Skip to content
Mar 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 28, 2021

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

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

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

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

The conflict is primarily a war of words

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

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

This brings us to my final talk on the sacred writings

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

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

My all-time favorite teacher taught English classes

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

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

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

When we read sacred writings through Jesus, two things happen

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

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

Conclusion: Will you consider reading sacred writings every day?

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

Feb 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 21, 2021

Podcast

Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We learn from this parable how to receive the sacred writings

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

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

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

After reading the sacred writings, DO something

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

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

Conclusion: Charles Spurgeon described reading scripture with two images

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

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

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

Feb 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 14, 2021

Podcast

Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Think about this . . .

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

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

Feb 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 7, 2021

Podcast

Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The societies of humankind do not spring up from the earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 31, 2021

Podcast

Video

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot hear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:12-15

Intro: Three weeks ago I said we read sacred writings with reverence
– since then, have you noticed more opportunities to experience reverence?
• every day brings us a sacred gift – it comes to us on tip-toe
◦ in our busy days, it is too easy to miss
◦ however, if we monitor our inner radar, we’ll hear a ping and find the blip

Gerald May referred to the reverence we feel in sacred events “unitive experiences,” because we feel united to whatever evokes the experience–for instance, we feel may feel united to nature, to nature’s beauty, and to nature’s God. May said, “Spiritual longing often takes the form of a desire to re-unite with the ultimate source of being, as if we know vaguely that at some primeval level we are in and of God, and God is in and through us.”
“In true unitive experience the senses are wide open; the world presents itself with utter clarity, but there is no sense of separation of oneself from it. . . . Unitive experiences often occur spontaneously, and often outside of obviously religious contexts. . . . It is possible to increase one’s openness, receptivity, and responsiveness to unitive experiences, but it is not possible to make them happen.”

• these opportunities are so many and so close,
◦ that it’s nothing less than tragic to go through life without enjoying them
– reading the sacred writings of our faith has the potential to wake us up
• but there’s a condition, and that is:
We must read the sacred writings with the Holy Spirit
• Jesus referred to the Spirit as a Comforter (Helper or Counselor)
◦ here he is, the Spirit of truth, who would take over Jesus’ role
◦ whatever questions the disciples would have asked Jesus regarding the Scriptures, the Spirit could answer, for
he will guide you into all the truth

The New Testament leaves no doubt; the Spirit inspired the Scriptures

Jesus’ followers could quote from Psalm 2 as words that God gave
through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:25–cf. Acts 1:16; Mt. 22:43)
– in our study in Hebrews, we saw how the Spirit spoke through scripture Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice . . .” (Heb. 3:7)
• we began this study in 2 Timothy 3, where we read that Timothy had been
acquainted with the sacred writings, and that
All Scripture is breathed out by God
• that is not a direct reference to the Spirit
◦ but the Spirit of God is the breath of God
◦ and associated with God’s word in Hebrew Scriptures
– to take the Scriptures as sacred writings,
• we must know they have come from God through his Spirit
The prophet Zechariah refers to
the words that the LORD of hosts had sent to them by his Spirit through the former prophets (Zec. 1:12)
Walther Eichrodt, in his Theology of the Old Testament says, we observe that “the linking of the Word with the Spirit of God . . . preserved its living dynamic, and kept it from petrifying in an impersonal world order.”
“The process . . . by which inspiration, the control of history, and creation were all included in the activity of the Word, made it inevitable that statements about the Word should in many cases overlap with those about the Spirit.”
• that link of Spirit and word was personified and fully realized in Jesus

The past three centuries saw much work invested proving the reliability of the Bible
– proving its historical, archeological, textual, and scientific integrity
• at end of the day, all that has accomplished,
◦ has been to convince Christians of what they already believed
• it has not convinced or changed the minds of unbelievers
– when we read scripture as sacred writings, we don’t need convincing
• first, because to accept them as sacred writings is a choice – an act of faith
• second, immersing ourselves in sacred writings discover their reliability
◦ this encourages us to return to it repeatedly and frequently
◦ if we do not read the Bible as sacred writings, it won’t work its life into us

My friend Fr. Romuald was asked to lead a Franciscan/Benedictine forum
– he began his talk with the question:
“If you say the Scriptures are inspired, what do you mean?”
Fr. Romuald explained, “The modern answer is that inspiration probably happened by accident when somebody got the Bible as we know it into writing. Then the Spirit died. So now it’s the problem of Christians to grunt out some meaning from this whole plethora of words–which is a horrible way to think about inspiration, but it’s a common way.”
• “literary theory” is the attempt to discover a science of interpretation
◦ known as hermeneutics, it is more philosophy than science
◦ anyway, today there are many different theories of interpretation
• all of them share in common some kind of rational approach
◦ by looking at a text through a magnifying glass and then dissecting it
– I know there is solid ground for all kinds of biblical research
• but there tends to be a couple of missing pieces to this process
• one piece is the naive realism: reading the Scriptures as sacred writings
◦ what about the other piece?

Fr. Romuald reminded the participants of the Christian tradition

Fr. Romuald, “Since God transcends time, he inspires the Scriptures (present tense) and will always inspire them. The only way you could read them today would be with the Holy Spirit in-spiring (breathing into them). Inspiration applies not only to the initial writings, but to the constantly ongoing reading of scripture in every community and every individual.”
– the Spirit of God works at both ends of the sacred writings
• he works at the front end, inspiring the various writers
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21)
• and he works at our end
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God (1 Cor. 2:12)
Jonathan Pennington, “An active reader listening to the text of Holy Scripture with a right posture is inevitably and rightly already applying the text to himself or herself, at least at the heart level of asking probing questions. This is the Spirit’s work; the sense of conviction and openness to be convicted, corrected, guided, and consoled are Spirit-wrought applications of the text even while the reader is in the midst of identifying the climax of tension [in a story] or considering doctrinal points of revelation.”

I find Paul’s teaching regarding the work of God’s Spirit in us fascinating
– he contrasts two classes of wisdom:
wisdom of the world, which is also the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 1:20; 2:5)
the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:21, 24; 2:7)
. . . the world did not know God through wisdom . . . . But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory (1 Cor. 1:21)
◦ what this means, is that
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14)
◦ there are things of God no eye has seen, nor ear heard
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God (I Cor. 2:9-10)
– God’s Spirit works in us, to open our hearts and minds to God
Helmut Thielicke, “The Word opened up by the Spirit does things rather than just imparting [information].”
• God’s Spirit gives us eyes to see and ears to hear

I imagine the sacred writings to be like a candle and the Spirit like a flame
– if you have only the wax candle,
• you do not have the light you need to see what’s in text
◦ then the Bible is foreign, irrelevant, and impossible to grasp
Regarding Paul’s letters, Peter wrote, There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16)
• if we have only the flame, it burns out of control
◦ so you find people trying to harness its power
(this is the theme of “The Book of Eli,” if you’ve seen that film)
◦ that is what results in false prophecies and counterfeit miracles
– the Spirit is greater than I am, he knows more than I, and he is in control
• through the sacred writings, the Spirit interprets me
◦ he helps me to see myself as I am – reveals what I need
◦ and he sends me in the right direction with my life
Helmut Thielicke, “This is a truth we cannot control . . . . It is a truth which leads me to being in truth and which thus transforms me. This transforming character of truth is what is brought to light by the active Word that mediates it. This Word is plainly the instrument of the miracle of the Spirit, bringing new birth and the new creation of the spiritual man [and woman].”

Okay, let’s pause and draw a slow, deep breath
– when we open our hearts and minds to God,
• and are mindful of the sacredness of scripture,
• then begin reading it, the Spirit of God is with us, around and in us
◦ he is God’s voice, speaking to us through what we read
◦ he awakens us to the life he gives to the words before us
– how can I know that it is God who is speaking to me?
• I will suggest only one simple test: Is the voice I hear loving?
◦ if it seems like God is uncaring, angry, or condemning,
◦ I am most likely hearing another person’s voice
(e.g., an angry parent, a severe nun, or Bible-thumping preacher)
◦ then I need to listen again for God’s voice
• even when I need scolding, God is compassionate and forgiving

Conclusion: Let me leave you with this:

We never have to somehow conjure God’s Spirit
– we don’t have to pray, “Come, Holy Spirit,” because he is already here
• he came to the church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-36)
• what we do today is receive the Spirit
(Jn. 20:22; Acts 1:8; 2:38; 8:15; 19:2; Ro. 8:15; Gal. 3:2 & 4)
– we open our Bible as if opening the door to the sanctuary
• we stand at the threshold and become mindful of the Spirit
◦ then we enter the sacred writings
◦ and as God breathes out his Word by his Spirit, we breathe it in

Paul told the Ephesians,
Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit (Ep. 5:18)
The implication is, that if we can get ourselves drunk,
we can also get ourselves filled with the Spirit
All we have to do is ask
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? (Lk. 11:13)
You have a divine Helper
Rely on Jesus and on his Spirit
who you receive from Jesus
and who you is a fountain of living water

Jan 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 24, 2021

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:21-27

Intro: Even if you grew up in church, bet your experience wasn’t as weird as mine. From the time I could read, I competed in “sword drills.” I will explain. We sat in our “Sunday school” class with Bibles on our laps. The adult leading the sword drill would tell us a book in the Bible, a chapter of that book, and a the number of a specific verse, such as Matthew 5:8. Then our leader would say, “Ready. Present arms (which meant we would hold up our Bibles in one hand, with the binding toward us). Charge!” We would then furiously hunt for the verse, and the first person to find it would jump up and read it aloud. Points were awarded to those who were the quickest in locating the verses.

Of course the swords we drew were our Bibles, because
the word of God is living and and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, and
take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Heb. 4:12; Ep. 6:17)
– although the meaning of scripture being a weapon is spiritual,
• in our religious subculture, it also meant being armed to win arguments
◦ perhaps that’s one reason why fundamentalists like such big Bibles
Joel Green describes preachers and teachers who spruce up the Bible,
for whom “the Bible serves, for example, as a book of quotations from which to draw authoritative support for one’s words, as a collection of proverbs for backing up moral convictions, or perhaps a treasure chest of discussion starters for group interaction . . . Interest in this sort of application is often articulated in terms of a baseline assumption that the Bible is a resource book for life in this world—a kind of ‘owner’s manual,’ indexed for troubleshooting when life goes wrong. In these churchly contexts, the words of the Bible may be visible, but it cannot be said that these are churches where the Bible is engaged as Christian Scripture.”
– modern metaphors for the bible include:
A Road Map
A Handbook for Living
A Love Story
A Survival Guide for the End Times
• biblical metaphors for God’s word include:
A sword
A lamp (Psa. 119:105)
Fire (Jer. 23:29)
Food (Job 23:12; Jer.15:16)
A hammer (Jer. 23:29)
A Seed (Mk. 4:14; 1 Pet. 1:22).

James uses the metaphor of a mirror for God’s word

The one who looks into it intently and perseveres, lives it, and is blessed
– in verses 26-27 James gives us an example
• this person doesn’t benefit from looking into the mirror of God’s word
If anyone thinks he is religious
◦ but he is not changed by what he sees, so he
deceives his heart, and this person’s religion is worthless
• James also tells us what pure and undefiled religion looks like
to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world
Hans von Balthasar, “It may be, indeed it is bound to follow, that as man reflects on what God says to him, the human being, the ‘I’, the self becomes visible, attains reality. Not, however, through reflecting on himself, but by listening to God’s word. For it is in the mirror of God’s word that man sees who he is.”
– the primary purpose of the Scriptures is to reveal God to us
• but they also reveal to us who and what we are
• what does Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount do? or his parables?
◦ they open our eyes to ourselves
◦ what is right and what is wrong; what we have and what is lacking

It is popular today to talk about “transformational leadership”

Or to refer to a ministry as “transformative”
– transformation is a big word – it refers to deep change
• we make superficial changes, and think it’s a big deal
◦ we stop cussing, stop watching R-rated movies, start going to church
◦ but still we stop short of being transformed
• perhaps it would help to paint picture of what I mean

One day a woman tells here husband that she’s done. She has filed for divorce. He immediately reacts as he has done in every previous crisis. He promises that he will change. He will leave love notes for her, call her from work to tell her how much she means to him, bring flowers on his way home, plan special “date nights,” and all of the other things he can think of that she has ever mentioned to him “would be nice.” For years she has tried to get him to see that that she needs to know she is important to him.
In spite of his promising, begging, threatening, and best efforts to persuade her not to leave him, she refuses to listen. She tells him she doesn’t want flowers and phone calls. If from now on he did everything for her that she had ever asked, it would no difference. It is no longer his ongoing behavior she does not want–it is him.
When they married, she thought he was something else, or that he would one day become something else. Now she realizes he will never be that person, and she no longer wants to be with the person he is. And all of his superficial changes cannot make him the person she wished for when she married him.

This is what I mean by “deep change” — changing who I am
– deep change affects the very things that define us
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17)
• listen to what Jesus says,
On that many will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt. 7:22-23)
◦ as spiritually mighty as these deeds may sound,
◦ they do not describe the kind of persons Jesus knows
• or listen to Paul,
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
◦ external behavior, even good habits or significant sacrifices,
◦ cannot substitute for a transformed heart and mind
– OKAY, please do not feel overwhelmed or defeated
• it’s just that we need to think about transformation honestly
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Ro. 12:2–the word translated testing appears in 2 Cor. 13:5, where Paul says, examine yourselves)
◦ we have heard this many times,
◦ but we’ve dodged how tough it really is to accept
• the transformation needs to occur in areas entrenched deep within us
◦ it’s in these areas we discover how hard-hearted and stiff-necked we are
◦ we have to let the sacred writings reach into these deep areas
Jonathan Pennington, “. . . when we move from talking about just any text to dealing with the Holy Scripture, the stakes are raised because ultimately to read the Bible is to hear the Word of God, to discern what God is saying to us. Bible reading is not just informative, but it must be transformative; otherwise its meaning is not truly understood.”

What are those deep areas that need to change?

God offers us a new heart and new spirit (Ezek. 36:26)
– so transformation occurs in what we hold in these areas of ourselves
• Paul says we’re transformed by the renewal of our minds
• do you suppose that covers only our conscious thoughts?
◦ or does it include what lies in our unconscious?
– we need to begin somewhere
Kathleen McAlpin, in her book, Ministry that Transforms, says, “For adults to grow they need to interpret their personal experiences and life situation in new ways and to become free to engage in a process of transformation. Expectations gained from past experiences govern how adults comprehend new realities. Adults develop habits around expectations that strongly influence their perceptions. From these expectations they maintain certain perspectives that give meaning to their reality. It is necessary to be aware of these expectations and to be able to appreciate and to comprehend new experiences from fresh perspectives to learn.”
“Critically examining our interpretations, particularly emotional reactions of shock or surprise, and the perspectives they express is the major imperative of modern adulthood.”
• there are many things I take for granted,
◦ things I accept exactly as they are–without question
◦ the poverty of other people and my own affluence
◦ that because I’m a Christian I’m going to heaven
and because others who are not Christians are not going to heaven

So what else are we talking about?
– if my prejudicial judgments are not changed, I am not transformed
• we have to be open to questioning our cherished beliefs and dogmatic convictions
◦ Peter was so sure of his beliefs that he rebuked Jesus (Mt. 16:22)
◦ John the Baptist was so certain that he knew what the Messiah would do, he doubted Jesus (Mt. 11:2-6)
• we must examine our unconscious assumptions, likes and dislikes, values
◦ our perspective, passions, and paradigms
◦ our loyalties, what we have loved and what we have hated
– it’s not that we have to get rid of everything,
• but all of it has to pass through the fire

Sacred writings require us to read with self-reflection

Barb and I have mirrors in our bathroom and a mirror in our bedroom
– when I want to feel good about myself, I look at the mirror in our bedroom
• the light is dim and the mirror is across the room, so I look okay
– when I want to see the truth about myself, I look at the other mirror
• the light is bright and the mirror is close up
◦ suddenly I’m in a Stephen King movie and there’s a monster in my mirror

We need to engage in scripture in a way that results in transformation
– this means to come to the Bible with complete openness
• we bring our deep issues to the surface
◦ out doubts, but also everything we think we know for certain
• then we allow God to speak to us about those things
◦ that is the role that our sacred writings play in our transformation
– we let them speak to what we know needs changing, but also what we don’t know needs changing
• in the book of Hebrews we learned the word of God is living and active–
and it discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart – it cuts into us
◦ so as you read, notice what gets to you, upsets your or forces you to think
◦ it may be that is the word you need to hear for deep change to occur
Joel Green, “[We] bring with us always and everywhere ourselves—our presuppositions and histories, our stories. And these presuppositions enable our understanding, as well as disable it.”
“Self consciously bringing ourselves with us to the work of reading Scripture comes with its advantages. It helps us come clean with our commitments and concerns, the interests that shape our reading of these texts, helping us approach our interpretive work more honestly.”
“We come to Scripture again and again, in humility, not only with our questions but with an openness to its questions—open to the possibility that this text will speak a word over against us . . . .”
• I have experienced this many times
◦ God has revealed to me my blind spots – he calls me out
◦ he confronts and exhorts us, but also comforts and encourages us
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Ro. 15:4)
• sacred writings enable us stop lying to ourselves
◦ and that is often the breakthrough that leads to transformation

Conclusion: We do not need to be afraid of being examined by scripture

Our sacred writings know us better than we know ourselves
– our reading is self-reflective we we can confidently pray,
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psa. 139:23-24)
– all the same, we don’t have to pretend transformation is easy or painless
• but we must realize there are powerful resources to assist us
◦ we will see in coming weeks that we have lots of help!
• and we need to remember this is a process; it doesn’t happen in a flash

Helmut Thielicke, “Since my present state no longer stands between God and me, since the Mediator has filled the gap, I can know myself quite freely . . . Self-knowledge is no longer dangerous; I need not repress it. I do not have to fall into illusions about myself. I no longer need the darkness. Hence the gospel gives me knowledge of myself with a final depth that the law could never achieve. From the safety of the shore of deliverance on which I am set by grace, I can observe the elements which still rage in me but which can no longer drag me back under, and whose power over me is broken.”

What the sacred writings transform in us, Jesus has already redeemed
For all eternity we will be grateful for his work in us,
because what he works in us,
enables us to achieve exactly what we want,
and that is,
for each one of us to become a good person

Jan 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 17, 2021

Podcast

Video

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

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

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

We need to be familiar with a few ground rules

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

Another lesson we need to keep in mind

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

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

When reading the sacred writings, we want to be receptive

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

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

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

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

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

When reading the sacred writings, we want to be responsive

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

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

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

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


Jan 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 10, 2021

Podcast

Video

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

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

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

In the Isaiah passage, God answers an intriguing question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many people have yet to rediscover reverence

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

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

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

I do not believe we can make ourselves feel reverence

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

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

Conclusion: In the sacred writings we encounter God

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

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

Jan 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 3, 2021

Podcast

Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our sacred writings are a gift

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

I always feel clumsy when trying to explain meaning of sacred

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

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

How are we supposed to read sacred writings?

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

Conclusion: For now I will offer a few suggestions

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 27, 2020

Podcast

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

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

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

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

Mark immediately rushes us into the ministry of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few days later, Jesus was again by the lakeshore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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