PARENTING WITHOUT FEAR PART 2: John 10 (Nov. 2019 Hope Chapel)
Most of the time our fears don’t happen yet fear remains to be a powerful force. This is true in today’s marketing. I saw a ADT security system tv commercial that laid out a dramatic scene of robber entering the house, the alarm system notifying the calm operator who called the police. The intruders were nabbed and the cute little children continued to play on the well vacuumed carpet. Do you have an alarm system? That is who the commercial ended and I felt concerned at the time that I didn’t have an alarm system. Those dudes on the commercial looked mean and my kids are so sweet (even at 15). Today we aren’t talking about marketing but parenting. Fear steps up our parenting game. We are to be responsible parents and have to heed all fears or do we? It becomes confusing for parents to learn how to discern godless fear with healthy concern. Fear projects certain images or scenarios (trailers) on the wall-screen of our mind. Worry has been deemed a form of meditation. Busy lives hinder us from paying attention to fearful ruminating leading to control. Fear leads to control and that is no way to live.
We actually can use the same visual capacity of our thought life that we worry with to imagine the presence and words of Christ. His way with us is real but unseen. Instead of holding “what if” thoughts we actually bring our mind to focus on “what is” true of Christ and his kingdom narrative. Fear is powerful but it is not who we are…. 2 Tim. 1:7 “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power, love and self-control.” Both ideas of using our imagination and life in Christ are mentioned in this quote by Kevin Vanhoozer (The Romantic Rationalist: CS Lewis): “Contrast the satanic “what if” with the Pauline “what is”. Theology’s task is to say what is in Christ, and it needs the imagination to do so. Paul is not playing make-believe when he says he has been crucified with Christ. He does not say, “It is as if Christ lives in me.” That would be a case of bad pretending and gets us no further than pious fiction. No, Paul says what is in Christ. It requires faith, and imagination, to see it, however, because being in Christ is not evident to the senses. Lewis had the unique gift of writing about what if in order to give us a taste of what was, is, and will be “in Christ.” To be in Christ is to live and move and have our being in a new sphere, “transplanted into a new soil and a new climate, and both soil and climate are Christ” (James S. Stewart, A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of St. Paul’s Religion , 157)” We needn’t live by “what if’s” but “what is” already true of our union with Christ.
A good question last week: If God allows difficult things to happen and the man was born blind so that God would be glorified… then that makes me more scared of what God might do (for his glory). How do I deal with that? That is a great question and I don’t think there is a great answer. However, because we are talking about ruminating and worry it is important to ask another question: Do Jesus want us to wrestle with this question? The point here is, we have some ability to choose the thoughts we dwell on. Is this a debate or question that he would have us revisit? I would say no. It’s like walking up to a No Trespassing sign and deciding to stop and not go any further. Sometimes this is good to do in our mind. Why does God allow bad things to happen is a question that usually doesn’t lead to a sweet encounter with our friend Jesus. He leads us to hold all of life open handed, even our kids. Whatever we hold too tightly may eventually have a hold on us. If we are gripped by fear then we will be control freaks and wound our kids.
Dealing with Fear and thoughts on Neuroscience (3 books that I recommend)
Finding True Rest by JP Moreland; Rewiring the Brain by Ski Chilton; Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson
Ski Chilton The Rewired Brain book
Dr. Chilton has a great image to explain how neurons from brain circuits or super highways. The more we use this highway but firing neurons with certain thoughts, then the strong the highway gets. It’s similar to ruts in our thinking. We are triggered and we think the same old thoughts that bring the same negative emotions. We must create new highways, truthful thoughts that lead to emotions of peace, joy, love etc. If we use these highways then the old paths disintegrate. It’s like the state not funding road improvements because the roads are being used. As we fire new neurons (helpful thoughts), our brain creates new highways. Fire = re-wire. Our brain has a powerful ability to change. Chilton writes about the power of plasticity on page 80. We can actually choose to take on new thoughts and creating new pathways that are based on God’s truth and narrative. He cites Romans 12:1-2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Two other quotes from Chilton’s book: “Stop bingeing on fear-based information so you can decrease fear-based circuits in your brain that destroy your happiness and health.” P. 72 “Imagining an act engages the same motor and sensory programs that are involved in doing it.” Norman Doidge (The Brain that Changes Itself)
Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, MD
Curt Thompson also writes on the connection between rewiring our brain and walking with Christ as we are attentive to his presence and word. p. 59 “The body is the temple - would have great significance to a first-century Jew, since the Temple was the centerpiece of his or her life, both socially and politically. This was where God lived, and it was in this place that one met God, spoke with God, and heard God’s voice… Paul was not saying that God is the body but that in order for us to attend to God, we have to attend to the place where he lives. Our brains assist us in doing this. By paying attention to our mind/body experience, we are paying attention to what the Holy Spirit is telling us.” p. 87 “And hearing that voice will change our memories and the way we live our futures. And we have even more reason to hope. While it’s true that established neural networks are most likely to fire, it’s equally true that recent research demonstrates that our brains were created with beautiful and mysterious plasticity. That means our neurons can be redirected in ways that correlate with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Instead of automatically following the wired sequence of our old memory, with reflection, we can choose to create new pathways. There is one requirement: we must pay attention to how our memory is manifesting itself by answering questions like, what are you doing here?” p. 181-2 “From the perspective of neuroscience, Satan was tempting him in ways that encouraged Jesus not to pay attention, to be mindless toward his emotional states and memories, and to essentially live in the way of a dis-integrated prefrontal cortex. He tempted him to pay little attention to his narrative and the times he had heard his Father extol him and lavish his affection on him, revealing to him the true nature of his vocation, that of Messiah. In this encounter with Satan, Jesus was tempted to dis-integrate his prefrontal cortex and head down the low road - to follow the same road we too often end up on…”
JP Morland’s book, Finding True Rest (p.70-75) offers an excellent method of dealing with anxious thoughts. He combines neuroscience, psychotherapy and discipleship in the method of Relabeling and Reframing.
Relabeling and Reframing is another way to abide in Christ’s love and word (John 15 & 17). Here is a personal and practical application of this method: 1- Relabel- Identify or name the thought that is bringing about your anxiety. Putting a label on your experience of this message is the first step to putting it in its appropriate place. Example: a child come to me with a deep sadness for making a bad grade - “I am so stupid they say”… that comment triggered me because of a lie that I had believed for many years and now my kid was experiencing the same thing. NO! So I reacted, nearly punishing them for believing a lie and creating relational disconnect, they left my presence. This was was not a helpful encounter. I was anxious and fearful that the world was ending because of this some what normal event. I have a narrative that was framed… I am responsible and they cannot believe those lies. My brain is triggered by this and has it’s own groove that solidifies my emotions of shame and anxiety. But this thought isn’t me. It’s actually a bad habit and it can be broken. The same occurrence can be reframed in my mind. 2- Reframing- As we label the message correctly we are able to put it in its place and move on. We cannot control the thoughts but we can change our reaction to them. Reframing is simple claiming a new (truth) context for your soul. It is to accept the struggle but reframe (open yourself up) to a greater reality. Even if you feel angst coming, don’t fret because you are okay. Don’t buy into false assumptions that thoughts like this bring about. Examples are all or nothing thinking (“if you get anything wrong, you are a total failure,” overgeneralizing (“I always do that”) exaggerations (connect with “what-if” statements, self-blame (“you blame for events outside your control,” or making big conclusions about yourself and God.) False narratives are often framed in our mind and cause greater distress (big or small). Months later, the same thing happened. I didn’t know way back then but I exercised relabeling and reframing. The same conversation happened. I was able to relabel the thought that they would struggle like me, suffer much and have a terrible life. Instead I identified the thought and put it in it’s place. I therefore was invited to take on a new thought that led to me being calm and empathizing. Attending to Christ’s presence and his narrative allow me to (fire new neurons) and reframe that I am apart of God’s story of love. Reframing avoids this and any what-if or should statements and invites us to think healthier thoughts about God and what-is true of our life with him. We will not be snatch out of his hand (John 10:29). The practice of relabeling and reframing can be performed as you drive to the gas station or 10 minutes alone before waking up the kids. I truly believe this technique can fall under the category of prayer and allowing Christ to meet us in fearful situations (big and small).
Let’s jump into our passage today with all of these things in mind. Notice fear in this passage and considers ways to think differently about God and life. Ultimately we want to learn how to carry new thoughts that provide new neurological paths leading to emotions of peace and beyond. Any thoughts or questions before we jump into our text? Jesus taught in parables - throwing two things next to each other. He uses everyday images, why? So that we would understand and remember. The revolution of Jesus spread by people passing on these images, stories and word pictures. He told parables to engage our holy imagination which has access to our intellect and our emotions. Fear is both intellectual and emotional.
Example of the parables - they are made up and visually rich. We can battle worry with biblical images. Prodigal son story - most impactful story - it didn’t happen but it did lodge itself into the minds and hearts of people for centuries. It revealed God’s heart for the world. We come to John 10 a powerful image. I hope we don’t sit back in our chairs and say to ourselves - yup I know this one… in light of our conversation and direction this can be a life changing text. Coming out of John 9, Jesus addresses the Pharisees and compares them to the false shepherds who neglect (who are not owners) and cast sheep out the pen. They are shepherds of a fear-based control system of religion. Jesus exposes this by taking the man born blind who was casted out to the green pastures of the new covenant. The man born blind was a sheep without a shepherd yet he heard the voice of the good shepherd who led him to green pastures of the new covenant. Fear casts out. Love casts out fear. Let’s read and process process the Shepherd. Use your visual mind. How did he speak and operate? What observations we can make that can empower us to be attentive to his ways and voice. Contrast the Shepherd way of the Pharisees with the Good shepherd as we read a couple sections from John chapter ten. (READ)
What kind of presence is He as Shepherd? How do you discern his Voice? Part of the relabeling journey - hard to name certain thoughts. Here are some visual thoughts that came to mind as I meditated on this passage:
-attentive presence: eye to eye level - low, sitting as the gate, sheep come up against the back of his head sniffing, trusting, he facing out or in, does Jesus have eyes in the back of his head? yea. -calming presence not stressed, wolves lurking, he does not have a stressed look on his face, there is the calm of his father as his countenance. -gathered presence - our soul and our people; strong, settled presence; there is no snatching away, connected to his father 10:15-17,18; staying presence - hired hand runs off, he has ownership; leading presence - goes before us; What scatters? Fear and a controlling system of pharisees; speaking presence - calling us by name (recognize his voice 10:4); sacrificial presence - lays down his life for us; life-giving presence - abundant life (Zoe); Is. 41:11 He will gather the lambs in his arms, He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those who are with young (parents)
Jesus returning and remembering:
40 And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing, and He was staying there. 41 Many came to Him and were saying, “While John performed no sign, yet everything John said about this man was true.” 42 Many believed in Him there.
v. 40 interesting… what was his memory of this place, how might that have refreshed him since he’s been interacting with the Pharisees. He heard his Father’s voice - “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” some thought of it as thunder. It is a reminder that Jesus and the Father are one. This is the great narrative of the Trinity. We are brought into this loving relationship, secure in the “father’s hand” no one shall be snatched out of his hand. (Cross reference “abide in my word” according to John 15).
Thoughts from commentary writer William Barclay (DSB Commentary): -“There were not sheep dogs in Palestine, and, when the shred wished to call back a sheep which was straying away, he fitted a stone into his sling and landed it just in front of the straying sheep’s nose as a warning to turn bak. He had his staff, a short wooden club which had a lump of todd at the end often studded with nails.” P. 55 -“Sometimes he talks to them in a loud sing-song voice, using a weird language unlike anything I have ever heard in my life. The first time I heard this sheep and goat language I was on the hills at the back of Jericho.” p. 56 -“The shepherd calls sharply from time to time, to remind them of his presence. They know his voice, and follow on; but, if a stranger call, they stop short, lift up their heads in alarm, and if it is repeated, they turn and flee, because they know not the voice of a stranger.” p. 57 -“What happened was that at night the shepherd himself lay down across the opening and no sheep could get out or in except over his body. In the most literal sense the shepherd was the door.” p. 58 -“Once a person discovers, through Jesus Christ, what God is like, a new sense of safety and of security enters into life. If life is known to be in the hands of God like that, the worries and the fears are gone.” p. 59 -“When Jesus is described as the good shepherd, the word is kilos. In him there is more than efficiency and more than fidelity; there is loveliness.” p. 62
Wrap up John 10: From John 10 we can learn that the old way of fear scatters. Fear rules. A certain set of thoughts follow. This was the way of the Pharisee. The new way of the Spirit gathers. Love rules. A certain set of thoughts follow. We can go in and out through Christ. We can run our thoughts through him. He can direct us according and speak into every situation. Make Him Real in our mind (because He is). Clear a way. Create space to tend to his Christ’s presence. Develop practices to experience him. We use these all the times in everyday life - remember a phone number, sleeping schedule for kids, banister mark. Embrace his With-ness which is our witness to our kids. (Steve Lynam) We must discern and take thoughts captive that are not of Christ. We have his mind, we must let that be true and consider him as the One guarding our hearts and minds (Phil. 2). The Shepherd Christ is with us. Here are a few thoughts of him that I re-use to think on and prayerfully hold in my visual mind.
This is a great summation by James Houston in Joyful Exiles p. 68-69 “Only God can walk on water, or indeed subdue the storms of life or overcome the cosmic abyss. By accepting him in Christ, we can experience the same freedom as the disciples to overcome every storm of life, every threat of death. But since a mystical experience of Christ is a result of God’s presence, it remains incomprehensible. The only response can be faith and not doubt. As Berger says, suggestively, “Faith is one’s persistent engagement in the efficacious reality of God.” It is imaginative yet carries a prayerful confidence in a trusting relationship that dissolves the sense of “I alone” for “we together.” Faith is also a transformation that takes place in the midst of ordinary life and its domestic affairs. In the New Testament shepherds are tend-ing their flocks in the fields, a wedding is taking place in Cana of Galilee, fisherman are out in their boat, Saul is traveling on the road to Damascus. But translated into another state of being, life can never be the same again. Old perceptions are refocused by new conceptions of life and its relationships. We become alienated from the ordinary, break through barriers and no longer believe a description of God but God himself.”
How might we pull all of this together and leave with some practical steps forward? Relabel - know your triggers, separate as much as you can and see the thought. Reframe - Do not go to the false (big) narratives. Resist the urge to buy into a false narrative. Renew your mind - Tend to the real presence of Jesus, the Good Shepherd (listen to his voice; walk around biblical images) Offer your mind another way, build another highway in your brain. RE-FIRING YOUR BRAIN REWIRES IT.
End with one technique pertaining our kids: One parenting technique that is often overlooked or forgotten. The power of an affirming word. We want to provide words for our kids to live in, remember, think on. We are god to them in a sense. We are a source of encouragement. Just as Jesus related to the Father and shared words with us, so we relate to Jesus and share words with those in our kingdom (family). We are so prone to point out the corrections (over and over again)- fear tends to lead to over-correction and hinders connection (fear scatters -love gathers)- I bought the domain - a gathered soul .com ? Think about it - fear breeds control but love leads to connection. Look all the time for ways to affirm. Stop what you are doing and look them in the idea (how we do to correct them during time out) Affirm around the following things: good behavior, their identity, your connection with them, fruit of the spirit, a random something you enjoy about them… Pray: Isaiah 41:11 “He will gather the lambs in his arms, He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those who are with young (parents)”