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Jul 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 14, 2019


Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth—
let Israel now say—
Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth,
yet they have not prevailed against me.
Psalm 129

Intro: This short psalm tells a story

It is about a person who was abused as a child
– yet the child became an adult without being defined by abuse
• at least, that’s how the first line reads
◦ but the second line corrects our understanding,
let Israel now say—
◦ the poem is not about a person, but a people
• by creating the perception of one person’s story,
◦ the poet captures Israel’s collective identity
– reading it as the poem of an individual personalizes the psalm for us
• but it also reminds us that we belong to a community
• and we have a shared identity with that community

Reading this Psalm last week, here is what I saw

The scars of Israel’s affliction were like furrows on its back
– like a person whose back is scarred from the lashings of a whip

The plowers plowed upon my back;
they made long their furrows Psalm 129:3

• the graphic word picture takes us back to Israel’s “youth” in Egypt
[The Egyptians] set taskmasters over [Israel] to afflict them with heavy burdens. . . . they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service (Ex. 1:13-14)
• child abuse also leaves scars
◦ sometimes on their bodies
◦ almost always on their brains and nervous systems
– Bessel van der Kolk argues that such scars be recognized as PTSD
(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
• his suggested diagnostic label is “developmental trauma”
• he has also explained this can result from abuse or neglect
– Israel had been traumatized in its youth, but not defined by its trauma
• that is because God intervened
The LORD is righteous;
he has cut the cords of the wicked
Psalm 129:4

My Mom and Dad were not terrible parents, but they were not perfect
– they were my folks, and I love them
• but I am not the person I would have become on their rearing alone
◦ as with Israel, God not intervened
• given the total environment of my youth, I imagine my adult self as:
An obsessive-compulsive germaphobe, torn between grandiose delusions and perceptions of abject failure; self-infatuated yet self loathing; isolated from others and socially incapacitated; perhaps in and out of mental institutions, and most likely dead by my own hand before my fortieth birthday.
– but God cut those cords, which I understand to mean,
• God removed me from the control and influence of my family
• I had to detach myself from my family for several years
◦ because I hated the person I became whenever I was around them

I read the remainder of the psalm as “a prayer of detachment”

May all who hate Zion
be put to shame and turned backward!
Let them be like the grass on the housetops,
which withers before it grows up,
with which the reaper does not fill his hand
nor the binder of sheaves his arms,
nor do those who pass by say,
“The blessing of the LORD be upon you!
We bless you in the name of the LORD!”
Psalm 129:5-8

In the Hebrew Scriptures, “hate” is as much what a person does,
– as it is how a person acts toward someone else
• love and hate are seen in the way a person treats others
• so the prayer is that those who have hurt Zion would be shamed
◦ that the effect of their deeds would be turned backward
◦ as if erasing the affliction of the past
– the withered grass is an image of the vitality of trauma (or the abusers)
• the prayer is that it would be rendered powerless
◦ that the abuse would no have any effect on Israel
• that no one would pronounce a blessing on the abusers or their abuse
◦ is a request that no energy would be given to the abuse
◦ nor to the memory of it

Interestingly, Psalm 124 is the only other psalm that begins the same way
– using the same word formula
If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—
let Israel now say—“
If it had not been the LORD who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us
(Ps. 124:1-3)
• again, Israel did not suffer the fate others intended for them
◦ because once again God intervened on their behalf
◦ as a result, neither Israel’s identity nor destiny was controlled by others
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken and we have escaped
(Ps. 124:7)
– these stories of intervention illustrate a truth we can trust
• God makes real and positive changes in our lives

Two important facts about the brain have come to light

The first is referred to as neuroplasticity
– it was once believed that the adult human brain did not change
• that brain development occurred early in life
◦ from conception through late adolescence
• but that the adult brain was fixed and unable to repair itself
– we know now the brain continues to learn and develop into old age
• that it can heal itself to a remarkable degree
• that it can shut off old neural pathways,
◦ and create new pathways (synapses between neurons)
◦ it can even produce new neurons in specific structures

The other big discovery was epigenetics
– the old idea was that children are predestined by inherited genes
• we know that holds true for a number of physical features (eye color)
◦ but it is not true of everything
• for instance, a parent’s mood disorder may go back two generations
◦ a child may carry the same gene, but not manifest the disorder
◦ the gene may predispose the child as a potential outcome,
◦ but it is not absolute that the child will suffer the same mood
– the way that a gene expresses itself can be turned on or off
• whether it is turned on, depends on environmental factors
◦ such as family life and other influences like health and school
Daniel Siegel, “When neurons fire together, the genes in their nuclei—their command control centers—become activated and ‘express’ themselves. Gene expression means that certain proteins are produced. These proteins then enable the synaptic linkages to be constructed anew or to be strengthened.”
• we can intentionally influence the expression of certain genes
◦ we can produce changes in the brain’s “structural connections”
◦ this has been the lesson of the last four weeks
◦ that to “repent” is to rewrite the brain’s owner’s manual

Specific factors that improve progress in changing the brain

Prayer – like the psalm we read, God intervenes
– trusting God has real value in reducing stress and anxiety
In How God Changes the Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman state, “Our neurological findings have shown that different types of meditation and prayer affect different parts of the brain in different ways, and each one appears to have a beneficial effect on our neurological functioning and physical and emotional health.”
• when we trust God, we can envision a new future
• if we can trust so much that we feel the new future,
◦ it transforms our attitude now
◦ we can give thanks today for tomorrow’s blessing
(for instance, notice how Psalm 13 begins,
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
and ends,
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Being – to be aware of your “here and now” experience
– it is a waking up to life
• we can see that a blossom is beautiful, and know it is beautiful
◦ but we can also have a direct encounter with its beauty
◦ and, we can be aware that we are having that encounter
• enter your body:
◦ be aware of external stimuli and internal sensations
• enter your mind — ask, “What am I thinking right now?”
• enter your emotions — ask, “What is my mood right now?”
◦ if you cannot read your feelings, it may help to have a list:
happy, frustrated, relaxed, afraid, safe, uneasy . . .)
▫ labeling your mood helps to objectify it and not identify with it

Seeing – developing a trained eye
– catch your brain when it heads into a downward spiral on autopilot
• know your triggers and catch them in the act
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.”

Savoring – make the most of positive experiences
– when something pleasant happens,
• when you receive an insight, an answer to prayer, or unexpected gift
• hold it for a few seconds – give it time to sink in
◦ we want our brains to memorize the feeling
◦ be with it long enough to form or strengthen neural connection

Doing – reinforce neural circuits by acting on your new thought
Jesus did not hand out certificates of discipleship simply because his disciples heard him teach or learned from his example. On the night he taught them about loving and serving others, he told them,
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (Jn. 13:17)
– doing adds new neural connections and keeps the brain healthy
• if you’re good at crossword puzzles, find something else to do
◦ the brain needs new challenges to continue developing
• sit at a piano or keyboard, write a short story
◦ be at peace with being a beginner – being clumsy at first

Integrating – place your effort to change into a total experience
– let the thought in your mind find a corresponding emotion
• notice the sensations the thought and emotion create in the body
• then do something – act out the new thought and emotion
◦ the more your spread an experience throughout the brain,
◦ the more power you give to rewriting its owner’s manual
– at this point the whole process can collapse–IF
• you’re not passionate about the changes your attempting
• passion makes a huge difference in writing change into the brain

Repeating – repetition is how we formed the brain’s current circuits
– practice praying, being, seeing, savoring, doing, integrating
• the more we use those new synapses, stronger the connection
• we become more effective and proficient in our new minds and actions

Conclusion: I want to you to leave with this truth

God’s Spirit, who enables and empowers our new life in Jesus
– will be with you this week – and will energize and help you change

Our prayer:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right Spirit within me
(Ps. 51:10)
God’s answer:
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you . . . And I will put my Spirit within you . . . (Eze. 36:26-27)

Jul 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 7, 2019


The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatsoever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the LORD.”
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow,”
to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah 1:1-11

Intro: In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet’s call was an important event

Each of the three major prophets tell elaborate stories of their initiation
– typical features of a prophetic call include:
• a God-encounter
• instructions regarding their ministry and message
• a warning of what they are up against
• an attempt on the prophet’s part to dodge the call
◦ they argue their disqualification
• God rejects their disqualification and “qualifies” them
• they then receive their first vision, word, or revelation
– Jeremiah begins with the story of his call and apprenticeship

Jeremiah appeared at a critical time in Israel’s history
– he would live to see his nation come to an end
• God was going to make a clean slate of Jerusalem and Judah
• then, after seventy years, he was going to start over
– before reconstruction there would be demolition
• before planting there would be a thorough weeding

Our summer project has been to explore “repentance

So far we’ve seen, the changes God wants to see in our lives
– require us to change what goes on inside our brains
• neural circuits have been formed by habit to run automatically
◦ for instance, we don’t have to think about losing our temper
◦ in fact, usually we don’t think about it until afterward
• an owner’s manual has been written into our brains
◦ we have learned that it is important to learn how to read it,
◦ to identify what needs to be removed from it,
◦ and then begin rewriting it

The nature of Jeremiah’s ministry offers a familiar template
– old structures have to be pulled down
Break up your fallow ground, and do not plant among thorns (Jer. 4:3)
• fallow ground was the surface layer of soil
◦ it would bake in the hot sun and become like hardened clay
• this is a good illustration of how thought habits solidify in the brain
◦ we have to “break up” the negative, self-destructive circuits
◦ then begin to wire together new healthier circuits
– Jesus took apart a lot of the old systems
• he changed religion — the “old wineskins” (Mt. 9:14-17)
• he changed many of the rules — regarding the Sabbath (Mt. 12:1-8)
◦ Jesus changed people, and he wanted their participation
◦ there was the time in Jesus when Jesus asked the cripple,
Do you want to be healed? (Jn. 5:6)
Jesus was saying, in effect, Life did this to you, but now I’m offering you something else

Last week this meant to put off the old self and put on the new self
– Paul provides specific instructions for specific issues, like anxiety:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Php. 4:6-7)
• he told the Philippians what they had to stop doing
• then, how to stop (bring everything anxious thought to God)
• and then what to use to replace their anxious thoughts
whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Php. 4:8)

What does this mean in terms of rewriting the brain’s owner’s manual?

We have to cut some wires
– we’ve seen how habitual thoughts, emotions, and reactions,
• are wired into our brain cells
◦ that neurons wire together to form circuits
• whenever the circuit is triggered, it produces the same response
◦ the same feeling, the same emotion, the same mood,
◦ the same unwanted experience
– the neurons in those circuits need to be disconnected
• that can happens naturally – we experience it as forgetfulness
◦ it is not difficult to let go of some things
one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal … in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way . . . . (Php. 3:13-14)
• other things are not so easy, and so require heavy artillery
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5)

If we can stop our brains from using the same neural pathways,
– the connections between neurons will wither
• but there are two problems we have to solve:
◦ these circuits operate apart from our conscious control
◦ when we try to disconnect them we will experience resistance
• we’ll take these problems one at a time

The first problem: we are unaware of our brain is doing

We can be lost in a thought or feeling without being aware that we are
Daniel Siegel asks, “. . . how do we actually develop the ability to perceive a thought—not just have one—and to know it as an activity of our minds so that we are not taken over by it? How can we be receptive to the mind’s riches and not just reactive to its reflexes? How can we direct our thoughts and feelings rather than be driven by them?”
– his answer, is by developing a seventh sense
(the first five senses receive information from the world outside the body, the sixth sense receives information from the interior of the body)
• he refers to the seventh sense as “mindsight”
◦ the ability to observe what goes on in our minds
Siegel, “. . . when we develop the skill of mindsight, we actually change the physical structure of the brain. Developing the lens that enables us to see the mind more clearly stimulates the brain to grow important new connections.”
– anyone here can develop this awareness–after all, it’s your brain!
• my mind is engaged in thought, but I’m not aware that I’m thinking
• it seems more like I am perceiving something than thinking it
◦ so I mistake the thought for reality
◦ or I mistake what I feel for what I am
– Fr. Romuald said when he caught himself identifying with a thought or feeling, “I switch levels”
• that is, he would take a step back from his thought and look at it
◦ I can be aware of my thought, and aware that I am thinking it
◦ I can aware of what I’m reading, and that I am reading
• when we develop this kind of awareness,
◦ we begin to catch our brains in the act
◦ and in that moment, we have a choice
• if we continue with it, we reinforce the neural circuit that produces it
◦ if we move from our thought to the present moment experience of the body,
◦ we break the circuit and begin forming new circuit
(the new thought habit)

The second problem is our the resistance of our addictions

How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God (see Mk. 10:17-23)
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do (Gal. 5:17)

Addiction may sound like a strong word and seem irrelevant to you
– but bear with me
• the reason opioids produce pleasure is because the brain has opioid receptors
◦ with thought alone we can release chemicals into the brain and nervous system,
◦ that reduce pain, comfort and soothe, or give us a feel-good kick
• demanding jobs that require lots of ongoing creativity,
◦ can create a natural adrenaline addiction
• jobs that give us the opportunity to nurture and care for others
◦ can also provide feel-good rewards
◦ but if we become addicted to the care of others, we can burn out
(in the field of healthcare, this is known as Compassion Fatigue Syndrome)
– if we can become aware of what triggers our addictive thoughts and feelings,
• then we can learn to become aware of when a trigger occurs
◦ this gives us the freedom to choose
◦ we can let go of our addiction to anger, greed, fear, ego needs, etc.
• the Bible doesn’t use language of addiction
◦ but it uses words with similar meaning, like bondage or slavery
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Ro. 6:16)
Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin (Jn. 8:34)

Conclusion: I’ve printed a simple prayer exercise

It’s one of many ways to practice bringing our inner life into awareness
– simply closing our eyes and taking a couple cleansing breaths,
• instantly affects the nervous system
• making it easier to be more aware, to see more clearly
– there’s an extra energy and even joy in being in silence with God,
• both God and I observing my thoughts, feelings, and emotions
• in his presence, the process is less threatening, less discouraging
◦ and more loving and hope-filled

You can do this
All you need is the right perspective and attitude
and the willingness to practice and not give up,
even if at first it seems you are making little progress

The way of the sluggard is like a hedge of thorns,
but the path of the upright is a level highway
(Pr. 15:19)

Do not get stuck obsessing over the thorns,
but look at the highway stretching ahead to freedom
With the old self in your rear view mirror,
begin to imagine the joy waiting for you on the horizon
God’s new creation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,
he or she is a new creation.
The old has passed away;
behold, the new has come
(2 Cor. 5:17)

Silent Prayer Exercise

If you have not already found your own way of sitting silently in God’s presence, you may find the following exercise helpful.
When praying this way, we have no other goal than to bring our full attention to the present moment. Our hearts, mind and bodies are open and receptive to God.
We are not trying to do anything, rather our intention is to be still and know God’s presence here and now.

1. Choose a time and place that assures stillness and quiet
a. Reduce or eliminate distractions (turn off cell phone)
2. Sit in an upright yet comfortable position
a. Rest your hands on your lap
b. Wherever you are, notice the space your body occupies
3. Release any muscle tension you feel in your body
a. If it helps, do a little, gentle stretching
4. Present yourself to God with a simple prayer
a. For instance:
Father in heaven, this moment is Yours.
Lord Jesus, my heart and mind are Yours.
Holy Spirit, awaken me to Your presence.

1. Take three deep cleansing breaths
a. Notice your breath entering and leaving your body
b. Notice the space inside your body that your breath fills
2. Beginning with the top of your head say,
“The peace of the Lord be with you”
a. Allow yourself to feel God’s peace rest on your head
b. Gently move your awareness down to your eyes and say,
i. Feel your eyelids and the muscles around your eyes relax
c. Move down and say, “Peace” to your nose and sinuses
d. Move down to your mouth, lips, tongue, teeth and jaw
i. Say, “Peace,” and feel those places relax even more
e. Move awareness to the side and back of your head
i. Say, “Peace” to your ears and neck
f. Continue to move down to your shoulders, back, etcetera
i. Speak peace to your entire body, one part at a time
3. Think of your busy brain and tell it,
“The peace of the Lord be with you”
a. Speak peace to your brainstem and spinal chord
b. Speak God’s peace to each of your organs or “systems”
i. For instance, nervous, respiratory, cardiac system, etc.

Settle in
Take a moment to enjoy your heart, mind and body at rest
1. Become a spectator of your present moment experience
a. What sensations do you feel in your body?
i. Do not attach any significance to them, simply notice them
b. What emotion do you feel?
i. If nothing, simply notice that you feel nothing
c. What thoughts come to you?
i. Ask, “What am I thinking right now?”
ii. Observe the thought without being dragged into it
2. If in your body there is pain, discomfort, the jitters,
Or your emotion is one of anxiety, discouragement, sadness
Or if your thought is negative, dark, or upsetting
a. Be aware of the unpleasantness
i. Acknowledge it for what it is
b. But do not judge yourself for what you experience
i. You are a spectator, not a judge
ii. Let God’s compassion fill you

Wrapping it up
1. Thank God for this time in his presence
2. As you stand up, be aware that you are standing up
3. Do not rush into your next activity
a. Move mindfully into the next thing

Jul 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 30, 2019


Ephesians 4:17-24

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Intro: We began two weeks ago with the first word of Jesus’ message:

“Repent” – a change of mind that leads to change of everything
– the Bible uses other words for change: turn, convert, transform
• I’ve tried to point out, that this means changing our brains
• brain activity that has become automatic and unconscious
– Paul has an interesting way of illustrating this change, he says,
put off your old self and put on the new self

Paul had a majestic vision for the church in Ephesus

He saw a spiritually enlightened community living in unity
– every person building the community
and the community building every person
• as a result, they would “mature” to Christian adulthood
• they would “grow up” in every way into Christ (Ep. 4:1-16)
– the only thing that stood in the way of this vision was their old self

Their old self had been shaped by their history
– their former manner of life and and that life was corrupt
• in computer terminology, corrupt refers to a damaged file
◦ a file that cannot run its program as it was designed to do
◦ corrupt mental files can prevent people from living as God designed
• last week we saw that education and experience etches pathways in the brain
◦ every brain writes an owner’s manual that sinks into unconscious
◦ that becomes an internal belief system – a blueprint of reality
– to put on new the self is to have a new owner’s manual written for us
• the new self is
created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness
• today we will take another step in that direction

Have you ever seen a satellite photo of United States?

Or perhaps flown across the country at night?
– points of light dot the East and West coasts
• large dark patches lie in between
• imagine that the brain looks something like that, only in three dimensional space
◦ here and there, active brain cells light up
◦ all the cells in a cluster of lights are connected to each other
– neural wiring is not confined to the brain, runs through the entire body
• a sudden panic produces an instant response in
◦ the heart, lungs, digestive tract, glands, muscles, etc.
• but the body doesn’t need panic to activate its systems
◦ every emotion and most every thought enlists all its parts to some degree

Habits are history recorded in the brain and nervous system
– if an event is repeated or its impact is strong enough (e.g., trauma),
• it is written into neurons affecting emotions
◦ and also the body’s biological response to those emotions
(heart and respiratory rate, release of adrenaline and cortisol, etc.)
• the memory of the event will also reproduce the biological response
◦ the same neurons are activated in the same structures of the brain
◦ the same chemicals course through the body
◦ the same sensations occur
– we know that repeatedly doing the same thing produces the same effect
• thinking the same thoughts result in the same conclusions
• this is one way we are controlled by our past

A few years ago, I needed help with an important decision

I confided in someone I assumed was a close friend
– about a year later, he leaked our private conversation
• his action was worse than a betrayal of confidence
• he used that information against me, to manipulate me
◦ in his mind, he was acting in my best interest
◦ but for me it was a shocking and left a deep wound
– at first, I tried to blow it off and remain friends — but I couldn’t do it
• seeing him was a reminder of the distress his breach caused me
◦ even when I heard his name, I knotted up inside
◦ praying the Lord’s Prayer,
forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,
his face would pop into my head
• frequently, I imagined confronting him, trying to clear it up
◦ I wanted him to realize how he had wronged me – and apologize
◦ but I new that would never happen
(he is way too much of a narcissist to ever admit he had done wrong)

How did I get that stuck?
– when I discovered what he did, the emotional impact of it was intense
• and it got worse with time and the more his actions played out
• what I was feeling activated my entire nervous system
◦ millions of neural connections were formed in my brain and body
◦ the chemical effect registered in emotions and physical symptoms
◦ hurt, grief, anger – knotted stomach, tense muscles, loss of energy
– the intensity of it all created an instant and persistent memory
• so a year later, five years, eight years–whenever I remembered it–
◦ the same neural pathway was activated, the same chemistry
◦ I felt the same shock and pain, the same revulsion and anger
• it was as if with every reminder the offense were being committed again
◦ how could I forgive him, since what he did felt like right now?

The past is not just something we remember like a phone number

It is somewhere we can get stuck — the brain reproduces it, and we relive it
– that is why resentment anchors itself so firmly in our hearts
• to remember, we re-experience the abuse we suffered
◦ then, perhaps, we relish our “revenge fantasies”
◦ or we enjoy punishing the offender
(maybe shutting them out of our lives, slandering them, etc.)
• but we are the ones who replay–and recreate–the event
◦ maybe what the perpetrator did to us happened only once,
◦ we end up repeating the experience a thousand times
– each recorded event or habit has a trigger–or triggers
• regarding triggers,
Dr. Joe Dispenza says, “All it takes is one stray thought, or one reaction to some event in the external world . . . .”

How come we’re mostly unaware of the brain’s owner’s manual?

As we’ve seen, habits tend to slip from awareness
– but there’s another reason – has to do with 3 regions of brain

The first is the brainstem
• it descends from the base of the brain into spinal chord
• it’s a communication center for brain and the rest of body
Second is the limbic system — the interior of the brain
• the headquarters for emotions – including nurturing, empathy
• it interprets our experiences and feel; good or bad
Third is the cortex – the outer layer of brain
• in the front part of brain is the corner suite of executive office–
the prefrontal cortex (PFC)
• the rational part of brain – reasoning, analyzing, planning
• also, the part of our brain that is self-conscious

In crisis, the brainstem can take immediate control of body
– by activating the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight response)
• this can happen not only before information reaches the PFC,
◦ but it can happen without information ever reaching the PFC
• as a result: no conscious memory of the event is ever recorded
◦ the body remembers–and can be reactivated
◦ but the person does not consciously remember the trauma
(for example, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
– the brainstem can be activated by external or internal triggers

Conclusion: I think we’re done looking at the neural challenges of change

Next week we’ll begin looking at changes we can begin making now
– but I feel it’s necessary to give you a little help for the time being

First, we cannot rewrite owner’s manual if we don’t know it
– my default setting is overwhelming oppression — what’s yours?
– the first and foremost challenge:
• developing and strengthening awareness
• of what is happening in our brains and bodies

Second, God has given us a different clock to run our lives by
– the clock we use now can trap us in the past–and future too
• the PFC can imagine and anticipate a horrible future event
◦ the problem is, the rest of the brain doesn’t know its imaginary
◦ so the limbic system produces worry and the brainstem activates the body
• with God’s clock, our lives run according to eternity

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen For the things that are seen are transient, but the the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Co 4:16-18)

– eternity intersects time as we live in it, to lift us out of it
• we are no longer haunted and controlled by the past
◦ nor are we afraid of the future
• at the intersection of time and eternity, we find rest in God’s presence
◦ then we are enabled to return to our time, relieved and renewed

When does eternity intersect time?
Well, if we’re not lost in the automatic habits of our brain,
but deepening our awareness of God’s presence,
we find that it may happen any time or all the time
“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2)

Jun 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 23, 2019


Ephesians 2:1-7

Intro: Has God answered your prayer this week

(Remember? We were going to pray the following verses all week

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! — Psalm 139:23-24)

Last week we learned what neuroscience has taught us about repentance
– at a practical, biological level repentance means changing our brains
• the brain is control center for all the activity of the mind and body
• how do we repent? How are we changed, transformed?

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Ro. 12:2)

– why must our idea of repentance be more complicated than gospels?
• because our lives are so much more complicated
• they had lots of physical space and time to reflect
◦ we’re bombarded by massive stimulation and information
(imagine the difference between driving ten miles and walking ten miles — how many more sights, movements and decisions to be made at fifty-five miles per hour)
◦ we’re faced with thousands of choices they never dreamed of

I said before that every human brain writes an owner’s manual
– today we will learn how to read our owner’s manual
Daniel Siegel, Clinical Professor at UCLA School of Medicine, finds it helpful to patients in therapy if they can visualize the activity in their brains and know how to affect changes in it

In Ephesians 2, Paul is answering a question: How did we get here?

That is, here to being “blessed with every spiritual blessing” (Ep. 1:3-14)
– we did not start here
• when God’s light first shined on us, we were dead
– in verse 2, Paul mentions three causes of spiritual death:
1. The world – a spiritual alternative to kingdom of God
◦ opposed to God – in rebellion to God’s will
◦ the world presents our brains with thoughts, images & suggestions
2. The prince of the power of the air (the devil)
◦ tempter, adversary, accuser, “liar,” and “murderer”
3. Our flesh – our natural self apart from God
◦ the part of us that is capable of being tempted, seduced, mislead

But even when we were dead, God made us alive (v. 5)
– dead: a static condition – motionless – no change, stuck
• alive: dynamic, moving, changing
– obviously, this isn’t something we can accomplish on our own
• God involves himself in our repentance – our change
• he is with us every step of the way

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (vv. 8-10)

A few years ago, as Christmas present Barbara gave me a brain

It’s plastic and came with a guide that labels various structures
– the human brain contains billions of cells – neurons
• similar cells run through entire body
◦ these activate every muscle – legs in walking, pupils in dilating
◦ shifting your weight in your chair requires that activation of millions of neurons
• neurons are the basic building blocks to every thought, feeling, action

Neuron consists of a cell body – various shapes and sizes
– it communicates with other neurons through minuscule fibers
• a central fiber, the axon, sends messages (bipolar, etc.)
• multiple fibers, dendrites, branch out from the cell body to receive messages
◦ dendrites connect with axons, other dendrites, or the cell body of other neurons
◦ neurons do not actually make contact with other neurons
– there is a tiny gap between contact points – the synapse
• the neuron sending a message releases chemical molecules into fluid between contact points
• neuron can connect with thousands of other neurons
◦ neurons with shorter axons connect with neurons nearby
◦ neurons with longer axons connect with other the neurons of other structures in the brain

What causes neurons to fire?
– incoming messages from other neurons create a minute electrical charge
• by itself, that charge is not strong enough to affect a response
• it takes thousands of messages arriving from other neurons
◦ all of them arriving within a millisecond to produce an “action potential”
◦ this electrical charge runs down the axon from the cell body, releasing chemical molecules
– the brain’s chemistry set is fascinating
• the brain utilizes at least 100 different “neurotransmitters”
◦ to speed up activation, neurons receive glutamate molecules
◦ to slow down activation, neurons receive GABA molecules
• neurotransmitters affect all mental activity
◦ they are frequently implicated in mood disorders

An action, thought, or memory is not contained in one brain cell

Every thought requires thousands of brain cells
– if a thought is repeated, it utilizes the same cluster of cells (mostly)
• this is how our brains form habits
• a repeated thought or action is imprinted on the same neurons
◦ Hebb’s Law, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”
– as a boy, I lived in rural communities
• frequently, the shortest distance between two points was a diagonal line across an empty lot
◦ I would trample the weeds my first time across the field
◦ after enough people used that same route, the weeds died, leaving a clear and compact dirt path
• that trail became the fastest, easiest way to reach the other side
◦ it became, in fact, the only path across the lot
◦ this is similar to the way habitual thoughts and feelings form in connecting neurons in the brain

Habits are helpful, but they tend to dull awareness
– the value of a habit is don’t have to think about it when doing it
• your brain has all the movements memorized
◦ your body acts on its own, leaving you free to think about other things
• but what we miss with our habits is the experience of living
◦ there’s a certain pleasure in riding a bike
◦ but I can lose that enjoyment if I am only in a hurry to get somewhere
– habits sink into the unconscious–that is, we are not aware of them
• there’s a lot our brains do that we’re not conscious of
◦ all the “involuntary” functions of our nervous system
• there are also a lot of thought habits
◦ they are present even if we’re not conscious of thinking them

Suppose a child is made to feel like a jerk by a teacher, playmate, or parent
– that feeling is real to the child
• if reinforced, then the same neurons of that real feeling will be activated
• and every time those neurons fire, they will produce the same chemical reactions in the child’s brain and body
◦ the same neurotransmitters will be released
◦ the same hormones will be launched into the blood stream
◦ the child will feel the same emotion – embarrassment, shame, guilt
(even when he or she is twenty, thirty, or forty years old)
– a record of this repeated is etched into the brain’s owner’s manual
• a person’s “inner belief system” consists of these neural habits
◦ repeated thoughts, feelings, attitudes, judgments, etc.
• we do not doubt our unconscious belief system, because it is deeply embedded within us
◦ our belief system forms our perception of reality
◦ and any little mistake seems to confirm our negative beliefs
◦ with even a little mistake, a voice within says, “See! You are a jerk”

I once shared with Fr. with Romuald my mental self-abuse

He said he was surprised, and told me,
“Well, I suppose we all have those self-deprecating thoughts. I do, though probably not to the degree that you have described. But I don’t see why you would want to identify with them. I am not my thoughts, and I am not my feelings”
– there’s a world of difference between saying,
• “I did something really stupid” and “I am really stupid”
• but my identity, formed in my belief system, tells me “I am
– are you getting an idea of why repentance is so difficult?
• basically, God is telling us,
“You’re not who you think you are, and reality is not what you’ve thought it was. All of that has to change.”
– but haven’t we tried to change?
• through will power – through happy thoughts
• but since we haven’t changed it is most likely because we have not gone deep enough
◦ we have not entered the inner chamber of our brains
◦ repentance is not about having new thoughts, but becoming new persons

Conclusion: Going back to the path we created in a field

Suppose one day we attempt to take our usual shortcut,
– but when we get to the field, someone has put up a fence
• or the whole lot has been graded for development
• we can no longer follow that path
– one part of repentance (change) is to put up fences
• to stop thinking the same thoughts, believing same things
◦ that’s the turning from part of repentance
• the turning to part is trusting God for his grace to assist us

To fully repent, we need to bring our belief system into awareness
We will continue with that project next week
In the mean time,
start paying attention to your daily habits
Notice what your body is doing when walking,
opening a jar or can,
drinking a glass of water,
or reading a book
Pay attention to what it feels like
and you will begin to enter awareness
of some of those unconscious processes
that drive our daily actions

Jun 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 16, 2019


Matthew 3:1-2 and 4:17

Intro: These were the first public announcement of both John and Jesus

This is the “short form” of the message they brought
– their “elevator speech” that contained three points:
• the kingdom of heaven is finally arriving
• you are not ready for it
• get ready
– the world Jesus entered was not ready for HIM
• many people in Israel were waiting for a Messiah
◦ but their concept of a savior was imperialistic and nationalistic
◦ certainly not a Savior who would suffer and die for the world
• they looked for a Messiah who would change things
◦ Jesus came as a Messiah who would change them

In his parables, Jesus talked about the last part of this message:
the kingdom of heaven
– but in the Sermon On Mount, he elaborated on the first part: Repent
• in his sermon, he turned their world inside out
You have heard that it was said of old . . . . But I say to you . . . (Mt. 5:21, 27, etc.)
• it was as if he said,
“What you have thought about the Messiah is only partially true. What you have thought about God is only partially true. And what you have thought about religion is only partially true. You have lived with these illusions, but I have come to show you what is true. The reality of God and the truth about yourselves.”
– it is not easy for us to see why this was so difficult for them to hear
• but this is not the sort of message we want to hear either

I am not very fond of the word “repent”

Like most of my dysfunctional thinking, this has to do with upbringing
– to repent was to see myself as the worst sinner who ever lived
• to wallow in guilt, to be ashamed and disgusted with myself
• to feel hopeless, because a holy God could never love someone like you
– every Sunday night there would be an “altar call”
• I would beg and beg for forgiveness, but never felt forgiven
◦ because I knew following week I’d be back there again observing the same ritual of failure and shame
• I never felt the guilt leave me
◦ never felt God’s full acceptance or unconditional love
– I’ve learned that always feeling bad about the person I am does not change me
• never being released of guilt sabotages repentance
◦ instead of making progress, you get stuck
• all my angst was based on a faulty conception of repentance

Repentance isn’t a psychological collapse into self-loathing

It isn’t about punishing yourself for your sins
– or groveling before God to win his forgiveness
• very simply, it is about change
• I believe Jesus prefers having calm and rational discussions with us
◦ about where we go wrong
◦ and what he wants from us
– in the Old Testament, another way to talk about repent is turn or return
• when Israel returned from exile, the heard law read and wept
◦ it was a natural response to realizing what their sins had cost them
◦ but their priests and leaders wouldn’t let them get stuck in sorrow
. . . this day is holy to our LORD. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Neh. 8:10)

I think this is one of those times when a Greek word is important
– repent is metanoeite – a compound word
meta: a preposition “with” or “after”
noeo: – think, understand, perceive
◦ so repent is to think after think after,
◦ to have second thoughts, to change your mind
– in classical Greek, repentance engaged not only intellect
• it was coupled with a feeling – regret
◦ regret is not wallowing in guilt and shame
◦ and regret without change is not repentance

The first word we hear Jesus tell us is the command, “Change”

Maybe there’s someone here, so satisfied with life, they wouldn’t change a thing
– for the rest of us, we can think of a few healthy changes
• typically: better diet, more exercise, learn more
◦ be a better spouse or parent, have more self-control
◦ be less anxious, be a happier person
• Jesus’ command to change doesn’t have to be bad news
– but start moving toward change and we discover our inner rebel
• we have more resistance than motivation
◦ we want to change, but we drag our feet when it’s time to begin
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mt. 28:41)
• I don’t think we’re convinced we want all the changes Jesus does
◦ “Change my life, but leave me the same”

Psychologists have observed,
– people don’t enter therapy unless problem drives them to it
• we wait until the pain of staying same is greater than the pain of change
– imagine residents in neighborhood petitioning a city for a stop sign
◦ they have seen several collisions at one of their intersections
◦ but stop signs are expensive and require traffic control studies
◦ so the city drags its feet–until there’s a fatality at the intersection
• many married couples avoid therapy at the first realization of trouble
◦ by the time they arrive in counselor’s office, it’s too late

The Psalms describe the wicked as people who
do not change
and do not fear God
(Ps. 55:19)
– Jeremiah described the sin of the nation of Moab like this:
Moab has been at ease from his youth
and has settled on his dregs;
he has not been emptied from vessel to vessel,
nor has he gone into exile;
so his taste remains in him,
and his scent is not changed (Jer. 48:11)
– usually we resist change not because we are content,
• but because we are complacent

Repentance begins with a change in perception, thought, and attitude

What we know about the human person today tells us,
– repentance means making changes to our brains
• it wasn’t always believed this was possible
◦ it was thought that once a person became an adult,
◦ the old dog could not learn new tricks
• now we know it is possible for the adult human brain to be changed
◦ and that changes are ongoing
– but the sort of changes we want to make are not easy

Every human brain writes an “owners manual”
– this is written by experience and education
• everything we experience traces a path across brain cells
◦ a single thought travels from one cell to another,
◦ connecting tens of thousands of them in a single cluster
• the owner’s manual is written through repetition
◦ always thinking same thoughts and feeling the same feelings,
◦ cement the connections between the same brain cells
◦ this becomes the brain’s default setting
– our nervous system runs our body according to this owner’s manual
• our brains do not judge if our thoughts and feelings are healthy
◦ the just recognizes triggers and send signals down the same path
• this results in repeatedly reproducing the same psychological and physiological state
◦ perhaps the same negative thoughts and emotions
◦ and yet we wonder,
“Why do I keep making the same mistakes?”
“Why can’t I control my temper?”
“Why do my anxieties always get the best of me?”

To repent is to rewrite the owner’s manual
– that’s what we’re going to venture into this summer

Conclusion: When Israel returned from Babylon to Jerusalem,

They delayed rebuilding God’s temple
– the project seemed overwhelming for their meager resources
• God sent the prophet Haggai to challenge them to get to work on his house
◦ his message to them was, Consider your ways (1:5, 7)
• the first thing they needed to do was practice self-observation
◦ watch themselves – what they were doing and what they were thinking
The philosopher Adam Smith had this to say about self-observation, “When I endeavor to examine my own conduct . . . I divide myself as it were into two persons; and that I, the examiner and judge, represent a different character from the other I, the person whose conduct is examined into and judged of. The first is the spectator. . . . The second is the agent, the person whom I properly call myself . . . .”
– I have found this happens naturally in contemplative prayer
• it’s as if God’s Spirit reveals to my flawed thinking and illusions
• I become aware of what was written in my owner’s manual
◦ these insights show me what needs to be changed
◦ and those changes usually begins with slowing down and deep breathing
– repent is an invitation to get unstuck – an invitation to freedom

This week, I would like for you to consider your ways
– take some time to sit in quiet with God
• be still and listen for what he wants you to see about yourself
◦ what you’ve been accepting as “normal” or putting up with
◦ what you’ve done over and over without purpose or benefit
• and begin your quiet time with the following prayer:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting
Psalm 139:23-24

Jun 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 9, 2019


Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

Intro: Today is Pentecost Sunday

A word derived from the Greek language
– Pentecost refers to an event fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection
– the story of Pentecost is told in Acts chapter 2
• the apostles were in Jerusalem per Jesus’ instructions
◦ he had given them a mission,
◦ but first, they had to be equipped and empowered
• that happened in one of the most dramatic scenes in the New Testament
◦ God’s Spirit descended on them in a way that looked like fire
– those believers who experienced this became something else that day
• the new people of God
◦ when God chose Israel to be his nation, this is what he had in mind:

I will … confirm my covenant with you. … I will make my dwelling among you …. And I will walk among you and will be your God and you shall be my people (Lev. 26:9-12)

• on Pentecost, this did not happen to select individuals,
◦ but an entire community
◦ some people refer to Pentecost as the birth of the church

Although it is Pentecost, that is not why I’m going to talk about
– this last week, I was reading in 1 Corinthians
• when I came to these verses, something happened in me
• I felt them – I knew that God meant this to be true for us
◦ that I could meet him here today with you
– we may not see it, we may forget,
• but this time we spend here together is sacred

Your first reaction might be, “Who, me?” (or “us?”)

Paul was not writing to the premier church
– much of this letter and the next tell them what they were doing wrong
• they got off to a good start – had a lot going for them (1 Cor. 1:4-8)
◦ but Paul begins this chapter with the news that they had not made much progress
• the weren’t as spiritual as they assumed
◦ they were mere infants in Christ
– this is not uncommon – it’s easy to become religious or pious
• nor is it difficult to learn doctrine
• but to undergo fundamental changes in our lives is a difficult process
◦ we must work at letting go of old prejudices and habits
◦ Christian love takes a particular kind of work
◦ and it looks different from working at being religious (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

How could Paul tell that their spiritual life was shallow?

For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? (v. 3)

– the community had become divided and formed “tribes”
• they had taken polarized positions regarding individual personalities
• but the leaders themselves were not divided
He who plants and he who waters are one (v. 8)
– 5-10, Paul explained how to regard those they placed on pedestals
• not as celebrities, but servants – fulfilling their assigned tasks
You are God’s field, God’s building (v. 9)
◦ first he uses an agricultural metaphor
(plant and water, two different tasks but devoted to one goal)
◦ then a construction metaphor
(one laid a foundation, another built on it)
• that their roles were different did not entail conflict, but cooperation

In verses 10-15, Paul adds a serious warning to the sub-contractors
(he illustrates why it doesn’t pay to cut corners)
– every building is eventually tested by natural elements
the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house (Mt. 7:25, 27)
• in regard to the church, the foundation is solid–it is Jesus Christ
◦ the problems start with the sub-contractors
◦ and the use of inferior building materials
• many Christians do not realize, they’re not well cared for
◦ they’re entertained, brow-beaten and bossed around, and exploited
◦ they’re kept busy building a house of straw
– 16-17, Do you not know …? – this was the missing piece
• the Corinthians Christians did not know who they were
• they had not discovered their collective identity

Verses 18-20, the wisdom that works in the world, doesn’t work here
– the way governments, corporations, and other institutions run
• there we encounter contenders, competition, and conquest
◦ faith draws something else from us
◦ love requires something else
– 21-23, Paul’s advice: Do not get pulled into one of the cults of personality
• all these sub-contractors are not special
◦ if they’re the real deal, they work for you
◦ God has provided them for your spiritual development

The Corinthian believers were messed up–same as we are

Yet they were God’s temple
– if we dig into the past for the primary purpose of the temple,
• we come to the God’s instructions to Moses for the sacred tent

. . . let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst (Ex. 25:8)
There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. . . . I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God
(Ex. 29:43-45)
◦ “sanctified” means to make holy or sacred
• primarily, the temple was a place where people encountered God

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple
(Ps. 27:4)
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory
(Ps. 63:1-2)
– when these messed up Corinthians met together,
• they were the church – God’s temple
• Jesus Christ was present among them (5:4),
◦ and God’s Spirit lived in them
◦ in other words, God manifested his presence in and to this spiritual community

Do you not know that your are God’s temple?

We do not always know that – or we forget
– one reason may be, that when we see each other,
• we look on the outside only
◦ we see clothes, and mannerisms, and personality quirks
• we don’t see God’s image, because we’re not looking for it
◦ we’re not asking,
“How is Jesus revealing himself through this person?”
– it’s possible to never know all God has for us

I defined sanctified, because I want to emphasize the sacred

Sacred is at the root of the word “sacrament”
– a sacred ritual God uses to pour grace into us
• a sacrament can also be an object or an action
Leonardo Boff, describes a sacrament as an object or action that is real in this world, but opens up to another dimension – something God uses to manifest his presence to us
• Boff says there are three dimensions to a sacrament:
immanent: the object or action is physical — present and tangible
transcendent: the object or action reveals another dimension of reality
transparent: we see through the object or action
– the sacrament is not isn’t magic, but evokes an inner vision
• we see through the sacrament, as if a window
◦ and the light of God’s grace pours through it
• a sacrament is a gate that opens between time and eternity
• a sacrament is meant to wake us up,
◦ to bring us out of our forgetfulness (“remembrance”; 1 Cor. 11:24)
• a sacrament invites us to have eyes that see, ears that hear, hands that feel, and so on

Conclusion: On the day of Pentecost, the church became a sacrament

God formed the church to be a witness to the world
– he desires to manifest himself to the world through his church
• not through the church as an institution
• and not through the doctrines of the church (that doesn’t work)
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to [them], and [they] are not able to understand [these things] because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14)
– it is the church as a community of people
• people who are no better than we are
◦ it’s not about being “nice” to each other – polite or friendly
• it’s about listening, and caring, and being safe and available
◦ we have a Christ-effect on each other

What got to me when reading this passage,
is that we have opportunities
to immerse ourselves in the experience of being together in Jesus,
to have a strong sense of his presence,
and to rely on him to be among us.
Let’s know this as our lived experience;
let’s remember it whenever we meet.
We are God’s temple

Jun 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 2, 2019


Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,

and by night, but I find no rest (Ps. 22:1-2)

Intro: Friday I was driving three of my grandchildren home from school

Six year old Calum was in the back seat, singing lilting, repetitive lyrics
– I wasn’t paying attention at first – then, when traffic cleared I listened
“This is a distraction song, distraction song, distraction song,
that makes it hard to think”
ME: “Calum, what’s that?!”
CALUM: “It’s a distraction song. Do you get it?”
ME: “Yes I get it! It’s so distracting, I can’t think”
CALUM: “Aha, it works!”

Psalm 22 is a song for when distractions make it hard to think

There are two things we get wrong about this psalm

First, frequently it is referred to as a “Messianic Psalm”
– that is to say, the whole psalm is a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion
• it does contain prophetic statements,
◦ but that was not how it was originally read
• like most everyone who suffers, the psalmist felt abandoned by God
– that Jesus quoted this psalm from cross reveals his heart
• how deeply he was plunged into human suffering (cf. Heb. 2:9-10, 17-18; 5:8)
• Jesus shared with us an agony so deep, he too felt abandoned, forgotten

Secondly, it looks like a psalm of despair– at least begins like one
– but it is actually a song of hope
• in it, the poet tells his story – not in detail, but with broad strokes
◦ that actually makes it more valuable for us
• we don’t have to know what he meant by bulls of Bashan
◦ we can think of our own adversities and obstacles
– as we read his story, we learn how he worked his way–
• or “prayed his way”–from abandonment to embrace,
◦ from anxiety to serenity, from distress to peace
• have you ever wished that prayer could change your mood?
◦ maybe there’s a way to approach prayer that does change us
◦ and perhaps God will even change us without changing our circumstances

A quick overview of Psalm 22

The poet begins with a “Why” question
– this is not always the best place to begin, and it is often useless to ask
Daniel Siegel refers to “Why” as “the [brain’s] left hemisphere’s favorite pursuit of exploring . . . . The left side of our cortex appears to specialize in the cause-effect explanations of logical reasoning that is so coveted in science, and in schools, and perhaps in modern society in general.”
• some events defy cause and effect explanations
◦ if there’s an answer to Why?, only God knows it

In the face of a devastating loss, would it really be of much help to learn why it happened?

– nevertheless, like the poet, in deep grief we cannot help but ask why
• the question pushes its way up from our soul

We could title the first two verses, “When prayer doesn’t work”
– or doesn’t seem to work
• the problem may be, we expect prayer to produce a specific effect
◦ that it is supposed to change something in the world
◦ it doesn’t occur to us, prayer is meant to to change something in us
– how can the poet jump from his unanswered prayer to verse 3?

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.

• maybe he is saying, “The fault is not in you; you are holy”
◦ this is how the system has worked in the past

In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame
(vv. 4-5)

• so the conclusion drawn by the poet is,
“I’m not like my ancestors. They were heroes, but

I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people
(v. 6)

◦ this thinking is not unusual, and it is wrong!
◦ it is as wrong as assuming God had abandoned him

Shame does this to us, it undermines our confidence
– before God, in ourselves, and with others

All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
(vv. 7-8)

• those who make fun of him, ridicule his failed system
– again, like in v. 3, he bumps into this contradiction, Yet [9-10]

Once again, as in verse 3, the poet jumps to what seems like a contradiction

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust in you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God
(vv. 9-10)

Verses 11-21 repeat the request as the poet describes his affliction
(notice the animal metaphors he uses to describe his enemies)

Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water
and all of my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax within my breast;
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

– here is something that amazes me regarding biblical writers
• the incredible way they read their bodies
◦ he describes emotional distress in physiological terms:
◦ bones out of joint, heart melted like ways, strength dried up
– one of the lessons we’ve learned from neuroscience:
• situations that are:
◦ extremely hurtful emotionally,
◦ intensely painful physically,
◦ unavoidable or inescapable,
◦ life-threatening,
◦ or simply overwhelming,
• cause communication in the brain to breakdown
◦ the mind goes blank, logic warps, we lose control
(in sports we say someone “choked”)
◦ people say, “I feel like I’m falling apart,” “My mind is scattered”
– if trauma disintegrates, healing integrates – makes whole

In v. 22, it looks like the poet has made a dramatic turn

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For the kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the LORD to the coming generation;
the shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it
(vv. 22-31)

– it seems like everything now is good, right?
• but that is not exactly what these verses are saying
• this form of speech is referred to as a “vow of praise” (cf. v. 25)
◦ its typical form is: “If you do this for me, I’ll do that for you”
– what it does for the poet, is enable him to be confident
• he is able to feel in the present, a victory that will come in the future
• he can even praise and worship as if his salvation had already come

One more thought
– even though this is one person who prays,
• the presence of others play a crucial role in his life before God
• in both his breakdown and his recovery (v. 22)
– there is a type of communication that links human hearts and minds
• when people feel safe enough to talk without fear
and others are compassionate enough to listen without judgment
◦ a primary ingredient in these conversations is is empathy
• for Paul, life in community leads to having same mind (Ro. 12:3-16)
◦ he encouraged the Philippians to be of one mind (Php. 1:27; 2:2)

When a community (or family) has this sort of integrative conversations
– each individual’s mind is moved toward integration and wholeness
This has happened for us in our weekly practice of lexio divina
(sacred, prayerful reading and sharing of scripture)

By the end of his song, the poet is no longer alone
– he has rejoined the people of God in the worship of God
• he is on his way toward integration and wholeness

Conclusion: Yesterday morning I was feeling stressed over today’s message
(I didn’t have one!)

Also, my granddaughter, Addison, added a little extra stress
– for a couple of weeks she’s been begging me to attend her dance recital
• I’ve explained that Saturday is a workday for grandpa
◦ I promised to be there, providing God worked a miracle
◦ and I had a sermon outline completed in time
• but my mind kept going to all the kids who have no one to who shows up for their little league games or exhibitions
◦ and also how important it must have been to Addison that I be there
– I took a deep breath and loosened my grip–physically and mentally
• I felt a certainty that all would be well
• and that the outcome did not depend on me,
◦ as God has been faithful to show up for me over so many years
So I went, and Addison and her sister Adrianna were the stars of the show

When I first began practice of contemplative prayer,
– God lifted a depression that had lasted for decades
• most of my old anxieties disappeared
• but what I did not anticipate was all the new anxieties!
◦ or that my nervous system is incapable of achieving trust as a steady state
◦ I assumed my mind would have the flexibility to deal with every new anxiety
• yesterday, this psalm walked me back into trust
(notice how many times the poet mentions it in the poem–three times in just two verses; 2 & 3)
◦ trust changes everything – not because it’s an effective psychological tool
◦ but because there really is Someone present who is trustworthy
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted and you delivered them

After meditating on trust in vv. 3-5 and 9-10, and during my contemplative prayer,
– I realized that God gives us “trust moments”
• when all we have to do is rest in him and enjoy the experience of trust
• an infant at its mother’s breasts is just such a trust moment
◦ this particular example evokes a feeling (comfort, security, nurture)

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me
(Ps. 131:2)

– in those trust moments we:
• learn the feeling of trust
• are receptive to grace and what it brings into our lives
(this is what we mean when we pray, Give us this day our daily bread)
• bond with the One in whose arms we rest
– a trust moment may be sitting on porch during a break from our chores
• or when you allow another person’s words or arms to hold you,
reassure and comfort you
• it can happen in the time you spend in contemplative prayer,
◦ allowing God to breathe his love into you

Trust moments clear our heads,
calm our emotions,
renew our strength
Trust moments recollect pieces of our minds
when they have been scattered by headlines and deadlines
Trust moments integrate mind and body
in a concentrated focus on our Lord Jesus Christ

Jun 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 26, 2019


Psalm 147
Praise the LORD!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.
The LORD builds up Jerusalem;

he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;

he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;

his understanding is beyond measure.
The LORD lifts up the humble;

he casts the wicked to the ground.
. . . .

Intro: C. S. Lewis, book, Reflections On the Psalms is short but insightful
– he addresses some of difficulties modern readers have with the Psalms
• in the introduction he said,
“Most emphatically the Psalms must be read as poems; as lyrics, with all the licences and all the formalities, the hyperboles, the emotional rather than logical connections, which are proper to lyric poetry. They must be read as poetry if they are to be understood . . . . Otherwise we shall miss what is in them and think we see what is not there.”
– I chose Psalm 147 because I want to talk about worship
• but first, a little history

In 1975, a home Bible study I taught for two years became a church
– Calvary Chapel of Dana Point (now Capo Beach Church)
• when we started meeting Sundays, I knew how to “do church”
◦ I wore a suit and tie and we sang hymns
(accompanied by an organ and piano)
◦ in our home meetings, one person with a guitar led songs
• one night I realized our music and prayers had become stale
◦ it wasn’t what I felt worship should be
◦ it got so bad, one night I got a strong impression that God’s Spirit was about to leave the building
– I talked with our song leader until I had him completely frustrated
• one time, exasperated with me, he asked, “What is worship, anyway?”
• “I don’t know,” I answered, “but this is not it!”

Around that time, I asked my friend Jack, a church consultant,
– to help me develop a better organizational structure for our church
• we went over staff, finances, facilities, and our various programs
• after spending a couple months covering all the business items,
◦ he asked if there was any other area that needed help
◦ I couldn’t think of anything at first, but he kept prodding
◦ finally I said, “Well, our time of worship sucks”
– Jack invited me to his church, Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda
(which later became The Yorba Linda Vineyard)
• at first I declined, I had lots of exposure to Charismatic worship
◦ and it did not interest me
◦ he said, “This is different. I think it’s what you’re looking for”
• so the following Sunday I went
◦ and for the first times in years, I experienced God in worship
◦ I also began mourning over the death of worship in our church

The following week I gathered the elders and church staff and told them
– for the next month we were shutting down all our programs
• no men’s group, no women’s prayer meetings, no youth meetings, etc.
• also, they were to visit the Yorba Linda church on a Sunday night
– on Sunday mornings I began teaching through the Bible,
• examining everything it had to say about worship
– Rick Founds and Todd Collins had recently been attending our church
• they had been singing before Christian audiences for many years
◦ I asked them to consider leading worship for us
◦ we would borrow the music and format of the Yorba Linda church
• they agreed, so we prayed over them and the change was underway

We soon experienced the most important turning point in our history
– our little community came alive
• we were a more vibrant and healthier group of believers
• we expected God to show up every time we worshiped
– I felt that if we invited people into that environment of worship,
• they would experience God and be moved to open their hearts to him
◦ we kept the focus on God
◦ we emphasized the importance of the Spirit’s inspiration
◦ we sought to develop music that was our own
(the kind we enjoyed listening to when not singing “church music”)
◦ and we wanted to make our music the best possible quality
• in time, that form of worship became our “tradition”
◦ and like most traditions, people developed a loyalty to its form
◦ there were other problems as well

I still believe in the essence of what we did, but its form was not perfect
– some parts of worship were missing and other ingredients were added
• creative artists need freedom to exercise their gifts
◦ however, if the music gets too complicated or too excellent,
◦ it tends to draw attention to itself and become and entertain
◦ it performs for an audience rather that create participants
• music is unique in the way it reaches and stirs emotions
◦ such is its value in engaging the whole person
◦ but worship must reach deeper than emotions to affect change
◦ people may assume their experience was spiritual when it was only emotional
. . . [your people] say to one another . . ., “Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.” And the come to your as people come, and they sit before you as my people . . . behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it (Ezek. 33:30-32)
– music was an add-on to Israel’s worship centuries after Moses
• music was King David’s innovation (1 Chr. 15:15-16; 2 Chr. 23:18)
• some Christians think worship is the musical part of the service
◦ music is important, but it is not everything

For awhile, I’ve been wondering what worship looks like for us

Perhaps the first question to ask, is what are we missing?
– Psalm 147 does not tell us everything we need to know
• but it does contain some important elements
– I see the poem as an R.S.V.P. (respond if you please)
• its structured pattern is obvious, and repeats three times:
an invitation (or imperative)
Praise the LORD (v. 1)
Sing to the LORD (v. 7)
Praise the LORD (v. 12)
reasons are given (note the verbs — what he does)
The LORD builds up . . . gathers . . . heals . . . etc. (vv. 2-4)
He covers the heavens . . . prepares rain . . . etc. (vv. 8-9)
For he strengthens . . . he blesses . . . etc. (vv. 13-19)
▫ what he does for the nation, the person, and in nature
▫ from healing broken hearts to giving names to the stars
an observation is made (regarding God, especially who he is)
Great is our Lord . . . (v. 5)
His delight is not in the strength of the horse . . . (vv. 10-11)
He has not dealt thus with any other nation (v. 20)

Worship celebrates our everyday environment

He determines the number of the stars;
He gives to all of them their names. (v. 4)
He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry (vv. 8-9)

Most of us know how close God feels in mountains and forests
– something catches our attention — a sight, sound or scent
• as we observe and enjoy, thoughts come to us
◦ if we remain aware, we begin to see more
◦ our experience goes beyond the thing that is seen to its Creator
• it is quite natural for a prayer or sense of gratitude to stir within is
◦ these are the initial inner movements of worship
– it’s possible to develop a sensitivity to God as his presence is revealed in the world,
• so that ordinary things begin to speak to us
• a bar of soap or a table set for dinner

Praise the LORD!
Sing to the LORD
Praise the LORD

Creating rituals can help us develop a habit of noticing
– Sue Johnson encourages couples to turn small gestures into rituals
• rituals that tell the other person, “You matter to me”
She says, “Rituals are an important part of belonging. They are repeated, intentional ceremonies that recognize a special time or connection. Rituals engage us, emotionally and physically [I would add, spiritually], so that we become riveted to the present moment in a positive way.”
• last week we saw that Jesus ritualized his greeting when he met with his disciples
◦ three times he greeted them with, Peace be with you
◦ Paul encouraged Christians to ritualize their hellos and goodbyes
Greet one another with a holy kiss (1 Cor. 16:20)
– Brother Lawrence, in Practice the Presence of God,
• encourages us to do every chore “for the love of God”
• and to say this to ourselves as we go about our day
◦ for him it may have been, “I am washing and peeling these potatoes for the love of God”

Worship is enhanced by music

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre (v. 7)

Neuroscientist and psychobiologist, Jaak Panksepp, encouraged therapists to use music to stimulate “the rhythmic motor impulses of the body.” He noted that “Marathon organizers, recognizing the power of such motor rhythm facilitators, are beginning to ban iPods so that music listeners will not have undue advantages over the silent plodders. Clearly, music and the other arts need to be incorporated into all therapies that are clearly concerned with the human spirit.”
– we enhance the potential of worship to be a source of healing when we sing our prayers, praise and thanksgiving

Worship fulfills one of God’s purposes for our lives

It is not the sole purpose for our lives, but it is a central purpose

Paul wrote, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thes. 5:16-18)

In heaven, angels and saints sing to God,
Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things
and by your will they existed and were created
(Rev. 4:11)

– worship is not what we do in church
• it is how we live every day of our lives

Conclusion: Would you consider writing yourself a reminder

To consider ways that worship can become a way of life

And pray for Reflexion,
– that God will reveal to us our own unique expression of worship
• an expression that shares rituals in common with all Christians
• and at the same time has the flavor and aroma
of our own, unique spiritual community

May 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 19, 2019


Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:1-10

Intro: With John chapter 20 we come to the end of our survey

This one last time, I will remind you what we’ve been tracking
– John wrote a gospel that’s very different from the Synoptic gospels
• the other three follow the same outline, tell the same stories
• John is surprising in how much he leaves out and what he puts in
– during Jesus’ life the disciples did not always understand him
• some times he said things that:
◦ had to do with the future
◦ contradicted what they had been taught
◦ contained spiritual truth that the rational mind cannot discover
• they heard his teaching and at times thought they understood him,
◦ but there were often deeper meanings that they missed

I said this was the situation “during Jesus’ lifetime,”
– but look at verse 9,
. . . for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
• here, immediately after Jesus’ resurrection they still don’t understand
(cf. Mk. 9:9-10 & 30-32)
• this illustrates what John saw as the problem he needed to address
◦ frequently they failed to pick up on what Jesus was telling them
◦ in fact, even after Jesus’ resurrection they would still be discovering the meaning of his teaching
– the other three gospels stick to the time frame of Jesus’ life up to his resurrection (or for Luke, his ascension)
• John wrote his gospel from a perspective of many years later
• and in those intervening years, what had not been understood now made sense
◦ John wrote a gospel to bring these hidden meanings to the surface

John closely follows the beginning of Luke’s version of the resurrection

Except that John has more to say about specific people and events
– the first person we encounter is Mary Magdalene
• but her story is broken into two parts
• so we’ll begin with what John has to say about Peter

John adds to Luke’s story, that he went with Peter to tomb

Mary Magdalene had come to Peter and John straight from the empty tomb
– notice carefully what she told them
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (Jn. 20:2)
• perhaps she suspected that grave robbers stole his body
• Peter and John immediately got up to go investigate
◦ that they ran to the tomb indicates their concern–their worry and confusion
• why does John have to say that he got there first?
◦ because that’s the way he remembers it
◦ the same reason he tells us that he glanced into the tomb from outside, but that Peter charged in to investigate
(this is the difference between the Greek words translated looking and seeing)
– seeing the grave clothes still there, it was unlikely the body was stolen
A. T. Roberston, “Peter saw more after he entered than John did at first glance, but John saw into the meaning of it all better than Peter. Peter had more sight, John more insight.”
• when John went into the tomb, he then he saw and believed

John’s additional insight to this part of the resurrection story:
– he lets us see that the mystery of Jesus is ongoing, even after the resurrection
• there will always be more to be explored and revealed
• even now, there will be things we don’t understand
◦ and until the mystery is fully revealed,
◦ the best way to go forward is in faith, trusting Jesus

Next, John tells us about a private encounter

Peter and John left Mary Magdalene alone at the tomb
– I doubt she could think of anywhere else to go
• she came there with the intention of tending to his body
◦ to gently administer the final touches
• but now she was prevented this last moment of affection
◦ and she could not give up her need to see his body
– it seems to me she was fixated on finding out what happened
• but there were no clues, no trail to follow
◦ she was at a loss – so she just stood there weeping
• like the apostles, she stooped to look in the tomb
◦ but it wasn’t the grave clothes she saw, rather angels
◦ they asked her, Woman, why are you weeping?

I told you to notice what she said to Peter and John
– “They” – some unknown persons
• “taken the Lord” – she did not need to say his name
◦ she and the two men shared the same Lord
• “and we do not know where they have laid him”;
(the “we” refers to her and the other women, Lk. 24:10)
– but to the angels she makes a slight, but significant change
They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him (Jn. 20:13)
• she identified herself with Jesus, her Lord
he belonged to her in a relationship that defined her as belonging to him
• in the most romantic book of the Bible, the Song of Songs,
◦ a woman says of her lover,
My beloved is mine, and I am his (Song 2:16)
◦ yes, it is possible to have that depth of a relationship with God

It seems that the angels either did not answer Mary, or
– she turned before they could answer,
– or she did not listen to what they had to say,
– or she found no comfort in their message
• then suddenly Jesus was in front of her, asking same question
Woman, why are you weeping?
◦ she assumed he was the gardener!
• she thought, perhaps he had done something with Jesus’ body
It is typical of the post-resurrection stories that Jesus wasn’t recognized at first; for example:
– like with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:16)
– the disciples in the upper room (Lk. 24:37-38)
– on the Sea of Galilee (Jn. 21:4)
• in each instance Jesus did something that triggered recognition
◦ in the way he broke bread before the meal (Lk. 24:30-31)
◦ when he showed them his hands and feet (Lk. 24:39; Jn. 20:20-21)
◦ when he told them throw their nets on the other side of the boat (Jn. 21:6-7)
• in this instance, it was the way Jesus said her name, Mary
◦ in the next moment Jesus was saying, Do not cling to me!
(I added the exclamation mark)
– I am thinking that when she realized it was Jesus, she lunged at him
• if her plan had been to touch his lifeless body,
◦ finding him alive, she was not about to let him get away again
◦ obviously Mary did not plan to clutch Jesus like that–it was a spontaneous act
Sue Johnson wrote, “Don’t we all want the one or two infallible rules for how to love and be loved? But love is improvisation.”
◦ Mary improvised
• Jesus went on to say,
for I have not yet ascended to the Father
◦ what did Jesus mean by this? Why would this prevent Mary from hugging him?
◦ I think he was saying, I haven’t completed my mission, there’s still work to be done
◦ and Mary had not completed her mission yet either
. . . go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”

John’s additional insight to this part of the resurrection story:
Mary would always know an undying love

John takes us from tomb that morning to the upper room that evening

The disciples were hunkered down in Jerusalem, still traumatized and terrified
– when Jesus appeared he greeted them with, Peace be with you
• he said this twice – and then again when Thomas was present
• this was his resurrection greeting and way he introduced his next announcement
◦ from now on, it would be peace for them – his peace (cf. Jn. 16:38)
◦ I would like for us to hear it every time Jim begins our service with
“The Lord be with you” or “The peace of the Lord be with you”

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22)
• they felt the breath of Jesus on their faces
◦ and with his breath, they received his Spirit
John’s additional insight to this part of the resurrection story:
they would have continued presence of Jesus

Thomas missed this encounter (I know that now I’m rushing the story)

When the other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord,
– Thomas was adamant
Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe (v. 25)
• John has highlighted the connection of seeing and believing
4:48, Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe
6:30, What sign will you do that we may see and believe you?
• so now he convinces Thomas he is alive by letting him see
◦ to which Tomas responds with the strongest declaration of who Jesus is:
My Lord and my God!
– Jesus’ next statement is important, and vital for us today
Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (v. 29)
• the benediction is for you, who
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Pe. 1:8)
• that statement brings John to the purpose of his gospel
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (vv. 30-31)

John’s additional insight to this part of the resurrection story:
Go forward in faith without first needing to see

Conclusion: Where has this survey through John taken us?

I will suggest one possibility
– that we not only learn about the deeper meanings in Jesus’ teaching
• and allow the Spirit to reveal them to us,
◦ but that we learn from John to look for deeper meanings
◦ and we don’t rely on our rational, analytical minds to find them
• a deeper, hidden meaning can be found anywhere in our world
◦ sometimes in music, sometimes an insect, or the horizon
– an object, event, a person suddenly becomes a sign and symbol
• and becoming a symbol, it becomes a sacrament
◦ an object in our world that communicates another reality
◦ a reality different from the things, but present in them
• it can be fire, water, bread, wine – a ring, a scar, a drop of rain
◦ a slight breeze on our cheek can be the breath of Jesus,
◦ filling our lungs with his Spirit

More than twenty years ago, a friend asked me to perform a renewal of vows ceremony for his wife and himself–they had been married twenty-five years. My daughter, Jennifer, rode up to Newport Beach that Sunday afternoon, and on the way she asked, “Dad, what are you going to say?” I replied, “Oops! Jenn, dig around in my glove compartment. You’ll find a pen and see if you can find something to write on.”
She produced a pen and said, “There’s an old envelope in here.” I said, “Perfect! Pull it out and start writing.” I then dictated the vows that I would have Jack and Helen repeat to each other.
During the reception after the ceremony, Jack asked me, “Where did you get those vows? They were perfect.” When I told him that I had Jennifer write them on the way there, he said, “I want them.” I said, “Sure. When I get home I’ll type them out and mail them to you.” He replied, “No, I want them now.” “But they’re just scrawled on an old envelope.” Jack said, “That’s what I want.” So I handed him the envelope, and later he had it framed.
That envelope became a sacrament for him, a symbol of the life God had given him with Helen and a reminder of the grace that kept them in the love of God.

If we train ourselves to look for meaning
in ordinary and everyday things,
we will find many things that have
a sacramental potential for us.
Allowing those things to awaken us
to deeper, hidden meanings,
is one of the ways we continue clinging to Jesus

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ – 1 John 1:1-3

May 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 5, 2019


Mark 15:1-15 and John 18:33-38

Intro: Way back at the beginning of John’s narrative of Jesus’ ministry, when John the Baptist first saw Jesus, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God. who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29)

John’s source for the image of the lamb was the sacrificial worship of Israel
– this symbol was embedded in Israel’s collective memory
• the offering of a lamb provided atonement for Israel’s sin
• “atone” means to cover
– when it came to sin, God had his people covered

Again early in Jesus’ ministry, Nicodemus came to him for a nighttime chat
– during their interview Jesus told him,
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (Jn. 3:14-15)
• later, Jesus told people who came to him in the temple,
When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority . . . . (Jn. 8:28)
• and even later,
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die (Jn. 12:32)
◦ that is, Jesus would die by crucifixion

These themes come to a dramatic climax and fulfillment in chapters 18-19
– there, the Lamb of God is lifted up on the cross

Jesus is the heart of story, but Pilate moves the plot forward

Rome had installed Pilate as governor over Judea and Syria
– unfortunately for him, he did not govern well
• the way he is remembered in history:
◦ he was a typically ethnocentric Roman
◦ to him, the local population was mostly barbarian
◦ it was his to enforce the Pax Romana and keep the populace in line
◦ he took no interest in Jewish customs, culture, or religion
• ignoring the concerns of the Jews, Pilate repeatedly offended them
– due to their dire complaints, Pilate was recalled to Rome

This story of Jesus’ trial follows Pilate back and forth
– he goes from Jesus’ accusers, then to Jesus, then back to his accusers
• meanwhile he has Jesus swinging on a rope
• exonerated one minute, then beaten the next
– but if Pilate drives the plot, he is also at the mercy of it
• his back is to the wall
The only hero in the story is Jesus
– even his lifeless body is more interesting than Pilate
• and Jesus is definitely more cherished

The episode begins with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

Verse 4 reads,
Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them [those who came to arrest him], “Whom do you seek?”
– Jesus did not stumble into the cross – he saw it coming
• he knew it was the final accomplishment of his ministry
• all of this was moving toward God’s intended goal
◦ perhaps that is why in chapter 19, John mentions more more times the fulfillment of scripture than in any other chapter
◦ and all those quotes are piled up at foot of cross
1. when the soldiers cast lots for his tunic (Jn. 19:24)
2. when Jesus said, “I thirst” (Jn. 19:28)
3. when the soldiers did not break his legs (Jn. 19:36)
4. when a soldier pierced Jesus side with a spear (Jn. 19:37)
– all three of the Synoptic gospels tells us that Jesus prayed that God would spare him this cup
• John says nothing about Jesus’ desperate prayer
• but he does tell us that Jesus spoke of his cup when he was arrested
◦ Peter took a swing at someone in the mob that came for Jesus
◦ but Jesus ordered him,
Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?
◦ God had not removed the cup and Jesus was resolved to drink it
(only John tells us that it was Peter who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, and only Luke tells us that Jesus healed the servant’s ear)
G. Campbell Morgan’s observation is too true: “I sometimes think that our Lord is still often healing wounds that zeal-without-knowledge people make on other souls.”

From the garden, Jesus was dragged before two priests

First Annas, the former high-priest, then his son-in-law Caiaphas
– ultimately Jesus stood before Pilate – what did he look like to Pilate?
• he did not wear the clothes of a Rabbi
◦ he was dressed like a commoner, a working-class man
• Jesus had endured a sleepless night that was long and fatiguing
◦ already his face was swollen and bruised by the beating he received
• Jesus was presented to Pilate as a troublemaker
◦ for Pilate, everyone in Palestine was a troublemaker
◦ Pilate did not want to bother with him
– but whatever Jesus’ appearance was, standing there with his hands tied,
• something about his presence impressed Pilate
• it was obvious that the man before him was innocent
◦ and he says as much – three times

Pilate’s first question to priests, What is the accusation?
– he gets down to business, anxious to get this over with quickly
• they dodged giving him a direct answer
If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you
◦ Pilate threw this case back on them, “Deal with him yourselves”
◦ but then they give reason for bringing Jesus to him:
they were asking for the death penalty
Soon Pilate was in chambers alone with Jesus
– he asked the Lord, Are you the King of the Jews?
• Jesus asked, Is this your question? Is it what you think? Or is it the opinion of others?
• Pilate’s response,
Am I a Jew? Do you think I came up with this? My idea? Your own people handed you over to me. What have you done? Tell me why you’re here. This is your opportunity to explain your side of the story
▫ he wanted to determine if a real crime has been committed
– Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world
• John doesn’t mention the kingdom as much as the Synoptic gospels
◦ but what a profound truth he reveals here!
• Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, and his servants do not fight to defend it
◦ obviously, Jesus did not pose a threat to Rome
◦ but at same time, his kingdom did not fall under Rome’s jurisdiction

Pilate felt like he has something now, So you are a king?
– Jesus’ response: You say that I am – those are your words, not mine
• it was not how Jesus identified himself
◦ it was, in fact, something that he avoided (Jn. 6:15)
• Pilate needed an accusation that could stick
◦ he wanted a confession – but Jesus did not hand it to him
◦ Jesus did not make Pilate’s job easier, but more difficult
– Jesus went on to reveal who he is and what he was about
For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth
• and then we have a very important addition:
Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice
• Jesus handed Pilate the key to understanding him
If you want to know truth about me, guilt or innocence, listen to me; hear what I am saying
◦ Jesus has taken this conversation to another level

Pilate either missed the clue or else he didn’t take the bait
What is truth?
• I’m not going to tell you how to interpret this
◦ maybe he was sincere – maybe what he wanted was the truth
◦ but that’s not how I hear him say these words
• I hear a hard-nosed Roman soldier with no time for this nonsense
Truth? How am I supposed to render a verdict on truth? If philosophers can’t agree on what truth is, then what’s the point? I’ll tell you the truth I know, and right now it is the only truth that matters: Truth is walking from the battlefield with your life. Truth is the sharp point of a sword. There’s life and there’s death; you are either one or the other–that’s truth.
• this is how I hear Pilate answer Jesus
“Why bring philosophy and religion into this? Do you think your accusers give a damn about truth?”
◦ he is cynical and has no interest in probing the issue any further than he must
– so Pilate turned on his heel and left without waiting for an answer

Pilate’s next move was to have Jesus “flogged”

His purpose may have been twofold:
1. To elicit information or a confession (cf. Acts 22:24)
2. To work out a compromise
– Pilate let his soldiers have their fun with Jesus
• he then presented him, battered and broken, still wearing the crown of thorns and purple robe
◦ he says to the priests and elders, Behold, the man
◦ Look, here he is, nothing but a man; he is no king nor is he a threat
• but saying Behold, the man may have been a mistake
◦ because for all his suffering, Jesus was still every inch a man
Through this whole scene, Jesus was the rock. He was not the angry one. He was not the confused and desperate one. The crown and robe were appropriate even if not meant to be, because in every what Jesus was majestic
– when the priests and officers cried out, “Crucify him”
• Pilate told them, Do it yourselves, for I find no guilt in him
◦ and then there’s a new twist,
We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God
◦ a new piece of information has surfaced
John explains that when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid
• up until now we did not even know Pilate was afraid at all
◦ but he had been afraid, and now his fear was intensified

Pilate now asks a different question
– before it was, What have you done?
• but now he wants to know, Where are you from?
◦ Jesus went silent
• so Pilate warned him,
Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?
(Pilate really believed he had that kind of power or authority over Jesus)
From then on Pilate sought to release him
◦ but we know how that went
◦ as Jesus told him, the only authority he had with Jesus had been given to him from above
– why does John report these conversations between Pilate and Jesus?
• maybe he wanted to demonstrate the fact that Jesus got to Pilate
◦ second and third generation Christians may have had doubts
◦ in the Roman Empire, Christianity worked for slaves and the poor
◦ but did it have a chance of taking hold within the populace?
• Pilate was not moved to faith in Jesus
◦ but the Lord got to him
◦ and the Lord could reach into the heart of Rome itself

Conclusion: John handles Jesus trial differently than the Synoptic gospels

Andreas Kostenberger explains the difference this way, “… John transforms the entire notion of a trial and presents Jesus’ ministry in its entirety as a trial, yet not one where Jesus is on trial but one where those who rejected him . . . are put on trial and found guilty by a series of witnesses to Jesus’ messianic identity.”
– John acts as a court reporter
• and in the courtroom of his gospel, everyone must stand where Pilate stood
• Jesus had said,
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day (Jn. 12:48)
– the most tragic outcome of that trial:
• not that Pilate could not save Jesus, but that Jesus could not save Pilate

But he has rescued and recovered us
And now he stands with us in our trials
He who was dragged into the depths
of human suffering
knows our hardships, our pain, our sorrow
And because he is with us now,
we do not have to allow the hardships of life
or the bad people
and the evil that they do
make us turn cynical and embittered
The truth has found us
and the truth has set us free