November 8, 2015

It’s Not You, It’s Him

Beginning just after World War II when tens of thousands of shell-shocked soldiers were returning from both Europe and the Pacific and the field was rapidly gaining in popularity, the American Psychiatric Association began printing a diagnosis tool called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  The goal was to create a comprehensive list of the various kinds of mental disorders that could affect a person along with a description so that the average psychiatrist coming up against a hard case would have some help in figuring out what was going on with a person.  It has been reprinted every year since with several revisions, a few of which have been marked by a fair bit of controversy.  We are currently under the fifth revision.

If you read through the book (if, say, you have a bad case of insomnia), you’ll find a variety of what could be called garden-variety mental disorders; things we’ve all heard of at one time or another.  Depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and so on.  But if you read carefully, you’ll discover a few that are…well…less well known, and perhaps for good reason.  Near the top of the list you might come across aboulomania.  Someone suffering from this disorder can’t make decisions, even simple ones.  Now, you might be thinking, “I know someone like this,” but that person is more likely to just be indecisive.  A person suffering from aboulomania literally can’t make a decision.  When faced with the choice between or among some number of options their brain shuts down.  It is almost paralyzing to them.

Read a bit further down the list and you would come across Cotard’s Syndrome.  A person afflicted with this particular disorder has watched one too many episodes of The Walking Dead and has become convinced that he is in fact not alive any longer.  Incidentally it is also known as walking corpse syndrome.  And if that sounds as strange as it gets…well…we’re not done yet.  Continuing on our sleep-seeking journey we come across clinical lycanthropy.  Some of you may recognize the root word “lycanthrope” there which is the more official title of a werewolf.  Clinical lycanthropy or, zoanthropy more generally, is a particular kind of schizophrenia in which a person believes himself to have turned into an animal of some sort.  Various animal transformations have been reported including dogs, cats, birds, a hyena, a tiger, snakes, foxes, and even frogs and bees.  Believe it or not this gets even sillier.  There is a particular kind of zoanthropy that actually has its own name and at least one really famous historical example that we are going to take a look at this morning.

Speaking of this morning, we are in the fourth part of our church-wide teaching series, Game Changer: How to Impact Your World.  The whole idea for this series is that all of us find ourselves at one point or another in our lives in a situation where things are not going like we know they should.  Things around us need to change.  But, they aren’t going to change without a game changer and there are no good candidates for that other than us.   God has put us in a certain situation because He wants us to have an impact on it for His kingdom.  The situation could be international, national, regional, local, communal, familial, or even marital, but whatever it is, we are being called to have an impact on it.  Now, that sounds grand and glorious to put it like that, but you know as well as I do that thinking about being in such a situation and actually being in one are two very different things.  We can be bold in the hypothetical, but it’s a whole other animal to be bold in the actual.  Having some kind of a clear process in place would be a huge help to this effort.

To this end, for the last three weeks laying out this process is exactly what we have been doing.  The process of being a game changer starts when we develop convictions and stand on them without compromise.  Put a little more simply, it starts when we figure out what we believe and what we’re willing to do about it, how far we’re willing to be pushed from that center.  In order to be a game changer we need to make sure those convictions are deeply rooted in Scripture, held with humility and grace, and aren’t budging no matter what.  From there, we pray.  I know prayer doesn’t seem like the most active next step we could take, but looks can be deceiving and in this case they’re downright dishonest.  Prayer connects us with the plans of God.  It invites Him and unleashes His power into our situations.  And it’s His plans, person, and power that are going to lead to a game change, not ours.  If we start anywhere else once we have planted ourselves we are going be uprooted and begin to drift away from our center perhaps without even realizing it.  It is not until we have built up a pattern of faithfulness in these two areas that our chance to get into the game in a way that feels more active to us will come.  As we demonstrate our willingness to hold our convictions without compromise (often in things that seem very small to us) and to stay deeply connected to God and what He is doing around us through prayer, He will give us the opportunity to take a stand for Him in something much bigger.  It may still be something that is just within our own family and not before a watching world with all the cameras facing us, but as far as the advancement of God’s kingdom goes, it is critical.  This stand will require courage the likes of which we have perhaps never experienced before, but if we are ready and willing to make it, to stand for God, we will experience the blessings of being a part of what He is doing in His world.  And that will change the game.

But is that all we need to know in order to be game changers?  I mean, that’s a lot, but is that it?  Three steps?  Stand-pray-stand?  When do we get to do something?  Well, as it turns out…we don’t!   And if we think in those terms, we’ll get ourselves in trouble.

We can actually see this in the next part of Daniel’s story.  In Daniel 4 we are treated to the personal testimony of King Nebuchadnezzar.  In the first part of the chapter we are reading a journal entry he wrote to describe an experience he had that reminded him in rather powerful terms that as long as we think that, really, anything depends mostly on us or comes mostly from us, we’re out of sync with reality and are setting ourselves up for a usually painful reminder of who is God and who’s not.  Now, Nebuchadnezzar himself wasn’t really a game changer—or at least not in the way we’ve been talking about—but what we can learn from his experience is an important lesson for how we can be game changers for God nonetheless.  In fact, in this and the last couple weeks of our series we are going to shift from talking about the process of being game changers to taking a look at some of the things we need to keep in mind in order to remain as game changers.  Grab a nearby copy of the Scriptures, find your way to Daniel 4, and take a look at this with me.  I’ll start reading in v. 1.

“King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you!  It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me.  How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders!  His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.  I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at ease in my house and prospering in my palace.  I saw a dream that made me afraid.  As I lay in bed the fancies and the visions of my head alarmed me.  So I made a decree that all the wise men of Babylon should be brought before me, that they might make known to me the interpretation of the dream.  Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not make known to me its interpretation.”

This should all sound really familiar.  Nebuchadnezzar is dreaming again and once again he doesn’t know what it means which bothers him a whole lot.  What’s more, all the folks in his kingdom who are supposed to know about this kind of stuff don’t know about it either.  He finally turns to Daniel who is able to proclaim to him the meaning of the dream.  The dream itself is about this great tree that is truly a sight to behold.   But then he hears a voice in the dream call for the tree to be chopped down.  That would be confusing enough, but then there was this other, even more unnerving part.  Jump down to v. 16: “Let his mind be changed from a man’s and let a beast’s mind be given to him; and let seven periods of time pass over him.”

Now, if that first part didn’t bother him enough, the second part had to just set him on edge.  Why would someone call for that beautiful tree to be destroyed and whose mind was going to be taken?  He didn’t know, but he was about to find out.  When Daniel hears the dream he knows immediately what it means and because he has come to like the king after serving him for so many years, he is afraid to tell him about it.  But the king insists in v. 19: “Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was dismayed for a while, and his thoughts alarmed him.  The king answered and said, ‘Belteshazzar, let not the dream or the interpretation alarm you.’  Belteshaazar answered and said, ‘My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you and its interpretation for your enemies!  The tree you saw, which grew and became strong. . . .it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong.  Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth.”  As for the rest, look at v. 24: “…this is the interpretation, O king: It is a decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king, that you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field.  You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.  And as it was commanded to leave the stump of the roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be confirmed for you from the time that you know that Heaven rules.  Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

Wow, right?  This is pretty intense stuff.  But surely this is just some kind of a figurative call for Nebuchadnezzar to humble himself and remember where all his incredible power and prosperity have come from.  I mean, that seems like a pretty creative punishment, and all, but really?  To basically have him go stark, raving mad, live as a wild animal for some amount of time, and then still have his kingdom to come back to when it’s over?  Give me a break.

And yet…check out v. 28: “All this came upon King Nebuchadezzar.  At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?’  [And] while the words were still in the king’s mouth…immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar.  He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.”

Okay, well, the text says it, but did that really happen?  Is there really such a thing as a person going crazy in quite this manner?  I mean, this was a pretty specific description of what happened to him.  The text doesn’t say simply that he went mad, but that he went mad and started behaving like an animal.  Well, try this one on for size.  A British man named Raymond Harrison was visiting a mental institution in 1946 and encountered a patient “in his early 20’s, who reportedly had been hospitalized for about five years.  His symptoms were well developed on admission, and diagnosis was immediate and conclusive.  He was of average height and weight with good physique, and was in excellent bodily health.  His mental symptoms included pronounced anti-social tendencies, and because of this he spent the entire day from dawn to dusk outdoors, in the grounds of the institution….His daily routine consisted of wandering around the magnificent lawns with which the otherwise dingy hospital situation was graced, and it was his custom to pluck up and eat handfuls of the grass as he went along. . . .He never ate institutional food with the other inmates, and his only drink was water…the writer was able to examine him cursorily, and the only physical abnormality noted consisted of a lengthening of the hair and a coarse, thickened condition of the finger-nails.”  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The condition is called boanthropy and is that subset of zoanthropy we talked about earlier.  It is a condition in which a person believes he is a cow.  Being in such a state would be rather…humbling…would it not?  Why, imagine if a major politician was suddenly afflicted by such a condition.  What if it was President Obama.  Or how about Paul Ryan?  He’s 45 and has just been elected to the third highest position in our government as Speaker of the House of Representatives.  What if he was found eating grass by the handful out on the National Mall?  Congressman David Wu of Oregon was forced to resign in embarrassment when pictures of him surfaced wearing a tiger costume.  Something like a case of boanthropy would remind a person that they aren’t quite so high and mighty as they might otherwise think, yes?  What happened to Nebuchadnezzar is about as clear an example as you could ask for of a pretty well-known biblical principle: Pride leads to downfall, but God honors humility.  Pride leads to downfall, but God honors humility.

So what does this all have to do with our efforts to be game changers in our situations?  Just as pride led to Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall for a time, so also can it lead to ours.  Pride can put a halt on our game changing activities once they’ve started and it can even keep us from getting into the game in the first place.  For the next few minutes I want to show you how and why this can happen and talk about how we can avoid it.  First, though, let’s be clear on what I mean by pride here.  There are two different kinds of pride.  The first is healthy, the second is dangerous.  The first kind of pride is what I feel in my heart when one of my boys does something particularly kind or generous for someone else.  This pride is a kind of pleasure that comes from something we have had a hand in creating fulfilling in some way our expectations for it.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  God feels the same pride in us when He sees us living in ways that are consistent with His character.  The second kind of pride, though, is, at its most basic level, thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought.  More specifically it comes when we put ourselves in the place of God and try to run at least our own little universes as we see fit rather than as He has commanded.  To use the example of the pleasure we feel when our kids do well as an illustration here, this second kind of pride might manifest itself in our hearts when in response to their doing something really well we consider ourselves not merely good parents, but better parents than anyone else.  We consider ourselves great because they have done something great.  It comes more generally when we consider ourselves better equipped than God to achieve our maximum potential.  The thing about pride is that it always results from a delusion about the state of the world around us.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that a prideful person is a head case along the lines of someone suffering from boanthropy, but such a person is delusional nonetheless because they are convinced something is true which is in fact not true.  And, since we are all afflicted by this second type of pride…we all lives spent from time to time in a state of delusion.  Living in such a state will invariably trip us up and keep us from having an impact on the world around us for the kingdom; it will keep us from being game changers.  Pride leads to downfall, but God honors humility.

Pride can throw us off the track of being game changers in a couple of different ways.  The first comes once we have started the process and are already having an impact on the world around us.  Experiencing success like that is always an exciting thing.  When we have been standing on conviction and committing ourselves to consistent prayer, and we have had a chance to stand and actually see the impact of it, we are naturally filled with hope and courage and confidence.  While this is certainly an exhilarating place to be, it is also a dangerous place to be.  It is a place where keeping our eyes on Christ and regularly reminding ourselves of the reality of the situation become critical.  This is the case because in floating on success that has been given as a gift from God, we can delude ourselves into thinking that we are actually doing the walking and the going is so easy because of something that lies within us.  This is the child who has not yet learned how to ride a bike thinking that she is the one doing the balancing when it is her dad running behind her holding the seat that is giving her the illusion of success.  This invariably leads to a great fall.  We will fall because when we demand it God will let go of the seat and let us crash and be reminded that if we don’t stick with Him we don’t have a chance.  And if perhaps that seems unloving or harsh of God to you, consider this: Which would be more unloving of Him?  To allow us to continue in a delusion that will ultimately lead us on a path away from Him; or by our fall and the pain it undoubtedly will cause us help us to see the truth and live in light of that?  Pride leads to downfall, but God honors humility.  It is when we remember who allowed us to have an impact that we keep leaning on Him in order that He might continue having the impact through us.

Well if that particular manifestation of pride seems pretty obvious, the second one isn’t.  The second way pride can throw us off the track of being game changers comes before we even get into the game.  It comes wrapped in a garment of fear.  As we have said before and need to keep emphasizing: the thought of being a game changer can be a scary one.  Sometimes we respond to fear by stepping up with courage, but sometimes we can get lost in it.  It can become a big enough obstacle that it freezes us.  It can grow to the point of becoming cowardice.  We need to defeat cowardice in our lives to be sure, but in order to do that we have to know what kind of cowardice we are dealing with.  Is it a cowardice that comes because we genuinely fear all the bad things that might happen if we step out and stand up for God?  We can deal with that by reminding ourselves of His incredible legacy of faithfulness.  Or, is it a cowardice that comes because we have convinced ourselves that success or failure somehow depends on us and we don’t feel up to the task?  This kind of cowardice is really pride and can only be defeated by humility.  The tricky part is that this kind of pride often masquerades as humility.  We’re given a chance to make an impact and we demure because we don’t want to stand out or draw attention to ourselves or step on anyone else’s toes or any one of a million other excuses.  People lap this kind of stuff up and keep encouraging us, awed by our humility, but the truth is that we are really just too prideful to risk what we believe could be failure.  Pride leads to downfall—in this case a face plant that comes before we even make it out of the starting gate—but God honors humility.  If we humbly acknowledge who God is and what He can accomplish then we will step out with confidence and let Him change the game through us.

So then, how do we deal with this?  How do we defeat pride and stay on the track of becoming game changers?  Friends, there is only one thing that can defeat pride in our lives and if you think I’m going to say “humility,” you’re mistaken.  No, the only thing that can defeat pride is truth.  Remember?  Pride is a kind of delusion wherein we believe ourselves to be something we’re not, namely God.  We will hold tenaciously to this delusion until we are forced to reckon with the truth: God is the Lord and there is no other.  This reckoning is not pleasant to be sure—at least at first—but reckon we must because pride always leads to a downfall.  Pride leads to downfall, but God honors humility.  If we do not let go of our pride, while we may not be afflicted with a case of boanthropy, we will be reminded in some other way that we are not God and that the world does not rest on our shoulders and that our plans are not the ones which need to be implemented.  Such reminders are never fun, are often embarrassing, and are regularly even painful.  But, if we allow it to happen, the outcome of such hardships are often very much to God’s glory and our joy.  When we are willing—either once again or, as is always the wiser path, from the beginning—to acknowledge who God is and allow Him to be who He is through us, we will be game changers.  That’s because while pride leads to downfall, God honors humility.  Pride leads to downfall, but God honors humility.   Daniel experienced this from the start.  Nebuchadnezzar experienced it when he finally “lifted [his] eyes to heaven.”  We will experience it as we keep ever before us the wonder of who God is and His ability to change the game around us if we will let Him.  Pride leads to downfall, but God honors humility.  May you be so honored…and change the game.