Fighting Inertia: Head for the Center
Unfortunately the audio was not captured from Sunday, but here are the notes to review...
Pursuing the Economics of the Kingdom
September 17th, 2017
Head for the Center
Galatians 5:19-21, Romans 12:1-2, Colossians 3:1-3, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:25-27, 33
Opening Story: Merry-Go-Round
A couple dozen of us first and second graders were playing on the merry-go-round during recess. We took turns pushing as hard as we could, sometimes two or three at a time, but being so young we never managed to get the merry-go-round spinning too fast, which was fine by us. Suddenly we were approached by three older boys. I suspected they were at least in sixth or seventh grade. Us younger kids were as intimidated as we were perplexed. Older boys never played with younger kids on the playground – except occasionally to torment us. And they certainly wouldn’t be interested in playing on the merry-go-round!
The merry-go-round slowly came to a halt as all our attention became focused on the three boys. “We’ll give a dollar to anyone who can stay on the merry-go-round while we three push,” the tallest one said with a sinister looking smile. This was the early 1980’s, so a dollar meant something, especially to a seven-year-old. But there were no takers. “You guys aren’t all chicken, are you?,” one of them said with a sneer. “
We climbed onto the merry-go-round and the spinning began. Within a few seconds we knew we were in trouble. Never had we gone anywhere close to this fast before AND they did not want to cough up a dollar. I immediately realized that if I stayed where I was, I’d never be able to stay on for a full minute. My hands were having difficulty hanging on and I was already feeling nauseous. It occurred to me that the older boys hadn’t specified how we had to stay on the merry-go-round for a minute. Past experience had taught me that the closer you are to the center of the merry-go-round, the less you feel the pull of the spin. So, fighting the centrifugal force of the tremendous spin, I slowly began to pull my way to the center.
Yet, I took pride in having outsmarted the older boys. They had the strength, but I knew the secret of staying on a merry-go-round, regardless of how fast it spins. You just have to stay in the center.
The experience of living isn’t all that different from our childhood experience of being on a merry-go-round.
- There is a tranquil center and a centrifugal force that relentlessly pulls us from the center.
- There is the peaceful domain in which God is king and a fallen world that relentless pulls us away from this peaceful domain.
We are about to talk about Money as a community.
Let me lay a few ground rules:
1. Most churches when they talk about money talk about it in terms of giving to the church. That is not our end game.
2. The conversations that we are going to have today are going to challenge us! Remember we have been talking about what scripture is for over the last 6 weeks and we have learned that scripture tells us an alternative story than the stories we end up living. Remember that? Well, scripture tells us of a different story in terms of money.
In varying degrees and in a variety of ways, we all experience the strain and nausea of the pull of money in our world and in our individual lives, don’t we?
- For many it takes the form of perpetual business, resulting in physical, emotion or spiritual exhaustion.
- For others it is experienced as a pervasive anxiety, an uncontrollable anger, an unbeatable addiction or a persistent sadness.
- Still other’s manifest the pull as a tendency toward jealousy, a chronic irritableness, a compulsion to control people and circumstances or as an insatiable hunger to acquire things.
- And for most of us the nauseous pull at times takes the form of a gnawing sense of emptiness, meaninglessness, boredom and alienation.
The Bible describes symptoms such as these as “works of the flesh”, for the merry-go-round world we have described is life in the flesh. The biblical concept of “flesh” (sarx) refers not to our literal skin or to our fallen nature, but to a false mode of existence. It actually points to a different “Power Center” of this world… A different driving force.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Scripture tells a different story
It is life lived as though what was true is false, and as though what was false is true.
- We live in the flesh insofar as we live as though God were not real.
- As though the Creator did not have total claim on my life.
- As though I were lord of my own life.
- As though the physical world were all that concerned us and all that existed.
- We live in the flesh insofar as we live like we were merely complex animals, conscious only of our physical environment and unaware of our spiritual environment.
We live in the flesh insofar as we are defined by our circumstances, hungry to get worth, significance and security by things we accomplish, people we impress, possessions we acquire, things we control, bank accounts we build up, reputations we establish.
We live in the flesh insofar as we aren’t living in the Center, getting our entire worth, significance and security from the fact that our life is hid in Christ (Col 3).
This is how Paul describes the center:
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Jesus says the center is something different…
This is precisely how the merry-go-round of the flesh operates. While in normal merry-go-rounds kids hang on because their being pulled by the spin, in the merry-go-round of flesh we spin and are pulled because we hang on. The tighter we hang onto things, the more we are pulled from the Center, which makes us hang on all the tighter.
It’s a cycle: Money has Inertia:
Definition: A property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force.
Here is how it works:
The more you care about your accomplishments, recognition, material possessions, security, money, or religious performances, the more they pull you from the Center.
- And the more you’re pulled from the Center, the more you care about such things.
- The more you care, in other words, the more you feel you have to care.
- You start by clinging to things, but they end up clinging to you.
- You begin by owning them, but they end up owning you.
Whether we’re talking about accomplishments, recognition, material possessions, security, money, religious performance, or whatever, the flesh way of doing life is inherently addictive.
And all the while we’re getting nauseous.
Our physical, emotion or spiritual exhaustion increases.
We grow more fearful, more angry, more addicted, more depressed, more jealousy, more irritable, more greedy, and more empty, bored and alienated.
But so long as we buy the story that there’s life found in this world, so long as we cling to anything as a source of worth, significance or security, all these symptoms will only serve to make us cling to our stuff harder. We think that if we let them go, we’ll “fall off” the merry-go-round. Our lives will become worthless, insignificant and we’ll experience pain.
We hang onto such things because we think we will fall off of the merry-go-round if we do not. Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, we think that to let go of our possessions, our security, our control, our concerns, our demands, our rights, our self-centeredness or our obsessions, would be to loose life itself.
- But in reality, it’s the act of clinging to such things that keeps us from experiencing real life, kingdom life.
- It’s clinging to such things that makes us spin, pulling us farther and farther from the Center.
- Its clinging to such things that gives us nausea, making us exhausted, fearful, angry, depressed, jealous, irritable, greedy, empty, bored and alienated. But so long as we are deceived into thinking we need such things to live, our nausea only makes us cling tighter, which makes us spin faster, which pulls us farther from the Center.
“Money and possessions are seductions that lead to idolatry. The Bible attests that money and possessions are not inanimate objects. They are rather forces of desire that evoke lust and “love” that compels devotion and eventually servitude. The Bile asserts that such commodities, notably silver and gold, are not innocent but are in fact addictive and compel loyalty that rivals loyalty to God.”
Walter Breuggemann Money and Possessions
Few themes permeate Jesus teachings as thoroughly as this one. For example, Jesus several times taught, 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
While crosses have become quaint religious symbols and even merely decorate jewelry in our culture, in the Roman Empire they were tools of torture and death. Death to the Empire. So, when Jesus told his audience to “take up your cross daily and follow me,” they understood he was telling them that following him would involve daily torture and death to the Empire. He was telling them that following him would require denying himself and letting go of everything they held dear before.
Along the same lines, Jesus frequently taught, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it “ In Luke he spells out more specifically what this means when he adds,
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
(Lk 14:26-27, 33).
Jesus is of course using hyperbole when he tells us to hate our family and even life itself – we aren’t to literally hate these things.
But our allegiance to Jesus is to be so much greater than our allegiance to anything else that the contrast between the two is to be as extreme as love and hate.
To find real life, we must let go of everything. We must “give up all our possessions.” To find abundant life, we must accept that we own nothing, not even our own life. To find the rest that comes from abiding in the Center, we must let ourselves fly off the merry-go-round of the flesh way of living. To live, we must die.
Note that Jesus says that no one can be a disciple if he doesn’t give up all his possessions. In other words, this is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus – one who is disciplined by Jesus. Often people in our culture think that such radical living is only for “saints,” those rare super-Christians who adhere fanatically to Jesus’ teaching. Yet here, and many other places, we find that such is not the case. Dying to the world, living without clinging, is the very definition of what it means to be Christian, or Christ-like.
Lets Be Clear:
Most Church teaching on money is about giving to the church. Right?
Going to take a huge risk here…
- You can be a 10% tither and still be caught in the crippling inertia of money.
- You could be a Dave Ramsey disciple and completely miss being a disciple of Jesus.
- You can be debt free, mortgage payment free and give 10% to the church and completely outside of the Kingdom of God.
Please hear this! Jesus’ doesn’t give us this teaching because he’s trying to make us miserable. He gives it because he wants us to live. He knows that clinging to things as a source of life actually robs us of life.
Sucks the life right out of us! He knows that trying to find our worth, significance or security in our wealth, social relations, achievements, national identity, religion or anything else is as empty as it is destructive. He knows the nauseating spin of the flesh merry-go-round and wants to free us from it.
He wants us to live in the Center, the domain in which God is king, and enjoy the life God created us to live. But to get there, we’ve got to intentionally fight the forces that are part of the world we live in!
Can you admit that you could see the truth of Jesus’ teaching in this?
- Ebenezer Scrooge had three ghosts to help him wake up, but we have the Holy Spirit.
- Will you let him open your eyes?
- Will you allow him to loosen your grip on life and trust him enough to move to the center of this insane merry-go-round?
- Can you see how your striving to live is killing you?
- Can you see how you are owned by what you think you own?
- Can you see how it’s not in your best interest to living out of your self-interest?
- Can you see through the deception that life is found in what you think you have, what you think you do, what you think you know and who you think you impress? Do you hate this false mode of living enough to let go?
- And can you see how this merry-go-round existence is destroying not only you but the world?
- Can you see how mindlessly violent the world’s merry-go-round is?
Life in the Center. When you fly, you die. But you can being to find yourself in the calm Center. The domain in which God is king. It is the domain of perfect love, joy and peace. It is life in Christ and in fellowship with the triune God. You were created to live in the Center, not the spin, so finding yourself in the Center is finding yourself at home. Abiding in the Center, you still see the spin of the world. Indeed, you see it all the more clearly because you are no longer defined by it. The Center gives you a perspective on the big picture you could never have so long as your hanging onto anything out of fear of falling.
You are yet in the spinning world, but not of the spinning world. You are calm, not nauseous.
To live in the Center is to be set free.
- Having found life, you don’t need to strive for life any longer.
- Having already died, you no longer fear loss or death. Having found the true Center, you are freed from your own petty self-centeredness.
You are, therefore, finally freed to love.
- Having found ultimate worth and significance in Christ, you are freed from the pathetic need to acquire worth or significance from what you think you own, what you think you know, what you think you achieve or who you think you impress.
- Having discovered perfect security, you are freed from the addictive compulsion to make yourself secure, whether by controlling people, acquiring things or aligning yourself with causes.
Possessing all you really need, you are delivered from the diabolical grip of money, comfort and possessions.
Life in the Center, where your life is hid in Christ, is real life.
It is the life we were created for.
Christians often put a great deal of weight on a person first “surrendering” their life to Christ. It is significant, but only because it starts your journey, not because it magically transports you to the end of the journey. The true significance of that first surrender is determined by whether or not it is resulting in a surrendering today and in this moment.
Living in the Center is a moment-by-moment decision we make. The merry-go-round of fleshly living is always there for us to step into, if we so choose. And the choice not to do so must be made on a moment-by-moment basis. Thus Jesus said that if we are to be his disciples we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily ( Lk 9:23). So too, Paul said, “I die every day” (I Cor 15:31). To live out of the Center is to die to the false mode of life every day, indeed, every moment of every day.
Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (Jn 15:4). To “abide” (meno) means to remain in a place, not just to go there on occasion. Only when we do this do we bear the fruit of living in the kingdom. As we walk in the Spirit – not just enter the Spirit on occasion – the fruit of the Spirit replaces the works of the flesh. The symptoms of the spin – e.g. anger, hatred, jealousy, pettiness, fear – are replaced with the fruit of the Center – e.g. love, joy, peace, (Gal. 5).
The question, then, is not: Did you surrender your entire life to Christ at some point in the past? Do you have your ticket to heaven? The question is: Are you wholly surrendered to Christ right now? Are you dead to the pull of the world’s self-centered way of living this moment? Are you crucified to the senseless spin of the flesh merry-go-round right now? Are you living in the Center this moment? Or, is any part of you clinging?
The best way to remain aware of whether or not your abiding in the Center is to honestly look at the fruit, or the symptoms.
- Are you living in love, as Christ loved you and gave his life for you?
- Or do you live out of self-interest, loving those who love you, but experience hatred towards those who hate you and apathy toward those you don’t know?
- Are you experiencing joy and peace right now, or is your heart full of sorrow or worry?
When you find that the “works of the flesh” are present, you will find, if you examine it carefully, that its because you are to some extent experiencing the pull of the fleshly merry-go-round.
You are clinging to something. When you see what it is, it is time to immediately release it, take up your cross, and fight the inertia to experience the center.
Looking at My fruit:
The Insurance Claim
12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.