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Apr 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 11, 2021

O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on m tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them.
The days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:1-6 and 13-16

Intro: I’m going to begin with two quotes:

“. . . if we would pay more attention to those bodies as we live them from the inside, instead of thinking of them only as we see them from the outside, we would know more about ourselves than we now do.”
“The body speaks clearly to those who know how to listen” “The multifaceted language of the body depicts a lifetime of joys, sorrows, and challenges, revealed in patterns of tension, movement, gestures, posture, breath, rhythm, prosody, facial expression, sensation, physiological arousal, gait, and other action sequences.”
– I’ve quoted first a pastor and professor of theology, Arthur Vogel
• and second a psychotherapist researcher and clinician, Pat Ogden
– it takes science a little while to catch up with scripture
• I’m not entirely joking when I say that
◦ for centuries we’ve had in the Psalms, poems of joy and sorrow
◦ we have seen how the poets locate these emotions in their bodies
• now scientists tell us our bodies have their own language
◦ that without words, the body reveals its feelings and emotions
◦ for instance, “guilt written all over your face” is not just something Mom said to get us to confess
Joe Dispenza, “Every time you have a thought, there is a biochemical reaction in the brain—you make a chemical. . . . the brain then releases specific chemical signals to the body, where they act as messengers of the thought. When the body gets these chemical messages from the brain, it complies instantly by initiating a matching set of reactions directly in alignment with what the brain is thinking. Then the body immediately sends a confirming message back to the brain that it’s now feeling exactly the way the brain is thinking.”
– the body not only manufactures and is aware of these feelings
• but it also gives expression to them through posture, gestures, and other nonverbal signals

Would you agree that Psalm 139 is a classic?

The poet is fascinated and in over God’s thorough knowledge of him
– every movement and motion – every word spoken
• from before he was born to the day he will die
– there is no escaping or hiding from God
• not that he wants to get away from God
• rather, he is comforted by the knowledge wherever he goes, God is there
◦ and he is there for him

I’ve chose a section of this psalm that focuses on body parts in general
– the New Testament refers to body parts as “members”
(to be dismembered is the removal of all the body parts)
limbs: hands, arms, feet, legs, etc.; and organs: heart, bones, kidneys, etc.
• here the poet reflects on his embryonic gestation
v. 13, God formed (made) his inward parts, a reference to his kidneys (center of the inner-self)
he was knitted (like weaving a basket) – in his mother’s womb
v. 15, his frame (bones that give the body its structure and keeps it upright)
made in secret and the depths of the earth are metaphorical references to the womb
v. 16, unformed substance refers to the embryo
◦ the Hebrew word here is an interesting one, because it means rolled up, and if you’ve every seen photographs of a fetus, you can notice how early on the body looks rolled up, and its unwrapping occurs as it continues to develop
– no wonder the poet says he has been fearfully and wonderfully made

I have read a couple of text books on Clinical Neuroanatomy
– and understood maybe five percent of what I read
• when I came to the section on ears and eyes I was bowled over
◦ both organs have minute parts that are moved by tiny muscles
◦ the iris dilator muscle is minuscule, and enervated by an even more minuscule nerve
The hearing ear and the seeing eye,
the LORD has made them both (Pr. 20:12)
• and he made them fearfully and wonderfully well
– something I’ll explain at this point, and keep reminding you
• when scripture mentions body parts, it refers not only to limbs and organs,
◦ but also to their function, and sometimes the function is used as metaphor
◦ for instance, the eyes see the world, but can also refer to vision itself, but can also refer to mental perception

In scripture, the body, like life itself, is a precious gift

In Genesis chapter 2 we read,
then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 2:7)
– “formed” here translates the Hebrew word yaw-tsar;
• this is the first time it is used in scripture – until God has been creating and making
◦ later on, yaw-tsar will be used of potters shaping clay into something
◦ for humankind, God rolled up his sleeves, got his hands dirty, and sculpted a body, into which he breathed life
• in the New Testament, the body is both a “tent” (temporary shelter) and a “temple”
◦ Paul’s references to the body cover the entire ministry of Jesus
John A. T. Robinson, “One could say without exaggeration that the concept of the body forms the keystone of Paul’s theology. In its closely interconnected meanings, the word (soma) knits together all his great themes. It is from the body of sin and death that we are delivered; it is through the body of Christ on the Cross that we are saved; it is into His body, the Church, that we are incorporated; it is by His body in the Eucharist that this Community is sustained; it is in our body that its new life has to be manifested; it is to a resurrection of this body to the likeness of his glorious body that we are destined. Here, with the exception of the doctrine of God, are represented all the main tenets of the Christian Faith . . . .”
– the body is so important, that our resurrection bodies are built for eternity
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:53-54)

Fearfully and wonderfully covers all of the body’s capacities

To know and feel and do
– the capacity to suffer, both physical pain and mental anguish
• our reflexes, responses, and reactions to the world
◦ our responses and reactions to other people
• and all of our feelings, emotional and physical, are produced by the body and experienced in the body
Antonio Damasio, “Even in the most typical course of events, the emotional responses target both body proper and brain. The brain produces major changes in neural processing that constitute a substantial part of what is perceived as feeling.” “The current evidence suggests that most feelings probably rely on all sources—skeletal and visceral changes as well as changes in internal milieu.”
◦ that last line comes very close to the biblical view of the body’s experience of feeling in bones and viscera
– we frequently read of the way poets and prophets were aware of emotions,
• and where they were located in their bodies
• which is also something that we tend to ignore

Our bodies have a story to tell

They carry the history of our past
Pat Ogden, “We remember the past not only in words, images, and stories, but also through chronic habits of tension, movement, and posture.”
– you may know that my wife Barbara is a physical therapist
• she has excellent skills at reading the bodies of her patients
◦ she can read an illness or injury by looking and observing the patient’s posture and movements
◦ and sometimes touching or having the patient perform a simple task
◦ she will also ask questions about what they feel with certain motions or when they stretch a limb
• these things are not only effects of injury or illness, there are also imprints of their personal history
◦ we may have developed a protective posture as children
◦ what we do not realize is that our childhood posture became a habit,
◦ and our body automatically repeats it when we feel threatened or insecure
– my son, Scotty, has a neighbor who I noticed,
• that when walking to her car, she looks like she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders
• a couple weeks ago I had a brief conversation with her
◦ I then learned she is not only a single mom raising an adolescent son, but she is deaf
◦ talking with her, I realized how difficult it is for deaf people to find resources that are available to them on their own
◦ no wonder this woman walks slightly bent forward with her head down
Pat Ogden, “. . . the way we move, stand, sit, and so forth, is the result of personal history interacting with immediate circumstance. . . . Our posture, movement and sensation fluctuate moment-to-moment depending on the present situation and the people we are with as well as our internal state, predictions, and expectations.”
“. . . often we do not understand the original wisdom of these physical reactions and do not realize that being aware of and changing them can help us to move beyond the confines of the past.”

Now I’m going to tell you what mischief I’m up to

A few years ago, I spent several Sundays exploring the body in scripture
– I have learned a great deal more since then – I want to revisit that theme
• we live with God inside these bodies
• I’m convinced we need to know their spiritual significance
◦ how we’ve let them develop or have constrained our growth within them
◦ how we know and serve God in them and through them
Pat Ogden explains that the body serves us in a practical way, “not only as a guide to help heal from the wounds of the past but also as a roadmap for discovery and growth in the future.”
– this is a fascinating adventure and well-worth exploring
Pat Ogden, “The sensation and movement of the body is a laboratory that is always available to teach us more about the hidden recesses of the self, expanding our understanding so that we can try out new ways of living and relating.”
– we’re going to learn the wisdom of the body
• how doing things differently with our body,
◦ can help us break free from the past addictions that linger
◦ and walk through life with a new energy and confidence in God

Conclusion: Alright–slowly draw into your body a deep, cleansing breath

Notice your body – are you sitting up straight? are you relaxed?
– your body is how you first present yourself to the world
• what does it say about you?
• do you embody love? acceptance? openness?

I hope you will gain insight into this wonderful body of yours,
that you will find its undiscovered resources and strengths
The body is meant for the Lord and the Lord for the body (1 Cor. 6:13)
You are not trash, you’re a temple;
the object of God’s love and desire

Apr 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

April 4, 2021

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As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Luke 24:36-43

Intro: I suppose it’s okay to say “Happy Easter”

I’m not comfortable with this greeting, because “happy” seems frivolous and transient
– I doubt we could convince the world to say “Bless-ed Easter”
• or “Joyful Easter” – but at least we’ve got one thing right:
◦ this is a day to celebrate – and not only this day, but the weekend
◦ because there would be no Easter morning without Good Friday
• what makes Easter blessed? Joyful? A day to celebrate?
– one way to see it: Jesus entered a fight that wasn’t his
• we hear of communities in other places that are being hunted and killed
◦ we shake our heads and say, “How terrible,”
◦ but we don’t leave home, or even get off our comfortable sofa
“It’s not our fight”
• Jesus, however,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Php. 2:6-8)
◦ he came and joined sides with those who were suffering
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Heb. 2:14-15)
◦ Jesus not only fought this battle, but he won it–for us
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. . . . For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:20-26)
So–Joyous Easter!

In this brief post-resurrection scene, what is Jesus’ big concern?

He wants his disciples to be absolutely certain of his resurrection
– that he has returned to life – and that he is alive in his body
• they were not seeing a ghost or spirit
◦ if they reached out to touch him, as he invited them to do,
◦ their hands would not pass through him
• he was there and he was real
– now, in the typical manner of preachers, I will make three points

First, what we learn from this regarding Jesus’ resurrection body

The body in which Jesus presented himself was physical; flesh and bones
– this is what makes a human person, human
• Hebrew: humankind is ahdam, from adahmah, ground or soil
• English: human is derived from the same word as humus, soil
◦ as humans, we are material beings,
◦ made from the same stuff as our planet

Many years ago, I learned from one of my books on theology that there was a debate as to whether the human person could be defined as a dichotomy (two parts: body and spirit) or trichotomy (three parts: body, soul, and spirit). We are familiar with the -tomy part of these words, because it is derived from the Greek language and means to divide or cut. For instance, when surgeons cut an organ out of a person’s body, they are performing a tonsillectomy, or an appendectomy. However, there is no -tomy within a human being, there is no division of parts. Rather, we are atomic (in Greek, a=un and -tomy=cut, that is, uncut or undivided; namely, whole). There are dimensions of our holistic selves that are invisible to us–like the conscious self of the mind or the mental realm of thought, that we cannot see, but those are not separate parts of our person. So it is with the human spirit, that is so one with our physical self that if it goes our body goes too–no spirit, no life For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead (Jas. 2:26). As Genesis 2:7 says, when God breathed the breath of life into Adam, he did not then have a soul, but he became a living soul.

I cannot say this enough; from the beginning this was our destiny
– to be embodied, self-conscious and other-conscious organisms,
• living on a wonderfully beautiful, life-sustaining planet
• a living, human body is not a lesser or inferior life,
◦ and the earth is not an inferior habitation
– God made us for himself, as we are and in this created world
• this is what we are meant to be
• and this is where we’re meant to live
◦ and this is where he wants us to know him and walk with him

Theologians discuss the continuity and discontinuity of Jesus’ body before and after his resurrection
– that is, how was his body the same after his resurrection and how was it different
• it was the same in that he was flesh and bones
◦ his body still bore wounds of cross, he could be touched, he ate
• yet in some ways it was different
◦ which may be why some people had difficulty recognizing him (Lk. 24:16; Jn. 20:14)
◦ he could suddenly appear in a locked room (Jn. 20:19; Lk. 24:30-31)
– my belief is that Jesus’ resurrection body was physical, but more
• but there was a dimension added to his four-dimensional self
◦ unlike our bodies now, he was fully present in both heaven and earth
◦ in his body he participated in all dimensions of reality,
those that we know and that which for now no eyes has seen nor ear heard

Second, Jesus’ new body tells us something about our new bodies

Paul knew that he was fully known by God, but that he did not yet know God fully
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. . . . For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Cor. 13:9-12)
– our present bodies are in some way incomplete
• they are perfectly adequate for life in the world and for pleasing God
• but they are also limited, vulnerable, and fragile
◦ we get sick, we sustain injuries, we age, we weaken, and we die
◦ we know and experience only four dimensions of reality
– we are not separated from heaven by space or distance
• there is only a sheer curtain that shields our bodies from it
• our resurrection bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrection body
◦ and then the kingdom of God will no longer be invisible to us
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself (Php. 3:20-21)

At this point, we usually turn to St. Paul
– he addressed our questions head-on
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (see 1 Cor. 15:35-49)
• Paul says the answers are right in front of us
◦ they don’t provide every detail, but they demonstrate how God works
1. We can draw an analogy from what we know about agriculture
◦ a seed goes into the ground and from it a plant grows
◦ so our bodies go into the ground, they rise up in a different form
2. We can draw an analogy from animal life
◦ not all flesh is the same
◦ so we can assume that our resurrection flesh will be different
3. We can draw an analogy from celestial bodies–the earth, moon, sun, and stars
◦ there are differences in glory, but all are glorious
– so in each example there are discontinuities between our bodies now and our resurrection bodies
• but as John Polkinghorne pointed out, the repetition of the word “body” reveals the continuity between our bodies now and then
◦ my body will still be my body, but transformed
• the way we move through death into life,
◦ is a move from the bodies we inherited from Adam
◦ into the new and improved bodies we will receive from Jesus
John Polkinghorne, “If this understanding of the nature of humanity is correct, then it follows that our destiny beyond death will also be to live in an embodied state. To suppose the contrary would be to settle for a less than human form of future hope. Of course, the life of the world to come will also have to be a transformed kind of bodily existence, if that life is to be everlasting and free from the shackles of mortality.”

When Jesus argued for the resurrection against the Sadducees, he said,
And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Mt. 22:31-32)
John Polkinghorne, “The logic is incontestable if one accepts that there is a God who is everlastingly steadfast and faithful. If the patriarchs mattered to God once—and they certainly did—then they must matter to God for ever. If we matter to God once—and we certainly do—then we must matter to God for ever.”

Third, our resurrection bodies tell us something about our current bodies

When Christianity was still in its infancy, it was threatened by a mystical philosophy
– those other teachers made a complete break between spirit and matter
• spirit was good, divine, pure, and the only way to reach God
• the physical universe was the opposite and totally separate from God
◦ the human body was worthless and did nothing other than get in the way
◦ some of this teaching seeped into the church (and in some places still lingers today, as in the dichotomy/trichotomy debate)
Ilia Deio’s observation regarding popular culture is true of those who would separate the spirit from the body as well as those who do not believe that there is a spirit-dimension to the body:
“Modern culture’s preoccupation with the physical body and the exploitation of the body as soulless matter reflects the deep human disconnect from self, neighbor, earth, and God.”
– you and I need to anchor ourselves in a biblical view of the body
• that it is gift, that we cannot separate it from our true self
• and we can honor God with and in our bodies by dedicating them to him
. . . do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
Arthur Vogel, “When we human beings begin to think and talk about God, the hardest thing for us to remember is that our bodies are an important aspect of our being and must not be neglected in our theology. After all, it is God who made us this way.”
Thomas Ryan tells us what the Incarnation (God becoming flesh) of Jesus means:
“God sent us a message: from now on, I am identified with this bodiliness, this fleshiness, this materiality, this sensuality, this worldliness, this passion.” “The stuff of material creation quite literally became the body of God. Henceforth, there is no basis for dismissing this world as some second-rate practice field for the real life in heaven. . . . Life in this word is already shot through with divinity, with the very life of God. . . . we have been gifted with this world and these bodies because this is where God dwells. . . . Human bodies are part of God’s image and the means through which absolutely everything we learn about God must come to us.”
– whatever we desire of our relations with God,
• we must work at it with our bodies
• how we structure its use of time, energy, and resources

Conclusion: There is a conversation with Jesus we all must have

It is the same conversation he had with Martha after her brother died
– when she told Jesus that Lazarus did not have to die, if only Jesus arrived had sooner
• Jesus told her, Your brother will rise again
• to which she replied, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day
– now here is the part of the conversation we need to have with Jesus:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn. 11:25-26)

This is where the destiny of our bodies begins
Jesus tells you that he is the resurrection and the life,
that if you trust your life to him, even if you die, you will live again
And then looking into your eyes, he asks,
Do you believe this
Because trusting him for life today and forever,
is our hope that like him,
we will rise with new bodies,
“Built to last”–for eternity

With that, I wish you a Bless-ed Easter, a Joyful Easter–today and forever

Mar 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Palm Sunday 2021

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I am sure that you are familiar with Jesus’ celebrated arrival in Jerusalem. If not, you can read the story in Luke’s Gospel in chapter 19, verses 28-40 (in fact, this event is reported in all four Gospels). Luke adds a detail not found anywhere else.
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children with you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44

Intro: Reading this passage,

It occurs to me how little preparation went into this parade
– Jesus did not send two months in advance an event team,
• to pull permits, gather resources, and begin advertising
◦ he simply arrived–and from there it was all spontaneous
• so how did it turn into such a big deal?
◦ it was Jesus himself–his person and mighty works he had done
– from another point of view, this event had been 1000 years in the making
• the script was written and choreographed in Psalm 118:19-28

For Israel, Jerusalem was the center of the world
– in the Hebrew Scriptures, it was also called Zion
• unlike Jerusalem, Zion was more than a place on a map
◦ Zion is God’s promise fulfilled – God’s covenant ratified
◦ poets and prophets were the ones who most often spoke of Zion
Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of the all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress (Ps. 48:1-3)
Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain (Is. 4:5-6)
• Zion tells the erratic history of God and his people
◦ and the unfolding of God’s salvation for every nation and all people
◦ Zion had a spectacular destiny, which made its failure equally spectacular
– looking at Jerusalem, Jesus saw its high walls beautiful gates
• and behind them the Emperor’s fortress and God’s temple
◦ Jesus saw busy streets crowded with merchants and buyers
◦ and crowning upper level of the city, he saw the priests’ luxurious homes
• he saw all of this, and something in his heart broke
◦ he saw the city as it was then, unaware and unsuspecting
◦ he saw what Jerusalem could have been
◦ he saw its future and the rubble that it would become–a vacant mound, haunted by its past

Jerusalem did not have to fall – Zion did not have to disappear
– its residents did not have to be killed or enslaved
• if only . . . if only they had known on this day the things that make for peace
• many centuries before, the poet had written,
This is the day that the LORD has made; / let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps. 118:24)
◦ that day came, and the crowd of disciples were rejoicing
◦ but Jesus wept

What are we going to do with the Palm Sunday story this year?

My thought, is that we can find in it an instrument panel
– we’re all familiar with the gauges on our cars’ dashboards
• they provide vital information,
◦ which we depend on for safe and successful travel
• let’s imagine that we have a discipleship instrument panel
◦ what gauges are on it, and what do they tell us?
– the Palm Sunday story provides several concerns for us to consider
• if we want to check the status of our discipleship,
◦ I suggest we examine three specific indicators

We will begin with vision

Do you have a vision? If so, are you making progress in it?
– Jesus saw the city – and obviously, he saw more than buildings and traffic
• the sadness he felt was over what his people could not see
◦ it was hidden from their eyes
◦ we are told in the Proverbs,
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law (Pr. 29:18)

To cast off restraint means to “let loose.” In this context, it means that when people lose focus on the meaning and purpose of their lives, they go off in every which way. The law sets boundaries for our lives and provides clear direction. The same word for cast off restraint occurs when Israel lost sight of Moses for forty days. Losing the vision of their leader, when he finally returned he saw that they had broken loose (Ex. 32:25)

• a vision reveals a purpose for our lives and gives us a game-plan
◦ it enables us to focus for our resources, time, and energy
Kathleen McAlpin, “The search for meaning in ministry is ultimately the search for God, the vision of God. I believe that taking time to theologically reflect on experience and praying to seek the presence of God in the complexities of life in church and society is an urgent call for all in ministry today.”
◦ she does not limit “ministry” to paid, professional staff

A vision comes to us through our mind and imagination
– first, we take a hard look at the reality of our world
• we must remove our blinders, so nothing is hidden from our eyes
◦ the prophet Habakkuk provides a good example for this:
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you, “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted (Hab. 1:2-4)
– next, we look for God’s answer
I will take my stand at my watch post
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint (Hab. 2:1)
– then, God’s vision comes to us

I said we use our mind and imagination, but I want to qualify my statement
– we use, what Walter Brueggemann famously calls prophetic imagination
• basically it’s waking up to the realization “things could be different”
• a vision gives us a concrete idea of how things could be
◦ it is seeing specific tasks that need to be done
◦ and it is seeing how we can participate in the work
– prophetic imagination is a hope-inspired, hope-filled imagination
• our vision does not have to be grandiose
◦ I can be willing to play a small part in a huge project
• also, a vision is not necessarily a goal we are to reach
◦ we have our work, but we’re not responsible for the outcome
Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. . . . And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them (Eze. 2:3 and 5)
◦ a vision is the gift of seeing what God sees and our role in it

The next indicator to check is passion

Jesus wept – and when he entered Jerusalem,
– he chased the business entrepreneurs out of the temple
• it is not enough to know our vision–we must also feel it
passion is what goes on in our hearts and spirits
• passion is what gets us off the couch and into the world
◦ we must care – and care passionately (2 Sam. 15:21)

Passion has two meanings: first, it is an intense and driving emotion
– for a long time I was confused about the second meaning
• it came from my reading in the King James Version of Bible
[Jesus] shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs (Acts 1:3)
◦ I wondered whether Jesus’ passion referred to his agony in Gethsemane
◦ but the other meaning of passion is to feel pain, to suffer
Walter Brueggemann, “. . . the real criticism [of society’s wrongdoing] begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the most visceral announcement that things are not right.” “If we are to understand prophetic criticism we must see that its characteristic idiom is anguish and not anger.”
He says that the effect of living in our consumer culture is to create numbness, but “Prophetic ministry seeks to penetrate the numbness to face the body of death in which we are caught. Clearly, the numbness sometimes evokes from us rage and anger, but the numbness is more likely to be penetrated by grief and lament.”
Kathleen McAlpin, “Focus on an experience that has the potential to reveal to you a depth of value in your ministry or work. It would be well to consider an experience that holds some clear or deep emotion for you.”
• this is so true of Jesus, who several times expressed his feelings to his disciples
◦ and moving through passion, Jesus came to compassion

The third indicator is mission

There are several places in Luke where we learn Jesus’ mission
– for instance:
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 recovery of sight to the blind
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
(Lk. 4:16-21)
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Lk. 13:34)

Mission is what we do with our bodies and souls
What is your role in God’s vision?
– whatever it is, do not think of it as small or inconsequential
Henri Nouwen, “To pray means to stop expecting from God the same small-mindedness which you discover in yourself. To pray is to walk in the full light of God and to say simply, without holding back, ‘I am human and you are God.’”

Conclusion: This year, Palm Sunday will be like an annual check up

We’ll take our temperature and check our heart rate and blood pressure
If we have a vision that generates passion,
then we know our mission
Vision will harness our passion and focus our mission
Passion will refresh our vision and motivate our mission
Mission will pursue our mission and renew our passion

So let’s get to it!
Because when we bless one life,
we have made an important change in the world

Mar 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 21, 2021

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And [Jesus] came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-46

Intro: Are you ready for another dose of our morning meds?

Our meditation medication relieves a common disorder
spiritual somnambulism–sleepwalking through life
Anthony de Mello begins his book Awareness, “Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing we call human existence.”
• waking up was one of my morning meds last week

Jesus asked his drowsy disciples, “Why are you sleeping?”

We know the “why,” because Luke told us, they were sleeping for sorrow
– I used to think Luke was making an excuse for them,
• but grief can be exhausting,
• and a dark cloud of sadness hung over their table-talk that night
this will be our last meal together
one of you will betray me
the Son of Man goes as it has been determined
Simon, Simon, Satan demanded to have you
you will deny that you even know me
◦ so even though Jesus asked them to pray, they slept
◦ all of this sad news wore them out
– this is something about myself that I do not like–at all:
• when there’s a time I should stay awake, but I cannot
◦ excessive sleepiness feels like a helplessness state
• I think it’s similar to cowardice in face of sudden danger
(our nervous system takes over, allowing us no time to think)
◦ like when Peter was caught off-guard later that night
◦ I don’t think it was because he lacked courage,
but at that moment he lacked the grace to be courageous
God had not supplied the grace to suffer and die with Jesus–that time

The disciples could not resolve Jesus’ question with a simple answer
– “We were too sad,” “We were really, really sleepy”
• these excuses are not good enough
• they do not justify how the disciples could let this happen
◦ and at this critical hour?
◦ not now when the mob is at the gate and Judas is leading them
– it is not uncommon for us to have sleepless nights
• kept awake by illness or pain, anxieties or an emergency
◦ even if we’re fatigued and want sleep, it eludes us
• this was one of those nights, for Jesus
◦ his sorrow was infinitely greater than his desciples’
◦ but instead of being there for him, they slept through his agony

Jesus taught us to pray our way around temptation

Or to pray temptation away, or pray our way through it
lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
– we pray to enlist God’s help
Pray that you may not enter into temptation (v. 40)
• we don’t have to go through hard times alone
• or God can prevent us from making a wrong turn,
◦ and walk ourselves into a deadly situation we can’t manage
– that means prayer oftentimes includes listening
• when God has our attention in prayer, he speaks as well as listens
• so even if something unexpected happens,
◦ we’re not caught off-guard completely

Meditating on this verse, I heard Jesus asking me,
“Why are you sleeping?”

Sometimes I’m very much aware of what God has not given me
– or what has been taken from me
• but when I’m awake, I realize what Jesus has given me
• he has given me moments
◦ not a few superb moments scattered through my lifetime,
◦ but a continuous stream of moments
and God’s Spirit inhabits each one of them
– these moments flow through bright patches of sunlight,
• and valleys darkened by the shadow of death
• but in each moment, there is something worth noticing,
◦ something that awakens a sense of awe, of wonder

Sometimes when I’m reading, I remember to be aware
– that I can practice awareness any time, no matter what I’m doing
• so I switch to a different level of experience
• I am still reading, but even while reading, I am aware of myself reading
◦ I don’t miss anything on the page,
◦ but I’ve added a depth to my experience of reading
– there is this moment, right now –as I’m talking to you
• your mind may have drifted off or you may still be listening
◦ but right now you can become aware of yourself, listening
• Anthony de Mello is right, we walk in our sleep
◦ moreover, we talk in our sleep, and listen in our sleep
◦ we do these things, but we’re not aware that we’re doing them
◦ and not being aware, we’re not getting the full experiencing of life
• we may have lots of thoughts about life,
◦ but that is not same as experiencing what it is to be alive

My youngest son, Scotty, has three children, ages nine, eleven, and thirteen. Awhile back, when peeling oranges for them, they complained if there were any “strings” of rind on them. (When I was a kid, I was told that all the parts of a fruit I did not want to eat were “the best” for me.) So when I’m preparing for Addy (Scotty’s oldest daughter), I carefully remove all strings. This takes extra time when I’m already nervous about getting her to school on time, I don’t enjoy doing it. It is not unusual for Addy to share her lunch with a friend. One day as her friend took a section of Addy’s orange, she remarked, “Wow! This orange was peeled with care.” After Addy told me about this comment, I’ve found myself waking up to these moments when I’m gingerly removing strings from oranges. I think of my granddaughter, whom I love, and this one simple task that she’ll never remember when she’s all grown up. Being aware of what I am doing in those moments, blesses the for me.
– sometimes I catch an expression on the face of one of my grandchild
• or hear them say something with the richness of their childlike expression
◦ I appreciate their specific ages and personalities
◦ and in that moment I sense awe and feel reverence
• how can I think that doing simple chores is a waste of time,
◦ when moments of wonder are flowing through them?

How can we wake ourselves up to our God-filled moments?

Can we set a spiritual alarm clock, so that when it goes off, we
hear Jesus’ voice, “Why are you sleeping?”
– how do we start any new and exciting project?
• we clear off our desks – or table, workbench, an area on the floor
◦ we create a space where we’ll do our work
• we can also create the mental space we need in order to notice what’s here
◦ remove anxiety, resentment, regrets, intrusive thoughts
◦ what St. Paul said, is we remove from our mins includes
arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)
– sometimes to do this, we must first relax our bodies
• a tense body keeps the mind tense
• and a tense mind increases muscular tension

When Jesus was with his disciples after the resurrection, John says,
he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:21)
– this gift of the breath of life, that God has given us,
• is a great “biological app” for waking up and noticing
◦ you don’t have to run around looking for your breath,
◦ or make an appointment, or pull it out of the closet like a yoga mat
• it is always right here – if it’s not here, then neither are you
– feel the air that enters your nostrils and touches the back of your throat
• see if you can feel it all the way into your lungs
• notice how a deep, cleansing breath causes your chest to expand
◦ if you receive God’s Spirit with your breath, notice
◦ how your body and mind are blessed with a relaxed state
– you can almost feel heart rate slowing, BP dropping
– take a moment to enjoy that – to give thanks for it

Two other wake-up exercises – briefly:
1.) Take one of your daily habits–brushing your teeth, tying your shoes
– turn off your automatic pilot and pay attention to everything body does
• for five minutes, watch your fingers and notice all that they do
• for instance in getting dressed, starting your car, picking up a cup
2.) Choose one object or idea and notice the pure experience of it
– don’t use words or labels to describe it
• and don’t analyze it – if it’s blue, the feel sensation of blueness

If we practice five minutes every day–ten minutes if you have them–
– then anywhere, any time you can wake yourself up to the here and now
– you will be able to notice the wonder and feel reverence of each moment

Conclusion: Listen to the logic of a lesson Jesus taught

If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also (Jn. 12:26)
Where will we find Jesus?
Since we are his servants, we find him here, now
Why are you sleeping?
Wake up!
And now,
on to your next moment

Mar 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 14, 2021

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He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his masters debtors one by one, he said o the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take you bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:1-9

Intro: Because last week seems to me like it was two years ago,
– let me remind you that I am sharing with you my morning meds
• that is, various “meditations” from my past readings of scripture
• the passage I want to focus on comes at the end of this chapter in Luke
◦ however, this chapter is a masterpiece
◦ and it begins with this strange parable
– did Jesus really teach this? did he actually congratulate the dishonest manager?
• NO! it was not Jesus who commended him,
◦ but a character in the story—the master; his boss
• and no there’s reason to think the manager’s actions pleased his boss
◦ in fact, this very behavior is what got him fired
◦ but the boss was impressed by his clever scheme

Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh explain that “Rich landowners frequently employed estate managers . . . who had the authority to rent property, to make loans, and to liquidate debts in the name of the master. Such agents were usually paid in the form of a commission or fee on each transaction they arranged. . . .
“In the case of the dismissal of an agent, the dismissal was effective as soon as the agent was informed of it, and from that time on nothing the agent did was binding on the person who employed him. The plan worked out by the manager thus had to be enacted before word of his dismissal got back to the village. His haste in carrying out the plan is noted in v. 6.”

Isn’t it fascinating how Jesus depicts the managerial mindset?

When he gets the bad news, he immediately begins calculating
– a typical lesson in management is referred to as SWOT
• managers are taught to assess a business’
Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – and Threats
• this manager’s thoughts went like this:
1.) he knew he did not have what it takes to do the hard or creative work
◦ that is, to build his own business or develop his own resources
◦ he was only able to manage what belonged to someone else
◦ and he had exploited that ability for his own gain
2.) he was unwilling to go to others and beg for assistance
◦ perhaps that was something his ego would not allow him
◦ or it was the fact that such embarrassment in an honor/shame culture would destroy not only him, but damage his entire extended family
3.) so he would relied on his current position and the skills he had acquired
◦ dedicated managers believe they can manage anything
◦ money, buildings, programs, communication, people, the future
◦ among his other talents, this manager knew how to cook the books to hide owner’s losses
◦ he also able to spin his reputation so that potential new clients would think he was a good guy, watching out for them as their friend
– but all this, and even misconduct, are merely elements of the plot
• Jesus was not justifying his mismanagement,
◦ he was making only one specific point:
◦ wisdom tells us to prepare ourselves for the future, especially if it has the potential to become disastrous
• use what you have now to prepare for your next life
make friends who are able to receive you into “eternal dwellings”

If you’re still thinking Jesus endorsed a scoundrel read on
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Luke 16:10-13

What is Jesus saying? – God rewards faithfulness
– and the opposite of faithfulness is dishonesty
(the same word that is used of the dishonest manager in v. 8)
• in reality, no one who knew manager’s history would hire him
◦ so Jesus does not endorse the dishonest manager,
◦ but address faithfulness and unfaithfulness in one’s responsibilities
• Paul told the Corinthians his job description included being a manager (although the same Greek word in this passage is translated steward)
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:1-2)
– but again, what Jesus stresses is the relationship of the present to the future
• and using material (or unrighteous) wealth to acquire true riches

The Pharisees bristled at this teaching
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void (vv. 14-17)

I can think of a few preachers who might also bristle at Jesus’ words
(and for same reason)
– the Pharisees ridiculed what Jesus was saying,
• as lovers of money often do when called out for their materialism
• the Lord’s response was that their justifications may convince others,
◦ but they don’t work with God
– in the Law and Prophets, material blessings were the rewards for faithfulness
• but now it is God’s kingdom that is the reward
• that the coming of God’s kingdom does not mitigate what came before
◦ because whether Old Testament or New Testament, the the call is the same:
◦ care for and provide for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger
◦ all who were weak and vulnerable

The next verse looks like a random saying
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. Luke 16:18

– it is as if Luke may have pulled it out of Matthew’s gospel
(the same verse appears in Mt. 5:27-32 & 19:1-9 in a fuller context)
• but the verse isn’t random, but is based on a theme runs through all the Scriptures;
◦ namely, the quintessential example of faithfulness is marriage
◦ it is an analogy God used frequently in affirming his covenant relationship with Israel
• as Israel’s “spouse,”
◦ God swore his faithfulness to Israel and demanded their faithfulness to him
– today we have wi-if, but “back in my day” we had hi-fi
• hi-fidelity sound systems: so, if you had quality equipment
(amplifier, turn-table, speakers, perhaps a diamond-tipped needle, and a pristine vinyl album)
• you could play a recording of a philharmonic orchestra,
◦ and the sound would be as if you were sitting in the auditorium
◦ “fidelity of sound” meant it was true to the real thing
– so Jesus is again stressing faithfulness – fidelity
• living true to what you believe, true to the facts, true to a person
• and staying true through thick and thin

Now we come to our meditation
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead. Luke 16:19-31

In this parable, Jesus teaches same message as the parable of the dishonest manager
– in fact, they both begin with the exact same line, There was a rich man
• in the first parable: a man glimpsed his future and tried to change it
• in this parable: a man had every opportunity to change his future, but did not
– look how creatively Jesus begins this story
• the first two lines run parallel and depict these two characters,
◦ comparing and contrasting their circumstances:
the rich man: covered body in expensive clothes
the poor man: his body was covered with sores
the rich man: his daily means were gourmet feasts
the poor man: ate the rich man’s table scraps, thrown over the gate
• the second two lines also run parallel
◦ comparing and contrasting their destinies
the poor man: died and angels carried him away
the rich man: also died and was buried (unceremoniously)
the poor man: rested and was comforted at Abraham’s side
the rich man: was tormented in Hades

You probably noticed something else
– only the poor man is named – the rich man is anonymous
• he is “stock character”– a stereotype, like the scribes and Pharisees
• he is just one of many like him
◦ a cardboard cut out – he has no depth
– but Jesus gave a name to Lazarus
• knowing his name, we’re brought closer to him
◦ it’s easier to relate to Lazarus than the rich man
• perhaps Jesus is reminding us
◦ every human who suffers is a person – not just a statistic
◦ and Jesus knows each one of them by name

It seems the rich man took with him his sense of entitlement and superiority
– did he assume Abraham would be able to identify with him as a fellow member of the wealthy class?
◦ people like them were used to giving orders
• certainly Abraham would send Lazarus on this little errand
◦ after all, the rich man did not allow the poor wretch die,
◦ but fed him from his own table–didn’t he?
– it caught my attention, that the rich man addressed Abraham as “father”
• and Abraham did not disown him, but in reply called him “child”
• Luke, however, has already made the point that DNA does not count for much
Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father”. For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham (Lk. 3:8)
◦ the rich man had been relying on the wrong things for his future
◦ and he had not produced those fruits in keeping with repentance

In the story, what role do the angels and Abraham play?
– they are Lazarus’ friends,
• the kind of friends that could receive him into eternal dwellings
• and they could have been the rich man’s friends too,
◦ if only he had been a friend to Lazarus

Conclusion: In the late 19th century, an unfortunate division was made

Protestant Christianity (and some Roman Catholics) took sides:
– some worked out a theology and practice that became the “social gospel”
– others took issue with them, clinging to the “salvation gospel”

Taking seriously the biblical concern for the poor,
– a few preachers, at first, began supporting social causes
• health care and education for poor, women’s right to vote, helping alcoholics through recovery, and so on
• some went so far as to replace spiritual concerns with social concern
◦ and for that it has been sharply criticized by fundamentalists and evangelicals
– in scripture, there is no division between a social gospel and salvation gospel
• all way through we are taught concern for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger
• and salvation is both social and spiritual–there is no division
◦ it is a salvation process that begins in this life and is carried into the next
We have been saved (Rom. 8:24)
We are being saved (1 Cor. 1:18)
and
We will be saved (1 Cor. 3:15)

When John spoke of “fruits in keeping with repentance,” what did he mean?
◦ something that looks very much like the social gospel
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:10-11)
• he tells the average person, “Share your excess”
◦ when Paul encouraged the Corinthians to donate for poor he told them there was no need to impoverish themselves, but to only supply what they were able
◦ but what we are able to give is a lot more than we realize

A young woman, working in a Christian community serving refugees decided that she could “live simply so others could simply live.”
Another young woman working there also, realized (in her words) “How little we have to do to make life so much easier for people in need”

This particular meditation got me thinking,
“What more is there that can I can be doing?”
If, instead, I live a life of conspicuous consumption
while others are starving, freezing, living without shelter,
what sort of friends am I making?
the kind that can receive me into eternal dwellings?
and what sort of future am I making for myself?
So that if empathy for others
is not a big enough motive to provide proper care for others
–those whom Jesus referred to as
“the least of these my brothers” (Mt. 5:31-40)–,
then maybe concern for my own welfare
will be motive enough

These are the thoughts that I will leave with you
to work out for yourself
And may God give us the grace
to know what we need to know
and feel what we need to feel
to choose to walk the path of generous love
with Jesus,
the most generous Lover of all time

Mar 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 7, 2020

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John [the Baptist] calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” . . . And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Luke 7:18-23

Intro: We’re going to begin a new series of talks–but not today

In the meantime, I’m going to share some of my “meds” with you
– by “meds,” I mean meditations from my daily Bible reading
• obviously, what I share is going to be personal and not profound
◦ these are the sort of thoughts God uses, to encourage me or wake me up
• that is why we find ourselves in Luke’s Gospel this morning

We enter the story just as Jesus receives a message from John

Jesus may have anticipated a reaction like this from John
– but still, I imagine that it would have evoked some sadness in him
• true to form, John’s message was simple and direct
Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?
• John had second-thoughts about Jesus
◦ having raised lots of commotion and making a huge announcement
◦ now, from his view in prison it looked like the whole thing would fizzle
– Jesus told the messengers to give John their him eye-witness account
• but above all, to tell John,
And blessed is the one who is not offended by me
• “If I’m not what you were expecting or what you wanted me to be”

Then, turning to the crowd, Jesus paid respect to John
– what had drawn them to the desert to see the Baptist?
a man dressed in soft clothing? (John was clothed with camel’s hair; Mk. 1:6)
• the Lord gave John the highest possible compliment
I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John
◦ but then he added a strange comment
◦ strange, because it sounds like the exact opposite of what he just said,
Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than ne

Luke adds a footnote to Jesus’ eulogy to John
(When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him)
– John’s ministry received popular support
– the Pharisees and experts in the law of Moses rejected John’s ministry
• only that’s not how Luke words it — he says,
they rejected the purpose of God for themselves

This week I’ll be taking a long drive up north

And, in a sense, I’ll also be traveling back in time
– I’ve been asked to speak at a friend’s memorial service
• it’s been more than three decades have passed since I last saw him
• recently we reconnected, and he kept in touch until his death
– something his wife said to me this week jarred me
• it was a sudden reminder of who I was when they knew me
◦ and who I was then is not the person I am now
◦ I’ve grown through maybe three quantum leaps of evolutionary development
• sometimes the past we must leave behind is not only our sinful past,
◦ but also our religious past
◦ when we thought we were so right, not even God could change our minds

Two primary traditions ran through the history of Israel’s religion

We can refer to them as legalist and prophetic — Moses and the prophets
– in light of Jesus’ coming, both of them became “old school”
• they weren’t wrong, or bad, or even irrelevant
• but God was doing something new
◦ if people were stuck, clinging to the past,
◦ they would miss what God was giving them in Jesus
– earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was asked why his disciples did not pray and fast like the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees
• he answered the question with a parable (Lk. 5:33-39)
◦ if you patch an old garment with new fabric, you will ruin both
◦ if you pour new wine into an old wine skin, you lose both
• he was saying,
“I cannot pour myself into those old systems. I cannot patch them up with who I am or fill them with what I am doing”
◦ so the people who were stuck in the old school traditions found it difficult to tolerate or even understand Jesus

John the Baptist had difficulty accepting Jesus,
– he was embedded in the old school prophetic tradition
• Jesus opened the door to God’s kingdom
◦ and it is so spectacularly better than old school religion, that the lowliest person in the kingdom of God is greater than those who had not lived to enter the kingdom
◦ in the same way, the fulfillment of a prophecy is greater than the prophecy
• that is why Jesus said John was less than the least in the kingdom of God
– as great as the prophets were, they only saw God’s kingdom in the distant future
• the disciples were experiencing, in Jesus, the reality of the kingdom of God

Back to our story

After Jesus finished his talk about John,
– he was invited into the home of a Pharisee whose name was Simon
(we need to understand that the Pharisees were the “Fundamentalists” of Jesus’ time–they were the very serious and stern Bible-believers)
• this is one of those very lovely stories from Jesus’ ministry

While they were dining in Simon’s home, a woman entered–a woman well-known to the guests for her bad reputation. When she came in, she knelt behind Jesus. She began kissing his feet, bathing them with her tears, and drying them with her hair. Then she anointed his feet with perfumed oil. To the Pharisee, it was scandalous for Jesus not to do something, to protest or tell her to leave. Simon thought to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for se is a sinner (v. 39)
• Simon obviously had specific ideas regarding prophets
◦ they could at least discern what any decent person could see
◦ he also had specific ideas regarding how prophet would treat a sinner
– although it was like trying to teach a stone to walk,
• Jesus tried to get through to the Pharisee
◦ to help him see why he had so little love for Jesus
he who is forgiven little, loves little
◦ and why this woman with the bad reputation had such a deep love for Jesus — she had been forgiven much
• tenaciously hanging onto what he believed was true,
◦ Simon rejected the new wine
◦ he rejected the purpose of God for himself

Between eulogizing John and eating with Simon, Jesus told a parable

To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.”
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is justified by all her children
(vv. 31-35)

Jesus was describing the old school generation
– they could not be convinced of the truth proclaimed by John or Jesus
• they were too stuck in their traditions and interpretations of scripture
◦ they were still drinking the old wine from old wine skins
◦ and could not see God in the new thing happening
– it made no difference what game John or Jesus suggested they play
• whether, a happy dance or somber procession
◦ these “children” refused to play
◦ new school music did not appeal to them
• sadly, in rejecting the musicians and the songs,
◦ they rejected the purposes of God for themselves
◦ and so they were baptized neither in water nor in the Spirit

How does religion go wrong?

Well, when people take control of it, and try to “manage” it
– what they tend to create is Religion Inc.
• an institution run according to policies and procedures,
• but devoid of the Spirit

In chapter 11 of Luke’s gospel, Jesus severely criticized both:
The Pharisees who
• cleaned outside of cup, but inside were full of greed and wickedness
• neglected justice and love of God, while being hung up on trifles
• loved best seats in synagogues and receiving recognition in marketplace
• and were themselves like unmarked graves
(people were defiled by contact with them without knowing they were defiled)
and
The Lawyers who
• loaded people with burdens hard to bear, and did nothing to help them
• built the tombs of prophets, and and so implicated themselves in the murder of the prophets
• had taken away the key of knowledge, refusing to enter or allow others to enter
The people who had the greatest difficulty with Jesus
– were also the most pious and the most biblical
– they were also the most unloving believers in all Israel

When I read about the scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers who opposed Jesus
– I see the faces of people in the religious subcultures of my youth
• dogmatic Pentecostals who believed they were the only true Christians
• angry Fundamentalists, always looking for a fight
◦ building barriers around their churches rather than bridges
• worldly Evangelicals who relied on marketing, management, and political methods–almost anything rather than God’s Spirit–for carrying out God’s work
– all of Jesus’ criticisms of the Pharisees and Lawyers
• can find targets among Evangelicals and Evangelical leaders today
◦ it is a movement that desperately needs something new
• for better or worse,
◦ God gives us the freedom to reject his purpose for our lives
◦ to live by a contrived set of rules rather than the law of love

Conclusion: In one of my other recent mediations,

I reflected on a statement people made after seeing Jesus in action:
We have seen extraordinary things today (Lk. 5:26)
Spend a day with Jesus, and you will see extraordinary things
– something extraordinary in that particular chapter;
• Jesus called ordinary people to join him in his extraordinary work

How can we settle into an ordinary life?
God is here–now – everything we see is an invitation,
a doorway to the unknown, the mystery
We might as well enjoy this extraordinary day we’ve been given
We might as well live it with Jesus
Go. Have fun. Be amazed!

Mar 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 28, 2021

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And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “o you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” and Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.'”
And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, through yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’
and
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”
And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Luke 4:1-13

Intro: There were a few events in Jesus life, that were unique

His baptism, the temptations, transfiguration, and his crucifixion and resurrection
– each of these events happened one time only
• everything else happened repeatedly
◦ his travels, his teaching, the miracles, his bouts with pious critics, etc.
• but the one-time events are significant not only for their uniqueness
◦ they were also turning points in his life and ministry
– every time we return to the temptations, we can find something new
• the story is so rich, it offers many possible interpretations
• one of my favorite ways to read it is from its supernatural perspective
◦ God’s Spirit was with Jesus in the wilderness, and the devil was there too
◦ this was a confrontation of cosmic proportions

Another perspective, is to look at this event as a classic hero story
– taking this view, we observe character development
• this, in fact, is something that interested Luke in regard to Jesus’
childhood: And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him (Lk. 2:40)
and
adolescence: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (Lk. 2:52)
• Jesus’ baptism could then be seen as his rite-of-passage
◦ that is immediately followed by his ordeal (trial by fire)
◦ these events prepared our hero for his ministry – his destiny
– before undertaking his world-changing mission,
• Jesus had to be tested – he had to prove himself
◦ and the devil makes the perfect foil
(the foil is a character whose contrasts brings out hero’s positive traits)
◦ the devil’s objective was to compromise Jesus
(as he did in two other renown temptation stories: Adam and Eve and Job)

The conflict is primarily a war of words

We could say this is one of the devil’s specialties
– he feeds doubt, he seduces, and he threatens
• when Jesus was baptized, God owned him as beloved son
◦ that then is what the devil targets, If you are the Son of God . . .
• Jesus did not fall into that trap
◦ he did not try to explain why he would not turn a stone into bread
◦ nor did he enter a debate with the devil
◦ he used the Scriptures to establish the boundary of his actions
– later in this chapter, Jesus dispatched a demon with a simple command (v. 35)
• why not do the same thing with the devil?
◦ in fact, he will (Begone, Satan –Mt. 4:10),
◦ but not until he had first resisted each assault
It is written . . . It is written . . . It is said
(In Matthew’s telling of this story, he quotes Jesus as saying It is written before each of the three quotes. Luke, however, switches to said for the third quote. Perhaps he made the switch so that Jesus would not be using the same words the devil had just spoken. Or maybe the point is that the Scriptures were not only written, but were spoken, and are in that sense every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD, De. 8:3)
• this use of scripture would not have worked if Jesus did not live these words
• they reveal why he rejected the devil’s offers
◦ his motives and goals were not what the devil assumed
◦ his motive and goal was to please his Father and do his will

The lesson for us is not we can ward off Satan by throwing Bible verses at him
– rather, we take shelter in God by knowing and living in his word
• the Scriptures continue to be featured in this chapter
• in his hometown, Jesus read from the Scriptures
Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (see Lk. 4:16-21)
◦ and when he drove home his point,
◦ he quoted two stories from the Old Testament
– our protection, as well as direction, is in God’s Word
• not just the Word from which we can quote verses
• but the Word personified – the Word made flesh

This brings us to my final talk on the sacred writings

It’s not the last insight I could share ( we could go on and on)
– but this is going to be my last talk on this topic
• the question has been, “How do we read sacred writings?”
• Today’s answer: We read them through the story of Jesus
◦ specifically: the four Gospels
– we do not read the Old Testament same way it was read in Jesus’ day
• Jesus taught his disciples a new way to read the sacred writings
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Lk. 24:27)
◦ this provided them a lens through which they saw the contents of the Old Testament in a new light
• it was Jesus, in his own life and self, that changed the Scriptures’ meaning
◦ prior to Jesus, the Hebrew Scriptures led up to him
◦ after Jesus, the New Testament epistles amplify his life and teaching

Jesus himself is the lens through which we read the sacred writings
– and the Gospels provide us the best access to Jesus

My all-time favorite teacher taught English classes

The way he taught caused us to learn without knowing we were learning
– I have never forgotten his definition of “personification”
• “The incarnation of an abstraction”
• for example, “Love changes everything it touches”
◦ love is personified as if it had a will of its own and could touch things
– in the New Testament, God’s Word is personified–it is incarnated in Jesus
Jonathan Pennington, “Scholars have noted that Judaism and its daughter Christianity are unique relative to Greco-Roman and other ancient religious practice in that they are religions in which a Holy Scripture became the central focus. This is not to say that Judaism and Christianity [have done this] in the same way. . . . Christianity became about a person, while Judaism remained Torah-[centered].”
• we read the sacred writings in and through this person
• the incarnated Word of God opens to us the written Word of God

In the church’s infancy, no one knew what to name the baby

Jesus’ disciples still considered themselves to be religious Jews
– some people considered them a new sect and others a cult
• sometimes their new identity was vaguely referred to as the way
J. Pennington, “Along these lines, we must recall that members of this sect began to be called Nazarenes at times and Christians at other [times] precisely because they were followers of a particular man understood to be from Nazareth and who bore the title of the Christ. The sect was understood to be a religion based on a person, not just a set of beliefs, philosophies, purity regulations, and so on.” “. . . we see that the stories about what Jesus said and did . . . must have been at the core of all Christian experience.”
• how important is this statement?
– many Christians base their entire theology on Jesus crucifixion and resurrection
• this has a lot to do with the Reformation and the emphasis that was placed on Paul’s letters
◦ everything is boiled down to “justification by faith” and “saved by grace”
• but the lived-experience of Christian faith rests on the entire life of Jesus
◦ Paul preached before he wrote,
◦ and what he preached was the person of Jesus
• the epistles work out specific issues and questions regarding Christian belief and practice
◦ but the essence of our beliefs and the devotion of our faith is Jesus himself
J. Pennington, “. . . Christians understand their entire faith to stand or fall based on this one man.”
◦ the apostle’s preaching in the book of Acts confirms this observation

When we read sacred writings through Jesus, two things happen

Actually, a lot more happens, but here I mention only two things:
First: The Spirit develops your identity as a Christian
J. Pennington, “. . . the stories about Jesus’s life and teachings were always central to Christian identity . . . .”
– the way it works in the gospels goes like this:
• in coming to know Jesus, people discovered themselves
• Jesus reveals himself to us, and in him we find our true selves
(see Mt. 16:13-20)

Second: The Spirit develops our identity as a community
– Jesus talked about people who would gather in his name
• he promised to be there with them
– this is the spiritual community that grew out of the Gospels
• it was founded on, and formed by the stories of Jesus
• the spiritual community then interprets those stories
◦ and gives them a life in the world

Conclusion: Will you consider reading sacred writings every day?

I do not mean study the Bible every day;
it’s okay to study the Bible occasionally
I do not mean read the Bible every day to anchor yourself in God;
God holds you to himself and will not let you go
I do not mean read the Bible every day to become better person;
lots of Christians read the Bible every day without any obvious benefit
But read the Bible every day
to hear what God is saying to you
He hears our prayers all the time,
but we need to hear his side of the conversation
That is the miracle of the sacred writings,
and the value they bring to us
The One who has spoken
continues to speak to us through the sacred writings
And when we listen,
it is the voice of Jesus that we hear

Feb 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 21, 2021

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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 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 complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17

Intro: We have been on an eight week excursion in the sacred writings

I thought it would be good today to return to where we began
– Paul encourages Timothy to continue in what he had learned and believed
• his spiritual education was rooted in the sacred writings
◦ “sacred,” because they come from God and reveal God
◦ “sacred,” because All Scripture is breathed out by God
• what I want to emphasize in this talk: the sacred writings are profitable
◦ for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness
◦ and by the sacred writings we are fully equipped for every good work
– one difficulty we have with scripture is that we do not know how to read the sacred writings
• reading other writings we question, we argue, we disagree with the author
◦ it’s okay to read Bible that way when we’re studying it
• but as sacred writings, we must suspend judgment
◦ we accept these writings exactly as they are, letting God speak to us
◦ but having said that, a mere reading of the sacred writings is not the endgame

We read the sacred writings to prepare ourselves for action
– to be taught, corrected, trained, and equipped for every good work
– the goal is not to read and study the Bible,
• the goal is to what God does in us through his sacred writings
• and what we go and do afterward, and as a result of, reading them

If we are disciples of Jesus, what completes our training?

Jesus was once approached by a man well-versed in the law
– he asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life — Jesus asked him,
“What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Lk. 10:25-28)
• Jesus proved that the lawyer already knew the answer to his own question
◦ but then, like all skilled lawyers, he raised a technical issue
(paraphrased) “You need to define your terms, Jesus. Just who is my neighbor? That is not just a simple question.”
• Jesus then told him the famous story of the Good Samaritan
◦ in it, which one of the three men depicted proved to be a neighbor?
“The lawyer said, The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do that!” (Lk. 10:29-37)
– what completes our training? Two words: “go and do”
• the fullest recorded teaching of Jesus is in his Sermon On the Mount
◦ Jesus concludes that talk with a story of two builders
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Mt. 7:24-27)
• the value of the words of Jesus includes personal stability and safety
◦ but only if we act on them

All through scripture, God’s word is a creative and life-giving force

It is compared to a seed
. . . you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Pe. 1:23)
– but if so, how come people can hear it and not be changed?
• Jesus told a parable that answers this question
◦ it is a story about a farmer scattering seed
◦ as he did, seeds landed on different types of soil:
a well-worn path, rocky ground, a weedy patch, and fertile soil
• in the first three examples, there were specific threats: birds, the sun, and weeds
Jesus explained, The farmer plants the word
◦ it fails to penetrate the compressed soil of the path: the threat here is Satan
◦ it fails to flourish where it cannot sink roots: the threat here is tribulation or persecution
◦ it fails to bear fruit where plant is choked by weeds: the threats here are the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and desires for other things (Mk. 4:14-19)
– the emphasis of the parable is not on the word that’s planted,
• but on the soil of human hearts
• what happens to the word after a person hears it

The sacred writings can make our lives productive and effective
– it’s God’s desire that we live productive lives
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (Jn. 15:8)
• but for the sacred writings to have this effect,
• they have to sink roots deep into the soil of our hearts

We learn from this parable how to receive the sacred writings

First, from the hard path soil we learn to hang on to what we read
– we cannot lose the word before it has chance to come to life
• we’ve learned from neuroscience research that a thought must be held for at least fifteen seconds for it to wire any kind of memory into the neurons of the brain. For the thought to for it to produce any significant results it must be held considerably longer or be repeated several times fairly frequently
◦ James tells us,
be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves . . . For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he looks like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (Jas. 1:22-25)
• there’s a kind of self-deception that can occur with Bible study
◦ reading God’s word is not same as doing what it says
– in Jesus’ parable of the vine and branches there are two key words:
fruit and abide (or “remain”)
Abide in me, and I in you; my words abide in you; Abide in my love
– stay with the scripture you read by meditating on it
• read slowly and ask it questions
◦ if a particular verse speaks to you, read it over several times emphasizing every word
• see if you can put what the verse is saying to you in your own words
◦ do other verses or quotes come to mind?

Second, from the rocky soil we learn make space in hearts for it to root
– let go of every anxious thought, every fear
• remind yourself that God is your strength
• and that because God is for you, nothing else stands a chance
– open the deepest places of your soul to receive the sacred writings

Third, clear out all worldly distractions from your mind
Therefore put aside all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls (Jas. 1:21)
– set aside everything else
• take several cleansing breaths and center yourself
• take a moment to wait for God’s Spirit – focus attention on his presence
– read the sacred writings the way we’re to love God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind

After reading the sacred writings, DO something

Capture what you have read
– write down your thoughts, pray your thoughts
• draw a picture, sing a song
– if God has put something on your heart,
• take a first step in that direction
Joel Green, “I observed that biblical texts are never complete on their own but invite readers to actualize their meaning, that texts are characterized by gaps that must be filled by the readers, and that different readers will actualize the text’s clues in different ways.”

I’ve heard Christians say, “Good works are good for nothing”
– what they mean is that we don’t get to heaven by good works
• but they’re wrong, because good works are good for many things
◦ I’ve also heard Christians criticize what they called “the social gospel”
◦ what they had in mind were typically the social services “liberal” Christians provided (food, clothing, and housing for the poor; work among alcoholics and drug addicts; joining civil rights marches and so on)
◦ in the Scriptures there is no distinction between a spiritual gospel and a social gospel — both are included in the salvation gospel
◦ through the prophets God persistently called his people to justice and righteousness
◦ the Lord Jesus shared this concern (cf. Lk. 4:16-19)
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Mt. 5:16)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, with neglecting the others (Mt. 23:23-24)
• in the New Testament letters we’re told to do good more than twenty times
(see below*)
– some preachers always include a “life application” point in their sermons
• but the most authentic application of a passage, is the one the Spirit speaks to you
◦ that one will be empowered

Conclusion: Charles Spurgeon described reading scripture with two images

He said sometimes it is like walking in a garden, picking flowers
– at other times it’s like laboring in a mine, digging for gold
– it can feel like work at times,
• but once the word gets inside of us, it works on its own
◦ Jesus described this hidden process in a parable about a farmer who planted seeds
He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed spouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade then the ear, then the full grain . . . (Mk. 4:27-28)

When you read the sacred writings,
it won’t help you if you tense all muscles in your body,
if you grit your teeth or grimace as if in pain,
if you concentrate so hard that you give yourself a headache
Human energy can be graced, but it is not grace, it is work
Grace flows
and grace flows when you trust God
for what he places in your heart
when you abide in his word and in his love
After all,
if you cannot walk,
is it really so difficult to let God carry you?

*There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek (Rom. 2:10)
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Cor. 9:8)
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:9-10)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10)
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:9-10)
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thes. 5:15)
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word (2 Thes. 2:16-17)
As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good (2 Thes. 3:13)
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share (1 Tim. 6:18)
waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:13-14)
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works (Titus 3:8)
And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful (Titus 3:14)
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Heb. 13:16)
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Pet. 2:12)
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people (1 Pet. 2:15)

Feb 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 14, 2021

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So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Acts 8:30

Intro: Before jumping into my talk, I’ll give you the backstory to this verse

Jesus’ apostles were putting down roots in Jerusalem
– this made sense, because Jerusalem was the hub of Israel’s faith for centuries
• but settling there was not what Jesus told them they would be doing
◦ they would be going into all the world with gospel (Acts 1:8)
• so the challenge was how to get them out of Jerusalem and into their mission?
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. (Acts 8:1)
– Philip, the main character in episode, fled to Samaria
• he began sharing his faith with the Samaritans and soon crowds were coming to hear him
◦ that brought the apostles Peter and John out of Jerusalem to Samaria
• that’s when God abruptly sent Philip after this one person

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians . . . seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot” (Acts 8:26-29). As Philip approached the Ethiopian official, he heard him reading aloud, and so asked whether he understood what he was reading. The official answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

And the Eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:31-35

Isn’t that a great opening line?
Do you understand what you are reading?

The Ethiopian official knew that without a guide, he was lost
– Philip had the knowledge of both Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus,
• to unlock the passage for him
• that is what everyone who reads the Scriptures need;
◦ guidance and tools for making sense of what we read
– since the beginning of the year, we’ve been meditating on,
• how we are supposed to read the sacred writings
• in today’s talk we’ll learn that
we allow the sacred writings to tell us how to read them

It may seem too obvious to mention, but “writings” is plural

The Bible is not one book, but a collection of sixty-six books
– when I was a kid, “mobile libraries” used to come through our neighborhood
• the Bible is sort of a bookmobile with a variety of reading material
◦ we cannot ignore the fact, because how the sacred writings speak to us
◦ depends on which book of the Bible we are reading
– what I am talking about is genre – pronounced zhŏn-raw
• genre is “a category of artistic composition”
◦ in any bookstore or library, books are arranged by their genre
◦ there are sections for self-help, psychology, health, religion, novel, sci-fi
• we do not read a book on physics the same way we read poetry
◦ how do we read the sacred writings?
Fr. Romuald, “How do you understand a text? Well, how do you read a love letter? How do you read the newspaper? How do you read a novel? If you’re not respecting literary genres, then you’re obviously being disrespectful to the text.”

God delivers his word to us in a variety of wrappings
– it is for us to recognize how a book is wrapped, and read it accordingly
• the New Testament sometimes sums up the Old Testament in two divisions: Moses and Prophets (or the Law and the Prophets)
◦ Jesus summed up the Old Testament in three divisions
◦ and I think it’s important for us to hear those in context:
“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, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:44-49)
– we could add to these three:
• “books of history” and “wisdom literature”
• the genres of New Testament include: narrative, letters, and “apocalyptic”

I’m going to give you a tiny bit of information regarding two subjects

Literary theory
A 15th century scholar, Lorenzo Valla, called into question medieval dogma and tradition. In one project, he closely scrutinized a document that was understood to have been written by Constantine. Using critical methods of his own invention, Valla proved the document was not genuine–Constantine could not have written it. Two Reformers, Calvin and Erasmus, read Valla’s critique and realized they could use his same literary tools to interpret scripture. This blew the field of biblical hermeneutics wide open.
In the 19th century, literary scholars began looking over the shoulders of biblical interpreters, asking them, “What are you doing?” Then they began to apply the new “science of interpretation” to other types of literature. Soon philosophers and philologists were involved, and eventually a profusion of literary methods of interpretation were devised. We could not exaggerate the impact this made on western society–including its enormous influence on biblical studies.
– one very big idea to come out of all of this is:
Different genres required different methods of interpretation
• the practical value this has for us, is that we must learn to
◦ read the different sacred writings as they were intended to be read
• as I wrote in Epiphany: Discover the Delight of God’s Word, “. . . genre is a starting point for both author and reader, more or less laying out the rules of the game.”

For instance, we recognize that the Psalms are song lyrics and poems
– that fact was not made obvious in the King James Version
• what do we know about poetry?
◦ it has a different structure than normal prose writing
(e.g., usually a meter, cadence, or rhythm)
◦ it uses lots of metaphors and creates word pictures
◦ if we understand the poem, it makes us feel something
(poetry is not a language of the head, but of the heart)
• the Psalms have a lot to tell us about ourselves
◦ about the human struggle to know and understand God
◦ what it feels like when he seems to hide from us
◦ and what it feels like when he comes through for us
– we read the books of the Law or books of history differently
• one thing we need to learn about biblical historical writings,
◦ they aren’t really history – not as we think of it
(for instance, a strong emphasis on details relating to government, economics, culture, significant dates, and so on)
◦ in reality, the Old Testament does not contain history, but Israel’s memory
◦ stories about God and individuals, families, and communities
◦ it is this memory that enabled God’s people Israel to retain their identity through exile, disaspora, and diabolical attempts to annihilate them
• history is like looking through a camera lens:
◦ it focuses on one thing at a time and misses everything else
◦ 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles cover the same period of Israel’s history
◦ but with a different focus
◦ the books of Chronicles are only marginally interested in northern Israel
◦ and they have a far more positive spiritual outlook on Judah’s kings
(for instance, both Solomon and Manasseh repent of their unfaithfulness to God in the Chronicles, but the books of the Kings have no record of their repentance)
• the sacred writings do not takes us back in history and leave us there
◦ but through what happened then, they speak to us now
◦ the same is true of biblical prophecy: message always for us today

Biblical Interpretation
More than once, Jesus told the Pharisees their interpretation was off
– in fact, it contradicted or undermined the truth of scripture (cf. Mk. 10:1-9)
Chuck Kraft, “The Scriptures are inspired; our interpretations are not.”
• God’s word is eternal–but our world is constantly changing
◦ the truth does not change,
◦ but our interpretations of how it speaks to us today does change
• not all of the Bible is to be taken literally
I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father (Jn. 16:25)
◦ John’s gospel is full of figurative language,
◦ and people were often confused, because took him literally

I am a critic of verse-by-verse Bible studies; first, because it is artificial
– except for the Proverbs and some of Ecclesiastes,
• the writers of scripture did not write in numbered verses
• the Bible’s chapter and verse divisions did not exist until the 1300’s
Joel Green explains how we can identify “units of thought” in scripture, rather than chapters and verses. Study within the text “identifies markers in the text denoting transitions, topic-shifts, or developments in the structure of an argument that set the boundaries of the text to be examined.”
– in the Senate hearings of this past week
• arguments were raised about the “selective editing of video and tweets”
◦ lawyers who raised the issue, argued that the prosecution tried to mislead the jurors by not giving a full account of the former president’s speeches and posts
• this is another reason why I am skeptical of verse-by-verse Bible teaching
◦ examining one verse at a time, as if it has its own discrete message can be misleading
◦ too many times I have heard preachers make errors, because they lost the context of a passage, and in going verse-by-verse, they actually contradicted the central message of a sentence or paragraph that went for several verses, and entire chapter, or chapters that came before or after the one verse on which they were concentrating

One other thought I want to cover
(You have no idea how much I have cut out of this week’s talk simply because there is not enough time to cover everything)

When reading the sacred writings,
– we must keep our minds and hearts open to mystery
• there is no escaping faith!
• God is not concerned that we understand everything
◦ he is more concerned that we trust in him with all our hearts
◦ that we do not lean on our own understanding
◦ and that in all our ways we acknowledge him
– there are truths, that even when we know of them,
• they are still shrouded in mystery
◦ that is because they transcend our four-dimensional universe
• but one of the beautiful things about being confronted with mystery
◦ is that it leads us to discovery — even if our discovery is still partial
◦ and what we discover for ourselves, we own!

Conclusion: Think about this . . .

God wants to sit down with us and tell us stories
Recite poems to us,
give us proverbs that teach us practical wisdom
God wants to touch our hearts through his sacred writings,
and open them to his infinite love

What follows is a brief overview of the various types of biblical literature
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
The Law: Genesis through Deuteronomy
– the first five books of the Bible
– also referred to as the Pentateuch or Torah
– reveals God’s covenant with Israel and commandments for living in it
– contains narrative sections from creation to Israel’s formation as a nation
History: Joshua through Esther
– Israel’s experiences from the time they entered the land of promise to when they were exiled from it, and then their return to the land
– told as a collection of stories, arranged and told for a specific purpose
Wisdom Literature
Job: explores problem of pain and whether religious explanations work
The Psalms: human compositions
– poetry, songs, and on occasion prophetic speech
– prayers of individuals and prayers of the community
– subjects include petitions, complaints, confession of sins, and praise
Proverbs and Ecclesiastes: common sense sayings and reflections
– practical advice regarding right and wrong, success and failure
The Song of Songs: an epic poem that celebrates romantic love
The Prophets: Isaiah through Malachi
– God’s word, “spoken forth” through chosen representatives
– through them, God addressed immediate concerns
– some prophecies include:
• predictions of Israel’s future (short-term and long range)
• apocalyptic sections – fantastical visions of world governments and God’s actions (found especially in Daniel and Ezekiel)
The New Testament
The Gospels and Acts: the story of Jesus, told from four different views
– the witness of the disciples after Jesus, the birth of the church
Paul’s Letters: a working out of Christian theology and practical faith issues
– some were written to churches
– others were to individuals
Hebrews: a letter, sermon, or a unique type of biblical literature
– presents Jesus in the light of the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian theology
James: written to Jewish Christians who were still faithful to Judaism
1 & 2 Peter: similar to Paul’s letters, but take a different approach
1, 2 & 3 John: revisit and expands on the same themes as the Gospel of John
Jude: a telegram-type letter with an urgent warning
The Revelation: A prophetic vision
– the literary genre of this book is “apocalyptic”

Feb 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 7, 2021

Podcast

Video

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. Acts 19:1-6

Intro: Some of what I have to say will sound like a repetition of last week

I’m okay with that – we need to have it reinforced for us to own it
– my intention is to build on what we went over last week
• our Scriptures are sacred writings,
◦ but we don’t know how to read sacred writings
• we have learned that we read sacred writings”
◦ with reverence, receptivity and responsiveness, and self-reflection
◦ last week, we read the sacred writings with the Spirit of God
– today we learn to read the sacred writings Spirit-to-spirit
• so we are moving into a deeper place than last week
◦ we are entering a deeper place in God and in what happens in ourselves

Paul’s question is interesting and it is unique to this encounter

I think it’s fair to say, he discerned something was missing in these men
– the were “disciples,” they had beliefs, and they had a faith
• perhaps Paul felt there was a missing dynamic
– the same dynamic had been missing from his previous, very religious life
Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17)
• the same dynamic is missing from lives of many Christians
◦ that means, they’re trying to “do” Christianity on their own
◦ in their own energy and by the exercise of worldly powers
• other Christians think receiving the Holy Spirit is about power
◦ power to work miracles, raise the dead, prophesy, or speak in tongues,
but the Christian life can be lived only in the strength of the Holy Spirit
Howard Hendricks once observed that we “need to be filled with the Spirit to play with our children.”
◦ we definitely need the help of God’s Spirit when entering the sacred writings
Fr. Romuald, in reference to the monastic tradition, said, “Our approach to the Scriptures is that, if you are not in the Holy Spirit, why even bother? Throw the book away and do something more useful. But we must believe that [the Word and the Spirit] come together. The only way a community could hear the word proclaimed or an individual could read the word, is in the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Scriptures.”

The idea I want to get across to you, can be found in a psalm
Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves have gone over me
(Ps. 41:7)
– this is a Psalm of Depression
• the poet asks the type of questions asked by depressed people
Why are your cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
(v. 5)

There is a large grotto in a cliffside on the Mediterranean coast in northern Israel. You can reach the grotto only by taking a cable car down to it, and during low tide. But it is a system of large and small caves that the sea rushes into, and as the waves crash in it, their thunder reverberates off of its walls.
I imagine the poet being in a place like this. It seems to him as though God sent breakers and waves to roll over his head and hold him down. At the same time, he feels some kind of correspondence with this majestic and powerful display. In poetic resonance, the depths of the sea reach and speak to a deep place in him.

– that is how we read the sacred writings
• their depth finds deep places in us

The societies of humankind do not spring up from the earth

Their organization and structure are not produced naturally,
– like, say an ant colony, where ants act according to their natural instinct
• human society is a “fabrication”–in English, fabrication has two meanings:
◦ something invented or manufactured by humans
◦ a fabrication can also be a lie
• the New Testament refers to human societies as “the world”
And so Hannah Arendt, “This world, however, is not identical with the earth or with nature, as the . . . general condition of organic life. It is related, rather, to the human artifact, the fabrication of human hands, as well as to affairs which go on among those who inhabit the man-made world together. To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common, as a table is located between those who sit around it; the world, like every in-between, relates and separates [people] at the same time.”
– the world of society forms the lives of people who live in it
• through government (law and order), but more so through culture
Arendt says that to not live in the world “means to be deprived of reality”
◦ to be invisible to the world, and if you’re not seen in it, you don’t exist
◦ at least not as a human person
• she makes a another observation that I find remarkable:
“Historically, we know of only one principle that was ever devised to keep a community of people together who had lost their interest in the common world and felt themselves no longer related and separated by it. To find a bond between people strong enough to replace the world was the main political task of early Christian philosophy . . .” and the bond the church found in the writings of St. Augustine was “charity” (love), which is “admirably fit to carry a group of essentially worldless people through the world . . . .”

The person I identify as “me” in the world, is my false self

That is, the self that is shaped by, and conformed to the world
– Paul refers to is as the “flesh,” the “old self,” and the “natural person”
• he tells us that when Jesus enters a person’s life, the false s has to go (Ro. 6:1-11; Gal. 2:20)
For whoever would save his [soul] will lose it, but whoever loses his [soul] for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Mt. 16:25-26)
◦ one must lose the false self to find his or her true self
• the false self can be religious and mimic a form of godliness (2 Tim 3:5)
◦ but this self cannot know God or please God

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; in deed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Ro. 8:5-8)

– the false self is a fabrication like the world it inhabits
your true self is spirit
• God is the life of your true self
◦ his Spirit is the life of our spirit-self

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Ro. 8:10-11)

◦ within us, the Spirit leads us, speaks to us, and prays within us

Our relation and interaction with God is Spirit-to-spirit

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption and sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, their heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we many also be glorified with him (Ro. 8:14-16)

Bernard Ramm wrote an entire book on verse 16, The Witness of the Spirit. He says, the witness is “the touch of the divine Spirit upon the human spirit. . . . What the Father speaks the Son mediates, and what the Son mediates is actually spoken into the ear by the Holy Spirit.”
“It is the Spirit who makes the heart burn as the Word is heard.” (cf. Lk. 24:32)
“The Holy Spirit is the internal minister of the Word who speaks the compelling and persuasive Word to the human heart. When the word spoken . . . penetrates the ear of the listener, the internal minister speaks it to the heart.”
“The actual bringing of Christ to the consciousness of the believer by the Spirit through the Word results in an ‘experience.’ . . . that act whereby the Holy Spirit takes Christ out of the realm of idea and history and makes him a reality to the believer.”
– this is what I mean by reading the sacred writings Spirit-to-spirit,
• and as deep calling to deep

But as it is written,
What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him” —
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ
(1 Cor. 2:9-16)

Eugene Peterson, “The Christian Scriptures are the primary text for Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is, in its entirety, rooted in and shaped by the scriptural text. We don’t form our personal spiritual lives out of random assemblage of favorite texts in combination with individual circumstances; we are formed by the Holy Spirit in accordance with the text of Holy Scripture. God does not put us in charge of forming our personal spiritualities. We grow in accordance with the revealed Word implanted in us by the Spirit.”
Bernard Ramm, “In its simplest, definition, revelation is God making himself known, and this ‘knowing’ is a spiritual knowing.
– do you see how we cannot get this “knowing” from scripture on our own?
• the holy writings are made alive to us by the Holy Spirit
Hans W. Wolf, using breath as a synonym for spirit, wrote, “Breath as the characteristic of life shows that man is indissolubly connected with Yahweh. Everything to do with man is earthly and material, even though it is formed by Yahweh himself; but man’s existence as a living being is thanks to Yahweh’s infusion of the breath of life. . . . Thus breath as the basic function of human life is to keep man bound together with his Creator . . .”
Fr. Romuald, “If you can breathe, you have a hope that you could recognize the Spirit in you [and] in the Scriptures.”
• the Spirit who has access to the depths of God,
◦ has access to what is deep in us – he explores all levels of our being
• so to read Spirit-to-spirit is a very close, personal experience
Joel Green, “As we read the Bible as revealed history, we come better to understand that this story is our story. . . . when we approach the Bible as Christian Scripture we take seriously the faith statement that this book is our Book, these scriptures are our Scripture. We are not reading someone else’s mail . . . .”
Helmut Thielicke, “Here the Word is a personal and not purely verbal event.”
Hans Von Balthasar, “. . . The word need not be apprehended as something alien, some ‘other’: it can be understood to be what is most our own, what is most intimate and close to us; it is MY truth, the truth of me and about me; the word which reveals me and gives me to myself. For we have been created in this word, and it contains our entire truth . . . .”
◦ this is an important clue regarding how to read Spirit-to-spirit

Conclusion: Reading sacred writings Spirit-to-spirit will be personal and prayerful

Personal: God’s Spirit shows us our true selves: we are his children!
– you are not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to explore

Prayerfully: with the intellect we meditate; with the spirit we contemplate
Thielicke, “With the Bible . . . one must first pray one’s way into it . . . .”
Richard Rohr, “. . . most of us have not been taught the practice or the patience to stand guard over this seemingly empty space where your Inner Witnessing Presence, your quiet Inner Knower dwells. You must learn to trust this Knower. The Spirit is doing the knowing and loving in you, with you, and for you. . . . Most Christians have not been taught contemplation. Contemplation is learning how to abide in and with the Witnessing Presence planted within you, which of course is the Holy Spirit . . . .”

I would suggest that as we approach the sacred writings,
to read them Spirit-to-spirit
we first take a slow, deep, cleansing breath
Then focus our attention on the presence of the Spirit,
that he is present
in this place and this moment
That through the sacred writings,
the Spirit is reaching into the depths of your spirit
bringing to you the heart and mind of God
from his own depths
If you can breathe,
you can bring yourself to an awareness of the Spirit
Read with that awareness