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Oct 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 2, 2016 – Ezra 10:1-2

A Slender Ray of Hope

Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. Shecaniah the son Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.” Ezra 10:1-2

Intro: I’m going to ask you to ignore the particulars in passage

Who these people were and the specific issue they raised
– so don’t worry if you cannot relate to the details
• their general situation was one with which we can identify
• they were in deep trouble, yet in spite of it, they could still hold out hope
– for the last three months on Wednesday and Thursday evenings
• the theme of our spiritual reading of scripture has been “cultivating hope”
◦ cultivate is, of course, borrowed from agriculture, horticulture (Latin origin: to “prepare the soil”)
◦ the idea behind our theme is that there are things we can do to nurture hope
• from these weeks of meditation and discussion I got ten insights regarding cultivating hope
◦ so I’ll cite the verses we used and the insights I  got from them

1. Romans 8:35-39 – Review Paul’s checklist
Mark any condition you allow to separate you from God’s love:
☐ ongoing hardship ☐ distress ☐ persecution ☐ famine
☐ an empty closet ☐ danger ☐ invasion ☐ death
☐ life ☐ angels ☐ demons ☐ the present
☐ the future ☐ height ☐ depth
☐ any other created thing

Paul didn’t write a checklist
– he listed a number of events and entities that cannot separate us from God’s love
– it does not hurt to review the severe experiences that cannot cancel hope
• or to remind ourselves of God’s unbreakable bond

2. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 – Transcend cause and effect

• the cause: difficult circumstances, chaos, confusion
• the effect: negative moods, attitudes and hopelessness
• “this but not that” – we do not have to fall into the trap
• deep breaths can create a prayerful moment and bring us back to free choice

The emotional law of cause and effect is that bad events inevitably evoke bad moods
– for example, Paul talks about being perplexed
• small wonder — we saw a graphic example of the kind of trauma and hardship that was typical for him
◦ the natural effect of overwhelming perplexity would be despair
◦ yet Paul says he was perplexed, but not despairing
• the possibility of transcendence is in the words “but not”
– we hope when we realize we’re not bound to circumstantial ups and downs
• our joy doesn’t fluctuate with the stock exchange
• our peace doesn’t fade in and out with the nightly news

3. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – To get out of the pit, shift perspectives

• from external decline to internal renewal
• from momentary hardships to the eternal joys of God
• from visible shadows to invisible realities

Negative thought patterns–worry, fear, despair–and negative moods narrow our field of vision
– right now feels like forever; one rude person feels like everyone
– all it takes to correct our vision, is to look at the big picture

4. Psalm 40:1-5 – Become a child with your heavenly Father

• as an adult kneels to interact with a child, God inclines to us
• if you know he hears your cry, he will give you a “new song”
• make a list of the wonderful things God has done for you

When we read, He inclined to me and heard my cry,
– I saw myself with my grandson, Calum, bending down to his level so we eye-to-eye
• this is what theological word Incarnation means
• Jesus Christ is God coming down to our level to listen and connect
– we need to know that we are heard in this intimate, attentive way

5. Psalm 4:4-8 – Be content in wanting less, not having more

• our part: trust God, place everything in his hands
◦ release anxieties, do not obsess or dwell on worries
• God’s part: he will put gladness in our hearts and give us peace

Trust is never easy, because it has to do with everything that causes anxiety
– all our fears, losses, illnesses, troubled relationships and so on
• and it means giving up the consolation of worrying
• or giving up the illusion that worry helps
– I was hit this week with an intense concern for one of my children
• I did the only things I could think of at the time, but it felt insufficient
• I realized that trust meant I would have to stop thinking about the situation
◦ I would breathe through the urgency of my feelings and say, “Lord, You have this”

6. Lamentations 3:16-26 – Call the right things to mind

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

• memories that rise on their own do not heal
◦ they may even reinforce my distress
• think a different thought (than the old, dark and repetitive thoughts)

This is one of those visceral passages
flesh and skin were wasting away, bones were broken
• pain was like arrows entering the inward parts (kidneys)
teeth broken and strength perished – hope had perished too

I want to explain something that has relevance to all of this
– think of a three story building as a model of the human brain









1. First floor: security, maintenance and engineering
– it’s fully equipped with cameras, motion-detectors, smoke-detectors, etc.
• all the internal and external information of sense perception passes through here
• body functions are regulated on the first floor–heart rate, respiration, body temperature, etc.
◦ the regulation of these functions are voluntary–i.e., unconscious
– the brainstem can ring alarm bells before top floor knows what’s happening
• for example, the well-known fight-or-flight mode of the autonomic nervous system
2. Second floor: middle management
– the limbic system assigns emotional value to incoming information
• it is involved in risk assessment, such as determining potential danger
• all of the primary emotions arise in the first two floors
◦ the route to consciousness (in the rational brain) is mainly through the right hemisphere
3. Third floor: the executive offices
– rational thought, reasoning, organizing, planning, sequential processes, etc.
• this floor reviews incoming information sent to it from first two floors
• it analyzes what is given and comes up with a plan of action

Our primary emotions provide an immediate feedback loop for all our interactions with our environment and others
– has our need been met? intensified? diverted?
• most of this information processing is unconscious
◦ it does not have to be referred to the executives upstairs
◦ this includes our facial expressions, posture, gestures, tone of voice, touch, and so on
• our emotional and perceptual brains are communicating with the emotional and perceptual brains of others
◦ and it happens without words or speech

There is a passage in the prophecy of Hosea where God describes how he will allure Israel into the wilderness and speak kindly to her. The Hebrew phrase speak kindly is literally speak to the heart (Hos. 2:14). Visceral communication goes on between us and others far more than we realize. And it begins before we are born.

– think of a mother who talks soothingly to her child while applying band-aid
• then she says, “There, does that feel better?”
◦ she is attempting to calm child’s primary emotional system (the brain’s first and second floors)
◦ if she succeeds, the child’s nervous system will return to its resting state
◦ she holds the key to her child’s return to peace
• but at same time, the child holds the key to the mother’s return to peace
◦ her own nervous system has been activated to respond to stress
◦ so the child’s response to the mother’s calming voice, etcetera, will signal her success or failure
◦ their emotional brains are communicating and allowing the brainstem to sound the all clear signal

This is the bedrock of every one of our relationships
– parental nurture is how we learn to regulate our emotions
• how to self-sooth
• but if as an infant our need for reassurance was ignored or neglected, we fail to recognize the emotional needs of others
◦ we become emotionally cut off from them as well as ourselves
◦ or we become desperate to belong to someone (obssessive relationship intrusion)
◦ or we self-medicate with alcohol and drugs

Seventy percent of inmates in California prisons, while growing up spent time in foster care (quoted in Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score)

• the more hope decreases, the more addiction increases

7. Colossians 3:12-13 – Read others and respond in love

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Ro. 12:15)

– we want to cooperate with God, to join him in his work in the world
• but we cannot cooperate by knowing what he is currently doing, because he doesn’t tell us
• instead, we must be the sort of people who promote love, goodness, health, peace, etc.

8. Psalm 73:22-28 – Pay attention to your heart

(your body and emotional brain)
• a heart can become “embittered” and “may fail”
◦ what are you feeling now in your body and emotions?
◦ what triggered these feelings?
◦ if the answers bring you to something too painful to continue, stop and meet with a therapist (especially one who is trained and proficient in EMDR therapy)
• invite God to enter your heart and to become the strength of your heart

– “heart” is the metaphor for the brain’s first two floors
• all that we feel and the activation of our nervous system
– what is the emotional (visceral) need that has to be met?

9. Titus 2:11-14 – Keep re-turnning to Jesus

• with negative or painful thoughts
• to reorient your hope
• to reassure yourself of his nearness
(the “Nevertheless” of Psalm 73:23)

– if you’re alright with Jesus, no other opinion matters
• you’re going to be okay

10. Revelation 21:1-4 – Future blessings are retroactive

• a real experience of the future is possible today (Heb. 6:4-5)
• rejoice today in the promise of tomorrow

– regardless of how far prophecy reaches into future, it’s message is always for us today

Conc: Hope has never come easy for me

From my religious upbringing I learned that my core self was inherently evil
– that self-compassion was a manifestation of the sin of self-centeredness
• my default setting was depression – hopelessness
– but in the darkest moments of self-hatred, I always found hope in Jesus’ statement:

It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mk. 2:17)

• it made Jesus mine – he came for me and because he did I am his

You see, broken people can still love

For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much . . . . (Lk. 7:47-50)

And broken people can still hope


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  1. Jo / Nov 1 2016

    This is beautiful for my soul, Pastor Chuck. The Lord knows my soul needed to be reminded of these truths. Thank you much!
    I want to say that some do fail to recognize the emotional needs of others if the need for reassurance was not met. I do think some experience something else: that they are connected to the emotional needs of others, sometimes to a fault, but they are so intuitive to people’s feelings sometimes they end up owning them, as if their emotional needs as children surface on their hearts. Our hearts remember our feelings as children, often unconsciously and in response to present stimuli. Just my thoughts 🙂

  2. Chuck Smith, Jr. / Nov 4 2016

    Jo, you are so right. Important reassurances (especially as infants and toddlers) that our voices have been heard and our hearts have been felt are necessary factors for developing empathy. Without them, our own emotional systems will draw a blank when we see someone else in pain.

    I am convinced that the Christian church can be a healing community in this regard. If we can stop biting and devouring one another (Gal. 5:15) and through love provide safe communities where men and women can engage in relationships in which they know their voices are heard and their feelings are felt by others, some of those missing pieces can be filled in and nurtured to wholeness.

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