Wash Me! Week 2 — Brainwashing, A Sermon All About Paradox

All week long, I felt that the Brainwashing sermon had some real importance.

That’s because I believe it’s essential for people who follow Christ to understand that paradox is to govern the way they think.

Paradox as in “the foolishness of the cross is wiser than men’s wisdom,” “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” “the greatest among you will be servant of all,” and “whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will find it.”  

Those sayings of Jesus and of Paul from the heart of Gospel ethic and Gospel thinking.

There was only one problem:  paradox is itself a difficult enough word that I couldn’t use it as part of the bottom line.  A bottom line needs to be essentially self-explanatory.  Sometimes using a word like paradox throughout a sermon can create distance between the speaker and the congregation.

So I instead settled on a bottom line that contained paradoxical language and paradoxical thinking in it.  And it’s also a bottom line that I believe well reflects the heart of one of the most marvelous passages of Scripture, I Corinthians 1:18-25.  Here it is:  Brainwashing occurs as you Reject the distorted glamor of the world so you can reflect the beautiful ugliness of the cross.

And that’s the cross for those of us seeking the mind of Christ:  beautifully ugly.  Here’s the message itself.


We normally think of brainwashing as something kidnappers or spies or the CIA would do in the midst of sleep deprivation. Where through all kinds of techniques involving mind control, diodes on your brain, and waterboarding, “they” are able to get “you” to change your mindset complete and to adopt an outlook on the world and on life that’s the polar opposite of what you have. Like this (we played edited version of this):

 But the reality is both much larger and more subtle than that.  Real brainwashing doesn’t involve the CIA or the KGB or even the AFL-CIO.

            Nope. Here’s what’s true: everyone here – from the youngest to the oldest – has been brainwashed and you don’t even know it.  Your brain has been the subject of a relentless, persistent assault by the forces that would rob you of authentic life by making you pursue a false one.  I would say those life-stealing forces are headed up by the Life Stealer himself, who is Satan.  Those forces are genius, positively brilliant at making the destructive seem delicious.  The brainwashing molds your thinking so that you long for, desire, pursue everything you THINK will make you happy but will actually leave you hollow & empty.  Romans 12:2 calls it being “conformed to the pattern of this world”:

 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

            And the tactics of conforming you that the enemy employs are so effective! So simple. I remember that when our son was 5 (now 21), every time he saw a food commercial on TV – whether McD’s or Ruby Tuesdays – he immediatelysaid, “I want that.”  It impacted his mind through his eyes.  I suspect you are the same, whether you are 5, 25, or 55.  The enemy has brainwashed you and put his imprint on your brain SO YOU SEE THINGS HIS WAY.  He’s got allies in Hollywood, on Wall Street, and DC.  The world has a glamour.  Heaven will rob you what the world promises.  It’s why you THINK more will make you happy.  It’s why some of you have bought the lie that extra-marital sex is natural, all pervasive, and all pleasure WITH NO CONSEQUENCES.  It’s why others have bought the lie that country first, faith second.  It’s why still others of you are hoping for everything in this life with scarcely a thought for the next one.  You’ve learned to process, filter information through the enemy’s eyes and reach his conclusions. And the primary indication of the enemy’s genius is that you didn’t even know it was happening.

            But here’s what I’ve really noticed about all this brainwashing.  It’s also behind your misery. What you THINK is delicious is actually destructive.  The glamour the world promises is actually distorted.  Because how you think and where your mind dwells totally determines your emotions.  You think something often enough and hard enough eventually you are going to feel it.  It’s why some of you are eaten up by envy.  Because you have bought into the culture’s definition of glamour – stuff & promotions & fame – and so guess what?  Others have more of it.  And it kills you!  This gets me!  Ugh! Preachers with fewer years but more influence and publications.  As if God needs my name to be bigger for his sake!  But you have it with family members, co-workers, celebrities.

            Others here have thoughts that are relentless negative. The sarcasm and snark of TV, the internet, sports talk radio, Fox News & MSNBC makes you undermine yourself. It’s sad to me how many folks I know turn into someone else – mean & sarcastic, usually – when they get on social media.  Or you clamor for your rights. You’ve been trained to think about your rights, insist on your rights, whine when they are violated . . . and never consider the responsibilities that come along with them.

And it’s all because you’ve been brainwashed to see the world through the enemy’s eyes, been conformed to the pattern of this world, and you can’t even recognize that your faulty thinking is behind most of your irresponsible behavior and your unhappy emotions. Even those of you whose minds are really smart – you’re living proof that there is no connection between intelligence & happiness – because twisting your mind into seeing the world his way is one of the enemy’s greatest accomplishments.

And as I touched on earlier, Paul in Romans 12:2 urges us not to be conformed – molded, shaped, brainwashed – but to be “transformed.”  Which is the same word used to describe Jesus on the mountain when he is turned inside out in radiant glory.  And how do we get turned inside out with glory?  By the renewing of your minds. You know what that means?  Again, how you think determines how you feel and then how you act. But more: you’ve been brainwashed once.  Now, in Christ, you get brainwashed back.  The spin cycle this time!  Satan stole your mind and in Christ we’re stealing it back!  And notice Paul says renewing.  Not once.  A process where you learn to process information & philosophies & media & viewpoints so that you think as God thinks, not enemy.

And Paul shows the center of that process in I Corinthians, a letter – get this – he has to write to a group of Xns who thought they were the smartest folks in the world.  Look at 1:18-19: 

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[a]

  See that?  There is this contrast between the world’s wisdom – people who have been brainwashed but don’t know it! – and God’s.  Now look at 1:20-21: 

 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

I love it!  Everything is upside down, inside out, on its head.  EVERYTHING YOU’VE LEARNED IS WRONG! About happiness, power, morality, money. All of it.  And here’s where Paul hammers it home: READ 1:22-23. 

 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

 Christ crucified.  Many of us have heard that phrase so often we failto know how shocking it really is.  Messiah Executed.  Savior Electrocuted.  President Assassinated. King Guillotined.  And that’s our victory?! That’s the basis of our faith?! That’s as smart as you can get – to look at that and say, “THAT’S WHEN GOD WON.”  Yep, it is.  In the absurdity of all that – a Savior who dies in abject humiliation – is summed up all the power and wisdom of God.

Listen: the symbol for the church is not a smiley face.  It’s not a dollar sign.  It is an instrument of torture and humiliation!  Of loss! And THAT, Paul says, is the brilliance of God.  And only when you recognize that, when you dwell on that, when you understand that’s how God works, do you begin that process of thinking like God thinks.  You realize THAT’S how the universe really works.  The world calls it weak & stupid. God calls it Victory In Jesus.  Winning by losing. Greatness by serving. First by last.  You renew your mind with that.  Upside down, inside out, all based on, centered on, focused on, the cross.  Here it is:  you’ll be properly brainwashed as you Reject the distorted glamour of the world and reflect the beautiful ugliness of the cross.  When you understand that the world will never deliver what you think heaven is withholding.  Satan put his imprint on your mind and now is the time to begin that lifelong process where your mind pivots, re-orients and everything that comes in gets sifted through the beautiful ugliness of the cross. 

Greatness, for example, is not in celebrity, in wealth, in fame or in infamy, but in this crew of people: AV.  What do they do? Cook dinner each Sunday night for BH. The world says: waste of time. The beautiful ugliness of the cross says: genius. Servants.  Looking for more.   See, all this really matters to me, because if you keeping thinking the way you’ll keep getting the results you’ve always got – envy, negativity, resentment, the rest.  Pivot, twist, re-orient.  I’m not talking about changing a view opinions. It’s about a new outlook with the cross in the center.  REFRAIN

And just as an aside: I’m really glad we have a cross up.  It’s a weekly reminder that down is up, losing is winning, life eternal comes from death to self.  And it’s also why you’ve got to be careful in evaluating even Xn material and whether that’s just part of Satan’s original brainwashing or God’s re-bwashing.  Because if it doesn’t return you to the cross, if it doesn’t have you marveling wide-eyed at the sacrifice at the heart of the universe, more than likely it’s just Xn flavored drivel.  That’s why the prosperity gospel – God wants you wealthy & in your own jet – is so dangerous. That’s the way the world thinks.  Not the cross.  Listen – this is why we will never have a prime parking place here labeled “Pastor Parking.” Or worse “Sr. Pastor Only.”  Bleh.  Everything in that which smacks of the distorted glamor of the world.  The beautiful ugliness of the cross comes when we park as far away as possible so you get best spots.

So I long to have all of you start that process of learning to think as God thinks.  So that you sync your mind up with God’s to see that paradox is at the heart of the universe.  You know how it began for me?  And as a new, teenage Xn, I read this NT everynight (AV of ReachOut). That’s all.  20 minutes a night.  And I learned what it was like to be so at odds with conventional wisdom when in the cafeteria my senior year, sex came up in a conversation.  Shocking, I know. And I said something and another guy just answered with “You just sit there and be a virgin, Talbot.”  As if it was the worst insult he could hurl at me.  And I thought, “Yep. What looks absurd to you is wise to God.” I had then and have now a long way to go to have my brain thoroughly washed, but that was a real turning point.  Rejected the world’s distorted glamor so that I could reflect the cross’ beautiful ugliness.  Shaped by the Scriptures.  REFRAIN

It’s why we love and believe in His Word The Last Word around here. That when a word of Scripture is the last word out of your mouth and in your mind before you go to sleep, God wondrously, miraculously allows that word to seep through your brain and so shape your mind.  So every day this coming week starting tonight we are going to send you a 9 pm email with a HWLW verse on it.  Read it, speak it, literally sleep on it, and wake up, we pray, with your brain washed by the beautiful ugliness of the cross.

This reality – and the dangers of NOT embracing it – is also why LifeGroups are at the middle of a living rel w/ Jesus Christ.  Because when your thinking starts to buy into the distorted glamour of the world – you start wandering down the path of endless acquisitions, even casual acceptance of the things God hates – you need a community to come around you and remind you of the truth.  To serve as a buffer.  To become boundaries.  To get you to less TV, less Facebook, less Twitter, and more REFRAIN.

Because a mind oriented God-ward really is an incredibly powerful force.  Like the young MLK Jr. who while forced to stand on the back of the bus in thought this:  I would end up having to go to the back of the bus with my body, but every time on that bus I’d put my mind up on that front seat.  And I said to myself, ‘one of these days, I’m going to put my body up there where my mind is.’

And so he did.

And so I want you to do.  Locate your mind one place and your body will follow.  Not at prestige & power & acquisition but at the foot of the cross.  That’s where you find all of the wisdom, intelligence, and right thinking summed up in one beautifully ugly place.  He’s calling out: gaze at me, gaze at this and WONDER. Marvel. Celebrate.  Have your Ivy League. Have your Wall Street. Have your Hollywood. Have your DNC and your RNC.  I’m taking him.  The best brainwashing ever.