My only regret with BrainWashing is that I didn’t do it about five years ago.
But one day last year I had a brief Facebook post on something along the lines of the sermon below and Chris Macedo told me, “We really need you to tell us stuff like that.”
So I did. So I will. For the next six weeks.
Here’s week one, a message with a bottom line inspired by I Corinthians 2:8: When you realize the world killed God, you’ll never trust its wisdom again.
Back in the 90s, a story came out about a woman from China named Zhang Meihua who when she turned 20 started suffering all kinds of mysterious ailments. First she lost the ability to move her arms & legs with any agility. Then she began to suffer chronic, debilitating headaches. Ultimately, she began to lose the use of those arms and legs altogether. Poor Zhang had to endure those symptoms for 20 years and a slew of doctors before the medical technology caught up and she was at last able to have a CAT scan. You know what the scan discovered?
That she had a rusty pin – not a nail, not a pen, but a straigh, lodged in her head. The head of the pin was on the outside of her skull and the shaft had penetrated into her brain. After the discovery, the doctors were able to remove the pin surgically and VOILA! all those horrific symptoms vanished. What’s interesting is that Zhang had no memory of having a pin stuck into her head; doctors speculated that it had entered her skull soon after birth and her skull had hardened around it. She needed – and received – the ultimate brainwashing for lifelong brain damage.
And so I want to spend a few moments today – a prelude to several weeks, really – looking at the ways in which Zhang Meihua is not alone. S he’s not the only one to have her brain invade and infected and influenced by forces she couldn’t name and can’t remember – but forces that had been negatively impacting her brain and her thinking from her earliest days. Nope, not just Zhang and not just a rusty pin. Zhang is joined by most of us and like her, we don’t even realize when our brain is being assaulted and soiled. And the rusty pin that has infected your brain is behind so much of what beguiles you – those relationships you can’t figure out, the money issues that never get resolved, the sexual hangups you have, the desire you have to be famous, to the point you’d prefer infamy to anonymity, oreven the embarrassment you feel in some professional or academic settings when it comes out that you are a Xn. You either hide from it or very quickly qualify it with, “I’m not THAT kind . . . “
And I’m getting all this from I Cor 2, sort of our home base for the BrainWashing series. Here’s what’s going on: Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, and that church is a mess. They are a mess because some self-styled elites were stirring up all kinds of dissension, claiming super-secret knowledge that no one else had. And they’d get asked, “well what IS this super secret knowledge?” They’d answer, “I can’t tell you.” “Why not?” “Cuz then you’d know & it wouldn’t be secret!” These same self-anointed elites held that their secret knowledge allowed them to engage in and encourage all kinds of sexual immorality as well. And this is the A-Team of the Corinthian church! So with that backdrop, and with the Corinthians church torn apart by a Christian Caste system based on secret wisdom, look at what Paul does in 2:6-7a:
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 No, we declare God’s wisdom
READ. Oh, so he sets up this supreme contrast (VISUAL DISPLAY?) between God’s wisdom and the wisdom of the rulers of this age (which probably includes the Corinthian Brahmins). And in Paul’s day, the wisdom of “the age” would also include the Roman government, the Greek poets, the Olympic athletes. In our day, you could easily say it is ABC, CBS, Disney, ESPN, The Academy, the Deans of Harvard,Yale,Princeton, the DNC, the RNC, and hell, maybe even Run-DMC.
It’s the wisdom, the perspective, the “all the smart people think this way” mindset. These are the governing classes, the ruling class, the chattering class, dare I say it . . . it’s the right side of history. That’s who Paul is talking about there. And then look where he goes in 2:7:
7 No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
No – IN CONTRAST, in other words, we DECLARE. We don’t apologize for, we don’t minimize, we don’t hide behind, but we believe and proclaim with confidence that Conventional Wisdom is actually the epitome of foolishness. And then, in a brilliant maneuver, Paul brings it home in 2:8 with all the subtlety of a lightning strike:
8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Whoa. Do you see what that is saying? Look closely. It’s saying that the world’s wisdom, the right side of history . . . look at how it responded to God’s visit to earth: they crucified the king of glory The glory of God in Jesus was so blindingly bright that the best and the brightest had to put it out. God – the one who gave us brains to think in the first place – visits his planet and the people there respond to his visit with murderous rage. Sit with that: the world – its values, priorities, and mindset – killed God when he dropped in for a visit. The wisdom of the world responded to the visit of God with murder. The world’s wisdom killed God. Killed God. I read that in v. 8 while in India and the implications of it completely bowled me over.
Because here’s how it connects with you, with me, and with the BrainWashing series: When you realize the world killed God, you’ll never trust its wisdom again. When you wrap your mind around the fact that the best and the brightest of the world’s thinking answered the doorbell of God’s visit with a shotgun blast to the head . . . then you’ll never trust its wisdom again. And that’s so vital to know and to embrace because so much of the world’s wisdom seems not only to be wise . . . but to be loving as well.
Just think about what is accepted these days as what all the smart people think now: Tolerance is the greatest virtue of all. In fact, the other thing we can’t tolerate is intolerance.
It’s love that makes a family.
Appearance is the same as success.
The USA is above reproach in its foreign policy.
The USA is the locus of evil in its foreign policy.
You’ve earned your money. Do with it what you want.
It doesn’t matter WHAT you believe, so long as you believe something.
As long as it’s consenting adults, God’s too busy to care what happens in the bedroom.
If it feels natural to you, it must therefore be good for you.
Living together is the best practice for marriage.
I can read my future by studying the stars.
Mankind is inherently good and if just given the right economic opportunity, he will make wise choices.
ALL THAT IS THE WISDOM THAT KILLED GOD! It is! Now: I am not a prude, I watch TV, I still listen to Led Zeppelin, I don’t hate the world, I’m not telling you how to vote (actually, I love making both Dems & Repubs uncomfortable!), BUT I have learned to listen to the world pontificate through the lens of biblical wisdom. And biblical wisdom, unlike the “wisdom of the age” is upside down, backwards, odd. It includes, as a friend of mine said, the “passionate ranks of the sexually restrained.” Love that. No one believes that anymore. Except that odd group of ppl known as Xns.
Anytime you run across a world view, a way of looking at things that even though it seems nice has actually disregarded or moved beyond Scripture: remember: that’s the wisdom that was so offended that God dared to visit us that it killed him when he did so. When you realize the world killed God, you’ll never trust its wisdom again.
And why is that? Because minds that are not reconciled to God through Christ will naturally think in ways are not redeemed. Those minds – again, heading up ad agencies, movie studios, and major universities – will think in ways that are seductive, alluring, sensible, and ultimately lethal. In many circles of the church (though UMCs don’t talk like this much), this is called a worldview. And as I developed this series and thought about this message I asked myself, “why have I waited so long to give messages like these? Because the people of GS have fallen prey to the world’s wisdom on so many levels! From the hyper-patriotic to the needlessly cynical. From the sexually permissive to the financially stringent. From the worship of celebrity to the desire for anonymity. Even some people who have become so open minded that brains have fallen out.” Well, even though I’ve waited too long I am so glad to be able to declare to you today as Paul did to the Corinthians so long ago: When you realize the world killed God, you’ll never trust its wisdom again.
I love 2:7 and 2:9 as well. Both of those verses highlight just how ancient & unchanging God’s truth is. We need that. In a world in which newer is better, in which products are designed to be obsolete in a matter of months, in which we think no one ever before has been as smart as we are, oh we need to reconnect with what is really, really, really old. Listen: I’d much rather excavate ancient truth with you on Sunday mornings than invent new ones. Being on the right side of history doesn’t concern me nearly as much as being on the right side of God! Oh, I am so glad to acknowledge that I am not smarter than those who wrote the bible. When you realize the world killed God, you’ll never trust its wisdom again.
So: what? What is this a call to? See, I want you to know that this truth –When you realize the world killed God, you’ll never trust its wisdom again – is not some esoteric teaching that’s disconnected from your life and your relationships. Nope. It’s in the middle of them. Because my great prayer is that as you grow in your suspicion of the world’s wisdom you will grow in appreciation of God’s. And when you grow in appreciation of God’s wisdom, as you are saturated in it, you will think as God thinks and act as God acts – and in so doing you will protect yourself from some of life’s great landmines. You’ll join the ranks of the sexually restrained. You’ll embrace the truth that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, and that includes the first fruits of your money. You’ll understand that the greatest among you is NOT on The Bachelorette but is servant of all. You’ll know that the first will be last and the last – the people most of the world overlooks – are in fact first. You’ll be delighted that you know the truth and the truth as made you odd. I love 2:10:
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
It’s why we talk about moving to maturity here at GS.
Because I’ve learned that wisdom of the world people can turn out weird. That those who killed God can themselves be resurrected. I remember as a senior in high school, a new Xn and understanding that meant that I’d wait until marriage for sex, that I was sitting in the cafeteria for lunch one day. And as is typical among high school boys – gosh, males in general – sex came up. As did my abstinence. And I remember a guy standing behind me – a kid I’d known since 3rd grade – say with this sneer in his voice, “You just sit there and BE a virgin, Talbot.” As if it was the worst insult he could ever hurl at me. And God was so good – even though I was a new Xn, I was just odd enough to know that was a great thing to be insulted for.
But anyway, now that we are, um, not 18 anymore, you know who emails me all the time now. That same “kid” – now 53. And you know what he routinely sends me? These updates from a ministry whose purpose is influencing American culture with the odd truths of the Gospel. IOW, infecting the world with the Christian worldview. I don’t know exactly how or when my friend changed – but I think it had something to do with a journey to sobriety – I just know he did. You know what happened? He got that rusty pin pulled out of his head. He got the ultimate brain washing. Won’t you?
Then, during the closing song, we handed out this “Shower Swag” to any who wanted their brains washed: