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Dec 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

First Sunday of Advent: Hope – 12/03/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Jim Calhoun


I’m an optimist
I’m inclined to believe it is all going to be okay.
It isn’t like I am endlessly happy.
I know disappointment, tragedy, loss
I know betrayal, broken relationships
I know insecurity, uncertainty and fear.
I am worn down and worn out by the normal experiences of life.
I am worn down and worn out by difficult relationships and the stories of my friends and their difficult relationships.
I am worn down and worn out thinking about the war in Ukraine, the war in Gaza and the endless war of words in our country.
I grieve, I weep, I lose sleep.
But being an optimist I let these things run their course, have a good meal, get some sleep, and in time I am back to the sense that everything will be okay.
Maybe in a short time.
Maybe after a longer time.
That is my set point.
Optimism is not a virtue,
Optimism is a psychological trait.
It probably has a genetic element.
It isn’t anything to brag about.

Christian hope is different
Christian hope is rooted in our understanding of who God is and what God intends for us.
Christian hope is available to all despite our psychological traits.
It is available to optimists and pessimists alike.
In advent we celebrate the coming and the coming again of Jesus. It is our hope.
But what do we hope for?
My favorite part of the Christmas story is the angels proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth, goodwill to humankind.”
Christian hope is the notion that God will make all things right. True, good and beautiful
That all shall be well.
We have old theological words that capture the flavor of this hope. Salvation, redemption, transformation, the forgiveness of sin, holiness, and sanctification to name a few. All of these point to hope that I will be better person less inclined to hurt others with my ignorance, arrogance, fearfulness, resentments or selfishness. They all point to a world where these qualities are tamed and replaced for each of us.
My favorite theological term for this is shalom. A Hebrew word meaning peace. But more than peace. More like wholeness. Over time we become increasingly whole and so we bring greater wholeness to others as well.
It works like this, God brings wholeness to us in the form of loving us. In time we, bit by bit, become more whole. Less hurtful.
Less self-absorbed. Lest toxic. And we bring this into our communities to our families and to our neighbors. This is the way we are part of the coming of Jesus and the coming again.

Let’s pray;
Come Lord and join us here today.
Fill our hearts with a longing for wholeness.
And cause us to be your instruments of peace and hope in our circles with our families, our neighbors and in our communities.
Thank you

Morning Message: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: A few months ago, my grandson Calum began telling me what he wanted for Christmas

Do you remember when it took forever for Christmas to get here?
– now it’s like, “Is it that time again already?”
• I used to be amused by people who left Christmas lights up all year
• now I get it – they’re not lazy, they’re just old
– we’re about to complete another lap around the sun
• we pull out the old boxes, look at our bank statement to see what we can afford, and I take us back to the familiar story
◦ of angels and shepherds, mother and child, magic and miracles

This week I began reading through Luke’s Gospel again

So deciding which Christmas story to tell was easy
– it was right there in the episode with Zechariah and Elizabeth
• they are like the Abraham and Sarah of the New Testament
◦ the history of Israel begins with that old, childless couple
• similar to them, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were also old and childless
◦ and the history of the Christian church begins with them
– being a priest, it was Zechariah’s turn to light incense in temple
• Matthew and Luke are only writers who tell us the Christmas story
◦ they each emphasize different details, but both emphasize worship
◦ worship is the only correct way to approach the birth of Jesus
with prayer and praise, with songs of thanksgiving, with lifted hands or bent knees
• Elizabeth’s neighbors and friends came to celebrate the birth of their miracle baby
◦ that’s when she and Zechariah gave him the name John
(John is a translation of the Greek word. The Hebrew name combines two words: the name of God and grace or favor)
◦ at that moment, the old priest became a prophet
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace
Luke 1:68-79

Christmas is God’s answer to a problem

For centuries, Israel had lived as an oppressed people
– now, at long last, God was again “visiting” Israel
• that is, he was coming to redeem them as he had when they were slaves in Egypt
◦ Zechariah’s prophecy celebrates this great event
◦ and he especially celebrates the role his son will play (v. 76)
• John the Baptist would prepare God’s people,
◦ for the arrival of Jesus

Okay, I’ve brought you this far to get to these beautiful verses (vv. 78-79)
– what is at work here is the tender mercy of our God
• what that does is bring the sunrise for which we’ve been waiting
• at last we are given light to find our way
to guide our feet into the path of peace
– the theme for this first Sunday of Advent is hope
• hope arrives with the dawning of a new day
• hope arrives with the coming of Jesus into our world

I did not want to give this talk today

I’m the last person to present myself as an expert on hope
– before Luke, I had read through the Gospel of John
• last Tuesday morning I was feeling hopeless when I began reading John chapter 19

My meditation: “Here in John’s story, from the cross Jesus speaks in short, clipped sentences. I imagine that his intense pain, brutalized body, and dehydration made speech extremely difficult. Now at the end of his mission, with shallow breaths he takes care of the last bit of family business. Seeing his disciple standing beside his mother, Jesus commits Mary to John’s care: ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ and to John he says, ‘Behold, your mother!’
The next words from his lips were, ‘I thirst.’ Then, after a sponge of sour wine was pressed to his lips, John tells, ‘he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit’ (Jn. 19:26-30).
My meditation today is morbid. I wish I could right now say, ‘I’m done,” bow my head, and let go of my life.’ I just don’t have it in me to go on.”

• of course, things got better as the day went on
– then Friday I was here in Luke chapter 1, reading,
“to give light to those who sit in darkness”
and my meditation was: “It is not strange to sit in literal darkness. Safer to sit than to move around, trip and fall. But it is strange for me that I would sit in my psychological darkness. This is something I should want to escape. I should want to turn to an uplifting or joyful activity. But instead, the darkness incapacitates me, death casts its shadow over me, immobilizing me. There is so much that needs to be done, and plenty that I could be doing, but–well, it’s just too dark to do anything. I sometimes push myself to go for a run. However, if I just go for a walk, I tend to take my despair with me.
Jesus is daybreak–always and forever. ‘God is light,’ John says, ‘and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 Jn. 1:5). I choose today to turn toward the light of God in Jesus. I choose to do as Peter instructs us, to ‘pay attention [to the prophetic word] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in [my heart]’ (1 Pe. 1:19).”

Conclusion: Maybe I am the person to talk about hope

Not because I have so much of it,
but because I have to work at it–every day
Hope is critical for me
My mind is often caught in a riptide of despair
and every morning I have to fight my way to the surface
So I know something about hope
I know where to find it

The old priest prophesied that the light would
“guide our feet into the way of peace”
That’s what hope does,
it gets us on our feet and then gets us moving

Hope is Christmas morning
It’s a warm fire in the dead of winter
Hope is the sun
Still rising on the coldest day of the year
We do not journey to its light;
we do not travel east looking for the sun or trying to make it rise
The light of dawn comes to us
Hope is spiritual energy
It’s the smile that comes naturally when we greet a stranger
It’s the feeling that tomorrow is going to be better
It’s the life of Jesus Christ made real to us,
because we are not alone
not forgotten
not unloved

Nov 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 32-33 – 11/26/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome RefleXion Community!           The Lord is with you!

My husband and I recently watched this teen movie—you know where troubled teens have an adventure together and end up falling in love?  There was a line in the movie that was woven in again and again:  “There will always be somebody somewhere who is happy that you were born.”  This week as I was remembering what I was thankful for, I remembered that line, but saying it to myself seemed harder than I would have thought.  Who is happy that I was born?

We may remember that during one period of his life, Jeremiah was so unhappy that he didn’t even want his parents to be glad he was born!  Jeremiah 20, vv. 14-15:  Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed!  Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you.” But we are glad that Jeremiah was born and for the faithful life he lived.  There are periods where we can’t see the whole picture and can’t recognize the others who have benefited from our lives.  We can always know that God is happy that we are born and has a wonderful plan for our lives.  At any time, I think we can ask God to remind us why He is glad we were born.  And then, to live life so He continues to be glad that we were born!

It’s good to remember to tell others that we are not only thankful for what they have done for us, but for who they are–especially children.  Words spoken to us as children have stayed with us a long time, haven’t they?  I think we all find that being deeply known and deeply loved is so important, and just the best gift.  Let’s be mindful to love people in a way that will make them grateful for their lives and for God’s purposes for them.

And while we’re at it, be grateful for your own gift of life; be grateful for yourself.  Be grateful that’s there’s more to come, and believe that somebody, somewhere is happy that you were born.

Will you join me in prayer?

Father of us all, thank you for life and for your enduring love.  May we learn to number our days, each one bringing gladness to your heart.  Thank you for gathering us here.  Let us rejoice in our new covenant and for your faithful presence.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: Chapter is not what we’ve come to expect from Jeremiah

It is a short piece of autobiography,
a personal episode in the life of the prophet
King Zedekiah was the end of the line for the kings of Israel and Judah
And he was in the last full year of his reign
Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah, was under siege
the army of Babylon was at their gates
Meanwhile, Jeremiah was behind bars “in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king”
King Zedekiah placed him there after interrogating him
“Why do you prophesy our defeat? Why did you say I would be handed over to the King of Babylon?”

While sitting in prison, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah
Not like any time before–at least not at first
This word was not a prophecy like the others.
It was a personal prediction with instructions regarding a family matter
Jeremiah’s cousin, Hanamel, needed to sell a property
God told Jeremiah that Hanamel would come and ask Jeremiah to buy it
Jeremiah had the “first right of refusal”
As Robert Alter said, if Jeremiah purchased the property, that would keep it in the family
While Jeremiah was musing over this message from God, Hanamel arrived and his question was almost word-for-word what God had told the prophet
“Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD”

Jeremiah walks us through the transaction:
Hanamel counted out the money – Jer. signed the deed – then sealed it – rounded up witnesses
Then he gave the paperwork to Baruch (his sidekick) “in the presence of Hanamel my cousin, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard” (Jer. 32:12)
Jeremiah told Baruch to put documents in earthenware jar, “that they may last for a long time”
(the Dead Sea Scrolls were preserved in earthenware jars for almost two thousand years)
“For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land” (Jer. 32:15)

Soon Jeremiah was left alone again in his confinement

And then he prayed
“Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jer. 32:17)

This sounds like the beginning of a very reverent prayer
Jeremiah praises God who made the heavens and the earth,
and who had revealed himself through history;
a God who shows kindness and mercy to thousands, but who is also a God of justice
Then Jeremiah’s prayer retraces Israel’s history from Egypt
Through signs and wonders, God set his people free from slavery,
he brought them to the land he promised Abraham, and settled them there
But the sad news is that they turned away from their God–generation after generation
Eventually, their sins caught up to them, and that led up to their current situation
At that moment, the Babylon army was piling up dirt against the city wall
“Behold the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans” (Jer. 32:24)
It was all happening just like God had said it would

Now comes a twist – beginning with the word “Yet”
“Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, ‘Buy the field for money and get witnesses–though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans” (Jer. 32:25)
Jeremiah’s prayer is done – there’s nothing else to say
He just leaves his complaint hanging in the air
What use was it to purchase property and file a deed if the people of Judah were soon to be removed and the land was going to be taking over by Babylon?!
The impression I get from Jeremiah’s prayer that it is like saying:
“Lord, I just received word that the Titanic is sinking,
but You’re telling me to go buy stock in the company that built it!”

At that point, God takes over the conversation

He begins with a line from Jeremiah’s prayer

Jeremiah (in verse 17): “Nothing is too hard for you”
God: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?”
That is the first “behold” – it begins the introduction to his answer
The word Behold is always an invitation to the reader, to enter the story as if we were there,
and to look, see, and feel the scene for ourselves
There will be two more “beholds,”
both of them will introduce two parts of God’s speech

The “Behold” in verse 28 begins a section of God’s complaint
It is a list of all of Israel’s violations against the Lord,
beginning from the time they entered the land to the present
His accusations culminate in what may be their worst atrocity;
offering their children as sacrifices to the god Molech, which God says,
“though I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do this abomination” (Jer. 32:35)

The third “Behold” appears at a turning point in God’s speech
“Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them . . . . I will bring them back to this place and make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people and I will be their God” (Jer. 32:37-38)
God follows that promise with a series of “I will” promises:
“I will give them one heart and one way”
“I will make with them an everlasting covenant”
“I will put the fear of me in their hearts”
“I will rejoice in doing them good”
“I will plant them in this land in faithfulness”
“I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them”
I want to make a quick stop here
– when God said he would “plant them in the land in faithfulness”
• he added, “with all my heart and soul”
• here in our little group, we like to emphasize the two greatest commandments
◦ first, love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Mt. 22:37)
◦ second, love your neighbor as yourself (Mt. 22:38)
– so to hear that God acts on behalf of his people, with all his heart and soul, affects me in a special way
• it tells me that God is all-in the way he wants me to be all-in

Back to the story
The chapter ends with God saying,
“Fields shall be bought in this land . . . . Fields shall be bought for money, and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed”
The land deal that Jeremiah negotiated was a prophetic drama
It portrayed a scene of future real estate deals
The fall of Jerusalem was not the end of Israel!
After the tragedies of war, after the loss of their nation, after the long exile,
God would restore the land to his people,
and restore his people to himself

Chapter 33 continues the same theme regarding the future

There would be a national restoration,
– but first God would bring a spiritual restoration
• in verse 6, God promises to bring “health and healing” and in verse 8 he says,
“I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.”
• God is fixing the problem (that Israel could never fix within themselves)
– the last line of chapter 32 is the theme of chapter 33
“I will restore their fortunes”
Robert Alter, says this phrase is “More literally, ‘restore the former state.’”
• in verse 7, “restore” has to do with rebuilding the nation (cities and villages and their repopulation)
• in verse 11, “restore” refers to the joyful sound of celebration and worship
“The voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the LORD . . . .”
(Remember, these are precisely the sounds that had been banished previously–7:34; 16:9; & 25:10)
• in verse 26, “restore” is applied to the government under Israel’s ultimate and perfect King

Conclusion: When God told Jeremiah to buy that field,

It seemed a ridiculous thing to do while his entire world coming down around him
– Israel was losing its independence, their land, their homes, and their temple
• but they were not losing God — the Babylonians could not defeat or abolish him
• and God’s plan for Israel and all humankind was not abandoned, just postponed

What might God be saying to us?
The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still shut up in the court of the guard (Jer. 33:1)
Jeremiah was “shut up” but the word of the LORD was not confined
God’s word found Jeremiah where he was
Paul knew this same liberty that God’s word has everywhere and all times
“Because I preach the Good News, I suffer and I am even chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not in chains” (2 Tim. 2:9 GNB)

I can imagine that next year will bring a pandemic of insanity
– people on the political right will fear that the continuation of a Democratic president will take the nation on a downhill slide into communism
– people on the left will fear that a return of a former Republican president will the day after his election result in the Constitution being scrapped, a new autocratic government, and the president’s vowed revenge on all those he feels have betrayed or opposed them (lining them up against the wall)
But no matter how dark our world gets, there is always an “after this”
That’s the lesson Jeremiah learned when he purchased real estate that was doomed to foreign occupation

We may be confined temporarily to our present circumstances,
but we have a destiny that reaches far beyond them
We can find peace even in the furor of political instability and possible collapse
We know how to turn from the world’s distractions to the ever-present Spirit of God
Frank Tuoti wrote, “How we respond [to distractions] will determine whether or not we progress in prayer and advance along the spiritual journey.”

What might God be saying to us?
Take slow, gentle breaths
Gratefully receive the word of the LORD as it comes to us
(listening closely for that still, small voice
God tells us,
“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known (Jer. 33:3)
This how we survive – and thrive – and overcome the world

Nov 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 30-31 – 11/19/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good Morning, Friends.  Welcome to RefleXion!  The Lord is with you.

I was thinking about gratefulness this week, not so much the act of giving thanks, but the heart posture of being grateful.  I remembered a book that I had read years and years ago titled, “Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, an Approach to Life in Fullness,” by Brother David Steindl-Rast.  In it, there’s a wonderful chapter on Prayer and Prayerfulness, and I want to share some of the ideas found there.

We’ve all probably had moments that just stopped us, where we were caught up in the present moment, in awe, in recognition, in gratitude; would you call those moments prayer?  Well, we weren’t “saying prayers.”  Br. David speaks of both saying prayers and prayer. 

In meditation, for example, we concentrate/focus on a word or a phrase, an image.  In our prayers we also focus on our praise, our petitions….and those types of practices are intended to focus one thing and eliminate all else.  It narrows our field of attention; we might say it’s like a magnifying glass or a flashlight.  And when we are meditating or saying our prayers, we want it to be that way. 

Prayer as a state of prayerfulness, the fullness of prayer, is wholehearted attention; it is concentration without elimination because it is concentration plus wonderment, Br. David says (we might call it awe).  Well, that makes no sense to our rational mind…a paradox our head cannot hold, yet our heart can.  The eyes of our heart can see something we can’t see with a flashlight.  Paul prayed that the eyes of our heart would be enlightened, enabled by another kind of light, by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.    

We can get a little lost with all these words, which of course are only concepts, attempting to describe the indescribable.  My understanding is that my life of prayerfulness is a life of presence, a wholehearted awareness where gratefulness comes naturally.  It is God’s gift to me.   My prayers (me “saying my prayers”) are my gift to God because God gives me faith so I can pray, recognizing my dependence on Him.  We offer our prayers to God; we receive our prayerful life in God.  May we recognize His Presence in awe and gratitude, especially this week.

Our opening prayer today is a prayer of thanksgiving from The Book of Common Prayer.  Please join me.

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things.  Amen.

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say “He who scattered Israel with gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.”
For the LORD has ransomed Jacob
and had redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall be like a watered garden,
and they shall languish no more.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy;
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance,
and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness,
declares the LORD Jeremiah 31:10-14

Intro: Two weeks ago, I pointed out a shift in Jeremiah’s prophecies

Until now, his message was a reminder to Israel of all their failures
– they had turned from their God and were rushing downhill
• so Jeremiah delivered a message of condemnation, rejection, of doom and gloom
• but now a light breaks through the dark passages
◦ there is hope for Israel after all
– but if God made it possible for his people to return,
• could they maintain a relationship with him this time?
◦ their history had indicated otherwise
◦ was it enough for God to say, “Come home. I forgive you?”
• something had to happen that would change his people
◦ something radically new in the history of Israel

The idea of an “Israel,” a people of God, began in Genesis

There we meet Abram, who later became Abraham
– he lived in a world filled with gods
• in fact, prior than his encounter with Yahweh, Abraham and his family “served other gods” (Jos. 24:2)
◦ but the God who has revealed himself in Genesis spoke to Abraham
◦ he was to leave his family and travel to a new land with God’s blessing
• at this point, Abraham doesn’t know God’s name
◦ unlike all the other deities in the nations around him
◦ later, Abram’s God is referred to as El Elyon, God Most High (but it’s a title, not a name)
◦ sometime after that,
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty . . .” El Shaddai (Gen. 17:1)
• other titles were added as Abram discovered new dimensions of God
– when God made promises to him, Abraham asked for a guarantee
O Lord God, how am I to know . . . ? (Ge. 15:8)
• God told him to fetch a calf, a goat, a ram, a dove, and a pigeon
◦ he was to cut all but the birds in half and lay them out in two rows
◦ that night God restated his promises, and caused a “torchlight” to move through the path between the severed animals
On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram (Ge. 15:18)
• the strange ritual was how covenant agreements were ratified
◦ in fact, the Hebrew words translated “made a covenant” literally mean “cut a covenant”
◦ covenants created a relational bond
– in Genesis 17, God extended the covenant to include Abraham’s descendants
I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you (Gen. 17:7)

Leaving Abraham, we come to Moses

The mission God gave Moses was based on his previous covenant
I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them . . . . I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel . . . and I have remembered my covenant (Ex. 6:4-5)
– at Mt. Sinai, God presented his covenant to the nation
Now therefore, if you will . . . keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine (Ex. 19:5-6)
• now this is important–it’s the essence of God’s covenant — the reciprocal relationship:
I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God (Ex. 6:7)
◦ the core of Israel’s relationship with God was the covenant
◦ and the heart of the covenant was mutual belonging
– do you know what a sinkhole is?
• an underground vault created by water erosion
◦ the surface area sometimes becomes so thin that it collapses
• I sometimes think of my mental state as a sinkhole
◦ it may not show on the surface, but it’s liable to give way
◦ Israel’s sinkhole was an internal weakness
◦ when God laid out his covenant with the people, they responded with enthusiasm
Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it (Deut. 5:24)
◦ God’s response:
And the LORD said to me, “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them . . .” (Deut. 5:28-29)
– Israel’s sins against the Lord their God were a relational failure
• that’s why prophets referred to it as adultery and prostitution
The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers (Jer. 11:10)

In spite of Israel’s disloyalty, God hangs onto his covenant

It was not merely a matter of him being faithful to his word or his vows,
– it was his crazy love for his people – he could not let go
• listen to how God describes the situation:
I have heard Ephraim grieving,
[now Ephraim speaks] “You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined,
like an untrained calf;
bring me back that I may be restored,
for you are the LORD my God.
For after I had turned away, I relented,
and after I was instructed, I struck my thigh;
I was ashamed, and I was confounded,
because I bore the disgrace of my youth.”

[God speaks] “Is Ephraim my dear child?
Is he my darling child?
For as often as I speak against him,
I do remember him still.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
I will surely have mercy on him,”
declares the LORD
(Jer. 31:19-20)
◦ God expresses himself in a similar way in Hosea
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath (Hos. 11:8-9)
• God’s love is not fickle or transient – 31:2-3
– but what hope is there for a covenant relationship, when God cannot trust his people?
• when their promises are empty, and their revivals are short-lived?
• since Israel is incapable of permanent devotion,
◦ God has to provide the solution

Although this is a short passage, it is among the most critical in all of scripture
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more Jeremiah 31:31-34

God presented Israel with a new covenant
– the first covenant was written to them, engraved in stone
• the new covenant will be written within them, on their hearts
– this is a profound revelation
• people would no longer be dependent on others–priests, scribes, or prophets–,
• because everyone would know him
◦ this relational knowing would be inserted into every heart

This is a new and improved covenant
– the writer of Hebrews explains,
Christ has obtained a ministry that is much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6)
– it’s at this point that we enter the story

Conclusion: We join Jesus and disciples in their last meal together

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you for this is my blood of the covenant poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. . . .”
Matthew 26:26-28

When we receive the bread and the cup, we are entering this new covenant with God
Jesus provides us the means to say “Yes” to God’s invitation
From this point on, we belong to God
I want this bond with our Lord Jesus
I want this everlasting love of the Father

Here is what we need to know:

God, in his crazy love for us, offers us a covenant relationship with him

The ritual of the bread and the cup seal the relationship

We do not have to be righteous people to say yes to God
Jesus came to invite sinners into relationship with God

By receiving the bread and cup, we allow God to enter us
There he works in our hearts and minds –
To know him
And to receive his Spirit,
who brings God’s will into our hearts
God himself enables us to keep covenant with him

Through this covenant ritual, God becomes ours and we become his
So we can sing, “I am my Beloved’s and my beloved is mine”

Nov 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Special Guests, Steve and Oddny Gumaer

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good Morning RefleXion!           The Lord is with you!

A couple of weeks ago, in a Jeremiah passage, Chuck taught about the two baskets of figs – one good and one bad; do you remember?  This was helpful to me because I’d already been thinking about Good and Evil.  I heard Chuck say that Evil does not always refer to moral wickedness.  It can be fruit gone bad.

I came across a similar idea from David Benner that Evil can be seen as an anti-life posture.  He says, “It is that which kills the spirit, deeply wounds the soul, and sometimes destroys the body.”  It is not Good.  Goodness is deeper and broader than morality.  It is the radical out-pouring of God’s character and life. Evil is not only the absence of Good; it is the fruit of a lie.  Satan is called the Deceiver; the Father of Lies can never be trusted that his ideas will end well, or Good.

Last week, Chuck said that we can be “increasers of Goodness.”  I want to be that; and I know you do too.  How can we BE Goodness?  It starts with abiding in Truth (God’s Reality).  If we don’t start with Truth, we start with a lie, and this outflow (we can call it rotten fruit) is Evil.  As maturing Christians, we are more and more able to, and called to, discern Goodness.  If something that “looks good” is the product of a lie, can it ever be Good?  Will you think about that?

And these ideas are not just external phenomena; we must remember to recognize our capacity to deceive ourselves. The lies we tell ourselves – the subtle ways in which we bend reality, the masks we create to defend against knowing our own capacity for evil, these things require hard work, radical honesty, and courage under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit.

And, finally, we remember that love will always triumph over evil, for it is the heartbeat of Christ that holds everything in the cosmos in love, and that draws everything forward into fullness of being in Christ.  Let’s be a part of that evolution by being increasers of goodness, based on Truth.

Will you join me in Prayer? 

Heavenly Father, deliver us from evil, from the lies and deceptions surrounding us and from our own Ego’s deceptions.  May our new hearts beat more and more to the drum of Truth and Goodness.  May Goodness overwhelm us and cause the fruits of the Spirit to sprout, bloom, and propagate. We remember that you said, Lord Jesus, that you chose us and appointed us that we might bear fruit, much fruit, and fruit that will last.  May it be so.  Amen

Morning Talk: Steve and Oddny Gumaer

This week, November1-18 you can view the service by clicking on the “watch life” tab in the right column. You can also listen to the Podcast, but miss the visual references.

Nov 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapter 29 – 11/05/2023



Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles who I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Intro: A god who never surprises us nor could ever surprise us, a god we could know perfectly well,
whose every move we could predict, who has no secrets, so there’s no mystery, no confusion, no missing pieces, is not the God of the Scriptures
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9)
– the only gods that never surprise us are the ones we make
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them (Psa. 115:6-8)
– when it comes to living with God, however, we don’t like surprises
• we would prefer to be dogmatic and sure of ourselves
• if so, God may have to pry open that god-box in our brains

Jeremiah’s prophecies turn a corner in chapter 29

For the next five chapters, he delivers messages that are positive
– this new tone begins with a letter Jeremiah sent to the Jewish exiles in Babylon
• he told them that they were to make themselves at home in their captivity
“build houses . . . plant gardens . . . multiply”
◦ these words echo what God told Israel before entering the promised land
• they were also to pray for the cities where they were settled
for in its welfare you will find your welfare
◦ welfare translates that rich Hebrew word shalom
◦ their peace and prosperity was tied to those foreign cities where they now lived
– seen from God’s perspective, the exile was their punishment
• but it was also a time of purification (never again would they turn to idols or other gods)
◦ once they had served their sentence, they would return
For thus says the LORD: When seventy hears are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope Jeremiah 29:10-11
◦ then they would walk with God like before
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile Jeremiah 29:12-14
“restore your fortunes” is a catchphrase that refers to the restoration and rebuilding of Israel
◦ it will appear seven more times in the positive outlook of these chapters

To say Jeremiah’s letter was controversial would be a gross understatement

It was scandalous and could even be perceived as treasonous
– Babylon was their nation’s enemy – their masters and oppressors
• it was a pagan nation, devoted to foreign gods
• how could a devout Jew embrace Babylon as their home?
◦ life in Babylon was the epitome of misery
By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? (Ps. 137:1-4)
– remember how it felt when defectors left the USA to live in Russia during the Cold War?
• the reaction to Jeremiah’s letter would be like that
• in fact, there was a complaint in Babylon, carried all way back to Jerusalem
◦ letters were sent to priest in charge of the temple
The LORD has made you priest . . . to have charge in the house of the LORD over every madman who prophesies, to put him in the stocks and neck irons. Now why have you not rebuked Jeremiah of Anathoth who is prophesying to you? For he has sent to us in Babylon, saying, “You exile will be long; build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their produce Jeremiah 29:26-28
◦ even in Babylon, they still resisted God and the reality of their situation

With a bit of imagination, we can identify with the Jews in exile

This was suggested by Stanley Hauerwas, a Christian intellectual
– he says that Christian believers are “resident aliens” in the world
• we do not belong to the State nor any institution
◦ our ultimate loyalty is to God and his son Jesus
◦ Paul made a similar statement in his letter to Philippians
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Php. 3:20)
• but saying this today is as controversial as Jeremiah’s letter, and to some people, a scandal
– many Christians in the U.S. are engaged in “culture wars”
• the battle fields include the media, the entertainment industry, politics, and education
◦ they want to enforce Christian standards throughout society
◦ ironically, they use the world’s methods to fight the world–unlike Paul who said:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Cor. 10:3-4)
and we do not wrestle against flesh and blood . . . . (Ep. 6:10-12)
• there are lots of problems with this way of thinking and acting
◦ but pointing them out, you run the risk of them turning guns on you

There is no such thing as a “Christian” culture
– there are Christian subcultures–even movements that have become Christian subcultures
• but culture does not define a Christian or a Christian community
◦ culture is a human artifact
◦ it has to do with how a group of people behave and interact
• no culture on earth is perfectly good nor all bad
– Christian faith is something that is to be lived in every culture
• culture is not the problem – culture is not the enemy
◦ Christianity’s finest hours have emerged in the darkest cultures and darkest times
◦ the challenge is to live in a culture or cultures without being conformed by them

We will never find our true home anywhere in the world
– we are benevolent strangers in our culture
• the heroes of faith that are listed in Hebrews chapter 11
all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb. 11:13)
◦ and Peter wrote:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Pe. 2:11)
• our not belonging to this world, but to Jesus, exempts us from engaging in unnecessary conflict
– we can build our home here in popular culture
• it is just a temporary home

Conclusion: These are the thoughts that I draw from Jeremiah

Sometimes God shocks us with his openness and generosity
– Jesus shocked the religious folks in the way he treated the Sabbath
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27-28)
• Jesus also told us that our heavenly Father
makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust, and in the same way that he is merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Mt. 5:45)
◦ and for that reason we are to love our enemies (Lk. 6:35-36)

Sometimes God pushes us into places we would avoid
– a powerful example of that is God sending Peter to Caesarea
– the story is told in such a way that we feel Peter’s discomfort
• entering the home of a Gentile felt repulsive to him (Acts 10:28)
• he had to get over that
◦ the entire community of disciples had to get over it (Acts 11:3 & 16-18; Acts 15:1-2 & 13-19)

God sometimes opens a door that we didn’t even know existed
– our awareness of where God works and with whom he works is constricted and narrow
– what God has to say to us is vast, beyond our comprehension, but within the scope of our potential awareness

We need a different vision of our role in world besides culture wars
If we can become free from worldly attachments, we will be able to learn to love everyone
William James gave a lecture on “The Value of Saintliness”
he said saints were sometimes excessive in their charity,
but he also said at times, their excessive love was a “genuinely creative social force”
William James, “The saints are authors . . . increasers, of goodness.”
That is what we can be – increasers of goodness in the world
And that is the reflection of Jesus that the world needs in his followers

Oct 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 24-28 – 10/29/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome, RefleXion Community.         The Lord is with you!

Have you read about the 32,000-year-old seeds found in Siberia that are now growing, blooming, and are themselves seed-bearing?  And squirrels had something to do with this.  The story begins in 2007, when a team of scientists recovered the frozen seeds. They were buried 125 feet beneath the Siberian permafrost. The discovery was made while the team was investigating the burrows of ancient squirrels. The squirrels’ burrowing techniques had perfectly sealed the fruit and seeds from the elements.  The burrows of hay and animal fur were a natural cryobank.  Seeds are amazing, aren’t they?

It got me thinking about what scripture says about seeds starting in Genesis–plants yielding seed, fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, and the seed of a woman.  There are several verses about seeds in Jeremiah, by the way.  My very favorite passage is in 1 Corinthians 15, and I wanted to remind all of us about the seed we carry, the seed that’s been planted in us, and our resurrection bodies.  Forgive me for just reading a bit of that chapter today, but, oh, please read it all for yourself! 

1 Cor. 15,  The Message version, begins in v. 35 this way as Paul is preaching to the Corinthians:  Some skeptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?”  If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a “dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different. 

Paul continues–This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body – but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural – same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!

This is what I’ve been reflecting on this week.  Let us be in wonder about these things which are too marvelous for words.   Will you pray with me?

O Lord, how gracious you are to us.  We need you now more than ever.  Thank you for being near.  As we welcome your Spirit this morning, we ask that we be enabled to receive all that you have for us.  Prepare our hearts in this time of quiet.  Still our minds.  Come and remind us that our resurrection has already begun, though not yet complete.  We have come together to hear from you and to allow you to prepare us for glory.  Amen

After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the craftsmen, and the metal workers, and had brought them to Babylon, the LORD showed me this vision: behold, two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the LORD. One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the LORD said to me, “What do you see Jeremiah?” I said, ther good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten. (Please read the entire passage.) Jeremiah 24:1-10

Intro: One thing we cannot say about prophecies of Jeremiah

We cannot say God was silent –he did not sit back and watch passively,
– as his people destroyed their religion, their nation and themselves
• Jeremiah says God rose early to send all his prophets (Jer. 25:4)
◦ in the Old Testament, to rise early signifies eagerness, a compelling energy
• God eagerly sent his word to his people
◦ they would have heard him if there were equally eager to listen
– but we also notice, God had a funny way of speaking at times
• for instance, the chapter I read begins with two baskets of figs
◦ we can’t help but wonder, Where is God going with this?
• this is not unusual, but how God spoke frequently to his prophets
◦ he begins by showing the prophet a vision, then asks “What do you see?”
◦ the message was in the object or scene, which God used for its symbolic value
I spoke to the prophets;
it was I who multiplied visions,
and through the prophets gave parables (Hos. 12:10)

Matthew quotes a collection of Jesus’ parables, and at the end explains,
All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables;
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world” (Mt. 13:34-35)
– Jesus doesn’t use many parables in John’s gospel
• instead we find “hard sayings”–i.e., ideas difficult to grasp
◦ he later admitted to his disciples that he had not spoken plainly to them, but in “figures of speech”
◦ Jesus would use familiar words, but they did not mean what we assume (“birth,” “water,” “bread,” “vine”)
• Evangelicals seem to prefer learning doctrine over parables
◦ but I think literalness is overrated
◦ symbolic use of words creates space for greater meaning
– symbols and metaphors call attention to themselves
• they work our brains differently than reading and memorizing
• quite naturally working out symbol or parable becomes a spiritual exercise
◦ the spiritual truth and reality God wants to reveal to us, but that we could not understand rationally

In chapters 24-28 there are three prophetic dramas involving “stage props”

Two of the props are not physical, but found in visions shown to Jeremiah
– the third is a literal contraption God had Jeremiah construct
first: two baskets of figs – as a side note, tov and rah are the same words used in Genesis 2
◦ planted in Eden was the tree of knowledge of tov and rah (“evil” does not always refer to moral wickedness)
◦ the good figs represented the people who did God’s will and surrendered to the Babylonian army
the bad represented those who resisted God’s will and remained in Jerusalem to fight the Babylonians
second: a cup of wine, filled with God’s wrath
Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them Jeremiah 25:15-16
◦ about 17 nations are listed in this chapter that were eventually conquered by Babylon
◦ their drunk-like behavior explains why they were disoriented, weak, and unable to defend themselves
third: Jeremiah was to make and wear a yoke
Make yourself straps and yoke bars, and put them on you neck Jeremiah 27:2
◦ again, Judah and the surrounding nations were warned of Babylon’s coming conquests
◦ each nation had a choice: resistance and be destroyed or peaceful surrender
if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation . . . declares the LORD . . . . But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave in its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the LORD Jeremiah 27:8 & 11
– there’s more to this story in chapter 18
• another prophet, Hananiah, shows up with a prediction that contradicts what Jeremiah proclaimed
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’s house which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon Jeremiah 28:2-3
Jeremiah’s response: “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD make the words that you have prophesied come true . . . . Jeremiah 28:5-9
◦ it didn’t end there
Then the prophet Hananiah took the yoke-bars from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke them. . . . But Jeremiah the prophet went his way Jeremiah 28:10-11
◦ in other words, Jeremiah had no immediate comeback
• Jeremiah was the prophet who brought bad news
◦ Hananiah was telling the people what they wanted to hear
◦ how could Jeremiah compete with the man of the hour?
– in the summer of 2000, after meditating on this passage, I wrote to myself:
“Expect to lose heart at times. Flat-out lies will be published as ‘God’s word.’ These lies will gain popularity, because they will affirm what people want to believe. Millions will line-up to buy the lie. Perhaps you will be overwhelmed by the temporary success of the lie, and like Jeremiah you will walk away with nothing to say. The lying prophet will win the public’s ear. Like Jeremiah, you won’t be able to compete with that. Keep in mind that your objective is not popularity, but speak the truth of God’s word with integrity. Make sure you do that and leave the results with God.”
Jeremiah 23:28, “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully . . . .”
• later, God sent Jeremiah to Hananiah with a personal message
◦ first, You have broken wooden bars, but you have made in their place bars of iron (Jer. 28:13)
◦ second, “Listen, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die . . . .” In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died (Jer. 28:15-17)
(Previously, when other prophets predicted that the vessels from the temple that Babylon had already looted and taken to their land, would “shortly be brought back from Babylon.” Jeremiah told the people these prophets were lying to them and suggested, “If they are prophets, and if the word of the LORD is with them, then let them intercede with the LORD of hosts, that the vessels that are left in the house of the LORD, in the house of the king of Judah, and in Jerusalem may not go to Babylon–Jer. 27:16-18. As it turned out, everything Jeremiah mentions was plundered and nothing was returned for seventy years.)
– the last verse of chapter 28 tells us, “In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died.”

So far, I haven’t drawn anything from chapter 26

There is a different image presented here–and we’ve seen it before
– it is a barren landscape where Israel’s first temple had been built
Shiloh was now an image branded on Israel’s heart and mind
◦ it symbolized God’s rejection and abandonment of his people and their sacred shrine
◦ it stood for what their past sin had cost them
• hundreds of years later, Jeremiah stands in courts of new temple and announced:
“Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me [and to] the words of my servants the prophets . . . then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth” Jeremiah 26:4-6
– this message was so shocking and offensive, that
the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!” (Jer. 26:8)
• and they would have killed him too if others had not intervened
• images we hold dear or sacred are capable of stirring up powerful feelings and reactions
◦ of course, that’s one reason why God speaks to us through symbols

Our brains do not process parables the same way as lectures

Think of how you read a technical manual and read a novel
– a lecture or manual requires more activity in the brain’s left hemisphere
• a parable or novel involves more of the brain’s right hemispheric activity
◦ that’s because as we read we’re seeing pictures, not just words
• we don’t notice everything that parables manage to slip into our mind
◦ some details lie on the periphery of our focused attention
◦ so the benefit of the analogy is not always immediate
– if parables were Jesus’ preferred form of communication,
• it might be helpful for us to understand what parables do

Parables communicate paradigms–i.e., a mental model of reality
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (Mk. 4:26-29)
– what are the elements here?
• a deliberate action – an invisible process – tangible results
◦ this is a pattern that the parable plants in our brain
• the parable gives us, not just aa new perspective, but a new way of seeing
The pattern within the parable stays with us
– one day we come to situation where we recognize the pattern (whether or not we remember the parable)
• only this time, we do not react in our usual programmed way
• instead, the pattern creates awareness of other dimensions of our experience
◦ now we have options and freedom to choose our response
A power of parables, is that they lead us to discovery
what we discover for ourselves, we own – it stays with us
Frequently a parable requires time to work through it
– we may realize there’s more than one layer of meaning in it
Jesus’ parables open windows to the kingdom of God
– once God’s word gets in us, it has a life of its own
(see the parable of the seed and the soils, Mt. 13:3-9 & 18-23)
Jesus’ parables open our eyes to our true self, our spiritual self
– we see both the false self and the true self reflected in his parables (e.g., Mt. 7:24-27)

Conclusion: I encourage you to spend time in parables this week

I am adapting the following quote from Arthur Deikman, “[Parables] may be more practical for most people than meditation because they address behavior in everyday life where wisdom must be applied and tested.”
So if you find it difficult to sit silently in God’s presence, holding your attention on him,
it may be that soaking your heart and mind in the parables is better suited to you
When it comes to spending quality time in the parables,
“to the one who has, more will be given and [they] will have an abundance” (Mt. 13:12

Oct 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 20-23 – 19/22/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!       Welcome to RefleXion.     The Lord is with you!

Life is difficult.  For some of us, this week that’s never been truer.  Life is difficult.  That’s the first sentence of one of my favorite books, A Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.  Sometimes we get the impression that life is not supposed to be difficult. Well, maybe in the beginning, it wasn’t…but it is, isn’t it.  Last week Chuck mentioned one of his favorite books, The Sacrament of the Present Moment.  That is one of my very favorite books too.  My translation titles the same book as Abandonment to Divine Providence. 

“Divine Providence”  is the term used to describe God’s intervention, governance, and care for all things in the universe.  It implies that God is in complete control of the natural order and the destiny of people. Chuck also mentioned the word “Surrender”.  This is how we might surrender, by considering each moment a sacrament, surrendering not only to the will of God but to his providential care. 

This morning I would like to highlight the “to Whom” we surrender.  If you’re like me, to surrender might seem like giving in or giving up.  As Christians, this thought of surrender seems to me to be the giving-up of our illusions, our demand for privilege and position, the expectation of freedom from pain.  That still doesn’t seem to satisfy me. 

Another one of my favorite books, and favorite authors, is Surrender to Love by Dr. David Benner.  “There’s a difference between a white-knuckled obedience and a willingness to live in God’s love and God’s knowing,” it says.  This is where our faith must take us, but it’s not a straight road.  This is where, as it must, not only be an idea but become our personal experience of God’s love, our own knowing of it.

Is this shattering to our Ego – oh, yes.  Is it beyond our present understanding of love – yes.  And of goodness – most definitely.  It is not the fact that we are loved that will transform us, but the experience of being loved in vulnerability, in doubt, in confusion, in grief, and deep neediness.  Let’s look for love in whatever various forms it presents itself.  Let’s help each other find it. With love, we can always find the spark of divine presence.  May we be the glad recipient of it.

Our opening prayer, please join me:

Be with us today, Lord.  You have made a way for us.  We go together. We thank you for Jesus, who is the Way, and for the Spirit who leads us.  May we encounter Truth and the Grace it brings as we come together this morning. Help us to realize your great love for us.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: One of the challenges I’ve wrestled with in Jeremiah,
Is that it is so distant and unpleasant that it seems irrelevant or offensive
– distant, because we are out of sync with that period of time and culture
• we don’t share their norms, values, or kinship structures
◦ their geopolitical context was nothing like ours today
◦ their hardships are not our hardships
• their language is foreign, their names are foreign, their cities are foreign
◦ moreover, they had ruined their relationship with God
◦ Israel had violated and broken God’s covenant
And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the LORD dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God and worshiped other gods and served them” (Jer. 22:9)
– it’s unpleasant, because hell-fire preachers have capitalized on damnation
Chuck Fromm, “There are lots of angry men behind pulpits”
• they shout at us like abusive parents who take their anger out on the children
• this has left us with an unpleasant taste in our mouths
◦ we’ve become sensitive to these passages of doom
◦ on other hand, do we want a God who has no anger?
a God who doesn’t grieve? Doesn’t react? Doesn’t care?

To benefit from these ancient and abrasive chapters, one of our tasks is to find points where we can relate,
– and where we can hear what God has to say to us through his prophet

In chapter 20, Jeremiah suffers the fate of many prophets
Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Passhur beat Jeremiah the prophet and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the LORD Jeremiah 20:1-2

It was not some hillbilly or lowlife criminal that attacked Jeremiah
– the temple had its own security guards and Pashhur was the “chief officer”
• the Hebrew word for “stocks” suggests a painful contortion of his body
◦ this officer was authorized by priests and the king
• historically, whenever any religion influences government,
◦ government becomes more repressive
◦ like Rome once Constantine ruled, or today’s Iran, Sudan, Myanmar
(in fact, the highest ranking Patriarch in the Russian Orthodox church supports Vladimir Putin’s military assault on Ukraine)
– when released, Jeremiah came back at Pashhur with a sharp reprimand
• he prophesied a bleak destiny for him, his family and friends
◦ all the people to whom he had prophesied falsely (v. 6)
◦ we’ll soon take a closer look at false prophets
• by contrast, here is what a true prophet looks like:
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the LORD has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot
Jeremiah 20:8-9
◦ Jeremiah was struggling with the work God assigned him
◦ but he was unable to stop – it was God’s word and work that defined him

All through his prayer in verses 7-18, Jeremiah is vacillating
O LORD, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become the laughing stock all the day,
everyone mocks me
Jeremiah 20:7
– now only someone who knows God well can pray like this (and get away with it)
• Jeremiah wanted to quit, because he had been fiercely attacked,
◦ yet he goes on in his prayer,
But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble
Jeremiah 20:11
• in verse 13 he is singing God’s praises
◦ then in verse 14 he says,
Cursed be the day
on which I was born!

– this kind of fluctuation is characteristic of depression
• depression is more common among people in ministry than you might think
◦ Charles Spurgeon, a renown British preacher delivered lectures to ministerial students
◦ when his lectures were published in book form, and entire chapter was devoted to the minister’s depression (“Fainting Fits”)
• Paul shared with the Corinthians his struggles with despair
◦ it seems that the minister’s highs reach to the heavens and the lows sink into hell

Chapter 21 begins with a surprise
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, when King Zedekiah sent to him [two men], saying, “Inquire of the LORD for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us Jeremiah 21:1-2

King Zedekiah, who has paid no attention to Jeremiah until now, sought his help
– in football, this desperate move is known as a “Hail Mary”
• it would be amusing if it weren’t so sad
• Zedekiah had in mind a specific role for God – perhaps he would work a miracle for them as he did for King Hezekiah (Isa. 37:37)
◦ how great if we could invoke a miracle whenever we get ourselves into trouble!
◦ it would be like Jimmy Olsen having Superman on-call
– we must live in world as it is and trust God for all that happens
• our trust is unconditional – even if we don’t get our miracle
• it is not God’s will that bad things happen in our lives
◦ that is simply life in an uncertain universe (and some our troubles we have created ourselves)
◦ regardless of what happens, God’s will opens a way through
◦ and if we ask, Jesus will join us and walk us through the dark valleys

God had a personal message for the king
O house of David! Thus says the LORD:
“Execute justice in the morning,
and deliver from the hand of the oppressor
him who has been robbed,
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,
because of your evil deeds”
Jeremiah 21: 12
– this theme is continued into the next chapter
Thus says the LORD: “Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place . . . .’”
“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve for nothing
and does not give him his wages”
Jeremiah 22:1-3 and 13
Robert Alter, “Throughout the Bible, this Hebrew word, ger, designates a resident alien, who as someone without inherited land or the protection of a clan is vulnerable, as are the widow and the orphan.”
• care for these weakest members of society included not only food and shelter, but justice
• God never takes his eyes off and those who help the poor and needy
◦ or off of those who could help but do nothing for them

Two verses in this chapter deserve serious meditation
– I’ll point out the statements that I find insightful in verses 15-16
Do you think you are a king
because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
declares the LORD
Jeremiah 22:15-16

First, we learn that there are things that do not make you a king or queen (cedar paneling)
• every culture we know of has status symbols
◦ it’s easy to mistake the symbols for real status
◦ driving a Maserati doesn’t make you a Maserati
(Or someone says, “I can go from 0 to 60 in three seconds”
We respond, “O yeah? Let’s see you do it without your car”)
– when I was a child, I was impressed by evangelist who drove a nice car, wore nice suits, and sported shiny watches and rings
• I assumed we would hear great sermons and get closer to God with a person like that leading our “revival” week
• having thousands of followers, huge income, a private jet, while keeping the poor and needy at a distance,
◦ doesn’t make anyone a gifted minister, or evangelist, or a true servant of God

Second, the way Josiah is characterized reveals God’s ideal king
– devoting himself to justice and righteousness came to him as naturally as eating and drinking
• not only that, but he judged the cause of the poor and needy
– our court system today makes it difficult for the poor to get the same treatment as the wealthy
• few poor people would know where to begin a legal suit or defense
◦ even fewer have money for a retainer of a good attorney
• lawyers who help the poor pro bono are unsung heroes

The third insight, and this I find shocking, is what God says regarding Josiah
Is not this to know me?
declares the LORD

– there are few evangelical churches where you will hear this
• what you’ll hear, is that if you want to know God you have to study the Bible, attend seminars, go on retreats, and maybe take a course in biblical theology
• what we don’t hear is, “You don’t know God if you’re not doing good for others and adding goodness to the world”
◦ Jesus expects his followers to share a family resemblance with their heavenly Father
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons [and daughters] of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Lk. 6:35-36)
◦ if we’re not this, we don’t know God, regardless of how much we read the Bible

The message in chapter 23 is not only relevant, but much needed

Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”
For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD
to see and to hear his word,
or who has paid attention to his word and listened? Jeremiah 23:16-18
One of my old meditations: “The false prophet smooths his hair with his hand and clears his throat. He tilts his head back and lifts his eyes upward. Then he speaks in a strange voice, as if someone or something were speaking through him. Promises are made–in fact, the very things people want to hear. The message delivered is encouraging. They can go on exploiting others and ignoring the alien, widow, and orphan with God’s blessing. No need to repent or change. Forget what is written in God’s law or what previous prophets have said in God’s name. Enjoy your prosperity and share it with no one. You’ve been blessed.”
– I have tried to warn people about false prophets – to catch them in their failed predictions
• they’re everywhere, but especially among Pentecostals and Charismatic preachers
They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the LORD,’ when the LORD has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word (Eze. 13:6)
◦ isn’t that a great exposé? They invent prophetic predictions, then expect God to fulfill them
• I believe the spiritual gifts Paul mentions are vital
◦ they often come to people in exciting and dynamic encounters
• but more important than the gifts of the Spirit, is the fruit of the Spirit
◦ the fruit comes gradually through the slow growth of lived experience of trials and blessings, failures and successes
◦ in other words, in the normal progress of our spiritual journey

Conclusion: God warned the false prophets that there was nowhere to hide from him
Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD Jeremiah 23:23-24

The false prophets assumed God was far away or absent,
so they could say whatever they wanted and he would not speak up to contradict them
But those same verses are for us today a promise
Slowly draw a deep cleansing breath
Exhale slowly
As you exhale, remind yourself, “The Spirit of God is here, now”

The big idea today, is no matter the situation,
our concern is to find our way to God in it

Oct 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 18-19 – 10/15/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion.                       The Lord is with you!

What do you see? It’s one thing to look at the news to see what’s going on, but is that all there is to really seeing?  If we just see what’s happening today, or we just see what someone else is showing us, we will probably have a response that is incomplete or undeveloped.  Learning how to see as well as what to see is important.  Brian McLaren has a podcast series about this, and he says that  from judgments made unconsciously to complacency in systemic evil, we must learn how we see before we can see well.

The LORD asked Jeremiah several times “What do you see?”   And then God showed him what he saw and how he was going to act.  My thoughts are that well, it’s good to look where you’re stepping (through land mines for example), and we must also have a larger perspective and a higher perspective.  We all carry a worldview, the stories we’ve been told and the stories we tell ourselves.  We see in the world by what we carry in our hearts.

Every way that we work on our personal healing and wholeness, every freedom from addiction, every new perspective, every history lesson, scripture passages, every experience that’s beyond our small, protected life will enlarge our viewing platform, our worldview.  Can you picture what we would see while standing on a 12 x 12 tile on the forest floor and then our view on a large and high platform well above the trees?

The LORD spoke to another prophet named Ezekiel,  “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house.”   Let us not be called a rebellious house, nor so quick to see, that we take an incomplete or immature action. Let’s focus on improving our view and then we’ll see better what to say or do.

Maybe we can take some time this week to let God ask us “What do you see?” and to listen to his view.  Maybe, instead of arguing or trying to convince someone of our viewpoint, we can simply begin with, “How do you see this?” 

Pray with me, will you?

Father, You are the El-Roi, the God who sees.  See us, Lord.  See our predicaments and our prejudices.  Grant us salve to anoint our eyes, that we may see with wisdom and compassion.  Come into our world, both our inner and outer experiences and make us well. Breathe on us; revive us.  Deal with evil that has found its way in us.  For the sake of the Christ.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: We’re going to make two trips to the Pottery Shack this morning

The messages God had for his people required illustration
– there’s an interesting angle to using pottery to reveal a truth
• archaeologists depend on clay pots for vital information regarding ancient cultures
◦ even broken pieces of clay vessels have stories to tell
• excavations dig up more clay artifacts than any other object
◦ clay doesn’t decay over time and can withstand water and heat
– clay fragments provide the most reliable way to date a site
• the clay composition, shape, and exterior decoration,
◦ tell us about the people who made them, and whether they were used for:
◦ cooking, holding oil or water, if they were lamps, or for storage of other things
• of course, God had another story to tell through clay

At the potter’s house Jeremiah learned about shaping clay
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. Jeremiah 18:1-2

God told Jeremiah to go to the potter’s shop, then explained,
– that “there,” in this unlikely place, God would speak to him
• some artists give us impression they see more than we see
◦ we walked the same path but missed what inspired them
◦ artists may not see more than we see, but see differently
◦ they may notice more – we just weren’t paying attention
• prophets were given eyes to see ordinary objects differently
◦ a branch of almond tree, a boiling caldron, a basket of figs
◦ with “vision,” those objects became windows into the mind of God

So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hands, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter Jeremiah 18:3-4
– this is the critical point of the illustration
• “potter” in Hebrew is yatsar – to form, shape, or fashion (what the potter does and what the potter is)
◦ it can refer to potters but also sculptors who made idols
yatsar describes the way God made Adam
then the LORD God formed the man of the dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul (Gen. 2:7)
◦ this is very “hands-on” – very personal
◦ this is essentially what Jeremiah learned at the potter’s house

This same analogy of God as potter appears in Isaiah’s prophecies
. . . thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel . . . .
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made” (Isa. 43:1 and 7)
Thus says the LORD who made you,
who formed you from the womb (Isa. 44:2)
– sometimes the message is negative
Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it,
“What are you making?”
or “Your work has no handles”? (Isa. 45:9)
• this same analogy became the heart of Israel’s hope
But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand. . . .
Behold, please look, we are all your people (Isa. 64:8)
– as Jeremiah watched the potter, the vessel was “spoiled”
• if you’ve ever worked with clay you know it is an easy medium to mess up
◦ the wall of a bowl becomes too thin on one side, lopsided and imbalanced
• the Hebrew word translated “spoiled” also means ruined or corrupted
◦ it is what humankind had done to the world before God destroyed it with flood
– so the potter reworked the clay, making it into something else
as it seemed good to the potter to do
• that’s the exclusive right that potters have over the clay
• it’s their project – it has to conform to their specifications

How the lesson is applied to the nation of Judah
Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping a disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return everyone from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will everyone act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.'” Jeremiah 18:5-12

God has a purpose for everything that exists
– in all creation, the only things that can resist God’s purpose,
• are humans and human institutions (nations, religions, corporations, etc.)
◦ the fate of an enterprise can change at any time
◦ it all depends on whether it’s in line with God’s design
• so this message is a warning for Judah and Jerusalem
◦ in verse 11:
shaping is yatsar again; that is, forming or molding
devising is an extension of the root word plan (I am planning a plan)
◦ there is hope for the the house of Israel, if they turn back
– their response, however is, “It’s hopeless! We have our own plan”

Judah’s resistance to Jeremiah was fortified by a false confidence
Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words” Jeremiah 18:18
Israel’s religion had three primary pillars:
• the law – divine counsel – the word of the LORD
– those pillars were mediated by three sources:
• law by the priests, counsel by the wise, the word by the prophets
– the people were relying on these three pillars
• the problem was they had lost their direct connection with all three
◦ all that remained was the tradition! and it was empty
◦ they had the container, but not the contents
• I’m afraid this describes too many Christians
they have “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (1 Tim. 3:5)
◦ they hang onto the formal trappings,
◦ but they have no contact with the energy of the life of God

Jeremiah has a second field trip in chapter 19
Thus says the LORD, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you. You shall say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. Because the have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the the kings of Judah have known . . . .
“Then you shall break the jar in the sight of the men who go with you, and shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended'” Jeremiah 19:1-4, 10-11

Jeremiah is sent to the potter again, this time to purchase a clay jar
– there is no reshaping a clay pot once it’s been fired
• at the end of this chapter, Jeremiah is sent to temple with a last word
Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy, and he stood in the court of the LORD’s house and said to all the people: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words Jeremiah 19:14-15
• why was this second revelation in pottery necessary?
◦ because time had run out for Judah – the situation had changed
◦ the clay could not be re-shaped – it could only be smashed to pieces

There are at least two ways we can respond these stories

And both ways involve surrender
– that’s the essential message of the potter and clay
• God wants us to embrace his plan
◦ we’re meant to be the soft clay molded by his hands
• but there are two different ways to surrender
– I’m going to use one of my privileges as a senior citizen
• “Back in my day” it was common to be wrestled to ground
◦ or to have your arm twisted behind your back
◦ and to be held in discomfort or pain until you cried, “uncle!”
• that is one way to surrender to God;
◦ that is, to read these chapters and feel backed into a corner
◦ God may accept that from a weak or stubborn person, but it’s not what he wants

The second way to surrender is discover the mystery of it
– that it is not only the fulfillment of my life’s truest purpose,
• but is how God’s presence comes to me in every moment of every day
• I was introduced to this way of surrender, by an 18th century author, Jean-Pierre De Caussade
◦ the translation of his work that I recommend is
The Sacrament of the Present Moment, by Kitty Muggeridge
– the lesson is, God’s will comes to us all the time, everywhere
• if we consciously surrender to him in everything, he works out his will in our lives
◦ to draw us to himself, meet our needs, deepen our spirit,
◦ and use us in exactly the ways we were created to serve him
De Caussade, “The duties of each moment are the shadows beneath which hides the divine operation.”
In other words, we may have no idea of the fullness of what is happening in the present moment. The important work may be going on in our spirit or in the kingdom of God as it surrounds us. That part is hidden from us. So it does not matter that if surrendering to God in any particular moment makes no sense to us.
• God’s kingdom is coming to us in each moment, regardless of our here and now situation
◦ we could be doing our chores, sitting in traffic, or chatting with a neighbor
◦ we could have a headache, be having a bad day, or swatting at a fly
It simply does not matter
our challenge is to surrender, and in surrender turn our hearts and minds toward God

As we consciously surrender to God in everything, we are made more aware of his presence
– we don’t have to see finished product of what we become
• we don’t have to know the purpose of each moment
◦ because it’s not us working out our own great design
◦ it’s simply us being faithful to God and faithful to who we are as his workmanship

Conclusion: God’s complaint all through Jeremiah is that his people do not listen to his voice (e.g., Jer. 18:10)

When do we make time to do this? To listen to God?
This is the essence of contemplative prayer
But God does not hide from us the rest of the day – or week
Our experience of God is not limited to times we set aside for prayer
But encompasses our entire life

Try surrender this week, and see if it opens up a new dimension for you

Oct 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Guest Speaker – 10/08/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community. The Lord is with you!

A few times this week I was in conversation with others—and, honestly, with myself—about the condition of our hearts.  Since Chuck is teaching from Jeremiah, it’s easy to focus on the verse that says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Even if we believe that in Jesus we’ve been given a new heart, we’re distraught that we still have the old one.  And sometimes then we remain in shame, or fear.  Or we might try to cover it up with an acceptable image.

We know the greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  Jesus invites us to bring our whole life and follow him.  So, what does our whole life look like?  Would we go to a doctor and not bring our wounds?  Would we not come to talk about our schedule and plan without bringing an agenda?  Why would we think that we can’t bring our full, sick hearts to the One who created them?  We are not yet fully formed.  We are not yet healed.  And He has the light and love and grace we need.

Here’s the invitation we read in Hebrews,  “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”  This is the way to healing, not to withhold our sickness, but to bring it in to his presence.  Are we ashamed, fearful, or do we just think we don’t need healing?  In all ways we try to deal with our sin without God, we can call it an attempt at sin management. We bring our whole heart, our whole body, our whole mind to God.  We open to His gracious presence.  Remember how Paul prayed about his weakness, and the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”?

Let’s not obsess about getting it right.  Trust God; trust Grace.  May we enjoy his presence this morning.

Let me pray for us:

Gracious God, we desire to be made whole.  We hear your good invitation to come in confidence to your throne of mercy and grace.  Thank you for your presence with us always; we are making space for listening and leaning into what you have for us. This world is in chaos; may our participation in it bring hope and peace.  Prepare us to be the people who come in your name, for your glory, for your kingdom, Lord Jesus. Amen

Guest Speaker: Ed Piorek


Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with all your strength…and love your neighbor as yourself

“The first and most fundamental contribution of the Contemplative Tradition is that it constantly fans the
flames of our ‘First Love’ (Rev. 2:4). Its message is this: ‘Love God with all your heart…love God with all
your heart…love God with all your heart. Without heart-love you have nothing.” Richard Foster)

Love is the purest motivation for solitude, silence and simple prayer.
Love desires intimacy above all other things. (Psalm 27:4)

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 116:1, Jesus’ Prayer.


Contemplation positions us to experience the First Love of God the Father (1 John 4:18)
Love may have felt stirrings in our hearts.

“Trinity inhabits the soul by divinely illuminating its intellect with the wisdom of the Son,
delighting its will in the Holy Spirit, and by absorbing it powerfully and mightily in the delightful
embrace of the Father’s sweetness.” (St John of the Cross)

Love surrounds us even in the silence.

We need to see silence as a living presence of itself…not just an absence, but by that
very fact, a presence.” (Richard Rohr)


All life is meant to be at the same time profoundly contemplative and rich in active work.” (Merton)

Loving with the Father’s Heart of compassion.
Loving others as human beings created in the image of God.

Oct 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 16-17 – 10/01/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to the RefleXion Community.          The Lord is with you!

A couple of times this week I woke up thinking it was Sunday and I should “get ready for church.”  Even in my morning quiet time, I was thinking, “I need to get ready for church.”  Now, I knew it wasn’t Sunday, and I didn’t hear “go to church,” but “get ready for church.”  Wondering why, I had a thought that God might be wanting me to think about “being church.”  Being church…Chuck says that we’re not a church.  And as Christians, we are the church, if that makes sense. We are not a building or a denomination; we don’t have a bishop, a priest, a presbytery, or a children’s ministry.  Nevertheless, the Greek word Ekklesia is found over 100 times in the New Testament.  “In the Christian sense, the church is an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting, or those anywhere who constitute such a company and are united into one body, the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth.”  A body?  Well, a body of a mysterious connection.  What scripture tells us:

When we were called out of darkness – to light, we were given to Jesus, and he is the head of his church, and we are his body.  God has appointed certain people for certain specialties in the body, and we are all needed.  We are a temple of the Holy Spirit.  We are a royal priesthood called to proclaim God’s excellence.  We are a peculiar people, a treasured possession.  They will know us by our love.

One scripture passage blows me away:  Ephesians 3 says that there’s a plan, “a mystery that has been hidden for ages, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” In the heavenly places?   To the angels?  Scottish theologian John Mackay said that “the history of the Christian church becomes a graduate school for angels” (cf. 1 Peter 1:12).  The conduct of the church seems pretty important  if angelic and demonic beings are looking on and God’s intent is to teach them through us.

My primary question though is, if all scripture is written to inspire and lead us to righteousness, then what does an Old Testament prophet like Jeremiah teach us?  Israel was chosen, called out for God’s purposes.  They got off track; God was jealous for them and wooed them back.  I wonder what Jesus thinks of his church.  How did Israel miss their calling?  How are we missing ours?  The plans he has for us in the eternal scheme of things is beyond our comprehension.  Let’s don’t fall short of Jesus’ glorious plan for His church—for us.

Will you pray with me?

O Lord, whose ways are so far beyond our understanding, let us not presume anything, but in all ways depend on You.  You have made us to be a treasure for you, and for the world.  Let the wonder of this truth stir up a deep devotion to You. You are who we want to lead us.  Wherever we are, woo us back to you.  Come and find us and awaken us and remind us of the new covenant of greater glory, to be your special people, a temple for the Holy Spirit.  For the Name of Jesus.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

The word of the LORD came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth Jeremiah 16:1-4

Intro: My senior year in high school, my best friend surprised me

He said, “I don’t think I can justify bringing a child into this world”
– that was something I was still looking forward to enjoying,
• getting married and some day having children
◦ I knew about war and poverty and race riots and assassinations and environmental pollution
• but my outlook was not so bleak as to rule out children
– what God is describing in this passage is just that bleak!
• there was no future for the people of Judah
◦ if they had children now, it would be only for them to die
• God was watching out for Jeremiah,
◦ but he was using Jeremiah’s situation as an illustration

There were more restrictions that God placed on Jeremiah
– he was not to enter a house where people were mourning
• and he was not to enter a house where people were partying
◦ these social engagements were deceptive,
◦ with people behaving as if life was going to go on forever, business as usual
• God uses a poetic expression to emphasize that would not be the case
Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride Jeremiah 16:9
– this is the second time we’ve read these words (see Jer. 7:34)
• and they will be repeated in chapter 25
◦ in a study of Jeremiah, they’re worth remembering
◦ it’s like all the meaningful events of life will be shut down
My Meditation: “What is ‘the voice of mirth?’ It is the sound joy and celebration. It is a way of reminding ourselves, and announcing to the world, that life is not all hardship and sorrow. It is the voice of the human spirit rising above the strain and stress of daily oppression.”
• God gave Jeremiah an answer for when his people would ask, “Why?”
And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, “Why has the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?” then you shall say to them: “Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Jeremiah 16:10-12
◦ Israel’s time had run out

I admit, God telling Jeremiah not to get married bothers me

From creation we were made for each other and family
– if it is not our right to have a spouse and children, it is at least a strong expectation
• but here, whatever Jeremiah might have wanted did not matter
• God is sparing him tragedy and heartache, yes,
◦ but shouldn’t that have been Jeremiah’s choice to make?
– in scripture, this was the fate of God’s prophets
• their lives belonged completely to God — he could intrude whenever he wanted
◦ he could knowingly throw them into harm’s way
• the prophets went where God sent them, said what they were told to say, did what God told them to do
◦ and many of them paid for it with their lives

I think there are a lot of Christians willing to go where God sends
– but who want to take something of their own with them,
• or want to exercise their freedom of choice at times,
◦ or expect to benefit from it in some way
◦ if not materially, then by achieving hero status or respect from their churches back home
• anyway, we can breathe a sigh of relief–we’re not called to be prophets
◦ or can we?
– in The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,
“When Christ calls a [person], he bids [them] come and die.”
• Jesus tells us this truth from the start
If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Mt. 16:24)
◦ Paul reiterated this in 1 Corinthians and Galatians
. . . 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)
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20)
◦ each Christian is a person for whom God is everything
• but we do not live like God is everything to us
◦ I’m reminded of Lot’s compromise with the angel regarding Zoar, “is it not a little one?” (Gen. 19:20)
◦ perhaps we want to hang onto our “little gods,” thinking it’s okay

I don’t believe that the preachers who tell us to give God 100%

Are giving God 100% themselves
– and today I’m not asking whether I can give God everything, perfectly, all the time
• but in my imperfection, can I give myself completely sometimes or in some things?
◦ and do this regularly until it becomes habitual?
– what gets in our way? and how can that be corrected?

(To this point, I haven’t said anything about God’s mercy and grace. I want to mention now so that we don’t feel hopeless over what comes next.)

We have to understand the problem to appreciate the solution
The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, on the mountains in the open country Jeremiah 17:1-3

God takes aim at two critical locations: their hearts and their altars
– we can think of the altars as the heart of the nation
• the key feature of writing the instruments is that their markings are permanent
◦ what’s been engraved is not going to be erased or written over
◦ this permanence of their sins are contrasted with the fate of the people
LORD, you are Israel’s hope;
all who [forsake] you will be put to shame.
They will disappear like names written in the dust,
because they have [forsaken] you, the LORD,
the [fountain] of living water (Jer. 17:13, GNB)
• the heart is the central hub of the body
the altar is the central hub of their connection with God (in worship)
◦ our hearts will always be at an one altar or another,
◦ and there will always be an altar in our hearts
– to “remember” (v. 2) is to be conscious of something–an image or event
• experiences of childhood leave strong and lasting impressions
◦ our lives are shaped by those memories
◦ our parents’ beliefs, commitments, and values
• what their children will remember is not exodus or commandments of God
◦ but their parents’ devotion to pagan gods

God’s message: “You can’t fix this, because your heart is the problem”
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick
who can understand it?
“I the LORD search the heart
and test the mind,
to giver every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds
Jeremiah 17:9-10
We can’t look at a person’s outward appearance and know if their heart is healthy
• we have to look inside – there are instruments to do that
• but no one can see into the mental or spiritual heart of another
◦ this is a domain that only God can search
◦ this is where God wants us to allow him to do his work
(Later on, when God introduces the new covenant, he will again make mention of writing something in the hearts of his people, only then it will be something righteous and good.)

Can I find a time and place where God is everything to me?

I’m going to read verses 21-22 from The Message Bible
“This is God’s Message. Be careful, if you care about your lives, not to desecrate the Sabbath by turning it into just another workday, lugging stuff here and there. Don’t use the Sabbath to do business as usual. Keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors. . . . Quit desecrating the Sabbath by busily going about your own work.”
– I read through The Message Bible in 2006, and this passage took hold of me
• the word Sabbath does not mean seventh day or Saturday
• it was applied to the seventh day, because that’s the day when God rested after the six days of creation
◦ Sabbath is a time when normal activities are suspended
Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy . . . . the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well (De. 5:12-14)
– it’s not the kind of rest and relaxation that we experience on vacation or when taking a nap
• in the book of Hebrews, the meaning of Sabbath is expanded
◦ it becomes a state of resting with God in the work he has done in our lives
◦ it’s an open space of peacefulness all the time — so we can experience it anytime
• the risk for us is that if it’s not on our calendar, we’ll never get around to keeping it
◦ we need to schedule a regular Sabbath rest and stick to it until it becomes our automatic response to God

The best way I know of keeping Sabbath is in contemplative prayer
– instead of us doing all the talking, we sit in stillness to listen
• it is a moment that we totally surrender to God
◦ this is how The Message spoke to me where it says we are to stop lugging stuff around
◦ the Sabbath space is sacred, but sometimes I lug some of my outside concerns into it
• we cannot allow our normal, daily concerns to intrude
◦ it can’t be business as usual, whether stressful or enjoyable
◦ in contemplative prayer we observe an hour, half-hour, or fifteen minutes of reverence
– whether we know it or not, or feel it or not, God is present
• and through his Spirit he is ministering to us
• in that moment of surrender, we’re everything he wants us to be

Conclusion: One more important thought: Trust is crucial

Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD
Jeremiah 17:5 & 7
Once you’ve made a habit of resting in God’s presence,
it comes back to you spontaneously, sometimes when most needed
With a slow deep breath you become able to quickly clear your mind and find peace
Whatever was going on within you–worry, anger, frustration, nervousness–
was not going to solve the problem facing you
So to relax into a space where God is everything,
is to find the freedom of his closeness and fellowship
This is a wonderful benefit of prayerful resting in God,
not only is he there when you need him,
but he accepts you as you are–then and there