Madison Church

The Role of Faith in Fostering Advocacy | Questioning Christian Cliches (Part 2) | Stephen Feith

October 15, 2023 Stephen Feith
Madison Church
The Role of Faith in Fostering Advocacy | Questioning Christian Cliches (Part 2) | Stephen Feith
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever wondered why the desire for independence is so deeply rooted within us, and how it shapes the trajectory of our lives? We are taking a deep-dive into these questions and discussing the cultural resonance of personal independence. More so, we uncover the harsh feelings of guilt and shame when we can't accomplish something on our own, and how these emotions can act as barriers to our own success. 

But there's more. We are turning a new leaf as we explore the biblical call to stand up for the ones who can't do it themselves. This episode shines a spotlight on how faith and community can be game-changers in advocating for marginalized groups. We will also discuss how God aids those in need through us, serving as a reminder of our potential to reconcile with him and become agents of his love. To wrap it up, we will critically assess some Christian clichés to decide if they're biblically sound or merely sound biblical. A holistic conversation awaits you, so get ready to join the discussion.

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Speaker 1:

Well, good morning and welcome to Madison Church on Stephen Feet Leigh Pastor, I want to welcome our online audience. I'm thrilled to see all of you here today. We're like it's not very often we have to ask you all to move to the middle to create more seats. I saw Dan throwing out an extra couple rows. Thank you for that, and if you are watching online, it's a great time for me to extend an invitation to you. Please join us sometime in person. We'd love to connect with you there. Megan and I are the parents I don't know if I'd say proud parents, but we're the parents of three children. We have three kids. I think there's a debate right now, like, are we keeping all three till they're 18? Like, what are our options here? Our youngest? So I want to talk about Quinn. She's two months away from being two and Quinn with me. She's a real chatterbox. She's rude to everybody else, as you can tell from this picture. So if you've ever met Quinn and she's mean to you, don't take it personally. She's mean to everybody, but in her toddler language I have no idea what she's saying most of the time, but then other times I do like she says dad, dad, cocoa, and you might think that she's saying dad, dad, I want to watch Disney's cocoa. This would not be true. Dad, dad, cocoa means dad, dad, I want to watch Lilo and Stitch. That's just what. It is, okay. And so if you hear her saying that you turn on cocoa, she's going to give you that face. She's going to this is not what I was saying, but for the rest of it it's just like dad, dad, and you look and it's just gibberish, it's just, and I'm like wow, wow. And then she finishes and she does one of those and I'm like I can't, I can't believe it either. That's wow. She does have a knack for one particular word. She likes no, no, no, no. If you have little kids, you know they get into a little bit of a no phase and she can say that word very clearly, especially when it's like time to go to bed, when it's time to go to sleep. No, she doesn't want to do it. And the no phase again. This is our third kid, so we've gone through this, the no phase. It is annoying, like you don't want to like be talking and they say no, no, no. And for some of you you know that as the kids get older, they don't jump out of that phase right. They kind of just always say no to you. It's like what's up with this? There's another phrase, though not just a phrase, but a phase, a phase of life type of thing that's more annoying than no. It's the I'll do it myself phase. I'll do it myself Even though you're going to do a really bad job at it. It's going to take forever and in the end, I'm going to have to do it for you anyway. Are there any parents who are in this phase of life right now that I'll do it myself? Yeah, I'll do it myself. It is not just a phrase, it is a phase, and it's a phase of life that sticks around from toddlerhood all the way to today. We are all all of us in the room you are in the phase of I will do it myself. The only time in my life I didn't want to do something myself was when it came to paying for college. I did not want to do that myself, and yet I still had to. There isn't an innate desire within each and every single one of us to do it ourselves. You never, ever, grow out of it. We just evolve and we just call it something else, like independence. We all want to be independent, right? We yearn to carve out our own careers. I'm going to do it with my career. I'm going to do it my way. I'm going to do it. I'm going to manage my finances. I'm going to build wealth. It's going to be about me. We want to take on all the challenges of life on our own. Are any of you willing to admit you're in the I want to do it myself phase, like I am? We're often driven by a fierce desire. There's a fierce desire within all of us to be independent and probably starts when you have little kids, like Quinn is little and you know you got to tell them what they wear, you tell them what they eat and when they're going to eat, and tell them when to go to bed, and then she spends the rest of her life, or we spend the rest of our lives revolting against that. We just don't realize that's what's happening. But I believe that this desire for independence is actually fueled. I mean, we all have it. I think it's a people thing. All people everywhere around the world want to be independent. We want to be self-sufficient. But I want to acknowledge that in the United States it's especially fueled here. Independence is a value, freedom is a value, and so, while this I want to do it myself is ingrained universally as people, it's also we have to recognize, deeply ingrained into our culture and our society, that you should do it yourself. And then, if you can't do it yourself, there's shame and there's guilt about why can't you do this yourself. We love stories, we're captivated by them. These are the movies we go to see in theaters about people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, overcame all odds. We don't go to see a show. We don't buy tickets to watch a football team that went to and 14 didn't do anything and then wasted the draft pick. We don't do. No, why would we want to see that story? We want to see stories of Abraham Lincoln and Oprah and Steve Jobs people who did the remarkable and they seemingly did it by themselves, although with all three of those people, they did not do it by themselves. In their own words, this is a cultural narrative that we cherish. But because you're so connected and everyone has the internet and you have the internet in your pocket right now, you know that that's not always how the rest of the world sees us. Right, they don't necessarily see our drive for independence as a strength. The one French historian who visited the United States about I think it was 150 years ago wrote this about us, each of them referring to Americans. So if you're an American in the room, he's talking to you. Each of them is withdrawn into himself, almost unaware of the fate of the rest. Mankind, for him, consists of his children and his personal friends. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough, but he does not notice them. He touches them but feels nothing. He exists in and for himself and, let's just be honest, that sounds like something a French guy would say about us. He's just jealous, right? No, no, I don't think so. I think there's a great deal of truths in his observation. More than most places in the world, we find ourselves consumed with our personal lives my life, my goals, my dreams, my family, my kids. It's about me, my aspirations, and it's a pattern that none of us are exempt from. I'm not beaten up on you. I struggle with this too, and so do the people who aren't here and watching and listening online, the person sitting next to you. We all struggle with this, struggle with that, and that brings me to what we're talking about today in our series questioning Christian cliches. Throughout this series and it's a short series last week, this week, next week we're looking at statements that are often mistaken for sound theology. It sounds sound, it sounds good, it sounds theologically rich. They may sound helpful, but in most cases, what I have found, and what you have probably experienced, is that they are actually hurtful. So each week of the series we're going to ask the question is this saying biblically sound or does it just sound biblical? Do you understand the difference? Is this biblically sound? Is this actually something Jesus said? Is it actually a part of our faith or do we need to throw it away? This series isn't just about debunking misconceptions. I don't want you to walk away and be like well, I know a lot more now. I want it to enrich your relationship with God and, honestly, sometimes some of these phrases can get in the way of us understanding God better. Some of these phrases, as we begin to believe them or as Christians use them against us or we've used them against others, not knowing that we're hurting someone when we say that it hurts our relationship with God. Last week, jason talked about the cliche that God won't give you more than you can handle, and he focused on what steps that we could individually take. That was this thing we're going to move from this to that. We're going to move from that to this. So he focused individually on how we can make movements to lean into God when we are given more than we can handle. Jason said that while there are things that we cannot handle alone that'll be a part of life there is nothing that God can't handle, and so we lean on that. But today I want to look at the cliche that God helps those who help themselves, and I want to focus on the community aspect, not just you individually. There'll be an aspect of that, but I want to talk about us. According to a survey you might be surprised. Let's pause for a second. You might be surprised. You're right, that's a Christian cliche. No, that's in the Bible. Right, you're not alone. Barnard research showed that seven out of 10 people think this is a quote from the Bible. It is not Google, it ask, chat, gpt. Fact check me. Whatever you need to do, this is not in the Bible. But here's why I think it's so catchy because we want to believe it. We already want it to. We already want to believe this is true. I'm independent, I'm self-sufficient, and if good things happen to me, it's because I deserve it. And if good things don't happen to you, you obviously didn't deserve it as much as I do. We want to believe it. We want to believe that we achieved our success entirely alone Just me. I did that, and if other people would do what I did, they would be just as successful if they just did it. That's it. And in that sense, we're beginning to manifest pride and arrogance and other occasions. This is a good way for us to not feel responsible and not feel guilty about not helping other people. We know that there are other people we should help, but you know, god helps those who help themselves, and if they're not willing to help themselves and if God's not willing to help them, then I certainly don't have to right. That's pretty easy to follow and, as you can tell that, both of those responses well, I don't have to help them Like I'm absolved, or arrogant and prideful, like okay, none of those are fruit of the spirit. Jesus didn't say like hey, if you're following me, you're going to get real arrogant and prideful. Nope, didn't say that. He didn't say if you follow me and you do this right, you're not gonna have to help anyone. So when we're talking about this statement and we're looking at the fruit that comes out of it, well, that's fundamentally not biblical. It might sound biblical but fundamentally it is not. And so where does this idea? I know for some of you you really want to know. So where did this idea come from? I looked it up for you. You have to go all the way back to Greek mythology. But it's actually well after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So Jesus lived, jesus died, jesus rose from the dead. The early church is born. As a matter of fact, a few hundred years go by, the Bible is canonized, these guys get together and they decide which books of the Bible count and which ones don't. And then a hundred years goes on after that and Asop writes a fable about Hercules, and in it the character prays to Hercules for help and he says Hercules, help me. And Hercules responds to God's help them that help themselves. So the next time you think about saying or you say God helps those who help themselves, just remember you're quoting Hercules and not Jesus. It should help you remember, right? Benjamin Franklin also used the phrase in his 1936 edition of Poor Richard Delmanach. I know that's a regular read for a lot of you, but it's not the Bible. I think that it is possible that there is one verse where I think that people might say well, this that's the principle of this passage. It's found in 2 Thessalonians 310. Paul writes even when we were with you, talking about himself visiting a church. We gave you this command those unwilling to work will not get to eat. Unwilling is the key phrase here. Okay, the principle the passage is not God helps those who help themselves. In the context of the time when Paul's writing to these, this church in Thessalonica, it's church. It's like what we talked about in this last series. It's a body of believers. They're gathering together. Might be in a house, might be in the public square, but they're gathering together for the mission of Jesus. And what they had was a shared fund. This was very normal for the early church. You would get paid, I would get paid, we would get paid, and we'd all put our money together and then we would just distribute it. However, was necessary? How? It makes you very uncomfortable here to that's another American thing, right? Sounds like socialism a little bit. Okay. So they did this, they voluntarily did this. And I'm not saying we have to do that, but I'm saying that's what happened. And what was happening was that there were people who were unwilling to contribute not unable, they were unwilling. They could have, and Paul says they should have. He says that if you're only gonna come here and be a leech, if you're only ever gonna come and suck from the group but you're never gonna give to the group, then no, you don't get to eat at the table with the group. And it does sound stern, but it's. You know, you think about this. If somebody's coming and all they're ever doing and your community that doesn't have a lot of resources, you're sharing everything just to get by, just to eat. And there's somebody who has enough to get by for themselves, but then they're also coming and they're taking from you. Well, that means somebody else has less. And Paul says this is not a sustainable model, this is not the way of Jesus, this is not the way of our faith, and so if they're amongst you and they're doing that and they're unwilling to change, you gotta cut them off. Okay, so that's that passage. But that isn't to say that Paul is advocating for self-reliance. Remember, they had a shared fund. The system was already built up. This wasn't about self-reliance, this was about preservation of the community. They shared in all that they had and, additionally, over one third of the Bible one third, okay. So if you just go, every third verse has something to do, either directly or indirectly has something to do with issues concerning poverty, wealth or social justice. Those three are the most talked about subject in your Bible, old and new testaments. God is very much for helping people who cannot help themselves. God is for helping people who cannot help themselves. For example, I told you one third. Let's talk about some of these. Isaiah writes learn to do good, seek justice, help the oppressed, defend the cause of orphans, fight for the rights of widows. He doesn't say maybe. He doesn't say if you have time, if you're called, if you're gifted. This is a blanket statement If you're a follower of Jesus in the room. This is what we are to be. This is what we are to be. In the Psalms we read give justice to the poor and the orphan. Uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute, not just don't take advantage of them. Not just don't take advantage of them. Uphold their rights. Uphold the rights of people who can't uphold it themselves. Stand for people who can't stand for themselves. Micah, this one you've probably seen shared on Facebook a lot. It's a great one. Oh people, the Lord has told you what is good and this is what he requires of you to do what is right, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. You see, seeking justice and helping the oppressed and doing what is right for those who cannot help themselves is a central part of our faith. It's core. I'd love it if you went to Proverbs 31, because I'm going to want you to write in your Bibles. If you didn't know, you can write in your Bibles. You absolutely can write in your Bibles. If you have a smartphone and you're using the Bible op, they have a nice little note feature there you can use. But we're going to Proverbs and we're going to Proverbs 31. So, right at the end of Proverbs and I want to look at this passage and break it down, because there are going to be two words that are absolutely critical to what we are talking about today and so the author, actually, as they're writing, they mentioned that this was advice they got from their mom. So how about that? God inspires mom, mom gives him advice. He writes it down, and 2000 years later in Madison, wisconsin, we're still talking about mom's advice here. The author writes speak out on behalf of the voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor. So the first word we're going to look at is what we translate as speak. It's patach in Hebrew, as I understand it. I looked up a few different websites on my background. It's not ancient biblical Hebrew, in case you didn't know that, but so I look it up and that's close. It doesn't quite mean speak, as you and I would think of it today, which is your voice, right, when we speak, we talk, it's our voice. We're saying something. Actually literally means opening or to open wide, and so then translators try to figure out what they mean. And it does mean speak, but it has more than just using your voice. When we say speak, it's talking about more than just speaking. It beckons us to actively open our hearts and voices to address the needs of the voiceless and vulnerable. There's a sense of urgency behind the word we got to open up wide, and it urges us to be advocates for those who lack the means to advocate for themselves. We are to be a voice, an active voice, an urgent voice for those who do not have a voice themselves. It is a powerful reminder In case you're not picking up what I'm putting down here a powerful reminder that silence simply is not an option. You can't look away from injustice. You can't not talk because it's not popular right now. You have to do something. We have a responsibility to open up our hearts, our minds, our voices to defend and support those who are amongst us, who require our care. The Bible contains moments where we're counseled to be still. Sometimes we're supposed to be still and other times we're supposed to be quiet. That's great, great advice for us, but never are we supposed to look at injustice and be still. There are some individuals in the midst of our community who yearn for an advocate. It might be because they don't have an advocate, but it also could be that they're crying out loudly for an advocate and none of us are listening. Both of those are possible. They're crying out and there's no one there, or they're crying out and we are there but we're not present. Think about members of the LGBTQ plus community. They have faced exclusion and discrimination within our churches. They read on the website everyone's welcome. There should be an asterisk there, right? You guys get that, because what we say, everyone's welcome, and then what is practiced couldn't be further apart. And at the same time, racial and ethnic minorities have endured segregation and bias, predominantly in white churches. I think a great testimony of the black community's faith in 2023 is that they were enslaved in the United States. White slave owners used the Bible to enslave them, to manipulate them, to harm them, to be violent, to justify it, and then for black Americans and people who come from lines of slavery to be able to say I still have faith in God shows just how great their faith is. No, thanks to white guys like me. Women have confronted challenges and denominations slow to embrace their leadership roles and gifts. Individuals with disabilities have been excluded due to inaccessible religious spaces, inaccessible church spaces. Hey, come to our church, oh, but we don't have a parking spot for you, we don't have ramps for you. We can't help you in that aspect. Economically disadvantaged individuals may feel overlooked by church communities that promote the prosperity gospel and teachings If you just follow Jesus, you'd be rich and everything would be great. Well, I'm trying to follow Jesus and I'm still dirt poor. That's frustrating, isn't it? Wouldn't that be frustrating? These groups of people underscore the importance of using our voices. These are practical ways. In 2023 in Madison, wisconsin, us, as Madison church, can use our voices to advocate for those who have been historically underrepresented or just flat out ignored as they've sought out God. They should be able to find God and we shouldn't stand in the way. It's time to get out of the way and to help them. So, contrary to the saying that God helps those who help themselves, it's crucial to understand that this notion is not only untrue, but it contradicts God's explicit commands to speak out for the voiceless and the poor and the oppressed. And why? Because those people profoundly matter to Jesus. They profoundly matter to Jesus. He died for them just as much as he died for you and me, and he loves them just as much. I might make some of you all uncomfortable. He loves them just as much as he loves you. It's also important to note that God called us to judge. That might make some of you uncomfortable. Where am I going with this? Let's talk about the word judge in Hebrew, shaphat. The word conveys the idea not just of making a judgment. I'm not just going to look at something and say something Okay, that's modern day judgment. That's not what we're talking about here. It has to do with rendering decisions and administering justice. What that means is you don't look at someone who is poor or doesn't have a lot of money. You don't think they must be lazy. See, that's an American version of judging. That's not what we're talking about here. What the biblical word for judging means. You're going to look through that. We're going to look at the heart. What's going on in this person's world? We look through that so we can't judge in the sense of like we're just looking topographically. We're not using discernment. We're not asking God what he thinks about it. We're saying oh, this is what my people think about it and what my family thinks about it, my political party thinks about that. This is what the company line is. Biblical judgment is cutting through all of that. It's about discerning, and not just that. It's about action. This word is about action. It emphasizes the responsibility that each and every single one of us aren't just supposed to speak up with urgency, but we're supposed to be just and fair individuals who cut through what's on the surface In order to do what the passage says defend the rights of the vulnerable and the needy, and in today's world, a critical and compassionate responsibility falls on us. We're the church, we're followers of Jesus, and everywhere Jesus went, his compassion made people uncomfortable. The way he loved people made people uncomfortable. I don't know if we've been blamed for that, yet We've been blamed for a lot in the world the church has. I don't think it's that we love. Well, everybody said those guys just love and forgive too. Well, you know who shows grace. Those guys know who speaks up for social justice. The Christians know. And yet those were things that Jesus stood for and he personified. He showed us God, and what we saw was God was all about justice, equality and inclusion. And so, practically speaking, what are we doing with what we're talking about today? First, let's acknowledge people in the room have different struggles than us. Struggles we may not even know are happening or existing. Okay, that's the first step. If we're going to advocate for the people we're talking about advocating for today, let's acknowledge they have unique challenges that you and I may not understand, we may not relate to, and that's okay. We just got to acknowledge it, though, that that's a reality, that that's actually happening. Then we got to listen Like, can we just be quiet, acknowledge that they're going through something and then listen, let's understand better? We may not be able to go through it as them, but we can go through it with them when we listen well, and as we do that, what I found personally true in my own life is that when we acknowledge that they're going through something, when people are going through something, and when we listen to what they're going through, it challenges the biases and stereotypes that we didn't even know existed within us. It challenges us Part of the advocacy process for us as a church, as a church community, all of us collectively, individually, but as a community where the sum of all of us here is to work at addressing our personal stereotypes, prejudices and biases. We have to do the work of doing that. We have to promote inclusion, encourage inclusivity and diversity. Call me out when you see something that isn't inclusive. I gave a talk about the body of Christ a few months ago and somebody said that you know what would a person if they were here in a wheelchair or they had a disability? What would they have thought about your talk? And you know what the truth was. I don't know the truth was. I didn't even think about it. The truth was, I hadn't thought of that at all and I needed somebody to call me out on that. And as a church, that's what we do, and they weren't rude about it. I say call out, but in my family that means one thing, but it was like hey, did you even think about how that might make someone else feel? And I didn't. And so, as a church community, I'll make you better, you make me better. That's how we're going to do this together. And then, finally, we got to do something. We got to take action. Yes, it's acknowledging, it's listening, it's promoting, it's challenging. But advocacy goes beyond talk, it goes beyond words. Advocacy in the biblical sense and what Jesus calls us to do. It requires action. We have to do something. Systemic problems require systemic actions. We have to do something about it. And so, judging in favor of marginalized and vulnerable groups, this is a call to be champions of fairness, it's a call to be allies for those who have been historically overlooked and oppressed, and advocates for a more just and more inclusive world. And if this is making you a little uncomfortable, I suspect it would. I knew that Coming into today. I prayed about it this morning. I think that it could. Maybe it sounds like some political parties talking points to you, but all of these things were what made Jesus so uncomfortable to the religious standard at the time. They had the Old Testament, they had the rules, they had history, and then Jesus comes on the scene and he's hanging out with sick people and he's hanging out with lepers, and he's hanging out with women and he's hanging out with fishermen and he's seeing with those people that gets thrown around. He's with those people, and so, if it feels challenging, I want you to just ignore what's going on in the media all around you. I want you to ignore what's on your social media feed. I just want you to ask what does Jesus say about this? That's the only thing that matters to me. I don't care about the TV news personalities you like. I'm glad you like them. Keep being engaged and informed. That's great. But I want you to ask what does Jesus say about this? And I want you to ask what does love then require of me? So the true saying that I hope that we can take away from today is that God helps those who can't help themselves. God helps those who can't help themselves, and he does so primarily through you and me. He does so primarily through you and me, but he doesn't just do it exclusively through you and me Because, as a reminder, every follower of Jesus here in the room, everyone who's covered in God's grace and walks in his forgiveness, was helped before we could help ourselves. May we never forget that while we were far away from God, he came after us when our relationship with him was broken and there was nothing we could do to restore it. God provided a way back. I love the way that Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul's words in Romans 5. He writes Christ arrives right on time to make this happen, to make salvation and wholeness happen. He didn't and doesn't wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we are far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble can inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his son and a sacrificial death while we were no use to him whatever before we could do anything. And Paul says even if we knew you needed help, you wouldn't have known what to do. You couldn't have done it. We needed help. And God didn't say well, I'll help you if you help yourself. God said I see you can't help yourself, so I will help you. God helped us when we couldn't help ourselves. Jesus created the way for us to find our way back to God, and I hope God has put people in my life, and God has guided me to people and relationships that help me have a better relationship with him, and he's going to do the same. He's already started to do the same through you and he'll continue to do the same through you. Faith is not an individual sport. We do this together. God helps those who can't help themselves, and so let's be agents of God's love in a world that desperately, desperately needs ��madea taar乃h.

Desire for Independence and Its Impact
Advocacy for the Voiceless and Vulnerable
God Helps Those in Need