Sunday, February 19, 2006

left brain (a sermon)

Here's the text of a sermon I just gave last Saturday at our Oasis Madrid service. I hope it helps you in some way.


Left Brain
a sermon by Troy Cady

One day, a man named Mr. Tung went to the doctor because he suspected that his brain had some problems. The doctor carefully went through all the check-ups and spoke to Mr. Tung after getting the reports, “Well, Mr. Tung, the situation is…hm…you see…there are two brains in your head, one is the left brain and the other is the right brain. And, see, um…In your left brain, there is nothing right, and in your right brain, there is nothing left.”

[Note to reader: this is where you’re supposed to laugh. Please oblige.]

Okay, enough tomfoolery. Let’s get to the matter at hand: We’re in the middle of a series called “Body Parts”. The aim of the series is summed up in the words of the apostle Paul when he writes in Romans 6: “…offer the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness.”

So far in this series we’ve noted that God is described in the Bible with metaphors that are bodily in nature. We’ve looked at God’s heart for us, God’s hands, and God’s arms. We’ve looked at the person of Jesus as a literal representation of what God’s body parts are like and we’ve looked at how Jesus used his body parts to change people. Since we’re all on a journey to become more like Christ, we do well to ask: “In what ways can my body parts be like God’s?” By doing as such, we will become more Christ-like. That’s why we’re endeavoring these months to “offer the parts of our body to God...”

In this teaching, we'll look at the first half of offering to God our mind. If you’ve been following this series, you’ll note that we’ve taken one session per “part”. But, as we thought about offering to God our mind, we said: “That will be tough to do in one session, because some people associate the mind with logic, while others associate the mind with creativity.” So, we decided in this instance to take two sessions to cover the mind (to “please” both kinds of people, so to speak). One session is for the left brain (the more logical, rational side), and the other session is for the right brain (the more artistic, irrational side).

So, in this teaching, we’re looking at the left brain.

I want to stress from the outset that we will not be talking primarily about “how to get smarter.” Rather, we’ll be focusing on a more important matter: wisdom, insight and understanding.

We’ll be focusing on wisdom because King Solomon, the wisest king in Israel’s history, says: “Get wisdom, get understanding... Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you... Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor.” (Prov. 4:5-6, 8-9) In other words “Wisdom is supreme”, Solomon says in verse 7. That’s why we’ll mostly be looking at wisdom (over mere intellect) in this teaching.

In spite of that, however, I must stress that the intellect (that is, right thinking) does matter. And here’s why: because ideas have consequences.

Take, for example, nihilism, which is the central idea of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nihilism comes from the Latin word for “nothing” (which is nihilo). Thus, nihilism says: “There is no meaning. Whatever meaning we choose to ascribe to a thing is merely arbitrary, since there is no objective truth outside ourselves.” Because of this, Nietzsche rooted his philosophy in the concept of beauty, since beauty (he claims) is purely subjective. That is to say, what you think is beautiful may not be beautiful to others. But that’s okay, Nietzsche tells us, since there is no such thing as objective, universal truth. In fact, the subjectivity of beauty merely reinforces the idea of nihilism, he claims. Things will be the way we want them to be and nothing else.

Because of the supremacy of beauty, Nietzsche articulated the idea of the Superman. This was Nietzsche’s attempt to paint a hopeful picture for the future of humanity, given the absence of timeless universals. The Superman would specifically represent the pinnacle of evolutionary progress over the centuries, the progress of beauty. Couched in this concept was the idea that this progress was not to be thought of in terms of right and wrong, good and evil (since there is no such thing, remember?), but rather it was to be thought of in terms of beauty’s triumph.

Enter Adolf Hitler, who reads Friedrich Nietzsche. Hitler picks up the idea of the Superman, and then decides to create the Superman through military might and ethnic cleansing. Now, please note: according to Nietzsche’s philosophy, this is perfectly within bounds, since such actions are neither right nor wrong; good nor evil; such actions are justifiable since Hitler is merely trying to expedite the reign of beauty, which Nietzsche extolled. And who’s to say Hitler is wrong? Nobody, since, as Nietzsche claims, beauty is merely subjective.

Ummm…wait a minute. Excuse me: there is a right and a wrong. Life is not nothingness. Life is layered with meaning, rich with meaning. And, by the way, ideas do have consequences.

But let’s bring this to a more personal level, an individual level. Once, I was speaking to a group of people who were interested in studying religious cults. As I began teaching, I emphasized that cults are regarded as such not primarily because of their strange practices, but rather because of their foundational ideas.

During the second session of this seminar we were having a discussion time, when one of the participants started weeping. When asked what was troubling her, she explained how she had a friend who was a Hindu, and this friend was raped. She went on to explain that her friend could not keep from blaming herself for what happened. Deep down, she felt that she was at fault for the rape. When asked why she felt this way, her friend referred to one of Hinduism’s core ideas: karma. “Well,” her friend explained, “I figure I must have done something bad in a previous life, so this is my punishment. It’s karma.” Ideas have consequences.

In light of that, here’s another idea. Fortunately, it’s not merely an idea. It’s reality and it’s called grace. King David counters karma’s message with these words: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love… [He] does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psa. 103: 8 and 10, emphasis added)

What refreshing ideas: Forgiveness, grace, love, compassion! Bono of U2 says: “Grace, she takes the blame. She covers the shame, removes the stain.” Bono says that grace is “a thought that changed the world…She travels outside of karma. She travels outside of karma…” What a refreshing idea. What a liberating truth. Yes, ideas do have consequences.

You can see that what we think of God matters (that’s why theology, the study of God, is important). But it’s also true that what you think of yourself matters, too.

For example, in the Gospels we are told the story of Peter’s first encounter with Jesus. In that story, we are told that Peter responds to Jesus by saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Now, this is an interesting response, because it demonstrates a paradox: Peter thought rightly about himself, but he had the wrong idea about God.

See, Peter understood that, left to his own devices, he was indeed a sinful man. But, what Peter didn’t understand was that God’s holiness always comes accompanied by love. You never get one without the other. And, therefore, it was in love that Jesus corrected Peter’s understanding of God by inviting Peter to keep him company, to follow him, so that Jesus could change Peter’s life.

You can see that Peter was right in thinking he was needy and prone to sin, prone to wander from God and his ways for us. But, I sometimes think that Christians give sin, death and the devil too much credit. See, the Bible gives another picture for those who decide to be Christ’s followers. Yes, the Bible tells us that, prior to becoming Christians, we are plagued by sin (and sin, in a very real sense, controls our lives). But, when we become Christians, a new reality comes into play: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Just let those words sink in now: If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, if you are following Jesus Christ, trusting your life into his hands, you are a new creation. You are no longer that big mass of pathetic sinfulness and ugly rebellion that you once were. You are new. You are “in Christ”. You are beautiful.

The sad thing is: so many Christians still define themselves in terms of sin. But, with Christ in your life, God’s perfection is what defines you. We are supposed to take our cues from who God says we are, not from the devil. The devil, given the opportunity (and, believe me: we do give him plenty of opportunity), will tell you every time: “You’re a loser. You’re no good. You think you can beat this sin thing? Well, just try! Go ahead. I dare you. You’ll only fail. Time and time again. And you call yourself a Christian? Pathetic.”

God, on the other hand, says in His Word:

“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1)


“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” (Heb. 12:2)


“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet. 1:3)


“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph. 1:18-19)

In that light, we see who we truly are more accurately. We see: “I am accepted. I am secure. I am significant.” This, as you can see, is a far cry from what the devil tells us, so feeding your mind the truth is crucial.

In fact, these ideas are so critical that I have them printed on a card that I look at every week to remind me who I truly am. (If you’d like one of these cards- it’s sort of an "artistic" bookmark- let me know and I’ll try to get one to you, since I’ve printed several of them to give to others).

At any rate, this is one small way I am seeking to apply Paul’s admonition to us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) See, Paul understood this: ideas have consequences. What you think actually does affect your life. So, it’s important that we take all these little stray thoughts that are seeking to go Absent Without Leave and pull them back together to make them stand in line under the authority of our Lord (and then march in step with our Master Jesus).

As I said, my “Who Am I” card is one small way of seeking to do this, but there are other ways, too. For example: bathing your mind in Scripture, memorizing Scripture, meditating on Scripture. Or listening to music that is uplifting and that conveys truth about God and the world in which we live and ourselves. In short, when we think about offering to God our mind, we should realize that we are called to fill our mind with beautiful truth and true beauty.

Okay, let’s recap: we’ve seen that ideas have consequences, so giving to God our intellect, our thoughts, our left brain, is key. And we’ve mentioned some tools we can use to give God our mind. I’ll close now with one big principle that has a couple of corollaries that we should keep in mind when it comes to the topic of “giving God our mind”.

Jesus says the most important commandment is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.” (Matt. 22:37) What I find interesting about this is the fact that Jesus doesn’t explicitly describe just how we are supposed to love God with our mind. But, what I’ve come to realize is, he doesn’t have to, because Jesus’ command is to be understood holistically.

What I mean is this: We tend to separate Jesus’ statement into three parts like this:

1. love God with all your heart
2. love God with all your soul
3. love God with all your mind.

But we forget the Hebraic mindset (which was the mindset Jesus was immediately speaking from and to) was not like our modern mindset. Moderns tend to pull apart and dissect (or, in this case, trisect) truthful realities, while the pre-modern mindset tended to pull pieces together into a cohesive whole. The Hebraic mindset (rather, the Hebraic way of life!) was holistic. So, Jesus may have been saying something more like: “Love God with your heart-soul-mind”. In other words: Give God your all. To give God your heart is to give God your soul. In doing as such, we give God our mind. You can’t really give God one without giving God the other. So realize that…

It is impossible to truly give God your mind without also giving him your heart. That’s what we talked about in the first sermon in our “Body Parts” series. We see an example of this connection when we read in Psalm 11, verse 10: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. (Ps. 11:10, emphasis added)

Note in this verse how walking in God’s ways enables one to acquire true wisdom. Theologians call this idea orthopraxy. You may know that the word “orthodoxy” means “right belief”. Well, there’s also a thing called “orthopraxy”. In the book The Shaping of Things to Come, authors Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch extol orthopraxy and define it with these words. They say it is “a system that believes that right living provides the context for us to embrace right thinking.” In other words, obedience begets understanding.

In light of that, I’m going to get personal now: is there something in your life that needs to be put right before God and others? Is there some area of your life where God is asking you to walk His way, not your way, but you have yet to obey? It could involve a dating relationship, or a sexual relationship. Or maybe God is asking you to be more gracious and loving, gentler with your words. Maybe God is asking you to go to someone that you’ve offended or spoken harshly to or been insensitive towards and say “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? I was wrong.” Perhaps God is asking you to pursue him in simple solitude. Perhaps God is asking you to follow him by giving him your time or even a bit of your money (which are all His to give anyway). Or maybe God is asking you to serve others in some way, either through the church or through other relationships you have. Whatever the case may be, remember: obedience gives birth to wisdom.

Okay, let’s look now at a similar verse in Proverbs 9 (when compared to the verse we just looked at in Psalm 11). What’s fascinating about these two verses is that the first half of each starts out with identical wording. They each say: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…” But, while Psalm 11 concludes with “all who follow his precepts have good understanding”, the verse in Proverbs 9 concludes with a different phrase: “and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov. 9:10)

It appears, then, that there are at least two keys to unlocking the door of wisdom. The first one we looked at is the key of obedience; the one we’ll look at briefly now is “knowledge of the Holy One”.

In light of that, let me ask: do you know God? I mean, really know him. Not in the "head" sense of the word but more in the “biblical” sense. The Hebraic/biblical understanding of “knowledge” involves personal experience of the object known. (for example, “Adam lay with his wife Eve and he KNEW her.”) In that light, I’ll ask again: do you know God? I mean really know him.

I ask this because there’s only so much we can know about God without experiencing God himself. I think of a friend who just gave her heart to God under a year ago. This past autumn, she wrote a short piece reflecting on her experience and one of the things she mentions in her writing is the idea that she knew plenty about God (she believed Jesus was God, Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus died for her sins), but she felt something was “stopping” her from moving forward. Then one day, she decided to take the plunge, to really reach out to God with her whole heart, to take a “leap of faith” and give herself to God. And then, she writes, she finally “saw” (the lights came on, everything made sense!), and she even writes about how foolish she felt for not seeing it before. Something rang true, something struck a resonant chord deep inside her. That “something” was a first-hand experience of God. And it has changed her spirit and her mind, literally.

This is what Paul is talking about when he writes concerning those who know God and those who don’t. He says: “God has actually given us his Spirit …so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us…But people who aren't Christians can't understand these truths from God's Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them because only those who have the Spirit can understand what the Spirit means. We who have the Spirit understand these things, but others can't understand us at all. How could they?” (I Cor. 2:12ff)

There are some things you just can’t know until you’ve experienced Jesus Christ first-hand. Knowledge of the Holy One and a life of obedience are the two biggest things you can do to generate understanding, wisdom, insight. So today, won’t you consider asking Jesus to meet you personally, and won’t you consider telling God you want to follow Him? And then, won’t you, this day, determine to obey him, no matter the cost? It’ll be the best thing you ever did. And, you’ll see, wisdom will crown your head with a garland of grace.

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