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Jun 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 23, 2019


Ephesians 2:1-7

Intro: Has God answered your prayer this week

(Remember? We were going to pray the following verses all week

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! — Psalm 139:23-24)

Last week we learned what neuroscience has taught us about repentance
– at a practical, biological level repentance means changing our brains
• the brain is control center for all the activity of the mind and body
• how do we repent? How are we changed, transformed?

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Ro. 12:2)

– why must our idea of repentance be more complicated than gospels?
• because our lives are so much more complicated
• they had lots of physical space and time to reflect
◦ we’re bombarded by massive stimulation and information
(imagine the difference between driving ten miles and walking ten miles — how many more sights, movements and decisions to be made at fifty-five miles per hour)
◦ we’re faced with thousands of choices they never dreamed of

I said before that every human brain writes an owner’s manual
– today we will learn how to read our owner’s manual
Daniel Siegel, Clinical Professor at UCLA School of Medicine, finds it helpful to patients in therapy if they can visualize the activity in their brains and know how to affect changes in it

In Ephesians 2, Paul is answering a question: How did we get here?

That is, here to being “blessed with every spiritual blessing” (Ep. 1:3-14)
– we did not start here
• when God’s light first shined on us, we were dead
– in verse 2, Paul mentions three causes of spiritual death:
1. The world – a spiritual alternative to kingdom of God
◦ opposed to God – in rebellion to God’s will
◦ the world presents our brains with thoughts, images & suggestions
2. The prince of the power of the air (the devil)
◦ tempter, adversary, accuser, “liar,” and “murderer”
3. Our flesh – our natural self apart from God
◦ the part of us that is capable of being tempted, seduced, mislead

But even when we were dead, God made us alive (v. 5)
– dead: a static condition – motionless – no change, stuck
• alive: dynamic, moving, changing
– obviously, this isn’t something we can accomplish on our own
• God involves himself in our repentance – our change
• he is with us every step of the way

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (vv. 8-10)

A few years ago, as Christmas present Barbara gave me a brain

It’s plastic and came with a guide that labels various structures
– the human brain contains billions of cells – neurons
• similar cells run through entire body
◦ these activate every muscle – legs in walking, pupils in dilating
◦ shifting your weight in your chair requires that activation of millions of neurons
• neurons are the basic building blocks to every thought, feeling, action

Neuron consists of a cell body – various shapes and sizes
– it communicates with other neurons through minuscule fibers
• a central fiber, the axon, sends messages (bipolar, etc.)
• multiple fibers, dendrites, branch out from the cell body to receive messages
◦ dendrites connect with axons, other dendrites, or the cell body of other neurons
◦ neurons do not actually make contact with other neurons
– there is a tiny gap between contact points – the synapse
• the neuron sending a message releases chemical molecules into fluid between contact points
• neuron can connect with thousands of other neurons
◦ neurons with shorter axons connect with neurons nearby
◦ neurons with longer axons connect with other the neurons of other structures in the brain

What causes neurons to fire?
– incoming messages from other neurons create a minute electrical charge
• by itself, that charge is not strong enough to affect a response
• it takes thousands of messages arriving from other neurons
◦ all of them arriving within a millisecond to produce an “action potential”
◦ this electrical charge runs down the axon from the cell body, releasing chemical molecules
– the brain’s chemistry set is fascinating
• the brain utilizes at least 100 different “neurotransmitters”
◦ to speed up activation, neurons receive glutamate molecules
◦ to slow down activation, neurons receive GABA molecules
• neurotransmitters affect all mental activity
◦ they are frequently implicated in mood disorders

An action, thought, or memory is not contained in one brain cell

Every thought requires thousands of brain cells
– if a thought is repeated, it utilizes the same cluster of cells (mostly)
• this is how our brains form habits
• a repeated thought or action is imprinted on the same neurons
◦ Hebb’s Law, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”
– as a boy, I lived in rural communities
• frequently, the shortest distance between two points was a diagonal line across an empty lot
◦ I would trample the weeds my first time across the field
◦ after enough people used that same route, the weeds died, leaving a clear and compact dirt path
• that trail became the fastest, easiest way to reach the other side
◦ it became, in fact, the only path across the lot
◦ this is similar to the way habitual thoughts and feelings form in connecting neurons in the brain

Habits are helpful, but they tend to dull awareness
– the value of a habit is don’t have to think about it when doing it
• your brain has all the movements memorized
◦ your body acts on its own, leaving you free to think about other things
• but what we miss with our habits is the experience of living
◦ there’s a certain pleasure in riding a bike
◦ but I can lose that enjoyment if I am only in a hurry to get somewhere
– habits sink into the unconscious–that is, we are not aware of them
• there’s a lot our brains do that we’re not conscious of
◦ all the “involuntary” functions of our nervous system
• there are also a lot of thought habits
◦ they are present even if we’re not conscious of thinking them

Suppose a child is made to feel like a jerk by a teacher, playmate, or parent
– that feeling is real to the child
• if reinforced, then the same neurons of that real feeling will be activated
• and every time those neurons fire, they will produce the same chemical reactions in the child’s brain and body
◦ the same neurotransmitters will be released
◦ the same hormones will be launched into the blood stream
◦ the child will feel the same emotion – embarrassment, shame, guilt
(even when he or she is twenty, thirty, or forty years old)
– a record of this repeated is etched into the brain’s owner’s manual
• a person’s “inner belief system” consists of these neural habits
◦ repeated thoughts, feelings, attitudes, judgments, etc.
• we do not doubt our unconscious belief system, because it is deeply embedded within us
◦ our belief system forms our perception of reality
◦ and any little mistake seems to confirm our negative beliefs
◦ with even a little mistake, a voice within says, “See! You are a jerk”

I once shared with Fr. with Romuald my mental self-abuse

He said he was surprised, and told me,
“Well, I suppose we all have those self-deprecating thoughts. I do, though probably not to the degree that you have described. But I don’t see why you would want to identify with them. I am not my thoughts, and I am not my feelings”
– there’s a world of difference between saying,
• “I did something really stupid” and “I am really stupid”
• but my identity, formed in my belief system, tells me “I am
– are you getting an idea of why repentance is so difficult?
• basically, God is telling us,
“You’re not who you think you are, and reality is not what you’ve thought it was. All of that has to change.”
– but haven’t we tried to change?
• through will power – through happy thoughts
• but since we haven’t changed it is most likely because we have not gone deep enough
◦ we have not entered the inner chamber of our brains
◦ repentance is not about having new thoughts, but becoming new persons

Conclusion: Going back to the path we created in a field

Suppose one day we attempt to take our usual shortcut,
– but when we get to the field, someone has put up a fence
• or the whole lot has been graded for development
• we can no longer follow that path
– one part of repentance (change) is to put up fences
• to stop thinking the same thoughts, believing same things
◦ that’s the turning from part of repentance
• the turning to part is trusting God for his grace to assist us

To fully repent, we need to bring our belief system into awareness
We will continue with that project next week
In the mean time,
start paying attention to your daily habits
Notice what your body is doing when walking,
opening a jar or can,
drinking a glass of water,
or reading a book
Pay attention to what it feels like
and you will begin to enter awareness
of some of those unconscious processes
that drive our daily actions

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