is also talking to Someone who has the Power to do something about our problem! Eph 3:20 tells us that “God is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we think or imagine”…
Left Brain, you’ve just met your match!
The Creator of the Universe is bigger than your understanding of your problems! He’s not limited by your puny imagination of how these problems can be fixed! The God who figured out how to defeat our SIN problem by sending His own dear Son to die for us on the Cross certainly has no difficulty figuring out how to fix your money problems or your issues with your spouse or children!
But we somehow have to get our Left Brain to acknowledge this and to stop trying to be so ‘responsible’. Yes, that’s right, ‘responsible’.
I believe that the reason we have so much trouble with Worry is because it masquerades as ‘Christian Responsibility”.
This false “responsibility” is based on the wrong assumption that I am in charge of the Universe and that I must do something about impending disaster. - as if God had died recently and left me in Charge.
Well, I have news for you. God is still alive! I checked the obituaries this morning and didn’t find his Name in there! ( mine wasn’t either).
God is Alive !!! And because He’s alive and In Charge of all things, I can talk to Him about the things that worry me. I can give it over to Him, knowing that He has both the Power and the Resources to do something about it! I can stop my ineffective and puny attempts to fix my problems! I’m FREE to be ‘irresponsible’ – as I TRUST GOD for what I need!
So this is the way out of our two-brain dilemma:
Be ‘Irresponsible’ … by Trusting God.
The only hitch being that you have to take the time to calm the Chatter of the Left Brain and set your mind on the Spirit. The usual way to do this is to practice Silence – to turn off the noise of the outer world and dial down the Chatter in your head in order to ‘cross the bridge’ over into your Right Mind, so that you can focus on God and on His Peace.
This is why it’s so important to have a ‘Quiet Time’ during the day at some point.
Most people find that morning is a good time to quiet oneself – but you can – and should - take time during the day to dial down and set your mind on the Spirit. “In returning and rest you shall be saved: in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” says Isaiah (30:15). Returning to God and resting in Him is what helps us to keep our sanity in the midst of a Chattering and crazy world. Setting your mind on His Spirit is life and health and peace, just as our text tells us. ( Romans 8:6).
So, just to leave you with a taste of peace, let’s have both halves of our congregation act as if we are ‘Right Brains’ and say “Peace” together.
“P-E-A-C-E, P-E-A-C-E, P-E-A-C-E,” ….
Now may the Peace of God which surpasses understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, and may Quietness and Trust be your Strength, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
I thought it might be well if we would think for a few minutes about the idea of America: what does it mean for us as Christians? What does God have in mind for our country, and What should we do as Christians in the society where we find ourselves?
In his book, “Liberty and Tyranny”, author Mark Levin reminds us that the Declaration of Independence appeals to ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” Further, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
He reminds us that the founders of our country were not merely men of the Enlightenment, but also highly educated, well-informed men who ‘excelled at reason and subscribed to science, but worshiped neither'. They were men who knew the Bible well, and who actually believed that the Creator God was the source of our existence and our ability to reason.
Despite denominational differences, the founders were men who were thoroughly steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition. This means that they understood that human beings are Created – by a good and loving Creator – in HIS image, that is: that we have the capacity to make real choices for good or for evil, that we have the ability to reason and come to rational conclusions and that although God created us perfectly, we are Fallen – and thus the Image of God within us is radically marred in every facet of our existence. We are, as Martin Luther would have said, in Bondage to sin. We have no ability to make ourselves right with God on our own. We don’t even have the ability to muster up faith if He doesn’t help us through His Holy Spirit.
We are fallen people in need of a Savior, not Good people in need of assistance. No matter what kind of political solutions that people come up with to improve human interactions or relations, there is no such thing as perfecting human beings. We can either be fallen people who try to do things our way, or we can be fallen people who try to do things God’s way and ask for His help in doing them. Being perfect is not one of the choices available to us. No political system can perfect the essential nature of man.
That’s the bad news. The Good News is that when people are REDEEMED, when they come under the power and guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, they have the capacity to Govern Themselves.
This was a huge idea in the 18th Century. People didn’t need Kings to rule over them as Tyrants. They could be free UNDER GOD to order their own affairs and thus create a Good and even EXCEPTIONAL Society – a City Set on a Hill as it has been said many times.
This City set on a hill could be an example to all other societies and peoples. It could show the world what it meant to order one’s whole culture according the principles of the Gospel – but without compulsion! Without forcing people to do what is right, but because they had voluntarily set themselves under the Gospel and would be guided ‘through the night with the light from above’ as Irving Berlin so eloquently put it.
Now this does not mean that people are angels – that they will never sin, never go against the righteous law placed within their hearts. Our understanding of the fallen-ness of man means that people will tend to fail in every way they possibly can. So laws and institutions are set up for dealing with man’s failures. Sinfulness is a constant. You can count on it. By way of corollary, we can also say that no political system that overlooks this stark reality can prosper.
To put it another way, we can never go back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve were driven out because of their rebellion against God, he placed an angel and a flaming sword to guard the entrance so that they could never try to go back! Anybody who ignores this will quickly find themselves disappointed.
Totalitarian regimes such as Communism, Socialism and Fascism ultimately fail because they place too much emphasis on building a perfect society on earth. They are, if you will, heresies of the Christian faith. They try to establish the Peaceable Kingdom without God as Father, Christ as Savior, and the Holy Spirit as Guide.
As a result– a small elite group of super-powerful people impose their utopian vision on everyone else. Their regimes have to resort to police action to enforce their aims on unwilling people. Simultaneously, this same elite group ignores the principles they are supposed to be espousing and becomes corrupt,‘feathering their own nests’.
Barry Goldwater, in his 1964 speech accepting the Republican nomination for president declared that ‘those who elevate the state and downgrade the citizen must see ultimately a world in which earthly power can be substituted for Divine Will, ...this Nation was founded upon the rejection of that notion and upon the acceptance of God as the author of freedom.”
So – as Christians, we believe that God is our Creator, that he has created us in his own image and endowed us with certain unalienable rights. These rights, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, are ours by birth into the human family – even though we are all fallen from the perfection of God. Even though we conspire to take advantage of others or deprive them of their basic rights because we are sinful.
The State that acknowledges this and tries to order its laws and customs to this basic reality will prosper.
As we have said before, any regime that denies God or ignores Him as the Giver of our rights, will by nature end up coercing people into doing what the All-powerful God-State demands, thus depriving people of their basic rights.
Today, we are living in a culture that increasingly demands absolute freedom any outside constraint. People today have confused Liberty – the freedom to act independently UNDER GOD, with License – the unfettered freedom to do whatever one wishes to do – provided of course that it doesn’t ‘hurt anybody else’. And this last piece of nonsense passes for a moral principle because people think that their own personal, private actions do not affect the body politic.
Contrast this with Gal.5:13-15: For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we think about how our private actions will impact others!
Recently, we have been treated to the ignominious example of a Congressman from NY, who shall remain blessedly nameless. This person thought he could send lewd pictures to women – over a public form of communication, email and Facebook – and think that it was nobody else’s business. Then he had the audacity to try to lie his way out of it and tell us that it was nobody’s business but his own!
Thankfully that piece of hypocrisy came crashing down around his ears, and he is now holed up in a rehab center somewhere being disabused of his stupidity.
As Christians, we understand that no action is ever merely private. Everything we do has an impact on the whole. We live our lives ‘in conspectu Dei’ – under the gaze of God. He sees our every action, knows the thoughts of our hearts, and judges our intentions according to his absolute righteousness. He knows that our every action and thought tend towards evil because we are fallen, and for this reason, he has provided us a Savior Jesus Christ, who can free us from our moral dilemma.
It is because we are fallen and sinful that Presidents of the United States have from time to time declared Days of Repentance and fasting, knowing that the Bible admonishes us to turn from our wicked ways, to repent and to seek His face, so that our nation can be established and saved from wicked people who would seek to destroy us.
But just as Presidents have understood the need for righteousness, they also understood that no one church or sect has the corner on righteousness. As a result America is the most tolerant of places. WE understand that the State may not ESTABLISH one denomination for an entire people. Citizens should be free to worship God after the manner of their own conviction and choosing. This is an essentially Christian idea, which is not understood in non-Christian societies. It is one of those essential ideas that makes America a City set on a Hill, an exception to other cultures, and a guide for all others.
Today however, we live in a time when those in charge politically give a certain amount of lip service to the idea of AMERICA, while simultaneously trying to change it into something else - namely a society that does not acknowledge God as Creator and giver of unalienable rights.
This project is bound to fail. But before it does, it will try to squeeze us all into its mold. As Christians, we can see what’s coming down the pike- Persecution. Friends, it’s only a matter of time before an all-powerful State tries to silence our Christian witness. It’s only a matter of time before those who hate Christ will accuse those of us who love Christ of being hateful and exclusionary when we proclaim the Gospel.
It’s only a matter of time when meeting publicly to worship God will become an activity regulated by the STATE.
Why do I say that? Because it’s already happening in China and Russia, and because day by day we seem to be losing our sense of national identity as a People who have covenanted with God to free under His laws and Grace.
What is to be done? In a phrase, ‘raise your voice.’ Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his book The Gulag Archipelago describes what is was like to be hauled off by the KGB in the middle of the day for being an outspoken critic of the Soviet regime. He says that he went along quietly with them because he was convinced of the rightness of his cause and that all would be eventually worked out according to the laws of the state. After being sent to prison for many years, he realized he was wrong about going quietly. Looking back, he wished that he would have spoken up, would have screamed bloody murder as he was being hauled off. He was not so naïve to think this would have saved him, but he could at least have alerted others to the monstrous crime that was being perpetrated on him – and upon them.
While we don’t have secret police hauling us off to prison for our Christian belief yet, we do have people being prevented from having Bible studies in their home because of ‘zoning laws’. We do have people trying to excise any mention of God from the public discourse in the name of ‘freedom from religion.’ We do have immoral people shoving their immorality down our throats, forcing us to accept as normal, aberrations such as ‘Gay’ marriage that have been universally condemned for 2000 years.
Friends, the time has come for us to speak up – loudly – and stand for our inalienable rights and to acknowledge the Creator God who gave us those rights. This weekend when you have your family get-togethers, don’t just grill some hamburgers and hot dogs, THANK God for the amazing privilege you have been given to live in AMERICA. Beg God to preserve us from tyranny and repent for being lackadaisical about the Freedoms we enjoy.
Thank a Veteran for fighting for our freedoms – and fight for them yourselves in whatever way you can.
Renew your commitment to your country and your God.
If you do so, you will be blessed and you will be counted among][= those who preserved the sacred trust of Liberty that our forefathers won for us and passed along to us.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.