Life’s Questions – Week 34 Notes

By September 9, 2019 Sermon Notes

Several years ago I heard Harvard School of Public Health professor Tyler Vanderweele speak on the impact of faith on human thriving…super interesting stuff.

He wrote an article that year entitled “Religion May be a Miracle Drug” in it he said…

“If one could conceive of a single elixir to improve the physical and mental health of millions of Americans—at no personal cost—what value would our society place on it?”

He goes on to outline the mental and physical health benefits that are correlated with regular religious participation—for most Americans, going to church—even to the extent of reducing mortality rates by 20–30 percent over a fifteen-year period.

“Research suggests that those who regularly attend services are more optimistic, have lower rates of depression, are less likely to commit suicide, have a greater purpose in life, are less likely to divorce, and are more self-controlled.”

So when the writer of Hebrews gives a limit to our behavior…”Don’t stop meeting together (in worship)”…this limit actually enhances our lives in many ways.

Rebecca Mclaughlin in her book “Confronting Christianity” (Which is pro-Christianity) gives 7 counter-intuitive biblical commands that positively impact human thriving…I’ll give a couple of them…

  1. It is better to give than receive. Many don’t think so, but clearly it is…for a host of reasons.

Atheist sociologist Jonathan Haidt wrote:

“Surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people. . . . Religious believers give more money than secular folk to secular charities, and to their neighbors. They give more of their time, too, and of their blood.”

  1. We can be happy in all circumstances

Moreese Bickham, an African American man who was dubiously convicted of murdering two white police officers and spent thirty- seven years in prison. On his release, Bickham declared: “I don’t have one minute’s regret. It was a glorious experience.”

Bickham was sustained by his Christian faith “I never had a personal relationship with [God],” Bickham reflected, “until I was laying at the point of death with a bullet shot [through the] top of my heart.”

One more illustration of my point…then I’ll give you the point I’m illustrating:

This also from the atheist psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.”

Would you rather be Bob or Mary?

“Bob is 35 years old, single, white, attractive, and athletic. He earns $100,000 a year and lives in sunny Southern California. He is highly intellectual, and he spends his free time reading and going to museums.” Next, we meet Mary: Mary and her husband live in snowy Buffalo, New York, where they earn a combined income of $40,000. Mary is sixty-five years old, black, overweight, and plain in appearance. She is highly sociable, and she spends her free time mostly in activities related to her church. She is on dialysis for kidney problems. Mary has health problems, lives in relative poverty, and has doubtless endured a lifetime of discrimination.

But Haidt throws us a curveball: “Bob seems to have it all, and few readers of this book would prefer Mary’s life to his. Yet if you had to bet on it, you should bet that Mary is happier than Bob.”

Haidt’s wide research has borne this out over and over.

My point: I’ll let the Psalmist make it for me…because I can’t say it better.

Psa. 119:32 I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

“What a minute…which is it…staying on your path, obeying commands or a free heart?”

Because conventional wisdom says that it is “freedom OR limits.”

 *It is not freedom or limits…but freedom because of limits.

My heart is free (my life has joy, purpose…absence of guilt, fear)…because I run in the path of your commands.

God has designed us and so his limits equal our freedom.

This year: Confidence in God’s word to speak with authority to all areas of our lives.

This month: What it means to love God with all our minds.

Mark 12:30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

  1. Last week: How Reason and Faith are friends
  2. How we are to Use our minds to Thrive in the boundaries/trust in the mysteries /love in the diversity

Faith lived out in all of life…requires us to muster all the imagination, and mental capacity that God has given us.

We do not throw away our minds to engage faith…faith requires that we love God with all our minds.

  1. Use your mind to thrive in His boundaries

Psa. 119:32 I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

We began with this point…in fact we looked at it last week as well…so I won’t belabor it here.

This point is so important because it runs counter to the prevailing cultural narrative.

Freedom from boundaries is seen as the highest good…but boundaries allow freedom, they do not destroy it.

Our atmosphere is a boundary without which we would die.

Our skin is a boundary…allowing the right things in and keeping wrong things out.

These walls are a boundary…proving security and comfort.

My marriage vows are a boundary…protecting what is most precious to me.

God’s word provides boundaries…these are descriptions and prescriptions of how humans can thrive…

Psa. 119:32 I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

*So keep doing the work to get your mind around the reality that God’s boundaries for our lives are the paths of freedom.

* 1Cor. 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Even in temptation to live outside God’s boundaries…God provides a way out…so that we are “free” to not sin

-Recently I was full of gratitude in a situation where I did not have to live free of God’s limits.

I felt in that moment the “heart-freedom” of running the path of his commands.

*Use your mind…think clearly about…the fact that his limits are your life, your freedom.

  1. Use your mind to Trust Him in the mysteries

Deut. 29:29   The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Last week we talked about how faith and reason are friends not foes.

We can trust our reason because God has made us in his image and he has created a cosmos that operates normally according to orderly patterns.

Our reason, however, cannot tell us things that only God can reveal to us…ultimate things like…our origins, our purpose and our final destiny.

In addition there are things that happen to us individually…very personal things that trouble us and can cause us to struggle…things that only God knows the “why” of?

But many times…in regards to these troubling things…God is not talking…he is not telling us why…at least for now.

Human life is wrought with danger and unknowns…our fragile health and happiness can disappear in a moment.

With this happens…when the “bang” happens…some wonder whether God exists, others whether He is good.

Still…many others…some in this room…are convinced that God exists and that he is good…but they struggle with why certain things have happened…God’s will can be a mystery.

So faith and reason work together in this great verse in Deuteronomy…they are friends, not foes…in both the knowns and the unknowns…it is reasonable (smart) to trust God.

This verse comes from the book Deuteronomy: Which is a series of speeches by Moses calling the people to be faithful to God’s covenant limits in order to experience God’s blessings.

In Deut. 6 there is one of the most famous passages in the OT

Deut. 6:4-9  Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

It’s called the “Shema”…named for the Hebrew of the first word translated hear” or listen.

*Not “hear” as in eardrums vibrate…but “hear” as in…understand and respond.

Parents ask their children “Did you hear me?”…not because they are wondering if sound waves made it to the ear drums…but “What are you going to do with what I said?”

So Moses is saying …will you take action to keep God’s path in full view…and will you walk that path faithfully?

Jesus repeated this Shema in his great commandment…he said this sums up the will of God.

Jump to the end of the book and Moses makes it clear what their choices really are…

Deut. 30:15-18 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This “blessing of God” has nothing to do with the corrupt theology sometimes called “Prosperity gospel”

*Where we are to play the game of “doing what God wants to get what we really want…God to give us stuff.”

God is not a means to our own selfish ends…he is our ultimate end…our hearts are made for him.

We obey because we love…we love him so we obey.

To love God is to walk in his ways, to keep his commands, decrees and laws…when we live within his limits…then his blessing will follow our lives.

Not magically…because obedience compels God to comply to our wishes.

But because we will be living in the world as it was designed…we will live within our own design parameters as humans.

God’s will, his commands, his path…lead to him.

“Okay, okay…we are to obey if we want to be happy…I get it…but what about the mystery part?”

Do we suspend our reason, turn off our minds…and blindly follow God into mystery?

No, of course not…the mystery of the cosmos compels scientists to use their reason to explore…and this they can do because the cosmos is explorable…knowable to a degree.

They do not turn off their minds to deal with mystery…they more fully turn them on to dig into the mystery.

We are to do the same with God’s revealed will and his mystery…we are to fully engage them both with our minds…faith compels powerful and clear thinking about God and life.

Moses said…the things revealed are so we can know how to obey…and the secret things, they belong to God.

We cannot know all that God knows…we can’t know the end from the beginning like he does.

So we trust in the mystery and obey in the revealed will of God…in both cases, this is a rational (reasonable) choice.

Name a healthy relationship you have that doesn’t require….doing what you know to do and trusting with the things that remain unknown.

**I know my wife very well, and she remains a mystery at times…both the knowledge and the mystery require I engage her with all my mind…including using my mind…to trust her.

*She does the same with me…”I don’t understand him now, but I know (with my mind…not necessarily with my emotions right now) he loves me.”

*This is good, hard, rational work to build and thrive in relationship.

In our culture…love has been defined down to mostly an emotion…rather than something that requires…heart, soul, mind, strength.

So when emotions are absent…love is often lost…this is a great tragedy.

Emotion is a great servant…but when made our master it becomes a tyrant and can ruin us.

To trust someone when there is mystery is not a treason to reason…it is an act of great rational thought.

*If my friend proves himself over and over throughout many years but then does something that confuses me…and I choose to trust him though I am confused by him…is that a reasonable (rational) decision? Of course it is.

What is irrational is for someone to prove themselves trustworthy for a long, long time…then you distrust them because of mystery…a single point of misunderstanding.

*You might say “Okay, I’ll give you that…but for God to allow me or my child to have cancer, or to sit by while nations are destroyed…is not some minor point of misunderstanding or mystery”

*And I’ll give you that point as well…however…

When Jesus took on human flesh, humbled himself to death on the cross…for your sin and mine…that was not just a run of the mill display of trustworthiness either was it.

His ultimate act of love, sacrifice…proves that he can be trusted…and matches any of the mysteries we are forced to live with.

Faith in the mystery is not lack of reason…but is fueled by good sound thinking.

Don’t misunderstand me…we are not thinking machines…we feel deeply.

But love requires all of us…including all of our minds.

When life becomes a difficult mystery…rational thought is not enough…but love is.

Love includes…heart, soul, strength…and mind…all of them.

III. Use your mind to Love others in their diversity

Unity in diversity doesn’t mean agreement on every issue…it means love in spite of differences on certain things.

However unity in diversity…requires agreement on some essential things that allow trust on the non-essentials.

Romans 14 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible…because I find it so balanced and so helpful…in this regard.

Throughout the book of Romans Paul outlined what is bottom line for everyone to believe…fundamentals on which there can be no diversity of thought because they are true for everyone.

Like unity of thought on the reality of gravity…there can be no diversity on the essentials of the gospel.

Then he gives this great chapter on how we are act towards one another in the things that are non-essential…things that can be disputed without potential harm to our souls and lives.

Quick background:

Paul is addressing the situation (that came up over and over for him)…where people have different convictions about what living an obedient life looked like for them in certain details.

In many cases these disagreements revolved around the role of ceremonial or ritual laws…like avoiding certain foods, or keeping certain days.

Again…he was clear about what the essentials of the faith are.

But in regards to the non-essentials…the essential of love for one another took priority.

I won’t read the entire chapter I’ll just give a few verses to sum up his argument.

*There are issues that are disputable…believers disagree on them and remain true to the gospel.

Rom. 14:1   Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.

These issues are minor issues, not moral issues, or the core of the gospel.

-The “weak” in faith didn’t eat certain foods…thought them to be tainted.

-The “weak” treated one day as more sacred that another

Rom. 14:5   One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

But, Paul writes, each one will give account to God…not to one another.

Rom. 14:12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

-So…pay attention to your own actions…make sure they are driven by faith and love.

You are free (there is no God-given limit) in regards to these ceremonial laws…we are free to do what we want in regards to these…but there is an ongoing limit set on your life.

***The limit of love…go back one chapter

Rom. 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

Pay off all debts except this one…love one another.

  1. Eating the food, celebrating certain ceremonial days…didn’t really matter to God.

-There is freedom to eat any food, or celebrate or not celebrate any day.

  1. For the person who had a personal conviction regarding these things:
  2. They should keep their conviction intact
  3. Other’s should not try to compel them to act against their own conviction
  4. Love is more important than minor issues of disagreement…EVEN WHEN GOD SETS NO ACTUAL LIMITS…THE LIMIT OF LIVE REMAINS INTACT.

There are things that were beyond dispute and there can no compromise on these.

There are things that Christians disagree on that were are not-essential to the faith.

When possible…the stronger believer should defer to the weaker one in these disputable matters.

**Many important points could be made from this passage…but I want to make just one for today

We have to live within the boundaries of Scripture as God has actually drawn them.

*We must not draw the boundary of Scripture too large or we will lose freedom…this is more obvious…a clear breaking of God’s commands.

*It’s like trying to ignore gravity as a boundary…the result is catastrophic.

*We also must not draw the boundary of Scripture too small or we will lose freedom…this is less obvious.

*One of the reasons some God’s boundaries as taking freedom rather than enabling it is because people add to what God has said…they draw the circle of his will too small.

*In the physical world…gravity is a legit limit…

*This would be like concluding…Since there gravity, God wants us to stay on the ground…he didn’t intend for us to fly…not a legit limit.

**What Christian maturity looks like can very often become a culturally driven construct rather than a God-given reality…we take God’s legit limits…and then make them more constrictive.

*There was a Jewish group that lived in Palestine 1century BC into early AD, called the Essenes…they took God’s legit command of moral purity as a way of freedom (which it is)…and concluded no sex at all was even better (which is not true).

*A friend who became a part of a controlling Christian group:

-“You love your music too much, give up your guitar”

-“Give up your family”

-Instead of helping him love God supremely (legit), they placed forced and non-legit boundaries on.

The parameter of God’s path can be drawn smaller and smaller so that freedom is lost.

Ironically it is the weaker believer in Paul’s letter who lives with “more” made-made limitations.

The stronger believer has learned to distinguish the difference between what God’s limits are and what are just man-made restrictions that have no value in a spiritually thriving life.

How can we be sure? How do we know if we have drawn the circle too small or too large?

We think, we learn, we stay humble, we listen to others in community and history.

We submit our minds and wills to God…we do the hard mental work to try and understand what God wants…have we drawn the circle too small, or too large?

Will we submit to God when we know the difference?

We want to run in the path of his commands…because therein is where our hearts are free.

As we work to understand…we commit to love others who are different places in their “faith walk”.

**Don’t become frustrated that it can be difficult to know exactly how to draw (or how God has drawn this circle of freedom)…be grateful that he has drawn it.

God is there and he has spoken…now we must do the hard and good work of living within the realm of his will and ways.

The fact that this can be hard doesn’t mean it is impossible.

The fact that we sometimes get it wrong…doesn’t mean there is not power and freedom in getting closer and closer.

Like the Child who crawls, then walks, then runs…we are to engage God and his word with all of our minds…so we can learn to run in the freedom of limits of his commands.

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