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Sep 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 15, 2019


Therefore I will judge you, O House of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all our transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn and live.
And I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put with in you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh Ezekiel 18:30-32 and 36:25-27

Intro: Why are these two passages not a contradiction?

First, God tells Israel to make for themselves a new heart and spirit
– then later, he says he will give them a new heart and spirit
• which is it? Do create the new self we are to become or does God?
◦ asking the question this way suggests an apparent contradiction
◦ it assumes that the situation must be either this or that
• either we are the active agents for change or God is the active agent
– the right question to ask:
“In becoming a new person, what is my part and what is God’s part?”
• now, instead of a contradiction there is cooperation
◦ but complementarity might be a better word

In quantum physics one object may consist of two properties, both of which cannot be measured at same time. For instance, in one experiment light presents itself as a wave; in another it presents itself as particles. This was difficult for many physicists to accept. They believed light had to be either a wave or particles, it could not be both. To date, there is no one experiment that demonstrates light as both wave and particle. Whether it acts like a wave or particles depends on how you look at it.

• examined one way, it looks like our faith depends entirely on us
◦ examined another way, our faith depends entirely on God
. . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
Our faith depends on us, right? But the sentence goes on to say,
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Php. 2:12-13)
Now our faith depends entirely on God–even our willingness
. . . to all those who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
Being God’s children depends on, right? But the same sentence says,
who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:12-13)
Now being God’s children depends on God

Today we review and conclude all we’ve learned up to now

We began with the word “repent” – “to think after” or “change the mind”
– there is a biological side to this change
• we have to change what our brains are doing
Curt Thompson, “We do not experience anything without there being a corresponding neuron firing pattern that represents that experience.”
• to produce one thought requires thousands of brain cells
◦ the brain forms habits by activating the same cluster of neurons,
◦ repeating the same pattern
– I used the analogy of creating a path through overgrown field
• the more you trample down the weeds, the clearer the path
◦ and the easier and quicker it is to travel that path
◦ that is how habits are formed in the brain
• the brain doesn’t discern if a habit is healthy or unhealthy
◦ some of our idea about ourselves and others are wrong
◦ we are all broken in some way, wrong about some things

We have referred to our brains’ programming as our “Owner’s Manual”
– most of what is written there is unconscious
• there are many well-worn paths along which it is programmed to run
• and the way it runs is reflexive, reactive, and automatic
to repent is to rewrite the brain’s owner’s manual

There is a key skill we must learn to rewrite the owner’s manual

Let’s go back to Ezekiel for a moment
Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? (Eze. 14:3)
– Ezekiel’s visitors did two things that were related and were wrong:
• they took something into their hearts and set something before faces
◦ “set before” — to intentionally make a thing the focus of attention
• this is how the had internalized their idolatry; taken it into their hearts
Daniel Siegel, “One of the key practical lessons of modern neuroscience is that the power to direct our attention has within it the power to shape our brain’s firing patterns, as well as the power to shape the architecture of the brain itself.”
“The intentional focus of attention is actually a form of self-directed experience: It stimulates new patterns of neural firing to create new synaptic linkages.”
– in Ephesians and Colossians, Paul says we are to
put off old the self
put on the new self
• our part of this is doable, but it requires our focused attention

The practice of contemplative prayer trains us to focus attention

The prophet Habakkuk was frustrated by what he saw in society
– but what God told him was coming disturbed him even more
• frustrated, he made a decision:
I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint
(Hab. 2:1)
◦ in other words, before doing anything else,
◦ he was going someplace where he could hear from God
• the revelation he received became the foundation for Paul’s doctrine of “justification by faith”
◦ in fact, it is quoted at least four times in New Testament
– we cultivate awareness by quietly sitting in our observation tower
• we need a place alone with God where we can watch and reflect
◦ by reflect, I mean look at the reflection of our thoughts, ideas, feelings, perspective, attitude, reaction to situations, and so on
• we cannot change if we let our lives pass unnoticed

Awareness is not simply knowing that I am doing something
– it is observing myself doing something
• walking, having a conversation, thinking a thought
• it is not simply knowing something is happening
◦ it is an involved observation of an event as it unfolds
◦ an inner experience of interest and curiosity
– Daniel Siegel has an exercise he uses with many of his clients
• he has them bring their attention to middle of the room
◦ then move their attention to wall opposite them
◦ then move their attention back to the middle of the room
◦ then he has them bring their attention close to their faces
Siegel, “Notice how your attention can go to very different places.”
• we can send our attention to different places
◦ internal and external, real and imaginary

Sitting in the observation tower of contemplative prayer,
– we cultivate our present moment awareness
• we can get to the point where we detect
◦ when we’re mindfully aware and when we’re mindless
– it’s possible to learn to make decisions that are twenty times wiser
• if we pause, calm ourselves, and bring awareness to God’s presence
Curt Thompson, “. . . if I am aware that my fear is deeply connected to my breathing and heart rate, I can reduce my fear simply by consciously breathing deeply and slowly whenever I sense myself becoming fearful.”
• he says, “whenever I sense myself” – we cultivate this awareness too
◦ we listen to what goes on inside our bodies
◦ even if I’ve deafened myself to my body my whole life
Siegel, “. . . the brain is open to change across the lifespan. Because it responds to the focus of attention and to the experiences we create intentionally, there [is] great hope that those unrealized neural connections could still be stimulated to develop.”

Our bodies register a large variety of sensations
– sometimes we mistake a sensation for an emotion
• I knew a woman who thought she was always on verge of having a heart attack
• our bodies have something to tell us — we have to learn to listen
Curt Thompson, “. . . many elements of our mind/body matrix are means by which God is trying to get our attention, but we have not had much practice reflecting on them.”

Another area where we want to deepen our awareness: our self-talk

There is a lot of this going on in the Psalms
– for example, Why are you cast down, O my soul . . . ? (Ps. 42:5)
• there is negative self-talk
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence
(Ps. 73:13)
• and there is positive self-talk
Return, O my soul, to your rest
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you
(Ps. 116:7)
◦ what are you telling yourself about your feelings, etc.?
◦ what are you telling yourself about you?
– we want to be aware of our thoughts as they arise
• I’ve found a helpful habit is to ask, “What am I thinking about?”
◦ then with slow deep breaths, become aware of my thoughts
• what do you want to reinforce? What do you want to resist or erase?

Conclusion: All through this series of lessons I have taught our part

I want to finish today with God’s part
– Andre’ Louf tells a story about the day he became an Abbot
• he requested a quote be read by Francois Fenelon
◦ it had to do with spiritual directors, which would be one of his duties
• after the reading, the Abbot who blessed him told Louf,
“. . . that is indeed what you will have to do from now on. Never try to impose yourself on your brothers. Of course, you would do very well, but grace can do more!”
– and that is the title of Louf’s book
• the last and most important lesson of this series

This is what I will leave us
The road ahead will be sometimes difficult,
sometimes frustrating and sometimes overwhelming
Some of us will be tempted to give up
But we will not give up,
not if we go forward fully dependent on God’s grace

Martin Laird, “. . . something that Christianity calls grace (God as constantly giving, constantly pouring Himself out) is an utterly reliable necessity.”

Whatever we give to this project,
God will add immeasurably more

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