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Feb 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 16, 2020

This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten. Leviticus 11:46-47

Intro: This paragraph summarizes the contents of chapter 11

We will skim through the details of this chapter,
– but first, we want to mark the key words: “to make a distinction”
• our ability to distinguish one thing from another is serious business
◦ in the extreme, it can be difference between life and death
◦ for instance, when picking berries for a pie, it’s best to know which ones are wholesome and which ones are poison
• chapter 11 has to do with making distinctions

A brief outline of the chapter

It may be a mixed blessing that,
– we come to this chapter during a critical stage in the Coronavirus
• we understand why it is important to regard it with serious caution
◦ this chapter is about contamination,
◦ its contagion, prevention, and decontamination
• the nature of contamination in Leviticus was like a virus,
◦ but it was not a virus in the clinical way we understand the term

“Unclean” animals that were not to be eaten:
– first, those that were clean and unclean among land animals (vv. 3-8)
• the criteria for the clean: cloven-footed and chews the cud
• “unclean” applies to any others that did not fit the in first category
– secondly, the clean and unclean water animals (vv. 9-12)
• criteria for clean: everything that has fins and scales
• “unclean” were any others that did not fit the first category
– third, the clean and unclean “things that fly” (vv. 13-10)
• no criteria is given
• instead, what is given is a list of the birds that were taboo
– fourth, insects (vv. 20-23)
• all insects were unclean, with one exception
◦ those that matched the criteria for locusts, grasshoppers and crickets

The carcasses and any remains of dead animals were unclean
– verses 24-28, the carcasses of unclean animals could be touched
• it was only dead animals that transmitted uncleanness
◦ otherwise camels could be ridden and donkeys could pull carts
• the carcasses of clean animals were unclean if they died naturally

Swarming things – that is, those that “crawl” or “proliferate”
– verses 29-32, rodents and reptiles

Instructions for decontamination (vv. 33-45)
– objects: anything made of wood, cloth, hide, or animal hair
• could be cleansed by immersing in water
• earthenware pots and so on, had to be broken
– people: the contamination only lasts until evening
• in some cases, person would have to bathe themselves
• then they would become clean at sundown

The motive behind these dietary and contact instructions
Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (vv. 44-45)
– their destiny was to belong to God
• to realize that destiny, they had to be like him
• notice that the animals that were acceptable for sacrifice,
◦ were the same that were acceptable for consumption
◦ it was like God’s people shared his diet
Everett Fox, “After ten chapters devoted mainly to [sacrificial] rules, we move from the priestly altar to everyone’s table.”
Mary Douglas, “The animal taken into the body by eating corresponds to that which is offered on the altar by fire; what is disallowed for the one is disallowed for the other; what harms the one harms the other.”

Certain ideas and concepts in this chapter are challenging for us

Why would God create animals he detested?
– short answer: he didn’t
• Gen. 1:20-25 details creation of all these animals and insects
◦ and uses many of the same words: swarm, creeps, proliferates
◦ and in each instance, God saw that it was good
• “detest” does not refer to an attitude or a feeling
◦ it was how animals were to be treated in specific contexts

As far as something placed on God’s altar or their dining room tables, unclean animals were to be considered as grossly out of place. The familiar idiom, “pig in the parlor” captures this idea well. When most every home had a parlor, it was reserved for hosting dignified or important guests. Pigs belonged in muddy pig pens, not the parlor.
Think about it, if you were an animal in Israel, would you rather be in the clean category or unclean? Those in the clean were eligible to be either sacrificed or eaten. Those in the unclean category could not be touched and their carcasses could not be used for anything.
Mary Douglas, “The rule of not touching the corpse makes the skins useless for fur coats or fur blankets, no leather waistcoats or bags, no shoe leather or wine-skins. Their bones and teeth cannot be carved for combs, buttons, containers, dice, jewelry, utensils. Their gut cannot be used for stringed instruments nor their stomachs or bladders for bags, or their sinews for sewing. . . . To be classified unclean ought to be an advantage for the survival of the species.”

The most difficult challenge for us:
– comprehending the terms “clean” and “unclean”
• nothing is said here about the health benefits of this diet
◦ it may be we know something of its benefits today,
◦ but what we know now, was of no value to them then
• we can also cross off the list any thought of hygiene
◦ they knew nothing of bacteria or germs
– Moses never explains the meaning of clean and unclean
• so we must assume his audience understood
◦ it had to do with their worldview
◦ how they understood the natural overlapped with the supernatural
• perhaps it is most helpful if we think of clean and unclean as metaphors
◦ they represent something that is both physical and metaphysical
◦ unclean is a condition of contamination that is contagious
– there is no mention of sacrifice in this chapter
• no sin has been committed
◦ the unclean condition is only a problem if the person has contact with something holy
. . . the person who eats of the flesh of the sacrifice of the LORD’s peace offerings while an uncleanness is on him, that person shall be cut off from his people (Lev. 7:20)
• take note:
purification removes something from a person (uncleanness or iniquity)
sanctification adds something to a person (holiness)

Conclusion: Yesterday I spent several hours with a small group of Christian psychiatrists
(No, it wasn’t so they could figure out what’s wrong with me)

We are fortunate to have people like these brilliant men and women in our corner
– the majority of them were young
• maybe half of those present work with children and adolescents
◦ they said many of their clients have no sense of identity
◦ even those who were intelligent and successful
• Leviticus chapter 11 has something to say about this
◦ in verses 44-45, God tells Israel who they are,
that they are his people and they are to be like him
◦ and to help them remember, he establishes boundaries
– that is why I say the primary theme of this chapter is making a distinction
• this message occurs all through Leviticus (see for instance, Lev. 20:24-26)

You cannot know who you are without boundaries
– borders define identity
(our skin, for example, is a border that defines the space our bodies occupy, separating and distinguishing ourselves from others)
• borders indicate clearly who is inside the circle and who is outside
◦ in Israel, a line was drawn between those in covenant with God, and everyone else
• this boundary extended to animal kingdom,
◦ what they presented to God on his altar and consumed themselves
– personal boundaries are mostly invisible
• making them visible is like putting up a fence along a property line
◦ my boundaries remind me where I belong and don’t belong
◦ boundaries remind me who I am
• when God says, You shall not make yourself detestable,
◦ he is reminding Israel of who they are not
◦ if you know who you are, you know your boundaries

People who don’t know who they are tend to travel in one of two directions
1. nowhere, because they have no sense of belonging anywhere or of being safe anywhere
2. everywhere, they are “all over the place” and do anything, because they do not know what’s appropriate to them as unique persons

Making distinctions–separating light from dark, the seas from the dry land–is how God turned the original chaos into an ordered universe (Gen. 1:3-10)
• and it is how he organizes the lives of his people
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33)
• only now, God works from the inside out rather than outside in
◦ not so much by shaping us through rules and restrictions
◦ but by transforming us into the persons he wants us to be
– verse 43, goes beyond the uncleanness of animals — God says,
You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them
• you see, if we do not know who we are,
◦ we do not know what is off limits
• and when we do what is off limits, we defile ourselves
◦ we make ourselves something we’re not suppose to be
◦ we betray ourselves — the true self, made in God’s image

The message that comes to us from Leviticus 11 is this:
know God
know yourself
know your sport
know which team you’re on
and know what position you play
then follow the rules of the game

Feb 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 9, 2020

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take Aaron and his sons with him, and the garments and the anointing oil and the bull of the sin offering and the two rams and the basket of unleavened bread. And assemble all the congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” Leviticus 8:1-3

Intro: Let me go over again why we are in Leviticus

The gospels tell us the story of Jesus within the frame his own lifetime
– this includes his teaching, deeds, and his crucifixion and resurrection
• the rest of the New Testament reveals the meaning of his earthly life
– Hebrews is different; it reveals Jesus as he is in himself
• this is to say, Jesus’ heavenly life — it’s as if we see him in his glory
◦ as he appeared to the three disciples when he was transfigured
Even though we once [knew] Christ according to the flesh, we know him thus no longer (2 Cor. 5:16)
◦ in this new way of seeing Jesus, we know him in his fullness
• but to understand the Book of Hebrews, we need to know the Old Testament
◦ the one book with which we are the least familiar is Leviticus
◦ yet it plays an important role in Hebrews

Chapters 8-10 tell a story

There are only two stories in Leviticus and we fly through them quickly
– the rest of the book is rules, regulations, procedures, and protocols
Mary Douglas wrote, that when the two stories are “finished no further interpretation is provided. The sequence of laws seems to continue as if there had been no interruption.”
• it’s as if the legal code swallows up the narratives and they disappear
– here, in these chapters, we find a setting, plot, characters, and atmosphere
• the story has a beginning, a middle, and an end
◦ there is also a tense moment of suspense
• but we will soon come to all of that

God’s sanctuary, the tent of meeting, is set up and ready for service

But first it had to be made fit for God – this is no ordinary tent
– it must be made to transcend its status as a material structure
• to become God’s dwelling, it must be made ethereal, holy
• and then it has to be staffed by priests, who were also made holy
– all the people of Israel were invited – now gathered near the entrance
• Moses explained,
This is the thing that the LORD has commanded to be done (v. 5)
◦ but instead of telling them what God commanded, he went to work
• Aaron and his two oldest sons would be the first priests
◦ they had to be bathed
◦ then dressed in the sacred garments, item by item

The next stage of preparation was the anointing
– oil was poured and sprinkled
• first on the tent, its furnishings, and on the altar
• then Aaron was anointed (oil was poured over his head)
◦ this was to “consecrate” or more properly “sanctify”
◦ to make them holy, which means they and the sanctuary belong to
God exclusively
– then sacrifices were made
• the blood was used to purify the altar (smeared on its “horns”)
◦ some was also used to purify and ordain Aaron and his sons
• it was dabbed on the right ear, thumb of the right hand, and big toe of
the right foot
◦ starting at top, with the ear (meaning: to hear and respond)
◦ then the extremities, symbolizing
the sacred work they did with their hands
and their movements at the altar and in the sanctuary
The blood decontaminates and the oil consecrates

The whole time required for the ritual was seven days
– during this time, the priests were sequestered in God’s tent

Chapter 9 begins, “On the eight day”

The ritual of purification continues and moves outward to the whole community
– the ceremony of installation of the tent and the ordination of priests,
• would reach its climax with a big even
“. . . today the LORD will appear to you.” And they brought what Moses commanded in front of the tent of meeting, and all the congregation drew near and stood before the LORD. And Moses said, “This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.” (Lev. 9:4-6)
• note, all the congregation drew near
◦ this word appears dozens of times in Leviticus
(they drew near, not just to sanctuary or the altar, but to God)
◦ I mention this, because drawing near is a key theme in Hebrews
– after sacrifice had been made for people, Aaron blessed them
• Moses and Aaron entered the sanctuary to complete the ritual
◦ then emerged and together blessed the people again
• that was the moment God revealed his glory
And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and when they came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burn offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces (Lev. 9:23-24)

As spectacular as this is, I always struggle through these chapters

We have to slog through the death and dismemberment of animals,
– the manipulation of the parts that were burned on the altar,
• and the pouring, smearing and sprinkling of blood here and there
• I ask myself, What relevance does this have for us?
◦ how does it speak God’s answers to our questions?
◦ how does it address our fears and sorrows
◦ how does it help us become better people?
better spouses, parents, neighbors?
– when we come to passages like this, we must change perspectives
• sometimes our perspective is shaped by how the scriptures are relevant to our lives
◦ and other times our perspective is shaped by how the Scripture orient our lives to God so that we are relevant to him
◦ we may have to dig, search, and meditate to find this second perspective, but the answers will be there

I wish the story ended with chapter 9

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace (Lev. 10:1-3)

The entire process of the previous seven days was meant to draw a line
– it ran between what belonged to God,
• and what belonged to the people and their everyday world
◦ Nadab and Abihu stepped over that boundary
• they brought something outside the realm of holiness into it
– we’re bewildered at the abruptness and severity of God’s action
• warning sings are posted for a reason,
◦ like those around a high voltage substation
◦ if you disregard them, you do not get a second chance
• Nadab and Abihu did not take God’s holiness seriously enough
◦ perhaps it wasn’t clear to them that they were crossing a line

What motivated or inspired them to do this?
– they may have been caught up in excitement of the moment
• eager to jump in and participate
• sometime afterward, God has a conversation with Aaron
And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.” (Lev. 10:8-11)
◦ this does not mean Aaron’s sons had been drinking
◦ it’s a warning against anything that could blur the lines
– there is a religious enthusiasm that creates illusions
• illusions of deep feelings of love for God or of inspiration
◦ no doubt, what Aaron’s sons felt seemed genuine
◦ but it was wrong to surrender themselves to that feeling
• our emotions can be moved by worship
◦ but we don’t want to mistake our emotions for God’s work in us
◦ so it is, that in the most gruesome part of the story,
its relevance to us becomes obvious

Conclusion: I was going to wrap this up with a word about reverence

That holiness can be terrifying, the sacred can be scary
– this is the reason the Bible uses the word “fear” for reverence
• that feeling awe and distance in worship, is as important as feeling love and closeness to God
– but I think there’s an ending to the story that we’ll find more helpful
• Aaron and his surviving sons were not allowed to mourn
◦ it seems harsh, but the protocol was precise and rigid
• later, Moses learned one of the offerings had been burned up
◦ furious, Moses took to task Aaron’s sons

Aaron was delicate in his response to Moses
And Aaron said to Moses, “Behold, today they have offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD, and yet such things as these have happened to me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would the LORD have approved?” And when Moses heard that, he approved. (Lev. 10::19-20)
– he tip-toed around the tragedy, not mentioning it by name
• “approve” translates the Hebrew word, yah-tav, “to do well”
◦ Aaron knew God would understand — that he would pardon them for not eating when they did not feel like eating
◦ Moses approved, yah-tav – he took Aaron’s response well
he could see the good in it

God is holy–and God is love
Within the circumference of these two truths,
we know we can trust his faithful integrity
and his unfailing compassion
He accommodates our weaknesses and imperfection
making up for them by his grace
In his love and kindness
God accepts our service, such as it is
He is our loving Father in heaven

Feb 3 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 2, 2020


The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.
“If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.'”
Leviticus 1:1-4

Intro: For some time I’ve wanted to walk us through the Book of Hebrews

When we come to it, you will discover why it is so extraordinary
– but the same reasons that make it extraordinary,
• also make it difficult to comprehend
• it’s content, style and logic are sometimes difficult for us to follow
– Hebrews is built on stories and symbols from the Hebrew Scriptures
• we need to be familiar with that background to grasp its message
• so we are going to spend the next three weeks in Leviticus
◦ if we were in junior high school, I’d hear a lot of groans right now
◦ but we’re adults – so we’re silently planning to be somewhere else
for the next three weeks

I confess that, for me, Leviticus is dry, tedious and boring

There are several reasons for this
– first, it lacks the stories that make the books around it entertaining
– second, it reads like a legal document
• Leviticus was written primarily for Israel’s priests
• it is filled with regulations, procedures, crimes and punishments
– third, it belongs to an ancient culture, long gone and far away
• finding its relevance for today is a huge chore

But we’re going to do this – and eventually you’ll be glad we did
– it will be like learning the alphabet to be able to read and write

Leviticus begins in the “tent of meeting” (God’s “dwelling place”)

This is where the Book of Exodus left off (Ex. 40:1-2, 34-38)
– God gave Moses the plans, and Israel put it together
• the architecture is easy to imagine, it is all rectangles and squares
◦ including the furnishings, except for the basin and lamp stand
• the sanctuary was divided into two sections:
◦ the holy place, and at one end of it a cube–the holiest place
◦ outside, in the courtyard, was the altar for sacrifice and a basin where the priest would was their hands and feet before entering the sanctuary
– the purpose of this structure was to assure them that God was nearby
And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst (Ex. 25:8)
For what great nation is there that has a god so near to I as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? (De. 4:7)
• because it was God’s residence, it was holy
◦ this is a major theme in Leviticus – several times we’re reminded
You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (e.g., Le. 11:45)
• Leviticus addresses two powerful forces operating in their world
holiness and pollution – a positive and negative energy
◦ both can be lethal and therefore demand respect
Mary Douglas noted that the idea of holiness is not sentimental, “but more like Exodus’ terrifying concept of unbearable beauty and power, God known in the thunderstorm on Mount Sinai, God who warns Aaron not to come into the holy of holies improperly dressed lest he die.”

God’s first words from the sanctuary are instructions about sacrifice

“Speak to the people of Israel”
– the most frequent opening line used in Leviticus when God speaks
• less frequent, “Speak to Aaron and his sons” or “to the priests”
– but the whole book was primarily for the priests
• it was their job to perform the rituals
◦ needed to know how it was done
◦ what to do with the various parts and the blood
• it was also their job to inform, instruct, and guide the people
◦ the priests were Israel’s worship leaders

An important qualification regarding Israel’s priests
– you know there were twelve tribes of Israel
• each of them were named for their ancestors
◦ twelve brothers, the sons of Jacob
• one of the tribes was named for Levi (Gen. 29:31-35)
– a prophet could be called from any tribe
• the kings of Judah belonged to tribe of Judah
• all of Israel’s priest had to belong to the tribe of Levi
◦ that poses a problem that Book of Hebrews will solve

The first seven chapters describe Israel’s ritual sacrifices

Mary Douglas, “. . . the first chapters of Leviticus are largely about how to make a sacrifice, how to select the right animal victim, how to cut it, what to do with the blood, how to lay out the sections on the altar.”
– whenever I read these chapters,
• it feels like I’m in a slaughter house or a butcher shop
• I think it is difficult for us to connect with this gruesome practice
◦ even though sacrifice was a common practice in every culture,
◦ it is far from where we live today
– it’s important for us to remind ourselves that back then,
• people didn’t run to grocery store for ground beef neatly wrapped
◦ they owned the animals that were sacrificed
• the life of each bull or sheep was valuable to them
◦ economically, but also as a sacred, because a living thing

A variety of sacrifices are described here

At the end of chapter 7, there’s a summary of previous chapters
– we find the different purposes that sacrifice could serve
This is the law of the burnt offering, of the grain offering, of the sin offering, of the guilt offering, of the ordination offering, and of the peace offering, which the LORD commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, on the day that he commanded the people of Israel to bring their offerings to the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai (Lev. 7:37-38)
– Everette Fox asks whether the purpose of Israel’s sacrifice was:
◦ a gift of value – meant to win God’s favor
◦ communion – a shared meal (forming a relational bond)
◦ or atonement – cover sin and remove guilt
Everett Fox, “Actually, at various times one can find all of them—the texts present a variety of motives and occasions for sacrifice in biblical Israel, from thanksgiving to purification and reparation. But in generally one may say of Israelite sacrifice, as one may say of much of the ritual in Leviticus, that it is designed primarily to maintain or repair the relationship between God and Israel. . . . sacrifice was a crucial element in keeping the covenant, and hence God’s beneficent presence among the Iraelites, intact.”

The sacrifice we read about in the first chapter is a Burnt Offering
– this was the basic offering that “functions essentially to bring human beings to the attention of God and to win his acceptance.” (E. Fox)
• the unique feature of Burnt Offering,
◦ everything was placed on the altar – all of it was burned
◦ “turned into smoke”
• it is described three times in this chapter
◦ first, when the offering was a bull
◦ second, when it was a goat or sheep
◦ third, when it was turtle doves or pigeons
– all the sacrifices that follow are variations of this one
• in distinguishing them, what matters is not what they share in common, but how they differ
• what parts are eaten and by whom, what is burned, and what is added

– chapter 2,the Grain Offering
– chapter 3, the Peace Offering–or “Fellowship offering,”
• the sacrificial meal was shared with God, the priest, and the person or persons who brought the offering
– chapter 4, the Sin Offering – its purpose was to cancel sin
– chapter 5-6:7, the Guilt Offering
• examples of types of sin that required this offering are given
– chapter 6 the Ordination Offering
• for the priests, before they could begin their service
– ch. 7, how priests were to handle what was placed on the altar
• before and after
• the “wave” offering is also mentioned here
◦ the priest or worshiper would raise the sacrifice up toward heaven before placing it on the altar

There are several things we need to understand:
– first, this sacrificial system of worship worked
• it was effective in what God mean for it to do
◦ atone means “cover”
◦ as if God were saying, “You’re alright now; I’ve got you covered”
• through sacrifice, their sin was atoned and they were forgiven
And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven (Le. 4:2)
– second, the goal of worship is to find acceptance–for the offering and the worshiper
• from the very first instance of worship in scripture: Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:1-7)
• and throughout the Scriptures
present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Ro. 12:1)
– third, to keep their covenant relationship with God solid
• and to repair it after a rupture
• they would work out their relationship with God at the altar

Conclusion: Sometimes it’s hard for me to comprehend or realize this truth,

But God travels with us, on our spiritual journey through life
– he is always here with us
Living with him nearby creates special conditions
– and we do not always live up to our part
Ruptures occur in our relationship with God
– but he has made provision to repair those ruptures
Perhaps we can find in Israel’s sacrifice
– the appropriate response in times of worship
• Confession
• Prayers for personal needs
• Prayers for others
• Thanksgiving
• Praise
• and times of intimate expressions of love

God’s door is always open,
because through Jesus Christ he gives us
an infinite supply of mercy and grace

Jan 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 19, 2020


Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. Genesis 43:11-12

Intro: I’ve dropped us into a random paragraph in a biography

The bit of dialogue I read doesn’t mean anything right now,
– but it will after I bring you up to speed
• the subject of biography is Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham
• his story unfolds as one long and complex road trip
◦ it will eventually bring him before Egyptian Pharaoh
◦ when Jacob was asked his age, he characterizes his life as a journey
The days of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning (Ge. 47:9)
– what drove his journey forward
• is that he was repeatedly running from one person or another

Meeting God in twilight places

When modern anthropologists began studying human cultures,
– they noticed every culture celebrated significant transitions
• birth, death, marriage – seasons of planting and harvest
• these celebrations are referred to as “rites of passage”
◦ phase one: separation (from community or simply one’s old life)
◦ phase two: a transition
◦ phase three: incorporation (re-integration into community or new
– rites of passage mark a transition in both time and space
• in time, Jewish culture celebrates the transition to adulthood
bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah
• in space, special rituals are performed when entering sacred space

The transition between separation and incorporation is often referred to as liminal space
– this is an in-between zone, like the threshold of a door
(“preliminary” is derived from Latin, and means “before the threshold”)
– a gate or doorway is neither inside nor outside, but between both
• a transitional space between two worlds
• Israel was taught to reverence liminal space and time
You shall write [God’s commandments] on the door posts of your house and on your gates (De. 6:9)
◦ in spaces:
Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight
◦ in both time (morning and evening) and space (the tent of meeting)
It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory (Ex. 29:38-43)
– God “sanctified” or “made sacred” these transitional zones
• we do not settle into liminal space, but move through it
• God chooses to meet us in thresholds
◦ and there he prepares us for whatever comes next

These are smooth transitions
– but every terrible thing that happens to us is also a transition
• for a time, we are in limbo
• and after we emerge from it, we have been changed

When I open my Bible, I pause to pray
– I see myself in transition
• between my normal thoughts and God’s sacred word
• I remind myself, this is where God meets me to speak to me

Jacob’s first rite-of-passage: his father’s blessing

Jacob swindled his brother Esau to get it – then he had to run for his life
– emphasis is placed on where Jacob spent first night
came to a certain place – took stone from the place – lay down in the place
• this was just a rest stop, but something big happened
◦ some preachers hype what they say with “Now watch this” when
making what they feel is an important point
◦ but because it’s overused, we become immune to it
• however, our storyteller does something like this in three clipped lines
◦ in Jacob’s dream with the word “behold” (or “look”)
Look, a ladder.
And look, angels.
And look, the LORD (Gen. 28:12-13)
– when Jacob woke up he said,
the LORD is in this place – how awesome is this place – and he called the name of that place Bethel (“the house of God,” Gen. 28:19)
• this was a transition through liminal space
◦ and included an encounter with God

Esau did not bother to chase Jacob, but what came next?

Jacob arrived safely in the home of his mother’s family
– there he met his mother’s brother, Uncle Laban
• their relationship could be described as two tricksters,
◦ each one trying to out maneuver the other
• Jacob ended up having to run from Laban too
◦ but in this instance, Laban did chase him down
– immediately following their confrontation,
Jacob had his next big encounter with God
Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God’s camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim (Ge. 32:1-2)
• this is another transition through liminal space
◦ and another encounter with God

Now Jacob was heading back into Esau’s territory

He had been gone twenty years and didn’t know how Esau would react
– so he sent servants on a reconnaissance mission
• they returned to inform him:
Esau was coming to meet him–with 400 men
• Jacob panicked and began preparing for their encounter
◦ he prays a beautiful prayer of humility and confession
– then there’s a sudden jump to a weird episode
• he’s at a border crossing – the Jabbok River
◦ and suddenly he is wrestling with a stranger, and this goes all night
◦ for some reason, the stranger has to be gone before sunrise
but Jacob holds on and won’t let go without a blessing
So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (Ge. 32:30)
• this is another transition through liminal space
◦ and another encounter with God

Jacob is able to settle near the city of Shechem

At last it seems he will enjoy a life of peace and safety
– but then his daughter is raped by one of the locals,
• her brothers retaliate to defend the family’s honor, but go too far
• so Jacob is forced to take flight again
◦ this time his encounter with God is not as dramatic
◦ he is simply told to return to Bethel

When we catch up to Jacob in chapter 43, he’s settled in Canaan

But he has suffered greatly, because of a son he had spoiled then lost
– Joseph’s older brothers were jealous of him, and he exacerbated their antagonism
• they got rid of him and deceived their father Jacob about his fate
• a dozen years have passed
◦ and a famine has devastated that whole part of the world
◦ but Egypt had been storing up grain and was now selling it
– Jacob sent his sons to buy grain
• they had to haggle with a very powerful Egyptian ruler
(they didn’t recognize that it was their brother, Joseph)
◦ Joseph hid the money they paid for grain in their sacks
◦ to find that their money had been returned did not make them
happy, but terrified them — there was no reason for this
• Jacob’s reaction, All this has come against me
◦ when he’s forced to send his sons back for more grain,
◦ he gave them the instructions I read at beginning of this message
◦ regarding the returned money, he said, Perhaps it was an oversight

It wasn’t an oversight – Joseph returned the money intentionally
– he was taking care of them – saving them from starvation
• and preparing even better things for them
• Joseph realized God’s hand in all of this
◦ but Jacob only saw disaster looming before him
– when Jacob said, Perhaps it was an oversight he was trying to make sense of their situation
• God was with Jacob through whole life – at Bethel God told him,
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go . . . . For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you (Ge. 28:15)
• but Jacob wasn’t always aware of God watching out for him
◦ he was left to figure things out on his own – and often got it wrong
◦ yet in spite of his manipulations, God blessed him

Conclusion: My point is that life for Jacob was no easier than it is for us

His choices were no clearer
– even his encounters with God did not give him an advantage
in deciphering his circumstances
• that’s why the transitions forced on him were important
◦ even though each one posed a danger,
◦ they gave him opportunity to reconnect with God
• I think that’s why God called him back to Bethel

Jesus is the ultimate liminal space
– the ultimate place of encounter
between earth and heaven
between the eternal and this present moment
between God and humankind
You will see greater things than these. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (Jn. 1:51)
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)

If you cannot see where life is taking you, do not panic
You are not alone
Draw a deep breath – hold it
the pause between inhaling and exhaling
is your liminal space
where you can reconnect with God
If you find yourself in transition
whether or not it is something you want
try to recognize the sacredness of this moment
and continue on with God

Jan 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 12, 2020


And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:5-8
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:25-33
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

Intro: Can we take moment to think about why we’re here?

What does it mean to say we are Christians?
– we believe that “all this”–oceans, mountains, planets, nebula–
• all of it came from somewhere – from Someone
◦ a Creator infinitely intelligent and infinitely powerful
• yet the Creator is not in the universe like any other created object
– Jesus drops a line here that gives me the chills:
your Father who is in secret (v. 6)
• this Greek word also means “hidden” or “concealed”
As John said, No one has ever seen God (Jn. 1:18)
◦ my frustration is that he is hidden so well,
at times I’m not even sure he even exists
◦ our eyes are only good for seeing in four dimensions
• does that mean God exists in a different universe?
◦ it may only mean he’s in a fuller dimension of the universe we know
◦ and the only way we can know him is if he reveals himself to us

This presents a significant challenge
– if you know the sixties movie, Cool Hand Luke, you might remember the
prison warden’s famous line:
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”
• communicate: the movement of information between 2 points
◦ there is transmission and reception – a speaker and a hearer
• between those two points is a gap
◦ the goal is to move the message through space so it’s received
◦ success depends on a number of factors:
such as language, culture, education, personal interests, etc.
– if I wanted, I could watch the 6:00 news on a Korean channel
• it wouldn’t do me any good, because I don’t speak Korean
◦ the news is broadcast to me, but it’s not received
◦ the message doesn’t reach across the communication gap
(Christians are in many instances poor communicators, because they use jargon they assume others can understand, but it is like they are speaking a different language)
• if a message isn’t received, there’s no communication
◦ “failure to communicate” occurs when the intended audience does
not receive the message, understand it, or pay attention to it
◦ successful communication is like a bridge across the gap between
sender and receiver

Every bridge requires a solid foundation on both sides of gap
– those sending message must be clear regarding their content
• the message must be adapted to the audience
◦ like when explaining something to a child

Years ago, a friend asked me how he could become more solid in his faith. One of my recommendations was that he read Bible. Then he told me, “Well, that’s a problem; I’m dyslexic.” He wanted to know what God had to say to him in the Scriptures, but he did not have direct access to them. To help bridge that gap, I gave him a recording of the entire Bible that he could listen to while at home or on the road.
Until fairly recent history, the majority of world’s population could not read. If the gospel came to them in print, they could not read it. If it were broadcast to them in a foreign language, they could not understand it.

– cross-cultural communication is a huge challenge
• not only because of language,
◦ but because of the wide range of unfamiliar experiences
• the most effective communication occurs between
people who share same language, culture, background

How does God communicate across the infinite/finite gap?

I’ll explain, but this is why I’m enthralled with the Incarnation
– Job knew he had been treated unfairly,
• but when he thought of arguing his case with God, he said,
For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him,
that we should come to trial together.
There is no arbiter between us,
who might lay his hand on us both
(Job 9:33)
• I cannot cross the chasm between human and divine
• I cannot be more than what I am – I cannot reach that high
– for centuries, God spoke through nature and inspired prophets
• neither of which gave us the complete message,
◦ or told us everything he wants us to know about himself

So God brought his message to us himself
– he accommodated himself to what we are capable of comprehending
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14)
Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be [held on to], but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant (Php. 2:5-7)
• Job complained that there was no arbiter between him and God
◦ someone who could stand between both at the same time
◦ but Paul said,
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, that man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5)
• Jesus makes the perfect communication bridge,
◦ because he is both human and divine
◦ he knows God and he knows us
– Incarnation means God comes to us in the person of Jesus
• having the nature of God, he brings to us the fullness of God (Col. 2:9)
• having our nature, he knows our situation (Heb. 2:14-18)
◦ he knows us so well, that he can empathize with us
◦ knows us so well, he can communicate with us perfectly

So, what it means to be a Christian is this:
– we believe in God, and
• we believe God has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ
• so we believe the teaching of Jesus
◦ and we trust the person of Jesus

I’ve dragged you through all this for one reason

Jesus says, . . . your heavenly Father knows (vv. 8 & 32)
– God knows us and our situation — in Jesus, he has lived it
• he takes an interest in us, because we are valuable to him
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows (Mt. 10:29-31)
– for Jesus, God’s existence and concern for us are so sure,
• that his care for birds in the sky and weeds in the fields
are guarantees that he will feed and clothe us as well

Jesus does not flatter us – he does not say,
“You are such awesome disciples!
You’re so discerning and wise!
You have such great faith.”
– no, he says,
O you of little faith – and,
Are you also still without understanding? (Mt. 15:16)
– these were his twelve closest disciples
• but their progress seems painfully slow
◦ and to me, my progress seems even slower
• Jesus is telling them that their Father knows their needs
◦ that they are of great value to him

Conclusion: That is what I am telling you – now

God’s love and concern are not like something you have to earn
– they are not awards you get at graduation
• this is where you begin with God
– you have been loved since before you were born
• you were loved before your first prayer,
◦ before your baptism, before your first Communion
• you were loved before–and after–the worst deed you’ve ever done
◦ you are loved in your brokenness, loneliness, and failures

Your heavenly Father knows
– he is our heavenly Father – not like our earthly “dads”
• we don’t have to bring home a good report card
◦ your Father knows and he cares
• I complain, “God, do You see what’s happening here?
I’m overwhelmed.”
◦ Jesus says, “Your Father knows”
– I don’t even have to pray right
• I don’t have to say the right words or pray for the right things
• I can just pray my heart
◦ pray my fears and anxieties
◦ pray my hopes and desires
Helmut Thielicke says that Jesus did not “indulge in a little romantic nature study by contemplating the birds of the air and their obviously happier existence.”
“. . . the very purpose of this Word is to get down into our cares and our fears; its very intent is to encourage and cheer us by telling us that he who said these words about the lilies and the birds bore in his own body all the pains and fears, all the torments and mortal struggles, not because he wanted to soar above them for a while, but rather because he wanted to be in them as our brother and therefore suffer them with us.”
“. . . I think we must stop and listen when this man, whose life on earth was anything but birdlike and lilylike, points us the carefreeness of the birds and lilies. Were not the somber shadows of the Cross already looming over this hour of the Sermon on the Mount?”

Jesus came to tell us we’re not alone
To tell us, Your heavenly Father knows
He knows you, he knows your needs,
he knows your sadness,
and he knows your soul
Don’t let fear keep you from being person you were meant to be
Look at the birds in the sky,
Consider the blossoms in a field of weeds
You are more valuable and more beautiful to God
than all the birds and blossoms in the world

Jan 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 5, 2020


And God spoke all these words, saying,
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 20:1-6

Intro: Anyone who knows anything about the Bible, has heard of the
Ten Commandments

Israel had been a slave people before God rescued them
– now they were just beginning to know their God
• they needed to know how to order their lives in his sight
• at their work, in their families, in society, and in the world
– above all, they had to know how to live in relationship with God
• so it is this comes first on the list of commandments

To some Jewish and Christian believers,
– it looks like God prohibits any religious art–paintings or sculptures
You shall not make for yourself . . . any likeness of anything that is in heaven . . . earth . . . or water
• that seems to cover every sphere of their known world
• so there are churches with blank walls,
◦ and homes with plaques and platitudes, but no visual art
(words and actions are the only approved forms of communication)
– notice, this second commandment is tagged onto the first
• in fact, for Jewish interprets they are one commandment
◦ Israel’s exclusive devotion to God eliminated idolatry
• the prohibition is twofold:
◦ any material representation of the invisible God
◦ creating any material object of worship
– now this is an important point
they were not to produce a piece of art as an object of worship
You shall not bow down to them or serve them

The Bible does not exclude sacred art

God instructed Israel to produce specific items of religious art
Sculpture: You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. (Ex. 25:17-20)
Visual art: Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them. (Ex. 26:1)
(The cherubim were a class of angels whose specific role was to act as guardians of the presence of God—cf. Gen. 3:24. Their representation on what curtained walls of the sanctuary, the entrance to the most holy place, and above the ark of the covenant would be a reminder of their invisible presence. These figures sculpted and woven into the fabric of the sanctuary would certainly qualify as anything that is in heaven above, yet they were not objects of worship.)
Clothing design: And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother for glory and for beauty (Ex. 28:2)
– this artwork would never be seen by most of the people
• and only one person would ever see the sculptured cherubim
• it was made expressly for God, and that tells us:
◦ first, the direction that worship moves is toward God
◦ second, in worship, art is of the essence (it’s not mere decoration)

One other important idea to note in Exodus
– God gifted specific artisans with specific talents—e.g., Ex. 31:1-5
– I believe that art enhances our spiritual development
• enlarging our narrow concepts of faith, hope and love,
• inspiring us to greater faith, hope and love,
• and giving us means to express our faith, hope and love

Our days are filled with repetitive actions

We make up our beds, do the dishes, take out the trash,
drive to work, make calls, walk the dog, and so on
• and because we did it today, doesn’t mean we don’t have to do it all over again tomorrow
• our days pass by without any new or unique experience
Gary Snyder, “. . . don’t let yourself think these things are distracting you from you more serious pursuits. Such a round of chores is not a set of difficulties we hope to escape from so that we may do our [spiritual] ‘practice’ which will put us on a ‘path’—it is our path.”
– even so, there is a danger we will lose sight of this truth
• that boredom will overtake us and we’ll lose each moment
• that the repetition will become so familiar, so habitual,
◦ that we no longer experience what we do
◦ and that means we will not experience ninety percent of our lives

Most of us find ways to break the monotony
– we take vacations — and we have our weekends
• although we can fall into habitual routines with weekends too
– some people give themselves mini-vacations
• they punctuate their day with refreshing diversions
◦ this requires a certain amount of creativity
• this is an impulse we should nurture

A move toward art can become a mini-vacation

The artist notices something in our normal daily experience,
– something worth observing and studying
• then by reproducing what they’ve seen or felt in the moment,
◦ they help us to see and feel what we had missed

In 1860s Jean-Fracois Millet produced sketches of peasants engaged in the normal activities of life. In his work entitled First Steps, he shows us a small home. Next to it is a fenced garden where we can see vegetables growing low to the ground. A father is there on one knee, but he is not working the soil. His wheel barrow is off to one side and shovel lies next to him. He is stretching out both arms toward his wife. The young mother is bent over, holding up her toddler, who is about to take her first step toward the father.

• what Millet (and later, Van Gogh) remind us of is a lived experience
◦ when for a moment the world stops
◦ and we celebrate our child’s early development
– paintings like this cause us to see our lives differently
• to see our world differently
• the emphasis they place on special or even mundane moments in life,
◦ teach us to recognize and appreciate their hidden depths

Fantasy art—e.g., surrealism—helps us imagine other worlds
– or see what our world would look like if the laws of physics were altered
– art feeds our creative impulse
• “inspired art, inspires art”
• when I see a captivating painting, I want to paint it
◦ when I read a meaningful poem, I want to write a poem
◦ I have a friend who is a musician,
and when he hears a tune he enjoys, he learns to play it
– my scribbles are never as good as what inspired them
• and my poetry rarely rises above, “Roses are red . . .”
◦ but that’s not the point
◦ it’s that I spent time engaging my mind and body
in something different, something good, beautiful and true
• the effect is exhilarating and restful at the same time

The original inspiration of all art is the universe

We refer to it as “all creation”
– not only because it was created
• but because we’re made in image of its Creator,
• and in his image, we feel the urge to create

In 1994, three French cave-explorers discovered an underground vault where paintings of extinct animals were drawn on the walls. Archaeologists estimate the paintings to be 30,000 years old. Now my question is “Why?” Given all the challenges for survival—weather, powerful predators, scarcity of food, and so on—why would these ancient people take the trouble to paint animals? Was the cave a sacred place? A museum? Someone’s living room? The question has to do with humankind’s artistic impulse. What trigger motivates a painter when she sees something and says, “I want to paint that”? Or a poet who says, “I want to describe that”? Or a storyteller who says, “I want to communicate that”? Or a musician who says, “I want to play or sing that”?

– I know that Jesus was an artist
• only an artist could tell a short story as rich and revealing as the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32)
◦ his parables are an art form
◦ and the way his repartee with Pharisees reveals his creativity

Conclusion: In the Bible, art and worship are bound together

Art in the literature of storytelling
Art in the poetry of prayer in the Psalms
Art in the music that accompanied Israel’s rituals
– and in the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” of the early church

These artistic expressions bring the breath of God close to us
– they call us to look with eyes that see and hear with ears that hear
– they challenge us to take up brushes and begin to paint
• or a pen and begin writing
• or an instrument and begin playing
• or knitting needles, or kitchen utensils, or hammer and saw

Art is food for the spirit

How about this?
– sometime this week, find a painting
or a piece of music
or a poem
Take a moment to be engrossed by it
◦ feel it — taste it — breathe it
And then share it
Beautify your corner of the world

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ep. 2:10)

Dec 31 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 29, 2019


Intro: One of our neighbors has several fruit trees in their backyard

They also have a grapevine that is not trellised and grows in all directions
– several times a year I have to trim the branches that encroach into our yard
• I cut the small branch pictured above from our neighbor’s vine
• in cutting the branch from the vine, I killed it
– it still has some life in it, but that won’t last long,
• because there is no new life is flowing into it to nourish it
• cut off from the vine it can’t survive and will never produce grapes
Jesus said:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
John 15:1-12, 16

This passage seemed fitting at this time
– there are only a couple of days left in this year, and then, 2020
• no one can say what will happen in the next twelve months,
• but we can be sure it will not be boring
– we spent the past four weeks of Advent preparing for Jesus
• now that Christmas has come, and Jesus is here,
◦ let’s use this year to deepen our relationship with him
◦ to love him more, trust him more, and render better service to him and others

I have heard all kinds of stories of how people came to faith in Jesus

No two stories are the same
– you could not build an evangelism strategy that fits the stories
• God has led us each by our own winding road to Jesus
◦ he has given us life – a specific kind of life
◦ that life is constantly flowing into us
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 Jn. 5:11-12)
– if I were to cut myself off from Jesus,
• that life would no longer be flowing into me
◦ that part of me would wither and eventually die
• would I know that it had died?
◦ our would I be religious enough to think to think I was still alive?

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it (Heb. 2:1)

This is the most common way that people disconnect
– it’s a gradual process that goes undetected at first
• we don’t notice the distance slowly growing between us and the Lord
• busyness gets in the way and we get caught up in other things
– the gradual drift works the way Jesus described a seed planted among thorns
They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful (Mk. 4:18-19)
• so, like the branch cut from the vine, that life is choked out of us
• we either abide in him or live apart from him
◦ and apart from him, we can do nothing

On occasion, Jesus said things that were mean to wake people up

For example:
The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him (Jn. 4:23)
– “here” can be a location in time and in geographical space
• now/here — time/space — this moment/this place
◦ these words locate his presence with us in this moment
• when we sleep, we are not conscious of time
Anthony de Mellow said, “Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence. . . . most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep.” “Waking up is unpleasant, you know. You are nice and comfortable in bed. It’s irritating to be woken up.”
– listen again to Jesus’ message to the church of Sardis,
I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you (Rev. 3:2-3)
• to be not only alive, but also awake, is to be aware of this present moment
• what is this moment? What does it look like? sound like? feel like?
◦ you have to be alive and awake to know
◦ and you have to abide in Jesus to be alive

We do not want to come to the hour of our death
and only then realize that we have never lived

Death is not the destiny of Jesus’ followers

Life is our destiny
– abundant life – a fruitful life
• Jesus chose and appointed us for this kind of life
• and because this kind of life glorifies and pleases God,
◦ Jesus sponsors us
– what do you need to stay connected to Jesus this year?
• what do you need to be awake, alive and productive?
◦ if you know, ask the Father and he will supply it
◦ if you don’t know, ask the Father and he will show you

To prepare ourselves for the new year

We are going to renew our connection with Jesus – here, now
– Communion is a ritual of re-connection
• it is a worshipful moment of receiving new life
• the life that flows into us from Jesus

Conclusion: Earlier I said most common way people disconnect is gradual

But sometimes people turn and stomp away from God
– years ago I was speaking at a church in Sacramento
• I mentioned a realtor I met while living in Yuba City
◦ he had a grown son who loved God and was in Christian service
• his son was diagnosed with cancer, and many people were praying for his healing
◦ but after several hard months, he lost the battle
◦ the father, angry at God turned his back on religion
he rejected church, prayer, the Bible–anything to do with God
– he lived with this resentment for years
• but one day he bumped into a preacher to whom he told his story
◦ the preacher said,
“You know, God lost a son too. His was also a painful death. And for what? For people like you and me”
• the realtor told me, it was like he woke up in that moment
◦ he let go of his anger and allowed God to share his grief
◦ by the time I met him, he was a devoted man of God

Like I said, I told his story in Sacramento
– afterward a few people wanted to talk with me
• one old man approached me and with a firm grip took my hand
• and for awhile looked down and did not speak
◦ tears puddled in his eyes
◦ then he said,
“I lost my son. He was the Campus Crusade director for this district. Hundreds of people loved him and prayed for him, but he died. Since then, I have hated God–until today.”

It is time for us to come home
from darkness to light
from death to life
It is time to wake up and be here — now
Where Jesus again and again
pours himself into us

Dec 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 22, 2019


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:26-33

Intro: It seems to me that the traditional Advent themes are jumbled

The first Sunday is hope, then the second, third, and fourth are faith, joy and peace
– if I had lived in the 4th century–and anyone had asked me
• I would have suggested that we put faith first
◦ faith is what enables us to hope
◦ so hope would be the theme of the second Sunday
• then, feeling secure about the future, we would be at peace
◦ and that, I think, is when we are most likely to feel joy
– one other Advent theme that integrates and completes the others
love–and we save that for Christmas Eve
• but since we are following the ancient tradition,
◦ the arrival of Jesus into our world is God’s gift of peace

The angel, before visiting Mary, had another appointment

Zechariah was already an old priest when assigned to his service
– there were hundreds of priests – he belonged to one division
• when they drew names to see who would enter the sanctuary,
◦ Zechariah’s name was drawn
◦ this is where we meet him – lighting incense in the temple
• this was done every morning and evening
◦ incense symbolized Israel’s prayers and praise
◦ the people praying outside waited to receive his blessing
– this moment had to be meaningful–Zechariah did not do this often
(this may have been the only time he had ever had this honor)
• he’s in the dark, sacred space and every object around him is holy
◦ suddenly, in his peripheral vision he glimpses someone else
◦ he turns, and standing beside the altar is the angel Gabriel
Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard
• I won’t go through the rest of story, except this:
• coming out of the holy place, Zechariah could not speak,
◦ he was unable to pronounce God’s blessing on the worshipers
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace
(Num. 6:24)

Sometime after Mary’s angelic encounter, Joseph got the news

I imagine him coming to his parents’ home after a long day
– he’s surprised to see his mother at the gate
• she takes him by the arm and leads him to side of house
◦ “Mother what is it?” “Mary,” she answers
◦ she has trouble getting the words out – “She’s pregnant”
• “That’s impossible! We never even . . .”
◦ “I know, I know, but it’s true”
– Joseph did not immediately assume, “Well, it must be a miracle”
• he was immediately contemplating divorce
◦ they were not merely “engaged,” but “betrothed”
◦ the first stage of an arranged marriage — legal and binding
• because Joseph is a good man, he wants to do the right thing
◦ the divorce will be private for her sake and for both families
◦ but the angel of the Lord appeared to him – in a dream
Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife

The angel had one more Christmas errand

This visit came after the birth of Jesus
– last week we read the story of the shepherds
• the angel of the Lord appeared to them also
◦ his first words were,
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy

So here we have four stories and one message
Do not be afraid
• for Zechariah and the shepherds,
◦ the fear was triggered by presence of other-worldly beings
• but it was different for Mary and Joseph
◦ Mary was “greatly troubled” by the angel’s greeting
◦ Joseph’s fear was the prospect of going forward with marriage
taking on the responsibility of the whole mess
– the idea I’m chasing, is that in each instance,
• fear was triggered, then addressed, and then calmed

In calming the fear, the theme of peace is implied

One of the statements made to Mary was a partial quote (v. 33)
– we read the full quote the first Sunday of Advent
. . . and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end
(Isa. 9:6-7)
• worshipers at the temple would have received a blessing of peace,
• if Zechariah had been able to speak
– in the announcement to the shepherds, the promise is explicit
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased
(Lk. 2:14)
• this wasn’t a promise of universal peace
• it was a promise to everyone who received heaven’s gift

Stephen Porges, a professor of psychiatry and research scientist
– he has focused his research on the vagus nerve
• it plays a vital role in preparing the body for action or rest
◦ it also functions in personal relationships and social interaction
• he says the human body and brain function best when we feel safe
Porges, “If our nervous system detects safety, then it’s no longer defensive. When it’s no longer defensive, then the [functions of] the nervous system support health, growth, and restoration.”
◦ socially we’re better adjusted
◦ we are more present, creative, and positive
– he says, safety is not defined by the absence of threat or risk
• but by the feeling of being safe
◦ in other words, my situation may not be safe,
◦ but we can still think and respond well if we feel safe
(for example, a car’s safety features allow us to feel safe while driving)

Perhaps the best way to understand promise of peace is Shalom

This Hebrew word signifies a state of complete well-being
– a quiet, secure and productive life,
• with good physical health and close relationships
– last week, when joy was our subject, I quoted Jesus,
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in your, and that your joy may be full (Jn. 15:11)
• he made a similar statement regarding peace
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33)
• he also said,
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (Jn. 14:27)

Here’s what I believe we need to understand

The Christmas promise is that we will find peace in Jesus
– this is not easy for us
• our minds are materialistically conditioned
◦ how can Jesus become real enough to us, to rest in him?
• by getting to know him in scripture,
◦ then by practicing spending time with him in silent prayer
– in the New Testament, we hear Paul say repeatedly that we are
• with relaxed, deep breaths we can learn what that feels like
◦ quiet our souls in him – to trust – and to rest
• no matter what our circumstances throw at us,
◦ if we can find our way back to Jesus, we can return to peace
◦ he is always a safe, loving, calming presence

Conclusion: One last thought about the angel and his messages

Each time he appeared to a person, he spoke to them by name
Do not be afraid, Zechariah
Do not be afraid, Mary
Joseph, son of David, do not fear
– as soon as the angel spoke, they discovered they were known
• they were not anonymous digits, lost in the mass of humanity
– God knew them by name – and he had a message for them
• as he knows each of us by name, and has a message for us
• are we listening?

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, his saints
(Ps. 85:8)

Dec 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 15, 2019


And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke 2:8-20

Intro: I’m going to begin by asking you two questions

First, What makes you feel happy?
– take a moment and give this some thought

Second, What makes you feel joy?
– again, take a moment with this question

I don’t think it’s possible to separate joy from happiness
– but I do believe it’s helpful to make the distinction
• we could spend a lifetime in the pursuit of happiness,
◦ pile up a lot of good times,
◦ but never experience joy
– so, how do they differ?
happiness depends on external factors–what “happens”
joy depends on internal processes–response and reflection
happiness is temporary
joy has a long shelf-life
happiness fluctuates
joy is stable
happiness is loud
joy is quiet
happiness feels good
joy feels content and grateful
happiness expresses itself with enthusiasm
joy expresses itself with a smile, a hug
happiness is at home with entertainment
joy is at home with deep thought

This third Sunday of Advent we celebrate joy

The angel’s presence evoked great fear; their message was of great joy

In first century Israel, a shepherd’s life was not enviable
Bruce Malina provides some cultural background to the story:
“Although shepherds could be romanticized (as was king David [sic]), they were usually ranked with . . . tanners, sailors, butchers, camel drivers, and other despised occupations. Being away from home at night they were unable to protect their women and therefore were considered dishonorable. In addition, they often were considered thieves because they grazed their flocks on other people’s property.”
– shepherding was a bottom-rung occupation
• some jobs today are treated with a noticeable lack of respect
◦ we don’t even mention them by name, but activity
◦ “flipping burgers,” “scrubbing toilets,” “washing dishes”
“bagging groceries,” and so on
• in Luke’s gospel, Jesus gravitated towards these people
◦ more than once, he is criticized for socializing with them
– the world of these shepherds was hard and unpleasant
• authoritarian governments create a culture of oppression
◦ that is, people who are oppressed by “higher-ups”
◦ typically oppress others who are “lower-downs”
• shepherds were fair game for everyone’s contempt

WARNING: This will be a brief tangent. To me, a sad example of ugly religion is when people who claim to be Christians treat with contempt or condescension waiters in restaurants, clerks in stores, fast-food servers, gardeners, janitors, and people other similar professions. And some ugly religion people do this just because they can. In the reconstructed world of Jesus, no person is above or below anyone else.
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all (Mk. 10:43-44)

The angel promised a joy that will be for all the people
– as if giving proof this was true, the announcement came to shepherds
• those dirty outcasts became the first messengers of the good news

In scripture, God is the source of all human joys

Israel celebrated annual feasts in which they worshiped with rejoicing
(see Deut. 16:11, 14, 15; 26:11; 27:11)
– they rejoiced at harvest time, sheep-shearing, weddings, etc.
• in all joyful occasions, they lifted their eyes to heaven
◦ every good thing that comes from the natural world is God’s gift
◦ and every gift is cause for joy and rejoicing with thanksgiving
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wind abound
(Ps. 4:6-7)
• in that same psalm, the poet celebrates other gifts of God
◦ relief from distress – peace, and safety
– after returning from exile, Israel renewed their covenant with God
• when they gathered to hear the reading from the Scriptures,
◦ the people wept over their past sins and what that cost them
• but Nehemiah and the Levites told them not to grieve
Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Neh. 8:10)

Israel also rejoiced in God for their liberation from slavery and exile
– after fleeing Egypt and crossing the Red Sea,
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying,
I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him
(Ex. 15:1-21)
• looking forward to the time they would return from captivity,
◦ Isaiah sang,
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away
(Isa. 51:11)
– but most frequently in scripture, especially in the New Testament,
• joy comes from relationships with other people
◦ so Paul could say to the believers in Thessalonica,
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thes. 1:19)

The Book of Joy was one of my favorite reads in the past two years

In it, Douglas Abrams reports a week-long conversation between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
– both men have suffered extreme hardships
• yet both men are fountains of joy
– through their conversation they discerned eight pillars of joy:
Perspective – “There are many different angles”
Abrams, “A healthy perspective really is the foundation of joy and happiness, because the way we see the world is the way we experience the world. Changing the way we see the world in turn changes the way we feel and the way we act, which changes the world itself.”
– we are not as big as we think
• and, we are not as small as we think
Desmond Tutu, “God uses each of us in our own way, and even if you are not the best one, you may be the one who is needed or the one who is there.”
Humor – “Laughter, joking is much better”
Abrams, “Humor is one of the best ways to end conflict, especially when you are able to make fun of yourself or admit that you are overreacting or being silly.”
Acceptance – “The only place where change can begin”
Tutu, “Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and to be free from the past.” “Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us.”
– in his instructions to the leaders of the church of Ephesus, Paul said,
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)

Conclusion: And that brings us back to where we began

The good news of great joy had to do specifically with Jesus
– Peter said that in him we rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Pet. 1:8)
• something Jesus said to his disciples their last night has stuck with me
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in your, and that your joy may be full (Jn. 15:11)

When the shepherds got over their fear,
– and their rational minds kicked in,
• they decided, “If this is true, we better go check it out”

This is all I really have to say today
– we can find our way to Jesus if we sincerely want to
• we can open our hearts fully to him
• allow him to pour his joy into us – and then begin to live it

What I know for sure,
is that there is more in Jesus to lift us up
than there is in this world to bring us down

Dec 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 8, 2019


Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophets:
‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.'”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:1-11

Intro: I was young and foolish the first time I visited Bethlehem

I was not prepared for the Church of the Nativity
– an ancient cathedral built over a cave
• the guide told us this was the shelter where Jesus was born
– a large icon screen stood behind the altar reaching almost to the top of the vaulted ceiling
• brass candle-holders and incense censers hung between the pillars
• an assortment of meaningful symbols dangled from the ceiling,
◦ including bulbs that looked like gigantic Christmas tree ornaments
– you see, this is what we do
• we decorate Christmas with symbols that are meaningful to us
• for instance, we have painted the magi into a warm and cozy scene
◦ in reality, the mood Matthew describes was tense and dangerous
◦ and in spite of the danger, the magi found Jesus and worshiped him

This is the second Sunday of Advent
– and this morning we light the “Bethlehem candle”
• different meanings have been attached to it
• you and I might as well attach our own meanings
– for me, this year, the candle represents the light that led the magi to Jesus,
• and the faith that enabled them to persevere until they found him

In the movie, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Peter Ustinov played Herod the Great

He was an excellent choice! I remember him fuming,
“King of the Jews? King of the Jews? I am the king of the Jews!”
– we know from history that “When Herod ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”
• Matthew handles this rather delicately,
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him
• Herod consulted the biblical experts
◦ where did the prophets say the Messiah was to be born?
◦ they answered, “Bethlehem,” and supplied a quote from Micah
– so at this point in the story, who all knows where to look for Messiah?
• the chief priests and scribes, King Herod, and now the magi
◦ but of the three, only the magi go off to find him
• this is the first lesson I learn about the faith of the magi:

It belongs not to the person who knows,
but to the person that goes

Many books have been written on what Christians believe
– and arguments over our beliefs have raged for 2,000 years
• but beliefs do not necessarily bring us to faith
– beliefs are static–that is, they do not live, change, or evolve
• we can pick up new beliefs or throw out old beliefs, but they stay the same
◦ they can be discussed, analyzed, defined, and repeated
◦ they can branch out, but they don’t reproduce
• James points out the limits of belief with a measure of sarcasm,
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! (Jas. 2:19)

Faith, on the other hand, is dynamic – it moves, grows, and changes
Helmut Thielicke, “. . . faith does not consist in ‘believing something is true’ . . . . It consists in a struggle, a conversation with God.”
– I am convinced that you have to struggle with faith to make it your own
• beliefs that have been handed down to us belonged to someone else
• faith, however, can only belong to us

Faith is a journey or quest – like that of the magi

Faith moves toward what it believes
– and once faith begins to move, it sets other things in motion
• faith makes other things happen
• the magi’s journey of faith was not an easy one
T. S. Eliot imagined their journey in poetry
One of the magi narrates:

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelter,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
(T. S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi” — first stanza)

– but I do not believe our journey is much easier
• for them, Bethlehem was hundreds of miles
◦ for us it is thousands of miles
◦ and even more, it’s thousands of years away
• we have to travel the distance of credibility
Helmut Thielicke, “Are we to entrust ourselves and our questions about life to a man who road a donkey in a legendary far-off time in a [distant] corner of the world?”
◦ of course, the answer is yes
◦ only Jesus did much more than just ride a donkey

On Wednesday night, our Lexio Divina meditation was John the Baptist’s question to Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? John had struggles of his own when it came to placing his faith in Jesus. Perhaps he expected a Messiah who would drive Rome out of Israel, restore the ancient dynasty of David, and establish Jerusalem as the super power and political center of the world, bringing peace to God’s people and all the nations.
Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples was, “Just go back and tell him what you’ve seen”
– then he added a caption to the picture they would paint for John
And blessed is the one who is not offended by me (Lk. 7:23)
• to be offended is to be “stumbled,” “put off,” or “disappointed”
– Jesus was saying,
“This is who I am. These are the things I do. The blessing I bring is for the one who will accept me without disappoint me, but take me for who I am”
– this is the struggle of faith — we are at times struggling with Jesus

Faith is what links us to God

There is a verse of Hebrew Scripture at heart of Paul’s theology
– it is a statement about Abraham
And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6)
• again, righteousness means right-in-relation to the other person
• faith in God is what makes a person right with God
◦ all through the Scriptures, God is saying, “Trust Me”
– some students are good at taking tests
• but there’s one test no one enjoys taking
◦ it’s what James called the testing of your faith (Ugh!)
. . . for you know that the testing of you faith produces steadfastness (Jas. 1:3)
◦ Peter says the genuineness of our faith is tested because it’s
more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire (1 Pe. 1:7)

Jesus tested the faith of his disciples more than once
– and when it broke down, he called them on it
• when he calmed a storm at sea,
Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? (Mk. 4:40)
• when they asked why there were unable to cast out a demon
Because of your little faith (Mt. 17:20)
– God doesn’t test our faith in order to break us
• to show us that we’re hypocrites, that we didn’t make the cut
• if school tests merely reveal what students don’t know,
◦ they’re worthless
◦ if they’re tools to help us learn, they’re invaluable
God’s purpose is to deepen, strengthen, and increase our faith

Conclusion: In our list of Christmas preparations,

Do we need to include a trip to Bethlehem?
– Can’t we just say,
“I have all these other things to get done.
And I still have presents to buy,
cards to address, dinners to attend.
And I know all that stuff about Bethlehem already.
Is it all that important that I think about it–again? ”
– Yes, it is, because there is where our faith was born

Faith can come to people in different ways
– sometimes it comes spontaneously, as in crisis when people cry out for God
• or it comes naturally, in times of desperation
◦ as when parents will try anything to save the life of their child
– sometimes it comes as the last or only solution to a problem
• many people have to be talked into surgery
◦ or driven to it by pain
◦ “I don’t trust doctors” or “I don’t trust hospitals”
• but one day they have to go, because there is no other hope

Our day to day faith in Jesus, the faith we live by, Paul says
comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ (Ro. 10:17)
• hearing again, we create a path for faith in our brains
Andrew Newberg and Mark Walden, in How God Changes Your Brain, tell us, “When you intensely meditate on a specific goal over an extended period of time, your brain begins to relate to your idea as if it were an actual object in the world by increasing activity in the thalamus, part of the reality-making process of the brain. The concept begins to feel more obtainable and real.”
• what is the goal we’re stretching for here?
◦ to build ourselves up in our faith
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God (Jude 20)

This week there will be plenty of reminders of Jesus’ birth
– slow down, press the pause button on your day, and think
• not your typical busy brain thoughts
• but quiet reflective thoughts

The sort of thought that is rooted in awareness
and gives you new eyes to see,
and opens you up to the touch of Jesus
Be with Jesus in that present moment
in such a way that you allow yourself to be changed