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Dec 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 23, 2018 – Luke 2:6-7

Mary’s Christmas Podcast

Mary’s Christmas

While they were there, the days were completed for [Mary] to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the in. Luke 2:6-7

Intro: Once again I ask myself, how will I approach this familiar story?

It won’t hurt if we start right here and now, in our own world
– soon we’ll visit Mary and Joseph
• but we’re 2000 years and a world away from them
• why do we even bother with a story so old and distant?
◦ it is because we know this story was written for us
– and that raises another question – Why did Luke tell the story of Jesus?
• I’m convinced it was because he wanted us to know Jesus
◦ and Luke knew this story is for everyone
◦ it is just as the angel told the shepherds,

. . . behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people (v. 10)

• it’s not that we’re going to find the meaning of our lives in the story
◦ but we will discover that our lives have a meaning
◦ and the key to living that meaning is in the manger

Those of us who shop on online have become spoiled

In the past, when I ordered used books by phone or snail mail
– I was told it would take six to eight weeks for book to arrive
• when I first started buying books from Amazon, they arrived in two to three weeks
◦ now I can request next day delivery!
• there’s no reason for me to delay gratification or be patient
◦ I’m spoiled
– but some things we cannot rush – like a pregnancy
• Luke tells us, while in Bethlehem Mary’s package finally arrived
◦ what he actually says, the days were completed for her to give birth
◦ Mary’s pregnancy reached full term
• and the days were completed for God’s promise to be fulfilled
◦ God’s promise that Gabriel delivered to Mary
◦ and his wider promise to Eve (Gen. 3:15), to Moses (Deut. 18:15 & 18), and the prophets

I say this as a reminder of the bigger picture
– Christmas cards that depict the Bethlehem scene often have a warm glow
• it indicates not only the love of a family, but the sacredness of the moment
• Luke, however, does not create a literary glow in his story
◦ at least not at this point — he just gives information
◦ there was no infusion of glory around the manger
– so we remind ourselves that a miracle is unfolding
• there is only this small, fragile human life;
◦ a baby that cries and nurses at his mother’s breast
• yet within his tiny chest there beats the heart of God

read more…

Dec 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 16, 2018 – Luke 1:30-38

According to your word – Podcast

According to Your Word

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”
And the angel departed from her.
 Luke 1:30-38

Intro: Recently there have been a lot of things weighing on my heart

I was feeling it yesterday when I sat down to read my Bible
– you know the story of the two sisters, Martha the hostess and Mary the contemplative

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary . . . (Lk. 10:41-42)

• immediately it was obvious that I needed to hear this
◦ I quickly wrote out a short list of things troubling me
◦ there were twenty-one items on my list
• it got me wondering, was Martha supposed to turn off her anxiety,
◦ just because Jesus explained it to her?
◦ was she to leave the bread in the oven, hang up her apron, and go sit next to Mary?
– at any rate, I heard Jesus talking to me
• I know how to shut off anxiety by replacing it with trust
• so after doing that, my worry dissolved
◦ and the rest of my day flowed smoothly
◦ the Scriptures worked in me exactly as Paul described:

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Ro. 15:4)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, has something to tell us about how to hear God’s word

First, I want to point out some interesting features of this story

What I mean, is the way Luke puts it together
– for example, Mary asks a question that divides Gabriel’s message in two
• the first part in verses 30-33, he tells her what was going to happen
• the second part in verses 34-37, he tells her how it will happen
– both messages began with what would happen to her – “YOU”
• then he explained what the child would become – “HE”
• finally, Gabriel tagged something extra to end of messages
◦ he informed Mary of Elizabeth’s pregnancy
◦ this was to emphasize a specific point to reassure Mary

For nothing will be impossible with God

Another detail we hardly notice is Luke’s use of polysyndeton
– that is, the way Luke repeatedly uses the word “and”

Here is what I mean:
Verses 30-33, you have found favor with God
AND behold, you will conceive
AND bear a son
AND you shall name Him Jesus
He will be great
AND be called the Son of the Most High
AND the Lord God will give him . . .
AND He will reign . . .
AND His kingdom will have no end 
Verses 35-37, The angel answered
AND said to her, “The Holy Spirit . . .”
AND the power of the Most High . . .
AND for that reason . . .
AND behold, even your relative . . .
AND she who was called barren . . .

– the effect of all these “and’s” is to rush us from one statement to the next
• in this way, Luke creates a feeling of excitement or urgency
• we feel the bigness of what Gabriel is telling Mary

Two more details that I think are intriguing
– two times, Gabriel says “Behold”
• this is a visual cue – it tells Mary (and us) to pay attention
◦ both times it has to do with conception (Mary’s and then Elizabeth’s)
• “behold” or “Look at this,” because both instances required a miracle
– the last detail has to do with paternity
• Jesus would be called the Son of the Most High

Abraham did not have a book on systematic theology to study. What he knew about God, he learned from his encounters with him. Each encounter brought a new revelation, and with each revelation Abraham discovered a new way to refer to God. So God became to him El Shaddai (God Almighty), Yahweh Olam (the LORD eternal), and Yahweh Jireh (the LORD provides). One of the first designations he learned for God was Eylon, Eylon (the doubling of the word “high” intensifies it so that it is translated “Most High”). This he learned from a priest who arrived from Salem to bless him after a military victory. Notice that Most High implies polytheism; i.e., if there are many gods, Yahweh is the God Most High. Abraham instantly latched onto this revelation of his God being the greatest of all gods, and he used this term in turning down the rewards offered him by the king of Sodom (Gen. 14:17-24).
From then on, the Old Testament frequently makes use of the term Most High God in contexts that have specific reference to Gentile (this is not always the case, but in more times than not). It was a way for the people of Israel to refer to their God in places that had their own gods (Num. 24:16; Deut. 32:8; many times in the Psalms and Book of Daniel).
In the New Testament, this term appears only two times outside of Luke’s writings; once when it a demon in pagan territory that uses it (Mk. 5:7) and once when it is used in a reference to Abraham’s story (Heb. 7:1). Luke’s use of it parallels that of the Old Testament, where reference to Gentiles or all the nations is implied.

• Gabriel also refers to Jesus’ “father David” and as “the Son of God”
◦ significantly, there is no mention of Joseph
◦ Luke is very careful about that, qualifying Joseph’s relation to Jesus in his genealogy

When He began his ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph (Lk. 3:23)

Everything in Gabriel’s message points to the special nature and greatness of Jesus

Mary has the last word in this conversation

And it’s a very important word – it is her consent to God’s purpose

read more…

Dec 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 9, 2018 – Luke 1:26-29

A “Mary” Christmas

A “Mary” Christmas

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. Luke 1:26-29

Intro: I did not know until recently that Christmas invitation cards are big business

There are invitations to visit the home of a family member or friend,
– invitations to Christmas dinners, office parties, fund-raisers, and so on
• some of us get so many invitations this time of year,
◦ we have to decide which ones to decline
• others of us may wish we had that problem
– right now, I have three Christmas invitations in mind
• they are different types of events — all three are doable
◦ but might be good to decide which one gets most of our energy
• they are:

  1. The traditional warmth of family gathering
    – my parents made every Christmas special
    – one fond memory is that before any present was opened, the family would sit around Dad and he would read the story of Jesus’ birth from one of the gospels. He would then pray God’s blessing on our Christmas day together.
  2. The mythical, commercial holiday
    – it can be exciting and even magical
    • but it can also be exhausting
    – for some of us, it is an invitation to over-indulge
  3. The invitation to celebrate Jesus
    – he became God’s answer to the longing of his people that spanned centuries

These invitations get me wondering,
Does God want me to have myself a merry little Christmas?
• I’m sure he doesn’t want me to have a miserable Christmas
• what do you suppose God wants for you?
◦ how are we going to find out?

Christmas came to Mary the same way it did to Joseph

As a complete and shocking surprise
– not as a gift so much as a calling, perhaps even a burden
• this was not something she had wanted – or even dreamed of
• and it would change the course of her life
– most of us gradually live into our destiny
• we don’t start out knowing the meaning of our lives
◦ over time, we grow into it
◦ we have to cover some ground before it comes into focus
• for Mary, however, her destiny was dropped on her all at once
◦ one day she was an ordinary girl living out a normal life
◦ the next day she was the mother of our Lord

As it was with Joseph, so also for Mary; Christmas radically altered her plans
– I wonder what she had to give up – what was taken from her
• we can venture an educated guess about some things
• but her more personal longings we will never know
– it is probably good for us to sit with our unfulfilled longings
• to get some kind of insight into them
◦ what do they tell me about myself?
◦ what kind of person am I?
◦ or what kind of person would I have been if my longings had been fulfilled?

C. S. Lewis, “For, as I say, there are two kinds of longing. The one is . . . a spiritual exercise, and the other is a disease.”

• regarding the longing that is a spiritual exercise,

William Johnston saw it as a strong human desire to see God, and that “Moses gave expression [to this desire] when he audaciously asked to see the face of God. . . . And in the mystical life, this longing becomes a gaping wound, a wound of love, the wound of one who loves God but cannot see Him.”

◦ if you have felt this wound of love, Johnston’s words are comforting
◦ if you haven’t, don’t worry about it

Mary’s immediate reaction was perplexity
Her response was to ponder

There are different ways we greet each other or begin a conversation
– each greeting gives us an idea of where the conversation is going
• for example:

“Hi Chuck! I’ve got great news . . .”
“Mr. Smith, I am sorry to inform you . . .”
“Hey Dad, are you sitting down?”

– Mary pondered what kind of greeting she had just received
• she had never heard anyone greeted in this way
◦ besides, she did not even know this person who had greeted her
◦ she had no idea where this introduction was leading
• perhaps that’s why Gabriel’s next statement was,

read more…

Dec 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 2, 2018 – Matthew 18-24

The Christmas Story Is Your Story

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold; an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”
And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife. Matthew 1:18-24

Intro: Every year I struggle with preparing Christmas messages

I have read the birth stories of Jesus a hundred times or more
– what can I say that hasn’t been said?
• still, I feel the need to keep with the spirit of Christmas
◦ it’s a season of warm emotions evoked by the scene around the manger
◦ or our own scenes around Christmas trees and dinner tables
• it’s also a time of nostalgia, loneliness and coping with loss
– I know it’s important for me to provide perspective for this season
• something to help us keep our hearts in the right place
◦ and not fall victim to the typical ways we overdo Christmas:
◦ too much spending, too many dinners, too many sweets
• these days, it’s not that the secular holiday is a distraction from the biblical story
◦ but the story seems like a distraction from all the stuff we have to do
◦ is there any way we can hear the story as if for the first time?

I decided to begin with this passage,
– even though it just sat there not speaking to me
• it seemed old and worn out – so long ago, so far away
◦ the culture and clothing of ancient Palestine shout its irrelevance
• all you have to do is imagine Joseph with a smart phone
◦ posting photos of the baby on his home page
◦ you can see how it doesn’t work
– besides the historical disconnect, I was preoccupied with other concerns
• Friday I received disturbing news from a close friend
◦ I wasn’t able to shake the emotional effect it had on me
◦ last night I woke up around 1:00 am and couldn’t get back to sleep
• and that is when I realized how this old story is our story

Joseph is not one of the main characters in Jesus’ story

He never says a word, and after Jesus’ childhood, he disappears
– he is, in fact, an “average Joe”
• we know that he was a carpenter; most likely a stone mason
◦ it’s fair to assume he was looking forward to marriage
◦ and we also assume he was shocked and wounded when he heard she was pregnant
• Joseph was a good man – he consistently chose to do what was right
◦ this becomes evident as the story goes on
– to say the least, Mary’s pregnancy ruined his plans
• whatever his dream had been–
◦ life with Mary; raising and training a son, preparing him to carry on the family name–
◦ and whatever else he had been looking forward to, died
• now, instead of fulfilling his dreams,
◦ this turn of events created new and difficult problems to solve

Regardless of what Joseph may have felt, he was still thoughtful and caring
– he came up with a ‘Plan B’ – a private and quiet divorce
• but he could not let go of the painful thoughts,
◦ the complications of his situation,
◦ and what moving on might look like

But when he had considered this . . . .

• “considered,” in this form, appears only three times in New Testament
◦ it can mean to take something to heart or to ruminate
◦ but there is also a strong emotional element to this word
– it is not surprising that the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream
• I doubt that he was sleeping well
◦ a lot of his thinking could’ve begun when his head hit the pillow
◦ and not pleasant thoughts, either
• frequently in scripture God waits for people to sleep to speak to them
◦ they were too much like us
◦ during the day, all he gets is a busy signal

God presented Joseph with a ‘Plan C’

The message was, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife
– this is what keeps us awake at night – all those fears
• “How can I fix this mess?” “How can I get out of this?”
◦ even those of us who say we have no imagination,
◦ can create hundreds of “What if” disaster scenarios

read more…

Nov 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 25, 2018 – Isaiah 9:1-7

How We Can Keep “Christ” in Christmas

But there will be no more room for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious by the way of the sea on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people who walk in darkness

Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.

You shall multiply the nation,
You shall increase their gladness;
They will be glad in Your presence
As with the gladness of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For you shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,
The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.
For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,
And cloak rolled in blood will be for burning, fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:1-7

Intro: I recently read a rant written by a Christian regarding Christmas

It began with a complaint about the abbreviation “X-mas”
– basically, this person saw it as a larger conspiracy to secularize a Christian holy day
• I don’t think she knew that Christians were first to use this abbreviation
◦ X, the Greek letter chi, is the first letter of the word “Christ”
• so let’s be good X-ians and keep X in X-mas
– Christmas is our nation’s favorite Christian holiday
• but it’s also the easiest holiday to get distracted from God
• we don’t even have to drop “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays”
◦ with all the craziness goes on, we would still forget Jesus,
◦ even if we called it “The Jesus Day”

Long before Jesus was born, Isaiah made this announcement

Something we need to know about biblical prophecy
– “prophecy” does not mean “prediction”
• what it means is inspired speech
• in fact, there are times when it refers to an inspired event or activity apart from any message spoken or written (cf. 1 Sam. 19:23-24; 1 Chr. 25:1-3)
– when there is a prophetic prediction, we can’t imagine what that future would look like
• even the prophets did not know

Isaiah 45:15, Truly You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior!
Jeremiah 32:25, You have said to me, O Lord GOD, “Buy for yourself the field with money and call in witnesses”—although the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.”
Habakkuk 1:5, Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days— You would not believe if you were told.

• the fulfillment would arrive in a future different from the prophet’s time
◦ the message given in one context would be fulfilled in a different context

It is as Helmut Thielicke wrote, “God interprets his promises by the way he fulfills them.”

What amazes me is how quickly the disciples connected OT scripture with Jesus after his resurrection
– when Matthew reported the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, he quoted this passage in Isaiah

He introduced it, saying This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet (Mt. 4:12)

• he saw Jesus’ ministry in Galilee as God’s light shining there

What did God promise his people in this passage?

A future very different from their present experience
– it is difference of earlier times (contempt) and later on (glorious)
• they have lived in darkness, but a light would shine on them

Walter Bruggemman observes that “‘Light’ is regularly linked to the coming of Yahweh’s ‘glory,’ that is, to the visible evidence of Yahweh’s splendor, majesty, and sovereignty”

◦ that’s what Matthew saw when Jesus arrived in Galilee
• a time when the nation would grow and prosper
◦ the outstanding characteristic of new situation was a pervasive joy
◦ the people would know to attribute this blessing to God’s presence
– at last they would be rescued from oppression
• Israel’s monarchy lasted for about 400 years
◦ towards the end, they lived under constant threat of invasion
◦ more powerful nation conquered them and imposed tribute on them
• villages frequently raided by neighboring kingdoms
◦ but all of that would end

At the heart of these future changes was a person

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us

– can you hear the difference in these two lines?
• a child would be born, but a son would be given
◦ God told David he would have a son
◦ and God would establish the kingdom of that descendant – then God added,

I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me (2 Sa. 7:14)

• on that first Christmas night, angels announced to shepherds

good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is [Messiah] the Lord (Lk. 2:10-11)

– Isaiah also says, And the government will rest on his shoulders
• that is, he will have responsibility for running the nation
• it will be up to him to bring about justice, righteousness, and peace
◦ and there would be no end to the growth of his rule, neither in space or time

There’s one more statement I want to emphasize

read more…

Nov 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 18, 2018 – Psalm 107

“What Do You Say?

O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary
And gathered from the lands,
From the east and from the west,
From the north and from the south.
 Psalm 107:1-3

Intro: I have been reading Resilience by Rick Hanson

I don’t like it – the same way I don’t like taking medicine when sick
– he said all the same things in a previous book I read
• but I’m someone who needs to be reminded to do the work
• so it’s okay that I’m going over these things again
– “resilience” is the ability to recover quickly, to bounce back from negative emotions
• one chapter in his book is devoted to gratitude

Rick Hanson says, “We spend our lives seeking to feel good in the future, but this is stressful and tiring in the present. With gratitude, you feel good already . . . .” “Thankfulness feels good in its own right.”

According to Hanson, researchers have discovered thankfulness “brings:

• More optimism, happiness, and self-worth; less envy, anxiety and depression
• More compassion, generosity and forgiveness; stronger relationships, less loneliness
• Better sleep
• Greater resilience”

I’ll tell you right now, this isn’t going to work!
– what I mean is that we’re not going to get the benefits of gratitude,
• by giving thanks just one day out of the year
• we have to learn thankfulness every day
◦ and return to it many times in a day
– a book that has helped me greatly is Ann Voskamp’s, One Thousand Gifts
• the first point she establishes is that she knows pain, grief, and suffering
• she was inspired to make a gratitude list of 1,000 items
◦ she reminds us that Jesus gave thanks before multiplying the bread for the crowds
◦ the Greek word to give thanks is eucharisteo, derived from charis (grace), which is related to chara (joy)

Voskamp says, “As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible …. Whenever—meaning now; Wherever— meaning here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location …. The only place we need see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.”

If we can get to God through giving thanks,
– then we can get to joy and all the other benefits that come from being grateful

The psalm encourages us to give thanks to the LORD

And it immediately gives us a reason,

. . . for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

– God can faithfully see me through years of difficult situations,
• but the next difficulty comes up and my first reaction is worry

GOD: Why don’t you trust Me by now? Haven’t I always been faithful to help you?
ME: Yes, Lord, but this time I don’t deserve Your help.
GOD: Chuck, you have never deserved My help.

◦ this, to me, is actually very comforting and reassuring
• the same logic for giving thanks is embedded in Psalm 136

read more…

Nov 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 11, 2018 – Mark 15:1-5

Ain’t No Sunshine When . . .

Early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate. Pilate questioned Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him, “It is as you say.”
The chief priests began to accuse Him harshly. Then Pilate questioned Him again, saying, “Do You not answer? See how many charges they bring against You!”
But Jesus made no further answer; so Pilate was amazed.
 Mark 15:1-5

Intro: A few weeks ago, I met ‘J’ at a local rehab clinic

In a group session, he told us he’d never believed in anything he couldn’t see
– but while there, J was introduced to Jesus Christ,
and through him became a new person
• he finished the program, but before he left the clinic I asked him, “Where’s home?”
◦ when he told me, I got excited because I have a friend there
◦ my friend, in fact, is the pastor of the Calvary Chapel in that town
• J asked, “Is he the guy who rides around on a Harley?”
◦ when I said yes, he replied, “I think I know that guy”
– Jay and my friend, Dave Sweet, lived in Paradise, California
• that town was burned to the ground this week

When one tragedy follows another, it is more difficult to recover emotionally
– last week, the synagogue shooting – and it seemed we all agreed it was evil
• but then another shooting this week
◦ and in bar and grill known to be a hang out for college students
• and hard on the heels of that devastating horror, multiple fires
◦ not only forests have been lost, but also many homes and human lives
– so many tragedies at once is like being caught in
• the danger is not only what one wave can do to you,
◦ but what multiple waves in a set can do
• each one makes it more difficult to fight back to the surface

The distress we feel over all of this reminds us,
– the path of our spiritual journey winds through the valley of shadow of death
• we cannot minimize the impact of these experiences
• we cannot pretend that Christians skate through them unharmed
– I’ll admit, if God offered an escape from reality, I’d take it
• in the valley of the shadow of death, we crash into reality
◦ the reality we fear and try to avoid
• but God, the ultimate Reality, is also encountered in these dark valleys
◦ we don’t find him by running from reality, but find him in it

Mark has created a very dark chapter

I’ll point out two symbols of its darkness

First: Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a skull (Mk. 15:22)
Years ago I watched a documentary (or travelogue, I can’t remember) and at one point it took us through a monastery and a crypt that contained the remains of monks who had lived and died there. What we were shown were not exactly the “remains” of the monks, but a large pile of human skulls.

– the effect of seeing it caught me off guard
• there was no sense of these skulls having been persons
◦ nor was there any differentiation between them
(like one of them could have once been Joe and another Fred)
◦ it disturbed me to think that I could end up a skull in a pile like that
• a skull no longer a person who smiled, winked, raised his or her eyebrows,
◦ but merely a digit — a bead on an abacus wire
◦ skulls are eerie, which is why on warning labels they symbolize death

read more…

Nov 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 4, 2018 – Mark 13:1-4, 33-37

It’s Like Waking Up

As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”
And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”
As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled.”
 Mark 13:1-4

Intro: Most everyone wants to know the future

It holds a fascination for us that is hard to escape
– fortune telling is an ancient practice that continues today
• people still turn to psychics, horoscopes, palm reading, fortune cookies
• for Evangelical Christians, the fascination centers on biblical prophecy
◦ people have come up with all sorts of calculations to pinpoint specific events
– Jesus made references to future events from time to time,
• but only once did he go deep into it like he does in this chapter
◦ notice, he didn’t hype his teaching
◦ for instance, he did not announce a seminar entitled, The Secrets of the Future Revealed!
• Jesus’ main concern was to prepare his disciples for the challenges ahead

Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. Therefore, be on the alert–for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning–in case he shold come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you I say to all, “Be on the alert!” Mark 13:33-37 
Notice his statement, What I say to you I say to all.

– Jesus knew these four disciples would tell other people
• and those people would tell other people, and those people would tell others, and so on
• eventually the message would reach all of Jesus’s followers:
Stay awake! Because you just don’t know

I spent most of this week at a hermitage near Big Sur

During my free time, I tried to stay focused on what I had learned in previous visits

Fr. Romuald had told me, “According to our tradition, anything human is a door to the divine. Anything physical is a door if you use it with respect and reverence.”

– What does this mean?

  1. There is a mystery to be encountered behind all reality
    a. we just see the surface of things
    b. we’re trained to reject mystery and taught to look for explanations
    c. the mystery is there, but we don’t see it
  2. Any object or event can awaken us to God’s presence
    a. scripture tells us God is everywhere
    b. but that’s not what our experience tells us
    c. we have to be awakened to the experience to know it
    d. I can sit in a room and imagine grandchild sneaking it, but when a human person actually enters, the feeling of his or her presence is completely different
    e. feeling God’s presence is different from “knowing that God is omnipresent” (everywhere)
    f. I want to sensitize myself to that feeling
  3. Romuald’s advice was to “pay attention to what you are doing every moment, because the divine could break in at any moment. God truly does not care what you’re doing at the time.”
    a. notice the flower, the bicycle, the sound of a dog barking
    b. wake up to what is there, because something may be a door
    c. notice the door, and the next thing you’ll discover is God’s presence

If this is true, then there are doors to God’s presence here–now

In conversations, we can be aware of other sounds and sights
– we usually filter those other things out of our attention
• but we may be filtering out more than we realize
• in some conversations, I intentionally look into the eyes of the person
◦ instantly I am not only hearing their words, I am reading the person
feeling what they’re saying, maybe even feeling what they’re feeling
– I am not merely listening – I sill hear the person’s words
• but I am hearing more – I am experiencing more

read more…

Nov 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 28, 2018 – Mark 8:34-38

The Exploration of (Empty) Space

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his soul? For what what a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38

Intro: You probably noticed this painting – perhaps stared at it

But I doubt you paid attention to the space between yourself and the painting
– “Why notice empty space?” you may ask
• the answer: Because there’s no such thing
◦ people have sustained serious injuries when bringing an open flame too close to an “empty” gas can
◦ there may have been no liquid in the can, but it was still “full” of fumes
• “empty” can be an illusion
– to notice empty space, can help us expand our awareness
• this is a theme Mark has developed through several chapters
– in the verses I read, Jesus’ message sounds harsh
• but we need to see it in its context
• the lesson here is so essential, we cannot afford to miss it
◦ it helps us discover what fills “empty” spaces

We will retrace Jesus’ steps through the previous three chapters
– pay special attention to the ways Jesus attempts to enlighten people

In chapter 5, A man begged Jesus to heal his daughter

But on the way to his home, they learn she died
– Jesus told the man, Don’t be afraid. Just believe

There is a way for us to move out of our fears and anxieties
– it involves expanding our vision
• my dad used to stress the importance of “the eternal perspective”
◦ big problems immediately before us can be overwhelming
◦ but our reaction changes when reflect on our situation in the light of eternity
• anxiety is a natural response to feeling trapped
◦ and we can feel trapped by “time”
(also by space, by our responsibilities, and so on)
◦ there must be a way out of anxiety traps if:
Jesus can say, Don’t worry about your life (Mt. 6:25)
or Paul could say, Don’t be anxious about anything (Php. 4:6)
– an expanded awareness frees us from the feeling of being trapped
• this is God’s, I am with you–or, as in this instance, Jesus saying, Just believe
• trust gives our brains the peace they need to stretch awareness

In chapter 6 Jesus is teaching in the countryside

This has the disciples nervous, so they tell Jesus,
“Send the people home before the shops close and they can’t find food”
– but Jesus responds, “Why don’t you feed them?”
• the disciples thought that was impossible
◦ then Jesus worked a miracle so that everyone ate and there were even leftovers
• when the disciples climbed in the boat, Jesus stayed on land to pray
◦ rowing against wind, the disciples were getting nowhere–until
◦ Jesus came walking toward them across the surface of the water
– the disciples were totally amazed
• Mark felt that he had to explain their amazement:

. . . for they had not gained any insight from the loaves, but their heart was hardened (Mk. 6:52)

• doesn’t that seem like an odd statement?
◦ the loaves were talking to the disciples, but they weren’t listening
• “hardened” does not mean they resisted understanding, but they were mentally “stuck”
◦ their hearts had been formed in a way that constricted their aware

In chapter 7, the Pharisees called out the disciples for a purity violation

read more…

Oct 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 14, 2018 – Psalm 84

“A Body You Have Prepared for Me”
(Hebrews 10:5)

Every Christian I know loves the Psalms, and each person has her or his own reasons. Some of the psalms provide us with reassuring comfort and security, knowing that our God cares for his weak and wounded children and that he is a rock and fortress in times of distress. Other songs inspire us to worship God and provides us with words that help us give expression to our praise and gratitude. There are psalms in which we discover an empathetic poet, one that is familiar with our griefs and feelings of despair (and even depression!). Then there are those raw and violent prayers that call for God’s judgment on the wicked, the cheats, the oppressors, and others who have slandered or betrayed us. Even with all of this we are only scratching the surface of what we find in the Psalms.

I would want to say appeals to me the most about the Psalms is the way a few of these godly poets express their spiritual longings. For example:
One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple 
(Ps. 27:4)
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God (Ps. 42:1)
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for you, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water 
(Ps. 63:1)

WARNING: These notes will be longer than those I used when I gave this message. Even still, I feel like too much has been left out that could have been said. One day, I’ll write another book.

Psalm 84 begins with this kind of strong desire for God
– in fact, it includes words and allusions from these other psalms
• here, the singer is on his way to Jerusalem
◦ the closer he gets, the greater his joy and anticipation
• do you remember going to a favorite childhood home?
◦ for me, it was the ride to my grandparents’ home
◦ grandma’s fresh-baked treats were waiting in the kitchen
◦ grandpa entertained us with tall tales and magic tricks
– the favorite home of the poet of Psalm 84 was the temple–God’s house
• so he looks forward to arriving in Jerusalem
◦ he is imagining his first glimpse of the holy city
◦ and once again enjoying the worship of Yahweh led by his servants
• what is the message of the Psalm?
◦ that worship in the temple is about a divine encounter
◦ it is where each local resident and pilgrim appears before God (v. 7)

I’m going to walk us through psalm, then share what’s on my heart

How lovely are Your dwelling places,
O LORD of hosts! 
Psalm 84:1

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

That means, the experience of beauty is subjective, personal
– “lovely” – the Hebrew word suggests a romantic attraction
• for example, it is used to tell us what Psalm 45 is about — “A Song of Love” (title)
◦ it appears repeatedly in Isaiah 5:1, where it is my well-beloved (lover)
• the Hebrew root for this word means to boil
◦ it speaks of a strong, enthusiastic and emotional attachment
– not to the sacred buildings, but to the LORD of hosts
hosts refers to the vast numbers that are under God’s command and for whom he is responsible
◦ it is used of his armies (human and angelic) celestial bodies (sun, moon and stars),
◦ every living person and thing on earth, and of his people, Israel
• God’s presence in the temple explains the emotion of this psalm
◦ it is what makes everything about Jerusalem wonderful to the poet

My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. 
Psalm 84:2

The physiology of desire

The poet is describing what he felt in his body
– originally, the meaning of the Hebrew word for soul was “throat”
• how did it come to mean soul?
◦ we have learned how the Hebrew Scriptures uses “eyes” and “ears”
◦ they can refer to the literal organs or their function; i.e., sight and hearing

The book, Body Symbolism In the Bible explains, “when [someone] thought of an organ, [they] thought automatically of its abilities and activities at the same time.

• so “throat” was both a literal body part and what passed through it
◦ food and water passed through it
◦ air also moved through the throat, and that meant life, then the living person or “self”

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (“soul,” Gen. 2:7). The breath of God made the clay sculpture a living person.

– what did the poet’s soul do?
• it “longed” – the Hebrew refers to a strongly felt desire
◦ to go pale from wanting or to pine away
• “yearned” – suggests being consumed by desire

Moving from the soul, we come to:
– his heart: the center of a person’s internal life

read more…