Smoke & Mirrors: Comparison

Smoke and Mirrors: Mind Games that Blind Us  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The key to a magician’s act is misdirection of our attention. They try to get us to focus on the smoke and mirrors, distraction our focus so that we don’t see something important so that we don’t see what is happening right before our eyes. Sometimes the things right in front of us are the hardest things to see. There are things you see everyday that you are blind to. Comparison is one of those things that plays with our attention and misdirects our focus so that we forget that which is most important.

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Focus Scripture slide

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Criss Angel,... David Copperfield, ...David Blaine, ....Harry Houdini, .....Siegfried Fischbacher, .....Penn & Teller,..... Michael Carbonaro...
Do you recognize any of these names? Do they have anything in common with one another? They are all illusionists and magicians aren’t they. We have seen them on billboards, television and may have even attended one of their shows. Some of them have had ongoing shows in Las Vegas for years. Here is another name that you may not recognize so easily, Apollo Robbins. Does anyone here know who Apollo Robbins is?
If you like to watch TED Talks, like myself, you may have seen him give one of the most popular TED Talks on The Art of Misdirection which was recorded in 2013. The key speaker on this presentation is Apollo Robbins. Robbins is not called a magician or illusionist although his techniques are much the same. He bears the title of “Gentlemen Thief”. He spent 20 years studying human behavior by picking pockets. He doesn’t pull rabbits out of hats or make boxes disappear. He makes things vanish from your pockets, hands and wrists often time while you are trying to catch him in the process. He is a magician who has learned how to control someone’s attention and behavior so well that he is always in control of what we see and experience. In this TED talk, Apollo Robbins makes a couple of profound observations. I would like to share them with you.
#1 : When we think of misdirection, we think of looking at things off to the side when actually it is the things right in front of us which are the hardest things to see. (Blind spots in our peripheral vision.) Let me introduce to the blind spot effect with this black and white grid called the Hermann Grid illusion.
Hermann Grid Illusion
Notice as you look at this grid and move your eyes around this grid you should notice grey areas appearing in white areas which seem to appear and disappear as you focus on other areas of the grid. This is because our eyes cannot receive all the light and it causes the mind to fill white spaces with dark shadows.
The key to any magician’s tricks or magic is accomplished through their ability to misdirect our attention or focus. This can happen in may ways. Two of the most common tools we often think of are smoke & mirrors because they can deflect or conceal our attention. If our focus can be distracted from something and onto something else if only for a moment. Our eyes will be able to receive all the visual input but our brain is only able to focus on certain parts of our environment. Like a blind spot, it filters out what seems unnecessary to avoid overloading with too much information and fills in the blanks. This is called inattentional blindness because we are blind to what what we do not give our attention. It is vital function is helping us maintain and establish focus on thing that matter. However, it is the same function which can make us blind to a magician making a coin vanish from one hand and mysteriously appearing in another by distracting us with a flicker, rapid movement or interruption.
Let me show you one more example.
Titchener Circles
See these two patterns? Now, quickly tell me are the blue circles different sizes?
Yes? No? Actually, the blue circles are the same size but the circles around them are different sizes. If you don’t focus on the blue circles, your first impression is that one is bigger than the other.
#2: The second thing Apollo has learned is that if you can control someone’s attention. You can shape their reality or behavior. “Attention is what steers your experience” if “(he) play with your attention as a limited resource” . Robbins has learn that he can control what you see, feel and experience and blind us to the realty of what is actually happening. In Robbin’s case it might be touching your leg as he lifts your phone out of your pocket. Directing your attention to one side of your chest as he lifts a wallet out of your jacket. Or even, talking to you about your watch as he holds your wrist and unlatches it from your arm.

Smoke & Mirrors

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Smoke, mirrors, reflections and attention. Where am I going with this new series? Like smoke and mirrors, if we give too much of our focus to something we can easily find ourselves fooled. We have several trick of the mind that we practice every day. They are right in front of us so frequently that often we don’t even notice that we are being fooled and it has to do with our thoughts. One of those tricks of the mind is the practice of comparison.
How many of you have a Facebook account? When Facebook was introduced, my boys were in grade school. I was so determined to protect them that I made it a point to learn about all the new apps that were popular with the kids. Facebook was also a great tool for sharing my experiences, my stories and pictures of my family with other family members and friends. Over time though I started to notice something. Many of my friends were doing things together without me. They were going to parties that I wasn’t invited to and after a while, I started to think maybe they weren’t really a good friend or they didn’t really enjoy my company. Comparison is one of the struggles that can entangle our lives in subtle ways. Comparison is a curse because the fastest way to kill something special is to compare it to something else.
I love to watch home improvement shows like the ones that feature Joanna Gaines. Anyone else here love Joanna Gaines! You do see the wall behind me don’t you. She is famous for this sort of stuff because she love farmhouses and shiplap! Day after day many of us watch Joanna decorate house after house and I don’t know for sure but I suspect there are times that you might think. Wow! I would really like for her and Chip to come renovate my house. I love my house but that would be fun. Over time, you suddenly realize that you don’t love your house any more. You still like your house but not like before. Is it because your house isn’t nice? Did it change? No, what changed is your focus.
Where Comparison begins, contentment ends
That is the same effect I had with Facebook. My experiences with my friends had not changed either. I still liked them. They still liked me but I started comparing their lives with mine. Let’s be honest here. They were probably looking at my Facebook page and thinking the same thing because we don’t usually share the mediocre or bad stuff on Facebook do we? We like to share the fun and wonderful things but when we start comparing people, places, thing and lives. It is sort of like looking into a mirror. It looks like us but it isn’t real. It is just an illusion and if we focus on to long enough we start to feel discontented because “Where comparison begins, contentment ends.” (1)
Two Options Slide
Why? Well there are only two options open to us when we start making comparisons. One will be superior and the other inferior. This is why Paul says, to the Corinthians church it is a practice of ignorance! We compare two things and we establish one as a standard of high value and the other as less worth. That is what was happening in the church there. Other teachers were coming in to town or rising up from within the church. They would boast about the authority that was being given to them by the Lord. Paul says yes they do belong to the Lord but their boasting is tearing your down. They are building themselves up and shaming you and me by saying things like “Paul’s letters are forceful, but in person he is weak, and his speeches are worthless! You people should realize that our actions when we arrive in person will be as forceful as what we say in our letters from far away.” They would compare themselves to Paul and judge themselves superior and Paul inferior and the standard of their measurement or assessment was only themselves.
Misdirected focus blinds us slide
What did we learn about misdirected focus from Robbin’s ? It blinds us to reality and shapes our experience. Let’s say it together: Misdirected focus blinds us to reality and shapes our experience.
I have a few things here that might remind you of some comparison traps we fall into .
“Look at how their kids act all the time.”
“Look at how much money is making at work.”
“They have a wonderful relationship. He buys her flowers. She goes with him to play golf and fish.”
“This marriage isn’t turning out the way I planned.”
Do these thought build us up or tear us down? Paul reminds us that not only is this an ignorant thing to do because our standard is faulty but it also dishonors God. The image in which you were create. We were created in God’s image so when we are making ourselves feel better or less than not only is it foolish behavior. It also dishonors God and God’s image.

The Land of -ER

ER Slide
Andy Stanley call this the Land of -er. It is a place where everyone want -er. We have been talking about Abraham leaving the land of Ur the last few weeks. I don’t that Ur is the same as this -er but maybe there were some similarities. I don’t know. We know Abraham felt cursed there and left following God’s promise of blessing. He was thinking, I have no children and children were considered a sign of blessing and wealth in those times.
Stanley says everyone wants wants something plus -er. They want to be happier, better, superior, stronger, faster, richer. The problem with comparison is that it kills our contentment. If we are happy, there is always someone happier, richer, faster, stronger.....which reveals the hard truth which is we don’t really want to be -er. If we are really honest with ourselves, we want to have residence in -est.
Jesus has something to say about this behavior. If you read through you will notice that John writes about himself. He calls himself “the one that Jesus loved” and throughout the book John and Peter seem to be in competition with one another. They have races against one another to Jesus’ tomb. They want Jesus to tell them who will be greater in the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus tells Peter, that all of the disciples will abandon him. Peter says not I love you more than all of these other disciples. I would never abandon you. Yet, he not only abandons him. He denies being with him or knowing him when faced down by a young servant girl.
After Jesus resurrection, Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to reaffirm his love for him asking three times Simon son of John, do you love me more than these other disciples? Jesus tells him “then feed my sheep, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep and then proceeds to tell him where his love of Jesus will take him saying. “When you were young, you were able to do as you liked; your dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch our your hands, and other will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go. Follow me.”
Peter turns around as sees “the disciple Jesus loved” and asks Jesus, “What about him, Lord? I want to be -er. I want to be -est. What about him?
Jesus replies, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? Follow me.”

Only One -est

There is only One who can occupy -est and that place is already taken. Neither you or I will ever possess -est and -er is only temporary when we always practice the illusion of comparison. Ignorance! Foolishness. It is a waste of time and foolish to behave or think this way. Not only is it foolish but is hurtful! Hurtful to yourself and to others and destroys the image of God in both. None of these desires will ever bring contentment, joy or satisfaction because they are delusions. If we are so focused on more or best all we succeed in doing is being miserable and dissatisfied because there isn’t enough -est to go around.
You are a child of God. The sons and daughters of the most high King. All that is his is yours and if you are wanting more than that then who are you really hoping to be? God?! Think it through. Demolish those false reflections. Tear them down not yourself or others. How are you going to measure your worth? Is your value and worth defined by the father who never gave you what you wanted. Is it defined by the ex-spouse who cursed you and left you? They weren’t thinking about you. They were thinking about themselves. They are trying to please themselves and chasing false image because you didn’t live up to their expectations.
What is it to you? slide
We each are promised an eternal prize if we will finish the race. What is it to you what your brother or sister is doing? You have your own race to run the goal is not to be the fastest, first or best. The goal is to finish OUR race. Peter had to finish his race. John had to finish his race. It is our task to run and stay in our own lane. We are ONE in the Body of Christ. We are the church and each or our gifts are intended to bless one another and to bless God. We should be cheering each other on not tearing each other apart. Stay focused on your own path. Stay focused on the one who loves you. Stay focused on Jesus.
As a pastor, I am called to baptize and equip disciples. We are all called to make disciples using the gifts and callings unique and endowed by our Creator. I don’t know what you are called to do. People often think the job of a pastor is to recruit volunteers but equipping disciples to answer a call is not recruiting. Disciples are leaders who know where they are going and see how to get there. Volunteers are people waiting to be invited to the race. They don’t have focus or purpose and when you don’t have focus or purpose, you will keep looking side to see where you are in comparison to those who do. It is so much more joyful and satisfying as a pastor to cheer someone on than to urge them to come to the race.
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Honor God, love your neighbor as yourself. Demolish the mirrors and ignore the smoke of deception. You are best and strongest in your own lane. The reality is we are to be together and cheering each other on, instead of killing what is special with comparison and dishonor.
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