APRIL 19, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard C. Meyer



            Whatever.  Its become a one-word dismissive response to a statement made by another It communicates an "I don't care what you say" indifference.  Behind that one word, the rolling of the eyes and the tone of voice comes the response to such statements as, "You need to help more around the house," ... Whatever.  "John, I'm not sure that's such a good idea," ... Whatever.  "Brigham Young is going to smash the Huskers in the season opener," ... Whatever. 

            Two years running at Marist College it was voted the "most annoying phrase in conversation."  It even beat out the word "totally."  The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, calls the comeback "whatever" a passive-aggressive conversational blocking tool. Anything another person can say can simply be blocked by the retort, "whatever."

            The origin of the usage can be traced back to two 1965 sitcoms "Bewitched" and "My Mother the Car." In a 1965 episode of Bewitched the character Endora exclaims to her daughter Samantha, "Alright, whatever," and in the 1965 episode of the much maligned sitcom My Mother the Car, "whatever" was the standard retort used by Captain Manzini whenever he would mispronounce the name of the car's owner and son.

            It didn't always mean that. There was a time when whatever simply referred to "everything and anything," like "Take whatever you want," or it meant "no matter what," like "Whatever he says they won't believe him."  At one time in history the word had a positive, rather than derisive meaning, and that's how the Apostle Paul uses it today.  Listen to his words.  Philippians 4:8-9 ...


            Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.


            Today we turn our attention to the second message in our "Spring Cleaning" sermon series.  Last week we looked at Jesus doing a little spring cleaning himself, his clearing out the Temple, referred to in the gospels as the "cleansing" of the Temple.  Then we looked at what Jesus and Paul refer to as our modern-day temple ... our bodies ... and since it's that time of year when trees start budding and flowers start blooming and people move into spring cleaning mode, I thought it would be a good idea to do a little spring cleaning of our own before we get into the slower paced, laid back summer months.  So today we turn to cleaning up our thought life.

            Did you know the average person has 10,000 separate thoughts each day?  That works out to be 3.5 million thoughts a year.  My wife, Trudy, can attest to that.  When she wakes up in the middle of the night and cant go back to sleep, and I ask her , "What kept you up?" she says, I couldnt shut off my brain. 

            So if the average person has 10,000 separate thoughts a day, not counting what we might think about in the middle of the night, that means most of us have had about 2,000 separate thoughts since we woke up this morning.  Well have 8,000 more before we hit the sack tonight.[1] 

            And most of those 10.000 thoughts represents a choice, a decision we make to think about this and not about that.  Suppose someone gave us $10,000 dollars this morning and said, Spend it any way you like as long as you spend it before you go to bed tonight.  I bet if that happened we would be careful about how we spent that money.  I bet most of us would sit down, make a list of some of the things we could do with that money put it in savings, pay off debt, book a cruise or a couple of cruises, put a down payment on a house, finish the man cave downstairs.

            So why would we devote so much time to how we would spend that money, and so little time to how we spend our thoughts? I say that because our thought life is vitally important.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, Beware of what you set your mind on because that you will surely become.  Norman Vincent Peale said, Change your thought life and you change the world.  Henry Ford put a little different spin on the matter when he said, Thinking is the hardest work in the world, which is why so few people engage in it.

            Years ago, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote a best seller titled The Power of Positive Thinking.  I never met Norman Vincent Peale, but I met his daughter, Maggie Everitt.  Maggie and I served on the national board called Faith at Work, and she told me that her father wrote the book, The Power of Positive Thinking, because his wife, Maggies mother, told him he needed to be less negative and pessimistic and more positive.  So it became a self-help exercise for himself before it became a national best-seller and a great help to less than positive people.

            Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, however, was not the first positive thinker.  That honor should go to the Apostle Paul, 


            Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.


            Paul mentions six whatevers,  which we can turn into six questions to ask ourselves about our thought life.  First, is what we are thinking true?  Before we put our thoughts into words, is it the truth?  This question helps to eliminate all that is dishonest and unreliable in our conversations with others. 

            Second, is it honorable?  The word means noble, worthy of reverence.  It refers to that which is majestic and awe-inspiring.  Do we ponder things that are noble or frivolous and trivial?

            Third, is it just? This means is it in conformity to Gods standards, and not Is it right in my eyes or is it right in the eyes of others?  Is it right in Gods eyes?  Does it conform to Gods standards? Is it just?

            Fourth, is it pure? In other words, is our thought life clean? When I was younger people would say, Get your mind out of the gutter.  We dont say that much anymore, but the warning is clear and cautionary, Get your mind out of the gutter. Think about whatever is pure.

            Five, is it pleasing?  The actual Greek word could be paraphrased as that which calls forth love.  Think of it as attracting love as a magnet attracts iron fillings.  Do our thoughts attract the right things to us?

            Six, is it commendable? In other words would we recommend this thought to others without reservation?  Would we give the thought two thumbs up rather than two thumbs down?

            Then after mentioning these six whatevers, Paul proceeds to mention two catch-all categories, excellence and praiseworthiness sort of summarizing what he said before, and then he ends with a command


            If there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.


            Note the command.  Think about these things. Its a present tense command. We are suppose to start doing this today, right now, not tomorrow. Find the true and think about it.  Find the honorable and think about it.  Find the just and think about it.  And if we do, Paul makes us a promise.  He says, The God of peace will be with you. Those who monitor their thought life, those who think about these things, will experience the peace of God in their lives.

            That leaves us with only one more area to consider.  Let me close with some practical suggestions for those who want to take Pauls advice seriously.

            First, analyze our input. Remember the term from the early days of computers garbage in, garbage out? It the raw data we enter into the computer is bad, the computer cant do anything good with it.  What we put into a computer determines what comes out. If we put the right data into the computer, the right answers come out, and the reverse is true. Well, if put garbage into our minds, garbage is what we will get out.

            Let me ask some questions.  What kind of books do we read?  What kind of movies do we watch? With what sort of people do we spend our time? What radio station do we flip on in the morning?

            Analyze our input.

            Second, change our diet. This is the logical second step.  It wont be easy if we have been hooked on trashy novels, cheap TV shows, trivial conversations, gossip and salacious rumors, but we have to do it.

            Third, make a top ten list of scriptures that we can use to re-focus our thought life.  Here are some of mine.  I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength and your neighbor as your self.” “Judge not, lest you be judged.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” “Be still and know that I am God.” “Pray without ceasing. 

            Those are some on my list.  Make your own top ten list of go to scriptures to re-focus ones thinking.

            Fourth, and most importantly, hang out more with Jesus. If we link ourselves with him, and not just for an hour on Sunday, but if we link ourselves with him on a daily basis through gospel readings, through prayers, through meditation we join ourselves with the highest moral power in the universe. Jesus is the embodiment of everything Paul has commanded us to do. Lets think about him daily.  If Christ is in our thoughts, then all these things Paul talks about will be in our thoughts as well.

            Do we want to change our thought life? We can. God has put the possibility within our grasp. We dont have to stay where we are. Lay hold of Jesus.  Walk with him. Talk with him. Learn of him. Hold on and dont let go. Then it will become much more natural to think about these things. When we do that, our lives will never be the same.


[1] Second half of this message taken from Think on These Things, a sermon by Ray Pritchard.