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Nov 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 10, 2019


Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel now say,
“for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Psalm 118:1-4

Intro: My grandchildren have invented a birthday tradition

It began when Calum announced:
“It’s my birthday and you have to do whatever I say all day”
– then Adrianna told me, “Grandpa, you have to get me something”
• I argued, “But you’re birthday was yesterday”
◦ but she explained, “This is my birthday week
◦ of course, then Addison had to have a birthday month
• you can see where this is going
– though I refuse to extend birthday privileges to an entire month,
• I see no problem in making November “Thanksgiving Month”
• so my talk today and next two weeks will be on giving thanks

Psalm 118 opens with a chorus that has a long history

We first hear it immediately following a big event
– the day King David brought the ark of the covenant into his city
• the ark was the heartbeat of Israel’s religion and relationship with God
• David wanted to place it at the geographical center of nation
– he invited all Israel to participate in the procession
• we are told that afterward, David
appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel. [some] were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound cymbals, and [others] were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers (1 Chr. 16:4-7)
• David also composed a song for his worship leaders
◦ and the last stanza of the song was,
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever
(1 Chr. 16:34)
◦ this became a “liturgy of the ark”; so to speak (1 Chr. 16:41)

This chorus represented Israel’s life of worship before God
– so later on, during spiritual revival or preparing for battle,
• these were the lyrics of their prayer (cf. 2 Chr. 20:21)
• hundreds of years later, when Jeremiah prophesied Israel’s return from exile,
◦ he predicted they would once again know joy and gladness
◦ they would come to the temple with thank offerings, singing,
Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
(Jer. 33:11)

Psalm 118 is not only another song with this chorus – it is a script

It outlines an event of music and movement
– parts were written for three groups of people
• this is laid out in the introduction:
Israel–i.e., the people who were present; the worshipers
the house of Aaron–i.e., the priests
those who fear the LORD–everyone else who was present for worship
– by the way, I’m not happy with translation, “steadfast love”
• like many words in biblical Hebrew, hesed has multiple meanings
◦ it is a loving benevolence, it is to treat someone with kindness
◦ in KJV hesed is frequently translated mercy and loving-kindness
• think of all the ways God expresses his goodness toward us
hesed is behind God’s every act of love, mercy, and grace

Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free.
Psalm 118:5

Perhaps this verse was sung by a soloist
– still it is the collective voice of the people
• it summarizes their story
• this is typical of the Psalms of Thanksgiving
Walter Brueggemann explains a Psalm of Thanksgiving this way:
“. . . these psalms tell stories of going into the trouble and coming out of the trouble.” “The speaker is now on the other side of a lament or complaint.”

The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
The LORD is on my side: I will not fear.
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
Psalm 118:6-9

Here we learn what Israel has gained from their experience
– a firm confidence in God
– a clear lesson regarding who they can trust

All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
they went out like a fire among thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
Psalm 118:10-13

These verses sing the story of what had happened
Artur Weiser, in his commentary on the Psalms, notes the poet’s use of metaphor and “exaggerated word-pictures which on the one hand describe the threat from which there was, humanly speaking, no escape, but on the other hand bring into prominence against this very background the greatness of divine deliverance.” (emphasis added)

The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
the right hand of the LORD exalts,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
Psalm 118:14-16

Here God’s help is celebrated
– first, what God has become to them
– then, what God has done for them

I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Psalm 118:17-18

At this point, a confession is made
– although severely disciplined, even here God is merciful
Artur Weiser, “His life has been granted to him anew and filled with a new meaning.”

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:19-24

We can imagine the procession singing this as the approach the temple
– they call to the gatekeepers stationed at entrance
• they have come to the temple where they will give thanks
• in response, the gatekeepers sing,
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it
◦ the people can enter if they meet the criterion
◦ having entered the temple, they do what they came for (v. 21)
– the “stone” may stand for the entire temple
Robert Alter, “The speaker, having entered the temple gates and now standing within the courts of the resplendent building, compares himself in his former abject state to a stone at first considered unfit by the builders but then made the chief cornerstone of a grand edifice.”
• in the New Testament, Jesus is the cornerstone
• at first rejected by men, but ultimately honored by God (Mt. 21:33-42)

Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
Psalm 118:25-27

The prayer of the people
– their request for salvation
– their joy in anticipating the arrival of their savior

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 118:28-29

A vow of praise and thanksgiving
– they commit themselves to ongoing thanksgiving
– then brings the song comes full circle and ends where it began

Have you noticed how gratitude has been promoted in recent years?

By emphasizing it’s health benefits
– we are better off physical, mental, and in relationships if we give thanks
• it has even been said that being grateful increases our productivity
(as if we’re not going to say Thank you unless there’s something in it for us)
• the Bible provides us with another motive
It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High
(Ps. 92:1)
• giving thanks to God carries its own good within it
– it’s one of the ways we enjoy what God’s does for us
• when we realize circumstances did not have to go this way
◦ they could have turned out worse–very much worse
• but we have to let ourselves feel gratitude long enough for it:
◦ stir up in us the full energy of its joy
◦ to sink in and affect our mood
Ann Voskamp, “Thanks is what multiplies the joy and makes any life large, and I hunger for it.” “It’s ridiculous how much joy a moment can hold.”

Giving thanks opens our eyes
David Steindl-Rast, says it is a way to wake ourselves up
“As I express my gratitude, I become more deeply aware of it.”
Ann Voskamp, “In naming that which is right before me, that which I’d otherwise miss, the invisible becomes visible.”
– thanksgiving is one half of the rhythm of our relationships
• we receive something and we give something
◦ we cannot always be doing only one or the other
• we receive grace and we give thanks

Conclusion: If we learn anything from the Psalms,

We learn that always returning to God to give thanks changes us
– it takes us from despair to hope, from mourning to dancing
– so here’s my recommend:
• every day until Thanksgiving Day,
◦ focus on one thing for which you are thankful
◦ write it down
◦ pause to feel it
◦ then pray it
• avoid generalities — be specific

For example, I thank God for:
• “Books that bring God near, and make this seem like the most natural thing”
• “What breathing can tell us about our current mood”
• “Sleep that lasts all night”
• “Learning to let go of heartache and despair through prayer”

If you can’t think of anything in particular,
– you can always fall back on this:
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!

We really can learn to sink into this truth
and find that it is enough to satisfy us
When we do this,
our gratitude increases
and we find ourselves not only content
but happy over even the little things
“Wow! I have Jesus AND enough to eat”
or “make my car payment”
or “have a butterfly land nearby”
because gratitude opens the faucet of joy

Oct 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 20, 2019

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many of of myself as well.
Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
[The list of names and what these people have meant to Paul and others goes on for ten more verses] Romans 16:1-12

Intro: Thirteen years ago, I stopped going to church

That summer, our church was listed in a survey of Christian ministers
– we rated among forty of the most creative and influential in the U.S.
• but I was broken, burned-out, feeling alone and like a failure
– Barbara was with me and helpful through a slow process of healing
• conversations with Fr. Romuald steered me closer to Jesus
• Barb and I spent Sunday on long walks
◦ we were refreshed as we followed a trail near the ocean
– towards the end of 2006, I found myself missing my church friends
• people, who for thirty years had been my life
◦ a few of them had written to say, missed my teaching
• a year later, I began sending a handful of people Reflections
(personal meditations from my daily reading in the Scriptures)
◦ two years later, Reflexion began with meetings in our home

Romans 16 shows us that Paul never lost sight of the people he loved

In Romans 16, Paul is signing off
– but in doing so, he affirms his connection with his readers
• he mentions names, like Phoebe, Prisca and Aquila
◦ and he adds personal comments:
a servant of the churchmy fellow workersmy beloved
◦ he also makes reference to various “churches”
all the churches of the Gentiles and all the churches of Christ greet you
◦ and churches that met in the homes of Priscilla and Aquila, and Gaius (v. 23)
– it’s obvious that for Paul, “church” was not a building
• at least, not one made of brick and mortar
• You have heard this before:
◦ the church is not an organization, it is an organism
◦ Paul’s favorite metaphor for the church is the body of Christ

When I woke up that one morning, realizing that I missed my friends,
– I realized there was a very clear distinction in my mind
• I missed my community, but I did not miss the institution!
◦ in fact, when I thought about the institution we became, I felt oppressed
• last year, I met up with a close friend from long ago
◦ back then, I glommed on to him for his brilliance
◦ when we talked about my departure from my church, he said,
“I wondered how you lasted so long. You were never cut out for that”
– he was so right

Institutions form naturally within large or growing groups of people

A team, a club, a corporation needs a certain amount of organization
– once organization begins, a structure forms (and an infrastructure)
• systems are needed to maintain the structure
◦ for instance, facility upkeep and formal lines of communication
• then the organization has to be staffed and capitalized
-institutions take on a life of their own
• church institutions initially form to serve the community
• but it does not take much to turn that around
◦ then the community has to maintain and pay for the institution

Why is that a problem?
– first, because community is what defines church, not “business”
• second, institutions must be managed – people must be led
◦ for people to be led, they have to give their consent
◦ managers assign jobs and employees do the jobs they’re assigned
• third, the institution’s goals are survival and not spiritual
◦ in our culture, institutional goals tend to be financial
◦ it’s a tragic day when that gets confused

For example, someone gets in front of the church to “sell” the spiritual value of an event to guarantee a good attendance so the income from the event meets the budget.
Helmut Thielicke, “. . . there is not institutional structure which is in complete accord with the nature of the church. Just as we cannot be justified through works so the church cannot become pleasing to God through institutional perfection.”

– church management became big deal in 70s through 90s
• books and articles were written on it
◦ the job of the Senior Pastor was equivalent to being a CEO
◦ some people assume you manage your way to any goal
Thielicke, “The kingdom of God can use any form of institution as its opportunity if its people are sufficiently quick to hear. The devil too can use any institution as his chance if its members are deaf, indifferent, or too blindly and trustingly content with its well-oiled machinery.”
• Thielicke says this became clear to him when visited America
◦ at first he thought we had the solution to growing large and lively churches
◦ that is, until a closer look revealed the soft underbelly of the beast
Thielicke, “This too, of course, is an opportunity for God. For here he can test the faithfulness and steadfastness of his servants. But, as we said, it is also a chance for the devil: the temptation to be opportunistic, to compromise, and to cover up is always near.”
◦ his conclusion:
“So we should do some thinking about the institutional structure of the church. Their importance, however, should also not be overestimated, for we must remember that they are human ‘works’ on which our salvation does not depend.”

This is why I’ve wanted to avoid using “church” to describe us

Not because of it’s biblical meaning, but because in the larger culture,
– “church” is inevitably linked to “institution”
• institutions are all about the three M’s
◦ Management, Marketing and Money
• the way I see the church in the New Testament is all about
◦ a spiritual community that
◦ glorifies God, builds up its members, and is a witness to the world
– church in the New Testament existed in relationships and interactions
• two Greek words may be helpful here
ekklesia, translated church: a group of citizens called to a public assembly
koinonia, from koine, “to share in common”
◦ translated fellowship, partnership, communion – community
koinonia (community) defines ekllesia (church)
. . . that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship [koinonia] with us; and indeed our fellowship [koinonia] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 1:3)

Loving and serving people, Paul also works to protect them

In verses 17-20, a danger comes by way of troublesome people
– the problems arise from what they “cause” and “create”
• they cause divisions
◦ they exploit disagreements – or invent them

There as six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers
(Pr. 6:16-19)

• they create obstacles (sometimes translated “stumbling block”)
◦ they make it difficult for others to live simple life of faith

A few weeks ago, Esther mentioned “high conflict people”
– I learned that term from Jim in our first conversation
• as Paul indicates, these people tend to be charismatic personalities
◦ their smooth talk and flattery are deceptive
◦ though they are charming, there’s venom in their bite
• these characteristics can make them difficult to detect
◦ but when we do detect a high conflict person, then what?
◦ what is the best way to deal with them?
• best way to deal with them, “avoid”
– Paul says, avoid them
Martha Stout, in The Sociopath Next Door says, “The best way to protect yourself from a sociopath is to avoid him, to refuse any kind of contact or communication.”
• these people deceive the naive
• I think we tend to make ourselves naive
◦ we want to trust those who call themselves Christian
◦ but these others create chaos, stir up suspicion, ruin relationships

“Shouldn’t we love everyone?” you ask,
– Yes, but love has a big toolbox, with lots of tools

When I first met Jim it at a coffee shop. As we got to know each other, he told me about his work in anger management, conflict resolution and reconciliation. In the process, he made reference to high conflict people. Everything he said made sense; in fact, I felt like he had been reading my mail. He explained that some of my burnout had come from not having sufficient boundaries for dealing with this type of person, that I had allowed them to get too close to me. Jim spent seven months consulting with Barb and I, teaching us how to discern the of high conflict people. At the end, he said, “Okay, we’ve pretty well covered the profile and behavior of high conflict people. Next week were going to talk about loving them.”
I was shocked. “What?! You’ve been telling us all about these people, how the wreck churches and ruin the lives of pastors. You’ve also helped us learn how to establish firm and healthy boundaries. Now your telling us we need to learn how to love them?”
“Of course,” Jim replied, “we have to love them. But what do you think love is? Do you think you have to be best friends with them? give them whatever they ask? trust them? High conflict people require a certain sort of love. For instance, many of them have never learned to respect boundaries. So by setting boundaries for them, you are loving them by helping them to learn something socially and spiritually important and useful.”

• I’ve met Christians, devastated by a church that split
◦ it was traumatic, like a painful divorce
◦ disillusioned, they vowed never to get involved with another church
• eventually, God will deal with those charming deceivers
◦ he will put an end to their activity it at the source (v. 20)

Let’s leave that unpleasantness and jump to the end of the chapter

Now to him who is able to strengthen you
according to my gospel
and the preaching of Jesus Christ,
according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
but has now been disclosed
and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations,
according to the command of the eternal God,
to bring about the obedience of faith—
to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ!
Amen. Romans 16:25-27

Paul ends his letter with a “doxology”
(a doxology is praise of God and usually includes the word doxa, “glory”)
– this is what worship does – it glorifies God
• Paul loads his worship with theology
◦ perhaps the best we can do with theology is turn it into worship
• theology without worship is like
◦ a lab full of research papers and dead specimens
◦ worship without theology is like the Samaritans
You worship what you do not know (Jn. 4:24)
or the Athenians who built an altar to the unknown god (Acts 17:23)
– notice that three times Paul says, “according to”
• this shows us how he tracks his message back to its source, the command of the eternal God

Conclusion: If you’ve ever been in a group photo before–

Perhaps your team, you and your coworkers, a graduation class–
– when you got a copy of the photo, did you look for yourself in it?
– I wonder if the when the believers in Rome received this letter,
• hoped to hear their names when this last chapter was read

Your names are known here in this little community
You are wonderful people – you live and demonstrate love
And because of you,
I have never enjoyed ministry more than I do now
So, as we move on together in our spiritual journey,
out of our love for God, let’s continue to
know and worship him,
love one another, caring for and serving each other,
as witnesses to God’s love for the world,
To God our Father be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ

Oct 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 13, 2019

Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
as burdens on weary beasts.
They stoop; they bow down together;
they cannot save the burden,
but themselves go into captivity.
Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.
Isaiah 46:1-4

Intro: I haven’t prepared a sermon today or a Bible study

What I have is more like a personal meditation
– a thought, not so much for the analytical mind,
• as for the thirsty, needy soul
– depth psychology tells us that the thoughts that move us most,
• that motivate and influence us,
◦ are not our most logical or even conscious thoughts
◦ but stories, symbols and images in our unconscious
• for instance, what stirs a patriotic heart
◦ is not an essay on the philosophical government of democracy
◦ but seeing the American flag raised and hearing “The Star Spangled Banner”

This passage in Isaiah is a piece of prophetic poetry

The Hebrew Scriptures use humor at times
– their most frequent forms are puns, sarcasm, and irony
• their favorite targets are pagan gods and especially idols
Walter Bruggemann tells us Isaiah 46 gives us “a reflection upon the decisive contrast between Yahweh and the other gods”
• Bel and Nebo were two of Babylon’s chief deities
– when the poem describes them as bowing and stooping,
• it paints a picture: these are the larger than life idols of Bel and Nebo
◦ Babylon has been conquered and its idols are being carted off to the foreign land of their enemies
◦ as the wheels of the carts hit bumps and potholes, the idols and rock back and forth, and looked as though these gods were themselves bowing
• gods that the Babylonians assumed could not be defeated,
◦ were not only unable to save Babylon, but were themselves taken captive
◦ they were, in fact, “burdens” on the weary beasts that pulled them

Idolatry, was a big issue for Israel, yet seems irrelevant to us

I read through 1 John this week and saw a similar irrelevance
– the last line of John’s letter says,
Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 Jn. 5:21)
• nowhere in his letter had John talked about idols
◦ the last chapter is full of Jesus Christ, God’s son
◦ for John, Jesus is not past tense – in him, we are in God (1 Jn. 5:12-15)
• his warning seems about idols out of place
◦ but maybe an idol is anything that comes between us and Jesus
◦ especially any material thing (cf. 1 Jn. 2:15-17)
– in Colossians, Paul lists behaviors we need to get rid of
• last in the list is, greed, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5)
• I think greed maybe our nation’s most prevalent sin
◦ people will make or sell anything to get rich
◦ many people have sold their souls

Like the Babylonians, our god of greed has not saved us
– instead, like the others, this idol has become a burden
• it has put the cost of owning a home out of reach for millions
• it has burdened many people with poor health
◦ it has been a burden on our families, friends and co-workers
◦ and our poor planet is burdened with its toxicity

The Lord our God is everything that idols are not

The “decisive contrst” Brueggmann mentioned is clear in this passage
He says, “Yahweh is an active subject and agent, whereas the gods of Babylon are passive, immobile, mute objects.”

Notice how verse 2 is like a negative image of verse 4
The idols: They stoop
Yahweh: I have made
The idols: they bow down together
Yahweh: I will bear
The idols: they cannot save the burden
Yahweh: I will carry
The idols: [they] themselves go into captivity
Yahweh: [I] will save

To get attention of his people, God says, Listen to me, O house of Jacob
– if they pay attention to what God says, they will learn something
• even more, they gain something
• something of real value
– from “birth” to “old age” signifies the span of Israel’s existence
• although the message is collective and for the nation,
• it speaks to individuals as well
◦ what concerns the community concerns the individual

The idea of God carrying his people is deeply symbolic

It is one of those important archetypes of Jungian and depth psychology
– one of the earliest representations of Jesus is a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders

• being carried in the arms of God is a cherished image from ancient times
◦ for example, from the time of Moses:
The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms
(De. 33:27)
• this was still an effective symbolic metaphor in Isaiah’s time
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young
(Is. 40:11)
– it was still effective all the way into the 19th century
• in 1887 Anthony Showalter, who wrote many gospel hymns,
◦ published “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”

What a fellowship, what a joy divine, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Leaning, leaning, Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What have I to dread, what have I to fear, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Leaning, leaning, Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, Leaning on the everlasting arms.

• and it still worked in 1955, 1995, and 2010, where that hymn was used in the following movies:
◦ The “Night of the Hunter,” “Wild Bill,” and “True Grit”
◦ and the television series “House of Cards,” “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” and, my favorite, “The Simpsons”

I’m convinced that this specific imagery can still resonate in our hearts

How can wake myself up to being in God’s arms?

I think we can begin with the bare experience of life
– the problem is, we have to get out of the house,
• put away our cell phones, and see what’s here with our own eyes
• it is too easy to lose ourselves in mediated experiences
◦ watching other people engage in sports
◦ watching the adventures of others, scripted by human minds
– the world of people, pets and other living things is full of surprises
• full of wake-me-up moments

Yesterday I walked Kona, our yellow Lab, along Salt Creek Beach. As soon as we came within sight of the ocean, I saw dolphins. The number of dolphins in the pod was unusually large for as close as they came to the shore. It was a special moment that I wanted others to experience too. A man and woman passed us, walking the other direction with their heads down. I asked them, “Did you see dolphins?” She said, “Really?!” and he asked, “Where?” The woman did not see them at first, so he pointed to them for her. I left them to their own excitement and walked on.
It bothered me that so many others on the beach were missing the show. Some were tanning themselves, others throwing a football or frisbee, and others were staring into their cell phones. I wanted to yell at them through a megaphone, “You’re missing a miracle!”

I did not give myself this life I have
– I have not earned it, do not deserve it, and I do not sustain it
– life is a gift — “and underneath are the everlasting arms”

Conclusion: God reminded Israel that from birth he carried them

And even to their gray hairs he would carry them
– I wonder what will become of me,
• as I age and continue to decline in strength, mental acuity, mobility and influence?
– I have memories from childhood of falling asleep in the family car
• when we would arrive home, Dad would gather me into his arms, carry me into the house and put me to bed
• I can remember being in his strong arms
◦ feeling secure, comfortable, relaxed

That was my first helplessness
– in old age I’ll come to my last helplessness
• again someone take my hand and lead me
◦ feed me, dress me, and help me into bed
◦ all through, from birth to old age, God holds me
• and I am secure in God’s everlasting arms
◦ his arms are my symbol of trust

Trust the arms of the One
who made,
who carries,
who rescues,
and who loves us beyond imagination.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Ps. 90:1-2)

Oct 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 7, 2019

This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings. When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,
“O Lord GOD, please forgive!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
The LORD relented concerning this:
“It shall not be,” said the LORD.
This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, the Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. Then I said,
“O Lord GOD, please cease!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
The LORD relented concerning this:
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.
This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” The the Lord said,
“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass by them;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.

Amos 7:1-9

Intro: Amos has an unusual story, as he explains later

I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a [shepherd] and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14-15)

God put him on this mission after Israel passed the point of no return
– they had strayed so far from God, they were no longer “his people”
• God showed Amos the consequences of their betrayal
◦ but the way God delivers the vision is rather interesting
• it is as if he was trying out various possibilities with Amos
◦ there is an obvious pattern here, as if they were following a script
– God described a catastrophe; first, a locust invasion, then a fire storm
• Amos protested to both with the same words (with one exception)
◦ such disasters would result in Israel’s extinction
◦ so both times, God relented, “It shall not be” — or “Okay, not that”
• this sort of conversation has been referred to as “prophetic dialogue”
◦ here the drama is played out to underscore God’s goal
◦ it was not to decimate Israel or destroy them completely

This is explicitly stated near the end of Amos:
Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom,
and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground,
except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob . . . .
All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword
(Amos 9:8-10)

The third vision reveals how God would judge his people selectively
Amos, what do you see? – a plumb line is a string weighted on one end
• holding the other end, the hanging string would delineate a true vertical
◦ today, building a wall we would use a bubble level or laser
• in the vision, the walls were already built
◦ the plumb line was being used to test the integrity of the walls
◦ the idea: God had a criterion for determining his true followers
– when meditating on this passage, what came to me was this
• almost any object or event can embody a revelation
◦ a carpenter’s tool, a farmer’s harvest, a produce stand
• if we look, we’ll notice; if we notice, we can observe
◦ the language here is important:
“showed me,” “Behold” (4x), and “what do you see?”
◦ asking ourselves, “what do you see?” can take us to a deeper place
◦ into the moment and into ourselves
But do not try to force a meaning on things
Simply listen and whatever God has to show you come to you

I did not choose this passage today to share my meditation on it

Something else is on my mind, and it has bothered me for a long time
– I have always been drawn to Christian mystics
• to those souls that have hungered and thirsted for God
◦ and devoted their entire lives to pursue him in script and prayer
◦ who gave up everything, taking on vows of poverty and chastity
• but on occasion, I’ve been creeped out by their beliefs or practices
◦ an easy example is the severe asceticism of some
(to rivet their attention on God and avoid sin, they abused their bodies)
◦ what bothers me is the absence of support from or correlation to scripture
– I’ve wondered, What is the source of their insights if not Bible?
• their own experience? culture? philosophy? other influences?
• there is a sad history of mystics within the church who went too far
◦ for instance, the Gnostics, Arians, and Montanists

Recently I’ve been reading an author whose name I won’t mention
(because I really enjoy his books and don’t want to discourage anyone from reading them)
– he is insightful, inspiring, helpful and encouraging
• but he describes the awareness gained through contemplation
◦ as “the ground of awareness itself”
◦ and “the flowing luminous vastness that is interior silence”
• years ago I read Paul Tillich’s definition of God as “the ground of all being”
◦ I get it–the statement is true, but it’s an intellectual concept
◦ and it isolates one facet of God while excluding others–
others that are equally important
– what concerns me is the vagueness of these formulations
• Tillich also stressed the idea of God as “the wholly other”
◦ it is true, God is transcendent
◦ but the other half of the truth is that God is immanent
• I realize God is beyond the ability of the human brain to define
◦ but does that bring me any closer to him?

I read somewhere that much of our theology is negative
– we say that he is invisible, intangible, immutable, immortal
• we also refer to him with absolutes
• omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, all-loving
– but these statements don’t do much to connect us to him
• they do not spell out the ways he is here for us
• Christian spirituality includes a great breadth of truth
◦ the journey will take us deep in to some regions,
◦ but each region is one vein of an infinite matrix from which no other vein can be excluded

We have to be exercise caution with theology

It can be a short step from truth to heresy
– this happens when one half of a truth is overemphasized
• G. Campbell Morgan referred to St. John as a “contemplative”
(others have used the term “mystic”)
◦ in his gospel, he says the logos that came “was God”
◦ in 1 John, he says God is phos (light), zoe (life), and agape (love)
• these represent multiple aspects of God’s nature
◦ they work because John does not insist on one to the exclusion of any of the others
– read 1 John closely – John’s theology is emphatically personal
• his reference to the “blood of Jesus” is concrete not abstract
◦ the application of Jesus’ blood is mystical
◦ but the shedding of his blood was literal
• in fact, the biblical revelation of God as Person is so strong,
◦ it risks anthropomorphism (describing him in human terms)
◦ yes, there’s the cloud that obscures our vision (Mt. 17:1-8)
but there’s also the voice from the cloud–
the voice of a Person who owns Jesus as his Son

God is not an abstraction nor is he a concept
(and you are not a concept, and I’m not a concept)

I think many Christians pray to their concept of God
– we cannot dispense with our concepts,
• we just have to remember that God is person
◦ he has a name
◦ and he’s revealed it to us so we can call on him
• the prophets’ and apostles’ encounters with God,
◦ were never like floating in a vast luminescence
◦ they were a meeting of minds, conversations, I-Thou
– last week Kelsey reminded us, God is not an object
• we cannot study him under a microscope or find him through telescope
◦ we can’t make images of him, because God is Spirit (Jn. 4:24)
◦ our exp isn’t something we can carve in wood or sculpt in stone
• but we can make this positive and definite statement:
◦ God is person
◦ that is what makes it possible to be in relationship with him

There’s one other facet that needs to be clarified

It has become popular in some circles to stress monism–oneness
– this is obviously important because God is One
• Jesus and the Father are One
◦ we are One with Jesus and One with each other
• but oneness does not obliterate our individual selves
◦ and it does not obliterate dualism
◦ Kelsey pointed out last week that dualism is important
but some believers don’t see it’s importance
and some are even anti-dualism
– we’re told that dualism is a Greek idea, derived from Plato’s philosophy
• that monism was the Hebrew worldview
• but read the first chapter of Genesis
◦ God brought order to the original chaos by dividing things
◦ first light and darkness, then an expanse separating waters,
then the dry land and oceans
• dualism AND monism are two halves of the same whole
◦ we are looking at the reverse sides of the same coin
◦ “diversity within unity” describes both the triune God and his church
– I regret there isn’t enough time to go over this as much as I would like
• but give dualism some serious thought
• the basic categories of scripture are: heaven and earth
◦ God and humankind–i.e., God and us!

Conclusion: What is the true heart of Christian spirituality?

You see, this is the wrong question
– the correct question is Who is the heart of Christian Spirituality?
• there is one obvious answer: Christ!
• not a vaguely defined universal Christ-consciousness
◦ but the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5)
– what our souls hunger and thirst for,
• what we are striving for in Christian spirituality is to know Jesus (Php. 3:7-11)
• our progress is measured by our growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18)

In my first lengthy conversation with Fr. Romuald, he told me,
“In the Hebrew language, there are no abstract or impersonal words. Everything is concrete and down-to-earth language. All Hebrew says is ‘you’ and ‘me.’ There is no verb in between us. It is, ‘I for you, you for me.’”

This has been my primary concern today
to remind you, make certain your contemplation
is an opening to the Person and to his presence
And that our spirituality is definite
and therefore we speak openly and clearly (2 Cor. 3:12)
Our goal is not to become more spiritual
or mystical,
but to know Jesus Christ
And then, to get to know him even better,
until knowing him, we are fully transformed by him

Sep 29 / Reflexion Community

September 29, 2019

This week we were fortunate that Kelsey Kapauff was able to be with us and share what she has learned and experienced in her spiritual journey.

Set an Intent: Welcoming Prayer

Thank you for the honor of being here with you today.
I am going to be talking with you about contemplation! The funny thing about me sitting up here is that to be honest I wouldn’t call myself a contemplative. I have been on a path that has led me to the contemplative tradition the past couple years, but I am very much still a student of the tradition.
When I started learning about the idea of contemplation I was captivated.
I almost immediately took a class to learn more and the thing I loved about this class was that we weren’t only learning about contemplation intellectually but we were encouraged to explore the contemplative practices as well.. Meditation being one of them.
Now I have two kids… and trying to meditate in the mornings is almost impossible with them around.
I would sit to meditate, and the kids would come rushing in, interrupt me. And I would be left with a feeling of frustration that I didn’t get what I needed, and then I would react to my kids often in a short and frustrated way.
Until one day I was listening to an interview one of my teachers did with a young mom. She was having the same issue as me. She was so excited about her contemplative journey, and she would wake up with this longing to connect with God, but inevitably her kids would come in and interrupt her, leaving her left with a sense of frustration.
My teacher responded to her like this- “I want you to imagine for a moment that I am God, and then talk to me about what been going on….”
Talking to the professor as “God” she then explained her predicament. He then said now I want you to imagine I am God talking to you…
As “God”, he responded with something like, “I see your longing for me, your love for me… and it so delights me. The thing is…. I love you so much that I want to hold and be held by you, so I jump into the bodies of you kids and run out to you so that we can simply embrace each other.”
As I heard this story I wept.
It made me realize in that moment that my pursuit and my “trying” to connect with God can become the very thing that get in the way of me seeing that we are connected…..
What if the very thing that is interrupting, or distracting us, is in itself a part of how we can connect with God, instead of a thing getting in the way of our connection to God?
God comes to us disguised as our very lives.- Paula D’Arcy

Next morning I tried seeing differently but I just ended up:
• Responding “better” on the outside
• Rejecting and suppressing my feelings and thoughts…
• Praying it away- note: sometimes prayer can distract us from the present…
Eventually I could do nothing but
Surrender- let go of everything I was holding onto. I simply stopped trying to change myself and the situation. In doing so I just chose to be present to what was.
In the letting go, in my relinquishing of control I experienced something I couldn’t describe. My kids ran out and its as if a layer was lifted from my eyes and I saw God in them. I felt this deep connection to God in their presence.
I was overwhelmed with love, my eyes welled with tears, and I breathed in deep this indescribable moment.
Its as if I saw love living and moving within and around me…
In the letting go, I realized what I was looking for, striving for, was simply there all along. On the outside nothing had changed, but internally I experienced a shift in how I saw, a shift in my awareness.
I had been learning about contemplation, but this was one of my first moments experiencing it. _______________________________________________________________________ Contemplation is something that story can describe a lot better than hard definitions can…
Its hard to define because much of it is truly beyond our understanding, and therefore beyond our descriptions. So as we talk about contemplation today I want to start off by saying that no explanation of contemplation can touch the depth of what it is.
Its like talking about an orgasm- you can explain the crap out of it, but experiencing it is a whole other thing.

In Philipians 2:5, Paul says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”
I love this.
Paul isn’t saying
May you know the same things as Jesus knew He isn’t saying
May you have a mind that is similar to Jesus mind He is talking about
A merging of minds
May the “same” mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus… He is talking about acquiring the consciousness of Christ.

This is contemplation.
It is a mode of perception that is in tune with the divine…
An encounter with pure awareness itself, an encounter with the greater truth. Thomas Merton describes Contemplation like this:
“It is life itself, fully awake, fully active, and fully aware it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being.”
It is this way of seeing that goes beyond our normal observable realities.

Most of us function from a lens of object awareness most of the time.
We are focused on something. A person, a place, an emotion, a though, and we spend our conscious energy on the thing that is the object of our attention.
Right now the object of your attention can either be me, or a daydream you are going with in your mind, or maybe its something else your looking at in this room…
Our “normal” conscious state splits and focuses, splits and focuses…
But when it comes to God there is no splitting.
He is omnipresent with all.
God doesn’t function with object awareness, and if he did that would really suck for all of us if he could only focus on us one at a time…
But what we know and believe to be true about God is that he is simultaneously with us all, present to us all. And not only us, he is present to all of creation…
This kind of consciousness is objectless.
Its a whole other kind of perceiving, and seeing…
Another phrase to describe this mode of awareness is: _________________________
Non-Dual Seeing.
Which is a mode of seeing that doesn’t separate.
As we know dual thinking is thinking that splits. good and bad
Us and them
Weak and strong
Conservative liberal Beautiful ugly

Dual thinking is important as we are first forming concepts.
For example when my daughter was learning about temperature, she learned it in the context of its opposite.
She knew something was hot because she had felt something cold. But now that she is getting older she’s realizing that those two opposing extremes cannot hold the breadth of the various temperatures.
So although dual thinking serves a purpose for all of us, it can only take us so far… Especially with religion.
If we view God as being out there, then we wont spend time learning to pay attention to what he is saying in here, we will simply be waiting and looking out.
If we only expect to feel near to God at church, or at the beach, or wherever it is we seem to look for God, then our eyes can be blind to Gods movement in other spaces.
Non dual consciousness takes away the lines, God is no longer out there, or in here, or over there.
God is in all. Immanent in you and I, yet simultaneously transcendent and above you and I… This way of seeing opens us up to so much more than our categories allow.
Non-dualistic thinking allows us to get outside of the mind that wants us to split and categorize and allows us to simply hold what is.
Its a wider more expansive view that is awake to deeper realties… __
I do want to make clear that the purpose of non-dual consciousness isn’t to diminish our differences… or to be blind to them…
That line of thought can be unhelpful and even destructive…
Being color-blind is a good example of this. When we are “color blind” we fail to recognize both the beauty in a person of color and the pain that has been caused by systemic systems of oppression… which then can keep us from doing what we can to build a more loving world.
Non-dual consciousness, simply expands our view and takes the attention off of what separates.
In this sense we can more fully celebrate the unique beauty of our differences when they are not all that we see, when they are not the objects of our attention…

This state of awareness that taps into the deeper streams of truth that our categories can blind us to…
As humans most of us have experienced what it is like to see with these non-dual eyes… even if we have just had small glimpses…

We often experience these non-dual moments when we experience great pain, or great love because these experiences often have the ability to shatter our comfortable categories…
For example:
When you fall in love with someone of a different race than you, that you once looked down upon.
Category of us and them shattered.
When you do something that really hurt someone else, that you never though you would do. Category of good and bad shattered.
When your baby is born with special needs, and your previous perceptions are shattered because that baby is the most beautiful person you have ever laid eyes on…
When you go through something that is beyond painful, yet it ends up being one the most beautiful inner experiences…
When we experience something that simple categories simply cant describe… It often encourages us towards a more non-dual mindset…
I experienced this when I was with my dear friend who recently lost her husband to suicide.
We were packing up her home, putting in boxes her memories, he life that was permeated with her husband Andrews presence. It was a painfully sacred experience. We packed, and cried. Packed and cried. At the end of the day, after packing all of their things, it was time for her three beautiful boys to go to bed. The thing about life is that even in midst the greatest pain, it doesn’t stop. I wanted to help, but they understandably wanted their mom. I waited in the other room as my exhausted (on every level) friend, then put her boys to sleep. After some time, she walked out of their bedroom.
I watched as she walked over to where I was sitting and simply collapsed to the ground. I had never experienced anything like this before. I watched as the pain in her heart manifested in her body, and all she could do was fall to the floor.
We sat there on the floor together weeping, holding each other. I can’t come close to imagining all that was happening within her in that moment. The pain that I was feeling was deep, but nothing close to what she was sitting in. It was just too much. We started to ask God Why? Confused, angry, and utterly broken. Simultaneously bewildered by God, His presence permeated that moment. Love was alive. Love was alive in the questions, in the pain, in the embracing of each other, in every confusing piece, love was there. It was one of the most raw and real moments of my life.
In the brokenness the thing that was so apparent to me was the sacredness of it all. To be with her in that moment, will always be one of my most dear memories. Which sounds odd… How could one fo the most painful moments of my life be one of the most beautiful?
There is no explanation that could make sense of it all, it simply was.
It was this moment of expansive embrace of the whole.
A moment of intense oneness with each other, and with God.

The difficult thing is that this way of seeing cant be forced. We cant just put on these new eyes whenever we want…
But we can offer up a posture of least resistance, so that we may be overcome- as James Finley describes…
Paul goes on in Phil 2 to describe that what that posture of least resistance looks like…
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something he should cling to,
7 instead He emptied himself,
So in order to enter into the consciousness of Christ, Jesus emptied himself…
The greek word for this emptying being (kenosis)- the act of self- emptying, this beautiful act of Surender..
And he says the opposite of self emptying is clinging.. I mean visually think about the difference…
Cling- crouch over, protective stance, holding tightly, often holding of breath Emptying- a release, openness, vulnerable, exhale
This is why breathing exercises are so powerful in our path of surrender, when we pay attention to our breath we recognize were again and again, releasing…

This process of kenosis.. can often bring up some scary things within us that can make us pull back into clinging…
We all have things that we are currently clinging to… things that are not easy to release…
Things that our Ego does not want to let go of, things we cling to our of our desire to protect ourselves, things we cling to that make us feel comfortable…

  • It’s interesting because in my own process of surrender, one of the hardest thing for me to let go of was my certainty about God.
  • I was taught to read the Bible in a certain way.
  • I was taught that God moved in specific ways.
  • And I was taught that if you had deep faith, you surely wouldn’t doubt the doctrines that my
    specific tradition taught…
  • I studied theology and I came out of bible school pretty confident.
  • I quickly became a pastor and I watched as people clung to my confidence about what I
    believed and made it their own.. I not only felt truly confident that I held many truths, My ego loved, I mean loveddd feeling important.
    Little by little as time went on I realized that I spent a lot of time being spoon-fed what to believe, and I was taught very little about how to believe.
  • I was asked one time about my thoughts on heaven and hell and as I confidently answered I listened to myself speaking so confidently, and my inner voice was saying “you don’t really know!!!”
    I was clinging more to what I knew about God than to God himself…. That was and still is a very humbling realization….
    How comical that I had to let go and surrender some of my certainty about God, in order to “put on this mind of Christ” Paul is talking about.
    This was a surrendering of a large part of what I thought was my identity too.
    The process of letting go for me felt scary because I felt like I was losing myself. I was the one with wisdom (for my very small group of people mind you)
    Who would I be if I wasn’t that person?
    What I continue to learn and re-learn is that even thought at times surrender feels like a losing of self, the opposite happens. I find my true self in the process…
    A self that is free.
    The self that simply is, the self that is loved, the self that no longer has to prove anything.

This is our true selves. The self that cannot be offended. The self that is loved by God for simply being.
But none of us live out of this self all of the time, and probably never will while we’re alive.
This is why Self emptying isn’t this one time thing, its an every day thing…
Which I find very encouraging in my own contemplative path…
Im not going backwards when I start to cling, it’s simply another opportunity for me to return to the ever present God.

Contemplative practices are super helpful tools that can help us grow these muscles of surrender, so that we may tune into this divine awareness…

But before I jump into what some of those practices are I want to make clear that contemplative seeing is not simply about intellectual understanding.
It’s about integrated awareness. Full being awareness…
This attunement to Gods resonance is not simply in tune through our
Mind- that thinks about God
or our heart- that lovingly embraces God or body,- that senses God
because in this non-dual state of consciousness there is no separation of self.
Which is what Jesus is speaking to when he says, “Love the lord you’re God with all your heart soul and mind.”
It’s this whole being connectedness to the whole…
This was super helpful for me to recognize when I started doing more contemplative practices…
We can think our way to God,
But we can be our way to God, because it’s in our whole undivided being where God Himself dwells.
This is the point of many of the practices. To show up, and simply be present. Without expectation of what we desire God to do….
If we are trying to enter into practices with specific goals and hopes, those things can become the very things that keep us from truly entering in.
Even if they are good things!!! Again Kenosis, Kenosis, Kenosis
The practices are helpful because they help us enter into the present moment, and offer up that position of least resistance:
Contemplative practices are not contemplation in themselves, they simply work our muscles of consent, and can help us enter into that contemplative divine seeing.
Some of those practices being:
Stillness practices: Centering prayer Meditation
Creative Practices: Painting, journaling, singing Relational Practices: Deep listening, storytelling Movement Practices: dance, yoga, labyrinth walking

Truly Contemplation can be found anywhere though, because as we talked about its a way of being and seeing.
Sometimes ill sit and try and surrender and enter in and I just feel more and more distant from God even if mentally I believe thats impossible…
But then other times in my surrender to the moment I am simply overcome by this contemplative mind.
I had a contemplative moment gazing at a bell pepper once! Finley describes contemplative moment like this:
In the quietness of the attentive gaze, one comes upon a certain presciousness, an immediate worth, that which no words can be found….”

Contemplation does not simply stop at conscious awareness.
Some people think that the opposite of contemplation is action, but that’s just not true…
The opposite of contemplation is reaction… an acting out of our small self..
True contemplation will always result in active and dynamic love.
Which makes sense right?
If God is the source of love could entering into the consciousness of Christ result in anything less than love?
I want to end with this picture of The Trinity.
This is Perichorseis. Which is the greek word for the relationship between father son and spirit, whom are continually in relationship with each other both pouring out and receiving love from the other.
And our lives are a part of this sacred dance.
Every day, every moment we are participating in the sacred dance of love.
Our waking Our being
Our seeing
Our connecting Our trying
Our failing
Our longing Our searching
All of it, all of life, is steeped in the love of God…
Contemplation is simply a waking up to this reality that is already true.

Sep 22 / Reflexion Community

September 22, 2019

Guest Speaker: Esther Dewitt

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4: 4-9

This summer we have been exploring the physiology connected to the psychology that creates the mental, emotional and behavioral patterns that lead us in the wrong direction.  Chuck has been educating us, connecting the science with the spiritual, as we have considered the prospect of re-writing the owner’s and operations manual for our Brain.  The impact this series has had on me has been significant as we have considered how our personal history has been imprinted on our brain and nervous system, forming the habits of our lifetime.  How these, over time, through trauma, hurt, and wounding developed into pathways, the ones that make us feel like we are stuck or heading in the wrong direction, the ones that lead us away from the God of peace and the peace of God, to anxiety, depression, frustration, discouragement, conflict, anger and a host of other harmful and hurtful spaces.

Fortunately, we have not studied this just to discover a hard reality, to be left knowing how we got to the places we don’t want to be.  Our study has been to empower us, to understand that simply because we have been heading in one direction, does not mean we have to stay heading there.  All that we have been learning has been to draw us towards repentance, towards changing our direction.

Repentance is more than quitting a list of clearly articulated biblically wrong behaviors.  We repent not just from a traditionally accepted list of sins. 

Repentance is a changing of direction.  It is more than a change too. 

It is an intentional change of direction.  It is a choosing of a specific direction.  It doesn’t occur automatically or instinctively. It isn’t the simple exchange of one behavior, pattern, way of thinking or doing for another.  Repentance involves the recognition that the well-worn path we have been on is not getting us where we want to go.  In repentance we make the conscious, intentional choice to change direction to move towards God, the God of Peace, away from the paths and patterns that have gotten us stuck, that have caused damage to us and our relationships, and towards healing and in the direction of wholeness and restoration, towards the peace of God.

Romans 2 tells us that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. We are not led to repentance out of punishment or condemnation.

But that doesn’t make it easy. Repentance causes us to forge an unfamiliar course.  It can feel uncomfortable.  It challenges us.  The change of repentance is not easy. 

We do not have make these changes on our own, in our power. In John chapter 14 verses 26 and 27 Jesus tells us that the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

We have help, we have a teacher, to help us turn from our fear and troubled hearts, but it’s a learning process.  We will need to be reminded.  The Holy Spirit will teach us, will remind us.  As we develop new habits, new patterns, we will need that help, those reminders.  That is not failure, it is a part of the process.

Is it worth it?  If we know going in that making changes, heading in a new direction will be hard and uncomfortable, why we would do it?

Why bother?

We do it because we recognize and acknowledge that our current paths are not getting us where we want to be.  They are leading in the wrong direction, possibly in circles, exhausting us without offering real progress, causing damage to our relationships, creating conflict internally and externally.  So even though these thought and behavior patterns seem natural and comfortable, and we follow them instinctively, we know at our core that they can never get us where we want to be, they will never lead us to Spiritual or emotional healing.

And we are all wounded.  We have all been hurt.  Our stories are different, but we are all in need of healing. 

In fact, many of the paths we want to turn from were created as we consciously or unconsciously fled or tried protect ourselves after we were hurt, or when were in search of healing and safety, but they took us in the wrong direction.  Whatever the motive or circumstances that led us there, we don’t have to stay, we are not committed to those paths.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit we have the power, the strength to make the change, to repent and change direction.

The challenge then, is to find strategies to resist returning to the old patterns and paths, to find the tools we need to forge the new path.

We find these strategies in Philippians 4, although because many of us have heard this passage many, many times, we can miss the practical tools it offers.

Several years ago when I was in my training to become a Certified Anger Management Specialist, I found myself in awe that the emotional strategies of our training, although dressed up in psychological terms and labels have at their root these same recommendation of Paul to the church in Philippi.

Does it make you feel any better to know that you are not alone in this process?  It does me.  I am comforted when we are honest together as a community, as followers of Christ, about our need for repentance, our need to change our old patterns.  I am also encouraged by the goal set forward in it, the reward: to experience the peace of God, and the nearness of the presence of the God of peace. Yes, I want less harshness and more gentleness, less anxiety and more thankfulness, I want those things, but I feel a great need to experience more peace, the peace of God, and a great need to experience the presence of the God of peace, and that for me is a reason to step out my comfort zone, away from the natural, instinctive patterns, and towards repentance and new a path that will lead me closer to God.

A biblical strategy to break the cycle

The Living Bible Paraphrased translates Philippians 4:8, fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely, dwell on the fine, good things in others.  Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about it.

Our thoughts trigger emotions, which form moods.  In our current culture we are bombarded with bad news.  Bad news sells, it spreads, and it can sink in.  We can easily develop thought patterns of negativity.  We get stuck in the problems, and the worst case scenarios, what is wrong and what might go wrong, in addition to dwelling on what has gone wrong in the past.  These negative thoughts breed fear, worry, anxiety, depression, anger, frustration and a sense of being overwhelmed. The negative spins around, catching us up in its loop.

If we view verse 8 as a strategy to break this cycle, we can see the sign posts for the new path in front of us.  We are encouraged to think on the things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.  The Message translation says that we will do our best by filling our minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

I’m not suggesting we stick our heads in the sand over the evil in the world, that we become Polly Anna’s pretending that everything is rosy when it is not.  It is intentionally deciding to spend time thinking about the good, the praiseworthy things.  Especially when you notice that anxiety, anger, depression, and other distressing emotions have settled in. 

So how do we do this?  With intentionality.  We seek out the positive things, we go looking for them.  We capture them, write them down and keep them close to us when we find them, so we can return to them, intentionally and meditate on them.  It may be a photo of nature that reminds you of God’s creativity and beauty, it may be a story of someone doing something heroic, that reminds you of the admirable, or remembering and writing so you can re-visit the kindness that someone showed you.  As you sense the negative input dragging you down the wrong thought and emotional path, your reminders of what is lovely, true, noble, praiseworthy are there and ready for you turn your focus to.  And as we are thinking of these better things, these things to praise, we take the time to thank God for them, remembering that all truly good things come from Him, and this brings us into His peace.  It reminds us that He is good.

Do you find there is a time of day where your thoughts go heavy or dark?  Where your memories return to hurts or disappointments, failures or rejections?  In some quiet space where the memory pattern of your mind naturally returns, triggering sadness, discouragement, fear, or disappointment?  As our notes from the message last week suggested, being aware of these experiences is important if we are to break the patterns.  Again, intentionally being prepared is a key strategy to forming a new habit. 

I have a couple of practices I suggest.  Take a notebook, a journal, a pad of paper, and across the top of multiple blank pages write the title of a list.  Maybe the list is things or people I am thankful for, or the Names of God, or the qualities of God.  Maybe the list is beautiful and amazing things in God’s creation.  Don’t fill out the list, just title it.  Maybe on each page is a different list, maybe the same list for multiple pages.  Then place that journal or notebook or pad, in close proximity to where you frequently are when those repetitive heavy dark thoughts come.  Do you wake up with them many mornings?  Place it by your bed or cereal box or coffee pot, and take 5 minutes to fill out the list when you notice those thoughts.

Are there places you go frequently that trigger these negative thoughts and emotions?  Does a doctor’s office waiting room send you to the purgatory of ‘What If’ or anxiety? Carry your blank list in your car, in a bag, in your wallet, start it as a note on your tablet or phone.  Have it clearly titled and ready, because as the thoughts begin their familiar cycle in your brain, an empty page is usually not enough to interrupt the pattern, and you are more likely to stare at it blankly or to make a chore or shopping list on it.

Being aware means taking the time to check in and pay attention.  What are we experiencing physically, mentally, emotionally? When I listen to this music do I notice myself feeling sad?  When I watch that news do I clench my jaw or tense my shoulders?  When I engage in that activity do I feel drained and empty afterwards?  We can do this as we look for patterns, times and experiences that trigger certain reactions and send us down certain paths, and we apply this awareness to the present, here and now, learning to recognize when we are not where we want to be, and when we want to stop and turn in a different direction.

We can build new and positive experiences, learning to savor them, letting them sink in, marinating them, so that they crowd out the memory space in our limbic system.  They are not erasing previous negative experiences, but they are claiming more of the space.  To do this we often have to interrupt the tyranny of busyness. Let the little things, the positives that you enjoy, add up internally. We help capture these memories by increasing our sensory experiences of them. Breathe in the ocean air, or the mountain air and pause to let it sink in.  Close your eyes to listen to the music, and let it sink in.  Smell the roses, the lilacs, the pine trees.  Stop and feel the sun, the rain drops or the wind on your face.  Catalog in your mind the chill of the evening as you stargaze. Take a photo of the sunset or rainbow, draw or paint the bird.  Watch the squirrel run around, notice how the puppy plays with abandon.  If in the moment we stop and experience as many of the senses as possible during positive experiences, smell, touch, sight, sound we help them seep deep and our brain can memorize those experiences and the positive feelings they trigger.  The moment of calm, the laughter of joy, the wonder of beauty.  These are building new paths, paths towards internal healing.

Try writing about your positive experiences shortly after you have them.  Writing a couple of paragraphs about the beauty or joy or wonder of the sunset or sunrise, the waterfall, playing with the child, or singing in the car. If you don’t like to write in paragraphs, make a quick list. The senses you experienced, your thoughts, your emotions – all of the positive ones you can remember.  If you took a photo or made a drawing, give it a caption, a description that identifies the positives.  It is a conscious re-living of the positive and it helps to consolidate those memories, storing them more securely. If you tell someone else about them, you are reinforcing the memory again.

Build positive connections with Scriptures as well.  Ask the Holy Spirit if there is a message from Scripture for you in the experience. As you reflect on your positive experience does it remind you of a Scripture?  This is just for you, it doesn’t have to make sense to others.  As you remember the amazing piece of pie does it make you think of “taste and see that the Lord is good”, as you admired the full moon did it remind you of the verse “praise Him sun and moon, praise Him all you shining stars.” (Psalm 148:4).  If a verse or passage comes to mind write it down.  Sometimes nothing pops up right away, but later we are reading and the positive memory returns, and we see a connection to the verse, write that down, record it next a note about your experience.  If you printed out a picture, write the verse on the back of the photo, place it somewhere you will see it and be reminded of it.

It took a while for most of our old patterns to be formed.  It can take a while for these new ones to be formed.  It isn’t a magic wand.  We make a plan, intentionally practice the plan, then rinse and repeat.  Repetition is how the new paths become natural, normal, and even comfortable.  We keep returning to listen to the Holy Spirit, it’s not a one-time lesson, and we are not failing because we need reminders.

Focusing awareness on our thoughts

One of the most un-natural and yet important things we can do in the changing, the repentance, process is to challenge our thoughts.  Our thoughts can lie to us.  Just because we think something that does not mean that it is true.  Our thoughts may have been formed from false input, what others told us and we accepted, or by faulty conclusions, how we processed and made sense of information.  We can question our thoughts, challenge them, seek out the truth, and choose to replace the lies we previously believed.

This is especially true with our thoughts about God and how He feels about us, and our thoughts about ourselves, our worth, our value, and our abilities.  How easy it is to believe thoughts like “this is just how I am”, “God is angry with me or disappointed with me”, “it’s too late for me to change”, “God could never use me”, “I am not enough or I am too much”.

 We can challenge these thoughts head on, by identifying them, recognizing them and countering them.  We evaluate what emotions these thoughts lead us to, how they make us feel. If the result of the thought is discouragement, depression, anxiety, wanting to give in and give up, then we can assume that the thought is not of the Lord, and that it is not true.  If you are battling these thoughts, you don’t need to condemn yourself because you have believed them, or beat yourself up because you accepted them without questioning them previously, but you can counter them now. 
• We can search the Scriptures to see how much God loves us, the worth He placed on saving us, and the hope that He offers us that we can indeed leave the old behind and grow into maturity. 
• We can meditate on these Scriptures, asking the Holy Spirit to show us how we are loved, how our strength and courage comes from the Lord, is given by Him for us to access. 
• And,when the thoughts return,we can call them lies, counter them with the truth of Scripture, and refuse to dwell on them or believe them.
• We can also watch out for where some of the thoughts might be originating.  Sometimes the negative voices around us are so critical, so loud, so repetitive that we adopt their messages in our own thoughts, but really they are external messages, that we have internalized.  Once we recognize that the message is external, and is not true, about us, about God and how He feels about us, we can counter it even more effectively, and in some cases limit its access to us.
• We can replace those messages with trusted, positive voices of truth.  Whether that is spending more time with encouraging and uplifting people in our lives, or listening to or reading messages based in the truth of the Word given to bless and encourage us, building us up in our faith rather than tearing us down, we can seek out sources that help us counter the lies with truth.

Is worry the well-worn path you want to turn from?  Does anxiety crowd out joy and peace for you?  How easy and natural it is to let fear and worry settle in.  We know what has gone wrong in the past.  We can imagine what can go wrong in the future.  It can be intense, gripping our minds and our emotions. And we are not alone.  There are things that trouble our minds and our hearts, there are real and potential dangers ahead.  We are not asked to pretend, or live in a false sense of reality. The instruction to the Philippians applies to us here as well.  When those worries and concerns arrive in our thoughts, instead of marinating in them, we take them to the Lord.  The Message says: “Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.”  The Living New Testament translation says: Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything: tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.  His peace will keep your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus.

The strategy here is to acknowledge when the worry or concern comes up in our thoughts, and to use that as a reminder to pray, to take the issue to God.  This isn’t telling us to feel guilty when worry comes, but rather not to soak in it, but to take that worry to God in prayer.  We not only pray for the issue of concern but we pray and ask God to give us His peace in the midst of the situation.  This is easier said than done.  It also doesn’t come naturally. It also requires intentionality.  Spending time meditating, and marinating mentally, on God’s faithfulness, God’s goodness, can help. 

Relational conflicts

The conflicts in our lives are not limited to internal experiences.  Our relationships, even the most important and dear to us, are at risk of conflict.  When individuals are in distress, it very easily leads to relationships in distress.

In Romans 12:18, we are encouraged to live in peace with others, as much as it is our power to do so.  Sometimes we don’t have the control, sometimes it is not in our power to resolve a conflict peacefully, but there are some practical things we can do, to help increase the odds, and to give us the confidence that we have done what we can.

Often one of the most valuable practices we can engage in is to prioritize the relationship over the issue.  Sometimes the issue is life and death, putting other key relationships in peril, or in some other way is so important that it rises above the relationship, but frequently, if we really consider the issue involved in a conflict, we realize that we would rather keep the relationship than win the issue.  Since we cannot always have the win and the relationship, we may need to prioritize, to make a conscious choice.  I love win-win situations, where I can find a resolution where everyone wins.  But sometimes the real win is in the forfeit, in letting something go to hold on to the more valuable.  We can get in a winning – need to be right – want it our way mindset. 

Sometimes when mediating a family dispute I will ask the parties separately, if they win the issue, but lose the relationship, will they be satisfied with that result.  It’s an important thing to consider, as it brings perspective.  It is easy to let little things get big fast.

When we separate the issue from the individual, and decide that a relationship is more than important than the issue we can return to the practices from Philippians 4 again, taking the time to list the things that are good about the person, that we appreciate and value, intentionally reminding ourselves of their value in our lives.  We break the mental cycle of thinking about the problem, and turn towards the person.  And as we do, we ask the Lord for His peace and we that He will guard our hearts and minds from returning to the old pattern.

And then there is unity without uniformity.  We can be in relationship, even close relationship, without agreement.  Even on important issues.  We do not have to let significant differences and disagreements lead to conflict.  We can give each other permission to come to different conclusions without the continual need for us to try to change their mind or convince them of our side.  We can choose to respect differences without succumbing to the temptation to demean them.  We can learn from each other through respectful dialogue or make a conscious decision not to bring up topics and issues that will tempt us to elevate hot-button or sensitive subjects.  This isn’t easy to do, it’s a discipline, because most of us are passionate about our positions and we want to convert or persuade our loved ones to our side of an issue.  And there may be a time and place for that, but we have to provide the space and grace, the honor and respect, for individuals to come to different conclusions.  This may be a particularly useful strategy during the upcoming election cycle, but it is not limited to political issues.

When we are willing to recognize that all kinds of issues are frequently complex and nuanced, and that we each bring our background and our experiences with us as we form our positions, we can grow to respect that other individuals may not agree with us, and that doesn’t make them all wrong and us all right, it doesn’t mean they are ignorant, or stupid or stand as evidence of our superior intellect or good judgement. When we release the requirement for uniformity within our relationships we find a new strength, a richness in the diversity, and often the tensions that lead to conflict are lessened.

In choosing to take the time to think on things that are of good report, fixing our thoughts on what is true and good, on the good in others, we are making a choice not to dwell on the negative things, on the things we disapprove of in the lives of our loved ones.  It’s not that we are not aware or are in denial, but we are not allowing those things to dominate our thoughts about the people we care about. In fact we can release our right to approval, and disapproval to help restore our relationships. 

We form our approval, and our disapproval around what makes us comfortable, what matches our taste, what we are accustomed to or would like to become accustomed to.  And then we impose that on other people.  We want them to dress in a certain way, behave in a certain way, fit into our expectations in a certain way, so that we are not uncomfortable. It becomes a way to control others to relieve our own distress. We are not forced to change how we interact with world around us, to question our views or expectations, if other people behave in a way that meets our approval.  When people challenge the norms, or what we wish were the norms, psychologically we can feel like it is challenging how we fit in the world around us, challenging our very interpretation of life.  Imposing our disapproval on the behaviors of others, is our way of expressing our discomfort at the pace of change and growth around us.  Sometimes we disapprove because people seem stuck in the old ways and are not embracing societal changes, sometimes we disapprove because we are the ones not ready to change. 

Sometimes we attach a moral value to a taste or cultural difference.  We disapprove and say that it is wrong, when in reality it is unfamiliar or different.  In the church we can attach sin to these issues as well.  I went to a Baptist college where women were required to wear skirts or dresses below their knees to church, chapel and class.  It was a sin to wear pants, a sign of rebellion.  The disapproval that leadership felt over societal changes in women’s clothing over the previous decades, was imposed on all students in attendance.  I worked with another ministry organization that was constantly updating the views of what style of dress was appropriate for God fearing Christian women in leadership.  The disapproval of a few was used to control the actions of others.  Imposing our views of approval on others is demeaning, it is patronizing, it says loudly and clearly that we don’t trust their judgement or ability to form their ideas on what is appropriate.  It says we don’t trust them to listen to the Holy Spirit or to read the Word and learn healthy and appropriate boundaries for behavior. And frequently it backfires, causing people to truly rebel and chose even more extreme expressions of independence from our influence.

To build healthy respectful relationships, we can let go of the power of our approval over others.  We can intentionally choose to follow the instruction of Philippians 4, dwelling on the fine, good things in others, turning our thoughts away from those behaviors we don’t like, spending time looking for and acknowledging the good. It is not us compromising our own values, morals or beliefs to acknowledge that we are not responsible or accountable for the choices and decisions of others. We can trust other people to make choices in their lives without thrusting our own discomfort or distress on them.  I’m not suggesting that we throw out all laws and rules or even dress codes or social behavioral norms, but I am offering as a strategy in personal relationships, especially those damaged by conflict, to try to let go of the expectation that our approval or disapproval of their behavior, and their willingness to conform to it, is a litmus test for our love and support.  When people we love make choices and decisions that we not only disapprove of, but that we see are hurting them, we can pray for them, trusting the Holy Spirit to do a work, acknowledging the strength of our disapproval is not match for God’s love for our loved ones.  Deciding not to hoist our approval or disapproval on others probably won’t change their behavior and may not change our comfort level regarding it, but it is an acknowledge that their decisions and actions are probably not about us at all, and can help us have compassion for them, and if they are behaviors meant to make us uncomfortable, to stick it to us or punish us in some way, then our disapproval wasn’t really helping the situation at all.

None of these strategies are very easy to practice, they all require change, and when we are in distress, when we are discouraged, overwhelmed or in conflict it can feel like the hardest time to make a change.  We are already feeling drained and weak and finding the momentum to change from pathways and patterns that we are used to and that come instinctively can feel impossible.  I think that’s the beauty of the community of faith.  Together, here, we practice Meditation, we practice inviting the Lord in, quietly listening, waiting on Him.  What at first feels awkward and uncomfortable slowly becomes comfortable, even natural.  And in our practices we can encourage each other, support each other.  We are not in this alone.

It’s okay to ask for help.  If in the process of re-writing our brain’s manual we discover trauma we need help with, it’s okay to seek that help, to get that help.  If we need help in restoring our relationships, we can get that help, and that’s not a failure.  Whether it’s a counselor, therapist, mediator, prayer partner, or other source of help, it’s okay.  This isn’t a pick up yourself up by your boot straps and figure it out process.  This is a community, growing in love, teaching one another about the peace of God and together growing in our relationship with the God of peace. This is us sharing the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ with each other.

May the Lord Bless You and Keep You, May the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of you.
May He be gracious to you, Show you His favor and give you His peace.

Sep 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.


Summary of Rewriting the Brain’s Owner’s Manual

How the brain’s Owner’s Manual is written through a lifetime:
“Neurons that fire together, wire together”
Habits are a person’s history imprinted on the brain and nervous system

The three main sections of the Owner’s Manual
The brain’s outer layer or cortex
sensory (bodily sensations) and motor (bodily movements)
the rational brain (in the frontal lobe, above the eyes–“prefrontal cortex”)
reason, analysis, planning, discretion
The brain’s internal areas
short term and long term memory storage
the emotional brain (limbic system)
romance, fear, anger, disgust, joy, etcetera
The brain stem (area that connects the brain to the spinal chord)
communication center for brain and body
the involuntary brain – regulates many of the body’s systems
toggles between a resting state and a fight or flight state
In emergencies, the brain stem activates the body and parts of the brain
– this happens a split second before a message reaches the rational brain
– some events are imprinted on the limbic system and the body’s nervous system without being recorded in explicit (working) memory
Many automatic, negative, and habitual thoughts are unconscious
– we are unaware of how they were written in our Owner’s Manual
– we need to know what’s written there if we’re going to rewrite it

We are caught up in our thoughts and feelings as if they were reality
“I am not my thoughts. I am not my feelings”
We are not aware of our unconscious automatic thoughts and feelings
we merely think our thoughts and feel our emotions without choosing them
We are addicted (by our brain chemistry) to certain thoughts and feelings
we have developed a dependency on them to help us cope
we continue to have them because they feel “natural”

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change–even to old age
Epigenetics tells us that genes do not determine all aspects of personality
– some genes are not predetermination, but a predisposition
– those genes can be turned on and off
We can rewrite our brains’ Owner and Operations Manual

Ways to Rewrite the Brain

The key to changing how the brain processes information–that is, our core beliefs, perspective, responses and reactions, attitude, moods, and so on–is focused attention. Through focused attention we cultivate the awareness necessary to observe what our brain is doing (and telling us) and then to reshape its neural connections.

– bringing the “whole self” to God in silence, calming our soul (Ps. 131:2)
(the body as well as the mind, heart, and soul)
– trusting God has real value in reducing stress and anxiety
– affirming the new self we will be tomorrow by thanking God today

Being – aware of our “here and now” experience
◦ enter your body, “What am I feeling right now?”
◦ enter your mind, “What am I thinking right now?”
◦ enter your emotions, “What is my mood right now?”

Experiencing (all our senses)
Seeing – Hearing – Touching – Tasting – Smelling
– feeling the inside of the body as well as the outside
– discover bad habit “triggers” and catch them in the act

Savoring – positive experiences
– when something pleasant happens, hold on to it
– allow it to sink in so the brain can memorize the feeling of it

Doing – reinforce new neural circuits by acting on your new thoughts
– the brain needs new challenges to continue developing
– be at peace with being a beginner; clumsy at first

Integrating – create a total experience
– combine thought, emotion, physical sensations, and movement

Longing – be passionate about the changes you want to make
– be specific about your practice: Where? When? How?

Repeating – repetition is how we formed our current neural circuits
– practice focused attention
• the more we use those new synapses, stronger the connection
• this is what strengthens our new mental and emotional habits

Notes and handouts for each message in this series can be found on our blog site:

Sep 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 15, 2019


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

Intro: Why are these two passages not a contradiction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The practice of contemplative prayer trains us to focus attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 8, 2019


If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God Romans 8:11-16, 26-27

Intro: Yesterday morning when I woke up, I felt stressed

I think now, that it was worry over preparing today’s talk
(imagine preparing and delivering an oral report every week)
– it began with a mild funk, but gradually intensified
• do you know how it is when you have a big job before you
◦ and you’re anxious to get to it immediately?
◦ having to do all the little daily chores first seems so annoying
◦ and I still had my regular morning reading and prayer time
• one reading was from Hebrews 12, and I thought to myself,
“Yes, yes, I’ve read this a hundred times!”
◦ coming to the words we’re not to grow weary and fainthearted, I cringed
◦ I felt both!
◦ and the key theme of the chapter 12 is endurance
It is for discipline that you have to endure (Heb. 12:7)
– the passage goes on to say God disciplines those he love–like a father
• and in the moment, all discipline seems painful
◦ then it hit me, “That’s what this moment is about!”
◦ my nervous system was in a reactive state and needed to be calmed
◦ this was an opportunity to practice my discipline in prayer
• God does not create our misery or stressful situations
◦ the world does — as Jesus said:
. . . do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own troubles (Mt. 6:34)
In the world you will have tribulation (Jn. 16:33)
◦ what God does, is make this an opportunity to practice discipline
– it’s like the first time I took a bad spill when learning to ride bike
• my dad did not cause me to fall off my bike
◦ but he was there to comfort, me and encourage me to get back on
• God did not want me to be miserable yesterday morning,
◦ but neither did he want my misery to be wasted

Today’s talk will cover unique forms of prayer

Practicing these disciplines, will improve our progress
– remember, we are rewriting the owner’s manual of our brains
• like Paul said in the Romans passage above,
we are putting to death the deeds of the body
• we are breaking the connections between brain cells of old habits
– these prayers are unique, because in them we don’t do all the talking
• I think most of us have learned to pray with our rational minds
◦ in prayer, we express our thoughts and feelings to God
◦ so our prayer tends to be a monologue rather than a conversation
• prayer from our spirit, and in the Spirit is wordless
If I pray in [an unknown language] my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind (1 Cor. 14:14-16)
◦ Paul is saying, public prayer has to be with the rational mind
◦ but our private prayers can come from another place within us

A few weeks ago I tried to frustrate you by reading from Romans 7 in the King James Version of the Bible
– there Paul described the “human condition” as it played out in his life
• he knew right from wrong, and wanted to do right,
◦ but something within him drove him to do wrong
• the answer to that inner conflict is in chapter 8
◦ God’s dynamic, powerful Spirit lives in us
◦ he assists us with everything God wants to do in our lives
– this includes prayer
• and when we do not know what to pray, the Spirit prays in us
• prayers too deep for words

So what are these unique forms of prayer?

First, we learn to seek God
– this is all through the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures
• sometimes we’re told to seek God–and something else
Seek the LORD and his strength (Ps. 105:4)
◦ but mostly we are to seek God for himself
Seek his presence [face] continually (Ps. 105:4)
• this speaks to our primal need for God
◦ the creature in need of its Creator
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
(Ps. 42:1-2)

When Paul argued his faith with philosophically-minded Athenians, he explained that God organized the divisions of humankind according to their place geographically and in time. He did this so that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:26-28). He was speaking to their primal need for God that drove them to seek him beyond all of their other deities, even though he was “unknown” to them.

– we never outgrow this essential need for God
• searching for God, we do not settle for ideas about God
◦ we don’t spend our time contemplating a God-concept
◦ we may notice our ideas about God, but we move past them
• it’s important to remember what Paul said about God being
not far from each one of us
◦ we do not conjure God, we do not make him present
◦ we open ourselves to the present moment and find him here

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD (Jer. 29:12-13)
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (Mt. 7:7-8)

Next, we learn to wait for God
– this too is found throughout Hebrew Scriptures, especially the Psalms
• but the classic verse that most of us know is in Isaiah:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint
(Isa. 40:28-31)

• everyone loves the idea expressed here – and wants it that renewal
◦ but few are willing to actually do what it requires – wait for God
– waiting is not passive, just sitting around doing nothing, killing time
• it is looking forward to the arrival of something important
◦ anticipation, alertness, attentiveness, and a readiness to respond
• we pause – we center ourselves in God – we rest – we trust

Next, we learn to watch in prayer
O my Strength, I will watch for you,
for you, O God, are my fortress
(Ps. 59:9)
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mk. 16:38)
– typically, we are watching for whatever threatens us
Martin Laird says, “This . . . is an ancient contemplative practice called vigilance or watchfulness.”
• we’re not watching in fear or anxiety
◦ it is a quiet and calm observation of the present moment
◦ we observe whatever thought or feelings occur
• this was the job of the gatekeepers in the temple
◦ they monitored what was brought into the sanctuary
This is God’s Message. Be careful, if you care about your lives, not to desecrate the Sabbath by turning it into just another workday, lugging stuff here and there (Jer. 17:21, the Message)
◦ we monitor whatever enters the time we spend in God’s presence
– eventually we discern that thoughts and feelings are not reality
• they only appear real when we are lost in them
◦ you are not what you think or feel about yourself
• we also learn to discern the difference between thoughts
(and the stories we add to our thoughts and feelings, which cause us chaos and distress)
◦ rather than being victims of our thoughts, we become witnesses of them (Martin Laird)

Another unique prayer we learn is to be still
Be still, and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10)
I do not occupy myself with things
to great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed [or stilled] and quieted my soul . . .
(Ps. 131:2)

The last unique prayer I’ll mention is that we learn to be silent
– notice the following verses combine waiting, seeking and silence:
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD. . . .
Let him sit alone in silence
when [the yoke] is laid on him;
let him put his mouth in the dust–
there may yet be hope
(Lam. 3:25-29)
• “mouth in dust” is not about people degrading themselves
• it simply means, stop talking!
◦ silence all those inner voices that distract us from God

Conclusion: Our rational minds can form words and concepts of God

But we cannot with our rational minds embrace God himself
– we embrace him with the soul
• it is our with our spirit that we seek God
◦ that we wait, watch, and sit in silent stillness
• when we find, receive and the door is opened
◦ the encounter with God is Spirit to spirit

These strange forms of prayers
become the arms with which we reach out to God,
and when we enter the stillness of the present moment–
waiting, watching, listening–
God draws near,
embraces us in his love,
and breathes new life into our spirit

Sep 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 25, 2019


Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. . . . 1 John 4:7-21

Intro: Wednesday morning, I drove three of my grandchildren to school

Before leaving their home, Calum complaining he had a stomach ache
– he suggested to me that he didn’t think he should go to school
• I assured him, he’d be fine once he got with his friends
◦ then he told me he also had a sore throat
• I felt that there was some a little sadness behind his complaint
◦ I know that school creates stress for him
◦ the thought of saying good-by to grandpa bothered him
– I said, “Just go until recess. If you still feel sick, then go to the office”
• later, my son Scotty told me, “Maybe next time don’t give him that option”
• it’s true – I caved-in to his manipulation
(But it’s possible Grandpa wanted to be with Calum as much as Calum wanted to be with Grandpa)

Our relationships are not only important, but crucial
– Johann Hari cites research into studies on loneliness
• it turns out, feeling lonely causes cortisol to spike as much as trauma
(cortisol is a hormone released in the blood stream in response to stress)
◦ loneliness creates as much stress to the body as being physically attacked
◦ being isolated from others creates a serious health risk
• loneliness increases:
◦ the damage of the major health risks and illnesses–e.g., heart disease
◦ the risk and severity of depressive and anxiety disorders
◦ the likelihood that a person will shut down socially
◦ becoming suspicious, fearful of strangers, and hyper-vigilant
◦ of being “more likely to take offense where none was intended”
– we need healthy relationships with other people to be whole persons

Our summer project has been to understand and practice repentance
– but to change the direction of our lives requires changing our brains
• the brain’s owner’s manual has been written over our lifetime
• something that is alarming if your think about it:
◦ almost anyone can write a chapter in my brain’s manual
◦ even complete strangers
(an AA quote: “The people who know how to push your buttons are frequently the ones who installed them”)
– we humans have this power

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits
(Pr. 18:21)
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body (Pr. 16:24)

• we can use this power to heal ourselves and others

John is sometimes referred to as the Apostle of Love

It is certainly a central theme in his writings
– we can tell by the way he talks about loving others,
• that he knows the concept is simple and it is true, but it is not easy
– love isn’t one specific feeling, attitude, or way of treating others
• love takes many different forms
◦ it can be a voluntary weakness or an unyielding strength
• and there are many ways love can unravel
◦ whatever philosophers, scientists, or poets may say about love,
◦ there is no life in Christ apart from love — for God is love

John specifies that we’re to love one another and our brother

Today I want to talk specifically about family, friends and neighbors
– from our closest bonds, as in marriage,
• to congenial interactions with others on campus or at the workplace
– the brain’s owners manual on this subject is fascinating

A friend in high school who vowed he would never have children,
– defined babies as organisms that functioned,
“They sleep, they cry, they eat, they poop”
• that was a prevailing view until about fifty years ago
• a baby’s nervous system was considered to be all reflex
◦ when stimulated, it could be activated or calmed
◦ but the infant was not aware of being a self performing an action
– in the seventies, researchers began filming infants and mothers
• they discovered, in the words of Colwyn Trevarthen, that “infants are actually born with playful intentions and sensitivity to the rhythms and expressive modulations of a mother’s talk and her visible expressions and touches.”
◦ even in their first year, “infants evoked ‘intuitive parenting’”
◦ babies are born with skills that later enable them to learn language
Catherine Mary Bateson noted that infants had other abilities, including rituals for healing ruptures in their relationship with their mothers
• these were confirmed by neuroscience in 1990s with new imaging technology that enabled researchers to observe activity in a living brain
Trevarthen, “Actions, even a newborn’s, are intelligent and conscious.”

A friend of mine has been effective in treating children on the autism spectrum
– typical symptoms include trouble communicating and social interaction
• my friend doesn’t offer a “cure,” but enables these children to progress
• her work is focused on toning the vagus nerve
– the human brain has twelve cranial nerves – the vagus is number 10
• its roots are in brainstem
◦ from there it receives and sends signals down into body and up into various structures in the brain
• its functions are both sensory (feeling) and motor (movement)
◦ it informs the brain of what is going on in the major organs
◦ it also affects the activity of heart and lungs

The vagus is the primary nerve in turning on and off the emergency system
(the technical term is the Autonomic Nervous System, which when activated triggers the sympathetic system and when calmed triggers the parasympathetic system)
– the sympathetic mode is frequently referred to as “fight or flight”
• the parasympathetic mode is a calm, restful state
• the vagus is constantly active in regulating various body functions
– it connects with muscles involved in facial expression
• it is responsible for activating the smooth muscles of the digestive tract
• the vagus also connects with the vocal chords,
◦ where it affects the modulation and intonation of speech
• the vagus nerve connects with the middle ear
◦ it is responsive to various sounds: potential danger or soothing speech
◦ the vagus nerve adjusts the middle ear to pick up specific frequencies

Imagine the role all these systems (face, voice, heart, lungs, stomach, etc.) play in relationships
– for instance, Stephen Porges refers to its role in the brain’s “Social Engagement System”
• facial expressions that communicate empathy and concern
• tilt head, nod – a comforting tone of voice
◦ this calms the heart and slows breathing of another person
◦ and all of this is unconscious
– the vagus nerve switches on the body’s alarm when in danger

Porges, “If our nervous system detects safety, then it’s no longer defensive. When its no longer defensive, then the circuits of the … nervous system support health, growth, and restoration. …the most important thing to our nervous system is that we are safe. When we’re safe, magical things occur. They occur on multiple levels, not merely in terms of social relations, but also in accessibility of certain areas of the brain, certain areas of feeling pleasure—being expansive, being creative, and being very positive as well.”

One other word on the brain

Scattered through various regions of the brain are mirror neurons
– these are what cause our bodies to jump when watching a scary movie
• I used to watch skateboard videos with my son Scotty – bad falls
◦ we saw some very painful spills
• the skater’s pain registered in various areas of his or her brain
◦ just watching the spill, caused activation in the same areas of our
◦ this is where we get our capacity for empathy
– Daniel Siegel refers to the ability to to feel what another feels “attuned communication”
• when we not only understand what another is saying,
◦ but feel what another is feeling
• we all need to be heard, but we also need to be felt

I have been in conversation with someone whose opinion differed from my own
– after arguing our positions for awhile,
• the other person says something, and for a moment I stop
◦ I was suddenly hearing this person differently
◦ then the conversation was no longer about defending my position
• I had not given up my ideas or changed my mind
◦ but I was now listening to the whole conversation
◦ not merely the specific words or phrases
– what happened was that in that moment, I have felt what she felt
• there was no longer any point in arguing
• my role in the conversation shifted
Siegel, “When we attune with others we allow our own internal state to shift, to come to resonate with the inner world of another.”
◦ what the Apostle Paul tells us is,
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another (Ro. 12:15-1)
◦ that harmony or resonance is a skill that is strengthened with practice

Conclusion: Can you see how our practice of prayer will help us in relationships?

We learn to regulate our own emotions
– then with our nervous system calmed,
• we naturally help to regulate the emotions of others
• or we are prepared for this to work the other way
◦ we allow others to help us regulate our emotions

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his own spirit than he who takes a city
(Pr. 16:32)

God designed our brains for relationships
In telling us to be righteous,
God intended us to do what was right in every relationship
(what is good, just, honest, appropriate, and loving)
If, like me, you believe you need growth in this area,
then together let’s do what will help us most
We can start by developing a calmer soul in silent prayer
And next we can take friendship seriously,
by being friendly and being a better friend
Most of all, I must be a safe person
Judgmental people are not safe!

Let your speech always gracious (Col. 4:6)