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Dec 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 3, 2017 – Matthew 7:1-6

It Really Is That Simple

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2

Intro: At first, it seems like Jesus jumps to an entirely different subject

In fact, he is continuing to develop his theme of superior righteousness (Mt. 5:20)
– he is still concerned with the spirit of God’s law and our inner lives
• what he moves to in this passage is another way this applies to our lives
• Jesus covered two issues in chapter 6:
hypocrisy: a potential problem we may have with God
anxiety: a potential problem we may have with “things”
– now he covers a new issue
judging: a potential problem we may have with other people

The Greek word translated “judge” is krino and has lots of meanings
– separate, evaluate, discern, condemn
• knowing how to interpret it depends a lot on the context
• in this instance Jesus says, “Don’t do this,” which indicates something that is always wrong
◦ so perhaps he is saying, “Do not condemn others”
◦ it is not our job to separate sheep from goats
◦ or decide whether a person stands or falls before God (Ro. 14:4)
– we can immediately dismiss the idea Jesus forbids making any kind of judgment
• such as the judicial system, discerning whether a person is safe or someone is telling the truth
◦ these types of judgments have the support of scripture
• if we keep in mind the whole sermon, the Lord’s concerns include:

  • Not evaluating or forming opinions of others without compassion for them
    ◦ we have been instructed to love even our enemies
    ◦ certainly we are not to identify someone’s error or wrong doing without love
  • Whatever we discover about others, we must be ready to show them mercy
    ◦ we are to be peacemakers
    ◦ the goal of confronting someone is to be reconciled to him or her (cf. Mt. 18:15)

A couple of interesting facets of this chapter’s text:

  1. We will find echoes of the beatitudes in it
    • for example: “Blessed are merciful … the pure in heart … the peacemakers”
    • what we have learned already is elaborated and reinforced
  2. We will find it is filled with metaphors
    • balance scales, a speck and a log, animals, a gate, a vine, etc.
    • metaphors add artistry to a speech
    ◦ and they assists our understanding through analogies
    ◦ but metaphors also create challenges for interpretation

1-2, The flip-side of “Blessed are the merciful . . .” (5:7)

read more…

Nov 28 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 26, 2017 – Matthew 6:31-34

All These “Things”

Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” Matthew 6:31

Intro: We are wrapping up this section of Jesus’ Sermon

As we do, I want us to be asking ourselves a question:
– Why does Jesus devote so much of his sermon to worry?
• he had far less to say regartding anger, lust, broken promises, revenge
• what makes worry so dangerous?

31, He repeats what he said at beginning with a slight rewording

This time he puts these worries into our mouths: “saying, ‘What shall we eat?’”
– worry is what we feel, saying is what we do
• or to put it another way, worries are thoughts we say to ourselves
• we feel anxiety before we have any thoughts about it
– think of an animal in the wild — it hears a sound, sees movement, catches a scent
• it will immediately freeze and become hyper-alert
◦ our nervous system functions the same way

An outside event (loud noise, erratic motorist, etc.) or internal sensation reaches the brain stem (the lowest part of the brain that connects it to the spinal cord) that triggers a warning. Immediately the brain stem takes action, causing the release of chemicals into the blood stream to put the body on alert. A message is delivered to the rational brain, “Something’s wrong!” There it is analyzed and processed in order to identify the threat and determine its severity. In doing this, it translates the signal into thoughts and words.

• if the cause of alarm is vague or unknown, the brain invents its own
◦ that is when we start “saying” things to ourselves
◦ “What about this?” “What about that?”

Jesus wants us to work on developing a different response
– one that kicks in before we even form thoughts and words
• thoughts and words are interpretations of our experience
• how we interpret events is determined by our perspective
– if I begin every morning with the same anxious feelings,
• it is because I’m looking at each day through the same eyes
• that is where Jesus wants to work the changes
◦ in our perspective — how we look at and interpret everything

32, Two related factors that are relevant to the change

For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Matthew 6:32

“For” and “for” — “For the Gentiles” and “for your heavenly Father”
– the first “for” explains why we worry
– the second “for” explains why we don’t have to worry

read more…

Nov 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Guest Speaker – Elyse Snipes

Listening to God and Acoustic Resonance

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (The beginning of the Shema, a fixed daily prayer in Judaism)

Good morning, thank you for having me. I am so deeply grateful to be here this morning with all of you.

When I originally sat down to prepare this sermon my mind went to 100 different places in regards to what to share.
This morning we are going to figure out what fishing, echolocation, the Shema and 1 Corinthians have in common.
I want you to journey with me through this process . . . we are going to hear how all these things have to do with you and God and Christianity and changing the world we live in with the noise we make.

Listening and Sound

My usual process of preparing for a sermon begins with listening.

I try to find a space where I can let my mind run. Like when you go fishing and you keep letting the line out until something catches and then there is this dance between fisher and fish, a tension and an art in how you pull it in. A little at a time, let it run again, reel in hard, give it some line, pull back in.
That is what the exchange feels like when settling on a concept or idea and everything that one idea is attached to.

Sometimes when I prepare for a sermon, I ask myself a question, and the answer is right there, ready to be served up. Other times, it is like that elusive fish, where I know I have something on the line, but it isn’t close enough for me to know what it is, so all I can do is keep the tension on the line and lure it towards me.

Preparing for this morning, I responded to Chuck by telling him I would pay attention to what was reverberating within me. Because this is exactly what it feels like, like there is something banging around in there, clanging off all my walls, attempting to come forth.
I kept toying with that idea of reverberating, of noise, and sound and listening.
I thought about how we first learn sounds, and how those sounds become familiar to us, and eventually become language and safety, healing and tribe.
I thought about how we not only become familiar with the sound itself but the sound associated with a specific person.
Which got me thinking about attachment, imprinting and moms.

I thought about nursery songs and cadence, acoustic resonance and tuning forks. My mind ran to things I remembered learning about in grade school, echolocation and circadian rhythms.
I thought about cultures and people before there was writing and how their tradition was based on language and sound and symbol. Like how the Jewish people used the Shema – as a call and response, as identity, as religion and connection and remembering. As a way to shape culture and inform the next generation.
I thought about their obedience and their listening to God, about how that passage in Deuteronomy is instructive and how now, thousands of years later you can see young men in front of the wailing wall still literally obeying this scripture with their phylacteries and fringes.

I thought about how the original sound of the Shema reverberated through their culture and manifested in a physical way that we can now see. And how sound and language tend to do that, become shape and figure, artifact and culture.

When I was down one of these particular rabbit holes of thought, I got distracted by the noise of my children and shot back up to the surface of now and after taking care of whatever they needed, I felt like I needed to reset in order to get back into the stream of thought. Like when you try to get back into a dream, maybe the right position will help you pick up where you left off. Which reminded me of how our bodies naturally tend to pair themselves with the noise in our environments, constantly seeking homeostasis.
If we feel stressed or anxious in here, we act stressed and anxious out here. If our external environment doesn’t match our internal environment we feel disconnected, out of alignment, off. Sometimes we try to regulate our insides by seeking a soothing external environment to bring our inside down.
Like listening to classical music. Which reduces our heart rate and our breathing. We are physiologically affected as we match the sound around us.
We seek sound on purpose.

Are you with me?
I thought about your group here that meets and what you represent in the community, your specific sound, if you will. I thought about Chuck, and how much I have missed the sound of his voice. But not just the sound, it’s the way he says what he says and how he has shaped me as a follower of Christ. How the sound of his voice reminds me of all the times and places I have listened to him.
Which made me think about object permanence and memory and how the brain holds these different components that allow us to pull up our past in real time. And how music does this really well, listening to a song can transport us back to when we first heard it.

I then thought about a David Crowder version of an old song, where he sings about “tuning our hearts to sing His grace.”
I thought about instruments and how they produce sound, but more than sound; they make music.
And that passage from 1 Corinthians, “if I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal”.

Which, brought me to love, because that is what it’s all about always. Like that song the Beatles wrote, “All you need is — love.” And what our world so desperately needs. From us.

Aren’t you glad you don’t live in my mind? We would never get anything done.
Can you see what happens when you let your mind wander? When it goes to all these places and back again and off track and down the rabbit hole and through thousands of years and ancient texts and modern day music.

Now you have a general map of all the concepts connected to our time together today, to this idea of sound. I want to spend some more time hovering over some of these specific trails to see what may connect to your particular experience and hopefully initiate your own mental wanderings.

Our first landmark:

How do you listen? To God. What does this look like? How do you discern His voice from the milieu? Christians can get hung up on this. Either overly afraid they are making up God’s voice or sure they have never heard from him or mistake a shameful, harsh voice as God’s because of their projected idea of father. Sound familiar? How do we know when it’s really God?

Sometimes I think of it like this, before caller ID, you answered the phone and you could tell who it was by the sound of their voice. If you heard your mom’s voice anywhere, you would recognize it. That is what recognizing the voice of God is like, or a voice of wisdom. It is familiar, you feel it, you know when it lines up with all the other times you talked together. You know it as sure as you know your mother when she calls. It is more than the noise she makes, it is in the connection you have. You know if your mom called you and told you something crazy that didn’t align with her character, you would notice. And you would investigate what was going on. You know – experientially. You know the voice of God, it is the life-giving, gracious, lavish voice. If what you hear doesn’t line up with what scripture says, with who you know God to be, then it probably isn’t God.

I have to tell you a story about a “silent” retreat I did in Thailand. This was my greatest attempt at listening to God.
I spent a semester abroad in Thailand when I was in college. And during Spring Break I decided to go to a monastery for eight days to do a silent retreat. Because that is what all college students do on spring break, right? I was looking forward to this opportunity. I was in a little stone monastery, tucked in the mountains of a remote village in the middle of nowhere. The saffron robes of the monks was almost shocking compared to the dark green of the jungle around us. There was a walking maze in the garden, a stream with a little bench, little nooks for quiet meditation. A gong that would call us to meals was the only sound besides what nature provided us with. The idea was eight days of silence. Quiet contemplation. A deep searching. But quiet, that was the whole point.
Well, it was anything but that. As soon as I took my vow of silence and turned off my mouth, my mind went a million miles an hour. It was loud. And I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t turn it off by engaging in conversation or distracting myself with TV or work or anything for that matter. It was uncomfortable. All the chatter and noise. The memories and thoughts and scatteredness. Not at all what I anticipated on a silent retreat. Because of all the pent up noise inside me.
I had not incorporated any time in my regular life for silence, so all my noise came rushing forward. I walked that maze all day and imagined my thoughts and experiences unraveling behind me as I walked, becoming un-mummified. I just let it all run out behind me until I got to the end of myself and I could just sit and breathe and accept and hold. One of the most intense mental experiences of my life.

Are you making time in your life to listen? How can you avoid that not so silent experience and let it out more often, so as not to be overwhelmed by the silence when you actually do come to stop and listen? Like the time of silent prayer we started with today.
One of my favorite descriptions of prayer is by Theophan the Recluse: “To pray, is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all seeing within you.” He didn’t mention a single thing about speaking. Just standing. Like when St. Francis of Assissi, said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” They are on to something … we will come back to that at the end. The power of opposite action and living a lovely life.

What do you listen to?

Literally, what music do you listen to? What podcasts? What teachings?
How do these affect you? Inform you? Change you? Elevate you?
Do you notice how you feel when you are listening to these different mediums? What it produces within you? How sound changes you?

Lets take that even deeper… What does it sound like within you?
If we were to listen in to your inner voice, your thought process, what would it feel like? Positive and encouraging? Inspiring and hopeful? Or shaming, impoverished and small?
Do you notice how what you listen to here (point to head) affects how you feel here (heart) and what you do out here?
The sound of our thoughts, positive or negative, influence our direct experience of ourselves. Our perception of others. Our world view. The noise in our head can keep us from stepping out, doing something great, or engaging vulnerably with others.


when the sound in our head is gracious, we settle in to our skin a little differently. We embrace all the parts of ourselves. This directly influences others experience of us.

Like this question for instance: what do you sound like to others when they are listening to you? When you engage in dialogue with others, what do you sound like? This is an important and difficult question to hold. Sometimes we don’t like the way we sound, in here or out here. And we can get into a cycle of cacophony.

Spend some time considering your sound.

Lets move to another rabbit hole—language

We learn by practicing and making sense of these random collections of noises by repetition and trying. I have three young kiddos, so we are right in the middle of speech and probably speech therapy. We do all sorts of crazy things when our kids are little. “Say, ‘Dada,’ ‘Mama,’ ‘ball’.” We simplify sounds and language to make it more possible for them to learn. We mimic and mirror the language sounds to show our children or grandchildren we hear them and to induce a back and forth pattern. Relationship gets easier when we can identify what it is they want and communicate it. There is a deeper connection when they look at you and say, “Mama”. They gain more mastery over their environment which results in less melt downs and emotional regulation. We learn by practicing, by repeating.

For us, it might sound like this, “Our Father, who art in heaven” … or memorizing scripture.

We practice the language of scripture to connect to our heavenly Father and to have mastery over our earthly environment.

Are you starting to see how listening and sound and language are an integrated part of our experience in Christ? Let’s keep going.

Association –
We begin to associate specific people with specific sounds, and certain feelings to those sounds. And people also begin to associate us with a certain sound or feeling as well. That physical reaction when we hear someone sing, or hear someone we don’t particularly care for, we actually have a physiological response (example of posture or looking away or closing our eyes, or moving away) it actually changes our frequency. We feel negatively and then we can create a wave of that negative frequency that reverberates in others.
A frustrating day at work, we come home and are short with our spouse, who gets impatient with the kids, who act out and kick the dog. Unrelated but directly connected. And in reverse, we come together and have this collective, elevated experience, we have attuned ourselves to the heavenly’s and something spiritual reverberates within us and we carry it with us and we see things more positively, more graciously, we are friendly to the stranger, who in turn goes home and is kind to his partner who is then moved in compassion for their kids, who bask in their parents affection and they weren’t even here this morning.

Do you hear it?

This is how the world changes. This is how we make a difference. How we make some noise. How we start a symphony.

Tuning Fork Example

There is this video on Youtube and you can look it up later. Just search “tuning fork acoustic resonance.” What happens is there are two identical tuning forks, which make the same frequency, and they are placed right next to each other, but only one is struck. When the one is struck and is making it’s sound, the other one starts to reverberate in the identical sound wave or frequency, producing the same noise.
They were tuning to each other, just by being next to each other.
Pretty influential.
Maybe kind of like what we are doing here. Maybe something will be struck in you and then you might cause that sound in someone else. Acoustic resonance. I love that concept, especially as it related to the church. I love thinking about our collective sound and what we sound like to our heavenly father.

Naturally, when talking about sound we need to talk about Echolocation.
Echolocation, is the biological sonar used by several kinds of animals. Echolocating animals emit calls out to the environment and listen to the echoes of those calls that return from various objects near them. They use these echoes to locate and identify the objects.

I had a client in my office a couple weeks ago, she is ten, and she came in with a cast because she was trying to use echolocation to move around the house and fell and broke her arm.

Making a sound helps us to know where we are and where others are. It helps us to navigate through life, to perceive our position in relation to something else. We don’t literally do this, like that young girl, but we do it like this: How are you? A check to see if we need to reposition ourselves. How are we? A sounding to gauge where we are. “I am thinking about …. what do you think?” Feedback, brainstorming, conversation.

We sound off of each other. Process aloud, ask for others’ opinions and perspectives, “Do you think this looks nice?” We offer words of encouragement, we use language to remind each other of who we are.

I have a friend who when growing up and when she would leave her house, her parents would say, “Remember who you are and who’s you are.”
I love this. And now she says this to her children.

Repetitious language that gives identity, comfort, strength and position.

Like a call and response – a known and expected pattern of communication that only exists when the two come together.

The Shema

For the Jewish people, who when the high priest would invoke the Divine Name, the people would respond with, “Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord is one”. The Shema was used in worship and in their gathering together.
This back and forth was a declaration that not only defined who they were in relationship to each other but also whose they were as a collective people in relationship to their neighbors who were polytheistic. They belonged to the Lord, the one and only. This was distinguishing and holy. This was identity and imprinted into their minds and passed through generations. The Shema is the perfect example of how basic sounds become more than a repetition of collected syllables. This was their core. And it exists today because it was ingrained in who they were and passed through every generation. Before there was writing.

I do this thing with my daughter, she is one, and I will ask her, “Who’s my girl?” And she will look up at me and smile and say, “Eden.” This is equally a reminder of who she is as well as a moment of connection, our way of saying there is something special between you and me. Our own shema. Using language for connection, intimacy, identity and presence.

Let’s talk about Distraction + Pairing. We can set an intention, much like in silent prayer, and we can get distracted, a phone ringing, remembering all the things we need to do, hunger, boredom, rushed thoughts, anxious feeling in our chest, difficulty slowing down, unhealthy rhythms of work that lack balance. Distraction from our calling in Christ, how we want to be joyful always and patient in affliction, but become distracted by pain, pulled out of the flow of grace by doubt, anger, deep suffering.
We can know so much about who we are and what His word says about our firm identity in Christ and the noise of the Accuser can drown out the still, small voice within us.
When we fail, or blow it in relationship, or let someone down and all we can hear is, “You are a failure,” “You will never be enough,” “You always do this.”

Or what about when someone hurts you. What does it sound like within you then? Do you become accusatory and ruthless? Do you confirm their wrong-doing with sentiments like, “I knew it . . .,” “He always . . .,” or add fuel to fire with proof from the past, “. . . just like the last time,” “He did the same thing to me.”

Justifying the rejection or pain with statements that make them less.

We can get distracted by the sound of the dialogue within us. A tug o war between love and vitriol. And then we remember, and we want to pair ourselves again to something holy. To something good. We might turn on a worship song, recite scripture, call a friend, speak a positive affirmation, silence ourselves and descend into our hearts to worship our creator. We might look at the waves and pair our breathing to those great rollers. Or go for a walk and notice the way the branches sway in the breeze and consider how nature seems to be aware of something we’re not.

We use our surrounding, or we can, to ground us, to turn our hearts heavenwards, to slow down, to enter in.

Memory + Sound. One of the components of memory is sound. Beyond our conscious effort, the brain holds memories made up of the components: images, thoughts, emotions and sensations like sounds, smells and bodily feelings. We may have memories that are already paired with sound or a song for instance. There was a song played at my brother’s memorial service that I cannot escape and every time I hear it I am transported back there. Not necessarily in a sad way, but in a very real way, in a way that makes me wonder if this is some message from beyond, some reaching out from behind the veil? Who knows?
But this sound can produce an experience. Do you know what I am talking about? When you hear it and it strikes a chord and you may feel choked up, or nostalgic or giddy?

That song I mentioned earlier, the one David Crowder sings, is called “Come Thou Fount” and talks about tuning our hearts to sing His grace. I mean, come on! The word picture there is so rich. To think that just like those tuning forks, we could strike our hearts against His word and sing His grace to this broken, needy world.

His grace

Not condemnation or judgment or hate or superiority or exclusivity or ignorance. No. If that is what is resounding within us, we are a clanging cymbal.

Which takes us to 1 Corinthians – Paul was writing this letter to a church plant in Corinth, one of the most wicked cities in ancient times and as a new church with lots of recent converts from heathenism, there were more than a few issues he needed to provide instruction on. Let me read this commentary to you about the specific passage about love:

The more excellent way is “Love.” Without it all moral and intellectual gifts are valueless. If there be love—the love of God, and the love of our brethren—in our hearts, all will be well. This hymn of praise in honor of love is remarkable. That this passage should be found in the middle of a protracted argument suggests the idea that what we have here is the result of a sudden and direct inspiration. The Apostle had always been conscious of a mighty power working in him, mastering him, bringing him into captivity to Christ. There suddenly flashes upon him the realization of what that power is, and he cannot but at once give utterance, in language of surpassing loftiness and glowing with emotion, to the new and profound conviction which has set his whole soul aflame. This chapter is the Baptismal Service of Love. Here it receives its new Christian name. The word (agapè) which is used here for love is peculiar to the New Testament (and a few passages in the LXX.). It is not to be found in any heathen writing.

Beautiful. To think of Paul, this strong, authoritative figure who wrote most of the New Testament, is being moved by love and it flows right through his pen into the paper, into Corinth, into us. Reminds me of how the prophet Jeremiah explains it,

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”

To be powerfully, powerless to the movement of love.

Corinth was positioned on an isthmus, the chief city in Greece and a leader in commerce. Read, “all different types of people and languages.” Being able to speak multiple languages was extremely valuable to a Corinthian because it would allow you to do business with anyone. “If I speak in the tongues of men,” Paul wrote,
“or of angels” — that heavenly language, direct access to God, eloquent, superior, beyond human. Also a coveted gift.

“But do not have LOVE,” I am a noise. A worthless sound. It doesn’t have value in the kingdom of God. In the heavenly trade. Because love is the currency of the kingdom. And without it, we are just a bunch of clamoring brass. You guys, the world does not need more good, anyone can do good. The world needs agape. It needs spontaneous combustion. It needs us to make a sound that tunes all our hearts to the resounding frequency of grace.

You know the difference. You know what it feels like when you feel something within you connect to something bigger than yourself, let’s call that the prompting of love, and then from out of that vertical connection, you act, you do something for someone else, you apply that horizontally. You love, you agape love.
I imagine a heavenly chorus sounding. I picture the most talented musicians earth has known who are now on the other side, responding to our acts of love with the most incredible sound. Like they are in this great arena watching us, like an inverse symphony where the band is all around us and we are in the center. And there is this beautiful call and response that happens… we love, because he first loved us. An “I love you” and an “I love you too.” A “Do you love me Peter?” “Yes, Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” “Then feed my sheep.”

A call, a response, a directive, a lifetime of service and action. A sound of love that was recorded thousands of years ago and we can still hear today.

Our world, our country, our community, our families, need us now more than ever. Need love, now, more than ever. How many mass shootings have we endured in the last few months? How many more will we have before the year is over? Something is so seriously broken in our country, in our world.
On a smaller scale, how many families are hurting and entering into the holiday season with dread? Our communities are in need.

So let me ask you this:

What sound do Christians make? What noise are they/we known for? Is it a crowd of naysayers and judgment?

Or could we be a great cloud of witnesses, cheering others on as we all seek to run this great race?

How can we reverberate differently into our communities so that the noise we make isn’t hurtful to others? So that we aren’t cloaking spirituality around shame and contingencies.

The world needs the church. And we are the church.

How are we going to respond to this need, to this calling?

Let’s do it, with a symphony. Let’s start a wave of change so that people have more experiences of Christians being considerate, aware, intelligent and generous. You are already that. You have been affected by His great love and you are already tuned to resonate this back into the world. You have gathered here today, and most Sundays to strike that tuning fork and to get back into the frequency of grace. So, don’t let that sound stop when you walk out of the room. Carry that with you, into your marriage, into your work, into your communities and into the world. Let’s make some noise.

The sound the world needs is LOVE. Agape love. Heavenly love. If we take all our good intentions and things we think we know about God and the Bible and faith and clang around out there, people are going to plug their ears. They aren’t going to be able to hear the music.

So, how? How do we do this? How do we embody this love you?

Like this –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Let’s sound like that. Let’s tune our heart to sing a melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.

Nov 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 12, 2017 – Matthew 6:25-30

What Have Your Worries Done for You Recently?

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?
An why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Matthew 6:25-30

Intro: Last week, Jesus put us in between God and Mammon

Mammon is an Aramaic word that Matthew did not translate Mammon
– it has to do with pursuit of wealth and possessions
• perhaps Jesus was putting a name to this
◦ personified materialism to indicate how it can be like a god
• Jesus had also said our treasures are stored in heaven or on earth (therefore, with God or Mammon)
◦ he drew a line in sand when he said, You cannot serve God and Mammon
◦ they are two competing loyalties–and winner takes all
– by the way, a person does not need to be rich to be materialistic
• we can still be obsessed with money – think about it, desire it, place our hope in it
• that brings us to Jesus’ next subject

Where this conflict shows up in our everyday lives

“For this reason” connects what Jesus just said and what he’s about to say
– how do people serve Mammon?
• we learn it is possible to do this without making a conscious decision
◦ it has to do with one of the ways Mammon is served:
. . . do not worry about your life
◦ worry is an expression of our devotion

For example, parents who love and care for their children cannot help but worry about their development as well as their health and safety. And this is true regardless of the child’s age, from infancy to adulthood. This natural tendency to worry can escalate into an unhealthy obsession.  Also, it is one thing to worry over those we love and another thing to worry over every material and eventful thing.

• we show our devotion to God through worship
◦ we show devotion to Mammon through worry
– either we ask our Father for daily bread or we worry about it
• it seems to me that worry is our nervous system’s default setting
◦ worriers are often concerned, meticulous and religious people
◦ in fact, Religion, Inc. tends to create lots of worries
• those who serve Mammon–for example, by piling up money and hoarding it–
◦ are not relieved of worry, but loaded with more worries
◦ and their eternal prospect is not bliss, but worry, worry, worry world without end

The Greek New Testament uses three different words for life
bios: embodied life; zoe: life itself (an organism vs a nonliving thing)
• and here, where the Greek word for soul is used
◦ soul can be seen as synonymous with life
• the soul is the life force of the body; the inner life
◦ everyday issues of sustaining its existence–e.g., food and clothing
– worry is also a soul issue, in regard to mood, outlook, emotions
• Jesus’ target in throughout his sermon is the soul, the inner life
Is not life is more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Three observations:

  1. Food and clothes do not exhaust all possible sources of anxiety
    – food and clothes are simply examples of typical daily worries
  2. Anxiety throws our minds into an imagined future
    – in this case, a future in which food and clothing are uncertain
  3. “more than” was a favorite form of logic among rabbis
    – “If something true of this, then how much more that!
    – what is more difficult to produce or replace, clothes or body?
    – another way of reading this is, “There’s more to body than how you cover it”

read more…

Nov 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 5, 2017 – Matthew 6:19-24

Jesus and Financial Planning

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

Intro: I apologize for being repetitive

However, there is much in the Sermon On the Mount that is new to us
– and much that contradicts our assumptions and cultural values
• the initial message of Jesus was, “The kingdom of heaven at hand” (Mt. 4:17; 23)
◦ but now, in the fine print of his sermon he adds:

For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:20)

• he is referring to a superior righteousness (not doing more of the same)
◦ inferior righteousness: follow the letter of the law, but ignore the spirit behind it
◦ superior righteousness: find the deeper level of the law and live it from deeper place in one’s self
– from Matthew 5:21 to 6:18, Jesus explained and expanded this truth
• his illustrations and examples help us to see how it works out in real life
• what is he doing now in these verses that we will go over?
◦ we could say that he teaches us how the superior righteousness affects financial planning

First, what are your investments and where are they stored?

Some of our “treasures” have monetary value and others do not
– there are the tangibles, such as family photographs and heirlooms
• and intangibles that we hold in our hearts
◦ for example, we “treasure” certain memories

After the shepherds found their way to manger and told their story of angels announcing Jesus’ birth, we read that Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart (Lk. 2:19)

• in the first half of this chapter, “hypocrites” treasured the reward of being known for their piety
– Jesus separates our treasures into two categories:
• those that can be stored for safe keeping on earth
• those that can be stored in heaven
◦ the difference is that those stored on earth can be lost
◦ those stored in heaven cannot be lost

As a matter of fact, those stored on earth will be lost!
– I have discovered that as we age we reach a point, biologically,
• where we mark each year not by our gains, but by our losses
◦ all the junk mail these days that targets me are advertisements for
◦ hearing aids, vision tests, medicare supplemental insurance, and mortuaries
• Francis Schaeffer argued that we live city dump lives
◦ that all we own will eventually find its way to a dump site
– so, what do we treasure?
• notice how this parallels what Jesus has said about “rewards”
• we can receive a reward for our good deeds from other people or our Father in heaven
◦ in a similar way, our treasures can be saved up on earth or in heaven

Jesus’ concern here is not simply about wasted investments

read more…

Oct 31 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 29, 2017 – Matthew 6:16-18

“Watch Me, Daddy!”

Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18

Intro: Saturday night I had dreamed I was with group of young guys

We were talking about travel plans when a small plastic cup hit back of my head
– it was one of them clowning around, so I grabbed it and tossed it back
• it happened again and then be came a steady tap, tap, tap
◦ it was no longer funny, but annoying
• that is when I woke up to my five year old grandson patting the back of my head
◦ and I heard him whispering, “Grandpa, wake up”
– contemplative spirituality is the ongoing practice of waking up
• waking up to the present moment – and to God in this moment

According to Anthony de Mello, “Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep . . . and they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and beauty of this thing that we call human existence.”

◦ that was exactly the problem Jesus faced
◦ his disciples and the crowd did not know they could be religiously active and asleep

de Mello again, “… you’ll never understand a word of what the scriptures are saying until you wake up. Sleeping people read the scriptures and crucify the Messiah on the basis of them.”

• sometimes we need a tap on the head

“Whenever you fast”

Fasting was not optional in their situation as it is for us
– it was built into their culture – everyone would fast at some time
• there were collective fasts on annual holidays
• many religious people observed regular fasts–e.g., weekly
– the two most common fasts for ordinary people:

  1. An expression of grief – usually over a loss
    • the death of a a loved one
    • the conquest of their nation and temple during Israel’s exile
    • the loss of their independence
    ◦ Jesus was asked why his disciples did not fast
    ◦ he indicated that fasting was for grieving and not celebration (Mt. 9:14-15)
  2. A forced fast
    • perhaps due to illness or a scarcity of food–e.g., in times of famine
    ◦ starvation was never thought to have spiritual benefit
    ◦ instead, it was a problem to be solved

The first thing Jesus has to say about fasting is how not to do it
– two things to avoid:
1.) don’t go around with a sad expression
2.) don’t disfigure your face (the same Greek translated “neglect” in NASB is translated “destroy” in vv. 19 & 20)
• it is not as easy for people to see we are fasting as it is giving to charity or prayer
◦ so you have to drop pretty big clues
that they will be noticed (shine) so others cannot help but notice
◦ both facial masks, sad and disfigured, beg others to ask, “Are you okay?”
◦ the second (disfigured) is an intensification of the first (sad)
◦ so, if the “sad face” doesn’t work, ramp it up
– some people long to be known, others want to be unknown
• often the difference is, those who long to be know do not want others to know their inner self
◦ i.e., who they really are, but for the best image they project of themselves
◦ it is because the others do not want their inner selves to be known that they prefer anonymity
◦ “If you knew me, you wouldn’t like me. You would reject me like everyone else has”
• I think Jesus stresses hypocrisy, because we all go through phases of it
◦ we want others to have a positive opinion of us, whether or not it is true

As the hypocrites; the were not hypocrites because they pretended to be religious
– that is not what made them hypocrites
• they were truly religious – and thought others should know that they were
◦ this was not same as a grieving widow wearing black
◦ culture provided multiple ways to express grief publicly
• this was more like wearing their fast as a badge of their holiness

read more…

Oct 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 22, 2017 – Matthew 6:9-15

“Take Words With You and Return To the Lord”

Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father who is in heaven

Hallowed be Your name. Matthew 6:9

Intro: We learned in Matthew 5:20 that Jesus requires a superior righteousness

His teaching is now focused on how that works in everyday life
– it involves a deepening of the inner life and then fusing it with outward behavior
• a summary of Jesus’ message could be Paul’s statement:

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men (Col. 3:23)

• everything in our hearts and actions is concentrated on God
– the first part of chapter six consists in three negative examples
• they illustrate how we are not to practice our righteousness
◦ how not to give charity, how not to pray and how not to fast
◦ each example includes an illustration of the superior way to give, pray and fast
• with the example of prayer, Jesus’ breaks the pattern and adds two extras:
◦ do not pile up words like those who do not know God
◦ adopt the simplicity and directness of the words he provides

The Lord’s prayer (aka: the Our Father) can be prayed anywhere

Helmut Thielicke, “It can be spoken at the cradle and the grave. It can rise from the altars of great cathedrals and from the dark hovels of those who “eat their bread with tears.” It can be prayed at weddings and on the gallows. And the fact is that it has been prayed in all these places. All seven of the colors of our life are contained in it, and so never is there a time when we are left alone.”

– we need to learn some things to properly interpret this prayer
• however, I do not want to leave you with information so much as an impression
• that we feel this prayer and the way it moves in us as we pray through it
◦ this is more important than what we learn about its interpretation

V. 9, First, make the connection (to begin the conversation)

Imagine calling your parents and when one of them answers, you being, “Hi Mom”
– because she recognizes your voice, the conversation can begin
• that you know each other and share a host of memories deepens the communication
◦ our connection with God is prayer, not the words
(they are the contents of our thoughts in prayer)
◦ do I have a here-and-now awareness of God?
• I’ve found that burning a lot of mental energy striving for this awareness is not helpful
◦ it’s like trying to force myself to fall asleep
– however, if I relax my body, my mind relaxes too
• then I am not trying to make God present, but I allow him to be present
• similar to the way I allow myself to fall asleep

Jesus tells us to address God as our Father
– it should not be said of us, You worship what you do not know (Jn. 4:22)
• rather, like Paul, we can say, I know whom I have believed (2 Tim. 1:12)
◦ from the first words, our prayer is personal and intimate
• we are to own him – he is our Father
– the opening Our reminds us that God has other children
• we share him with all these brothers and sisters
◦ God does not want them to ever be out of our thoughts
• as we’ve seen before, Father who is in heaven distinguishes him from every other father

Insight into the background of the third line is helpful

Hallowed be Your name
– hallowed is “to make holy” or treat something as holy or with reverence
• how do we show reverence for God’s name? And why do we pray that it will be reverenced?
◦ does this mean we don’t say God in a string of profanities?
◦ that we never type OMG in our emails or social media sites?

read more…

Oct 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 15, 2017 – Matthew 6:5-8

Is Saying Prayers the Same As Prayer?

When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. Matthew 6:5

Intro: Prayer is the vital function of our life in God

It is our heartbeat and respiration
– break this connection and the lights go out
• like unplugging an appliance–it simply will not work
• God did not call the temple a school house, but his “house of prayer”
◦ whatever else took place there, people were to meet with him
– it is possible to construct a religious lifestyle without prayer
• but it is an empty shell – it will not be filled with God

Even when people pray, their prayer can go wrong
– under certain conditions God refuses to listen
• for example, God told Jeremiah the prophet regarding the people of Judah:

They have turned back to the iniquities of their ancestors who refused to hear My words, and . . . have broken My covnenant which I made with their fathers.  . . . though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them (Jer. 11:10-11)

• in our passage, Jesus tells us two ways that prayer can go wrong
◦ these are prayers that never reach God
– this is his second negative example of inferior righteousness
• it begins like first, When you give and now, When you pray

V. 5, The first way prayer can go wrong

This way of prayer we learn from the “hypocrites”
– I mentioned last week, the Greek word was used of stage actors
• but for these hypocrites, it wasn’t an act–they were not pretending
• they were devout and their prayers were sincere
◦ but still, there was a disconnect – a contradiction
◦ something between their hearts and action did not add up
– remember, the spiritual life Jesus describes is a whole person

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Mt. 22:37)

• the complete devotion of a united internal and external life
• hypocrites engaged in godly activity with ungodly hearts

What was in their hearts? They love to stand and pray . . .
– the driving force of these public prayers was not prayer itself
• but to be seen or “to shine” – to make people notice
they love doing this – it wasn’t only a religious practice
• or an unconscious attempt to meet an emotional need or ego need
◦ they loved the attention they got from these theatrics
◦ that was what motivated them; to be known for their piety

read more…

Oct 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 8, 2017 – Matthew 6:1-4

It’s Okay to Keep Secrets

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1

Intro: Jesus continues to work his theme of surpassing righteousness (Mt. 5:20)

At first this sounded terrifying
– no one gave more effort to righteousness than the scribes and Pharisees
• but we are beginning to understand what Jesus was getting at
superior may come closer to his thought than surpassing
• Jesus did not mean do the same things the Pharisees did, but more of it
◦ he wanted a different kind of righteousness — a different quality
– Jesus provided six examples of superior righteousness
• each one had to do with a deeper level of the Law reaching a deeper place in us
• when that happens, our actions will not contradict what we hold in our hearts
◦ for example, we will not only abstain from murder,
◦ but we will not hold murder in our hearts

In this next section, Jesus provides three more examples
• these do not come directly from the Law, but from our spiritual practices
◦ these are different also in another way — they are negative examples
◦ they show us what the superior righteousness is not
• we learn from these examples how not to do right things in wrong ways

Jesus begins with “Beware”

The most familiar use of this word may be a “Beware of dog” sign
– this is a message I refuse to ignore
• I won’t walk past that sign unannounced or uninvited
◦ to keep going is to risk a real danger–e.g., an ill-tempered Doberman
Beware tells us someone cares about our safety
◦ what is the danger Jesus warns us to avoid?
practicing your righteousness
◦ who knew this could be a problem?
– there is no question that we do this or that we are supposed to
• but the danger is that we could lose whatever value lies in the doing
◦ the good can be drained from our good works
• what is the wrong way to practice our righteousness?
◦ to perform to acts in front of others to be noticed by them
◦ this is the monkey wrench in machinery of our righteousness,
the weakness in the foundation that could cause the whole structure to collapse

There is a potential problem here that has a simple solution
– in Matthew 5:16, Jesus said,

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven

• he explicitly states that our good works should shine so that others can see them
◦ does Jesus contradict himself?
• the whole issue is whether attention is drawn to the good works or me doing the good works
◦ the point is not whether people see me do some good thing, but whether that is my motive

My first thought when I read this:

“I’ve done that!” I have performed a kind or generous act for someone and hoped that somehow it gets noticed, caught on camera and put on Youtube or written up in local paper. If I donate money to a charitable organization I want may name on a plaque so people know about it.

My second thought:

“But where’s the danger in other people discovering what a good person I am? Why should they not know how much I give? or how eloquently I pray? or how many people I’ve converted? If people see me do something charitable or deeply devout, it will set them a good example. What’s the danger in that?”

◦ the danger lies in the fact that what others think about us is infinitely less important than what God thinks
◦ we are compromised when it can be said of us, . . . they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God (Jn. 12:43)

Jesus further explains, you will have no reward with Father who is in heaven
– notice, he does not say “from” your Father, but “with”
• practicing righteousness is a participation with God and his work
• God shares with us both his work and reward
◦ worldly honors and rewards are not even in the same category

In the sermon, Jesus repeatedly refers to God your Father who is in heaven
– or the Father or heavenly Father
• this is a particular way of thinking about God; namely, that:

read more…

Oct 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 1, 2017 — Matthew 5:17-48

The Truth Within

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20

Intro: When I began our current series, I intended to cover only the Beatitudes

I have been trying to move on, but find myself returning to Jesus’ complete sermon
– the connections between the Beatitudes and remainder of the sermon are remarkable
• this week I received an email from a friend
◦ he also has been teaching Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount
◦ he wanted me to know that he appreciated finding my notes online
• this is his observation regarding Jesus’ sermon:

Mike Hensler, “We started some months ago with the ‘Happinesses’ [Blessed] and have since seen that they are connected at the hip to the entire Sermon and so will continue through chapter 7.  . . . I am seeing the entire sermon as an indivisible whole.”

• the both of us have been in the Scriptures for many years
◦ but it is just now that we are discovering the remarkable coherence of Jesus’ sermon
• that cinched it for me — and so on we go

Jesus has described his ideal follower and kingdome citizen in the Beatitudes
– he still has much more to say about this new way of being in God
• he is unveiling a closer relationship with the Father
• showing us how to live truer to God, truer to others and truer to ourselves

Last week we ended with, You are the salt and light (vv. 13-16)

In verse 13, Jesus made an odd remark about the salt becoming “tasteless”
– tasteless (or lost his savor in KJV) translates the Greek word for foolish
(the sermon will end with a form of this same Greek word; Mt. 7:26)
• in scripture, and especially the OT, foolish is whatever goes against wisdom
◦ it is not so much a matter of ignorance or being simple-minded
◦ it is a purposeful departure from what is right, good, holy, healthy, etc.
• in what way can salt be foolish?
◦ by not doing what it’s supposed to do or being want it’s supposed to be
◦ Jesus personified salt to remind us it is an analogy

All a tree has to do is be what it was created to be
– if a tree were to lose it’s tree-ness, what is it then? Nothing!
• people walk over it and they do not see it, because it’s not there
• it is impossible for salt not to be salty – saltiness it what defines salt
– as far as we know, we are only creatures in the universe that can fail to be what we were created to be
• if a follower of Jesus does not shine God’s light into the world through good works,
◦ that person is not merely “fruitless,”
◦ but as far as being a Christian goes, non-existence
• Christians bring truth and goodness to the world — we were created to be salt and light
◦ the kingdom of heaven is very much an inner experience,
◦ but it also has very outward manifestations (cf. Mt. 10:7-8)

Vv. 17-48 Jesus maintains a continuous thread of thought

For the remainder of the chapter, Jesus illustrates aspects of the Beatitudes

read more…