Friday, August 13, 2021

People's Thoughts are Killing them. Here's How to Make Sure That's Not You


I’m stunned.  No, I’m not so much stunned as I am shocked and saddened.  Right now, every day, by the hundreds, people’s thoughts are killing them.  What other conclusion can you draw?

Over 70% of our nation has gotten at least one of these amazing shots with, for the most part, minimal side effects   And, yet almost a hundred million, including about half of Florida, still haven’t gotten it.  Maybe they distrust the government or drug companies because of those institutions’ sins in the past.   Maybe they read an article online that led them to think something that isn’t true.   Maybe they don’t think that folks are even getting sick or that they could.

At least they don’t think that, until they get sick, until they are struggling for breath, until that breathing tube goes down their throat.  And yes, I know.  The virus caused that.  But it didn’t begin there.  It began with thoughts that literally disconnected folks from reality, a reality that as of this past week has put over 15,000 Floridians in the hospital, fighting for their life.  And their vulnerability to this virus began in their head.  It began with their thoughts, thoughts that prevented them from doing the one thing, vaccination, that almost certainly would have saved them from the suffering, even death that awaits them now.

But even if you’re vaccinated, even if you had the right thoughts there, has that always been the case?   How often in your life has messed up thinking messed up your life?   Maybe your thoughts led you to trust the wrong person or to distrust the right one.  Maybe it led you into fears that limited your life or into actions that crashed it.  There’s no end honestly to how wrong thinking can wreck your life.

But what if your thoughts are moving in the right direction?  What if your thinking doesn’t contradict reality, but lives in the flow of it?  How much more powerful and fulfilled would your life be with that thinking?  But how does that happen?  Where do you even begin?  In these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

I Peter 4:1-11 

Wrong thinking has the power to wreck your life.  Why?  Your thoughts power your life, even control it, in ways nothing else does.  The leadership guru John Maxwell put it well.  The thoughts in your mind will always be more important than the things in your life.   So how do you live in the flow of the right thoughts, the ones that will give you life rather than take it away.  In these words, in a way, in simply one word, God shows you the way.  For here God shows you, you more you live in the flow of the right why, the more you can survive any “how.”

In saying that, I’m adapting a quote from Nietzsche, a brilliant philosopher but one who hated Christianity a lot.   Why did Nietzsche hate it?  He thought it had the wrong why, but even so, he saw something that folks often miss.   Everyone has a why, and yet often they don’t even realize what it is.   And because they don’t, that why often wrecks them because they don’t even see that it’s there. 

Now before, you see how the why you don’t even know you have wreck you, you need to see how in Christianity, everything is based on knowing the why, everything.  What do I mean?  Well, just look at how this part of the letter begins.   Peter is getting now even more into the practical details, how Christians are called to order their life.   But do you see how he begins the section?  He begins it with the simple word, therefore.   And that word tells you a lot.

A Bible teacher once said that in the Bible when you see a therefore, you need to ask.   What is it there for?   And so, what is this particular “therefore”, there for?   Well, this one is pointing you to the why. 

Peter has just finished discussing how Jesus, the just one, suffered for the unjust (that is all of us), how that act of infinite self-giving love has defeated everything that disconnects us from God, even death itself.  Jesus gained a triumph so total, Peter says, he even delivered people from hell itself, that even now Jesus lives above every power in existence, including the powers oppressing them.

And Peter says that is your why.  Because you know that truth, because you have experienced that victory, you can live by God’s vision not the desires that used to drive you. You can love one another constantly.  You can open your hearts to each other without complaint.  You can use your gifts on behalf of each other.  And all these things, you can do, because you have the why.  

You love because God loved you to death and beyond.  You open your heart and give to each other because God opened his heart to you, even gave his life for you.   In other words, Peter is simply saying.  Living your life in this way is just what it means to live in the flow of the why.

And everyone lives in the flow of a why, everyone.  But too often, folks don’t even know what their why is.   And because they don’t know their why, their life, even if it isn’t wrecked, never becomes all it could be.  They don’t become all that they could be.  And I don’t know anyone who exposed the danger of not knowing your why, then the late, great writer, David Foster Wallace did in a joke and quote that I never tire of sharing.  In fact, it comes from an amazing commencement address, called This is Water, that I encourage all of you to read 

The joke from that address goes like this.   Two young fish were swimming along when an old fish called out.  “Howdy, young’ uns!  How’s the water?”  The young fish swam along a bit, until one turned to the other, and puzzled, asked:  “What the heck is water?”    And from that joke, Wallace shared the water for us is our why.  That’s the water you swim in.  And that why will either give you life or take it away.   

And Wallace, though not an explicitly religious man, understood that the way people live their why could be described as a way of worship.  Here is how he put it.   

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.  And the compelling reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough…worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly.  And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…Worship power, you will up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.  Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.  But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is…. they’re unconscious.  They are default settings.  They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

You see.  You’ve got to ask yourself.  What is your why?   What defines your identity?  How do you measure your value, your worth, your meaning?   And as Wallace points out pretty much any why but God will limit your life.   But if you ground your identity, if your why is in something that cannot be shaken, that doesn’t depend on your circumstances or your popularity or even how you are feeling that day, well, that’s an immensely powerful foundation.  

In fact, Peter even says that remembering this why is the very thing that empowers you to love and to serve one another.   After Peter say the “therefore”; after he reminds these folks of what Jesus has done for them, what does he say next?  He says “arm yourself with this same thought.”  Now the translation says “intention,” but that’s not the word.  The word ennoian literally means thought.  And do you see the verb that precedes that word?  Peter says, no Peter orders them, to “arm themselves with this thought.” 

Do you see what he is saying?   This thought, this why of God’s love for you, has power to protect you.  It gives you power to advance into the world in strength.  It arms you. Why?  It gives you a why that grounds you no matter what you face.   When you know that God loved you to death and beyond, you have a value nothing can shake.   You can face any sacrifice, endure any hardship, survive any “how.”  Why?  Because you are living in the flow of the one why, the one reality, the one truth, the one love that has conquered everything, even death.

But can a thought arm you like that?   How does that even work?

In the past ten days, Simone Biles showed you how it works.  Simone Biles has not had an easy life.   Her grandparents adopted her and her sister when their mother’s addiction prevented her from caring for them.   Even as she developed into the greatest gymnast of all time, the doctor who was tasked to care for her was molesting her and over a hundred other gymnasts as well.  And then, after all that, in this year’s Olympics, she came down with a terrifying mental block known in the world of gymnastics as the “twisties.”  When the twisties hit, you lose all sense of where you are in space as you fly through the air in your routine.  And a block like that, with the breathtaking moves she does, could have easily injured or paralyzed her.  

So, what did Simone Biles do?  She armed herself with the thought that affirmed where her value truly lay, not in her performance or her medals or the opinions of others, but in a God who loved her no matter what.  You see.  At the heart of Simone Biles’ life is this very why of God’s love, a God who as she put it in an interview, “you can go to for anything” a God who “directs your life.”  

And so, Simone Biles stepped back, first from the team competition so she wouldn’t prevent her teammates from getting a medal.   Then she stepped away from the individual competitions knowing she wasn’t yet ready to compete safely.   And as she did that, she showed up every day to cheer on her teammates, to encourage them, to rejoice with them in their victories.   And in the end, she confronted her own fears, and found a way through the twisties back into competition. 

And why did she have the courage to do all of that, to step back, and then to step forward even as she felt the pressure of the entire world looking at her?  She had the power of this why, this God who had given up everything for her.  Her value, her identity didn’t depend on the crowds or the medals or the opinions of others    Her value lay in a God who loved her no matter what.

And as you arm yourself with this thought, with this reality, with this truth, with this love, you will discover power nothing can shake.   For you know a God who gave up all power so you might live in power.   You know a God who gave up all love so you might know that love will never give up on you.   You know a God whose love has triumphed over everything, every disappointment, every failing, every dark and twisted why of this world.   You know a God whose love makes a way where there seems no way, through a virus, through injustice, through even death itself.  

So, live in the power of this why.  Arm yourself with it.   And let this “why” lead you, this love lead you into a life more wondrous, more beautiful, more fulfilling than anything you could imagine or dream.

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