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Jan 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 17, 2021



And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and the recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4:16-21

Intro: Three weeks ago you joined me on this journey of discovery

We began by recognizing our Scriptures as are sacred writings
– then we asked, How are we supposed to read sacred writings?
• sacred does not mean they are merely “religious”
• rather, they have a divine, other-worldly origin and quality
◦ they reveal truth otherwise hidden from human minds
– there is another uncanny feature to the sacred writings;
• as we read the ancient texts, God speaks directly to us
◦ as if they were written for us and meant to be heard here and now
◦ it is like hearing Jesus read from Isaiah and then telling us,
Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing
◦ this is how New Testament writers read the Hebrew Scriptures
Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
(Heb. 12:5–this exhortation is found in Proverbs 3:11-12, written centuries before the book of Hebrews!)
Martin Buber described how the Hebrew Scriptures recount history from creation to redemption, and, “in the course of its history, experiences revelation, a revelation I experience if I am there.”
◦ and that is the key that unlocks the mystery! mindfully being there
• in the sacred writings, we hear our names called
◦ we are told what we need to know today
◦ that we are loved, that there’s hope for us, that God is for us

We need to be familiar with a few ground rules

Sacred, does not mean magical
– it is not like you can flip open the Bible to any page at random,
• look at one verse, start reading, and God will reveal divine mysteries
• that is not a sacred reading – it is divination or “bibliomancy”
– a similar practice is proof-texting
• using isolated verses scattered through Bible to construct a doctrine
(This week my son, Will, sent me a photo of a coffee mug that made a play on a verse from Philippians, “I can do all things through a verse taken out of context”)
◦ because a person is able to quote many Bible verses from memory,
◦ does not mean they know their Bible really well!
• scripture is sacred, but it is still a written document
◦ we read its books start to finish to hear its message

Another lesson we need to keep in mind

Scholars talk about two ways of learning or knowing
– learning about something from a distance leads to objective knowing
learning about something close up leads to subjective knowing
scientists and philosophers strive to be objective
◦ their goal is to get to the facts without personal feelings getting in the way
◦ getting too close or caring too much can interfere with or distort the experiment
they write reports and essays, and draw diagrams
artists let their feelings guide them to the subject and the process
◦ they allow themselves to be moved by what they observe
they write poems, and paint pictures, and dance stories
objectivity is considered intellectual
subjectivity is considered emotional or relational
objectivity is separated from its subject
subjectivity is connected to its subject
objectivity excludes personal feelings
subjectivity listens to its deepest feelings
objectivity is analytical
subjectivity is intuitive
objectivity is a function of the head (or the brain’s left hemisphere and pre-frontal cortex)
subjectivity is a function of the heart (or the brain’s right hemisphere and limbic system)

Sacred writings require both kinds of reading – with head and heart
– we come to God’s word with the whole self
• objectivity helps us learn what we need to know about God
• subjectivity helps us to know God
Joel Green explains that we need background studies training in ancient languages, historical settings, archeology, and so on, but they cannot substitute for “the more essential ‘preparation’” of acceptance, devotion, attention and trust.” The other tools “must take their place alongside other commitments rather than above them.”
He quotes Rene Padilla, who observed that scientific objectivity is “neither possible nor desirable” for interpreting scripture. “It is not possible, because contemporary interpreters are stamped with the imprint of their particular time and place as surely as is the ancient text . . . . It is not desirable, because the Bible can only be properly understood as it is read with a particpatory involvement and allowed to speak into one’s situation. Ultimately, if the text written in the past does not strike home in the present it has not been understood.” (quoted in Joel Green, Seized by Truth)
– so we want to come to the sacred writings subjectively
• to read them in the way John described his contact with the Word as
that . . . which we have heard, which we seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands (1 Jn. 1:1)
• we want to come close enough to feel the life that breathes in the word
◦ to hear it as God’s word spoken directly to us, here and now

When reading the sacred writings, we want to be receptive

We must come to the Scriptures with an open mind and an open heart
– the old priest, Eli, taught the boy Samuel to pray,
Speak, LORD, for your servant hears (1 Sam. 3:9)
And Jesus said, more than once,
He who has ears, let him hear (Mt. 13:9)
• if I’m expecting a call, I had better have my phone turned on
◦ it is not difficult to block God’s voice
• sometimes I shut off reception just by the mood I’m in
– there is a great description of receptive reading in 1 Thessalonians
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers (1 Thes. 2:13)

At some point, we’ll have an adverse reaction to something in the Scriptures
– a passage will disturb us, or we won’t like what it says,
• or we’ll immediately disagree, or disbelieve it
◦ the Bible can be confusing and frustrating
◦ it can also evoke worry or anxiety
• misunderstanding scripture is part of our discipleship
So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me . . .’? What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We so not know what he is talking about (Jn. 16:17-18)
– when we come up against a challenge, we can approach it objectively
• we can do some serious Bible study and research
◦ gather more information and look for a rational answer
◦ and keep trying until we find find a credible solution

But when reading the Scriptures as Sacred writings,
I assume that I am in error and not God’s word!

• this is how I let God speak to me, which is my purpose in reading sacred writings
◦ so I read them without judgment
◦ if I close myself off to them, they will close off God’s voice to me
– so when something bothers me, I ask:
1. Have I read this wrong? Did I misinterpret a verse or miss something?
2. Is this how I am supposed to feel?
• much happens in scripture that should disturb and disgust
• we gain more by struggling with scripture than by ignoring our reactions
3. What does my reaction reveal about me?
• what has the text touched in me? Brought to the surface?
• the sacred writings know us better than we know ourselves
– until now, we’ve been thrashing on the surface of text
• but dealing with an adverse reactions takes us deeper into them,
• or allows them to sink deeper into us, and we are enlightened

So rather than approach the sacred writings with judgment,
– I come to them with curiosity
• when I ask, What am I missing? – often, it is the most important thing
• so, every once in awhile in your reading,
◦ pause and take a cleansing breath
– God doesn’t require us to understand everything in the Scriptures
• he asks us to take it in – like soil receiving a seed

When reading the sacred writings, we want to be responsive

We hear God speak directly to us, and then the question is
– “What am I going to do with this?”
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only (Jas. 2:22)
• most of the time, the answer is obvious
• we do what God tells us
◦ we pray for someone, we surrender something, we laugh, or we cry
– but the point is, we come to sacred writings with the intention to respond
• I am not only taking this word into my head,
◦ but into my whole body
• by bringing attention to my body as I read,
◦ I sometimes catch myself not breathing or shallow breathing,
◦ my shoulders are tensed, or I’m clenching my jaw
– in the Scriptures, whenever God called someone’s name,
• they responded by saying, “Here I am”
• I believe this is the proper here-and-now response to the sacred writings
◦ I am present, I am focused and attentive, I am available

Conclusion: You know, some Christians feel Bible reading is an obligation

Will I treat it like that – like an unpleasant chore
– or will I hold it like it could explode in my hands?
– can we read it as if listening to Jesus read it, and then telling us,
Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing

Henri Nouwen, “One good way to listen [for God’s voice in prayer] is to listen with a sacred text: a psalm or a prayer, for instance . . . repeating it slowly in the mind, word by word, sentence by sentence . . . [Listening] to the voice of love becomes not just a passive waiting, but an active attentiveness to the voice that speaks to us through the words of the Scripture. . . the voice [we] so much wanted to hear.”

Jan 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 10, 2021



Thus says the LORD:
Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest”
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the LORD.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.
Isaiah 66:1-2

Intro: This week Calum, my eight year old grandson, asked to play games on my phone. When I told him the battery was running low, he said, “Let’s see how much battery is left.” He then took my phone, swiped down from the battery icon, and up popped a display of various apps and their status. Surprised, I said, “Wait! how did you do that?” Smirking, he asked, “Grandpa, how long have you had this phone?”

– I admit, that I do not access ninety-nine percent of what my phone can do
• in a similar way, we never access as much help as the Bible has to offer us
• we struggle with the Bible because we don’t know how to read it
– last week, we reminded ourselves that the Scriptures are sacred writings
• that tells us something about how to read scripture
• the big idea today is that we need to
Read the Sacred Writings with Reverence

In the Isaiah passage, God answers an intriguing question

What draws God’s attention to a person (in a positive way)?
– immediately, we can delete any answer having to do with achievements
• that is, given what God has made and what belongs to him
• God is not impressed with the mansions of the wealthy,
◦ the accomplishments of “successful” people, or “winners”
◦ all through Isaiah’s prophecies, God takes aim at arrogance and conceit
The haughty looks of man shall be brought low,
and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled,
and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.
For the LORD of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low (Isa. 2:11-17)
Isaiah is explaining that God will level anything that breaks the line of the horizon, and his list of exalted things includes the cedars of Lebanon, the oaks of Bashan, the lofty mountains, all high towers and fortifications, and tall-mast ships
– what draws God’s attention is the person who is:
humble, broken, and that trembles at his word
• in the Old Testament, the word of LORD was considered a divine force
◦ it was the creative power of God
◦ God’s word made things and it made things happen
• many times people who heard it responded with absolute seriousness
◦ at Mt. Sinai, Elijah in the desert, King Josiah hearing the Book of the Covenant read, the returned exiles in Nehemiah chapter 8
◦ it is not that God wants us to be terrified of him or his word,
◦ but he wants us to know our place and to take him seriously

At this point, it may help if we revisit the word “sacred”

For now, dictionary definitions will not suit our purpose
– we need to think about what is like to experience the sacred

My wife, Barbara, grew up in a Lutheran church. In the front of the sanctuary there were three steps that led up to a platform, and on the platform was a low wall or altar rail. In front of the altar was a candle that always burned. The pastor explained that it represented God’s everlasting light. Barbara learned from her mother to always respect the sacredness of the flame and what it symbolized.
While in junior high school, Barbara belonged to the church’s youth group. After their evening meetings, while waiting for their parents to pick them up, she and the other kids would play tag, hide-and-seek, or other games outside the church. One night, she slipped into the sanctuary through a side door, thinking it would be a good place to hide. Once inside, she noticed the change of atmosphere from that outside, and that this environment was silent, still, and engulfed in darkness except for the soft glow around the “everlasting light.” Assuming that this would be the perfect opportunity to take a close look at the candle, she moved toward the platform, but when she placed her foot on the first step, she sensed an overwhelming presence and this realization, “This place is holy.” Reverently she stopped, then slowly backed away. Later she described what she felt in that moment as “a good fear.”

• the feeling evoked by a close encounter with the sacred is reverence
◦ the Bible usually uses “fear” for reverence, but it doesn’t mean “scared”
◦ reverence is not like being afraid of an abusive parent
◦ it doesn’t mean frightened, terrified, or any kind of phobia
• it is what we might think of as a healthy respect
◦ the caution we practice around power tools
(It’s possible to repair a “live” electrical switch,
but don’t try it if you don’t know what you’re doing!)
◦ reverence is mixture of fear and fascination;
of risk and a desire to get closer

Awhile back, a friend of mine was trying to grasp the meaning of sacred, and what it would feel like to experience holiness. One night in a Bible study he said, “I get it now. If someone handed me a book, and while I held it they told me it was the Satanic Bible, I would put it down immediately. I would not want to touch or even be near the thing!”

– he was talking about experiencing something more than the book
• the feeling he referred to is fright,
◦ and it is caused by things that are spooky
• unlike fright, reverence is a positive experience
◦ reverence it what we feel when we encounter that which is truly sacred

We have to learn what reverence is, because it goes unrecognized

Reverence rarely appears in mass culture
Paul Woodruff, “I believe reverence gives meaning to much that we do, yet the word has almost passed out of our vocabulary.”
– reverence isn’t nurtured in schools, corporations, or the media
• movies are sometimes advertised as “an irreverent comedy”
◦ what can you say regarding a culture in which irreverence is an art form?
• we’ve given comedians plenty of material to roast Christians and their leaders
◦ but they sometimes cross the line – blasphemy isn’t funny
– irreverence is blind to many things:
• the value of other lives (God’s covenant with “every living creature”)
◦ to what nature’s beauty, untouched, does for the human soul
◦ to the importance of being faithful to treaties and commitments
◦ to what is sacred to other people – e.g., their beliefs, traditions, rituals
• irreverence diminishes the experience of everyday life
Henri Nouwen, “The issue is no longer how to express the mystery of God to people who are no longer accustomed to the traditional language of church or synagogue; the issue is whether there is anything in our world that we can call ‘sacred.’ Is there among the things we do, the people we know, the events we read about in the newspapers or watch on TV, someone or something that transcends it all and has the inner quality of sacredness, of being holy, worthy of adoration and worship?”

There’s another reason reverence is vanishing and we’re to blame
– we realize it is wrong for Christians to think they are better than others
• our concern is valid concern – but how we deal with that is also a concern
◦ one response has been to erase the distinction between sacred and secular
◦ but the result is not that all of life becomes sacred,
◦ but just the opposite; all of life becomes secular
• God upheld the holy/unholy distinction from Moses to Ezekiel
◦ sacred applies to the realm of the transcendent;
secular applies to the world of material things
◦ “secular humanism” is respect for life apart from acknowledging God
“sacred humanism” begins with God and our being made in his image
Paul Woodruff, “Reverence requires us to maintain a modest sense of the difference between human and divine.”
– in our world, living in complete secularism is all too easy
• as always, living by faith is the challenge
Henri Nowen, “Maybe the distinction between secular and sacred can be bridged when they have both been identified as aspects of every person’s experience of being human.”

Many people have yet to rediscover reverence

Maybe that is included in what Jesus meant by us becoming like a child

I have a friend who is a Russian pastor. He first contacted me after reading There Is A Season. He felt that Russian pastors needed to hear the message of that book and asked if it was alright with me if he translated it into Russian. Sometime later, Slava came to California with his wife Olga and their daughter Nastia. While staying with Barb and I for a few days, we took them to Disneyland. We had a full day in the part, and after the sun went down, there was a spectacular presentation as well-known storybook characters acted out scenes from Disney movies on a huge screen of water. I wondered what seven year old Nastia thought of all this. When I looked, she was sitting on her father’s shoulders, her eyes wide, her mouth open and her face frozen in wonder. Her expression was beautiful and unforgettable. I do not know if she felt reverence, but what she did feel was close to it

– I tried to think of an example of reverence most of us could appreciate
• what came to mind, was being present for birth of your child
◦ I mentioned this to friends in a Zoom meeting last week
◦ one woman said that the hushed tone of her husband’s voice was totally different
◦ then she added, “I also felt reverence when my mom passed”
◦ I remembered feeling the same, sitting my my dad when he breathed his last breath
Jon Kabat-Zinn asks, What is “spiritual”? Science? Taking a walk, painting, playing music? “Obviously, it all depends on how you encounter it, how you hold it in awareness.”
• reverence can be evoked by anything that astonishes us
◦ by immensity – Grand Canyon or the ocean (infinity or eternity)
◦ there is always a transcendent sense, of something more that is present
◦ it overwhelms – it is veiled in mystery

I do not believe we can make ourselves feel reverence

But we can work on being aware of it when it comes
– we can remind ourselves of the sacredness of moments
• of sacred spaces and sacred events
• like baptism, Communion, weddings, and memorials
Paul Woodruff, “Without reverence, rituals are empty.”
– when we experience reverence, we can surrender to it
• reverence naturally draws us to our here and now experience
◦ it tends to elicit a physical response; we bow, remove our sandals, sigh
◦ silence and stillness are tied to reverence
◦ we go speechless, because our experience cannot be put into words

Reverence evokes a constellation of feelings
– humility, it because changes our perception, giving us a sense of proportion
• a subtle and ineffable joy is another common feeling in reverence
◦ a sense of privilege, “Lord, it is good that we are here” (Mt. 17:4)
(Of course Peter could not keep quiet. Mark explains that Peter said this because he did not know what to say. And while he was still speaking a voice from the cloud said, This is my beloved Son; listen to him)
• of course, reverence includes feelings of awe and wonder
◦ there is another feeling we may not have expected,
◦ and that is love — that we are loved and that love is flowing through us

Conclusion: In the sacred writings we encounter God

Hans Ur von Balthasar, “Here and now . . . this encounter is to take place. At this moment in time God’s revelation is addressed, not to people in general, but to me. The light of God’s loving choice falls on me. Christ is born for me. He dies on the cross for me. . . . I need to have a most vivid sense of this here-and-now uniqueness.”
– when Moses was given instructions for the sanctuary,
• God explained that the entrance of the tent was
where I will meet with you, to speak to you there (Ex. 29:43)
Robert Alter, “The gates are the threshold, the point where the pilgrim crosses from the zone of the profane into the sacred precincts of the temple.”
• when I sit down to read my Bible in the morning,
◦ I remind myself of this verse
◦ I inhale and pause in the threshold of breathing in and out
◦ I remind myself that I’m about to step into sacred space of God’s word

I want to be there, in reverence
Reading the sacred writings with reverence,
we receive them into a deeper place in our souls,
a place where they can do the most good
Reverence waters the seed of the word in the soil of our hearts

Jan 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 3, 2021



But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17

Intro: In the world of literature, it is not unusual to find,

An author’s most treasured insights aren’t in the books they wrote
– but in letters to their friends, students, colleagues, or admirers
• frequently their letters provide the most practical and helpful advice
◦ they reveal what inspired them, kept them going,
◦ and their personal sources of insight and understanding
• in his letters to Timothy, Paul shares wise counsel with his protégé
◦ we’re fortunate to have access to this personal correspondence
– believers who love the Bible, love this passage
• here, Paul tells Timothy to continue on the path he has traveled
◦ he refers specifically to his spiritual education from others and scripture
• in verse 16, Paul makes clearest statement on inspiration of the Scriptures that is to be found in all of the New Testament
◦ it is breathed out by God – and as such, all Scripture . . . is profitable

The reason I brought you to this passage was to point out the terminology
– in all of scripture, the phrase appears only in this one place
• that phrase is sacred writings
◦ these two words are so important, we will need a few weeks to absorb them
• why have many Christians become bored with the Bible?
◦ why do many struggle with much that they find in the Bible?
◦ why have many become disenchanted, disinterested, and skeptical?
– the answer is, we have lost the essence of what the Bible is
• lost our respect for it and do not know how to read it
• like every generation, we have been influenced by the spirit of our times
◦ we struggle with the Bible,
◦ because we read it with rationally and scientifically conditioned minds

Every religion has its sacred writings
– all of them are treated as having come from a higher source of wisdom
• that higher source can be divine or perhaps an enlightened human
• those sacred writings define reality, provide beliefs, practices, and rituals
◦ the Bible is a collection of the sacred writings of Christianity

I will emphasize one fact and want you to take into your soul

We read sacred writings differently from how we read anything else
– you will not get from the Bible all it has to give if you expect it to read like
• a novel, magazine, newspaper, text book, or any other sort of document
• sacred writings are not pried open by critical minds,
◦ do not share their treasures with doubtful minds,
◦ or force their truths into resistant hearts
Joel Green, “Reading the Bible is not necessarily the same as reading Scripture. More specifically, when we read the Bible we are not necessarily reading the Bible as Scripture. . . . At one level, this is the experience of many ordinary Christians who take up the Bible and read its words, then walk away unchanged, uninspired, and uncertain.”
– all types of literature that we read take us into their worlds
• the Bible also takes us into its worlds – but it does more
◦ the Bible has a life that leaves the page and enters our world
◦ but only if we read it as Scripture, as sacred writings
• frequently we read in the prophets a phrase that goes like this,
The word of the LORD that came to Hosea (Hos. 1:1)
◦ reading Bible as sacred writings, God’s living word comes to us
◦ and it can come with the spiritual force that took hold of the prophets
Joel Green emphasizes “the immediacy of the Scriptures—that is, their capacity to speak clearly not only to their first audiences but also to later peoples faced with fresh challenges.” He asks the question, “What might it mean for us to read these documents as though they were addressed to us?”

Our sacred writings are a gift

We must never forget this
– the gift is God’s revelation to us of himself
• its purpose is not to teach us science, philosophy, history, etc.
◦ these are subjects we can learn from other sources
• sacred writings tell us about things that are otherwise unknowable
– as I read these words in front of me,
• something comes to me from outside my universe
• something that cannot be known than any other way
◦ and it comes to me as experiential knowledge
◦ God’s living word, entering my world, entering me

I always feel clumsy when trying to explain meaning of sacred

It is one of those terms that is more easily caught than taught
– sacred is a synonym for holy
• holiness has only one source – and it isn’t in our world
• in our everyday experience, holiness is foreign
– holiness is like a spiritual energy – and it can be scary
• think of the invisible energy of uranium
• the energy of holiness can be either positive or negative
in devotion to God, positive energy is released: grace and blessing
in the violation of a taboo, negative energy is released : wrath and curse

God’s holiness leaves traces of his presence
– in any place he has visited, on anything he has touched
• coming to those places or things, we encounter the sacred
• the sacred brings an awareness of a transcendent reality
– we do not merely read the sacred text,
• we experience it as a doorway to the transcendent
• it is always more than information – it is about encounter
Hans von Balthasar, “The vital thing is the living encounter with the God who speaks to us in his word.”
. . . for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction . . . . you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe (1 Th. 1:5; 2:13)
◦ in the sacred writings, we draw near to God and he draws near to us

How are we supposed to read sacred writings?

This may sound at first like another “method”
– like “how to study the Bible” or “how to interpret the Scriptures”
• but it’s not that — in fact, methods can get in the way
Joel Green talks about “Scientific methods” of interpretation, to which we “come as visitors from another land. If we are concerned with applying the Bible to our lives, scientific approaches teach us to take safari into the Bible’s strange world, capture the meaning that we find there, and transport it back to our world so as to display it and, if possible, to translate what we have learned about the past into contemporary idiom. For the scientific reader of the Bible, there is no inherent need to concern ourselves with the significance of the Bible for ourselves. It is sufficient to study these texts on their own terms, for their significance as cultural products in their own times.”
• we can be overly rationalistic with our methods
◦ sometimes it’s an attempt to make the Bible more believable
– the sacred writings do not require intense reasoning
• in fact, that can get in the way (as it often did with the disciples)
◦ but neither do the sacred writings require us to be gullible
◦ credulity leads to superstition and not faith
• how are we supposed to read the sacred writings?
◦ I intend to spend two months answering that question

Conclusion: For now I will offer a few suggestions

Prepare your mind and your heart with prayer
– not only requesting God’s presence and assistance
– but sitting quietly, listening to the silence, and focusing your attention

Do not jump to conclusions about what a text means
– especially avoid immediately applying everything to yourself
– don’t immediately lake a verse and start preaching at yourself
• many of us are too quick to assume the Scriptures are here to condemn us
• they are here to point the way to Jesus Christ

Don’t overreact when what you read is annoying, disturbing
– or when you have any sort of negative response
– instead, bring awareness and curiosity to what you are feeling
• in this way you are more likely to learn something about yourself
• and something about how you can live closer to God

Take reading the Bible very seriously
Helmut Thielicke, when preaching on Jesus’ parable of the soil and the seeds, addressed worldly distractions symbolized by the thorn-infested soil. “The devout of all times have been aware of these sources of domineering appeal and have therefore mobilized other forces against them. Above all, they meditated upon the Scriptures and prayed. But how the great ones in the kingdom of God did that! For them every reading of the Bible was a battle and every prayer a sword stroke.” “. . . the Word of God is demanding. It demands a stretch of time in our day—even though it be a very modest one—in which it is our only companion. We can’t bite off even a simple ‘text for the day’ and swallow it in one lump while we have our hand on the doorknob. Such things are not digested; they are not assimilated into one’s organism.”

I am not going to tell you how often to read the sacred writings
or how much to read in one sitting,
a chapter, ten chapters, or just one verse
I am not going to recommend a reading plan
I am only going to urge you’re the read the Scriptures,
receiving and responding to them as our sacred writings

Dec 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 27, 2020


Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:18-22

Intro: This year, 2020, was already old by June

Few people will regret seeing it in the rearview mirror
– of course, some of our past is carried into the future
• but crossing the threshold of a new year is our chance to pause and think
• what do we want to take with us? and what do we want to leave here?

Imagine you woke up this morning, got your coffee, sat down,
– and instead of saying,
“Okay, Lord, I’ve got all these things to do, please help me,”
• you prayed, “Lord, what do You want to do today”
• and suppose he said, “Let’s take a walk. Follow me”
– that’s what we’re going to do
• were going to walk with Jesus through a few episodes in Mark’s gospel
• as we do, his wisdom, personal power, kindness, and beauty will emerge
◦ and we’ll see again why we love him

Mark immediately rushes us into the ministry of Jesus

In fact, he uses “immediately” no less than eleven times in the first chapter
– it’s like there’s an emergency, and we must hurry forward
• so everything comes at us very fast
• he provides a brief description of John the Baptist and his role
◦ then in two short paragraphs he tells of Jesus’ baptism and temptation
– by verse 14, Jesus has already begun to proclaim his message,
• and we’ve had no time to catch our breath
• at least Mark told us what this story is about from the start:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mk. 1:1)
we know this, but none of the human characters in the story know this
◦ that’s message of Mark – the ways that people discover who Jesus is

We meet up with Jesus as he’s walking the shore of Galilee

The New Testament refers to Galilee as a sea,
– but if you’ve been there you know it is more like a lake
(a large lake by California standards, thirteen miles long, seven miles wide)
• it is the primary supply of water for all of Israel
• its green perimeter provides lots of shady places to rest
◦ the low mountains surrounding it, make for scenic backdrop
(wherever you are in relation to the lake, the view is beautiful)
◦ I think Jesus liked going there – that he felt refreshed in that atmosphere

I have many special memories of being on and around the Galilee “lake.” More than once, we stayed in a hotel located at the water’s edge. One of those times, I got up early our first morning there to take a jog as near the shore as possible. Sensing something behind me, I stopped and turned around. A puppy had been running behind me. When I stopped, he stopped. When I took a step toward him, he backed away from me. So I turned and resumed my jog and he followed me again, all the way to the end of my route and back to the hotel. I tried to befriend him, but he was too wary of me. Still, I believe he enjoyed running with me, because he was back the next morning and we ran together again. I did not tell him or ask him to follow me, but he did.

• when Jesus walked the shore, he saw two brothers, fishing and said,
Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men
◦ then a little further, there were two more brothers and he greeted them with the same invitation
◦ all four dropped what they were doing and tagged along with Jesus

I imagine their first conversation being something like this:
Disciples: Where are we going?
Jesus: Wherever I go. Follow me.
Disciples: What are we going to do?
Jesus: You are going to get to know me.
– sounds like an easy enough assignment
• later they would be tested on it
Who do you say that I am? (Mk. 8:27)

What did Jesus see in those young men?
– I’m sure it was something you and I would not have seen
• they didn’t look like young men we would choose as future spiritual leaders
• perhaps he saw a potential – not potential that was theirs,
◦ not a seed or spark already inside them,
◦ but the potential of what he could do with and through them
– I knew an artist who would go into desert looking for alabaster
• although what he found had interesting shapes and color,
◦ they were still nothing more than jagged stones
◦ but he was able to sculpt faces and figures out of the stone
• Jesus looked at these men through the eyes of an artist

Another question: What did these young men see in Jesus?
– not their one chance of a lifetime to get rich
• one look at Jesus and they were asking, “Are we even going to get paid?”
• I doubt that they knew what he expected of them
◦ perhaps he wanted them to help him move a couch
– if Jesus saw potential with them, perhaps they saw opportunity with him
• the possibility of going places their boats would never take them
• Mark takes us straight from their fishing nets to a synagogue
◦ people amazed when Jesus spoke – and even more when he cast exorcized a demon-possessed man
And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching wit authority!”
◦ the disciples may not have known what to expect when following Jesus,
but they must have felt in it a sense of destiny

So Jesus has the first members of his team
– and they have something new to wake up to each morning

A few days later, Jesus was again by the lakeshore

A crowd was drawn to him, so he sat and taught them
– this is so–perfect! no budget, no entertainment, no advertising
people just showed up!
• after Jesus dismissed the crowd, he took a walk near the water
◦ as he went, he saw a tax-collector and gave him the same invitation he had given the four fishermen
◦ Jesus was reaching much lower in the social order to snag this one
• Matthew must have been thrilled
◦ “Lord, I want to introduce some of my friends to you”
◦ now what kind of friends would Matthew have?
people like himself
and what would a banquet with those people look like?
– this upset a few rigidly righteous people
• but Jesus did not apologize for being with them
◦ nor did he pretend that they were saints – “good people, after all”
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Mk. 2:17)
• in perspective, here is how I see what is going on:
◦ Jesus is partying with sinners, not because he is like them
◦ but because they were lost and he found them and brought them home (cf. Lk. 15:22 & 31-32)

This scenario fits well with the next scene
(the passage I read at the beginning)
– Jesus gave two answers regarding the reason his disciples did not fast
first, fasting is a response to specific events and concerns
◦ this was not the kind of situation that called for fasting
◦ instead, having Jesus called for a joyful celebration, like a wedding
◦ later on Jesus would say,
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his Son (Mt. 22:1)
Anthony Campolo tells a wonderful story that fits well here in his book, The Kingdom of God is a Party
second, the old system could not accommodate new effervescence of Jesus
• the new message and ministry required new structures

Weeks later, Jesus was down at the water’s edge again

And, again, a crowd came to see and hear him
– so Jesus climbed into a boat and told them stories
• there is something idyllic, almost romantic about this picture;
◦ Jesus teaching from a boat as it rocked gently on the serene water
• how easy it would be to sit there and listen to him,
◦ allowing his words to work our imagination,
◦ visualizing the images he evokes
– certain places are ideal for contemplation and gaining new insights
• blessed is the person who, when following, finds those places

Conclusion: Whenever I read Mark, and start with that first verse,

It feels like I am again at a beginning
– like something new is happening in me
Hannah Arendt attempted to stress the importance of human action
• that it introduces something new into the world
“It is the nature of beginning that something new is started which cannot be expected from whatever may have happened before. . . . The new always happens against the overwhelming odds of statistical laws and their probability . . . the new always appears in the guise of a miracle. . . . And this again is possible only because each [person] is unique, so that with each birth something uniquely new comes into the world.”
She also says that each individual is an “unique, unexchangeable, and unrepeatable” entity

This coming week, we approach an end and a beginning
How will we live out our own newness? our uniqueness?
How will we discover a hidden potential in a new way?
By following Jesus

My hope is to follow Jesus myself,
and assist you with the walk of faith
To be a comfort and traveling for you my little children,
for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you (Gal. 4:19)

Dec 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 20, 2020

Intro: The story of Jesus’ birth is told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke

In Matthew the holy family is visited by wealthy magi from the east
– in Luke they are visited by shepherds from nearby hills
• two different nations, languages, and social classes
• but both came to the Christ Child by invitation
◦ a star drew the eastern astrologers
◦ an angel sent the shepherds
– after a long journey, the magi made it as far as Jerusalem
• this makes sense, the capital city is where one would look for the king of the Jews
◦ but when they arrived in Jerusalem, their progress stalled
• asking about for a newborn king got the city stirred up
◦ and raised suspicion of an insanely insecure king
◦ biblical scholars directed the magi to Bethlehem, and that’s where we pick up the story

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Matthew 2:9-10

A couple times in elementary school, I experienced moments in which I was suddenly observing my friends and myself as if from a vantage point outside my body. Both times this happened it got me into trouble.
One year my fourth-grade class was assigned a song in a Christmas performance, first for our school in the afternoon and then for our parents in the evening. Two other boys and myself were chosen to sing as a trio the introduction to “Silver Bells.” So, during the school assembly, we began,
Christmas makes you feel emotional,
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional.
Whatever happens or what may be,
Here is what Christmas time means to me.
When we came to the word “emotional” our voices went up in a boyish falsetto, and I do not know what came over me, but the nervousness of the other two boys and the serious expressions on our normally silly faces struck me as the most hilarious thing I had ever seen, and I started to giggle. Then the other two started giggling and a moment later the whole school was laughing–except for the teachers and faculty. Afterward the music director gave us a dire warning, telling us, “That had better not happen tonight!”

– oh well, Christmas does make us feel emotional
• and my message today is, “Let it”
◦ I hope, like the magi, we rejoice exceedingly with great joy
• this fourth Sunday of Advent our theme is, “Feel your way into Christmas”
◦ allow a child-like anticipation to grow in you this week

How big is Christmas? It’s the hinge of history

Alfred North Whitehead commenting on how Galileo and the discovery of the telescope ushered in the modern world, said, “Since a babe was born in Bethlehem, it may be doubted whether so great a thing has happened with so little stir.”
Hannah Arendt added, “Nothing in these words is an exaggeration. Like the birth in a manger, which spelled not the end of antiquity but the beginning of something so unexpectedly and unpredictably new that neither hope nor fear could have anticipated it, these first tentative glances into the universe through an instrument, at once adjusted to human senses and destined to uncover what definitely and forever must lie beyond [human senses], set the stage for an entirely new world and determined the course of other events . . . .
– we have a Savior, we have a hope, we have a new grace-filled life
• the full experience of Christmas involves more than reading the story
◦ and more than theological reflections on the Incarnation
(though that is still significant beyond words)
◦ a full experience must stir up emotions and feelings
Antonio Damasio (Department Head of neurology at the University of Iowa) says, “. . . recall of new facts is enhanced by the presence of certain degrees of emotion during learning. . . . For instance, if you are told two stories of comparable length that have a comparable number of facts, differing only because in one of them the facts have a high emotional content, you will remember far more detain from the emotional story than from the other.”
• in other words, to feel a moment enhances it; feeling adds a layer of depth
– the Christmas story has moments of suspense, danger, and also drudgery
• still, there is one emotion that is not appropriate for Christmas:
◦ to Joseph an angel said, do not fear
◦ to Mary the angel said, do not be afraid
◦ to the shepherds an angel said, fear not
• a proper response to the arrival of Jesus is excitement and great joy
◦ we rejoice in the experience of heaven coming to earth
◦ of God visiting and redeeming his people

Some people think emotions and feelings are fictions

For that reason, they should be ignored or suppressed
– as children, we learned we had to do chores when we didn’t feel like it
• but we also rebelled against the adult notion that chores had to be unpleasant
◦ we found ways to turn chores into play
• still, some believe we should replace feelings with rational thinking
◦ for them, thought is solid whereas feelings are ethereal
◦ these same people try to heal broken hearts with logic
– but feelings and emotions are real – our experience of them is real
• the same brain that produces thought produces feeling
◦ and hardly a thought is not attended by a feeling or generated by one
◦ here’s a shocker that researchers have uncovered:
Damasio, “The neurological evidence simply suggests that selective absence of emotion is a problem. Well-targeted and well-deployed emotion seems to be a support system without which the edifice of reason cannot operate properly.”
• there is a biological basis for every emotion
◦ it has visceral sources as well as mental catalysts
◦ of course, internal organs is precisely the language the Bible uses in describing emotions
Damasio, “. . . all emotions have some kind of regulatory role to play . . . . All emotions use the body as their theater, but emotions also affect the mode of operation of numerous brain circuits . . . .”

Emotions and feelings are real, but they do not define reality
– whenever it is right to flow with our feelings, it is liberating
• being aware of our feelings adds richness to our lives
Damasio, “. . . an organism that is responding beautifully to its environment begins to discover that it is responding beautifully to its environment. . . . Having feelings is of extraordinary value in the orchestration of survival.”
– without feelings and emotions:
• we lose a measure of meaningful interaction with others
• we lose some of our connection with nature and its rhythms
• we lose a big part of ourselves

Some people are afraid of their feelings
This is especially true for those who have been severely traumatized

Strong feelings can be exhilarating and exciting, but also dangerous
– they can cause us to see the world and others through a warped lens
and to see ourselves as if in a distorted mirror
• feelings can be generated by misinformation
• but don’t forget, the same is true of our rational thoughts
◦ the brain’s logic can be as flawed as any feeling
◦ this also holds true for our beliefs
– the rational mind cannot effectively control feelings
• they run on two separate yet related circuits
◦ when the volume is turned up on one, it is turned down on the other
• emotions have their own “reasons” – what “feels right”
◦ but we’re not stuck in an either/or position where we must choose
◦ reason and emotion can be harmonized

Some people denigrate feelings

“I don’t go by my feelings”
– this is said as if it is a superior position to take; more rational, stable, pious
• of course, we betray ourselves if we make this statement in anger
– the word feeling describes two types of experience:
• what the body feels – internal and tactile sensations
• what the heart feels – core emotions
Fr. Romuald, “A death, where feeling is gone, is not a body but a corpse.”
– what about the person who suppresses their feelings?
• empathy for others has much to do with being aware of our own feelings

Red Dragon is a scary movie and not one that I would recommend. To me, the scariest line in movie comes when a blind woman is alone in a darkroom with a man who unbeknown to her is a serial killer.
Blind woman: If there’s anything I hate worse than pity, it’s fake pity.
Serial killer: I have no pity
• the person who has no feeling for others is not a saint, but a sociopath

Is it ever right or justifiable to go by our feelings?

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son. . . .

it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms
. . . I led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love
. . . and I bent down and fed them. . . .
How can I give your up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
. . . my heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst (Hos. 11:1-9)
– What kept God from giving up on Israel?
• not justice, not logic, not holiness, but what he felt for his wayward son
• he describes the conflicting emotions that churned within him
◦ ultimately he invoked his divine prerogative
◦ he went with his feelings
– Jesus, too, went with his feelings
moved with pity, he stretched out his hand (Mk. 1:41)
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them (Mt. 9:36)
he had compassion on them and healed their sick (Mt. 14:14)

We want others to feel:
– joy in being with us
• feel interested in us, what we have to say
• feel what we are feeling
– families and friends want us to feel
• they need for us to be physically present
◦ but they want us to be emotionally present too

Conclusion: Wise men and women, allow themselves to feel

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . . a time to weep, and a time to laugh
a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecc. 3:1, 4)
– delivering a message to philosophers in Athens, Paul said,
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“In him we live and move and have our being”
even as some of your own poets have said,
For we are his offspring (Acts 17:24-28)

Can we feel our way into Christmas?
Can we own our feelings,
without judging them
or judging ourselves for having them?
Can we get up on Christmas morning, excited about Jesus,
eager to welcome him into our hearts? our homes? our world?
Nehemiah was serious when he said,
Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Neh. 8:10)
Paul was serious when he wrote,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (Php. 4:4)

The day is dawning!
The kingdom of God is at hand!
Our Savior is soon to appear!
“Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel”

Dec 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 13, 2020

And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here on stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray.” Mark 13: 1-5

Intro: We are in the third week of the season of Advent

We’ve been preparing ourselves to welcome Jesus on Christmas morning
– it’s not that he hasn’t been with us, but we need reminders rituals
• they allow us to participate in events that transcends history
– we began by focusing attention on Jesus then on opening to mystery
• there is a mystery behind all reality – even yourself, myself, our pets, etc.
◦ the mystery must be encountered, because it’s so wonderful
• if you’ve been looking for mystery this past week,
◦ but each day turned out the same old thing, like the day before,
◦ then we need to have a talk about waking up

This “discourse” is ground zero for biblical prophecy enthusiasts
(see also Matthew 24 and Luke 21:5-38)

I am referring to Christians who interpret “the signs” of Jesus’ return, look for their fulfillment in current events, and then predict the day and the hour in which it will occur
– I think most of them miss Jesus’ opening statement,
See that no one leads you astray
Ben Witherington III, “The early church earnestly expected Christ to return, but that expectation was not trivialized into calculation. . . . they knew that God has revealed enough of the future to give us hope, but not so much that we do not need to live by faith. . . . Indeed, to predict the timing of Christ’s return with accuracy would make unnecessary the very sort of trust in God and assurance about the future hope that . . . we should embrace . . . . [Prognostications of the future] is just human beings getting an itchy trigger finger and not being able to leave matters in God’s hands.”
– there are several other verses I want to emphasize:
verse 9, but be on your guard
verse 23, But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand
verse 33, Be on guard, keep awake
verse 35, Therefore stay awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come
verse 36, And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake
Be on your guard, be on guard, be on guard
Keep awake, stay awake, stay awake
• I find it ironic, and sad, that Jesus gave these explicit warnings
◦ then soon after, when Jesus was struggling in garden
◦ and danger was close at hand, his disciples could not stay awake
• it’s a reminder, that being up-to-date on end times data,
◦ does not necessarily result in appropriate devotion and behavior
– anyway, I take comfort in the fact that the disciples still belonged to Jesus
• Jesus did not give up on them — and he doesn’t give up on us
• if only they had known what was coming
◦ but that is the point, exactly!
◦ we do not know when the next crisis will come crashing down on us

Setting biblical predictions to one side, when I was reading this chapter in Mark’s gospel last Tuesday, it occurred to me,
• if I had been trained by Secret Service for presidential detail
◦ I would always be alert to any potential threat
◦ hiding places, access and egress, dangerous objects, etc.
◦ is janitor really a janitor? Reporter really a reporter?
• since I do not have that training, I live in unawareness most of the time
◦ but can I train myself–to be aware of my surroundings?
◦ aware of others? aware of goodness? truth? beauty?
– I believe I can–that we can–train ourselves to be more mindful
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Tim. 4:7-8)

My own awareness is threatened by three obsessions

I have to correct these issues to be more awake and aware

Automatic pilot – habit is a wonderful gift
– we do not have to concentrate on every little detail of daily activities
• when I tie my shoes, I never think, “Now I’m tying my shoes”
◦ my mind is free to think about other things
◦ where I’m going, what I’ll be doing, Will I be on time?
• but habit can interfere with awareness
◦ because it allows us to sleep through most of our waking hours
– I don’t think we realize how many moments we lose in this haze

Electronic addictions – email, social media, television, video games
– I know better than to open my email before reading my Bible
• if I did, either I’d never get to Bible
◦ or else the mode of thinking formed by responding to my email,
◦ would dull my reading
– Neil Postman’s warning is as valid today as in 1985,
• his book: Amusing Ourselves to Death
• 24-hour entertainment is America’s most abused narcotic

Dark moods – I’ll return to these in a moment
– for now, when I’m in a dark mood I become self-absorbed
• I lose perspective – fail to notice everything beautiful, the good, the true
• I lose my awareness of others and their needs

It might be useful to give ourselves wake-up calls

The goal of a wake-up call, is to bring us back to awareness
– to open remind us to look and to listen
• and to move from ideas to encounter, from concepts to experience
• what can we do?

Read and listen mindfully to God in the Scriptures
– relax, take slow, deep breaths –focus attention, take your time
• make this an exercise in noticing
• read with both the head and the heart
◦ meditating and contemplating
– respond as you listen – pray, sing, bow your head, sign the cross
• allow yourself to be surprised – surprise is always good for waking us up

Return to nature – as often as possible
– try to see it through eyes of a child
• don’t ignore or squelch the excitement you feel when you see a butterfly
◦ pay attention to sunrise and sunset – respond with praise
– escape the world of artificial “things” and counterfeit values
• escape the noise, the confusion, and the anxiety it creates
• the natural world has a different effect on us

Cultivate reverence – the attitude one has in God’s presence
– worship is inspired by wonder and awe
– look for mystery and say, “I don’t know”
• this is a statement of liberation – the opposite of trying to take control
◦ I don’t know what God will do next, but I want to be there
◦ I don’t know about this evening, but I’m here now
• when coming home, check to see if you’ve been mindful
◦ “I went to the grocery store, but was I there?”
• look for the image of God in other people

Stay with special moments of grace
– I hope you know what I mean
• linger in those moments of realization
The Lord is in this place!

We can make confessing our sins a meaningful act
– we’re all broken – admitting it deepens our humility
– we prefer to hide our sins and ourselves, like Adam Eve
• to deal with our bad stuff on our own
• we miss the help Jesus gives and the love we could receive
◦ returning to God enhances mindfulness
In his story of the prodigal son, Jesus said that it was when he came to his senses that he realized what he needed was in the home of his father and that is when he decided to return

When any change occurs, pay attention
– does not matter if it is a desired or undesirable change
• change wakes us up
• if we’re cold and go stand by the fire, we notice the feeling of warmth
◦ notice how you are changed through transition
◦ how it helps you to see and think differently

Do one thing every day in which you are fully present
– purpose of contemplative prayer: practice being fully present
– ask, “What is being given to me in this moment,” then notice

Count your blessings – I know this sounds cliché and overused,
– but Henri Nouwen reinvigorated this practice for me
• in his book, Life of the Beloved, he has a chapter entitle, “Blessed”
Nouwen tells his friend, “The feeling of being blessed is not, it seems to me the feeling that we generally have about ourselves,” that they have more often felt cursed than blessed.” But the curses “are lies” and we have to make a choice.
Nouwen lists some of life’s daily blessings and says, “These many blessings do not have to be invented. They are there, surrounding us on all sides. But we have to be present to them and receive them. They don’t force themselves on us.”
– people who are blessed become a blessing
• for instance, Abraham, blessed by God became a blessing (Ge. 12:12)

Conclusion: Can these wake-up calls work during lockdown?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in another context, says, “Literally having nowhere to go makes it easier to be where you are.”

Why do we want to be awake for Christmas?
Well, if the star is shining over Bethlehem,
and angels serenading shepherds,
and the Word is becoming flesh to live among us,
what’s the point if we miss the whole thing because we slept through it?
Or if rather than being awake to the miracle,
we are bothered distracted by the “many things”
of celebrating Christmas in the year 2020?
Heaven is coming close to earth again
Don’t you want to be awake for that?

Dec 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 6, 2020

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:14-16

Intro: Today is the second Sunday of Advent

This is the season for preparing ourselves for Christmas
– last Sunday our preparation consists of contemplating Jesus
– today, we will be concerned with opening our hearts and minds to mystery
• some may find it too difficult to open their minds,
◦ so at least let’s open our hearts

Biblical mystery does not refer to a difficult mental challenge

It is not a riddle, a puzzle, or a conundrum
– mystery is a truth or reality that is unknowable, a hidden part of reality
• the same Greek word, musterion, is translated “secret”
◦ a synonym for this word is “hidden”
But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God . . . (1 Cor. 2:7)
• mystery defies being grasped by the human intellect
Simone Weil, “The mysteries of the faith cannot be either affirmed or denied; they must be placed above that which we affirm or deny.”
◦ regarding our experience of God in worship (and sacraments), she said
“Only that part of myself which is made for the supernatural should adhere to these mysteries. But this adherence is more a matter of love than of belief.” “The organ in us through which we see truth is the intelligence; the organ in us through which we see God is love.”
◦ and one more quote by this saintly woman:
“With those who have received a Christian education, the lower parts of the soul become attached to these mysteries when they have not right to do so. That is why such people need a purification . . . .”

Mystery, in the Scriptures, is not superstition
– superstition is believing too much – it is credulous, gullible
• it’s how the beliefs of pagan gods and idolaters were viewed
– mystery is the acknowledgment, there are things beyond us
• and the only way we can know them is if God reveals them to us
Moses: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (De. 29:29)
Jesus: To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given . . . . blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Mt. 13:11 and 16)
Paul: [God] is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made know to all the nations . . . (Ro. 16:25-26)
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit (Ep. 3:4-5)

You may feel an immediate negative reaction to mystery
– a few years ago Barb and I hosted a discussion in our home
• we were talking about God’s mysteries
◦ a doctor who was present said, “I’m realizing that I’ve been ‘anti-mystery’”
• this is a hallmark of the modern age
◦ and modern-age theologians attempted to clarify everything
Len Sweet, “Those who sold out to modernity tried to empty the church of its mysteries. Then, when they had largely succeeded, they wondered why the church felt so empty.”
– we can study a subject to death
• if we try to dissect God in the lab, we kill the specimen
◦ not the eternal and living God, but we kill our concepts of him
◦ concepts can retain their definitions by be hollowed out of meaning
Blaise Pascal spoke of “the God of the philosophers”
• beware when God makes perfect sense to you
◦ you are likely missing something important, some mystery

What are some of the mysteries we encounter in the Scriptures?

Information: as we’ve seen, information about the work of Jesus
Paradox : two declarations, mutually exclusive, work together
– the Bible sometimes teases our brains by placing contradictions side-by-side
. . . to all who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:12-13)
. . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Php. 2:12-13)
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt. 16:25)
Len Sweet, “In Christianity, when you perceive a truth, look for the opposite truth. Heresy is a truth that has lost its opposite.”
– a frequent example of this is denying either Jesus’ deity or his humanity
Realities we cannot know: because we don’t have the means
– we’re not equipped, What no eye has seen, nor ear heard
[God] is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see (1 Tim. 6:15-16)
Realities we can experience, but not comprehend
And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” (Jdg. 13:18)
wonderful means “above your pay grade”–to use a current colloquialism
As David said,
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it
(Ps. 139:6)
Ordinary, everyday things: Moses’ staff, the disciples’ fishing nets
– a jar, a stick, salt, a river, five loaves of bread and two fish
– potentially any object, or type of weather, or sensation
This present moment: What’s so mysterious about this moment?
– everything in it that I don’t see – everything I don’t feel
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear (Mk. 4:26-28)
– all of this is happening apart from the farmer’s effort or consciousness
– the movement of God’s Spirit within you right now
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jn. 3:8)
– the kingdom of God is flowing through every moment of our lives

The mystery Paul reminds Timothy, is Jesus Christ

Some biblical scholars believe Paul is quoting a Christian hymn
– in the history of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs it is not unusual that the theology of the people is recorded and expressed in what they sing
– if this is indeed a song, it is certainly both lovely and profound

At Christmas, the mystery of Jesus especially the Incarnation
He was manifested in the flesh
– the Hebrew Scriptures emphasize the point that God is not a man
• that he is not flesh, but spirit (1 Sam. 15:29; Job 9:32; Isa. 31:3)
• yet here is God, in the flesh and blood body of Jesus
◦ God giving himself to humankind
◦ God fully revealing himself to humankind

The mystery of Jesus is that his execution is his victory
-listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians (from The Message Bible)
The message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.
So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation. While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one.
(1 Cor. 1:18-25)

The mystery of Jesus is that he makes himself our true home
– one of St. Paul’s favorite terms for the Christian experience:
• “in Christ,” or “in Christ Jesus,” or simply “in him”

The mystery of Jesus is that he makes his home in us
God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27)
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20)
– in fact, Jesus becomes one with his followers
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31-32)

The mystery of Jesus is forgiveness
Hanna Arendt argues, once an action is performed, can’t be undone-
– possible redemption from “the predicament of irreversibility . . . is the faculty of forgiveness.” “Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever . . . .”
• although I would take issue with the term “discoverer,” I do agree mostly with her point that the “discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth.”
• notice how Jesus puts forgiveness in the same class as working miracles
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses (Mk. 11:24-25)
– the generosity of God’s forgiveness through Christ is unexplainable
• equally baffling is fact, he passes on to us ability to forgive

Conclusion: The day to day mystery of our life is that
Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it (Gen. 28:16)
– Jacob came to this realization only when he awoke from his sleep
• we will be aware of more of God’s mysteries when we wake up to them

We need to experience God – frequently
– without experience, we forget – how near he is, forget to trust
• it’s like losing a language we had once learned
• if we do not experience it by hearing and speaking it, we lose it
– experiences of God are available to us at all times
• every genuine prayer is an encounter with God
Karl Rahner, “While remaining silent, God is in that depth of our being which opens up to us only when we humbly allow ourselves to be embraced by mystery without wishing to take charge of it. If this happens, then Christmas has already happened in us, the arrival of God, which Christianity says happens by God’s grace, which is granted to those who do not resist it . . . .”

Can we develop a sensitivity to mystery?
To the beauty of the infinite hidden in this moment?
Well, we will try won’t we?
This week’s preparation for Christmas
will be looking not only for the colorful lights
and holiday decorations,
but for the intimations of mystery
that God has hidden in all the old things
as well as new things,
in old places as well as new places,
in the familiar faces
and the faces of strangers
Seek and you will find

Nov 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 29, 2020

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

Intro: This is the Sunday we begin preparing ourselves for Christmas

We start with what Mark calls the beginning of the good news
– Mark doesn’t take us back to the birth of Jesus,
• but to the birth of his ministry, the hour he was baptized
• this was not the beginning of a brand new story,
◦ it was a new episode of a bigger, older story,
. . . when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:4-6)
◦ the story of Jesus emerges from Israel’s long history with God
– and now we jump from Mark to Hebrews
• we entered Hebrews this year about the time of our first lockdown,
◦ and spent thirty-six weeks taking a close up look at what’s there
• today we’ll view Hebrews from 30,000 feet
◦ try to grasp its entire landscape, even if we miss many details
◦ with this review of Hebrews, we’ll launch ourselves into Advent season

What is the message of Hebrews?
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Hebrews 1:1-4

The message of Hebrews is the same message of whole Bible
– God has spoken and continues to speak to humankind
• his first recorded words: And God said, “Let there be light . . .”
◦ for first six days, God’s only tool was his creative word
◦ he did not roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty until formed the human (Gen. 2:7)
• God’s message has always had one purpose:
◦ to reveal himself to those he made in his image
◦ reveal his intention, his goodness, his love
– John’s gospel opens, In the beginning was the Word
• here it is again, God’s creative Word–only here it is personalized
◦ from here, John builds to,
And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14)
◦ then further, and to make his point clear, John writes,
No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (Jn. 1:18)
• the message of Hebrews is the fullest unfolding of God’s word,
◦ summed up and reaching its climax in Jesus Christ, the Son of God
◦ what is revealed is not mere ideas and propositions, but primarily a person
– everything God had spoken prior to Jesus, was in reference to Jesus
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Lk. 24:44-45)
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me (Jn. 5:39)

God sometimes spoke through angels
(see Heb. 2:2; Acts 7:53)

The writer Hebrews had to make it clear that Jesus was not an angel
– he pulled out a cluster of Old Testament quotes to make his point
• humans are lower than the angels (Heb. 2:7)
• and Jesus became one of us,
◦ but he was always more than human or angelic
Richard Bauckham, “To be above the angels is to be God, to be below the angels is to be human. Above the angels, Jesus transcends all creation, sharing the divine identity as Creator and Ruler even of the angels. Below the angels, Jesus shares the common identity of earthly humans in birth, suffering and death.”
– the writer reminds us, we don’t see ourselves as all God has destined us
• but we see Jesus – and this vision is what we hang onto
◦ the writer tells us to consider Jesus, God’s ambassador and mediator (3:1)
• he compares him with Moses – to whom God spoke his law
◦ John made a somewhat different comparison, but it cuts to the point
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17)
◦ Moses was a faithful servant, but at a critical point he failed
◦ he was not able to get Israel out of the wilderness into the land of promise

Joshua took up where Moses left off

He brought Israel into the land
– however, he wasn’t able to lead them into their spiritual destiny
• the problem was with the people
◦ God’s diagnosis of their problem was their hardened hearts
• and behind those hard hearts was unbelief (Heb. 3:15-19)
◦ this sets up one of big ideas in Hebrews: the necessity of faith
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he is and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6)
– Israel’s spiritual destiny was to rest in their trust in God
• the writer wants us to reach that destiny in Jesus
◦ it is not merely rest from trouble or chaos, but rest even in trouble or chaos
◦ it is a soul rest that allows us to move through life without anxiety (Mt. 11:28-30)
• we don’t have to create this rest or earn it, the work has been completed (Heb. 4:3)
◦ the door is open – we just have to enter
– it is here we discover God’s word is living and active,
• it will find us and reveal what is inside us
• whether it is what unites us with God or keeps us from coming to him

Jesus is more than angels, Moses, Joshua, and now Israel’s priests

The writer begins this comparison and contrast with a radiant statement,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:14-15)
– and through Jesus, our high priest, we can
with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (4:16)
• we learn how Jesus was appointed by God to this role
◦ and how he was qualified to fulfill it through what he suffered (Heb. 5:5-9)
– this long section of Hebrews educates in the roles and duties of the priests
• but just as the writer is about to go deep into into it, he stops
◦ he explains that there’s a problem, and it is their failure to thrive (Heb. 5:11-14)
• it is like Jesus with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus
◦ they had all pertinent information, but they were missing its meaning
O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (Lk. 24:25)

By this point in our overview, we see a pattern
– alternating currents of instruction and warning flow through Hebrews
• so the writer prefaces his teaching on Jesus’ priesthood,
◦ with a severe caution
– returning to his subject, the writer can now dive deep
• being a high priest, Jesus is allowed into God’s inner sanctum
◦ not on earth, but in heaven – the real deal
• there he has secured an anchor of the soul
◦ a sure and steadfast hope (Heb. 6:19-20)

We learn that there is not one, but two priestly orders
– they run parallel to each other – they never overlap
• one is the order of Levi – the other is order of Melchizedek
• Jesus belongs to the second
◦ the Levitical priesthood was necessary and effective
◦ but Jesus accomplished everything the other order could not

The new covenant

In carrying out his work as high priest, Jesus became the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb. 7:20-21)
– a covenant is a treaty or agreement that binds two parties in a relationship
• Israel constantly broke God’s covenant with them
◦ God’s solution was to re-write a new covenant, on their hearts
• he made this happen in Jesus
– this brings us to another radiant passage in Hebrews
Therefore, brothers [and sisters], since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb. 10:19-22)

Draw near is one of the key themes in Hebrews and appears in a variety of contexts. If we were to ask the writer of Hebrews, “What is worship?” his answer would have been, “It means to draw near to God.” Everything we do as followers of Jesus and in his name is a drawing near to God. This includes not only prayer, praise, and reading the Scriptures, but also our excursions into nature, our interaction with other Christians, and living by faith in God as we walk and work in the world.

• this is followed by a record of people who lived by faith (Heb. ch. 11)
◦ from them we learn what faith is and what it looks like in real life
• but our ultimate example is not the men and women listed here
◦ but Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith
◦ we are to look to Jesus as we run the faith race
and we are to consider him (Heb. 12: 1-3)
– in light of what Jesus endured, we have two important reminders:
first, everything we suffer can be regarded as discipline (Heb. 12:7-12)
◦ a necessary stage of education and enhanced performance
◦ also, a validation of our relationship with God and his love for us
second, where Jesus has brought us (Heb. 12:18-29)
◦ Mount Zion, the spiritual city of God
◦ which is contrasted Mount Sinai, which is where Moses led Israel

The Book of Hebrews trails off with practical concerns

Inserted among them is this important revelation:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever
– Jesus completes the story of God
• he fills in all the missing pieces
• and he meets us in our story
◦ our journey, regardless of how crazy it gets,
◦ takes us closer to God every day

Conclusion: In preparation for Christmas day, here is what we can do

Consider Jesus, look to Jesus, draw close to Jesus
– take a story from one of the gospels and sit with it
• contemplating the scene as it unfolds before you
◦ observe the characters in the story
◦ notice how they interact with Jesus
• let you imagination help you see and hear how Jesus responded
◦ then hang on to whatever truth or insight emerges
◦ write it down and keep it as a reminder

I’ve been thinking about something I watched many times as a child. “Christmas Comes But Once A Year” is an old black and white cartoon that was written in 1936. It begins in an orphanage on Christmas morning as the orphans wake up and jump out of bed with excitement. They run into the main hall of the orphanage, where we see the saddest looking Christmas tree ever. They open packages and pull out what appears to be old and worn out toys and stuffed animals that have seen better days. And as they begin to play with their toys, they immediately break and fall apart. Soon every heart is broken and every child is crying as they drag themselves back into the dormitory and weep on their beds.
An old guy in a sleigh, with “Professor Grampy — Inventor” emblazoned on the side, passes the orphanage and hears all the crying. Looking through the window, he sees the broken toys and broken hearts. He enters the kitchen and starts gathering every utensil and gadget he can find. Soon he has fabricated a host of make-shift toys. He then disguises himself as Santa Claus, and rings a bell in the doorway of the dormitory. The children again jump out of bed, elated to see Santa and discover their new toys. Soon the orphanage is glowing with Christmas magic and the laughter of children.

If such cartoons can carry a message, I think this would be:
Christmas cannot be broken
not by pain, not by poverty, not by loss, or any other hardship
Oh, the materialistic holiday can collapse
Even the nostalgic memories of warm family gatherings
(that few of us actually experienced) can disappear
But not the holy day

After all, Jesus entered the world in poverty,
he was born into a dark, chill night
Coming to earth,
he brought light and exuded warmth
Now, with his compassion and our creativity,
we can take the pieces of Christmas that we have
and reconstruct this season of joy
Ring the bells,
Joy to the world, the Lord has come
once again

Nov 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 22, 2020


Intro: I am going to read Psalm 118 to you

But first, I’ll say something about this poem
– it was written by one person
• that’s obvious from the singular personal pronoun in first 24 verses
• we’ll hear other voices — perhaps a priest giving a benediction
◦ and the poet will speak for the whole congregation of worshipers
◦ but he will return to his own voice at the end of the psalm
– the reason I’m pointing this out,
• is because many biblical scholars now see it as a liturgical composition
◦ that is to say, an outline for a service of worship in the temple
• but even if the poem became that, it began with one person,
◦ who went through a terrifying ordeal
◦ then after God brought him through it he was inspired to give thanks

So he begins,
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he his good;
for his steadfast love endures forever

– he borrowed this part of his poem from an earlier source
• King David composed it when he brought the ark of the covenant into his city (2 Chr. 16:34)
• afterward, it became a formal slogan in Israel’s worship
◦ temple musicians were assigned to sing it every morning (16:41)
◦ it was sung at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Ch. 5:11-13)
it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD . . . when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever” (2 Chr. 5:13)
◦ and later when turning to God for his assistance (2 Chr. 20:21)
◦ the tradition was continued after Israel returned from exile (Ezra 3:11)
– also the following psalms begin with this slogan 106, 107, and 136
(and every line in Psalm 136 repeats for his steadfast love endures forever)

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Misery loves company”
– well, joyful thanksgiving loves company too

Jesus makes this clear in three of his parables found in Luke chapter 15. The first who tells of shepherd who had lost a sheep, and the second is of a widow who lost a coin. Both the shepherd and widow, when what they had lost was found, calls together [his and her] friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found [my sheep/coin] that was lost (Lk. 15:3-10). The third parable tells of a father who had lost his son, and justified throwing a party to celebrate his return, saying, It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found (Lk. 15:32).

• the poet of Psalm 118 also knew that joy loves company
• so he invites three classes of worshipers to join the chorus
◦ all of Israel, the house of Aaron (worship leaders), and foreigners who had embraced Israel’s God as their God

The poet devotes most of the psalm to telling his story

He does not give us specific details of what happened
– but it was a distressing and terrifying ordeal,
• in which he almost lost his life
• still, all the way through it he trusted God,
◦ and that enabled him to fight his way to the surface time after time
– once he realized he had survived and would go on living,
• he understood something
• that God gives life to humans so that they can praise him
For the dead cannot praise you;
they cannot raise their voices in praise (Isa. 38:18, New Living Translation)
◦ the last verse of the very last psalm links life to praise,
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! (Ps. 150:6)

The poet’s next move was to visit the temple to give thanks

As he approaches the temple, he calls out to the gatekeepers
Open to me the gates of righteousness
– it may be that each of the entrances to the temple had its own name
• Jerusalem today: Jaffa Gate, Lion’s Gate, Damascus Gate, etc.
◦ in the New Testament we find a crippled beggar who sat
daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms (Acts 3:2)
• the poet chose the Righteous Gate, because he had done right thing
◦ he had trusted God through his ordeal
– as he entered the temple, looking around, he saw a stone that reminded him of himself:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone
• a radical change had taken place in his life and circumstances
◦ from being rejected to finding his place in the house of God
• there it dawned on him that this day is special
◦ God made it especially for him

The poet’s prayer was for himself and everyone in the temple

Save us, we pray, O LORD!
– for “save us,” he used the Hebrew word hosanna
• as Christians, we immediately hear this song echoed in the New Testament
◦ in fact, much of this psalm can be applied to Jesus grand entrance into Jerusalem
• the poet’s prayer was heard,
◦ and immediately he received a blessing
◦ from his house, God spoke the blessing
– with the blessing, God’s light shined on him,
• just as with the formal blessing of the priests
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you . . .
(Nu. 6:24-25)

Almost intoxicated with joy, the poet pours out his thanks
– and then, at the end of the psalm, he circles back to where he began

Before I read the psalm, there’s one more thing for us to notice

This is one of the most dynamic psalms in whole book of Psalms
– the poet re-creates the drama of his experience
• he wants us to feel what he felt
◦ he wants our eyes to be wide open and our hearts to beat fast
• he creates this effect through:
◦ strong language, powerful rhythms, and eye-catching repetitions
– he uses these poetic tools in describing both his crisis and rescue

Psalm 118 The New English Version
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
    the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.
10 All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
    they went out like a fire among thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation
    are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
16     the right hand of the Lord exalts,
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has disciplined me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
    O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
    up to the horns of the altar!
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God; I will extol you.

29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Now I’ll tell you why I chose this psalm for today

Some of us are thinking that this Thanksgiving is going to be a downer
– we have had to cancel our travel plans,
• or limit the number of guests we can invite,
• or forego even having a big Thanksgiving dinner
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?” (Psa. 4:6)
– Well, if it feels to you like Thanks giving has been spoiled
• Psalm 118 is your our reminder of the greatest reason to be grateful
Oh Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!

Conclusion: Whatever else may happen, you will not be alone for Thanksgiving

The Scriptures tell us God is holy (Ps. 99:9)
– holiness is unique to God – this is something we must know
• to approach God, we have to be holy (Heb. 12:14)
• but we cannot make ourselves holy
people who try, become legalistic, moralistic, judgmental and
only succeed in making themselves self-righteous (or weird)
– I have to ask, Does my life belong to God fully?
• because that is what it means for me to become holy
◦ everything he touches and claims as his own is holy
• I am thankful to know that God is holy

The Scriptures tell us God is light (1 Jn. 1:5)
– the one who enlightens our hearts (Ep. 1:18)
• light is purity, light is truth, light is revelation
Send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling (Psa. 43:3)
– then there is that that mysterious verse,
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light (Ps. 36:9)
• perhaps it means, in God’s light everything is illuminated for us
• I am thankful to know that God is light

The Scriptures tell us God is true (Jn. 3:33) and that God is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9)
– we need this reassurance
• I am thankful to know that God is true and faithful

The Scriptures tell us that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8, 16)
– and he pours his love into us (Ro. 5:5)
• this is the source of our compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness
◦ whatever religious work I attempt, without love is nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
• I am thankful for God’s love

The Scriptures tell us God is Good
– this is the greatest reason we have to be grateful
• I am thankful for God himself

Nothing can spoil our day of Thanksgiving
– because with or without a big gathering – or a big meal,
God is with us and he is good

So on Thanksgiving Day
whether your table is loaded with scrumptious food
or you sit down to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,
try doing this:
Do not bow your head to give thanks,
but lift up your face
and let the light of God’s countenance shine on you
Rejoice in your heart and say,
“What? All this and Jesus too?!”
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Nov 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 15, 2020


Intro: This past week I was on extra duty with my grandchildren

Each time heading out the door I quickly ran through our checklist:
– “Do you have your homework? Your thermos? Your mask?”
• I read these last few verses of Hebrews as a checklist
• these verses are the finishing touches to a amazing document
◦ for the writer, these words were as important as everything else
– when we began our study, I explained the value of Hebrews
• in the gospels, Jesus reveals God – in Hebrews, God reveals Jesus
no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Mt. 11:27)
• the writer began this message
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (Heb. 1:1-2)
◦ we’ve learned many of the ways God has spoken through Jesus
◦ we’ve also learned that he still speaks to us through Jesus

The first item on the checklist: Follow the leaders
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17

I’m going to try not to weaken this verse with disclaimers and qualifications
– but we hear the first line differently than the original audience
• they lived in a culture defined by a stratified hierarchy
◦ people were born into a class and did not move from it
◦ they had to submit to higher classes, and for their own good
. . . for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them (Ecc. 5:8)
• today the threat of spiritual abuse is too great to make the blanket statement,
Obey your leaders and submit to them
– personally, I don’t like to think of myself as your leader
• many times I have been corrected by people smarter than I
◦ by someone who is a better person or better Christian than I
• I don’t feel like I’m out ahead of you, but traveling with you
◦ we’re on this journey together, assisting each other
◦ let’s take a closer look at this verse

“Obey” translates a Greek word, most often translated “persuade”
– to be convinced by someone – in this case,
• by someone with more authority or who knows better
◦ in verse 18 the same Greek word is translated “sure”
• so a leader is someone who we are sure of,
◦ regarding their wisdom, insight, depth, integrity, and so on
-“submit” – this is only time this Greek word is used in the New Testament
• it means to surrender, give way to, defer to
◦ this targets our inner life – our attitude (Am I teachable?)
• how I read this:
◦ use leaders, teachers, and pastors regarding our Christian concerns
◦ ask them questions, consult, pay attention to them, ask them for prayer

What our spiritual leaders do:
first, they keep watch over our souls
• literal, “go without sleep,” stay awake, alert
◦ like the shepherds who were led to the Christ child
in that same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night (Lk. 2:8)
◦ Paul, instructed the leaders of the church in Ephesus
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28)
• their primary concern is our souls!
◦ the formation of the inner-self in Jesus Christ
second, they will have to give an account
The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them . . . Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? . . . The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them (Eze. 34:1-4)
Contrast those “shepherds” with Jesus, who prayed,
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost . . . (Jn. 17:12)
• God is going to ask your leaders about you
• as for us, our concern is that we’re a joy to our leaders and not a pain

When I read this I can’t help but think of “The Simpsons.” Ned Flanders, the overly optimistic, overly scrupulous, and guilt-ridden Evangelical ruined the ministry of Rev. Lovejoy. Flanders’ constant pestering of Rev. Lovejoy with his silly questions and inconsequential worries exhausted the minister’s patience. It is easy to imagine him groaning every time the phone rang and Flanders was on the other end.

for that would be of no advantage to you
◦ we would lose whatever benefit our spiritual helpers could provide

Bear with me – I believe Christians need to be warned
– managers are not leaders – we manage finances, facilities and programs
• people need to be led, not managed
• tyrants are not leaders
◦ authoritarian pastors and preachers have done untold spiritual and psychological damage to many of those followers
◦ and unfortunately, those (of us) raised under authoritarian leaders tend to become the same type of leaders
– questions we need to ask when choosing a leader to follow:
• does this person treat you with respect?
• love God? Jesus? the Scriptures?
• love the poor, weak, orphan, stranger – you?
• open to listen to others?
◦ or his he or she a hired hand? (cf. Jn. 10:11-14)
• is this person empathetic?
• narcissistic? materialistic? angry? divisive?
◦ God does not call a person to ministry to become a “success”
◦ but to help you succeed in building a strong relationship with Himself

The second item on checklist: Prayer
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Hebrews 13:18-19

Pray for us – the writer and those with him who were also leaders
– he wanted the prayers of his readers to focus on his thoughts and actions
clear – translates a Greek word that means beautiful, excellent, good
conscience – first means consciousness
◦ what was on their leaders’ minds, what they were constantly aware of
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:2)
honorably – is the same Greek word translated “clear”
• pray that the writers actions would be excellent
in all things – not only religious duties or spiritual activities

A special prayer request: that I may be restored to you the sooner
Luke T. Johnson says that more quickly “is appropriate because the author suggests that their prayers will speed him to them faster than if they did not pray . . . .”
– in mapping out his work through history,
• God built contingency into the system
◦ that means that the universe does not roll through time like a machine
• instead, God leaves open spaces so events can turn one way or another
◦ for that reason, prayer can really effect changes in what happens
◦ this allows us to participate with God, to work with him
– if our prayers do not effect changes we want to see in our world,
• they can still effect changes in us

The third item on the checklist: A benediction
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good so that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen Hebrews 13:20-21

These verses are loaded with profound concepts
– they repeat crucial themes the writer has raised and explained
• it’s possible that these themes could be nothing more to his hearers than noble ideas and revelations, theological truths
• but what the writer does in the benediction is this,
◦ he speaks these truths into their lives
◦ his speech is performative — it not only states a truth, but makes the truth a reality in them
– as with all benedictions, this one begins with God (cf. Nu. 6:22-27)
God of peace – for us, God is the most sure source of peace
◦ anything else that may provide peace is temporary
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation . . . (Jn. 16:33)
brought again from the dead . . . the cross is not the complete story
◦ resurrection is the essence and bedrock of our Christian hope
our Lord Jesus – perhaps the first Christian “creed” was the short declaration, Jesus Christ is Lord (see Php. 2:9-11)
◦ this is a truth that Jesus’ followers discovered about him
◦ they witnessed his authority (e.g., Mk. 1:21, 27; 2:5-12; 4:41)
the great shepherd of the sheep – Jesus is our ultimate Leader
◦ the one who cares for us, has come looking for us
◦ the image of the shepherd appears in the Synoptic gospels and is explicit in Jesus teaching in John 10, where he refers to himself as the good shepherd
by the blood of the eternal covenant — each word has been thematic in Hebrews
blood — Jesus’ blood has effectively brought us forgiveness and purification
eternalsalvation (5:9), redemption (9:12), Spirit (9:14), inheritance (9:15)
covenant — chapters 8 and 9; it has been inscribed on our hearts

What does the writer speak into our lives with this benediction?
– the work that God does in us through Jesus
equip you with everything good . . .
◦ we do not have it in us – on our own, we would fail
. . . for apart from me you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5)
◦ but God enables us to do his will
(when we do his will, his kingdom enters our world through us, Mt. 6:10)
pleasing (see v. 16) – we make it our aim to please him (2 Cor. 5:9)
through Jesus Christ – we learned last week that Jesus mediates every interaction we have with God
to whom be glory – these are words of doxology
(doxa is the Greek word translated glory, cf. Ro. 16:25-27)

The fourth item on checklist: personal concerns
I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation for I have written to you briefly.
You should know that our brother Timothy has been released with whom I shall see you if he comes soon.
Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings.
Grace be with all of you. Hebrews 13:22-25

The writer describes the message of his letter as an exhortation
– exhortation does not mean a scolding
• in fact, the same Greek word is translated appeal in this sentence
• it is an appeal to others in order to build them up, not tear them down
Timothy was well known to the Christian churches because of his association with the apostle Paul
• here we can see he was close to the writer of Hebrews as well
– the closing greetings are typical
– and finally, grace – the gift that makes all things possible
be with all of you – no one is left out

Conclusion: We have learned in Hebrews that Jesus has come near to us

Jesus has become like us (Heb. 2:14) and sees us as his brothers and sisters
– he tells us that he has come to lead us home
• to take us by the hand and bring us to the Father
• the central message of the book is encapsulated in the words “draw near”

Drawing near to God is possible,
because of everything Jesus did for us
Through Jesus, God speaks to us
and he calls to us by name
So slowly draw a deep breath
and rest in God’s nearness
Allow God to love you,
and by his grace make you worth of his love