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Jul 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 30, 2019


Ephesians 4:17-24

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Intro: We began two weeks ago with the first word of Jesus’ message:

“Repent” – a change of mind that leads to change of everything
– the Bible uses other words for change: turn, convert, transform
• I’ve tried to point out, that this means changing our brains
• brain activity that has become automatic and unconscious
– Paul has an interesting way of illustrating this change, he says,
put off your old self and put on the new self

Paul had a majestic vision for the church in Ephesus

He saw a spiritually enlightened community living in unity
– every person building the community
and the community building every person
• as a result, they would “mature” to Christian adulthood
• they would “grow up” in every way into Christ (Ep. 4:1-16)
– the only thing that stood in the way of this vision was their old self

Their old self had been shaped by their history
– their former manner of life and and that life was corrupt
• in computer terminology, corrupt refers to a damaged file
◦ a file that cannot run its program as it was designed to do
◦ corrupt mental files can prevent people from living as God designed
• last week we saw that education and experience etches pathways in the brain
◦ every brain writes an owner’s manual that sinks into unconscious
◦ that becomes an internal belief system – a blueprint of reality
– to put on new the self is to have a new owner’s manual written for us
• the new self is
created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness
• today we will take another step in that direction

Have you ever seen a satellite photo of United States?

Or perhaps flown across the country at night?
– points of light dot the East and West coasts
• large dark patches lie in between
• imagine that the brain looks something like that, only in three dimensional space
◦ here and there, active brain cells light up
◦ all the cells in a cluster of lights are connected to each other
– neural wiring is not confined to the brain, runs through the entire body
• a sudden panic produces an instant response in
◦ the heart, lungs, digestive tract, glands, muscles, etc.
• but the body doesn’t need panic to activate its systems
◦ every emotion and most every thought enlists all its parts to some degree

Habits are history recorded in the brain and nervous system
– if an event is repeated or its impact is strong enough (e.g., trauma),
• it is written into neurons affecting emotions
◦ and also the body’s biological response to those emotions
(heart and respiratory rate, release of adrenaline and cortisol, etc.)
• the memory of the event will also reproduce the biological response
◦ the same neurons are activated in the same structures of the brain
◦ the same chemicals course through the body
◦ the same sensations occur
– we know that repeatedly doing the same thing produces the same effect
• thinking the same thoughts result in the same conclusions
• this is one way we are controlled by our past

A few years ago, I needed help with an important decision

I confided in someone I assumed was a close friend
– about a year later, he leaked our private conversation
• his action was worse than a betrayal of confidence
• he used that information against me, to manipulate me
◦ in his mind, he was acting in my best interest
◦ but for me it was a shocking and left a deep wound
– at first, I tried to blow it off and remain friends — but I couldn’t do it
• seeing him was a reminder of the distress his breach caused me
◦ even when I heard his name, I knotted up inside
◦ praying the Lord’s Prayer,
forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,
his face would pop into my head
• frequently, I imagined confronting him, trying to clear it up
◦ I wanted him to realize how he had wronged me – and apologize
◦ but I new that would never happen
(he is way too much of a narcissist to ever admit he had done wrong)

How did I get that stuck?
– when I discovered what he did, the emotional impact of it was intense
• and it got worse with time and the more his actions played out
• what I was feeling activated my entire nervous system
◦ millions of neural connections were formed in my brain and body
◦ the chemical effect registered in emotions and physical symptoms
◦ hurt, grief, anger – knotted stomach, tense muscles, loss of energy
– the intensity of it all created an instant and persistent memory
• so a year later, five years, eight years–whenever I remembered it–
◦ the same neural pathway was activated, the same chemistry
◦ I felt the same shock and pain, the same revulsion and anger
• it was as if with every reminder the offense were being committed again
◦ how could I forgive him, since what he did felt like right now?

The past is not just something we remember like a phone number

It is somewhere we can get stuck — the brain reproduces it, and we relive it
– that is why resentment anchors itself so firmly in our hearts
• to remember, we re-experience the abuse we suffered
◦ then, perhaps, we relish our “revenge fantasies”
◦ or we enjoy punishing the offender
(maybe shutting them out of our lives, slandering them, etc.)
• but we are the ones who replay–and recreate–the event
◦ maybe what the perpetrator did to us happened only once,
◦ we end up repeating the experience a thousand times
– each recorded event or habit has a trigger–or triggers
• regarding triggers,
Dr. Joe Dispenza says, “All it takes is one stray thought, or one reaction to some event in the external world . . . .”

How come we’re mostly unaware of the brain’s owner’s manual?

As we’ve seen, habits tend to slip from awareness
– but there’s another reason – has to do with 3 regions of brain

The first is the brainstem
• it descends from the base of the brain into spinal chord
• it’s a communication center for brain and the rest of body
Second is the limbic system — the interior of the brain
• the headquarters for emotions – including nurturing, empathy
• it interprets our experiences and feel; good or bad
Third is the cortex – the outer layer of brain
• in the front part of brain is the corner suite of executive office–
the prefrontal cortex (PFC)
• the rational part of brain – reasoning, analyzing, planning
• also, the part of our brain that is self-conscious

In crisis, the brainstem can take immediate control of body
– by activating the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight response)
• this can happen not only before information reaches the PFC,
◦ but it can happen without information ever reaching the PFC
• as a result: no conscious memory of the event is ever recorded
◦ the body remembers–and can be reactivated
◦ but the person does not consciously remember the trauma
(for example, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
– the brainstem can be activated by external or internal triggers

Conclusion: I think we’re done looking at the neural challenges of change

Next week we’ll begin looking at changes we can begin making now
– but I feel it’s necessary to give you a little help for the time being

First, we cannot rewrite owner’s manual if we don’t know it
– my default setting is overwhelming oppression — what’s yours?
– the first and foremost challenge:
• developing and strengthening awareness
• of what is happening in our brains and bodies

Second, God has given us a different clock to run our lives by
– the clock we use now can trap us in the past–and future too
• the PFC can imagine and anticipate a horrible future event
◦ the problem is, the rest of the brain doesn’t know its imaginary
◦ so the limbic system produces worry and the brainstem activates the body
• with God’s clock, our lives run according to eternity

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen For the things that are seen are transient, but the the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Co 4:16-18)

– eternity intersects time as we live in it, to lift us out of it
• we are no longer haunted and controlled by the past
◦ nor are we afraid of the future
• at the intersection of time and eternity, we find rest in God’s presence
◦ then we are enabled to return to our time, relieved and renewed

When does eternity intersect time?
Well, if we’re not lost in the automatic habits of our brain,
but deepening our awareness of God’s presence,
we find that it may happen any time or all the time
“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2)

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