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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Holey, Wholly, Holy - Your Brain on God

2013-01-13 through 2013-02-10 The Me I Want to Be
Titled: "Holey, Wholly, Holy"
Based on John Ortberg's book: The Me I Want to Be
January 20 - Mind

Romans 11:33-36

Contemporary English Version (CEV)
33 Who can measure the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God? Who can understand his decisions or explain what he does?

34 "Has anyone known

the thoughts of the Lord

   or given him advice?

35 Has anyone loaned

something to the Lord

   that must be repaid?"

36 Everything comes from the Lord. All things were made because of him and will return to him. Praise the Lord forever! Amen.

Romans 12:1-3

Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Christ Brings New Life

12 Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That's the most sensible way to serve God. 2 Don't be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think.
[Or... Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.]
Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.
3 I realize how kind God has been to me, and so I tell each of you not to think you are better than you really are. Use good sense and measure yourself by the amount of faith that God has given you.

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale...
[... wait for it] The tale of a fateful trip.

that started from this tropic port
[... wait for it] Aboard this tiny ship.

The mate was a mighty sailing man
[... wait for it] the skipper brave and sure.

Five passengers set sail that day
[... wait for it] on a three hour tour. (A three hour tour.)


Isn't it amazing the silly things our minds pick up? And we pick them up without even trying. Sometimes even when we're trying really hard NOT to pick up what we pick up. Like viruses. That won't go away.

Let's do another one.

We-eee are never, ever, ever...
[... wait for it] getting back together.

See? See how easy it is for stuff to get embedded in our minds? Our minds are big, holey sponges for mindlessness. And if innocent little urchins like Gilligan and Taylor Swift can do it so effortlessly, imagine how easy it is for the malevolent forces of eeeeevil. Like, the shows on TLC. Imagine how even more easier it is for stuff that's alluring on the outside, yet hollow on the inside. Imagine how even double-plus easier it is for stuff that's harmful, but adaptive... the stuff we hate, but that gets us through the day without getting threatened, without getting yelled at, without getting hurt.

We don't have to imagine at all, do we? We all know what it's like to get junk stuck inside our heads that we can't get out. We'd like to think another way, but nobody will tell us how. Because they're all the same way, too. Sometimes, the junk is so old and so stuck that we can't imagine life without it. We just get this feeling, that something's wrong, because life seems like it ought to be so much better. That our heads ought to be quieter.

The Bible says, "Don't be CONFORMED to the patterns of this world, [don't be CONformed] but be TRANSFORMED [How?] by the renewing of your mind."

Our continuing series of messages today and for the next weeks is called, "Holey, Wholly, Holy," and it's about how we can move - yes, we can move - from being a hol-ey mess to being more whole in our lives, and even to approach the holiness of God.

Today we're talking about our minds. The holes in our minds get filled so effortlessly with junk we don't want in there, but don't know how to chase out. And after you chase, how do you replace the junk with something to make you more whole, the person Holy God intends you to be?


Chapter 12 of Paul's Letter to the Romans starts out,

Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That's the most sensible way to serve God. 2 Don't be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think.
[Or... Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.]

Don't Conform; be Transformed.

How? By the renewing of your mind. Simple, right?

Do you ever get to the point where there's just so much going on inside your head that you don't know where to start?

Do you ever get to the point where you feel like your thoughts are a ping-pong ball and you're the only one without a paddle?

Maybe it's just me. But I don't think so.

The other day I was thinking - there it is again, thinking - how cool it would be if we could hose out our brains and start fresh. Wouldn't that be great? You tilt your head to the side and all the troubles go streaming out. All the worries, and the wild ideas you can never get around to, but would be just Nobel Prize winning if you could? All the pressure and all the things left undone. All the things badly done. All that, just, whooosh! And then you start fresh. Reboot.

I mean, you clean out your house, you clean out your car, you hose out the boat -- why can't you do the same thing with your mind?

Hose 'em out, Flush 'em out, waaay out.

Like in that science-fiction movie, "Total Recall." Not the remake, but the original, which was one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's greatest moment of cinematic genius, second only to the first Terminator. Don't like who you are? Just flush out your brain and replace it with something new. Be a new self, who can pronounce Collyfornyia.

I'm sorry. That was mean. I know you're all huge Arnold fans.

But you wouldn't want to flush out the good stuff. Just the stuff that you don't like or that bosses you around. Nobody wants a bossy brain. BBS: Bossy Brain Syndrome. We all have it.

Preachers often have the shorter version, which leaves off one of the B's.

The Bible says, Don't Conform; be Transformed. How? By the renewing of your mind. The more contemporary version that I usually prefer says, "Let God change the way you think."

Let God change the way you think. Think about that.

But didn't God make me? And in making me, didn't God make the way I think? And if I don't think the way God made me think, then why am I thinking that way? Does God think I'm bad because of how I think? But the Bible says God thinks I'm good.

I think I have a headache.

"I think, therefore, I am." But that's not quite right. Dogs think. Cats think. Cats scheme. Scientists who classify stuff call us homo sapiens, which means, "thinking man." But no, that's still leaving out our middle name. Our full scientific name is homo sapiens sapiens. Which means, roughly, the man (or woman) who thinks about thinking.

Dogs think. I guarantee you. Ours think they want food, all the time. But dogs can't think about what they're thinking. Only humans can do that. And as amazing as that is, it's also what ties us up in knots. It can give us headaches. Stuff on our minds can make us physically sick to our stomachs.

Oh, and speaking of stomachs, there's something else the Apostle Paul didn't know. Did you know your gut also has a full-fledged brain? Independent of the brain in your head?

It's true. Your stomach and intestines have 500 million nerve cells, and 100 million neurons, about the size of a cat brain. You have a cat brain in your stomach. That explains a lot. Your gut-brain is hardwired to your emotions. People say, "Trust your gut." They're right. But we don't, do we? The gut-brain sends signals to your head-brain. But your head-brain is like the Security Council at the United Nations. It has veto power. That's why when your gut-brain says, "No more cheesecake! Please!" you say, "But it's soooo gooood." And then your gut takes revenge.

If you find this interesting, there's a link in the text of this sermon to a really cool website where a portly German scientist explains it all. You can get there from our church site. (http://www.ted.com/talks/heribert_watzke_the_brain_in_your_gut.html).

If you don't find it interesting, sorry.

The Bible says to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, but which one? We're barely aware of how many minds we have. And yet we have this amazing, special gift. We can think about our thoughts. Compared to other animals it's a superpower. But with any superpower, with great power, comes great responsibility.

The mind can be this amazing tool, but like any tool, we have to learn how it works before we can work it to our advantage. For instance, you can build things with a hammer. Or, you can bust stuff up. You can hurt yourself with it. You can hurt others. Or you can help. Your mind's the same. You can build things with it, or you can break things. You can use it to help or to hurt.

You pick.

But if your mind feels like the Williams Sisters are playing ping pong inside it, how do you even find the handle? You can't do a brain-flush. And you wouldn't want to. So how do you start to let God change the way you think? How do you chase out the junk and fill the holes with good stuff? How do you "be transformed" by the renewing of your mind?


The Bible takes this really simple approach. And, it is a start. It's a start, that you can keep starting over again and again and again.

If we pick up where we left off in Romans 12, Paul says,

4 A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use.

Wow. Even your gut? Yup. Even your gut. Paul may not be a neuroscientist, but he's smart enough to trust that his gut can tune him in to God. He says,

6 God has also given each of us different gifts to use. If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have. 7 If we can serve others, we should serve. If we can teach, we should teach. 8 If we can encourage others, we should encourage them. If we can give, we should be generous. If we are leaders, we should do our best. If we are good to others, we should do it cheerfully.

In other words, start simple. Don't worry about changing what you can't do. Don't worry about changing your mind. Do the good stuff you already know how to do and your mind will change. Your brain-brain may be a mess, but your gut-brain knows. Trust your gut, Luke. Keep it simple. Use the tools you've already got.

Chapter 12 of Romans is chock-full of simple steps. Here's another one, and it's so easy. Verse 13.

"Take care of God's needy people."

Why? (A) because they're God's people, and (B) because they need what you've got. And you've got so much you don't even think about. Like that extra coat in the closet that you never wear. Take it to the Volunteer Ministry Center. Take it to Goodwill.

That's easy. That's change. I promise you, the Bible promises you, that if you do that enough, your mind will be transformed. When? I don't know. It doesn't say when. Do you really have to know everything? No.

Here's another simple step. Verse 15:

"When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad."

In other words, stop forcing your judgments, your emotions, your opinions on other people. Stop trying to fix them. Just be with them. If they're happy and you know it, clap your hands. If they're sad and you know it, bring 'em a box of Kleenex and give 'em a hug.

That's easy. That's change. I promise you, the Bible promises you, that if you do that enough, your mind will be transformed.

And here's one more that's a twist on verse 15. It's not exactly what the Bible says, so you're gonna have to just trust me on this one.

When you're happy, be happy with other people. When you're sad, be sad with other people.

It's verse 15 turned sideways. When you're happy, be happy with other people. When you're sad, be sad with other people.

The prerequisite for this is the big IF in "IF you're happy and you know it," or "IF you're sad and you know it." You've gotta know which one you are. Again, you can think about what you're thinking about. You can think about what your gut is telling you. It's your unique, homo sapiens sapiens superpower.

Which means you can't lie to yourself and say you're happy when you're not, and deep down you know it. You can't lie to yourself and say you're sad when you're not, and deep down you know it. You've gotta sit still long enough to listen to your gut and stop vetoing your feelings. Because they are cat-like smart.

When you're happy, be happy with other people. When you're sad, be sad with other people.
If knowing what you know is the first half of this, then being it with other people is the second half.

I'm pretty introverted, so I can be happy or I can be sad, and I'll go off by myself, either physically or in my mind, and no one will know. Maybe that's just me, but I doubt it. It's kind of a man-thing.

And the being it with other people part gets really, really important if your mind is so overloaded that you can't even do the simple stuff. Or at least sustain it. In that case, please, please, please be with other people, like your doctor, or a therapist, or a psychiatrist. Or your grandmother. Or someone else's grandmother. Because grandmothers can be really smart. Be happy or be sad with people who know how to help you sort through the tangled spaghetti in your brain.

And finally, and I'm required by the Minister's Union to say this. And also by the Holy Spirit. Check out Romans, chapters 12 through 15. It really does have a great list of some really simple steps to practicing, to setting your brain up, to be transformed by God. If they don't seem so simple, or if you read a verse and go, "I'm not so sure about that," call me. Email me. Because I like talking about that Bible stuff. It's kind of my thing.


It's so easy to have your mind filled up and transformed by garbage. It's so easy. But the starting steps that you can do over and over, every day, to get your mind ready to be transformed by God, aren't really any harder.

Simple steps, simple awareness of the steps, will change the way your mind works. You can grow more holy in God. You can live more wholly, more completely, in God. And that can fill your mind and actions.

Let's pray.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Holey, Wholly, Holy

2013-01-13 through 2013-02-10 The Me I Want to Be
Titled: "Holey, Wholly, Holy"
Based on John Ortberg's book: The Me I Want to Be

January 13 - Spirit

Job 41:1-34

Can You Catch a Sea Monster?

1 Can you catch a sea monster

by using a fishhook?

Can you tie its mouth shut

with a rope?

2Can it be led around

by a ring in its nose

or a hook in its jaw?

3Will it beg for mercy?

4Will it surrender

as a slave for life?

5Can it be tied by the leg

like a pet bird

for little girls?

6Is it ever chopped up

and its pieces bargained for

in the fish-market?

7Can it be killed

with harpoons or spears?

8Wrestle it just once—

that will be the end.

9Merely a glimpse of this monster

makes all courage melt.

10And if it is too fierce

for anyone to attack,

who would dare oppose me?

11I am in command of the world

and in debt to no one.

12What powerful legs,

what a stout body

this monster possesses!

13Who could strip off its armor

or bring it under control

with a harness?

14Who would try to open its jaws,

full of fearsome teeth?

* 15Its back is covered

with shield after shield,

16firmly bound and closer together

17than breath to breath.

18When this monster sneezes,

lightning flashes, and its eyes

glow like the dawn.

19Sparks and fiery flames

explode from its mouth.

20And smoke spews from its nose

like steam

from a boiling pot,

21while its blazing breath

scorches everything in sight.

22Its neck is so tremendous

that everyone trembles,

23the weakest parts of its body

are harder than iron,

24and its heart is stone.

25When this noisy monster appears,

even the most powerful

turn and run in fear.

26No sword or spear can harm it,

27and weapons of bronze or iron

are as useless as straw

or rotten wood.

28Rocks thrown from a sling

cause it no more harm

than husks of grain.

This monster fears no arrows,

29it simply smiles at spears,

and striking it with a stick

is like slapping it with straw.

30As it crawls through the mud,

its sharp and spiny hide

tears the ground apart.

31And when it swims down deep,

the sea starts churning

like boiling oil,

32and it leaves behind a trail

of shining white foam.

33No other creature on earth

is so fearless.

34It is king of all proud creatures,

and it looks upon the others

as nothing.

John 10:7-14

I tell you for certain that I am the gate for the sheep. 8Everyone who came before me was a thief or a robber, and the sheep did not listen to any of them. 9I am the gate. All who come in through me will be saved. Through me they will come and go and find pasture.

10A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so everyone would have life, and have it fully. 11 I am the good shepherd, and the good shepherd gives up his life for his sheep. 12Hired workers are not like the shepherd. They don't own the sheep, and when they see a wolf coming, they run off and leave the sheep. Then the wolf attacks and scatters the flock. 13Hired workers run away because they don't care about the sheep.

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me.


I want to start out today with a question: are you (w)hol(l)(e)y? Now, before you answer, think about it for a minute. Are you (w)hol(l)(e)y?

When the preacher asks you, of course, you think of a particular kind of holy. H-O-L-Y. When you hear "holy" in church you think of "Holy Scripture," or "Holy Spirit," or the slightly scarier, "Holy Ghost." We sang a verse of the hymn, "Holy, Holy, Holy." "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" God is holy. Jesus is holy. The Spirit is holy. That's some tough competition when you're asked, "Are you holy?" Compared to God in those three persons, blessed Trinity? I'm not holy. Compared to them, you're not holy. So, No. You're not holy. Hate to be the one to break it to you. Sorry.

But good news. There are other holies than the holy of holies.

Different context. Say, you're at the dinner table. You know, the flat place where you stack the mail. I know not everyone or every family eats there anymore. But pretend. You're at the dinner table, eating processed, high-fructose corn by-products. Not really eating, but shoveling. Ingesting. You're not tasting the foody-goodness. You're just staring off into the distance. You're vaguely aware that there are other sentient beings present, but that's not where your mind is. And your wife, or husband, or partner, or significant something (it's 2013), this person smacks the table and says, "Have you heard anything I've said?"

I know, it's preposterous, but try to pretend.

And, after you regain composure, you realize the answer's no. You haven't heard a thing. So, you do the only thing you can do. You fake it. "Of course I've heard every word! How can you ask such a question? But you're so above my level that it would help me if you'd summarize it all before I respond."

And even though you cover like a Navy SEAL, you know, deep down, you're not wholly (W-H-O-L-L-Y) in the conversation. You're not wholly at the table. You're not even wholly in the house. You're off. In your mind. You're re-living something from the past. You're imagining some preferred future. Your presence in the present is partial, at best.

In this context, wholly's spelled with a "w". Are you wholly present? Are you wholly there? Are you wholly paying attention? No. Of course you're not. You're not dubya wholy.

But good news. There's yet another kind of holy.

I don't know if you've been to the mall lately. Or if you've been in a school lately. Maybe you only go to church and then back home. And if so, good. But there are a lot of teenagers and college students and people my age trying to fool everyone into believing we're younger, wearing clothes that are really... holey. And if you've seen what I'm talking about you know I don't mean church-holy. I'm talking strategically placed, hand-cut by Chinese garment workers, intentionally bought with your parents' money that way, clothes with holes.

I know this makes me sound really, really old. Who am I to talk? I wear a black robe. Which in the 16th century was haute couture. I'm wholly un-holey when it comes to fashion.

Clothes are holey. Swiss cheese is holey. Spongebob's holey. H-o-l-E-Y, holey. And sometimes, people feel that way, too.

Do you feel like you've got big gaps? Like you've got big empty spaces in your heart? Like your spirit's missing something essential? In your ability to function and be the way, the person, you want to be, are you hol-ey?


I'm know I'm certainly not holy like the God in three persons. I know I'm not wholly present in a lot - ok, most - situations. But I'm a very, very holey (ey) kind of person. And I'll bet you are, too.

We all spend so much time trying to find fulfillment. Or, maybe it's better to say, wishing, for fulfillment. Or, maybe it's correct to say, angry, that we don't have fulfillment. Or depressed that we don't have fulfillment. Or anxious that we don't have fulfillment. We've got these big holes in who we are. In our spirit. In our heart. In our real vs. imagined self. And the holes keep us from being wholly who we want to be. They keep us from being holy like Jesus teaches us to be.

The series of messages over the next few weeks is about being holey, and about being holy, and about being whole in spirit, whole in mind, whole in time, whole in your relationships, and whole in community. It's about being wholly invested in being holy like Jesus means holy, instead of being holey like Swiss cheese.

If you want to get the most out of this series, you'll need to buy the book that a lot of it's based on. It's by John Ortberg, and called, "The Me I Want to Be." If you read the book, you'll see that there's absolutely no way it can be covered in a few sermons. We also have a Sunday School class studying it. They meet at 9:30, around the corner, near the children's classes.

I hope that you'll go to the class, or get the book, or get other books or audio about wholeness during these next weeks. It would be really cool if five weeks from now, when somebody asks, "Are you holy, H-O-L-Y?" you can say, "I guess a little more than I was a few weeks ago." I think we all want to find fullness of life, wholeness of experience, and the holiness of the Spirit. I want us to work together toward that goal.


Did you know that in the Bible, the word for Holy also means, Breath? It's an old Hebrew word, Ruach. And if you say it right, it sounds like what it means, Rooooaccch. Sounds like Papaw sneezing. Rooachh! It comes up like 400 times in the Old Testament alone. When you see the word "breath" in the Bible, you can substitute "spirit," and it still works.

In the Old Testament, there's the book of Job. Job makes all these complaints. And Job's really smart. He out-argues all his friends who come with quick-fix, dime-store, easy religious answers, like, "Well, it's all part of God's plan." And, "God never sends you more than you can handle." Job hears all the cheap religious junk and says, "Oh, please - don't make me barf." (I use a contemporary version.) And Job argues. He argues like the world's best lawyer. And he pokes holes in all the answers.

And after about 40 chapters of hearing all Job's arguments, God says, "OK, mister smarty-pants. Let's talk."

God says, "Where were you when the world was formed? Where were you when I made alligators? (And really, only God could come up with alligators.) And in chapter 41, there's this wonderful, lyrical, almost comical statement about God saying, "Look. I even made a sea monster."

[Whose] back is covered
with shield after shield,
firmly bound and closer together
than breath to breath.

When this monster sneezes,
lightning flashes, and its eyes
glow like the dawn.
Sparks and fiery flames
explode from its mouth.
And smoke spews from its nose
like steam
from a boiling pot...

That's so cool. Sounds like a dragon from Harry Potter.

Its back is covered with shield after shield,
firmly bound and closer together than...

and here's that special word...

Firmly bound and closer together than BREATH to BREATH.

Now, a sea monster's imaginary. We all know that. But how many of us try to be sea monsters? How many of us try to cover up the holes in our life, try to hide and protect ourselves, with shield after shield? Bound and closer together than.... our breath? Our spirit to our spirit?

How many of us put on the protective armor of our image, our imaginary self? How many of us put on the armor of fashion. Or put on the armor of activity? Or put on the armor of the best and finest complaints? Or even the armor of churchy holiness?

In one way or another, we all do. I do. You do. We keep the illusion of wholeness. Or, we keep the distraction of hol-E-Y-ness. We may have had the scales on us so long we don't even think about them anymore. We keep them pressed together, closer than our breath. We settle. We settle for being imaginary monsters, when we could be real. Completely, whole and real. Holy, like Jesus said to be.


In the gospel according to John, Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd." Jesus say, "I'm the gateway." Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd." Jesus is not an imaginary monster. (I want to pause there, because sometimes people think he is, deep down, an imaginary monster. He's not.) Jesus is not a pretend shepherd who's only in it for the money, or whatever else he can get from it. Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd," and, "I came so everyone can have life, and have it fully [wholly, completely]."

Jesus is the breath of life. Jesus is the fresh air of new life. Jesus isn't like the monster who's covered in armor. Jesus lays down his life for you, for me, for everyone. Jesus laid-down all his protective armor. Jesus lays it down so that WE can breathe new life, whole life, holy life, without wasting all our living and breathing trying to cover the holes.

In the Psalms, in Psalm 119, it says, "I am at the point of death. Let your teachings breathe new life into me." Jesus went to the point of death - and even beyond the point of death, so that you, so that I, so that everybody could have new life - new spirit - breathed into them.

But guess what? You're still the one who has to do the work. God put wholeness of life into you. God put a spirit of holiness in you. But you've gotta do the work of peeling off the armor and uncovering it.


Here's something I'd like you to try. It only takes a minute, so you can do it today, before life kicks in and you forget. Try this. When you sit down at the table with your family, say this to them. Or, when you stand at the mirror, say this to yourself. Say it out loud. It's short. It's memorable. Say this: "You are holy."

And if the people at the table say, "Why are you saying that?" you can tell them, "Because the crazy minister told me to."

Just, "You are holy."

And if they say, "I heard part of that sermon, so which kind of holy do you mean?" say, "All of them."

If you're talking to yourself in the mirror, same thing. All of them.

And here's why. But don't tell any of this to your people. Just leave 'em guessing. It's good for them.

Which kind of holy? All of them.

You are holy in that you're completely incomplete. You're kind of your own mythical character. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

You're also holy in that you're wholly completely complete. You're a child of God. Already, and from your first breath. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

And, you are holy in that you're one of the sheep for whom the holy Good Shepherd lays down his life. You're h-o-l-y because the resurrected Christ makes you holy. He shares his holiness with you. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

It's good to tell yourself these things. But it's also good to tell the people around you. That's the spirit of where we're starting.