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Faithlife

Inner Space

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An airbag is an amazing thing.  I can’t imagine the speed at which that bag has to operate in order to save someone’s life.  We know that the same speed that saves a person’s life can also injure them.  An acceptable trade-off, I would say.  But to think that from the point of impact that the airbag deploys quickly enough to come between a passenger and a steering column or a dashboard.  That’s fast!

Another unusual and relatively new discovery is the reaction that occurs when you put mento mints in Diet Coke.  There is an immediate, violent reaction.  I have wondered how people discover this stuff. 

For many of us, life is a series of “reactions”.  Circumstances and situations seem to provoke an automatic, negative and often uncontrollable reaction. 

There are certain people whose reactions are as predictable and violent as the mento mint/ Diet Coke combo.  For others there is an instability that creates tension in their relationships because their reactions can vary so widely.  Sometimes the instability is worse than a predictable negative reaction.  Either way though, these people often struggle relationally, in their friendships, marriages, homes, and their churches.

Frankl was a determinist raised in the tradition of Freudian psychology, which postulates that whatever happens to you as a child shapes your character and personality and basically governs your whole life. The limits and parameters of your life are set, and Frankl was also a psychiatrist and a Jew. He was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were so repugnant to our sense of decency that we shudder to even repeat them."

 

His parents, his brother, and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens. Except for his sister, his entire family perished. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his path would lead to the ovens or if he would be among the "saved" who would remove the bodies or shovel out the ashes of those so fated.

 

One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called "the last of the human freedoms"— the freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. They could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Viktor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. His basic identity was intact. He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him. Between what happened to him, or the stimulus, and his response to it, was his freedom or power to choose that response.

 

In the midst of his experiences, Frankl would project himself into different circumstances, such as lecturing to his students after his release from the death camps. He would describe himself in the classroom, in his mind's eye, and give his students the lessons he was learning during his very torture.

 

Through a series of such disciplines— mental, emotional, and moral, principally using memory and imagination— he exercised his small, embryonic freedom until it grew larger and larger, until he had more freedom than his Nazi captors. They had more liberty, more options to choose from in their environment; but he had more freedom, more internal power to exercise his options. He became an inspiration to those around him, even to some of the guards. He helped others find meaning in their suffering and dignity in their prison existence.

 

In the midst of the most degrading circumstances imaginable, Frankl used the human endowment of self-awareness to discover a fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.

 

Within the freedom to choose are those endowments that make us uniquely human. In addition to self-awareness, we have imagination— the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality. We have conscience— a deep inner awareness of right and wrong, of the principles that govern our behavior, and a sense of the degree to which our thoughts and actions are in harmony with them. And we have independent will— the ability to act based on our self-awareness, free of all other influences.

 Even the most intelligent animals have none of these endowments. To use a computer metaphor, they are programmed by instinct and/or training. They can be trained to be responsible, but they can't take responsibility for that training; in other words, they can't direct it. They can't change the programming. They're not even aware of it. 

 

But because of our unique human endowments, we can write new programs for ourselves totally apart from our instincts and training. This is why an animal's capacity is relatively limited and man's is unlimited. But if we live like animals, out of our own instincts and conditioning and conditions, out of our collective memory, we too will be limited.",

I have always had a desire to follow Christ to the point where my life became a stabilizing influence for others.  One of the great opportunities that we have as children of God is to bring calmness and peace to troubled lives.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

St. Francis

If we are to do that we cannot afford to be “reactionary” in our relationship to the world around us.  I believe that our responses to people need to be well thought out, well prayed out and designed to accomplish the greatest good.  From Steven Covey’s perspective this means that we have to increase the time between stimulus and response.  There needs to be more prayer/thought space.

That’s the goal of the message today, to consider ways that we might avoid negative reaction to people and circumstance and become people who are skilled at giving a godly response.

1. A Reactionary Faith

This is a “deficient” experience – “reactionary” Christians have an incomplete encounter with God’s transforming grace.

A quick reaction is rarely a God-honoring one.  Often quick, impulsive reactions are human rather than divine.  James reminds us " My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." (James 1:19-20, NIV)[1] 

Moses is an example of the quick reaction.  It separated him from both the Egyptian people and his own.

" One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”" (Exodus 2:11-14, NIV) [2]

In trying to help his own people, his temper separated them and caused him to have to flee for his own life.  No one benefited from this experience.

And look at what happens next:

"When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well. Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock." (Exodus 2:15-17, NIV) [3]

The same tendency to jump in the middle of conflict.  This time the results were more positive.

It was Moses temper that ultimately kept him from seeing the Promised Land because he took matters into his own hands and refused to honor God before his people.

"“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”" (Numbers 20:8-12, NIV) [4]

You know what?  Disaster waits for people who take matters into their own hands regardless of how good their cause or their motives may be.  Somehow when we determine to bring about results through our own means, God is dishonored and the result is less than what He has for us.

Between stimulus and response we have the freedom to choose.  What is taking place in your life today?  What are you tempted to do?  What is the most natural, normal reaction that there is?  The one that every one else would understand your making?  Is that really what God would have?

2. A Responsive Faith

A responsive Christian considers every interaction with people and circumstance as an opportunity to bring glory to God.

What is a godly response?  What is it to refuse to do what comes naturally and to substitute a supernatural reflex for a natural reaction.

Look at Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ.

 

"He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." (Isaiah 53:7, NIV) [5]

There are many times when silence serves the purpose of God to a much greater degree than anything that we can say.  It’s difficult to swallow our pride and opt for silence or a minimal response.  The easy option is to engage in purposeless debate and argument.

Peter gives us some insight into making the space between stimulus and response a little larger.

"For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:19-23, NIV) [6]

[     A God consciousness.  Many times we fall victim to temptation simply because we lose God-consciousness.  We flat-line spiritually.  There is a blip on the vital sign monitor and it seems that we momentarily take leave of our spiritual senses.  There is never a time when we can afford to lose this awareness that we represent God and this is a calling.

[     A God commendation.  When we are misjudged or persecuted because we are trying to honor God then we are commended by Him.  It’s a matter of motivation.  The desire to please God makes the space larger between stimulus and response.  "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer." (2 Timothy 2:3-4, NIV) [7]  I know of people – famous figures who take the responsibility for decisions made by political superiors and they are willing to assume guilt in order to protect their superiors.  God commends those – He is pleased by those who are willing to stand and be counted for Kingdom causes.

[     A God commitment.  A person who truly decides to trust himself to the care of God is able to find release from the things that tend to trouble others not so disposed.  I am not suggesting for one minute that this comes easily or naturally.  It seems that some people cross the bridge of commitment sooner than others.  Nevertheless, worry and anxiety are the signs that you are carrying something that God would carry with greater ease.  And if you are to find release from the cares of life, the answer is to be found in relationship to God – so pursue that relationship and don’t accept your current experience as all that you can expect.

3. A Reflexive Faith

A reflexive Christian “gets it” – the spiritual nature dominates the human nature as a life pattern.

There are those people who gain an engrained nature of spiritual response.  It happens without thought and is predictable.  Others might accuse people like this of being in denial.  I think it could be something totally different and perhaps something that God desires.

At some point in our lives we just “get it”.  It’s like riding a bike.  Once it’s there, it’s there.  We can try to explain it to our kids but how do you explain balance.  After sufficient riding experience we gain it.  There is a feeling that comes to a golfer at some point relative to his/her swing.  At the outset it feels awkward and unnatural.  If a person perseveres, it feels right.  In Taekwondo, things are taught sequentially that are not meant to remain that way.  There comes a time when the student begins to do things correctly without conscious thought.  It comes with annoying, repetitive practice.  Classes spent in their entirety practicing one move correctly.  There are few people who want to pay that price and consequently few people who reach a functional black belt level.  There are those who just want the suit and the next colored belt.  They don’t care whether or not they have mastered necessary techniques.  They want the belt more than they want the skill and mental aspects of the discipline as well.

Master Chung told us of his black belt test.  His instructor at the end of his test, cut the belt in two, demoted him to a blue belt and told him to come back after his skills could demonstrate that he had sufficient practice.

I know of so many parallels within the Christian world.  It’s just difficult to get people to practice their faith.  They want to show up for the instruction and be declared righteous.

You can experience the righteous reflex as well as you practice your faith but never until you really practice.  It becomes something that a person carries with them.

Keith Drury used to teach a youth ministry model that he called “Power Box”.  It was an observation that a person carries a presence with them that impacts people to the degree that they are devoted either to “self” or God.  Often what we lack as Christians in terms of “presence” we try to make up for with talk.

In his powerful book The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul observed that unbelievers often feel uneasy in the presence of an obedient Christian.  The holiness of God reflected in a believer's life makes the non-Christian uncomfortable.  Sproul then told the following true incident to illustrate his point.

A well-known professional golfer was playing in a tournament with President Gerald Ford, fellow pro Jack Nicklaus, and Billy Graham. After the round was over, one of the other pros on the tour asked, "Hey, what was it like playing with the President and Billy Graham?" The pro said with disgust, "I don't need Billy Graham stuffing religion down my throat!"  With that he headed for the practice tee. His friend followed, and after the golfer had pounded out his fury on a bucket of golf balls, he asked, "Was Billy a little rough on you out there?"  The pro sighed and said with embarrassment, "No, he didn't even mention religion."

Sproul commented, "Astonishingly, Billy Graham had said nothing about God, Jesus, or religion, yet the pro stomped away after the game accusing Billy of trying to ram religion down his throat."  What had happened?  Simply this:  The evangelist had so reflected Christlikeness that his presence made the pro feel uncomfortable.

I wonder, do unbelievers sense our godly influence?  If we are identified with Christ and walk in holiness, they will -- before we even mention religion.

I believe that it is possible for us to develop a reflex that becomes supernaturally natural and predictable that makes people want to be around us, that sets them at ease in our presence and ultimately leads them to want to know the God who produces this in our lives.


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[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[6]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[7]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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