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Sep 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 11-12 – 09/17/2023

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome RefleXion Community!           The Lord is with you!

When I was studying theology, my course in the Old Testament required that we read through the entire Old Testament in one semester.  If you’re like me, I got a good dose of New Testament in church, but I was only familiar with  Genesis, the Ten Commandments, and maybe some Psalms and Proverbs from the Old.  I also had the understanding that the God of the Old Testament was harsh and angry, and it was only in Jesus was He a God of Love.  But reading through the first 39 books of the Bible at one time, I could clearly see the God of Love.  I think Chuck’s also helping us with that perspective.  This is how Richard Rohr puts it:

“What God was doing in their heart was loving them to life. God was loving them, calling them, and drawing them to God’s own heart. God had loved Israel to life when they were still enslaved. God invited them to life when God gave them the Torah to follow. God drew them to life when they had given up on life, in exile…

God’s call to life was, at the same time, a call to love. Drawn into the love of God, the prophets loved YHWH with all their heart and soul. They loved their own people and with clear insight saw that living in the love that is God implies hospitality to strangers, charity to the poor, justice for the oppressed.”  

Yet, through the prophets, did the LORD use some strong language?  You bet.  But let’s call it a “Lover’s Quarrel.”  I think this idea is important to keep in mind as we read the prophets and as we engage in dialog in our community and culture.  We can ask, “What’s our motive?” for anything we say or do, and we might come up with “Love.” Yet the Way of the message, the energy of the message, must be infused with Love.  It’s not just about the outcome we think the Lord wants.  To follow Him is to follow His Way.  That is how we can demonstrate that we know God and are His children.  It is not just “what Jesus wants,” but Jesus’ Way.  Do you agree?

Let’s pray:

Lord, there are so many things we can know and understand.  One thing is necessary for us to learn and practice – the way of Love. Let all our criticism and correction be a “Lover’s Quarrel.” Love has wisdom and compassion embedded.  Love knows the “how.”  By your grace, infuse your love in us that we may operate in this way – your way.  This is our ultimate concern, that we become love.  May we move closer to the fullness of that this morning.  Safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith jr.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.” Then I answered, “Amen, LORD” Jeremiah 11:1-8

Intro: To fully appreciate what’s here, we need perspective

If we take an aerial view and rise high enough,
– we’ll discover in Jeremiah themes and sayings from Deuteronomy
• both use the metaphors of a circumcised heart and an iron furnace
• both lay great emphasis on God’s covenant with Israel
The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today (Deut. 5:2-3)
◦ it turns out, Deuteronomy is laid out in a covenant format
J. A. Thompson, “It is beyond question that the structure of Deuteronomy is related in some way to the structure of political treaties of the ancient Near East.”
– those covenants had lists of stipulations for both parties — same with the biblical covenant
• God’s part: to be Israel’s God–always bless and care for them
◦ Israel’s part: to be his people and obey his commandments
So shall you be my people, and I will be your God (v. 4)
• the most important moment in a wedding ceremony is when the bride and groom swear their vows
◦ this happens for Israel in chapter 27 of Deuteronomy
◦ the entire nation would gather on two hillsides
the Levites shall declare to all the [people] of Israel in a loud voice: “Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD . . . .” And all the people shall answer, “Amen” (Deut. 27:15-26)
– God and Jeremiah perform a mini-version of that ritual here
God announces, Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant . . . .”
Then Jeremiah responds, “Amen, LORD” (vv. 3 and 5)–the exact pattern of the covenant ratification in Deuteronomy 27

God never lets up on this message that he and Israel belong to each other by covenant
– throughout Jeremiah (and Ezekiel) God refers to the sin of Israel and Judah as “adultery”
◦ he is the jilted lover – betrayed and brokenhearted
◦ but still, his love never gives up
What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds? (v. 15)
I have given the beloved of my soul
into the hands of her enemies (Jer. 12:7)
• she is still his “beloved”
◦ the affection implied in this term accentuates the offense of their trysts with other gods
◦ God’s love for his people is unbreakable
• if we can’t see what’s in God’s heart, we miss the point
– this brief reenactment between God and Jeremiah reveals the love God’s people had abused
The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers (v. 10)
• the warnings he gave them in Deuteronomy were now descending on them
◦ that was the meaning of this moment of Israel’s history
Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not (v. 8)
• this is the persistent message in Jeremiah–until, God provides an answer for their persistent failure
◦ a new covenant – but now I’m jumping too far ahead

I’m tempted to belabor the point of this passage

That’s because I don’t think we’ve ever come close to comprehending divine love
– this episode unlocks the soul of God’s covenant with Israel
• and it reveals a depth of love that sustains his covenant with us
– however, I’m going to force myself to move on, because God’s interactions with Jeremiah, help to personalize the divine love in how it can be shown to individuals

Jeremiah had become a target
The LORD made it know to me and I knew;
then you showed me their deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
I did not know it was against me
they devised schemes, saying,
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
that his name be remembered no more”
Jeremiah 11:18-23

People in his own community were plotting to kill Jeremiah
– this was a typical usual fate of God’s prophets – “kill the messenger”
• representing God, Jeremiah felt in himself the force of their rejection of God
• David experienced this as a reaction to his devotion for the temple
For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me (Ps. 69:9)
◦ Paul could also see how this verse applied to Jesus
For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me” (Ro. 15:3)
– this could become one of the heavy burdens the prophets carried
• Jeremiah did not complain–this time
• he took this new challenge to God
◦ and God assured him that he would deal with it

In the very next movement, Jeremiah is complaining
Righteous are you, O LORD,
when I complain to you;
yet I would plead my case before you.
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
You plant them, and they take root;
they grow and produce fruit;
you are near in their mouth
and far from their heart
Jeremiah 12:1-2

I love the way Jeremiah steps into this
Righteous you are, O LORD – but still I’m going to complain!
• that’s because there’s a vantage point, from which it looks like God doesn’t do anything about the deeds of the wicked
• in fact, rather than be punished for the evil they do, they prosper
– this is one of several complaints that Jeremiah will lodge
• and God deals with each one in a different way
◦ for instance, in the previous complaint God said, “I will take care of it”
◦ but here God has a different response
If you have raced with the men on foot, and they have wearied you,
how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you are so trusting,
what will yo do in the thicket of the Jordan?
Jeremiah 12:5

“men on foot” refers to foot soldiers or infantry
– the meaning of this analogy is obvious: “What you’re complaining about is lightweight. If you collapse at a simple challenge, how will you handle the big stuff?”
• Jeremiah may be complaining about invasion of the pagan armies
◦ God’s long answer is given in the remainder of the chapter
◦ the enemy will serve God’s purpose, then after that he will drive them out and bring his people back (vv. 14-17)
– God’s response is not harsh or threatening
• it’s more like a pep talk a coach would give his losing team at halftime
• what does Jeremiah hear?
◦ God’s confidence in him – he can survive this
◦ Jeremiah just needs to double down and keep going

In scripture, the complaint department is always open

Complaints appear in many of the psalms,
– and a few psalms consist entirely of complaint
• is God okay with this?
◦ traveling in the wilderness, Israel grumbled a lot
◦ on one occasion, God told Moses
“Get away from all these people so that I can instantly destroy them! (Nu. 16:45 NLT)
• so what made it okay for psalmists and Jeremiah to complain, but not for the people of Israel in the wilderness to grumble?
– Israel grumbled about God, Jeremiah complained to God
• Israel’s grumbling was a turning away from God
• Jeremiah’s complaint was a prayer in which he turned toward God

Why is it okay to bring our complaints to God?
– one obvious reason: God wants us to bring everything to him
Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you (Ps. 55:22)
. . . casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7)
– but another reason is, God wants us to open our hearts to him completely
• when David confessed his sin to God, he came to a realization
Behold, you delight in truth in the [inner being],
and you teach wisdom in the secret heart (Ps. 51:6)
◦ God wants a full disclosure of what we think and feel
• perhaps I have secrets in my heart I keep even from myself; after all,
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)
◦ there are my selfish, sinister, or self-protective motivations
◦ but also my doubts and disappointments with God
• God wants me to bring all of that,
◦ and with the angry, confused, or hurt feelings those things produce
◦ he wants to be with us in all of it
– psychologists sometimes describe people with infantile dependency issues
• they’re always wishing for a parent-figure to provide, protect, comfort, and nourish them
• Arthur Deikman said that complaint’s implicit message is, “I’m not happy and someone should do something about it”
• but when it comes to our relationship with God, dependency isn’t a disorder–it’s our salvation

Conclusion: I began Friday morning in a deep pit

After getting the grandkids to school, I forced myself to take a walk
On the trail, I realized I could be listening to something edifying
Looked up Tim Keller on YouTube, and found a talk he gave entitled, “How to deal with dark times”
It was exactly what I needed –
He explored the complaint in Psalm. 88 (and it does not end on happy note!)
I would recommend his talk to anyone who needs reassurance of God’s love
When we pray, we need to talk freely with God – and we need listen carefully to his response
His response is not always “the answer,”
but it will always enlighten us, enable us to go on, and–even if slightly–change us

Sep 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 9-10 – 09/10/2023

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community.             The Lord is with you!

If you know me, you know I love cats…and butterflies, particularly the endangered Monarch butterflies.  A couple of years ago, we got to watch the entire life cycle from egg laying to emerging butterflies on our balcony milkweed.  Last year, only a few.  And this year has been awful.  First, they were late laying eggs.  I had just about given up seeing them, and the milkweed was past its prime, but they did come.  At one point, I counted 10 caterpillars of all sizes chomping on their leafy greens, to the point that I bought two more plants, making a total of five on my tiny balcony.  As you probably know, when they have completed their larva/caterpillar stage, they find a place to hang and form their chrysalis. After the caterpillar inside the chrysalis is pretty much liquified, the remaining cells—called imaginal cells—go to work creating the butterfly that will emerge in 10-14 days.  It’s truly a metamorphosis; they are becoming a new creation. 

Many of “my” caterpillars crawled off to do their hanging/pupa/chrysalis; but a  few were right before me on my railing and pots, and I was excited to see the butterflies emerge.  But I could tell the chrysalis was deformed; and they ended up dying.  My friend had warned me that if I saw strings hanging from them (I did) it was the dreaded T-fly.  The tachinid flies are parasitoid, depositing THEIR eggs within the Monarch caterpillars.  I was so sad.  I mean, they had a good life as caterpillars, eating all they could, free to crawl here and there.  But they didn’t get to metamorphosis, to be fully formed, because they were filled with a life that wasn’t their true life.  They weren’t fully formed.  I was very sad.

It got me thinking about how the Lord might feel when he watches us get infected with pests, when we, though walking out life the best we can, are overwhelmed with what is alien to our nature.  I’m sure he’s sad too, that we are not fully formed.  His plan is that we become new creatures in Christ.  Well,  I’m sure he loves caterpillars as well as butterflies, but don’t you think it gives him more delight to see us free and resurrected as a new creation?  What kind of parasites are we dealing with, sucking the life out of us?  Let’s continue to ask God to heal us so that we can become fully formed, changed from the inside out.  My thoughts…. 

Will you join me in prayer?

Lord God, you have made us to be free and beautiful.  We have developed other ways, and we have grown accustomed to living lives that are not our true birthright.  Will you help us to notice and to turn?  That was John’s baptism of repentance, to turn from and to turn to You Jesus,  for you are the Word who created us, the lover of our souls, the author and finisher of our faith.  Let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what is good for us and indeed our birthright.  May the words offered this morning be a living and freeing work in our hearts and minds.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

They bend their tongue like a bow;
falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land;
for they proceed from evil to evil,
and they do not know me,
declares the LORD
Jeremiah 9:3
Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit,
they refuse to know me,
declares the LORD
Jeremiah 9:6
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight declares the LORD Jeremiah 9:23-24

Intro: There were two times in the gospels when Jesus identified precisely what had to be done in the moment
– once, when he told a wealthy man, “you lack one thing
(the man had to liquidate all his assets and follow Jesus)
– another time he explained to Martha, “one thing is necessary”
• then he defended the one thing Mary had chosen to do
– it can be a big relief to narrow down what’s most important now to one thing

Through Jeremiah, God confronted his people for their many betrayals
– one of their worst failures was their attachment to other gods
• but regardless of their many sins, there was one most important thing;
◦ namely, that they would know God
• unfortunately, they did not know their God
◦ and as we saw in the verses above, they refused to know him
– so God re-introduces himself to them
• for me, this passage is one of the major highlights in Jeremiah
◦ so we’re going to spend some time with it

The one thing in life that matters more than anything else

All through this prophetic book, the fundamental problem is idolatry
– chapter 10 illustrates the problem by alternating the message,
• going back and forth from idols a. (that are nothing) to Yahweh b. (who is everything)
a. in chapter 7 (17-18), serving idols was a family project
• now, in chapter 10 (1-9) idols are the products of creative and skilled artisans
◦ but God says idols are powerless
they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
neither is it in them to do good (Jer. 10:5)
b. then comes the contrast between idols and Yahweh
There is none like you, O LORD;
you are great, and your name is great in might (v. 6)
◦ so the conclusion that is drawn regarding idolaters is,
They are both stupid and foolish;
the instruction of idols is but wood (v. 8)
(i.e., idolaters are looking to a wooden board to instruct and guide them)
◦ I’m sensitive to the word “stupid,” because it’s offensive
◦ but God is making a point, that he will reiterate two more times
a. craftsmen and goldsmiths do the work of beautifying idols
they are all the work of skilled men (v. 9)
b. then the contrast:
But the LORD is the true God;
he is the living God and everlasting King. . . .
It is he who made the earth by his power. . . (vv. 10-12)
◦ the conclusion Jeremiah draws from this is also the next contrast:
a. Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them (v. 14)
◦ the Hebrew word ruah is used for wind, breath, and spirit
◦ idols have no breath, no heartbeat; they are lifeless
b. the contrast:
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
the LORD of hosts is his name (v. 16)
– the word stupid appears one more time in this chapter
For the shepherds are stupid
and do not inquire of the LORD;
therefore they have not prospered,
and all their flock is scattered (v. 21)
• a problem that many leaders have, is that they get stuck in “leader mode”
◦ even religious leaders can forget that they too are followers
◦ they’re merely a link in a chain
. . . for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them (Ecc. 5:8)
• if I can inquire of the LORD, but I don’t bother to seek him, then I’m stupid for not asking
If any of you lacks wisdom, let [them] ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given [them] (Jas. 1:5)

I want to emphasize a truth: everyone believes in something

Everyone relies on something, pursues something
– theologian Paul Tillich gave this a name: “Ultimate Concern”
Tillich, “Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of a meaning of our life.” “whatever concerns a [person] ultimately becomes god for [them]”
• for Tillich, there’s no such thing as an atheist
◦ that would mean a person had nothing to live for
• any Ultimate Concern that is not the true and living God is an idol — a false god
– this opens the range to a wide spectrum of potential idols
• most deities in the ancient word represented a natural, human obsession
◦ material wealth, fertility and erotic pleasure, military power, and so on
• I think most of us consider the last line of 1 John to be a throwaway verse
Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 Jn. 5:21)
◦ but it is not–it is as relevant now as it was in the first century

What did the gods the people of Judah chose for themselves represent?

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom
(“boast”: to give such a high value that it is worthy of praise)
– a book that was formative in my understanding of theology, was John Mackay’s
Christian Reality and Appearance
◦ God’s self-revelation in scripture, and especially in Jesus, establishes the core reality of the Christian life
• in one chapter, Mackay address “The Idolatry of Ideas”
◦ although theology is a necessary concern,
◦ “ideas” formed around that reality can become substitute for it
Mackay, “Doctrine must not claim to be itself reality, but to be a true and necessary instrument by means of which reality is discerned, defined, and embraced.” “Woe to the . . . Christian community when ideas about God take the place of God himself, when allegiance to ideas about him takes the place of allegiance to him!”
– I don’t think I need to say any more about this

let not the mighty man boast in his might
– military might, individual fighting skills, athleticism, etc.
• God is not impressed or interested in human strength
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him
in those who hope in his steadfast love (Ps. 147:10-11)
– I can’t prove this, but I have a hunch, that the worship of idols inevitably results in addiction
• a person reaches a point where they cannot stop
◦ previously in Jeremiah, when God tried to stop his people from chasing after idols, they cried,
“It is hopeless, / for I have loved foreigners,
and after them I will go ” (Jer. 3:25)
◦ even when it self-destructive, the idol demands more devotion from its followers

let not the rich man boast in his riches
– I read in James chapter 1 yesterday,
Let [the rich boast] in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away . . . . So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits (Jas. 1:10-11)
• the wealth of the rich is never enough–the can never rest
◦ it’s always a pursuit for more
My meditation: “No matter how old the rich person, and no matter their net worth, they will always be in the ‘midst of their pursuit‘ for more when death catches up to them.”
– I’m curious about something
• Christians who get fired up regarding the sins of America
◦ what do they blast? abortion, homosexuality, removing formal prayers from public schools
• why don’t we ever hear them condemning greed, which is one of the most widespread sins in the U.S.?
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5)

What is the one thing most important to God?

That we understand and know him
– not just know of him, but understand God and his ways, how he operates
• we also want to know the things in which God takes pleasure
justice: a society taking right action in every specific situation
righteous: doing what is right in interpersonal relationships
• for me, steadfast love is a big one!
In July I was reading through the Psalms, and posed at Psalm 136 to let it sink in
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever
(Ps. 136:1)
(Every verse in this psalm repeats this second line)
My Meditation: “Some words are difficult to define, because they can communicate more than one idea–or–they are simply too full of meaning to translate with one word. There are also words difficult to define, because they represent a feeling or emotion, and we may experience those feelings differently from others.
The Hebrew word hesed, translated ‘steadfast love,’ is one of those words with too much meaning for one English word. Hesed was first translated ‘mercy,’ ‘lovingkindness,’ ‘goodness,’ and ‘favor’ in the King James Version of the Bible. Hesed is a benevolent attitude that one feels, or an act of kindness that one person shows to another, or mercy granted for an offense. It was in the list of words God used to describe himself in Exodus 34:6, where after announcing his name and describing himself as ‘a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger,’ he adds, ‘abounding in hesed.’
Steadfast love is too specific and narrow to capture all of this. In fact, I think each time hesed appears, we were meant to feel it as well as understand it.
Now I want to read this psalm again and feel the richness of the second line in each verse; experiencing God’s kind and loving goodness toward me. This will make the poetry much richer, and how I experience it richer too. With the repetition of this line, I think of God’s goodness pouring into my life, my wife Barbara’s life, and the lives of my children and grandchildren.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his unfathomable love and affection and faithfulness endure forever!

Conclusion: The question we have to answer now–the most critical question of our lives–is:

How do we demonstrate the fact that we understand and know God?
The simple answer is,
We do the thinks in which he delights
As the prophet Micah said,
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you,
but to do justice, and to love [hesed],
and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)

Jeremiah says something we need to take to heart
I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O LORD, but in justice;
not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing (Jer. 10:23-24)
We do not move toward God on our own
He draws us to himself – we go willingly because we want him and trust him
We respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me”
Like Jeremiah, I pray “Correct me” – put me on the right path
It’s a stretch for me, but I have to remember to stop and ask for directions

Sep 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 7-8 – 09/03/2023

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning and welcome!           The Lord is with you.

Perhaps you are a master at something—plumbing, teaching, maybe you’re a physician or an artist.  If someone wants to learn your trade or become like you, where do they start?  It probably involves being your student, an intern, or an apprentice, right?  The Holy Spirit’s mission is to help us become like Jesus – a Master of Love, of Righteousness.  If we are to become like Jesus, there WILL be some lessons to learn, some skills to acquire, and some dedicated commitment to follow Him.  And, the Holy Spirit has our lesson plan. 

This week I came across these verses in Psalm 18,  “He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.  The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness…” 

In the chapters in Jeremiah that Chuck brought us last week, God’s people had been charged with forsaking him and serving other Gods.  Maybe you could say they were interning or had apprenticed themselves to other masters. God was relentless in his accusations, but he doesn’t want to destroy them; he wants them to change their ways.  Their social systems were not in order, their worship was misplaced, they were insensitive to their shame and wrong doing, they were weak and untested. Do you think our own nation might feel a bit convicted here.  It was not just a declaration of guilt, but an invitation to turn, an invitation to learn again how to be people after God’s heart. 

If we say that we are followers of Jesus, the Spirit takes us at our word and begins to disciple us.  We can be rebellious students or go AWOL, yet the Spirit will be relentless.  Why?  Because God rescued us and delights in us.  And, God deals with us according to our righteousness, in other words, according to what we need.  The people in Jeremiah’s time had been warned, and now disciplined, because they wouldn’t accept the LORD’s correction.

This week, I read about how our own nation has gone wrong,  “We have unknowingly baptized many of our North American values to feel a little more Christian to us.  We baptized greed and imagined it was the abundant life.  We baptized contempt and imagined it was fighting the good fight against the enemies of the faith.”  I’m feeling convicted myself here.

The prophet Daniel also prayed when he saw the desolation of Jerusalem coming.   Our opening prayer this morning will use words taken from his prayer.  Will you join me?

O, Lord, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have turned away from your righteousness and defined it for ourselves.  We are ashamed.  We will hold these truths—that You rescued us and delight in us, that You will do what is necessary to shape righteousness in us, not as punishment, but as discipline.  Thank you for the gift of our nation.  O, Lord, listen and act for the sake of your name and for us who bear your name.  We humbly ask you to restore streets of safety, goodness and mercy, faithfulness to Jesus.  Our reward will be in becoming apprenticed to You that we might become like You.  Thank you for your Word and Your Spirit with us this morning.  Lead us in righteousness for Your name’s sake, we pray.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’Jeremiah 5:1-4

Intro: The first time I visited Shiloh in Israel, I loved it

Finally I felt something extraordinary in Israel–like an energy vibrating up through the soil
– that was on the path, before we had even reached the site
• one strong appeal that Shiloh that appealed to me was that there was nothing there but bare hillsides
• but for that same reason, Shiloh was a message of doom for Jerusalem
– I knew about Shiloh from this passage in Jeremiah–it had always intrigued me
• so I looked closer at scripture and found that when Israel entered the land,
Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there (Jos. 18:1)
◦ Shiloh was established as a holy place
◦ 400 years later, God’s dwelling was no longer just a “tent,” but some kind of more permanent structure
Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD (1 Sam. 1:9)
• Shiloh had been made sacred by God’s presence there
◦ but by Jeremiah’s time, Shiloh had already been desolate for centuries
– now the temple in Jerusalem was headed for same destiny
• we will see why – and try to learn from their mistakes

The beliefs they adopted were more superstition than revelation

the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD (v. 4)
Robert Alter, “The triple repetition reflects something like a mantra recited by the people: this is the LORD’s temple, and hence those who enter it to worship have nothing to fear.”
– if you read the books of Kings and Chronicles, many times you’ll come across a vision for the temple
(to David) your son . . . shall build a house for my name (2 Chr. 6:9)
For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time (2 Chr. 7:16)
(Notice also in this chapter of Jeremiah, “this house, which is called by my name,” vv. 10, “my place where I made my name dwell at first” v. 12, “the house that is called by my name,” v. 14)
◦ the temple was God’s house, and he was present there
• however, God’s promise to reside in the temple was provisional
But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you and go after other gods . . . this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight . . . (2 Chr. 7:19-20)
◦ people in Jeremiah’s time, assumed the building was special
◦ but it was sacred only as long as God treated it as sacred
– her in the U.S., there’s a long Christian tradition of “going to church”
• for many people, that’s what defines their Christian faith
◦ being a Christian is what they do one day of the week
• in Jeremiah 9, God will explain what it means to know him
◦ it has to do with how he has revealed himself
◦ in scripture, revelation always calls for a response
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (De. 29:29)
– what I learn from this passage is that there is no magic building
• and no mechanical membership in the family of God
• we do not belong to an institution, but to a personal God
◦ as it has been noted many times, we are not an organization but an organism

They were not paying enough attention to how they lived

God’s first instruction to them was “Amend your ways and your deeds”
– the word “ways” has great significance in Hebrew Scriptures
[The LORD] made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel (Ps. 103:7)
• “ways” refers to interior values, concerns, and commitments
◦ a person’s inner ways determine their outward actions
• amend is also translated “do well”– it means to make better
◦ these people needed to reconsider what they treasured and how they ran their lives
– God provided a list of activities they needed to change
For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers for ever Jeremiah 7:5-7
• I see this as a minimum standard of acceptable behavior
◦ the entire law reveals the complete requirements of God to live a righteous life
• if Jeremiah’s audience would take on the short list, they would be decent people
◦ but if they failed to do this much–well, they would not be God’s people
– this is the life of doing what is right and good is the standard Jesus lived and taught
• he never said, “Go to church, read your Bible, and tithe”
• he said, “Love God and love your neighbor”

They were putting their trust in deceptive (or lying) words
Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, ad go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are delivered!”–only to go on doing all these abominations? Jeremiah 7:8-10

The backstory to this deception breaks my heart
– where were those people hearing those lying words?
• that it was okay to break God’s commandments and come into his presence as if nothing was wrong?
◦ they got it from their religious teachers
How can you say, “We are wise because we have the word of the LORD,”
when your teachers have twisted it by writing lies?
These wise teachers will fall
into the trap of their own foolishness,
‘ for they have rejected the word of the LORD.
Are they so wise after all?” Jeremiah 8:8-9 NLT
• years ago I read Scripture Twisting by James Sire
◦ the subtitle is, 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible
◦ the problem is, it’s not only cults that twist the Scriptures
– about the same time I was reading another book
• I was enjoying it until the author quoted 1 Jn. 2:2
[Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
◦ he explained, as a Calvinist, could not tell a non-believer, “Jesus died for your sins”
• he went on to present most the convoluted interpretation of any passage I ever read
◦ and he did so to prove that the Bible did not mean what it said

It is easy for us to read and interpret the Bible in wrong ways
– but it’s much worse when Bible teachers offer us lame interpretations
• I’ll give you one example: many of my colleagues advocate teaching the Bible “verse-by-verse”
◦ this is an artificial method of teaching the Bible, because it was not written in chapters and verses
• teaching verse-by-verse creates the impression that each verse is a single unit,
◦ and each one has its own inspired message and meaning
◦ but most verses in the Bible are parts of a larger thought and it’s that larger thought that gives each verse its meaning
– a lot of believers cling to promises God did not make to us
• or hold onto dogmatic positions based on a faulty interpretations
• Paul’s advice to Titus is good for every Bible teacher:
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech (Titus 2:7-8)

They had missed the point of God’s revelation
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burn offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burn offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all that I command you, that it may be well with you.’(7:21-23)

This sounds odd, because God did give them instructions regarding offerings and sacrifices
– but not when they first left Egypt – that came later
• God wanted something more personal between them and himself
“obey my voice” has a specific significance
• in all their travels through the desert, and all God said to them and did for them,
◦ he was teaching them to hear his voice and listen to him
• even when the people were given the commandments,
◦ in those static words engraved in stone,
◦ they could still learn to hear God’s dynamic voice
– God’s word is always a living word – it is always speech
• we live in a continuous conversation with our God

They had a chronic spiritual disorder; namely, a stiff neck
Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers Jeremiah 7:26

This is given poetic expression in chapter 8
You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD:
When men fall, do they not rise again?
If one turns away, does he not return?
Why then has this people turned away
in perpetual backsliding?
They hold fast to deceit;
they refuse to return.
. . . Even the stork in the heavens
knows her times,
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane
keep the time of their coming,
but my people know not
the [regulations] of the LORD
Jeremiah 8:4-7
– at times God points out that nature is more faithful to him than humans
• here he contrasts migratory habits of species of birds who know to return
– falling down or making a wrong turn, these are normal human errors
• all God asks is that we get back up, that we turn around and take the correct road
• the greatness of biblical heroes like David and Peter,
◦ is not that they never sinned or made mistakes
◦ but that they always bounced back

One more observation
As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. Jeremiah 7:16

I’m not going to try to explain this, but only note how sad it is
– this sadness was not lost on Jeremiah (read the dark conversation in Jeremiah 8:18-22)
– God had answers for Jeremiah and the people
• but his answers are not consoling

Conclusion: When God told Israel, “Obey my voice,”

He gave them a promise:
and I will be your God, and you shall be my people
This is the heart of God’s covenant with Israel
This is the heart of God – it reveals what he wants with us
He doesn’t want us to engage in an impersonal and formal religion
But to embrace him in a familial relationship – Father and child
He speaks to us every day
In the breeze says, I am with you
Let’s learn to listen,
so we can give God what he desires;
our best love and our whole self

Aug 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 5-6 – 08/27/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning RefleXion!            The Lord is with you!

When my pedicurist paints nail art on my toes, she always says don’t look until it’s finished -I try to look– she says, “not yet!”  What she means is that if I start to judge it now, I’ll want to correct it or ask her to make adjustments. 

This world we live in, this life we lead,  is full of things “not yet,” of this and thats.  We want to fix, resolve, or decide and move to this OR that, to think we can declare a “good” or a “bad” or a final answer.  “Their friend died…oh, but she’s in a better place.”  “That was a terrible fire…oh, but people came to help and the forest has new growth.”  “That is a scary procedure…oh, but God will be with them.”

It’s not this or that; it’s this AND that.  If we give ourselves time and space to sink down to the part of us that can hold this tension, the seeming polarities, we will find that part of us that is expansive, and at the same time, grounded enough to hold the full human experience.  We can hold the grief and the hope, the anxiety and God’s faithfulness.  We can hold both joy and sorrow – Jesus did. 

The image I sometimes have when I hold two seemingly opposing things is the one of Jesus on the cross.  On one side the unrepentant thief and the other who gave his heart to Jesus.  Jesus’ arms were outstretched to them both, holding the tension of his own sorrow and joy. We share in the sufferings of Christ, as well as being a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.

We are living in the gap–the little pathway between this and that.  If we try to focus on one or the other, we’re up against a cliff, or shall we say a rock and a hard place.  Everything is being woven together.  Do you remember the adage about the tapestry…that we’re only seeing the tapestry of life from the underside?  And if you create anything, you probably don’t want people to judge it from the underside.  So, black and gold, rough and smooth, joy and sorrow are all being woven together.  Wait until it’s finished – and then we’ll see the whole picture.  We’ll be in glory. 

I’m reading parts of “A Liturgy for Embracing Joy & Sorrow” from Every Moment Holy for our opening prayer today:

Lord God, in one hand we grasp the burden of our griefs, while with the other we reach for the hope of grief’s redemption.  And here, between the tension of the two, between what was and what will be, in the very is of now, let our hearts be surprised by, shaped by, warmed by, remade by the same joy that forever wells within and radiates from your heart, O God.  For this is who we are:  a people of The Promise, a people shaped in the image of God whose very being generates all joy in the universe, yet who also weeps and grieves its brokenness.  So we, your children, are also at liberty to lament our losses, even as we simultaneously rejoice in the hope of their coming restoration.  Let us learn now, O Lord, to do this as naturally as the inhale and exhale of a single breath.  We turn our hearts and minds to You this morning, O God. Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
look and take note!
Search her squares to see
if you can find a man,
one who does justice
and seeks truth,
that I may pardon her
Jeremiah 5:1
Then I said, “These are only the poor,
they have no sense;
for they do not know the way of the LORD,
the justice of their God.
I will go to the great
and will speak to them,
for they know the way of the LORD,
the justice of their God.”
But they all alike had broken the yoke,
they had burst the bonds
Jeremiah 5:4-5

Intro: In 1989 Bob Dylan released the song “Everything Is Broken”

I’ll read some of the lyrics:
Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken
Broken bottles, broken plates
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken
Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking Everything is broken

– it’s a bluesy song that I love listening to when I feel down but not out
• when something that is important to you falls apart,
◦ or a lot of unpleasant things line up in your day, this song fits your mood
◦ lots of people, in different situations can connect with these lyrics
• it sometimes seems everything, everywhere is going wrong
– this was Jeremiah’s world

Reading through most of Jeremiah is rough and unpleasant

It is everything we don’t want to hear God say
– for instance, that decisions and actions have consequences,
• and the worse our actions, the more severe the consequences
◦ also, that God has been sending his people (us) messages and warnings,
◦ but they (we) have been ignoring them
• in context, the whole culture of Jerusalem had become a trap
◦ that if you were to go up and down it’s streets,
◦ looking for a decent person, you would be wasting your time
– it’s as if God is the District Attorney, taking Israel to court
• in chapters 5 and 6, he delivers his “opening statement”
◦ his argument comes down to a question, he asks twice (first in verse 9, then again in verse 29)
“Shall I not punish them for these things
declares the LORD;
and shall I not avenge on myself on a nation such as this?”
• but before God condemns, he investigates to see if he can find a reason to pardon Jerusalem (v. 1)
◦ he’s a reasonable DA – willing to look at all the evidence

Jeremiah’s first response is to make an unwarranted assumption

These are only the poor . . .
– he makes no apology for this prejudiced view of the poor
(an assumption not based on theology but sociology)
• the poor were deprived of anything like a formal education
• the majority of the poor were most likely illiterate
• they were perhaps more susceptible to superstition and conspiracy theories
• they were easier to fool, trick, swindle
• they had less leverage to resist social trends and pressures of the rich
– when Jeremiah tested this theory, he realized it couldn’t hold water
• everything and everyone was broken

This conclusion is repeated and amplified further on

But it also comes with a surprise at the end of the chapter
An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rue at their direction;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes?
Jeremiah 5:30-31
– the prophets and priests were abusing their authority
• I would expect a lot of unrest and agitation would erupt in the community
• people would be up in arms and lodging complaints – but God says,
my people love to have it so!!!
– the populace gave consent to the corrupt leadership
• they wanted prophets who would lie to them, give them false assurances and worthless promises
• they wanted authoritarian priests who were complicit with prophets

In the 1970’s, ultra-conservative Christians were denouncing “secular humanism”
– they sharply criticized “lifeboat ethics,” “situation ethics,” and moral relativism
• they argued that doing the right did not depend on circumstances
◦ theft was always theft, a lie always a lie, blasphemy was always blasphemy
• people were fit or unfit for leadership, according to their moral character
– today, people in that same religious demographic,
• turn a blind eye to the shenanigans of their politicians
◦ and it doesn’t make any difference whether we are talking about Democrats or Republicans
• these believers justify their compromise with unethical leaders with lame excuses,
◦ like, “Well, all politicians lie”
◦ it is not so difficult to slip into the lax attitude of Jeremiah’s audience

There was one major crime the people committed against God

Before Jeremiah was called to prophecy (probably before his born),
– the worst king in all of Judah’s history reigned in Jerusalem
He did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the LORD had driven from the land . . . . He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had destroyed. He constructed altars for Baal and set up an Asherah pole . . . . He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them. ¶ He built pagan altars in the Temple of the LORD . . . . Manasseh also sacrificed his own son in the fire. He practiced sorcery and divination, and he consulted with mediums and psychics. He did much that was evil in the LORD’s sight, arousing his anger. . . . Manasseh also murdered many innocent people . . . . (2 Ki. 21:1-16, NLT)
• although Manasseh had died, and they nation made a turn back to Yahweh during Josiah’s reign,
◦ there moment of devotion to Yahweh was short-lived
• soon they were sharing their devotion to God with other gods
– so God’s response was to give them up to other gods
And when your people say, “Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?” you shall say to them, “As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.” (Jer. 5:19)

God is relentless as he continues his line of accusations in chapter 6

You can see that I’m highlighting specific verses in each chapter
– what I will point out here, are examples of Judah’s brokenness
• there are specific social systems that must be kept in proper order,
◦ to maintain a healthy connection with God
• in chapter 6, we learn four systems that were broken
– the first two appear in verses 13-15 (note that verse 13 rehashes what we heard in ch. 5)
For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
No, there were not at all ashamed;
they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the LORD
Jeremiah 6:13-15)

Brokenness Number 1: Providing simplistic solutions to complex problems
A few years ago, another pastor I had known for a long time told me, “The difference I see between us, is that you make everything complicated, while I make things simple.”
– he believed that there were no complex problems
• that from the right perspective, all problems could be solved with simple solutions
◦ for instance, no one needed therapy – “Just read Bible and have faith”
• my heart broke for the people he counseled
◦ he didn’t need to listen to them – but he preached long sermons to them
◦ he was treating cancer with band aids
They have healed the wound of my people lightly (slightly, superficially)
– just saying the words does not create the reality

Brokenness Number 2: They lost the ability to blush
There is prophetic irony in this line, they did not know how to blush
– no one tries to blush – in fact, sometimes we try not to
• it’s something the body does on its own
◦ an automatic physiological response to an emotion like anger or embarrassment
• that they did not blush, indicates their insensitivity to shame
◦ they could not longer feel how wrong their actions were

Brokenness Number 3: Their worship was broken
What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba,
or sweet cane from a distant land?
Your burn offerings are not acceptable,
nor your sacrifices pleasing to me
Jeremiah 6:20
Worship is where we connect with God – it is our ongoing conversation with him
– it is our prayer and praise – it is our listening and speaking, our waiting and watching
• when worship is everything it’s supposed to be, it is acceptable – we are accepted
– but incense and rituals and loud praise are empty without intimacy

Brokenness Number 4: The refining process was broken
I have made you a tester of metals among my people,
that you may know and test their ways.
They are all stubbornly rebellious,
going about with slanders;
they are bronze and iron;
all of them act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely;
the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
for the wicked are not removed.
Rejected silver they are called,
for the LORD has rejected them
Jeremiah 6:27-30
The “tester’s” (assayer) concern had to do with impurities
– that is because an impurity could weaken the strength of a metal or decrease its value
• God was turning up the heat on Jerusalem
• but the impurity of wickedness had merged with society and could not be removed
– silver is found in lead ore
• in this instance, even if the fire separated the ore from the silver,
◦ the silver was still not pure
◦ that is why it would be called “rejected silver”

Conclusion: There is a subtle sign of hope for Jerusalem in these chapters
Go up through her vine rows and destroy,
but make not a full end . . . . (Jer. 5:10)
But even in those days, declares the LORD, I will not make a full end of you (Jer. 5:18)

Have you ever seen the movie A Walk in the Clouds? A young man returning from military duty during the second World War, meets a young woman whose family owns a vineyard in northern California. The vineyard is exceptional for the quality of grapes and wine in produces, because of the excellence of the original vine. Tragically, a fire destroys the entire vineyard. The family stands by the burned fields stunned by the loss that will now ruin their lives. But the young man suddenly remembers something he had seen. He runs into the field and kneels down in one row where he finds a portion of a vine with its roots intact. He shows it to the family, and now it is time to rejoice and celebrate. Out of that small bit of life, an entire vineyard will return to the fields.

Read these words again:
Go up through her vine rows and destroy,
but make not a full end
That little bit that was not destroyed would be the salvation of his people
It doesn’t take much,
but if we return to God with the little bit we have,
his touch will be our salvation

Aug 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 3-4 08/20/2023



Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

If a man divorces his wife
and she goes from him
and becomes another man’s wife,
will he return to her?
Would not that land be greatly polluted?
You have played the whore with many lovers;
and would you return to me?
Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see!
Where have you not been ravished?
By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers
like a nomad in the wilderness.
You have polluted the land
with your vile whoredoms.
Therefore the showers have been withheld,
and the spring rain has not come;
yet you have the forehead of a whore;
you refuse to be ashamed.
Have you not just now called to me,
‘My father, you are the friend of my youth—
will he be angry forever,
will he be indignant to the end?’
Behold, you have spoken,
but you have done all the evil that you could
Jeremiah 3:1-5

Intro: Every year, my dad directed a summer camp in Williams, Arizona

So that was our typical family vacation
– one year, when all the campers were assembled in the chapel,
• Dad began, “There was a murder in the forest last night
◦ he paused to let that sink in
• then holding up a carving knife, he said, “This was the weapon”
◦ and “Here is the victim” – and he showed us a twig from an apple tree
– he explained that once he cut the twig from the tree,
• separated from its supply of sap, it was as good as dead
• he then explained why it was so important for us campers,
◦ to abide in Jesus all year long – not just at summer camp
◦ that was quite the attention getter

God used attention-getters, because Israel had a history of not listening
– the previous chapter began with the early days of their courtship
• now this chapter begins with a message of divorce
◦ he starts with a question, a predicament and its consequences
◦ he isn’t looking for an answer, the question is rhetorical
• then he jumps from his legal and moral question,
◦ to a relational and personal scolding – and it’s harsh
You have played the whore with many lovers
– God says the consequences of their behavior are widespread
• a society that tolerates this behavior would become corrupt
◦ even the land would suffer (Hebrew: erets, land, earth, soil)
– in the 1960’s, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring
• in it, she alerted the world to the detrimental effects on ecology of human actions
◦ I think it’s easier today than any time before the 1960’s, to see the adverse effect of sin on our environment (especially the sin of greed)
• all of God’s creation is one vast system,
◦ we can’t destroy one thing without affecting something else

This point is made in a powerful way in chapter 4
I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
and to all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and behold, there was no man,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the LORD, before his fierce anger
(Jer. 4:23-26)
– Jeremiah is an eye-witness as he reports, “I looked . . . I looked . . . I looked”
Robert Alter point’s out that Jeremiah is witnessing the devastation of war
• but the language he uses is borrowed from the creation story in Genesis
• in fact, it seems that God is “reversing the very act of creation” (Alter)
◦ if in the beginning the earth was without form and void (Gen. 1:2)
◦ Jeremiah observed the earth returning to its primordial state, without form and void (Jer. 4:23)
– if on first day, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light,”
• Jeremiah observed the universe moving backward in time until once again the heavens . . . had no light
• reading these passages, Jim Morrison’s lyrics in “When the Music’s Over” come to mind:
“What have they done to the earth, yeah?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn and
Tied her with fences and dragged her down.”

Though I’ve emphasized ecology, that is a side issue

The stronger theme is that God views his relationship with Israel as a marriage
– this takes us back to Genesis also, where we’re told,
a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:24-25)
• Israel had bonded with God, but later they broke that bond
• turning to the gods of other nations, they violated their relationship with God
– why would God use an analogy like this?
• because everyone who has been committed to a close, loving relationship,
◦ is sensitive to betrayal – we can imagine its anguish
• God wanted his people to FEEL the depth of his love for them
◦ he wanted them to have the experience rather than mere information

It seems like God is saying there’s no way back from this
You have played the whore with many lovers;
and would you return to me?

We hear him saying, they can’t “return”
– it would be wrong, it would be outrageous, a scandal for him to return to them or they to him
• but as we read on, their return is the main theme!
• beginning in verse 6, God tells a story of two sisters
Meshuba (faithless or unfaithful) Israel and Bawgode (treacherous or deceitful) Judah
◦ the story is allegorical, but there’s nothing subtle about its meaning
– Israel went into exile years prior to Judah’s exile – God says,
And I thought, “After she has done all this she will return to me,” but she did not return [so] I had sent her away with a decree of divorce (vv. 7-8)
• Judah witnessed this, but still took the same path
– Israel was unfaithful and Judah was treacherous
• but after all they had done against him and after the divorce, God cries,
“Return, faithless Israel,
declares the LORD.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
declares the LORD (v. 12)
Return, O faithless children, declares the LORD (v. 14)
Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness (v. 22)
• “return” is the key word in the entire book of Jeremiah’s prophecies

God is willing to do the unthinkable

At first, God’s message is:
The only reasonable response is divorce. No one in their right mind would take this person back.
– but then he says, I will take you back, if you just return to me
– we need to know, no matter how far we slip away from God,
• we are never stuck – there’s always a way back
◦ we learn this from Jesus’ story of the prodigal son
• the turning point in the story was when he came to his senses
◦ he did not even need to finish his apology to his father
◦ he did not need to become a slave for the rest of his life
– we can begin our return with a simple prayer, “I’m back”
• when we do return, what do we see in God’s eyes?
I will not look at you in anger (v. 12)

One of my main objectives in taking you on this journey through Jeremiah
– is that we come to feel, in the deepest part of our being, God’s crazy love for us
– every day, every hour, he provides a way back

God is willing give us directions regarding how to return
If you return, O Israel,
declares the LORD,
to me you should return.
If you remove your detestable things from my presence,
and do not waver,
and if you swear, “As the LORD lives,”
in truth, in justice, and in righteousness,
then nations shall bless themselves in him,
and in him they shall glory
(Jer. 4:1-4)

First, he reminds us we are coming back to him! (not to church, or religion, or doctrine)
• we can make use of the other instructions here too, and discern how to apply them to ourselves
• but there’s something else I want to emphasize

Begin here: Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see! (Jer. 3:3)

The evidence of their prostitution was in plain view
– it’s an odd quirk of human habit, that we stop seeing things
• we notice a wall or door that needs painting, but go our way and forget
◦ after awhile, we stop seeing it
◦ it fades into the background of our everyday landscape
• we can become blind to our bad habits too
– God has many ways of getting us to see ourselves
• Jesus made a joke about us trying to help someone get a small particle out of their eye,
◦ while we have a log in our own eye
• we think we can see their speck, but we don’t see our own 2X4
◦ the things we fail to see in ourselves go uncorrected
◦ it’s too easy for me to trick myself, as Judah did
Yet . . . Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the LORD (Jer. 3:10)
– every morning and every night I try to wake myself up
• I don’t want to be lost in my habitual thoughts and feelings
◦ I want to get behind them to the “me” that thinks and feels
◦ I am not my thoughts or feelings – they can be the “log” that blinds me
• I am the aware self – and this is where I connect with Jesus
We do not have to sit in silent meditation. Just watch what you are doing in the present moment. Watch yourself read as you read, writing as you write, walking as you walk. If you feel cold, bring yourself to that part of you that is aware of the coldness, but is itself not cold.

Conclusion: I want to share with you a prayer of Karl Rahner’s

“When I receive You I accept my everyday just as it is. I do not need to have lofty feelings in my heart to recount to You. I can lay my everyday before You just as it is, for I receive it from You Yourself, the everyday and its inward light, the everyday and its meaning, the everyday and the power to endure it, the sheer familiarity of it which becomes the hiddenness of Your eternal life.”

If we know what God wants, we can give that to him
So what does God want?
I said,
How I would set you among my sons,
and give you a pleasant land . . . .
And I thought you would call me,
My Father, and would not turn from following me (3:19)

God wants us to return his love
This is doable!

Aug 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapter 2 – 08/13/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to the RefleXion Community.  The Lord is with you!

There are so many examples in the Bible of men and women hearing the Lord’s voice.  For example, Jeremiah says, “The word of the Lord came to me.”  I’ve long been intrigued not only by God speaking to humans, but by our ability to hear and respond to Him.  Really, how marvelous is that.  But how?  Is there an organ in our bodies, a certain radio wave?  I’m sure many of us can say that we’ve had a word from the Lord; where did we sense it?  A thought or insight, our gut, chills, a strong emotion?  I’ve been reading a book on Contemplative Prayer by Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was, by the way, a Swiss 20th century theologian and priest.  He asks, “How can we hear God’s word?  We can because we are in the word.” 

John 1:1 states:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In the beginning: Genesis 1:26 reads.  Let us make man in our image after our likeness. Von Balthasar says, “God’s word is himself, his most vital, his innermost self:  his only-begotten Son, of the same nature of himself.  The word need not be apprehended as something alien, something ‘other’:  it can be understood to be what is most our own.  The word of God addressed to us always presupposes a word of God within us, insofar as we have been created in the word and cannot be detached from this context.”

I think this is a marvelous concept and worth pondering. Is every cell in our body designed to hear and respond to the word.  If we are created by the Word and made in His image, then the word is planted deeply in us and indeed is in every cell in our body.  Our various senses would then receive and respond to the word.  When we hear the word, it is our natural instinct to listen, to find a resonance, and then to resound it to the world. This is the way we are made. That’s what I’m thinking about, and you may want to ponder it.  We live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Let His word dwell in us richly and be empowered in us by the Holy Spirit .  Can we agree to that in prayer?Lord God, we offer you our mental faculties, that we might have agreement with your ways,  our hearts that they may be awakened to You, and indeed the whole of our physical bodies to become aware and attuned by all our senses to your word to us.  As you have said “Let it be” in our creation, let our response be “Let it be to me according to Your word.”  We ask for you to enliven the word planted in us this morning.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

The word of the LORD came to me saying, “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD,
I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the LORD,
the firstfruits of his harvest.
All who ate of it incurred guilt;
disaster came upon them,
declares the LORD.”
Jeremiah 2:1-3

Intro: I always been enchanted with the way this chapter opens

If you look at the text, God’s speech is arranged in a poetic format
– Hebrew poems do not look or sound like English poems
• Hebrew poetry has a different structure and rules
◦ in chapter 1, Jeremiah had expressed his thoughts in prose (the ordinary written form of essays, etc.)
◦ but God’s messages were laid out in poems
(God’s speech is always in greater than the words he uses)
• poetry gives language greater force
◦ it’s primary objective is to communicate experience (rather than bare information)
– this chapter begins with God grieving a failed relationship
• there is more than a hint of emotion here: “I remember”
◦ it’s as if God is brooding over a cherished memory
◦ back when he rescued Israel from Egypt, he was their hero
• Yahweh remembers her youthful devotion and “bridal love”
◦ they followed him into the desert with reckless abandon
◦ they lived in the aura of his holiness
he took care of her – protected and provided for her

Unfortunately, this lovely song lasts no more than a couple of verses
– the reminiscence ends abruptly and shifts from past to present
• v. 4 – the romance died a long time ago
◦ Israel broke their marriage covenant with Yahweh,
◦ and were no longer God’s devoted bride
– we’re going to stay with this story in Jeremiah,
• but I want to comment on what we have witnessed so far
◦ close relationships require maintenance
◦ and the closer the relationship, more maintenance is required
• the fire of romance needs fuel, the life of love needs nourishment
◦ this is as true for our love of God as for family and friends
◦ as Jesus said to the church in Ephesus,
I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at the first (Rev. 2:4)

Israel allowed their love to die by what they did not say
What wrong did you fathers find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?

They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that none passes through,
where no man dwells?’
And I brought yo into a plentiful land
to enjoy its fruits and its good things.
But when you came in, you defiled my land
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the shepherds transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal
and went after things that do not profit
Jeremiah 2:5-8

Love and romance don’t end when people argue
– but when they stop talking to each other, it’s over
• “How was your day?” “How did the interview go?”
◦ personal questions demonstrate interest and concern
• the people stopped asking about God because they stopped caring
– in this instance, the question, “Where is the LORD?” is not negative
• it is not like asking, “Where is God when you need him?”
◦ here it is the ongoing question of faith
◦ where is God at work now? Where is he revealing himself?
• it’s the question we ask when we are still seeking God and his will
Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
(Psa. 105:4)
◦ they were neglecting God and their relationship with him
◦ so further down, Yahweh will ask,
Can a virgin forget her ornaments,
or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me
days without number (v. 32)

Israel broke their relationship with God by what they did

God presents his accusation as a scandal – something unheard of
For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see,
or send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the LORD,
for my people have committed two evils;
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water
Jeremiah 2:10-13
– nations did not abandon their gods
• ancient civilizations are remembered for their gods,
◦ as much as for their language, art, poetry, and myths
◦ their deities were embedded in their culture and minds
• about the time of Moses, a Pharaoh turned Egypt to just one god
◦ but that innovation did not survive his death
– this defection from Yahweh was especially appalling,
• because Israel replaced him with
gods that are no gods and that which does not profit
• God uses a striking analogy to illustrate this poor deal they had made
◦ a cistern is a cave dug underground to collect rain water
◦ it is not a source of fresh water, but a reservoir
◦ if it has any crack or fissure, water drains out, and the cistern becomes useless
• for Israel, Yahweh was the fountain of living waters

Israel abused their relationship with God by what they did say

The first to verses I’ll quote are found in one passage
– but the passage itself deserve attention
How can you say, ‘I am not unclean,
I have not gone after the Baals’?
Look at your way in the valley;
know what you have done —
a restless young camel running here and there,
a wild donkey used to the wilderness,
in her heat sniffing the wind!
Who can restrain her lust?
None who seek her need weary themselves;
in her month they will find her.
Keep your feet from going unshod
and your throat from thirst.
But you said, ‘It is hopeless,
for I have loved foreigners,
and after them I will go
Jeremiah 2:23-25

This analogy is graphic and moving
Robert Alter, “The female wild [donkey] in heat sniffs for the scent of the male.”
– Israel’s lust for other gods is depicted as an animalistic drive
• God, trying to warn them, to protect them, calls to them,
“Don’t go running off barefoot, calling for those foreign gods until your throat is dry and hoarse.”
• I think their reply is the saddest sentence in the Bible
But you said, “It is hopeless,
for I have loved foreigners,
and after them I will go.”
◦ they know they are wearing themselves out,
◦ they know their desperation is harming them,
but they can’t control themselves–they can’t stop
– do you recognize what this is? Our modern term is “addiction”
• the Bible uses the word “slavery”
◦ it is what Paul was addressing in Galatians 4:8,
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.
◦ you can be sure of this: addiction destroys relationships
• James Finley is a clinical psychologist,
◦ whose training included AA meetings in a Veterans Assistance hospital
Finley, “The patients in this treatment center had devised an initiation rite [that was] part of the process a person had to go through to be admitted to the unit.”
◦ the newbie is ushered into large room where fifty men sit around perimeter, heads down and silent
◦ two chairs are placed in the center about four feet apart–the newbie is seated in one of them
◦ the member in charge sits in other and asks the newbie, “What do you love the most?”
Finley, “The newcomer . . . would often blurt out something like ‘My wife.’ At which point the silence of the room would be abruptly shattered by all the men lining the four walls loudly yelling in unison, ‘Bullshit!’”
◦ they would then look down again and go perfectly silent
◦ the newbie may say next, “My children,” and the group would react with the same shout
◦ this was repeated until the newbie would answer, “Alcohol”
Finley, “. . . everyone in the room would break into applause. . . . The members of the unit would line up, single file. In complete silence each would approach the newcomer to hold him for a moment in a sincere embrace, welcoming him into their midst.”
• our addictions do not allow us to love our family more than anything else

– in one of my meditations in Jeremiah, I wrote:
“The attractions of other deities had taken such a strong hold on Israel, that even though running after them had reduced them to deprivation and unquenchable thirst, they felt helpless to rein in their passion. This is the worst stage of addiction, when addicts realize their drug is killing them, but their brains and bodies have become so dependent that them they feel helpless against the urge to use.”
Gerald May, “Everyone has addictions. Any ‘bad’ habit which we find ourselves wanting to ‘overcome’ is an addiction. Whether it is to drugs, alcohol, food, tobacco, sex, television, sports, self-importance, power or work, the basic quality is the same. One does something because it makes one feel good now. Later on there may be a price to pay, but now it feels good. And the more we do it, the more desire there is to do it again.”

What was Israel saying that was destroying their rel with God?
Verse 23, “How can you say, ‘I am not unclean’”
and verse 25, “But you said, ‘It is hopeless, for I have loved foreigners.”
– facing our hopelessness is often the first step in recovery
• as long as I tell myself “I can quit any time I want,” I will refuse help
Step 1 in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step program is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable”

Other things Israel was saying that had ruined their relationship with God:
who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’
and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth’” (v. 27)
“Why then do my people say, ‘We are free,
we will come no more to you’?” (v. 31)
you say, ‘I am innocent;
surely his anger has turned from me.’” (v. 35)
– these sayings reveal Israel’s illusions, their dubious liberation from God, and their rationalizations
• and this cost them the best love they had ever known

Conclusion: Thursday I got up early to have blood drawn

Afterward, I decided to walk on the beach – the morning was perfect artistry
A seagull scavenging in the sand caught my eye
I wanted it to be tame, to welcome to me
I was longing for contact with another living creature in God’s world of nature
I desired a St. Francis experience
That wasn’t going to happen and I realized I was the problem
The seagull could only be what it was created to be,
and do only what it was supposed to do
I, on the other hand, was the creature who has a will and who can resist God
I am responsible for whatever alienation I feel in my world

So here is the test I’m recommending:
Let’s ask whether or not we are holding up our side of our relationship with God
We are we not saying that we need to say?
What are we doing what we should not or not doing what we should?
And am I saying that I should not?

And do you know what?
Your success will not be the result of how well you do,
but will come from God working his grace into you body, mind, soul, and spirit
That’s the benefit of being in covenant with God
That’s the miracle

Aug 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapter 1 – 08/06/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion!  The Lord is with you!

This week I heard a conversation that was punctuated by this statement:  “It was a Come to Jesus moment.”  I think they meant it was a moment of sudden realization or recognition that included a paradigm shift, perhaps a life-changing moment.  Were you ever at a revival or crusade where these words were spoken:  Come to Jesus.  What did they mean to you?  Some of us heard them and responded with a “yes” that changed the course of our lives…for sure a life-changing moment.  And oh, yes,  I think we can have more than one Come to Jesus moment!

This week, one dear one in my life realized that she actually felt guilty having to come to Jesus with her difficulty…as if she should have handled it herself.  Another thought that other people would have an answer to her problem.  Others had no hope and felt stuck.  The last time I checked, there are plenty of Come to Jesus invitations in scripture.

Are you tired, worn out, burdened by life?  Great, you’re invited by Jesus:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

If we don’t know which way to turn?  He’ll show us.  Jesus:  “Come, follow me.”

When a man with a withered hand needed a healing touch, Jesus said,  “Come here.”

When the disciples had been working hard and hadn’t even had time to eat?  Jesus instructed, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”

When Peter wanted to  walk on the waves,  Jesus said “Come.”

Jesus told the disciples to let the children come to him.  To the curious and to the confused, he said, “Come and you will see.”

So, what kind of Come to Jesus moments are we experiencing right now?   What are we waiting for?  He says, “Come.”  It very well could be another life-changing moment.

Let’s pray:

Lord Jesus, we come to you in praise and thanksgiving. One day we will come to you in glory—to you, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  There is no moment that we can’t come to you.  Thank you for your invitation to come boldly to the throne of grace.  We welcome your fresh work this morning, your comfort, your guidance, your strength, your healing, your rest.  We come this morning, acknowledging and welcoming your presence with us.  Come, Jesus; come Holy Spirit.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: There are several words in the Bible we don’t understand

They pose a problem for us, because they’re common words,
– and we assume we know what they mean
• that is why we get confused when we come to them
◦ for instance: “name,” “fear” (“Am I supposed to be afraid of God?”), “holy,” and “sons of”
• biblical Hebrew has a small vocabulary
◦ so it has to expand the meaning of various words
◦ that enabled biblical writers to describe spiritual values and experience
– I thought a series of talks on those words might be helpful
• a short dictionary of words that confuse or upset us
But Friday night I had a dream. I approached two strangers–a father and son–bent over a small table. I approached them and asked what they were doing. They said, “We are reading the book of Jeremiah together.”
• even in my dream, it felt good to hear that
◦ after all, Jeremiah is my favorite book in the Bible
◦ when I woke up, I decided to walk you through Jeremiah’s book of prophecies
(not teaching the entire document, but exploring some of its gems)

God and his prophet are having a conversation
Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying . . . Jeremiah 1:4

God came to recruit Jeremiah–not to say that he gave him a choice
– Jeremiah was drafted into God’s service
• it is Jeremiah himself who is telling us the story of what happened
◦ much of this wonderful book is autobiographical
• as a result, I get the feeling that I know Jeremiah – I can relate to him
◦ he never settles into his calling completely
◦ he gets discouraged, he complains, he wants to give up
– the truth is, God gave him an impossible job
• about forty years from this moment, Judah would be conquered by Babylon
◦ Jeremiah’s work was to warn God’s people
◦ but through this whole period, they resist him, argue with him, and plot against him
• Jeremiah has many conversations with God that some scholars refer to as “prophetic dialogues”
◦ what matters to us is that we hear two voices, God’s and Jeremiah’s

When we read that the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah,
– we’re likely to think God spoke to him or delivered a verbal message
• but that is only one part of their encounter
◦ the actual experience involved a supernatural encounter
• the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures were exposed to the divine force of God’s word
– the movement of God’s Spirit and revelation of his word overlap
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath [ruach] of his mouth all their host (Ps. 33:6)
• so God is not simply sharing words with Jeremiah,
• he is at the same time creating the reality that he speaks
◦ he is making and empowering Jeremiah to be this person

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations
Jeremiah 1:5

I’m going to take a risk here, because it will sound too human to speak of God this way
– but it seems like God has been looking forward to this moment
• God had been interested and involved with Jeremiah from conception
◦ even in utero God can tell him, I knew you . . . I consecrated you . . . I appointed you
• now it’s as if God could not wait any longer to activate his prophet
◦ Jeremiah doesn’t see himself as a full-fledged adult, prepared for mature service
◦ but God is eager to get his ministry started, so he recruits him while he is still green
– from his mother’s womb, Jeremiah entered the world with a divine purpose
• he was formed according to God’s design,
• and now that design has is being revealed to him

Jeremiah immediately signals for a time-out
Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth Jeremiah 1:6

He addressed God by name, “Ah, adonai Yahweh!
– rather than jump at the opportunity God hands him, Jeremiah raises an objection
“Behold” – “Just look at me for a second!”
◦ in saying this, we are given a visual impression of the narrative scene
◦ we are looking at a youngster, not a career-age person
• Jeremiah’s reticence to accept God’s offer was a typical response to God–cf. Gideon, Saul, and Isaiah
◦ Moses, whose story parallels Jeremiah’s at this point, could have said “I’m too old” as Jeremiah said, “I’m too young”
◦ but both argued that they weren’t gifted at public speaking
(Moses went so far as to say, “Get someone else who is gifted and send them”)

God’s response to Jeremiah’s objection
But the LORD said to me,
Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord” Jeremiah 1:7-8

We could all benefit from God’s first sentence, “Do not say . . .”
– what holds us back from taking on a challenge?
• from doing something new or daring to step into a bigger arena?
• our negative self-talk: “I’ve never been good at this,”
◦ “I’m not musically inclined,” “I am only …” fill-in blank
◦ “. . . one person,” “a novice (amateur),” “I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me”
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth
• when we play god, that’s where we begin, we use words to create our tiny universe
◦ we fabricate an interior reality with self-talk and then we live in its cramped space
• J. B. Phillips wrote a translation of the New Testament that was popular in 1960’s and 70’s
◦ he also wrote a book entitled, Your God is Too Small — we are our own very small gods
◦ if God challenges us with something big, we don’t have to worry about being too small ourselves
– God is less concerned about our aptitude than our integrity
• the aptitude and ability are his

God’s response to Jeremiah is exactly his response to Moses
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you . . .” (Ex. 3:11-12)
God tells Jeremiah,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you . . .”
– every once in awhile, we have to remember, that in our prayers we are talking to GOD!
• one way or another, he will have his way
“to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak
• God doesn’t have to accept our explanations for declining his call
– since God is recruiting Jeremiah, there’s no argument that will stand
• God didn’t promise Jeremiah that all would go well,
◦ that he’d receive lots of invitations to speak at conferences, or sell lots of books, or sign lots of autographs
◦ he only promised that he would deliver him
Do not be afraid of them, God says–those people who could reject Jeremiah,
◦ who could ridicule and insult him
◦ we can allow ourselves to be imprisoned by others, we can become slaves to their opinion
• we will never be our whole self until we’re delivered from what others think of us and say about us

God qualifies Jeremiah for his work-related responsibilities
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me,
Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to over throw,
to build and to plant Jeremiah 1:9-10
(Notice how Jeremiah reports God’s speech in poetry and his own in prose)

I don’t know what to say about the touch on Jeremiah’s lips
– the entire episode speaks of intimacy
– and now it is God’s turn to say, “Behold”
• “Look at what I have just now done”
◦ with the touch, God put his words into Jeremiah’s mouth
• then God says, “See” – not “behold,” but a different word
◦ it means to “perceive”
◦ God is saying, “Jeremiah, be aware of what is happening”

Verse 10 is God’s prophetic “job description” for Jeremiah
– there are two stages to ministry:
the first stage: to uproot, break down, destroy, and overthrow
◦ this has to do with popular beliefs, social behavior and practices, and bad faith
the second stage: to build (but not on the old foundation) and to plant (new seeds)
– as time goes on,
• God will not totally abandon or destroy his people
◦ he does not send his word through prophets, in order to shut people out, but to bring them in
• but their way of life will have to be demolished, in order to become the true people of God

Conclusion: The same God we see with Jeremiah,

Is the God who is here with us this morning
– and his word enters our lives the same way – uprooting, breaking down, destroying, and overthrowing, then building and planting
• he rescues us from our illusions so we can live in his reality
• he corrects or negative self-talk with his divine word
• he liberates us from the need to compromise in order to please others
We need to learn how to receive the powerful word of the Lord
Not in Bible studies or memorizing verses–at least, not exclusively
It begins by “noticing” — being present to, and aware of the world around us,
because God speaks through sky and seas, stars and sand, the silly ostrich and stately lion
And we need to open our hearts to receive the Scriptures
in the same way that Jeremiah consumed God’s words
Your words were found and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,

O LORD, God of hosts (Jeremiah. 15:16)

Jul 31 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

The Shepherd and the Star Pt. 4 07/30/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning and welcome!     The Lord is with you!

Last week, Chuck mentioned 2 Corinthians 3:18, which reads:  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  One of the most beautiful verses ever.  Several phrases caught my attention, these in particular:  “are being transformed” and “unveiled face.”

Unveiled is the Greek word anakalypto, meaning to uncover, for example, by drawing back a veil. I’m sure you have heard the word apocalypse; the Greek word apokálupsis meant a revelation, disclosure, or unveiling.  Remember how the veil was torn in the temple at Jesus death?  The separation between the holy place and the holy of holies was opened.  We are invited in, and the Spirit is released to dwell in us.  As our faith grows, we believe and train ourselves to follow the new way of the Spirit.  We grow in our new environment.

We often talk about it in terms of True Self and False Self.  One way I picture it is that our True Self is like the sun, always shining.  The False Self (actually “selves” since we have true parts and false parts of ourselves) are like the clouds.  The sun is always shining, but the clouds may veil its presence. We all have parts of ourselves that were formed in our first environment. We were born into and perhaps parented in the false;  we’ve lived in the false desires of the world and its culture. We have an enemy who offers lies and deceptions. We adapted, but those parts of us are small and superficial, like clouds compared to the sun.  They are trying to maintain control, security, and esteem. 

This past week, near the Vatican, did you read that Nero’s 1st century Theater was uncovered?  It was revealed by uncovering the layers of dirt that hid the ruins and precious treasures that were already there.   We don’t wait for the gift of the True Self; we uncover it and let ourselves shine.

Transformation is the Spirit’s work.  Following our True Self is to follow the Spirit of Christ living in us, in sync with Christ’s impulses, operating freely by Grace.  Our False Selves are parts that haven’t yet come into Truth and therefore are not free. They have not been transformed. They live in cramped spaces of control, fear, greed, violence, and shame.  Those places were developed in adaptation, the Survival Dance instead of the Sacred Dance.  But now our True Self-in-Christ is wanting to bring transformation.  Living in that truth will set us free. 

Let’s pray together:  How wonderful it is to be called the children of God; our transformation is not yet complete.  Let us not be hypnotized or paralyzed but seek the Truth of our own being.  May everything we encounter assist this deep awareness of the Spirit’s call and leadership.  We present ourselves to Your Truth and Your Presence this morning, dear Lord.  In Jesus Name. Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: The book of Proverbs is a collection of pithy sayings

If you read it several times, those clever lines stick in your mind
– for instance, here is one that comes to mind regarding this last week:
Iron sharpens iron,
so a person sharpens the face of a friend (Pr. 27:17)
• you might remember, last year, Guy Gray spoke here
◦ we met up again this past week — Gut has been my friend for fifty years
◦ I was fortunate to meet him in the early years of my ministry
• he guided me to a path of greater insight and understanding
◦ his has been a lasting influence all these many years
– I think God has placed people in my life strategically
• men and women who have opened my eyes and prepared me for what was next
• however, when it comes down to what I do for you,
◦ the most important, overriding service that I provide you,
that has come to me directly from Jesus Christ, through the Scriptures

I know that God wants to use me as an influence in your life
– not a great deal of influence – that isn’t necessary
• it’s not my place to tell you how to vote,
• or to make you decide where you stand on controversial doctrinal issues
– however, I won’t hold back anything that I believe is vital for you to know
• in that regard, Paul is my example
I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable (Acts 20:20)
• it is God’s desire to personally direct your path through life

What kind of influence does God want me to provide?
They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you Galatians 4:17-19

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a fire alarm, an air-raid siren
– his passion is felt from beginning to end
• he was upset with them:
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (Gal. 3:1)
◦ and afraid for them:
I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain (Gal. 4:11)
• the problem was that two different messages had reached Galatia
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:6-7)
– it’s good for us to know something about this controversy
• there was a dedicated contingent of believers with their own ideas regarding salvation
◦ when a large number of Gentiles formed a church in Antioch,
some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers and sisters, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1)
◦ this created an immediate conflict
And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question (Acts 15:2)
◦ when they arrived, the Pharisee believers argued:
“It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5)
• although this issue was resolved at that council, the ultra-religious followers of Moses did not quit
– Paul’s message was, through Jesus we are saved by grace
• the message of the other group was, we are saved by grace plus something else
◦ they were adding requirements for the Gentiles that God did not authorize
• I hope you can see why this is so important that Paul would fight it aggressively
◦ this has ben an ongoing danger ever since – people adding prerequisites
◦ today people will give you the impression that you are saved by grace plus something
that you read only the King James Version of the Bible
or the only authentic Bible study is verse-by-verse
or “You must become an Evangelical to become a Christian”

So in verse 17, when Paul says, They make much of you,”
– the “they” are members of the ultra-religious crew
• “make much” is literally “zealous for you” or “over you”
Martin Luther, “Now zeal properly signifies an angry love, or as we would say jealousy. . . . such a zeal the false apostles pretended to bear towards the Galatians.”
◦ in verse 18, Paul says zeal can be good if the purpose is good
◦ he provides his own example in 2 Corinthians:
I feel a divine jealousy [zeal] for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2)
• the ultra-religious plan was to convince Gentile Christians, that their connection to God was defective
◦ they would act very concerned for the Galatians
(and they may have had a true concern–but they were still wrong)
◦ they wanted the Gentiles to feel “shut out”– “excluded”
◦ then they would offer them the way in–by keeping the law of Moses
– that’s the background for Paul’s passionate word picture in verse 19

What Paul describes here is the work Jesus has given me to do

Let’s take this line by line:
my little children
– this term always expresses deep affection
– John uses this expression many times in his first letter
• this is the only place ever in all of his writings where Paul uses this term
for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth
– the reference is specific to a woman in labor
• it seems an odd analogy for a man to use (I feel embarrassed by it)
• but the point is, Paul struggled and was in anguish over the Galatians
– giving birth is not a function of mechanical rules and requirements
• it is an organic process – it has to do with life
• life was the essence and goal of Paul’s ministry
until Christ is formed in you
– there is this strange language in the New Testament
• Paul talks about believers being in Jesus Christ,
◦ but he also talks about Jesus being in us – “Christ in you”
◦ Jesus made a similar reference, but in fruit-bearing rather than birth:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (Jn. 15:4)
– the life of Jesus within a person secures them in God
• the attributes of Jesus are seen in the person in whom he is formed
◦ in their words and actions and demeanor

For Christ to be formed in you must be the result of whatever influence I have in your life

I hesitate to refer to my work as “spiritual formation,”
– simply because that phrase is used too often of too many things
• but it is quite literally the formation of a Christian spirituality
• and it is a developmental process

When Jesus is formed in our lives:

We have a new center
– by nature, I was at the center of my universe – I was egocentric
We have new thoughts
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Ro. 12:2)
We have new desires, new feelings, new impulses

To have Christ formed in me, means, what is his becomes mine
– his will becomes my will
• I experience his compassion and his goodness as my own feelings
• his vision becomes my vision

As we experience this, we come to a new vision of ourselves
– an awareness of who we are and how we please our Father in heaven
• we are constantly knowing Jesus more intimately
• and knowing him intimately, we become more like him
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18)
– this doesn’t mean you become Jesus, but he causes you to become your true self
• there is a famous Hasidic story of Rabbi Zusha
◦ when dying, his students asked him why he was crying
“Because I know that in the next world they will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you more like Moses?’ but ‘Why weren’t you Rabbi Zusha?’”
• Christ formed in you, means you become like the person God meant for you to be

Conclusion: We can see plainly how we have been shaped by life

But I feel it’s important to have a clearer view or our history
That it is not simply life with all its coincidences and contradictions that made us who we are today
or will determine who we become tomorrow
Listen to how the prophet Isaiah describes our formation:
“But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay and you are our potter;
we are the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8)
Can you remember that this week?

Jul 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

The Shepherd and the Star Pt. 2 07/23/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community. The Lord is with you!

I bring another word picture this morning, and this time I remember where I heard it.  It was on James Finley’s podcast “Turning to the Mystics,” and this has been a helpful image for me.

If you will, picture with me a man looking into a mirror and seeing his own reflection.  Now see it from the perspective of the reflection looking at the man.  One day the reflection begins a conversation with his man:  “I’ve been with you a very long time.  I know your ways.  I dress like you; I move like you.  I think it’s time for me to break out on my own.  You’ve taught me well.”  “Well,” the man replies, “You are made to be my reflection. This is your Reality.  If you walk away, it’s not going to go well for you.”  “Nevertheless,” the reflection says, “I’m going.” 

From Thomas Merton, “There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with realities outside and above us.  When our life feeds on unreality, it must starve.  It must therefore die.”  And that’s what happened to the reflection who forgot how his Real life worked. 

I don’t think any of us would purposefully walk away from our Maker, but recently I did find myself outside of that reflective light.  Do you ever find yourself frustrated, discouraged, angry—feeling the feels of the big Ego?  You, like me, might realize that you have drifted away. 

This is how it looked for me:  First, my prayer:  Change them.   Then: I’ll try harder (I’ll work at it).  Then: I’m not doing well with this strategy.  I’ll ask God to help me. (Notice that I’m still trying to get my way).  I also realized that not only was I saying, “I can do this,” I was saying, “I should be able to do this.” Then, the turning!  Turning around is to repent, a turning away and a turning toward.

When I come to my senses and return to the mirror, I am returning to be-ing.  I am brought back to the Real.  Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt once described contemplation as taking a long, loving look at the real.” A reminder that this is our way.  It’s not just a one time and done, it’s a way of living.  This is the gift of our Creator.  At times, we might find ourselves even saying, “This is Unreal.”  Ah ha!  Perhaps it is.

Pray with me, will you: Lord God, in You we live and move and have our be-ing.  Forgive us when we think otherwise.  Thank You for the gifts of the Real Life of knowing You and reflecting You.  Draw us back to long, loving looks at the Real.  Thank you for this place to listen and practice Your Presence.  May we be receptive and reflective.  For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Him [Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me Colossians 1:28-29

Intro: About twenty years ago, Barb attended a seminar at work

A psychologist lectured on Compassion Fatigue Syndrome
– it is a common condition among healthcare professionals
• their encounters with the suffering of others takes a toll
◦ if they are not treated yet continue to work, they can become numb
◦ they stop feeling empathy for their patients’ pain and grief
• the speaker provided the audience with a list of symptoms
◦ Barb said as she was going down the list checking boxes, she was thinking,
“Yes, that’s Chuck. Yep, that too.”
– I was burned out and seriously questioning whether I should stay in ministry
• one morning I told Barb I was going to fast until evening
◦ I read, prayed, listened—but did not get an answer
• so when the sun set, we went to see a movie
◦ I broke my fast with a salted pretzel and a Coke
◦ but in the middle of the movie, I could feel something big was coming
The movie was “Along Came A Spider,” and the dialogue was between actors Morgan Freeman (playing detective, Alex Cross) and Monica Potter (playing Secret Service agent, Jezzie Flannigan)
Cross: You do what you are, Jezzie
Jezzie: You mean you are what you do
Cross: No, I mean you do what you are. You’re born with a gift. If not that, then you get good at something along the way. And what you’re good at, you don’t take for granted. You don’t betray it.
Jezzie: What if you do, betray your gift?
Cross: Then you betray yourself. That’s a sad thing.
– I knew that God meant for me to hear that–it was my answer

I was going to stay in ministry, but something had to change

My vision for the church had grown old and tired
– reading through Colossians, the Lord stopped me at the verses above
• Jesus told me, “This is what you will do. This is who you are.”
– immediately, I felt totally comfortable with this arrangement
• in this instance, Paul became my mentor and example

Paul wanted these Christians to know how privileged they were

In verse 26 Paul tells them about a mystery, “hidden for ages”
– in the New Testament, “mystery” doesn’t mean a puzzle or an enigma
• it refers to something unknown and unknowable
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever . . . .” (De. 29:29)
◦ what mystery was Paul talking about? what had been hidden for centuries?
• God, the Savior of Israel would open the door to Gentiles
◦ no one expected this – not even Jesus’ disciples
◦ and when it began to happen, they still didn’t believe it
– Peter needed a vision from heaven to persuade him to go to a Gentile home to tell them about Jesus
• when he returned to Jerusalem, he “criticized” for being with Gentiles, so he had to explain
When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18)
• Paul mentions this mystery in several of his letters
For instance, Ephesians 3, When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to [humankind] in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (vv. 4-6)
◦ God had at last revealed this mystery
◦ and the Colossians were privileged to be beneficiaries of it

I wish we could hear Paul’s words the way the Colossians would have
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (v. 27, and “you” is plural)
– Christ was among them, within their community
• but he was also within each person who had received him
• Paul explains it more fully in Romans chapter 8
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Ro. 8:9-11)
– reading both passages I noticed Paul refers to the Lord as “Christ” and not by his name, “Jesus”
• it is not that Jesus and Christ are not the same person or entity
◦ the title Christ derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah
◦ Jesus is the unique “anointed one” of prophetic promise
• I think for Paul, “Christ” refers specifically to his spiritual role
◦ as God’s appointed representative and shepherd-ruler
◦ it’s in his role as the Christ, Jesus takes his place in our lives

Recently I have wrestled with the idea of “Christ in me”
– in me where? my brain? my bones?
• I’ve wondered if this were merely a metaphorical indwelling
◦ but I don’t think so – and I’m pretty sure Paul meant literally
• in the Romans passage I read, Paul said we have the Spirit of Christ
◦ it is not that he is located somewhere in our bodies,
◦ but that your true self is spirit – and Jesus meets us Spirit to spirit
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Ro. 8:16)
– there is a real sense of Christ being in our true self—our aware self
(and if he is in me, then he is always with me)
• the most beautiful sermon from the 20th century that I ever read,
◦ was preached by G. Campbell Morgan
Morgan, We rejoice in Jesus’ first and second coming, because of “the mystery of His personal coming into our own life. . . . ‘Christ in you.’ That is the great miracle, the great mystery, the individual fact on which all the other facts of Christianity are based, and through which the other forces of Christianity become operative in the history of [humankind]. Christ in me—the Christ light—so that I see with His eyes. Christ in me—the Christ aspiration—so that I desire with His desire. Christ in me—the Christ impulse—so that I am driven as he was driven. Christ in me—the Christ consciousness—so that the world’s sin burdens me in the same fashion as it burdens Him, and the world’s agony hurts me as the world’s agony hurt Him.”

So, back when I was wondering about my new job description,

Jesus spoke to me through these two verses — I will take them line-by-line
“Him we proclaim”—proclaiming Jesus would then be for ever my priority
• my ministry was to present and promote Jesus
◦ this has proved to be tricky—for myself and others
◦ ministers are like everyone else, we want to know that we’re good at what we do
◦ but the truth is, there’s no way to calculate our effectiveness
• instead of simply preaching Jesus, we end up promoting ourselves (it seems like a subtle shift)
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor. 4:5)
– I enjoy talking about Jesus; telling his story, explaining his teaching
• that comes first—present Jesus, bring him into focus
• it’s a continuation of Jesus’ ministry—as well as an extension and expansion of it
◦ as such, the love of Jesus is revealed in broader dimensions (“all the world,” “all flesh,” etc.)

Then Paul says, “warning everyone” – literally, to place in mind
– to provide biblical and spiritual counsel—personal care
• answer questions if possible; give direction; spiritual training
“teaching everyone” for me means to inform, to instruct
• to help make sense of the Bible for others and clarify things
“with all wisdom”—in scripture, wisdom the useful application of knowledge
• some people don’t get why I study certain subjects
◦ they understand my biblical and theological studies,
◦ but why neuroscience? why psychology and sociology?
• I started studying human consciousness because I want to be as fully conscious of God’s presence as possible
◦ how were the prophets and apostles so aware of God? Is it a matter of discipline or is all grace?
◦ I want to be useful as a resource — and to know where pastoral counseling leaves off and psychological therapy begins
“to present everyone mature in Christ” – complete
• think of working on a project until it is finished—that is what this word means
◦ and God’s finished work in us is the fullness of Christ in us, the hope of glory (Php. 1:6)

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me (v. 29)
– this is my work—sometimes it is toil and struggling
• but it is also the presence and support of God’s Spirit

Conclusion: I want to tell you to spend some time in scripture

Read, and think about what you’ve read
I want to tell you to spend some time in prayer;
pray your anxieties and sit in silence with your heart open to God
I want to tell you to spend some time in Christian conversations; with friends or our Lexio Divina meeting
I want to tell you to do these things, but I won’t
Instead, be kind to someone who isn’t doing well
As far as it is possible for you, be gracious with everyone
This is how we move toward maturity, and best represent Jesus
And remember, Christ is in you; remind yourself to enjoy him

Jul 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

The Shepherd and the Star Pt. 1 07/16/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to RefleXion!     The Lord is with you!

A couple of weeks ago I shared a little story with my Lectio Divina group, and I referenced a book where I thought I had read it.  I went back to look for it this week, and it wasn’t in the book I thought, so I’m not sure where I heard this tale.

It’s like this…There was a young woman who lived in a comfortable stone cottage, one she had built herself and loved.  One day she found herself wanting to cross the stream that she could see from her door.  As she reached its banks, it seemed too wide for her.  She asked Jesus to help her; he brought her a stone to step on, and she took her next step.  The next time she was in the stream, the gap still seemed too big, so she asked Jesus for help again; he immediately brought her another stone to step on.  She made progress, but day after day it still seemed so far, so wide, so dangerous; and Jesus always brought stepping stones.  But one day, Jesus was late, so she turned around to look for him, in the direction of her comfy stone cottage.  To her astonishment, the cottage was being deconstructed stone by stone.  The stones she was stepping on were taken from her comfortable little place, and now she could never go back.

If you’re like me, you can look back and see the structures you had, comfortable, familiar, safe; but perhaps they  no longer a fit for your journey.  Scripture says, “all things work together for good.”  Nothing is wasted.  There’s always a bit of deconstruction going on.  Cells in our body break down and get rebuilt regularly.  In philosophy, deconstruction is the literary criticism that questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity, and truth. 

Many of our beliefs and ways of looking at things have changed, haven’t they? John Dewy, an American scholar in the early 20th century, said, “All learning begins when our comfortable ideas turn out to be inadequate.”

I’ve heard people say, “Don’t look back, that’s not the way you’re going!”  But, like the young woman in the story, you can look back…and be astonished! Things are being deconstructed, but nothing is lost.  It has all had its way with you.  To deconstruct is not to destroy.  Scripture says, “all things work together for good for those who love God.” Let’s welcome the Spirit working a forward-facing work in us and take each step as it’s made possible.

Let’s pray:

O Jesus, what a marvelous, wonderful author and finisher of our faith You are. Let us not side-step our calling, but follow You, willingly and whole-heartedly.   Keep astonishing us.  Turn Your Face toward us this morning, we pray; as we turn ours toward You, in gratefulness that You are leading us in Glory .  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr. 

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17

Intro: Last week, God’s question to Elijah was, “What are you doing here?”

We’ll start with that question: “What are you doing here?”
– isn’t one reason that your here is because you came to hear what I have to say?
• Okay, I feel uncomfortable when I think that or say that
◦ not only because it’s like I have to give an oral report every week
(and feel like I’ll be graded on it),
◦ but because I can’t take myself that seriously
• I’m a mediocre guy who makes more mistakes than gets things right
– However, I do take God seriously and the work he’s given me
• and I take you very seriously – so I don’t want to waste your time
• but I’m like a court jester; the silliness of what I do and who I am, causes others to think

If what I do is part of the reason you’re here, then perhaps I should explain why I’m here
– so that’s what I’m going to talk about for the next two weeks

This idea came to me Wednesday night in our Lexio Divina
(Jim refers to our Lexio Divina meetings as a “workshop on learning to listen.” We listen for the Spirit to speak to us through the Scriptures, in silence, and through each other)

The reading was in Matthew 2, and was about the birth of Jesus and the visit of the magi
– one of the women in our group said that what spoke to her was,
“The shepherd and the star” – both images are were references to Jesus
• that had an immediate effect on me
◦ and the more I thought about it, the more it spoke to me
• a few days later, it was my inspiration for these talks
– so today we’re going to ease our way into it

John tells us how Jesus reconciled with Peter after his resurrection

It’s a beautiful and complex story, but we won’t go into those details
– we watch Jesus approach Peter and patch their relationship
• Peter needed the Lord to do this for him
• after reconciling with Peter, Jesus gave him his assignment
◦ he said it three times, in three words, and mixing it up each time
Feed my lambsTend my sheepFeed my sheep
– the biblical tradition of the shepherd-leader has a long history
• Moses spent forty years as a shepherd before spending another forty leading Israel through the wilderness…
• God removed King Saul and replaced him with David, whose primary qualification was he had been a shepherd
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel” (2 Sam. 7:8)
[The LORD] chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand (Ps. 78:70-72)
– Israel’s poets and prophets perceived God in role of shepherd
• the most famous psalm, Psalm 23, begins with, “The LORD is my shepherd”
◦ God leads, feeds, waters, and give rest and protection to every believer
• then we hear the prophet Isaiah announce:
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (Isa. 40:11)

When Jesus came, he saw people through the eyes of a shepherd
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9:36)
– Jesus chose the shepherd as one of the images he used to describe himself
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (Jn. 10:14-16)
– and now here, at the end of John’s gospel, Jesus enlists Peter to continue his shepherding work
• later on, Paul regarded all church leaders as shepherds
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God (Acts 20:28)

The thought of being in pastoral ministry terrifies me

One of the most famous preachers of the 19th century, Charles H. Spurgeon, said,
“If you can do anything else, do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry.”
– the writer of Hebrews said pastoral leaders:
are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account (Heb. 13:17)
• James wrote,
Not many of you should become teachers . . . for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness (Jas. 3:10)
• I’ve run into people around town who attended Capo Beach Church when I was there
◦ more than once I’ve been greeted with, “Hi, Pastor Chuck!” And I’ve answered “I’m not a pastor any more”
◦ one woman replied, “But you will always be my pastor” – that creeps me out
– there are too many ways that I can fail you
• I’ll give you one example

Suppose I assist you in deepening your life in God, but that part of your life is activated only on Sundays or only seems real when we meet together–when we pray, and enter the Scriptures–and the rest of the time and everywhere else we’re preoccupied with other things? What if every other day of the week we live like earthlings, unaware of God, and caught up in all the things of the world? What if on the weekdays we are worried about our bodies while neglecting our spirits? The the point I want to make is that I am a “supplement”! What I do is not your nutrition, your source of energy or healthy growth.

What happens when we’re here is reinforcement, a remembering, a refreshing, and refueling. Reflexion is a rest stop in this long journey and a break from the everyday pressures. We leave here and return to the road. A benefit of being here together, is that it supports our lives and gives us stamina in the trenches. Our real life in God is what we nurture and practice every day.

Abraham Maslow, a twentieth century psychologist and humanist,
– was convinced that humans have a “transcendent nature” that needs to be nurtured
• he believed there was a human need to experience transcendence
• he argued that church on Sunday could get in the way of that rather than provide it
Maslow, “The experiences of the holy . . . the divine, . . . of surrender, of mystery . . . gratitude, self-dedication, if they happen at all, tend to be confined to a single day of the week, to happen under one roof only . . . . ‘Religionizing’ only one part of life secularizes the rest of it.”
– Maslow refers to this kind of rupture between one day of the week and the other days as “dichotomizing” (dichotomy is a division of one thing into two parts)
• he argues that dichotomizing results in psychological disorders
Maslow, “Isolating two interrelated parts of a whole from each other, parts that need each other, parts that are truly ‘parts’ and not wholes, distorts them both, sickens and contaminates them.”
• St. James made a similar observation 2,000 years ago
People who are double-minded are unstable in all their ways” (Jas. 1:8)
◦ we can break this down further and make it easier to digest
Brenning Manning, “Christianity has designated certain places more sacred than others, some days holier than others, and some actions more religious than others, giving the impression that contact with God happens primarily, if not exclusively, on the first day of the week in a building called church. Confining God’s presence to certain predictable times and places is restrictive and leads to the unspoken assumption that the rest of the week is irreligious.”
My dad used to say, “Some people have enough of the Lord in them to be unhappy in the world and enough of the world in them to be unhappy in the Lord.”

If we correct the division between sacred and secular, what is possible?

Being here together will enrich our daily experience of God
– but the reverse is also possible
• our daily experience of God will enhance our being together
– let’s say we have a day that is unusually distressing
• we pray and we call or text to share our need with a Christian friend
◦ we breathe, turn our awareness to God, and receive peace
◦ the answer may not have arrived–yet–but it’s on the way
• then we meet together here and share our hardships and successes
◦ this is what the Psalms describe when the poet says,
“I will thank you in the great congregation;
in the mighty throng I will praise you” (Ps. 35:18)

Conclusion: Sometime ago, a friend of mine lost his wife after a prolonged illness

When I called him to see how he was doing, he told me that a minister involved in his wife’s memorial service told him to write out his eulogy; that way he wouldn’t risk losing a thought or rambling. Also, if he were to be flooded with emotion and unable to keep reading, his daughter could finish reading the eulogy for him.
The problem was that my friend did not consider himself a writer or capable of putting together something worth reading at her memorial. He was struggling with it and getting nowhere. So I asked him if he was busy, or if I could come over to his house, interview him briefly, and write the eulogy for him. He said he didn’t want to put that on me, but I told him, “This is easy for me. It’s what I do; it’s who I am.”

There are two specific places passages in the Scriptures where Jesus spoke to me and gave me my assignment like he did with Peter.
Years passed between these two events,
but on each occasion, Jesus said, “This is what you do. This is who you are”
Next week and the week after,
I am going to share those two words with you