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Feb 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

The Mystery of Parables 02/05/2023

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!                   May the Lord be with you!

This week the ornamental pear trees on our campus burst into bloom.  Burst – all of them, overnight, like they heard a shout “It’s Time!!”  They always surprise me, in the middle of winter to be so glorious.  But that’s by their design.  Isn’t it amazing how all the steps of development are programmed into the seed or bulb?  I’m sure that you can picture a pear seed (there are about eight seeds in every pear)—they are tiny.   Each seed is programmed to replicate everything after its kind.  It got me thinking about what is in us, yet to be developed but already programmed in, humans, children of God, after our kind—and I don’t think it’s just physical. 

The book of 2 Peter says that God has granted us by His divine power great and precious promises, so that we may become partakers of the divine nature, having everything we need for life and godliness.

I see that there is power (programming that has been granted us), promises (all things needed for life and godliness), and that we may be partakers of the divine nature.   Also, like trees and flowers in their nature, their “all things” come to be in particular seasons.  The pear seed has the programming for roots, foliage, and flowers, for survival in cold and heat, for how to propagate, for how to be dormant.   And everything doesn’t come all at once; their promises come during their developmental stage and the environment when it’s needed.

Don’t you think that’s how it works for us?  If we have been given everything we need for life and godliness, my question would be: “What is developing now?”  If you feel brokenness, maybe that’s a shell falling away.  If you feel fragile, perhaps it’s a sign of new growth. Perhaps something sprouting is working its way up through a lot of mud.

I love this quote from Ellen Bass: There’s a part of every living thing that wants to become itself: the tadpole into the frog, the chrysalis into the butterfly, a damaged human being into a whole one.  That is spirituality.”

Join me in prayer, will you:

Creator God, you have formed us in a particular fashion, with a design to grow into your likeness.  There’s nothing we want more.  May it be that each day we receive glimpses of your ongoing work and care.  May we be encouraged by knowing that is the way with all your creatures.  We come with a design, after our kind.  Come and attend to your work in us today, dear Lord.  We welcome You and we welcome all of life which you have given.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites. Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. Matthew 22: 15-22

Intro: These Pharisees must have been sure their trick would work

Together they had schemed to create the perfect question
– no matter how he answered, he would offend someone
• either the Romans who occupied Judah
• or the general Jewish population who resented the tax
– it wouldn’t surprise me if the question they decided on,
• was one they hoped they would never be asked
• anyway, even if Jesus refused to answer,
◦ he would still be discredited and lose face with the people

Like the Pharisees, we can marvel at Jesus’ response

We can also draw lessons from this interaction–such as:
– some of our dilemmas aren’t as difficult to figure out as we imagine
• you just have to change your point of view
– or, we must discern the difference between our responsibilities to the government and to God
– or, we need to determine what takes priority in our lives:
• money, which bears the image of national leaders
• or God, whose image we bear

These are obvious potential lessons
– but there are other insights lying within this story
• that’s what I want to delve into this morning
– it is possible to find several layers of meaning in the Scriptures
• some practical and others leading to spiritual revelations
• I want to explore how God might want to enlighten us

In the Synoptics (Mt. Mk. & Lk.), Jesus’ preferred mode of teaching was with parables

In John’s gospel he used “hard sayings” (to the same purpose, but that’s for another time)
– Matthew and Mark clump a number of parables together
• at the conclusion of these parables, Mark says,
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything (Mk. 4:33-34)
– a parable contains a truth interwoven into a story
• the challenge here is that Jesus wanted people to enter the kingdom of God
◦ but it exists in the transcendent realm of spirit
◦ we can’t enter physically or with our rational minds
• the parable’s tool is analogy – comparing what we do know with what we do not know
◦ Jesus often began a parable with, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . . .”
◦ the use of analogy doesn’t mean everyone would understand each parable, but
He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Mk. 4:9)

One way to interpret a parable is to work it like a riddle

We use logic to rationally dissect and interpret all the elements:
– the characters, plot, objects, events, and any dialogue
• but in dissecting the parable like this, we sometimes kill the specimen
• besides, finding a logical meaning the a parable may or may not work
◦ the human mind is very inventive and can produce a surplus of possible associations
◦ there are a number of books on the parables, each offering a different meaning for each one
• how can we know which interpretation Jesus intended?

Another way to read a parable, is to hear it like any other story

How do we read fairytales or any work of fiction?
– we suspend judgment – we enter the world the writer creates
• we don’t argue the logic of fire-breathing dragons
◦ we accept whatever fits in a particular story world
– we experience the story – we allow ourselves to feel it
• this is one of the pleasures we derive from stories
– as we read stories, we are exposed to a design or pattern
• pattern recognition doesn’t always happen at a conscious level
◦ years ago, I read The Bourne Identity — I enjoyed it and immediately wanted to read Ludlum’s next book
c the pattern of the first book was repeated in the second — and the third
• writers discover a “formula” that is compelling for readers
• then they will continue to use it for as long as it proves successful

When we read Jesus’ parables as stories,
– whether or not we get the meaning of parable immediately, it plants something within us
• Jesus’ first parable in Matthew’s and Mark’s collection was about seeds and soil
◦ that’s how the parable works, by planting the word of the kingdom in the soil of our hearts (Mt. 13:19)
◦ Jesus seemed perturbed with disciples when they asked him about that parable
Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? (Mk. 4:13)
“all the parables” are used to plant seeds
– so we read the parables – each one, many times
• as we do, its design or pattern is planted in our minds
◦ then, as we make our way through the world,
◦ we come to a situation in which we recognize the pattern
• when it happens, we’re able to respond with a hidden wisdom
◦ parables can open our eyes to things we haven’t perceived
◦ but once we perceive it, we are now able to make a choice
(we cannot choose when we’re not aware of having a choice)
Eugene Peterson, “As people heard Jesus tell these stories, they saw at once that they weren’t about God, so there was nothing in them threatening their own sovereignty. They relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant, the stories lodged in their imagination. And then, like a time bomb, they would explode in their unprotected hearts. An abyss opened up at their very feet. He was talking about God; they had been invaded.
But the parable didn’t do the work—it put the listener’s imagination to work. Parables aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith.”

My concern is the spiritual enlightenment we are offered

Jesus’ purpose for parables is to open eyes
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. . . . But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Mt. 13:13 & 16)
– I believe that parables have more than one layer of meaning
• that what we get from them depends on several factors:
◦ if we open our hearts to receive their truth and live it
◦ if we are teachable – conceit is not a good listener
◦ our current level of spiritual development
But I . . . could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with solid food, for you were not ready for it (1 Cor. 3:1-2)
• the parable meets us where we are and gives us what we can digest
– Tolstoy told a parable about a “naked, hungry beggar”
• he was brought into a building and told to move a lever up and down
◦ he later learned that the lever worked a pump that sent water into a garden
◦ then he was told to tend the garden, and later on to gather its fruits
• by doing what he was told and each level, even though he did not know why,
◦ he advanced to the next stage, and there he was given more
◦ that was how he gained enlightenment — by his experience at each level
For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away (Mt. 13:12)

There’s no reason why any story in Gospels can’t work like a parable
(There’s no reason why any story in the Bible cannot work like a parable)

When meditating on Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees, I thought, “Perhaps Jesus’ answer was profound and came quickly because it went to heart of an issue that was near and dear to him, an issue about which he was never confused. For Jesus, the line between worldly nations and the kingdom of God was never blurred. That is clear from his statements in John’s gospel that delineate between heaven and earth, above and below: ‘If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?‘ (Jn. 3:12) ‘He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way’ (Jn. 3:31). It is also clear in what he said to Peter, ‘You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man‘ (Mt. 16:23). It is even possible that Jesus already had strong feelings regarding Roman coins. The Lord was aware of a pattern, a design from which he never deviated. So when the question of taxes to Caesar came up, he already had the answer.”

Conclusion: Henri Nouwen reported a conversation he had with Mother Teresa

After ten minutes of downloading his anxieties, frustrations, and heartaches, Mother Teresa told him, “Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which you know is wrong . . . you will be fine.”
Nouwen, “I realize that I had raised a question from below and that she had given an answer from above. At first her answer didn’t seem to fit my question, but then I began to see that her answer came from God’s place and not from the place of my complaints. Most of the time we respond to questions from below with answers from below.”
“Jesus answers from above to questions raised from below”

You and I have more wisdom available to us than we realize
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path
(Ps. 119:105)
It’s right here–it’s always here–and it’s alive and powerful

Feb 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Welcome and prayer 01/29/2023

Our guest speaker this week, Mike Stowell, shared some of his life’s stories, emphasizing the importance of faith and trust in God. Because he spoke without notes, we are not able to post any this week. However, we are posting Nancy Lopez’ introduction to the service.

Good morning!       May the Shalom of the Lord be with you.

I hope you know that you can go to our website (reflexionsc.net) and get the script of the messages from Sunday mornings.  Sometimes I need to see it in writing, letting the message come through my eyes, as well as my ears.   Last week’s message from Jim was like that.  He made a few points that brought an image that I got a few years ago to remembrance; and I want to offer it with you this morning.  For me, it presents a picture of living and serving in the way of love.  Picture – I might have said Pitcher, because there’s a Pitcher in the image.

Many of us would say we’ve got a lot on our plate.  Let’s imagine that a Plate might stand for all our tasks, ways we influence others, you might call it ministry, extended relationships and commitments.  Atop the Plate, sits a Saucer which stands for our personal and close relationships.  You know what a Saucer is, don’t you, the smaller plate with an inside rim that can hold the Cup and its spillover.  So, now there’s a Cup.  The image is called Pitcher-Cup-Saucer-Plate.  Picture it if you will.  The Pitcher represents God, overflowing, ever flowing, abundant love and grace to us, the fullness of His love.  When we put our Cup—the Cup of our life, under His flow, He  pours into us all He intends for us.  As we abide there, His love is pouring into us. 

And as it fills, it naturally fills the cup to overflow on to the Saucer (our relationships) and then the Plate (the places we influence).   You know this is true, right?  We see people filled with anger, resentment, or fear spilling those things on to their Saucers and Plates.  Our privilege is  not just to receive good from God to pass along, but to allow what we receive to do a work in us.  We don’t come with empty cups, but if we allow what we receive from God to heal us from the inside out, then we change the overflow.  Last week, Jim mentioned that Jesus says, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’  A lot of things have come to us unbidden and unwelcome.  We’re still responsible for our own Cup.

Jesus confronted the false religion of the Pharisees reminding them to clean the inside of the cup so the outside could be clean as well. They had replaced a spiritual life of loving with a religion of purity codes that did nothing to clean the inside of the cup. It did nothing to clean their hearts.

Pitcher-Cup-Saucer-Plate:  I hope the image helps you to see and realize love in flow.

Can we pray?

LORD God, we need Shalom – wholeness, holiness.  Let us be still and make space for You to fill us with love.  We ask that you reveal those places in our Cup that hinder and taint.  Let us realize them and ask for healing.  Continue pouring your love that we might be filled with your goodness, for our sake, and for the sake of others.  We welcome your empowering Presence to create Shalom in us and through us.  Amen

Jan 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

For Times Like This 01/22/2023

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Welcome and Payer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome!     Happy Lunar New Year, if you celebrate that!            May the Lord be with you!

Last week Chuck mentioned his meditation from the Lectio Divina the previous week.  He gave us a definition of righteousness.   This was so helpful.

I understood that we’ve interpreted righteousness according to our Western presumptions, but it actually refers to a relational rightness, demanding faithfulness to the relationship that manifests as kindness, compassion, etc., and it embraces the whole of life, in every type of mutual relationship, not just an inner or ethical purity.  Is that “right,” Jim (no pun intended)?

The passage in 1 John that Chuck referred to was important for me, too.  My word was “Practice,” (that passage refers to the practice of sinfulness or the practice of righteousness.)  With my word of “Practice,” in our reflective time, I heard something in me ask, “Practice, practice, practice—when will you ever get it right?”  So, I started down the road that Chuck was talking about that leads us to attempting to master something.  In my Spirit, I heard “The practice is the thing – you’re not trying to achieve as much as living the practice, even enjoying the practice.”  Enjoy the Practice.  Now, at first, I was thinking of my spiritual disciplines, like my meditation practice or prayer; then I realized that I needed to consider this in all my relationships.  I mess up; I lose my intention; I lose my cool—”just return to the practice.”

I think I see that my practices, like yours, can encompass many ways of being more fully human; and whatever these practices are, they are not meant for achieving or performing; they are meant for living, for enjoying. 

After our Lectio time that week, Sue Duggan sent us all a recommendation to search for “What’s your practice?” on YouTube.  You’ll find it if you search “What’s your practice” and, boy, this kid is great.  He asks us that question, “What’s Your Practice?” and proceeds with “Do you practice joy?” “Do you practice peace?”  or “Do you practice complaining?”  “If you practice complaining”, he says, “you will get very, very good at it and find fault with everything!”  “Do you practice worrying?”  “If you practice worrying,” he says, “you will become an expert in it.”  Whatever you practice, you become really, really, good at.  So, practice is important; it might do us good to become aware of what we already practice, and decide to practice righteousness—in the best sense.

Let’s pray:

Jesus, you said that we should put into practice all we learned and received from You—everything we heard from You and saw You doing. You said that then the God of peace will be with us.  And so, we practice, using You as our example.  Establish peace in our hearts; establish righteousness.  Amen

Morning Talk: Jim Calhoun

We live in an anxious age. I think I begin most of my talks with this observation. But we need to remind ourselves that today has its own flavor. That today isn’t just like yesterday. We haven’t been here before.

We continue to observe a decline in civility, of decency. We continue to observe increasing aggression in words, in deeds. On the road, at the market, between friends and acquaintances. Our culture, our society is changing and it is creating pressure on people and groups. Some are leaning into the changes asking for more while others are pushing back disheartened or dislocated by the come differences.

Of course our politics are full of this, but that is only one source of troubles. What is needed is some people, communities of people who can help tamp down the restlessness and rage we see. We need folk who can help us make peace. Who can help us come to terms with our differences, refresh our sense of common ground, and rebuild our Union.

I have been a mediator and consultant in conflict resolution for two decades. I don’t think it is the professional who can make this happen, though they will be helpful along the way. I don’t believe a great leader will come and make it happen either. Though a strong leader committed to building instead of tearing down will be welcomed. The difficulty is that lots and lots of folk are committed to fighting it out. They are committed to dominating and are willing to use contempt, shame, manipulation, deception and rage to getting things done.

This is a very powerful approach. They will feel gratified in expressing their anger and they will have many success. But their success will be limited. It will become trench warfare. There will only be a victor when one side or group is destroyed. That is an enormously high price to pay. We are called to another path. We are called to neighborliness. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I believe neighborliness is more important and more transformative than politics and that the greatest contribution we can make to society is to become a person proficient at welcoming and loving the people we know and meet.

In addition to working in conflict resolution, for the past dozen years or so, I have been facilitating groups and meeting with individuals in what can best be described as spiritual direction. In this time, I have become convinced of the notion that it is what comes from the inside of a person that matters.

Jesus in Mark says, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.”

I believe neighborliness requires great spiritual depth, practice and ongoing formation and that the habits of conflict reveal spiritual character.

The greatest challenge to becoming makers of peace is our own unresolved souls. Our disordered loves, our fears, our inclination to self-protection are the beginnings of the conflicts that surround us and that we find ourselves mired in. Simple conflict resolution techniques of protocols will not resolve this. They are good at resolving this dispute then that dispute, but they don’t seem to have a culminative effect. As important as they are, we need to go deeper. We need healing, restoration. We need to be made whole. We need shalom.

Loving our neighbor is no easy thing. It will, when we are transparent and honest with ourselves, show all of the things in our soul that are ‘unclean.’ To stay on the path will take a commitment and courage and a certain kind of grit.

This is a big topic with many elements that deserve our consideration. Today we will just get a start. But it will be a good start, meaningful, joyous and transforming.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays we have been going through I John. The passage today is the passage we worked on last week.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1 John 3:11-15

I. Love is the path

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

Please don’t let yourself grow tired of this concept. This is not, “Love another yada , yada, yada. Now let’s get to the good stuff.” My friends this is the good stuff.

I know we have become sensitive to the word should. On one hand we have had others, parents, teachers, pastors and other church people, friends and everyone else try to shame us and control us for their own benefit with shoulds. There are trivial examples like you shouldn’t wear white after summer or you shouldn’t wear black and brown together. When someone tells you this you are on notice that you have broken social conventions and depending on the circumstance you may be embarrassed, shamed, and then make sure you never breach that bit of etiquette again.

Each of us likely have more serious examples that still cause us pain and maybe humiliation as we remember the incident. It is often effective, and draining. Worse, we often incorporate this sort of shaming when we deal with ourselves. We internalize the weapons that others use against us and use them on ourselves. And we may not even notice.

Make note: this is an important part of our talk today. The “should” in our passage is different. This should, and the next one, are expressions of the natural order of things. They express normal outcomes and normal expectations. For example, when I flip the light switch, the light should turn on. That’s the normal way. It is the natural expectation. If it doesn’t go that way then something is up. There is a problem. An electrician will be called to make repairs.

That we should love one another is the natural outcome of our life in Christ. It isn’t to be viewed as a moral category that is imposed upon us from the outside or something we have to gin ourselves up for. It is a natural response. If it isn’t happening, we need to attend to it, like the lights that won’t turn on. Remember the arc of Christian spiritual experience: God loves us. We learn to receive that love and it begins it’s healing and nurturing work. We return God’s love full of gratitude and reverence. We worship. We grow to love the things God loves. Our worship move beyond the sanctuary into our every moment and into our bodies. We begin to love our brothers and sisters in faith, our neighbors, those we have never met or known and eventually even our enemies.

This is not easy. Often it is ugly. But it is our path. This is how we become whole. We need the Holy Spirit abiding within us. We need our brothers and sister in faith to support us and guide us on the way. We need ways, habits, exercises to keep this fresh, alive and compelling. If we are in Christ, then naturally we will love one another.

II. Cain and false teachers

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.

Likewise, if we are in Christ, we will not be like Cain. It just follows.

The story of Cain and Abel is in Genesis 4. It is interesting. Cain and Abel both make an offering to God. God approves Abel and God corrects Cain. We want to know why Cain was corrected, but we don’t. All we know is God told Cain if he made the necessary correction his offering would be accepted.

But Cain was unclean from the inside. Cain knew God. He had everything he needed to get it right. But he chose another path. He chose to close his heart toward Abel, and to resolve remedy the situation and resolve his feelings by taking his brother’s life. If we are in Christ, it is just natural that we will not be like Cain.

This passage, maybe “surprisingly,” fits right in the middle of the New Testament tradition about false teachers. We know for sure from verse 7 where the author says with marked gentleness, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” It isn’t what you say that matters, what what and how you do that matters. We are easily deceived by words, but when we watch we will know.

All through the New Testament there are warnings about false teachers. It was a problem and it continues to be so. Jesus confronted the false religion of the Pharisees reminding them to clean the inside of the cup so the outside could be clean as well. They had replaced a spiritual life of living their neighbor and living in righteousness, right relationships with an intense, complicated, endlessly demanding system of appeasing God. This religion did nothing to clean the inside of the cup. It did nothing to clean their hearts.

Jesus sought to return the people to the path of righteousness, right relationship, and away from the false teaching of religion which is to appease God. There is no end to appeasing a god. It just makes you insecure. Maybe a little crazy in the head. You try to justify every move, every thought. You try to control the thoughts and actions of others. You know you are never good enough, pure enough, because you can’t always control the mess inside of you.

During the early church when most of the New Testament was being written, the great bulk of false teaching was from those we now call the Judaizers. They insisted that gentiles be circumcised to be accepted in the family of God. Jude tells us that false teachers walk in the way of Cain meaning they live from their unclean passions, from a dirty cup.

I’m trying to get to this point:
False teachers substitute religion for spirituality.
False teachers make us anxious about our lives.
False teachers give us a rule to follow that diminishes our call, our desire to love one another.
False teachers can be people in podiums. They can “should” us right out of God’s absolute love for us.
False teachers can be family, friends, teachers.

We can be our own false teachers. We can “should” ourselves right out of God’s absolute love for us and that is what is most important for me to communicate to you today.

III. Abel and innocence

And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.

Abel is referenced in the New Testament as an example of the innocent treated unjustly. There was no justification for Cain’s attack.

We need to make note that when we go forward. Seeking to craft and live in right relationships we may be misunderstood, rejected and attacked. I’m sorry for this and can attest that it is a terrible experience that can linger for years. It hurts and gnaws. It allows me to practice forgiveness, though, so it doesn’t eat a hole in my faith.

7 times
7 time 77 times
7 times 7 times 77 times
7 times 7 times 77 times to the 77th power. (Maybe—I’ll let you know.)

Hurt and betrayal and abandonment will happen on the road of righteousness. It just will. It is strange to say that sometimes we play both of these roles. Some time we are Cain to our Abel. We shame ourselves, attack ourselves, abandon ourselves and even betray ourselves. The world inside of us still has us in its sites.

IV. What we know: We know love

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.

The first thing we know is our life in Christ is vibrant because we love each other. At it’s most basic it is like a math formula that can be read from rather direction. 3×4=12 And 12=4×3 So “we have passed out of death into life” equals “we love our brothers,” and we love our brothers because we have passed out of death into life.

Both parts of the equation have equal weight.
Because this, that;
and because that, this.
And this is where we started with the biblical “should.”
Natural outcomes.

The Writers of the New Testament seemed to have a real concern for realism and practicality. Even when they were discussing difficult and abstract concepts, they eventually turn to the deeply practical.

First there is the quality of the love we are talking about. The love we are talking about isn’t just air kisses.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

So we know love by sacrifice. Or, at least the love talked about here and in other portions of the New Testament, necessitate sacrifice. Not every moment or encounter requires sacrifice, but it seems clear that we don’t want to avoid that possibility when it calls.

There is an “ought” here. We tend to use “should” and “ought” as interchangeable in English. In this passage they are two different words with some what different meanings. Ought in this case means something like owe, but not like a debt and not like an external obligation placed upon us. It means loving others sacrificially is the goodwill due our given situation. It is “freely you have received, now freely give.” Given all that I have received from God, it is only right that I would give just as freely.

This will be hard to understand, hard to feel, if God’s great love doesn’t resonate in you. And it may not for any number of reasons. You may have been shamed. You may have been wounded. We want to hold this tenderly as we go forward.

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

This echoes back to Cain. The closing of the heart.

How does God’s love abide? This question feels so hard right? We are so given to black and white answers. We are so given to condemn ourselves. The answer is this: God’s love abides incompletely. It abides without its fullness.

This is an opportunity for us. When we see that we change course. The natural sequence of events has fallen apart. We aren’t loving as intended, as is natural given our situation. It is an indicator. It is a red light on your dash board. We may not be experiencing the fullness of God’s love.

We know what is true Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.

Sometimes we are our own false teachers. We tell ourselves that God’s love is for other people but not ourselves. Lies. When we tell ourselves that God’s love is limited for us we tell lies. It isn’t true. For our sake and for the sake of others and for the whole wide world we need to learn to stop this and embrace the truth of God’s great love.

An Exercise In Receiving God’s Love:

Relax, close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths. Let’s reassure our hearts and know that God loves us more and more assuredly than our hearts can condemn us.

We sit together safe on the edge of infinity.
We sit together in the presence of God’s great love.
This love surrounds each of us, enveloping us in comfort and affection.
There is no condemnation for those with Jesus.

God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure.
It is permanent.
Let that soak in for a moment.

Perhaps you are experiencing objections now to this understanding of God’s love.
Feelings of shame
Old memories
The hard words of others
Mistakes and flaws and failures.
Maybe these leaked out.
Maybe they came in a flood.
However, take a couple of deep breaths and remember we are safe in God’s loving presence.

Return then to this as we sit with God together
God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure.
It is permanent.

Now ask God to clear away every false idea, every false teacher, every perspective that try’s to keep you from God’s perfect love.

Take a couple of deep breaths
God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure. It is permanent.

Know this: every thought that tells you that God’s love is limited for you is a place that God wants to bring healing.

I say that again: every thought that tells you that God’s love is limited for you is a place that God wants to bring healing.
Maybe it is an old memory of shame, God wants to bring healing to that.
Maybe it is a current flaw that you are acting out, God wants to bring healing to that.
Maybe it indicates a needed correction, that is God’s intervention for healing.
Every thought that tells you that God’s love is limited for you is a place that God wants to bring healing.

Take a couple of deep breaths God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure.
It is permanent.

Say a prayer of thanks for this love and let it surround you.

This exercise isn’t about feeling something, though you may feel loved, freedom, peace, release or something else. You may feel nothing. You may feel disoriented or a little off. This is okay. It isn’t about building your self-esteem. It isn’t a replacement for mental health care.

The hope of this exercise is that we learn to accept the love of God as given. We stop fighting it. We embrace it so God’s great love can further its transformation on us. Heal us. Make us lovers. Make us whole.

Neighborliness starts here I think. At least being the type of neighbor Jesus spoke of. And I think, the great need of our day, making peace, begins here too. It isn’t the whole of it, but it is a beginning.

Jan 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Finding God’s Will for Your Life 01/15/2023

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to RefleXion!    May the Lord be with you.

I often think of my life in Christ as the branch of a tree, my image taken from the passage in John 15 about the vine and the branches.  The tree is the source of my life; my branch has been grafted in, scripture says, because I am a Gentile.  As Chuck mentioned last week, scripture refers to Gentiles as those who didn’t know the God of Abraham.  And now we do know God by the gift of faith.  Romans 11:17 reads, “And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in.  So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.” 

So being grafted in is not the end of it.  Can you picture the grafting in?  The vine promises to hold on to the branch, and the branch must also cling/send its fingers into the vine.  While the root of our tree is Holy, and our branch is made for receiving Holy nourishment, pests and parasites can cause damage, and knots within the branch can entangle and stop the flow of that nourishment.  We all have knots in us. 

Are you familiar with burled wood?  It’s quite beautiful on the outside and highly prized for making furniture and such.  And a burl is essentially a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. Burl formation is typically a result of some form of stress such as an injury or a viral or fungal infection, or it could be a genetic disorder.  The burl is the wound response.  When a tree has injury, any disruption of the inner layers interferes with the trees ability to receive nourishment.

Whatever we’ve been through, we remember that we are still beautiful, just as the burl is; but we want to be aware if, underneath that burl, the wound becomes an inner knot, entangling the free flow of Grace.  

And this is why we pay attention to our inner life:  to untangle our knots, to welcome the free flow of Grace, and to share in the promise of the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.

We start with noticing wherever and whenever it doesn’t seem that we are experiencing the flow of Grace.  We start with awareness and then we do our work with God, because we want those pests and parasites to no longer have the ability to impede the Holy flow of our life-in-Christ.

Will you pray with me: 

Father, in our inner being we delight in You.  We pray that, according to the riches of Your glory You may grant us power through Your Holy Spirit in our inner being.  We recognize that we are Your Holy Sanctuary; let it be more wholly Yours.  We pray in the Name of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined Genesis 40:1-3

Intro: I wasn’t going to mention anything about depression today

Everyone goes through stuff – and we just have to ride it out
– I feel like the poet who in Psalm 13 asks God,
How long, O LORD, Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day? (Ps. 13:1-2)
• my dark cloud persists and I’m not doing my best thinking
• when I begin a new series of talks, I have two concerns:
1. Is there a message God has for us at this given time?
2. What might you need or want to hear?
– for the time being, my brain left me a voice message:
“Currently out of the office. If you have an emergency, hang up and dial 911. You will be notified as soon as I return. For now, direct all personal inquiries to Barbara, your wife.”
• so instead of beginning a new series, I’ll be treading water
• I promise to try to keep it short

My topic is: Finding the will of God for your life

Here’s what preachers do when they know their talk is going to suck:
– they come up with a compelling sermon title
• so you’re not, really, going to learn about finding God’s will for your life
• what I’m going to share with you
◦ are three meditations from my scripture reading this week
– the first one was inspired, in part, by our Lexio Divina meeting on Wednesday night
(this one will be more intense than the other two meditations)
• our passage had to do with sin, lawlessness, and righteousness
◦ those are loaded words—hot topic words
◦ the reason they grate on us, is because we don’t understand them

The morning after our Lexio Divina meeting,
– I came to a passage that helps us see what righteousness means in the Hebrew Scriptures
• in fact, a 20th Century, OT theologian, referred to this story:
“A very extreme piece of evidence for [righteousness] . . . .”
• that’s where we’ll start:

What Gerhard von Rad explained about righteousness

von Rad, “There is absolutely no concept in the Old Testament with so central a significance for all the relationships of human life as is that of [righteousness]. It is the standard not only for [human] relationship with God, but also for [our] relationships to [others], reaching right down to the most petty wranglings . . . .”
– he says we’ve interpreted righteousness according to our Western presumptions
A person’s “proper conduct over against an absolute ethical norm, a legality which derives its form from the absolute idea of justice.”
“Nevertheless, it cannot be held that [the] Old Testament concept of righteousness is specifically forensic, for it embraces the whole of Israelite life, wherever [people] found themselves in mutual relationships.”
• he points out that righteousness, “in particular” is
“conduct loyal to a relationship [and] includes far more than mere correctness or legality . . . .”
• this is a relational righteousness – and it,
“demanded the showing of kindness, faithfulness, and as circumstances arose, helpful compassion to the poor or the suffering.” A person’s “common life was . . . judged from the point of view of faithfulness to a relationship.”
– von Rad illustrates this with the story of Saul and David
• Saul was out to murder David, and David disrespected Saul, but spared his life
“You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you with evil. . . . you did not kill me when the LORD put me into your hands (1 Sam. 24:17-18)
von Rad, Saul “meant that David had taken the relationship existing between the two of them more seriously and given more heed to it than Saul had.”
◦ later, David would say,
“The LORD rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness . . . .” (1 Sam. 26:23)
• that is righteousness; it’s key feature:
◦ faithfulness to what a relationship implies and requires

Four points that the Scriptures make clear:
– every relationship requires people to treat others in a way specific to that relationship
– everyone was constantly engaging in many different relationships
– every day could bring a new relationship
– what applied to human relationships also applied to relationship with God

The problem we’ve had with righteousness is thinking that it is moral, ethical, or legal
– doing what is “right” according to a list of rules
• that is exactly what the Pharisees believed
◦ and it turned them into intolerable fault-finders
◦ it did not make them good people
• biblical righteousness is not moral or legal, but relational

I am going to press the issue further,
– because it radically challenges what’s going on in churches today
• and it radically changes the way we live with others for God
– when Jesus was asked, What is the great commandment in the Law?
He answered, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . soul . . . and mind. . . . A second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 22:36-40)
• Paul echoes this in his letter to the Romans
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder,” . . . and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Ro. 13:9-10)
• Paul could not have said that love fulfills the law unless the law is relational rather than legal

Here’s my short version of the story I read Thursday morning

Jacob was a grandson of Abraham, whose name God changed to “Israel.” Jacob became the father of the nation of Israel and his twelve sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. One of Jacob’s sons was Judah, who married a Canaanite woman and together they had three sons. Afterward, Judah’s wife died.
Judah secured a wife for his oldest son, but he died without having any children with Tamar. At that time, it was the duty of the next son in line to sire a child with the widow in order to provide his dead brother with an heir. But for some reason, this younger brother he avoided getting Tamar pregnant. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death (Gen. 38:10). Judah was afraid to have his youngest take his older brother’s place and so he withheld him from Tamar.
When Tamar realized Judah was not going to fulfill his responsibility to her, she removed her widow’s clothing, dressed herself as a prostitute, and sat at an intersection where she knew Judah would pass on his way to celebrate with his friends. Seeing Tamar (his daughter-in-law), and assuming she was a prostitute, he gave her in pledge his signet cord and staff until he could send her a proper payment. However, when he left, she returned home and Judah did not hear from Tamar until he learned she was pregnant. When that news came to her, he said, “Bring her out, and let her be burned” (Gen. 38:25–a high price to pay for playing the role of a prostitute!). But that is when she produced his signet cord and staff, saying, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” At that, Judah exclaimed, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son” (Gen. 38:26). Gerhard von Rad asks, “But what in the world has this to do with our concept of righteousness?”
◦ the answer is, Nothing! She pretended to be a prostitute and he had sex with her
• our concept of righteousness is off, and we need to correct it
von Rad, “She wanted even by the most extreme of means to raise up descendants for her dead husband’s family, and because she had shown loyalty to her relationship to this family, she was ‘more righteous’ than her father-in-law, who had refused to giver her his youngest son in marriage.”
◦ God’s main concern for us is how we treat others

My second meditation is from the first verses I read (Gen. 40:1-2)

Joseph was this innocent young man
– betrayed by his brothers and maligned by his boss’s wife
• then imprisoned in a foreign land, he dropped to the lowest point in his life
• then one day two new prisoners landed behind bars
◦ Joseph was assigned to their care
◦ this resulted in him being introduced to Pharaoh, and from there he became the second most power ruler in the nation
– it seems to me that the two officers thrown into prison exactly where Joseph was confined was a “fortuitous coincidence”
• my meditation was simple:
“Has it occurred to you that God’s will for your life can find you right where you are?”
◦ we don’t find God’s will for our lives, his will finds us — wherever we are
◦ and our circumstances make no difference — they play into our destiny, they do not prevent it
• later, Joseph will tell his brothers,
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Gen. 50:20)

My third meditation is from this same story

Although the cupbearer was key to Joseph’s destiny, he faltered
– this officer enjoyed the status of working for royalty
• peasants were beneath him – prisoners were nothing to him
◦ although Joseph brought him good news and asked to be remembered and mentioned to the Pharaoh, we read,
Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him (Gen. 40:23)
• my meditation was:
“Don’t take it to heart when you are forgotten”
– we disappear behind whatever good we do in the name of Jesus
• the banner that flies over all acts of Christian service the slogan of John the Baptist:
He must increase, but I must decrease (Jn. 3:30)

Conclusion: So here are my three thoughts for today:

Being God’s child is not about being pious, religious, going to church; it’s about being a good person
God’s will finds you where you are now
Don’t take it to heart when you’re forgotten, but
Rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Lk. 10:20)

Jan 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Don’t Be Like the Gentiles — 01/08/2023

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!                   May the Grace and Mercy of the Lord be with you.

Thank you, Chuck, for your Christmas Day prayer, and for the beautiful message you posted on New Year’s Day.

In years past, at least for me, by this time of the year I would have compiled my New Year’s Resolutions.  Have you had that practice, or do any of us still do that? A few years ago, I gave up with making resolutions, because I mostly didn’t keep them, this list of “what I was going to do/accomplish, achieve.”  But this year the word “Resolution” came to me in a fresh way, so I’ve decided to keep it. 

I’m learning to begin with my desires: What do I really long for or want: to become, to remember, to realign with, to recover, to receive? And then, writing those down, I can keep coming back—not to my list to do—but to my heart.  

And I was reminded that Resolution can also refer to the number of pixels (for images) or dots (for printers) of numbers per inch to describe the sharpness or clarity. A better resolution can help us to see better, with more clarity. I want to see better and more; I want to learn how to see. So, how will I form my life and practices to support this resolution for better resolution? I’m holding on to that question.

Along with that, I’m holding on to my last year’s focus; I want to realize my connected Self, the oneness/communion with God and others that IS, so I’ve purposed to practice ways that might help me to become aware and enjoy this connectedness. How many ways can I meet with God and others? 

We’re blessed this morning to have Holy Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist—whatever you name it. For me, this sacred feast is a time for this better seeing and deep connection, and we are all invited to come.

Pray with me:

Lord God, we desire that we would gaze at you in a hundred places and that You would be known to us in a thousand ways. We offer this hour for you to come to us and steady us for this year’s journey. No matter where life takes us, You will make known to us the path of life. You will fill us with Joy in Your Presence. Let this season be filled with life, and light, and love. We are in need of all of it. Jesus, in Your Name. Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Matthew 5:43-47
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 6:7-8
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. Matthew 6:31-32

Intro: Here we are together again, after a two week break

We’re going to begin this new year together with “Communion”;
– the Christian ritual of bread and wine
• in 1 Corinthians 10:16, Paul describes the ritual like this:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a [communion] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a [communion] in the body of Christ?
• what happens here, is that we share a common union
◦ we are joined to Jesus by the gift of his body and blood
◦ we are joined to each other in God through Jesus
– in the Communion ritual, we renew our relationship with Jesus and with each other
• so we’re about to go straight to God and set our course for the new year

In the verses I read, Jesus teaches love, prayer, and peace

There is also a sub-theme in each lesson: Don’t be like the Gentiles
– why does Jesus pick on the Gentiles?
• it’s not that Gentiles were especially evil,
◦ but they did not know the God of Abraham
◦ the God who revealed himself in the Hebrew Scriptures
• Gentiles lived apart from the God who had sent Jesus,
◦ whom Jesus referred to as his heavenly Father
◦ Gentiles lived by light they had, but it was not up to the divine standard
– I came across these verses this week reading in Matthew
• the third time Jesus made a negative comparison with Gentiles,
◦ I was struck by the relevance of what he was saying
• a reason for that may be, I’ve also been reading small book
◦ Leo Tolstoy’s A Confession

Before his twentieth birthday Tolstoy had lost his faith in God
– later on, after winning financial success as a thinker and writer, he fell into depression
• nothing mattered to him or brought him any joy
◦ so great was his despair that he considered suicide
• the way he dealt with this dark period was to look for a meaning to life
– he turned first to science, but that proved to be a dead end
• science can tell us a great deal regarding life in a material universe,
◦ but nothing about its meaning or purpose
• he then turned to philosophy and religion – and there he found the bleakest quotes
◦ by Socrates, Schopenhauer, Solomon, and Buddha, all of whom concluded that life is meaningless
Tolstoy, “Not finding an explanation in science, I began to seek for it in life, hoping to find it among the people around me. And I began to observe how the people around me—people like myself—lived, and what their attitude was to this question, which had brought me to despair.”
◦ that paragraph hit me like thunder and lightning

Immediately I realized that’s what most of us do

Here’s what I’ve observed in young married couples: They do not know the meaning of their lives. They get out of bed in the morning and engage in its routine and rituals. They get dressed, eat breakfast, get their child or children to school, and then begin their day’s chores. They repeat these actions endlessly, not knowing the meaning of what they’re doing–or if there is any meaning.

At some point, they look at the lives of others, and ask, “What is important to them?” Then they compare their own lives to those of others. As a result of what they observe, they either begin setting goals for themselves or they severely judge themselves. Looking at others their age, they think they need: to own a home, drive a new car (preferably one with some status), push their children to earn good grades and force them into team sports. They also spend money they don’t have on the most recent technology.

All the pressure they place on themselves to greater achievement comes from observing the lifestyle of their peers. They have been caught in the stampede of the herd. They have no idea what they’re running from, or running to, or even why they are running. But they run because everyone else is running. And if there is a meaning to any of this or all of it, they have no idea what it may be. Maybe they assume this mindless running will eventually lead them to a meaning. If that’s the case, then their lives are very sad and they are destined to be disappointed.

You may have heard of Jordan Peterson
• after a severe life-crisis, he shared what he had learned through it:
Peterson, “In a crisis the inevitable suffering that life entails can rapidly make a mockery of the idea that happiness is the proper pursuit of the individual. . . . a deeper meaning was required.” (Emphasis added)

Jesus said, “Don’t be like the Gentiles”

Don’t take your cues from people who do not know the God of Abraham
– don’t ask the blind to take your hand and guide you
• don’t ask the world to give your life a meaning
• the world can’t teach you what it doesn’t know, or give you what it doesn’t have
– however, the world is clever enough to lie to us
• to make promises it can’t keep
• or offer us an artificial meaning to life,
◦ a meaning that will cost us money, yet is too shallow to satisfy the human soul

Conclusion: If we don’t borrow meaning from the lives of others, then where do we find it?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Mt. 6:33)
– the specific meaning of your life or my life is hidden from us
• I don’t think we can know it by looking for it
◦ I think we can know it only by living it
Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God (1 Cor. 4:5)
• the general meaning of the Christian life is righteousness
◦ doing what is right according to the teaching of Jesus
◦ loving God above all else and loving our neighbor as we want to be loved
– I think our personal meaning will be tied up in the affect we have had on others

So, this new year let’s try, first thing every morning, to seek God first
And seek his kingdom
(rather than building our own little kingdoms)
And seek his righteousness;
namely, to be right with him
And to be right with others according to the teaching of Jesus

This, I believe, is how we will live into meaning of our lives

Jan 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

NEW YEAR’S DAY — January 1, 2023

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Announcement for our local Reflexion family:
The memorial service for Ellen Stieler will take place Saturday January 20, 2023 at Capo Beach Church. More details will be provided as we get closer to the date.

Morning Devotional: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: Barb and I live off a street that drivers are always speeding up and down

A motorcycle officer occasionally sits on our street at the intersection and clocks speeders
– he’s never there for more than four or five minutes, and someone is always getting a traffic ticket
• from Christmas Eve until a couple days after Christmas, that busy street was quiet
• but Thursday, when I was walking Kona, drivers were speeding again
◦ tail-gating slow drivers and back to their general aggressive, competitive, and rude behavior
◦ I thought, “Well, Christmas is over”
– there are many theories about the “Christmas spirit” (movies made and books written about it)
• it includes warm feelings, friendliness, generosity, family gatherings, decorations, and so on
◦ it’s something we have to “recover” every year, because it doesn’t last
◦ it seems we box it up with the wreaths, ornaments, and colorful lights
• all the polite greetings and wishing strangers “Happy holidays” quickly fade
◦ a few days after New Year people are already reverting to their bad habits

Is there anything Christmas brings that can last the whole year?

The answer is obvious: Christmas brings Jesus Christ
– his last words to the disciples in Matthew’s gospel:
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20)
– one New Year’s day, Henri Nouwen wrote down some of his thoughts
Nouwen, “A new beginning! We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new. . . . Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises.”
• he noted that it’s difficult to live in the present
“The past and the future keep harassing us. The past with guilt, the future with worries.”
◦ he describes our worries as the “What ifs”
(imagine all the bad things that could happen)
◦ our past haunts us with guilt
(“I ought to have done a better job,” “I ought to try harder,” etc.)

Nouwen, “The real enemies of our life are the ‘oughts’ and the ‘ifs.’ They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and the now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful. . . . Jesus came to wipe away the burden of the past and the worries for the future. He wants us to discover God where we are, here and now.”

We don’t have to work at keeping the Christmas spirit alive

Life with the Lord Jesus is the essence of the Christmas spirit
– meeting him in the moments of the New Year fuels the fire that warms the spirit

The scripture on my mind this morning, takes us somewhere else

The apostle Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and transferred to Rome for trial
– when he arrived in Rome, he met with a community of Jewish men and women
• they knew nothing of Paul, but had heard about the Jesus Movement in Judah
• so when Paul met with them,
From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:
‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’”
Acts 28:23-28

I’ve wrestled with myself over what I’m going to share next
– my inclination is to stop here
• I’ve said the important stuff
◦ if I share personal stuff, it could hang over the moment like a dark cloud
◦ but it may also benefit someone else who suffers as I do
– two days before Christmas, I went to the pharmacy to fill a prescription
• I was told they didn’t have my antidepressant in stock
◦ in fact, since October there has been a national shortage of it
◦ this is the one med that counteracts my Attention Deficit Disordered brain
• ADD not only makes concentration and paying attention difficult,
◦ but there is an affective component of shame, self-blame, and difficulty regulating emotions
◦ the past week has been pretty miserable and unsteady

Thursday, when I read this passage,

It seemed that God was saying to me,
“Won’t you open your heart and turn to me, so I can heal you?”
– right at that moment, I felt like I could not do it
• that I didn’t have it in me; the strength, or the will, or the desire
• I wasn’t acting like a stubborn child, it just seemed impossible
– the thought of preparing anything worthwhile to say this morning,
• also seemed impossible
• I asked myself,
◦ “Do I even want to add one more year to my life?”
◦ my immediate answer was NO!

Then these verses of scripture
– Israel’s spiritual disabilities through the centuries–not seeing or hearing–
• continued all the way to the time of Jesus
• even his disciples, did not always have eyes that could see or ears that could hear
– I have always wanted to see, to hear, and to perceive whatever God wants to reveal to me
• but this passage caught me in a moment of shutting myself off from God
• as soon as I heard God ask me,
“Won’t you open your heart and turn to me, so I can heal you?”
◦ my frozen heart melted
◦ I could not resist his tender love – his generosity – his effort to reach me

My days have not become any easier
– and I don’t expect them to for awhile
• but I keep turning myself toward God
• I don’t think he is asking much more from me than just that
– and unexpectedly, I have actually experienced moments of joy
• the sun broke through and caught me by surprise

Conclusion: So my talk today is about moments with Jesus

If at any time that seems hard
or the Christmas spirit slips from your heart,
perhaps when you’re taking down the lights
or dragging the Christmas tree to the curb,
imagine hearing the voice of your heavenly Father, asking,
“Won’t you open your heart and turn to me, so I can heal you?”
And see if you can pry enough space for him to squeeze in

Dec 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Advent Sunday 12/18/2022–Love

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Welcome and Prayer: Karyn Jones

Good Morning

The Lord be with you

Our last advent candle represents LOVE.

Growing up, my parents made Christmas morning truly magical. Whether they had the money or not, “Santa always brought many gifts.” And even though my dad died just a week before Christmas, 31 years ago today, my mom still made that Christmas “special” for us kids, not because she had the “holiday spirit”, but because she LOVED us.

Not everyone here may love Christmas as much as I do, my husband included. During the holiday season, he’s given one “Scrooge Day,” after that, he’s not allowed to complain about the capitalism of Christmas.

And during the holiday season, we have so many opportunities to share LOVE. Whether it’s in gift-giving or going out of our way to do something nice for someone, we get filled with the holiday spirit of LOVE.

This week provided an example to share today. I love Disneyland. I love Christmas and I love Disneyland. Brett and I had an opportunity to go this week, but Brett does NOT like Disneyland. And so I tried to use the psychology of, “I would really like you to come with us, but then I had to let it go and let him make that decision. And he decided to go. To me, that was such an example of LOVE, because I know how much he does not like going to Disneyland. And . . . we had a good time, so that was cool.

But what does that have to do with LOVE and the baby Jesus?

Luke 2:10 says “But the Angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy, that will be for all people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you.”

I found the following quote and I really loved it:

“God’s relentless, loyal love arrives in Jesus, and his affection for us drives him to give us the ultimate act of loyal love in his life, death, and resurrection.”

For me, that pretty much sums it all up, from Jesus’ humble birth, to his sacrifice on the cross. God’s love ARRIVES in a baby. For many people, there really is nothing more exciting than the expectation of the arrival of a new baby. But who could have thought, especially Mary and Joseph, that THIS little “bundle of joy” would change everything.

Joseph loved Mary enough to endure the embarrassment and shame. Mary loved her baby enough to trust the angel saying “Do Not Be Afraid.” And God loves us enough to show his love in such a human way. A baby.

The culmination of the Christmas story,
the response to the waiting of Advent,
Christ born to us, the incarnation of God’s LOVE.

God came to us in human form, to dwell among us, because the fullness of God’s love could not be expressed from a distance.

That’s pretty awesome!

Prayer:

Thank you God ,for this Christmas season,
a time to remind us of your love for all.
Thank you that you entrusted Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus so that we could experience the mystery,
that God’s LOVE is reflected in the eyes of a baby.
I pray as we go into this next week, with so many things to do, that we will take moments throughout each day to remember your unconditional love.
And if we happen to see a baby, that we would be reminded of your arrival into our life, that first Christmas.
Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.
“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
Malachi 1:1-3

Intro: Malachi is an odd little book

Like the other prophetic books he brings the word of the LORD to his people
– in Malachi’s time the spiritual culture of Jerusalem was deteriorating
• the priests had become careless and bored with their duties
• the people had lost their faith and broken covenants (with God and each other)
◦ as with the earlier prophets, God had a message for them
◦ but the way Malachi structures his book is unique and creative
– God pulls his people into arguments
• sometimes it sounds a lot like parents with their teenage children
A son honors his father . . . where is my honor? God asks (v. 6)
◦ each time he makes an accusation, they take the bait
“What are you talking about? How have we disrespected you?”
• in response to their objection, Malachi delivers God’s a full-length prophetic pronouncement

I should probably clarify for you,
– what lies behind God saying he loved Jacob and hated Esau
• Genesis tells us that these twin brothers struggled with each other while still within their mother
◦ Rebekah inquired of God what this rivalry meant and he told her:
Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the older shall serve the younger (Gen. 25:22-23)
• in time, Esau’s descendants became the nation of Edom and Jacob’s descendants the nation of Israel
◦ so though the two nations were related by blood, there was always tension between them
◦ when Israel was conquered, Edom exploited their defeat
Robert Alter, “Esau is Edom, and the bitter lingering memory of the Edomites’ collaboration with the Babylonians in the destruction of Jerusalem informs [and explains] these lines.”
◦ this contention appears in the prophecy of Amos
For three transgressions of Edom,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he pursued his brother with the sword
and cast off all pity,
and his anger tore perpetually,
and he kept his wrath forever (1:11)
– so God’s answer to Israel’s question, “How have you loved us?” is this:
• he allowed Edom to disappear from the face of the earth,
◦ but preserved Israel even through devastation and exile
• sadly, by this time Israel had grown skeptical of God’s love for them

These are the verses that came to me for today’s Advent meditation

Christmas is a revelation of– love
– when reminded of this, I tend to think of our obligation to love
• we are, in fact, commanded to love
• John’s gospel quotes Jesus saying,
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me (Jn. 14:21)
◦ Jesus did not give us a stone tablet list of commandments like Moses gave to Israel
◦ there was only one instruction Jesus referred to as command
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (Jn. 15:12)
– so when Jesus says,
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him
• he shows us that love opens every vital door:
◦ the Father’s love for us,
◦ Jesus’ love for us,
◦ and Jesus’ self-manifestation to us
• how well we know Jesus, and how well we reflect Jesus, depends on how well we love
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn. 13:35)
◦ this is truly a radical love – for strangers and even for our enemies

However–Advent love is not this, it is not our obligation to love others

There was a love prior to our love
– a love that enters our hearts and inspires love
• ours is a secondary love, a derived love
◦ being loved, is how we learned to love
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
We love because he first loved us
(1 Jn. 4:16 and 19)
• Advent love was born in Bethlehem
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son (Jn. 3:16)
– love’s true nature is generous – love gives
lust says, “You are so wonderful, I must have you!”
love says, “You are so wonderful, I must give myself to you”
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Song 6:3)
◦ this is the most valuable gift – the gift of oneself
◦ David understood this, and especially in how love perceives the worship of God
I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing (2 Sam. 24:24)

Advent celebrates the most exquisite, extravagant Christmas gift ever

Jesus described this type of gift to his disciples
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (Jn.15:13)
– Paul elaborated on it in his letter to the Romans
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Ro. 5:7-8)
• John chimed in on it too:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn. 4:9-10)
• what scripture reveals is that God loves us with the kind of love we need
◦ what is that kind of love?

I’ve been reading a book on Attention Deficit Disorder
– it tells my story so accurately, my picture should be on cover
• Gabor Maté is a doctor, whose experience is with family practice
◦ but his field of research includes trauma and child development
◦ ADD is a specialty field he has studied–he has also been diagnosed with ADD
• he doesn’t believe its hereditary or a chemical imbalance
◦ he’s convinced it results from a lack of nurturing in infancy and early childhood
◦ ADD children whose most important needs were not met
Maté, “So the first thing is to create some space in the child’s heart of hearts for the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love. She does not have to do anything, or be any different, to earn that love—in fact, she cannot do anything, because the love cannot be won and cannot be lost. It is not conditional.”
– he explains how some parents, working on short-term goals,
• ruin their long-term relationship with their child
◦ I instinctively knew that what was most important with my kids and I,
◦ was that we would always have a close relationship
• Maté says parents have to take responsibility for the relationship
Maté, “The parents enthusiastically and genuinely invite the child into relationship. They do not issue declarations of love; they demonstrate day by day that they want the child’s company. They think of things to do together, or they just ‘hang out’ with the child, with an attitude of active attention. When they are with the child, they are fully there . . . .” “Being wanted and enjoyed is the greatest gift the child can receive. It is the basis of self-acceptance. ADD children, without exception, harbor a deep insecurity about themselves.”
◦ he emphasizes not attaching acceptance to performance
◦ whether criticized or praised, a child can feel “judged”
Maté, “People do not need judgments—they need acceptance.”
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world (Jn. 12:47)

Now I want you to hear this again:

“I have loved you,” says the LORD
Did you hear that? The perfect heavenly Parent is speaking to you
– God has composed poems to express his love for us
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (Isa. 49:15-16)

Can you allow yourself to receive God’s love?
– this is his Christmas gift to you – can you accept it?
• can you let God love you for you?
◦ love you exactly as you are
– that God loves us must be received into every neuron in our brains
• and every other cell in our bodies
• God’s love is a love that welcomes us,
◦ that doesn’t fluctuate with his mood or our actions
– “God can’t love me; I’m too awful”
• God knows how awful I am, but loves me (the true me) anyway
• and his love transforms me

Conclusion: When my brother and I were in grade school, Dad had a way of calling us home when we were running around outside in the neighborhood. He made a circle with his thumb and forefinger, and place them in his mouth, lightly touching his tongue, and blow. There was a certain rhythm to His whistle, sort of like the whip-poor-will, whit-wehoo, and he would make that sound three times. His whistle was so loud, we could hear it even if we were several blocks from our home. When we heard the whistle, we ran home. We knew his call. I even learned how to whistle loud like him, so when he whistled, I would return the call to let him know we heard him and were on our way.
A few years ago, friends invited us to come watch the Christmas boat parade in the Newport Beach harbor. As we were enjoying the decorated procession of vessels, we heard loud music coming from a very festive looking yacht across the harbor. Barbara nudged me and said, “Is that your mom and dad?” I had to strain my eyes to barely see the couple sitting on a bench in the stern of the ship. It looked like it could be my folks, but I wasn’t sure. So I placed my thumb and forefinger against my tongue and blew whit-wehoo, whit-wehoo, whit-wehoo. Immediately Mom and Dad moved around scanning across the harbor to see where that familiar whistle originated. Then Dad whistled back, and we touched through the distance and the darkness, telling each other, “I am here too.”

Through the prophet Zechariah, God told Israel he would bring their lost children home
I will whistle for them and gather them in,
for I have redeemed them . . . .
in far countries they shall remember me,
and with their children they shall live and return.
I will bring them home (Zech. 10:8-10)

Advent love calls us home, to the goodness of God’s infinitely loving heart

Dec 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Advent Sunday 12/11/2022–Joy

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Welcome and Prayer: Jo Daxon

The Lord be with you.

The third Advent Candle represents Joy. It is also referred to as the Shepherd’s Candle, because in Luke chapter 2, the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy for all the people! Get ready! The child is coming–Messiah, Savior. He will be all that He is, for all the people, of all generations. All are included.” 

This third candle offers more light for us, on our path of hope, peace, joy and love. 
This season offers lots of distractions, to-dos, but the path is in place and I can always breathe and return to it.

My grandson asked my daughter if they could attend a concert next week featuring carols, liturgy, candles, “You know mom, the Christmas stuff.” We each experience joy differently, circumstantially and he wanted to get in a place where he could feel it.
But our shared joy is Jesus, and it is in Him that we’ll find the sacred moments during Advent. 

“Jesus, you are the consistent joy in our lives. 
When we make a place for you–in worship, in a shared experience, in spending time in your creation–you meet us there and that moment is enriched with joy. 
We get to know you more, even as we are known. 
Abiding in you, your joy in us, and our joy, is made full. 
Jesus, the most holy one of God, heavenly,
 beyond our understanding . . . .
Jesus is here in our town, here with us. 
Jesus, you are the joy given to us, we are the joy you considered as you endured the cross, the example to look to heaven in our pain and rely on your Spirit for comfort. Another kind of joy in that faith transaction of beauty for ashes. 
Help us in our hearts and in our living to be receivers and sharers of joy. 
Jesus, our Emmanuel, our joy. 
Amen. “

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. . . .
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth
Zechariah 9:9-10

Intro: ADVENT is a season of travel

We are on the road to Bethlehem
– we are like Israel when they made pilgrimage to Jerusalem
• they sang while hiking up to the peak of Mount Zion
◦ there is a beautiful description of this journey in Psalm 84
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion (Psa. 84:4-7)
• like them, we make our way toward Christmas day,
◦ and as we go, we sing Carols celebrating our hope of what awaits us
– besides living in a different time and a different world,
• their journey was different from ours
◦ theirs was geographical; they traveled through space
◦ ours is a journey through time
• their travel included desert and oasis; valley and mountain; meeting strangers and fellow worshipers
◦ our travel brings encounters with hope, peace, joy, and love
◦ today we make our way to joy

God gave Zechariah a message regarding the future

For seventy years the LORD had abandoned Israel
– his people had suffered the hardship and oppression of living in exile
• but now, Zechariah makes the announcement:
Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem (Zec. 8:3)
• he promises to eliminate their immediate threats,
◦ to the north, Syria and Tyre and Sidon; to the south the five kingdom cities of the Philistines
◦ and from there, to the ends of the earth (v. 10)
On that day the LORD their God will save them,
as the flock of his people;
for like the jewels of a crown
they shall shine on his land.
For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!
Grain shall make the young men flourish,
and new wine the young women (Zec. 9:16-17)
– so they are to rejoice in anticipation of their hero’s arrival
• surprisingly, their hero does not look like a proud champion; he is
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey
• but he is the one who will bring peace to Jerusalem and to the world
◦ when the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with shouting,
◦ both Matthew and John witnessed it as a fulfillment of Zechariah’s announcement

Advent joy is inspired by what it sees on the horizon

Is there enough of the child still in you, to remember how exciting it was to look forward to Christmas?
– when C. S. Lewis wrote the magical fairytale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,
• one of his characters described the curse that had been placed on Narnia
The White Witch “’has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!’
‘How awful!’ said Lucy.
• Christmas is what makes winter bearable
◦ light in the darkness, warmth in the freezing cold
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you
– we are on the road to Christmas
• and at the same time, Christmas is coming to us

I admit that I’m the last person to teach anything about joy

I should have asked my sister Cheryl to speak this morning
– I know Christians who live in a constant state of joy
• they have all these bright sayings, optimistic slogans, and positive ways to interpret everything
• they pick up the Bible, read, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” and say, “Oh, that’s easy!”
– I am not one of “them” – and, I’ve never appreciated their attempts to cheer me
• “Hey, Mr. Sad-face, where’s your smile?”
◦ “I locked it in the cellar” – it’s all I can think to say

There are different types of depression,
– but all of them block the feelings of joy
• for most people, it is temporary and resolves on its own
◦ for others, depression is a way of life
• for some, the brain’s chemistry for joy doesn’t work
◦ all of the color and music of the world has faded out
• the self-contempt of many depressed people is so strong,
◦ they can’t allow themselves to enjoy life–they’re certain they don’t deserve to enjoy it
– what I am saying is that some of us need healing before we can experience joy
• and some of us have to work at joy
• we have to force ourselves to remember a time of joy and what it felt like
◦ I tried to remember moments of joy from this past week
◦ at first, nothing came – then I remembered the cloud formations I saw on Tuesday and the joy I felt
◦ then other moments came to mind and it was, in fact, a joy-filled week
– I also realized, that each stab of joy brought me to God,
• that I recognized his hand in what I saw, heard, and felt
• then, the most natural response of joy was to thank him and praise him

We don’t have to worry if we lose joy for a moment

When God’s Spirit moves in our soul,
– to feel nothing is as normal as feeling something
• human emotion alternates with every new situation:
• difficulty and ease, fountains and dryness, sorrow and joy
◦ the wise teacher said:
In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God had made the one as well as the other, [and you never know what is going to happen next] (Ecc. 7:14)
– Pope Gregory the Great outlined three stages of Christian experience:
1. the struggle of our old self and our new self
2. by God’s grace, the new self wins and we’re filled with joy
3. then, so we won’t become conceited, he causes us to journey in the desert
◦ but God will always lead us back to joy
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psa. 30:5)

Do we need to be reminded happiness is not the same as joy?

It seems rather cliché to go over this again
– still, the reminder may do us some good
• we should not think we are supposed to accept joy and reject happiness
◦ we will experienced both joy and happiness
◦ but there is a different quality to each of these feelings
• think about their opposites
◦ the opposite of happiness, unhappiness, is not getting what we want
◦ the opposite of joy, sorrow, is losing what we had (that was meaningful to us)
– I think that happiness is wrapped up in tangibles
• what joy involves is spiritual
◦ there’s a lot of happiness at Disneyland and birthday parties
◦ there’s joy when the children come to visit
– happiness is short-lived – it comes and goes quickly
• joy lodges itself in the soul
– happiness requires repetition of specific stimulation
• joy produces a lasting contentment
– I think that happiness stirs the shallow part of our soul
• joy moves in the depths of our being
– happiness typically involves having “fun” – getting our next fix
• joy is found in sharing relationships with others
– we find happiness in getting “things” or certain activities
• love is the most common source of joy–even a pet can bring joy
Keep you life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5)
◦ what brings contentment? A secure, loving relationship
◦ in this instance, it is God who tells us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”

Like faith and hope and love, joy is a challenge

Henri Nouwen, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep on choosing every day.”
“Some people become bitter as they grow old. Others grow old joyfully. That does not mean that the life of those who become biter was harder than the life of those who become joyful. It means that different choices were made, inner choices, choices of the heart.”
“It is important that at every moment of our life we have an opportunity to choose joy.”
– joy does not exist in the natural world–it is neither a substance or a force
• a rock, a leaf, a puddle of rain water may stir up feelings in us,
◦ but those emotions are not felt by or emitted from the rock, leaf, or puddle
◦ nature can be nourishing or brutal, either way it doesn’t care
• joy is our inner response to sky and mountains, rivers and trees
◦ William James said that joy is our gift to the universe
– so I begin to ask myself questions to take my next step on this Bethlehem road
• I have not mastered joy, but am I moving toward it?
• have I been living in a way that allows joy to come to me? Am I receptive to joy?

Conclusion: There was a moment of joy I recall vividly

And I’ve returned to that fountain many times. I was twenty-three years old and driving up north to share an apartment with my cousin. I stopped to visit friends in Lompoc, California and then again in Napa. From there I was going on to Yuba City. I was on a stretch of highway not far from Sacramento and it occurred to me that no one knew where I was–not my family, not my former neighbors, none of my friends; no one. GPS tracking was not available back then and it was long before cell phones. Suddenly, I had a profound feeling as if I were sucked into a vacuum of loneliness. On my car seat next to me was my Bible and a commentary on the book of Hosea I had been reading and enjoying. I glanced at it, and instantly my mood shot upward. I said out loud, “It’s just you and me, Jesus! Just you and me.” Since that time I’ve been thrown into situations I never expected–rejected, abandoned, alone. But before I could sink into my misery fully, I heard Jesus’ voice in my heart, “It’s just you and me–again. Just you and me.” And the joy was there again. I feel it now as I recall it.

Toward the end of John’s gospel, Jesus told his disciples,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (Jn. 14:1-3)
Joy is the fruit of relationships and love
The prospect of Jesus coming for us so that we can be with him, brings us joy
because we know and love him
In the next chapter of John, Jesus told his disciples,|
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (Jn. 15:11)
Maybe fullness of joy isn’t about volume
Maybe it is the integration of our whole person,
joy in every part: our mind, heart, body, and spirit

Look again at what Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you”
Can you hear this? There is a place for you!
A place where you are wanted, loved, sheltered, and where you “belong”

Advent joy is what comes with Christmas–and Christmas is Jesus

Dec 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Advent Sunday 12/04/2022–Peace

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Welcome and Prayer: Rich Milstead

When I was in college, my roommate and I joined a march to protest the building of a nuclear power plant in Diablo Canyon, because we thought it would be a terrible thing. In fact, Aaron was very upset about it, and was saying, “What happens if this thing is built?” For me, the thought of it was not as terrifying, and I told him, “I’m okay, because I’ve read the the final chapter”–referring to the Scriptures, where God wins.

I had grown up in a mainline denomination where our version of faith in God was the equivalent of having fire insurance. We did not hear a whole lot about a personal relationship with Jesus. Later on, I met Chuck, read books, and discovered the idea that faith could be knowing Jesus, which was much nicer than fire insurance.

Nerd that I am, I looked up peace in the dictionary and read that it is “a lack of conflict or war.” That’s easy, because I’m not fighting anyone or at war with anyone. But if we look at peace in the Scriptures, the Hebrew word is Shalom. In English, a common greeting is, “How are you?” In Israel, people greet each other with, “How is your shalom?”

I looked up Shalom too and it is peace, but of a much richer sort than our English word indicates. Shalom is a general state of well-being, a wholeness or completeness within oneself, a harmony with God and others, it is the soul’s prosperity, welfare and tranquility. This is much more than just a lack of conflict or war.

This is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. However, if you’ve been out in the malls or holiday traffic, you realize the birth of the Prince of peace brings out less than peaceful reactions from a lot of people. I was talking to a guy at the job site, who is responsible for holding up the stop sign to stop cars to protect both workers and drivers. He told me, “This time of year, when I hold up the sign I get a lot of angry reactions.” There’s not a lot of shalom out there.

So, “How is your shalom?”

Our prayer this morning is from 2 Thessalonians 3: 16, and I am reading The Message version:

May the Master of Peace himself give you the gift of getting along with each other at all times, in all ways. May the Master be truly among you.

Morning Talk: Phil Aguilar

We do not have notes for Phil’s talk, but you can watch it by clicking on the Watch Live button in the sidebar and scrolling to it.

Nov 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Advent Sunday 11/27/2022–Hope

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome Friends!              May the Hope of the Lord be with you!

We begin our Advent journey today; Advent is traditionally a time of preparation for Christmas.  It is remembered on the four Sundays preceding Christmas; and—if you didn’t realize it yet—Christmas falls on a Sunday this year.  We will not be having a service on that day.

Preparing for Christmas – what comes to your mind?  It probably does include garland, cards, and presents; but most especially, we want to allow a time of preparing the Way for the Christ.  Today we will be entering Advent with the theme of Hope.  What other way would we enter?  Those who were waiting for Jesus’ birth had been waiting in Hope for a very long time. Matthew gives us the timeline of about 700 years when he points to the prophesy of Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.”  Immanuel means “God is with us,” and that’s what they were waiting for.  It wasn’t just waiting, but waiting in Hope. We still wait for the fulfillment of all the prophecies, but let’s be pre-occupied with waiting in Hope.

Another prophet, Zechariah, calls us to be “prisoners of hope.”  Let’s long to be that, unable to quit hoping in Jesus and His Kingdom come.

Remember how Mary visited Elizabeth who was still carrying John the Baptist, and how John, still in the womb, leapt in anticipation and recognition of the coming of the Lord Jesus.  We hope for the Second Coming of Christ, and also a visitation, a revelation, an engagement with Christ along the way, ones that will make our hearts leap.

Pray with me:

Lord, as we will light the candle of Hope today, may we realize the significance of the Hope that does not disappoint, poured out into our heart by the Holy Spirit.  This is the candle that will remain lit in the coming weeks, just as Hope must sustain us and carry us forward.  May our Hope be as a feather, drawn upward by the breath of the Spirit.  Thank you for this beautiful day to remember our Hope in Jesus, the Christ.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” Acts 17:1-3

Intro: When St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he told them,

He was impressed by three qualities that they demonstrated:
your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 1:3)
– faith, love, and hope – essential building blocks of a Christian life
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13)
• Paul may have looked for evidence of these traits in the churches he visited
• do they walk by faith, hang onto hope, and do everything in love?
– “Hope” is the Advent theme for this Sunday

I’m going to begin with three observations regarding hope

First, hope is an attitude that is oriented to the future
– it may be the near future or a distant future
• but it looks forward to an ultimate outcome that is good
• that outcome is not yet within our grasp, but its believable
I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me (2 Tim. 1:12)
we wait eagerly for…the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Ro. 8:23-25)
Second, hope anchors the soul (Heb. 6:19)
– the soul in scripture is our natural self – our needy self
• it is both mind and emotions; drives and desires; physical and psychological needs
• the soul needs to be anchored, otherwise, it will drift with every current moving through culture
Third, the Christian hope for the future rests in Jesus Christ our Lord
if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (Jn. 14:3)
– the birth of Jesus brought an eternal hope into our world — that is in the past
• Paul refers to the return of Jesus as the blessed hope (Titus 2:13) — that is in our future
– Advent is the celebration of both arrivals of Jesus
• when he first came to us in Bethlehem and when he will revisit the world in glory

In Acts 17, Paul is introducing a Jewish community to Jesus

He makes an argument that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy
– it amazes me, how quickly the disciples found Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures
• in Acts chapter 8, Philip was led to a man who was an official in the court of the Ethiopian Queen
◦ Philip found the official sitting in his chariot, reading Isaiah 53
◦ the official asked Philip,
“About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:34-35)
◦ Isaiah 53 may be the most explicit message prefiguring the gospel in entire Old Testament
• when Paul presented his argument regarding the Messiah, his closing statement was:
“This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (Messiah)

Israel had held onto a hope for centuries
– that the dynasty of King David would rise from the ashes
• that a descendant of David’s would become Israel’s ultimate king
• that God would anoint him to rule Israel
◦ and through Israel, God would rule the world
(“anointed one” is the meaning of the Hebrew word Messiah and the Greek word Christ)
◦ Isaiah prophesied that in the golden age
[The LORD] shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more (Isa. 2:4)
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them. . . .
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:6-9)
– Paul was telling them, We now know who that king is:
This Jesus [who went through Judah and Galilee, healing the sick, casting out demons, and proclaiming the kingdom of God] is the Messiah

Now we’re going to move backwards in the book of Acts

In chapter 2, we find the first sermon preached by an apostle after Jesus’ resurrection
– Peter presented the same argument as Paul (only Peter’s message was longer and included more scripture)
• when he gets to the end, he says,
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36)
– wouldn’t you assume that the crucifixion of its leader would end a movement?
• that was, in fact, the objective
Caiaphas . . . said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” “So from that day on the made plans to put him to death (Jn. 11:50 and 53)
◦ but despite what he had in mind, Jesus’ death did not end the movement
◦ instead, it fulfilled a criteria that qualified Jesus as the Messiah
He [Caiaphas] did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who were scattered abroad (Jn. 11:51-52)
• with another small step backwards, we come to this verse:
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses (Acts 2:32)
◦ so in “this Jesus” there rests a hope that even death cannot extinguish

One more time we’re going to move backwards in Acts

Jesus had spent his very last moments on earth with the disciples
– they asked their most pressing question and he answered them
• he also told them what would happen in their immediate future
◦ and while they were watching,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight
• no telling how long they would have stood there gawking skyward
◦ but we’re told,
two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11)
– now we have an idea of Advent hope
this Jesus who was sent from God into the world is the Messiah
this Jesus suffered as we suffer – he died and was buried
this Jesus broke the chains of death, freeing himself and us
this Jesus will return, and bring heaven to earth
• Christmas is anticipation, expectation, and celebration
◦ it ties together past, present, and future
◦ and during Advent, it is possible to experience moments of the eternal now, if during this season we make time for quiet reflection
– after all, there is no Christmas apart from this Jesus

Listen to a couple lines of a prayer Paul prayed for believers

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you . . . . (Ep. 1:16-18)
– this inspires me as much as anything in the Scriptures
• it is the reason I take time to read, reflect, and sit in silence
• it is not as if I receive a revelation every day,
◦ but if God’s Spirit has something to say to me, I want to be there to hear it
– today God has something to say to us about
this Jesus who looked at the crowds and felt compassion for them
this Jesus who touched blind eyes and deaf ears and healed them
this Jesus who lifted children into his arms and blessed them
this Jesus who rebuked hypocrites and forgave sinners
this Jesus who loved the unlovable and forgave the unforgivable
this Jesus whose birth is Christmas and resurrection is Easter
• and through these he procured our new birth and eternal life

Conclusion: One more word about Advent

It is not four weeks of Sunday celebrations
– Advent is a season
So with everything else that goes on during this hectic time of year,
let’s try to remember that this is a season of HOPE
No matter what,
let’s hang onto the hope that hangs on to us