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Sep 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 1, 2019

Podcast

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is only one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:1-6

Intro: Several times in the last few weeks I have quoted Johann Hari

Hari is an author and journalist who struggled with depression
– eventually he realized antidepressants weren’t helping him
• so he began researching other options and interviewing experts
• he found anxiety and depression have less to do with a chemical imbalance in the brain (as pharmaceutical companies have told us)
◦ and more to do with environmental factors and lost connections
– the first half of his book explores how we have been cut off from:
• meaningful work
• meaningful values (for which we have substituted “junk values”)
• status and respect (apart from our position in social hierarchies)
• the world of nature
• a hopeful or secure future
• other people
– Hari tells stories of people who have re-connected with what we’ve lost
• in doing so, their anxiety or depression has diminished significantly
• more so than if they had been taking prescribed medications

If you were looking for happiness, would your chances be better in
– Japan, Taiwan, Russia, the United States, or Britain?
• the answer: Japan, Taiwan, or Russia—definitely not the US or Britain
Hari, “. . . our Western version of happiness doesn’t actually work . . . .”
◦ if you pursue happiness here, you do it for yourself
◦ you accumulate things, status and experiences for yourself
• in Asia or Russia, people pursue what’s best for the village, group, or tribe
happiness is a shared experience
– sadly, in recent years our culture has become increasingly individualistic

We need to add a chapter to the brain’s owners’ manual

We can title it, “Christian Community”
– we have a picture of Christian community here in Ephesians 4
• Paul had prayed for the Ephesians
◦ that God would bring them into his infinite love
◦ and that they would experience the fullness of its dimensions
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ep. 3:14-19)
• now, with the Ephesians building on that love,
◦ he wanted to see the Spirit of God form them into a community
◦ to do this, some old brain circuits had to be pruned

v. 1, walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called
v. 17, you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do
v. 22, put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life
v. 24, put on the new self, created after the likeness of God

– Paul writes about Christian community–a lot!
(for starters, see Rom. chapters 12 & 14; 1 Cor. 12-14; Col. 3)
• we have seen that to be a whole person requires neural integration
◦ various brain structures have to be in sync
◦ these harmonious functions must be in sync also with the body
• for the last two weeks we’ve gone over relational integration
◦ after God and close relationships, the next step of integration
is a spiritual community
◦ notice how Paul emphasizes “oneness” in verses 4-6:

The same theme appears in 1 Corinthians: For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
Martain Laird says a helpful image of community is a wheel
“The hub of the wheel is God; we the spokes. Out on the rim of the wheel the spokes are furthest from one another, but at the center, the hub, the spokes are most united to each other. . . . The image was used in the early church to say something important about that level of life at which we are one with each other and one with God. The more we journey toward the Center the closer we are both to God and each other. The problem of feeling isolated from both God and others is overcome in the experience of the Center.”

In mid-July I read through Ephesians
– waking up one morning, someone came to mind
• a person from my past
◦ immediately I relapsed
◦ into old familiar feelings of resentment and disgust
• I thought my heart had been purged of those feelings
◦ but my nervous system was still holding on to them
You know, it is never just the event–the argument, the abuse, the betrayal–that we remember and buzzes in our minds, but our commentary on the event. We have stories about what happened, conversations that we repeat and new conversations that we rehearse, perhaps with the hope of unleashing them on our abusers one day. We do this to try to make ourselves feel better in the moment. And it never works; it just carries the bad feelings forward.
◦ anyway, what I felt was not right – at all
– once I was fully awake and reading this chapter, I came to verse 31:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice
• the very feelings that had been triggered in me!
◦ and then verse 32:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you
◦ that seemed impossibly out of reach – until . . .
• I sat with Jesus – then my soul found a safe shelter in him
◦ nothing anyone has done to me can touch me there
◦ he holds me in his kindness and tenderness
(he knows my sore spots)
• any bad feelings toward anyone else dissolve in his presence
◦ Jesus again enabled me to forgive – to love

The target we are aiming for is love

The aim of our [mission] is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5)
– this is what needs to be written into our brain’s owner’s manual
• love is an integrating energy, a psychological and spiritual glue

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Col. 3:12-14)

– Daniel Siegel lists types of communication for healthy relationships
reflective conversations
◦ that help others listen to their feelings and their bodies
“. . . reflective conversations can create new states of mindful awareness.”
attuned communication – we went over this last week
◦ the neural resonance with another person; the experience of empathy
interpersonal and integrative communication
◦ each person respects the different experiences of the others
◦ this results in forming a link or re-connection between them
◦ similar neural pathways are formed among participating members – we can add to this list Susan Smalley and Diana Winston’s
mindful communication (or compassionate communication)
◦ it looks for information from those involved in the conversation
◦ it thinks through and discusses issues from a positive perspective
◦ it accept the fact that there are “multiple perspectives”
(not only multiple opinions, but perspectives behind the opinions)
◦ those involved are able to describe their thoughts and feelings
◦ each one acknowledges what all the others have to say
◦ each one is a participant in a conversation with other participants
◦ the participants take turns

When I read about the kind of conversations that build community,
– I can’t help but think of our experience with Lexio Divina
• first it brings us together–in prayer
• then it takes us into the Scriptures
• we allow the Spirit to take a word down into our souls
• we hold it within and allow it to awaken what’s there
◦ then we share – our thoughts and our souls
◦ this doesn’t mean we tell all our secrets
lexio divina cannot just “happen” – it requires special conditions
• as Johann Hari has said, “To end loneliness, you need other people—plus something else. You also need . . . to feel you are sharing something with the other person, or the group, that is meaningful to both of you. You have to be in it together.”
• I think Paul states it perfectly:
. . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (vv. 15-16)

To speak the truth in love doesn’t mean we tell others,
“I need to tell you something. I’ve never really liked you . . .”
“I was deeply offended by what you said”
“What I have to say is for your own good”
“No one else will tell you this, so it’s up to me”
I don’t know the truth about anyone else!
• I barely know the truth about myself (see 1 Cor. 4:5)
• but what I do know about myself is the truth I can speak
– some people are guarded
• they talk in generalities, “Christians need to be more loving”
• or talk doctrine, or “What the Bible is saying here is . . .”
– in guarding themselves, they make others feel unsafe

To speak the truth in love is to:
– create a safe place – our souls won’t show up if we don’t feel safe
– listen – with our ears and attention of course, but also with body
• what am I feeling? it may be empathy with what someone else has shared
– share – what is yours, what you feel most deeply

Conclusion: What if there’s someone in the community who irritates you?

“I can’t just make myself love someone”
Explore your brain’s owner’s manual – what in you gets triggered?
– what is the commentary you’re brain has written about it?

Try a daily compassion meditation:
“May God let me feel his joy today”
then, for someone you love, “May God let _________ feel his joy today”
then, “May God let my family feel his joy today”
then, “May God let my friends and neighbors feel his joy today”
then, “May God let every stranger I see feel his joy today”
then, “May God let those who have hurt (or annoy) me feel his joy today”
then, “May God let everyone, everywhere feel his joy today”
– at first it may be difficult to bless those who have hurt you
• but praying this prayer every day will begin to change you
• it will help to form new synapses in your brain
◦ and eventually you will be free, well, whole regarding that person
◦ you will have the heart of Jesus toward that person

There will be bumps and struggles
but if we don’t give up,
there are also great rewards

Aug 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 18, 2019

Podcast

I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that [did not call on] my name.
I spread out my hands all the day
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices
Isaiah 65:1-2

Intro: This week, I had a blow-up with one of my grandchildren

The details aren’t important – what matters was my reaction to it
– that night, I woke up around 2:00 am and could get fall back to sleep
• my mind was rehearsing what I would say to that child two days later
◦ I would explain how hurt and disappointed and angry I felt
• and none of that would have done either one of us any good
– the realization came to me that those thoughts would keep me awake all night
• so I took a deep breath and went another direction
• I prayed, “Lord, please show me why I’m overreacting like this. What am I hanging on to from my past? Or what from my past is hanging on to me?”
◦ I don’t have an answer yet,
◦ but just asking that question resolved my tension
– I could go back to just being a grandpa
• the misbehavior had been my grandchild’s
• the overreaction had been mine

The aggravation and agitated thoughts were the old me
– my nighttime course correction was the new me
• I am changing — slowly, because repentance is a process
• we do not change in an instant
◦ it took years of experience to wire the old self into our brains
◦ it will take awhile to erase and rewrite the brain’s owner’s manual
– we’ve seen how the new self is an integrated self — a whole person
• thoughts and feelings, the body and brain work together in sync
• last week, I talked about our primary integration
◦ that is the integration of our lives into the life of God
◦ I feel we need to go over this some more before moving on

Isaiah’s message from God must have shocked his audience

God wanted Israel to find him; he was even willing to help them find him
– but no one was looking for him
• he reached out to them, but no one stretched out their hands to him
• he was that close to them, and they were oblivious to him
For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? (De. 4:7)
– “Here I am” is a familiar phrase in the Scriptures
• Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah spoke this phrase
◦ it is the normal response to a call – including when God called
◦ in our passage, this phrase is marked by two unusual features:
1. A reversal – God is not the one calling, but the one responding
2. God says it twice – the effect is to give it force (like bold font)
• God wants to be found
◦ “Here I am” – he gives away his location
◦ there’s only one reason he would not be found; if no one was looking

Our connection with God is the pivot point of our change
– we do not have to create a connection with God,
• he’s already taken care of everything
◦ it’s like a radio that has all of its components
◦ it just has to be turned on and adjusted to the right frequency
• as Christians, it’s a matter of waking up to what’s inside us

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? (1 Cor. 6:15)
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (1 Cor. 6:19)

– how do we discover our connection with God?
Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence [panyim, his “face”] continually
(Ps. 105:4)
• it is searching for, and gazing on God’s face that we are changed
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18)

One of Israel’s patriarchs, Jacob, left home and traveled to to a distant land where he came to a well. Shepherds were there by the well with their flocks, but they were not watering them. A large stone covered the mouth of the well. Because it was midday and they had plenty of time to return their flocks to pasture, Jacob asked why they were not giving them water and taking them back out. But they told them, it was a local custom to wait for all the flocks to arrive before removing the stone from the well.
Jacob took initiative and removed the stone himself, then watered the flock that belonged to his uncle (Gen. 29:1-10).

We do not have to pray God will give us living water
– he already has, and the living water is in us (see Jn. 4:10-14 & 7:37-39)
• we need to dispense with the old custom, remove the stone,
• and drop a bucket into the well of our souls
– we need to discover, not create, our connection with God

We know how to search for our lost keys

But how do we seek God? We are told:
“Go to the Bible” – this is helpful
– the Bible tells us about the God we are seeking
– but the book points to a person (Jn. 5:39)
“Meditate on the Scriptures”
– there are certainly times of meditation when our hearts are warmed and God seems near
– but most of the time we are only reflecting on words and ideas
• and we have not found God himself
“Pray” – yes, prayer is interaction with God
– so we learn how to pray – formal, written and spontaneous prayers
• but one day we realize we’ve prayed, but not to God
◦ that we had no sense of his presence
◦ that we were looking for things, for answers, but not his face
• even if we are answered with miraculous signs and wonders,
◦ our hearts want more, need more
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
(Ps. 63:1)
“Go to church” —
In the Old Testament, people frequently went to the temple to seek God
– but the whole temple system became corrupt (more than once)
• eventually it totally fell apart
– God’s true people discovered that everywhere they went
• God was there

You see, we run into problems if:
– we look for God as an object in the world
• or we’re seeking a sign, a vision, an angel
– we postpone seeking God for any reason
• like until we learn more, make more progress or improvements
God is always right here, in this present moment
– his name is “I am” — and he is — he is everywhere, all the time
. . . whoever would draw near to God must believe that he is and that he rewards those who seek him (He. 11:6)
• seeking God is focusing our attention on him
• and doing it in there here and now of this present moment

This brings us to the practice of contemplative prayer
(you will find an example in the simplified outline at the end of these notes)

The biggest challenge we’ll have with contemplative prayer is distraction
– and the greatest distractions always come from our own brains
• we can’t be upset about this, it’s what the brain does

St. Augustine, “God is saying, ‘Be still and see that I am God” (Ps 46). But you refuse to be still. You are like the Egyptians tormented by gnats. These tiniest of flies, always restless, flying about aimlessly, swarm at your eyes, giving no rest. They are back as soon as you drive them off.”
Abbot John Chapman acknowledged that “for beginners, the great difficulty is with distractions.” He says distractions “have to be kept quiet, but they cannot be stopped. So that it is, on the one hand, useful to have certain words to repeat, which keep the imagination occupied (it is like throwing a bone to a dog, to keep him quiet while he gnaws it) and on the other hand, to be in a place that is quieting, [sacred], and restful.”

– in recent years, the use of a prayer word has been taught as “Centering Prayer”
• but it goes back many centuries
• in the fifth century, John Cassian interviewed desert monks
◦ a companion of his asked Fr. Isaac,
“[Tell us how we] may ever keep the idea of God in the mind, so that by always keeping it before our eyes, when we find that we have dropped away from Him we may at once be able to recover ourselves and return thither and may succeed in laying hold of it again without any delay from wandering around the subject and searching for it.”
Fr. Isaac recommended, “O God make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me.”
• some suggest a single sacred word
◦ and to say it only when we need to return our attention to God
• others suggest that a word or phrase be repeated with each breath
– the point is that we resist being roped into our distracting thoughts and feelings
• that we have a way to effectively turn our focus away from them
• and resume our awareness of God’s presence

There is a benefit that comes from distractions

They provide us with a training exercise
– having a tool to deal with them, we are able to keep returning to God
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength”
(Is. 30:15)
• the more we repeat the practice, the more it becomes a habit
• eventually we our return is natural and hardly affects the moment
– distractions also helps us discover our triggers
• then, once we discover how those triggers were formed,
◦ they become conscious memories and lose their power
• there also comes a time when God’s presence is more interesting than the distractions

Conclusion: There are beneficial side-effects of contemplative prayer

Emotional regulation–no longer being out of control
Resilience (our ability to bounce back from an upset quickly)
Lowered blood pressure — and a host of other physiological benefits
– but these are only side-effects
– our primary concern in contemplative prayer is our experience of

The nearness of God,
the loving encouragement of Jesus
and the energizing breath of the Spirit

______________________________________________________________________

The following is a simple guide to the practice of contemplative prayer. There are many variations, and I would urge you to find what works best for you. For some people, it can make a huge difference if they find a quiet place in nature, near (or on) the ocean, or in a garden, somewhere they can easily get to every day. What matters is not that you follow a specific form or take specific steps, but that you make however you spend this time you devote to God your own.

Find a quiet place
Sit in a comfortable position
Closing your eyes will help cut down distractions
– if you have to keep them open, hold your gaze on one thing
Begin with by drawing in a deep breath
– pause, and then relax the tension in your body as you exhale
– focus on the air entering and exiting your body
– progressively slow your breathing, still taking full breaths
When your mind wanders, gently return to your breath
– do this gently and without judgment or even thinking about it
Beginning at the top of your head, relax every muscle in your body
– feel that you’re making room in your body for God’s Spirit
– surrender to God’s peace
– relax your forehead, your eyebrows and eyes
– relax your mouth, lips and tongue
– relax your jaw and ears
– keep moving down to the tips of your fingers and toes
Be aware of what you are doing, as if observing yourself
– watch each breath come and go
– notice each muscle releasing its tightness
– notice your awareness
As you exhale, say, “God”
– or you can say, “Jesus,” or “Spirit,” or choose any word of your own
– after a few moments, try saying, “You”–directly to God
– allow yourself to sense his presence
– know God is right here, around you, breathing into you
When you’re finished stand up slowly
– calmly, gently move into your next activity
– continue to hold your awareness on God for as long as possible
– know he is with you–always

Aug 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 11, 2019

Podcast

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Intro: Now might be a good time for a quick review

We began with the word repent – a second thought, change of mind
– this means we change the organ of thought: the brain
• we change how brain cells connect with other brain cells
◦ we rewire neurons to form new thoughts, feelings, actions
• we are re-writing the brain’s owner’s manual

Daniel Siegel, “. . . experience for the brain means neural firing. When we have an ‘experience,’ clusters of neurons are activated to send electrical signals down their long lengths. The gene activation and protein production triggered by neural firing can create new synapses, strengthen existing ones, alter the packets of [neuro-chemicals] that are released or the receptors that receive their messages, and even stimulate the growth of new neurons. . . . Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

– think of Paul’s statement, put off the old self . . . and put on the new self
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Last week, to become a whole person requires integration

When we bring our awareness to God’s presence in prayer,
– we experience our wholeness in God
• and then what stands out? what seems out of place?
• the disconnected parts of the new self
◦ these are the neural connections we want to prune and replace
– my grandson frequently downloads games onto my iPhone
• one is a find-the-difference game, which shows two similar pictures
• I have a strategy for spotting the differences if the images are side-by-side
◦ crossing my eyes I create “one frame” between two blurred images
◦ the subtle differences immediately pop out
• something similar happens in contemplative prayer
◦ whatever is not part of our wholeness in Christ pops out

Daniel Siegel says that integration is crucial for optimum health
– he lists “eight domains of integration”
• we talked about the first six last week
◦ they have to do with integration within the brain and body
• the two other domains are interpersonal integration and temporal integration
– but towards the end of The Mindful Brain, Siegel adds a ninth
• “transpirational integration”
◦ an integration that breathes across the other eight domains

Daniel Siegel, “Transpiration opens our minds to another dimension of perception. The sacred suffuses each breath, our essence, each step through this journey of life. As we breathe life across the many domains of integration, we come to see ourselves as extending beyond the temporal-spatial dimensions that limit our view of the horizon. Transpiration gives us vision to see what is beyond our eyes.”
Neuroscientist, Jaak Panksepp identified seven primary motivational systems that drive human psychology and physiology
• but in doing therapy, he added another important system: Spirituality
“since that is so important for getting people over the hump of addictive disorders as well as, more widely, for finding the path to a life well lived.”

What Siegel and Panksepp address is the most important integration

The integration of our lives into the life of God
– Paul says something radical regarding our relationship with Jesus
• we are “joined” to him (1 Cor. 6:15-17)
◦ he uses the analogy of the most intimate physical union
• until we are united with God, I don’t think we realize how fragmented we are within ourselves
◦ a disconnected life is the norm in our culture
◦ God desires, and assists, and supports our integration
– there is a theological word for this integration: reconcile
• first time I read through the New Testament, it was in the Good News Bible
• for reconcile, it has “changed us from God’s enemies into his friends”
◦ that is what reconcile means and it is what reconciliation does
We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Now that we are God’s friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ’s life! But that is not all; we rejoice because of what God has done through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has now made us God’s friends (Ro. 5:10-11, GNB; cf. Col. 1:21-22)

Every human relationship is fragile and easily bruised

Every relationship breaks down sometimes
– perhaps the most common breakdown is in communication
• we misunderstand, or feel we haven’t been heard,
◦ or communication is cut off for some reason
• the pattern of our enduring relationships is rupture and repair
◦ we can survive the ruptures, because they’re followed by repair
◦ frequently, communication is even better after the repair
– we do not handle our relationship with God any better than we do with each other

When humans first appear in scripture, their world is perfectly integrated
– the intimacy of man and woman is indicated by the fact that they
were both naked and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:25)
(neither was afraid to be seen by the other, nor embarrassed of their body)
• intimacy with God is indicated by their evening strolls (Gen. 3:8)
• intimacy with animals is indicated by the fact that Adam met and named each one (Gen. 2:19-20)
• intimacy with the natural world consisted of tending the garden and enjoying its produce (Gen. 2:15-17)
– but the moment their relationship with God was ruptured, everything reversed
• now, instead of intimacy, they lived in alienation
◦ the humans were alienated from their own selves and each other
(their nakedness now became an issue, and they covered it; Gen. 3:7)
◦ alienated from nature and the soil that had fed them (Gen. 3:19)
◦ alienated from God’s immediate presence (Gen. 3:24)
• the story is meant to tell us why the world is the way it is
◦ why we can’t eat everything that grows from the ground
◦ why we can’t pet lions or swim with killer whales
◦ why we have such a hard time living in peace with others

Adam and Eve are representative characters
– they are stand-ins for all humankind
• in other words, if it were you, you would have done the same

That was the rupture – the repair began with a family

God revealed himself to Abraham and pulled him into a relationship
– he continued to reveal himself to Abraham’s descendants
• and he pulled them into a relationship–a covenant relationship
I will be your God and you shall be my people (Le. 26:12)
• although that relationship was ruptured,
◦ God promised a permanent healing through Israel
◦ the promise was fulfilled and rupture healed in Jesus Christ
– in Jesus we are integrated into a union with God
• the rupture does not define us
◦ old thoughts and feelings we had about ourselves do not define us
◦ we know the rupture is fixable
• what we are asked to do is to acknowledge the rupture,
◦ and trust Jesus to take it from there
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:8-9)

We need to ground ourselves in two parts of this cure

The first part is God’s grace
– this is so vast and amazing that few Christians live in its fullness
• this is the essential factor in our spiritual integration
◦ and we cannot make it happen, have no control over it
• we cannot get to where we want to be in God,
◦ by any program, method, or technique

The second part is faith–or, more to the point of our experience, trust
– we trust God’s grace when we let go:
of trying to win his love
of guilt and shame
◦ that have been wired into our neural circuits
◦ we’ll keep sabotaging ourselves if we don’t get this straight
. . . whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything (1 Jn. 3:20)
of habitual, negative thoughts about ourselves
◦ we’re not made of steel or concrete
◦ we are fresh clay and we are being re-molded
– we practice trust when we calm our souls in God’s presence
Martin Laird says when this is habit, it “cultivates dynamic stillness”
• a striking expression, “dynamic stillness”
• a divine energy is present in our silent stillness

Conclusion: Here is the mystery of God’s grace, the miracle:

We are already where God wants us to be
– there’s a section of Isaiah 41 in which God tells Israel,
I am the one who helps you
• then he says, you shall do this and you shall do that:
◦ listing three powerful demonstrations of his help
• he follows this with a fourth you shall
And you shall rejoice in the LORD (Is. 41:14-16; a proper, natural response!)
◦ giving thanks for our future self is a way of trusting God
◦ this is the prayer of faith

Thomas Merton, “In prayer we discover what we already have. . . . We already have everything but we don’t know it and don’t experience it. Everything has been given to us in Christ.”
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Pe. 1:3)

– we need to grow in awareness of the grace already given us
• one of God’s promises to his exiled people was that they would return
◦ and once they were again in Zion, they would
possess their possessions (Ob. 1:17)

Our brains were created for connection
All that we need for re-connection is already ours
Calming ourselves in God’s presence is a return to Eden
It is God’s rest, where we enjoy his fullness (Heb. 4:6-10)
When we give God thanks today for what we will be tomorrow,
we are praying in faith
So stick with your practice of listening in silence
your practice of trust
and your practice of giving thanks

Aug 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 4, 2019

Podcast

(I’m going to play a mean trick on you by quoting this particular passage from the King James Version of the Bible.)
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. Romans 7:13-20 (KJV)

Intro: I wonder if Paul intended this passage to frustrate its readers

Paul describes a frustrating struggle, a losing battle with himself
– suppose he wanted his readers to feel that frustration for themselves
• if so, Dr. Seuss could not have done a better job of creating confusion
• however, my guess is that Paul wrote it in a state of frustration
– early on, he had put every effort into living a sinless life
• but every time he thought he had achieved it,
◦ a new sin sprouted in some area of his life
• if he spent his entire time with nothing other than God’s law,
◦ even the law introduced him to sins he had not known existed

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. (vv. 7-8)
and
. . . through the law comes knowledge of sin (Ro. 3:20)

• my guess is that when Paul brought this old struggle back to mind,
◦ he re-lived the experience of frustration it created for him
◦ then he wrote in the intensity of that frustration

If we were to put a modern label on Paul’s struggle,
– we might say he was conflicted – at war with himself
• other terms come to mind, such as:
◦ fragmented, compartmentalized, “dis-integrated,” dis-connected
– “the flesh” Paul refers to is another term for the old self (Ro. 6:6)
• or the brain’s old owner’s manual
(last week, Steve Pereira said “operation manual,” which I think I prefer)
• the flesh cannot be integrated with our spirit
◦ therefore, its old neural circuits must be pruned

Every significant problem is the result of a broken connection

We’ll track this statement for next two or three weeks
– but today, we’ll stick with the brain
• Paul’s conflicted state indicates a internal disconnection
(between spirit and flesh)

Joseph LeDoux explains how the brain “holds the self together.” He says, “The bottom line is simple: Functions depend on connections; break the connections and you lose the functions.”
He mentions a term coined by Norman Geshwind, “disconnection syndromes”–that is, disorders that result from a break in communication between different structures in the brain.

◦ there are many reasons we split-off parts of ourselves
◦ our past, or emotions, or why we repress certain needs or feelings
• these internal contradictions diminish and interfere with life

Abraham Maslow wrote, “Isolating two interrelated parts of a whole from each other, parts that need each other, parts that are truly ‘parts’ and not wholes, distorts them both, sickens and contaminates them.”

◦ we need all parts working together to be ourselves
◦ otherwise, as James said,
a double-minded person is unstable in all his or her ways (Jas. 1:8)

Maslow asks, “If ‘heaven’ is always available, ready to step into . . . is always a possibility for any serious and thoughtful person . . . . What prevents this from happening?.” He answers that it is “a state in which we are not ‘fully functioning,’ not at our best, not fully human, not sufficiently integrated.”

A key function of the brain’s new operation manual is integration

Previously I have quoted from Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections
– he suggests that lost connections are the primary causes of anxiety and depressive disorders
• in his chapter on the brain, he describes how it is changed by broken connections
• but he adds “reconnection can change it back”
– according to Daniel Siegel, the key to mental health is integration
• he lists “eight domains of integration”
◦ the first six have to do with brain’s operation manual
(we’ll get to the other two next week

  1. The integration of consciousness
    • this is the opposite of being scatter-brained
    ◦ distracted by too many competing thoughts
    • integration occurs when we can focus our attention on one thing
    Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary (Lk. 10:41-42)
  2. Horizontal integration
    • by this, he is referring to the brain’s two hemispheres
    • the right hemisphere:
    ▫ is more directly connected to the limbic system, brain stem, and body
    ▫ it is less concerned with rules and more concerned with feelings
    ▫ the right hemisphere is the artist, the poet, the dreamer
    • the left hemisphere:
    ▫ has less direct communication with what goes on happening below it
    ▫ its functions are logical, sequential, it is “a list maker,” and looks for cause and effect
    ▫ the left hemisphere is the scientist, the engineer, the thinker
  3. Vertical integration
    • connecting everything below the neck to everything above
    ◦ skin, muscles, bones, organs send signals upward
    ◦ trauma can block those signals
    ▫ but we can also repress those signals by self-discipline
    ▫ we can refuse to listen to what our body is trying to tell us
  4. Memory integration
    • explicit memory – what we can bring into awareness
    • implicit – what is buried in the unconscious
    ◦ the brain’s automatic, habitual reactions
    ◦ sometimes healing requires some of the hidden stuff to be brought to surface
    • the integration of explicit and implicit memory relates to next domain
  5. Narrative memory
    • normal memory consists of stories
    (that have a beginning, a middle, and an end)
    ◦ this is how we make sense of our lives, past and present
    • my mother’s childhood made no sense, and she kept much of it from us
    ◦ it wasn’t until she was in her fifties that her older sister told her,
    “Well, you know, Mom was schizophrenic”
    ◦ that’s when her childhood and teenage years began to make sense
    ▫ until then, an important and necessary piece was missing
  6. State integration
    • two mood states can occur at the same time
    ◦ then they tend to compete or conflict
    ◦ for instance, I may need solitude, but at same time I’m lonely

I am convinced that integration is a key theme in the Scriptures
– what was one of Jesus’ main concerns regarding his disciples?
you must not be like the hypocrites (Mt. 6:5)
• we’ll take a closer look at the biblical role of in integration later on
• for now we’ll merely note:
Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name
(Ps. 86:11)
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8)
◦ the pure heart is a single heart, an integrated heart

Conclusion: How do we begin to move toward integration?

We have already begun moving that direction

Daniel Siegel, “How we focus our attention is the key to promoting integrative changes in the brain. With the integration of consciousness, we actually build the skills to stabilize attention so that we can harness the power of awareness to create choice and change.”

You integrate both hemispheres of brain when you
confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead . . . . For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Ro. 10:9-10)
– speech is mainly a left hemisphere function
– belief is mainly right hemisphere

Jesus Christ holds us together

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:16-17)

In Jesus, everything is redeemed, reconciled, healed, made whole
We spend time in silence with him,
our total attention focused on him
Then he takes the “many things” of our anxious hearts
and directs us to the one, necessary thing
that puts us back together

Jul 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 28, 2019

Podcast

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. John 17:14-16

Intro: I have been mulling over something this past school year

Two days a week I drove three of my grandchildren to school
– two of them attend school in what I refer to as a new suburbia
• the residents are almost exclusively young families
◦ everything is new – new expensive houses and condos
◦ and new apartments, a few of which are low-rent properties
• none of the houses, condos or apartments have much yard space
– there’s an obvious cultural distinction of two classes in new suburbia
• the basis for it is monetary – those with affluence put it on display
◦ the vehicles in line to drop off kids tell a story
◦ some drive the “family car” or truck, others drive expensive SUVs
• this is elementary school!
◦ yet kids coast in on electric bikes or mini-scooters
◦ or parents bring them in over-priced golf-carts

The late Christopher Lasch, a notable historian and social critic,
– observed a change in the way industrial tycoons viewed the masses
• their shift in thinking turned North American society a new direction
◦ it went from being a culture of producers to a culture of consumers
• but now they faced a new challenge
◦ to convince people they had needs they had never been aware of
◦ a product that would create the “illusion of prosperity and well-being”
Lasch described a form of advertising that “creates or exacerbates new forms of unhappiness—personal insecurity, status anxiety, anxiety in parents about their ability to satisfy the needs of the young. Do you look dowdy next to your neighbors? Do you own a car inferior to theirs? Are your children as healthy? as popular? doing as well in school? Advertising institutionalizes envy and its attendant anxiety.”

So–the question we will think about today is:

What has the world written into our brains’ owner’s manual?

When Jesus prayed for his disciples, hours before going to cross,
– he knew they would live with a specific and unavoidable tension
• he was leaving them in the world, but they were not of it
• and their lives in the world would not be easy
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (Jn. 15:18)
. . . whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God (Jn. 16:2)
In the world you will have tribulation (Jn. 16:33)
– but Jesus did not pray that God would take them out of world
• only that he would keep them from evil and set them apart
• although they would be in the world, they would not be of it

By “world,” Jesus did not mean the planet, or culture, or society
– it might make more sense if we used a term like world-spirit
• Jesus had referred to Satan as the ruler of this world
• he was talking about a certain, diabolical influence
– from the Garden of Eden, to Job, Jesus’ temptations, to Paul’s letters,
• we see that the devil plays head-games
• evil has always been a factor in influencing human minds
◦ even entire societies and nations

The Scriptures teach us to critique culture and critique ourselves

The Bible is aware of the persuasive and seductive powers of the world-spirit

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2:15-17)

– the world-spirit plays on our vulnerabilities
• taps into our insecurity, uncertainty, and unmet needs
◦ it creates the illusion that it has the answers–for a price
• of course, it cannot provide real answers
◦ if industries did that, they would cut their own throats
– world-spirit tells us,
You must be a certain kind of person, rise to a specific level of monetary power or social approval to count for anything. Your status in the world depends on your conformity to its values. If you fail to achieve that status, you must accept your lowly place in society. You will be an outcast.

Mean bosses and supervisors demonstrate the world-spirit
– they can make you feel like nothing
• especially when the pay and power differential is significant

I usually catch myself when I make snap judgments regarding a person, based on their appearance or one statement or action. When I do catch myself, I immediately admit that I know nothing about them and I am in no place to think badly of them. Then I ask God for forgiveness and the wisdom and compassion to do better.
One day I walked Kona, our yellow lab along a trail that borders a golf course. I spotted four men who were waiting to tee off. One of them in particular stood out. It was the set of his face, his bearing and mannerisms, and seeing him I immediately shuddered. I said to myself, “I’m glad I don’t work for that guy!” He looked like the kind of person who could make you feel like nothing. But then I went through my ritual of confessing and praying for forgiveness and wisdom. What did I know?
Later, as Kona and I made our way back to where I had parked, the same guy went past us in a golf cart. I’m familiar enough with the trail and course to know he had missed his turn, so when he drove by us, I said, “You missed your turn.” Without turning toward me, he just shouted over his shoulder in a gruff voice, “I did not!”
Then I got a really big smile on my face, and said to myself, “Now I’m really glad I don’t work for that guy!” Also, I knew we would see him again as he came back to where he should have turned.
Sure enough, up ahead I saw him blocking the trail, trying to make an Austin Power’s twenty-point-turn to circle back. But then he surprised me. When we drew up close to his cart, he nodded to me and told his partners, “I owe that guy an apology.” So people can surprise you–sometimes in a good way. (But I’m still glad he’s not my boss.)

Through the media, mentors and life experience,
– the world-spirit has written its values into our brains
• so if our realtor shows up in a clunker, our or lawyer in a cheap suit,
◦ we wonder, “Can this person be any good at their profession?”
• then we also feel judged in our old, beat-up car
◦ or wearing our thrift-store outfit

One other thought: the “world” that hated Jesus was a religious system
– certain denominations and their disciples try to sell their brands
• they may try to create discontent with what your church offers,
◦ or to make you feel guilty, or think you’ve been misled
• if you let them, they’ll lay a terrible burden on you
◦ their requirements and regulations, doctrines and traditions
– Paul fought hard against this in his letters
(see especially his letter to the Galatians and Colossians ch. 2)
• If we know what we already have in Jesus,
◦ we are immune to their manipulations

We cannot trust the world-spirit to tell us who we are

It knows nothing of the true self–and glamorizes the false self
– the world will tell you, you’re nothing without the latest technology,
• or if you don’t drive new model car, or don’t have enough education

Former president of Grey Advertising, Nancy Shalek said, “Advertising at its best is making people feel that without their product, you’re a loser. Kids are very sensitive to that . . . You open up emotional vulnerabilities, and it’s very easy to do with kids because they’re the most emotionally vulnerable.”
Johann Hari observes, “When they talk among themselves, advertising people have been admitting since the 1920s that their job is to make people feel inadequate–and then offer their product as the solution to the sense of inadequacy.”

– how well does the world resolve the negative feelings they create?
Psychologist, Tim Kasser’s research found that “materialistic people, who think happiness comes from accumulating stuff and superior status, had much higher levels of depression and anxiety.” Johann Hari adds, “What you really need are connections. But what you are told you need, in our culture, is stuff and a superior status, and in the gap between those two signals–from yourself and from society–depression and anxiety will grow as your real needs go unmet.”
• of course, we learned this already from Ecclesiastes
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is [emptiness] (Ecc. 5:10)
• the world-spirit does not keep its promises – it is bankrupt
◦ we do not want to leave our hearts in its hands

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. … No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on (Mt. 6:19-34)

Conclusion: I spent Friday with my grandson, Calum

He wanted me to watch a television program with him
– I explained to him that if we watched a cartoon show,
• what we watched would be from someone else’s imagination
• but if we just played together, we could use our own imaginations
◦ fortunately, that appealed to him, and that is what we did
– it turns out, Calum did not enjoy grandpa’s imagination as much as his own
• so I let him do all the heavy lifting
• but when I wanted to take a break, he said,
“C’mon, Grandpa, let’s use our imaginations!”

I am asking you to use your childhood imagination
to envision a different world,
a world that could really exist,
but must begin with someone who imagines it is possible
Then write that world into your brain’s owner’s manual

Paul makes an interesting statement regarding the world-spirit
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14)
– Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about stopping
• that is, to take a time-out occasionally in your ordinary day,
• to cultivate mindful awareness
Kabat-Zinn, “To take a few moments to ‘die on purpose’ to the rush of time while you are still living, you free yourself to have time for the present. By ‘dying’ now in this way, you actually become more alive now.”
– that is the sort of dying to the world we need to practice
• to liberate ourselves from its pervasive influence
• this is how we allow ourselves to hear the warnings of awareness
◦ when we’re being manipulated, following herd, or walking into danger

The dead-to-the-world silence we cultivate is:
Surrender – we silence our griping and our cravings
(Paradoxically) Revolt – a rejection of the world’s twisted values
Space – removing our hearts and minds every thought and feeling
that is not God
Allowing him to enter the room within us that is already his

Jul 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 21, 2019

Podcast

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herbs.
____
Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
____
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light.
and your justice as the noonday.
____
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
____
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evil doers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land
Psalm 37:1-9

Intro: Imagine this . . .

While you’re at work, out shopping, or on vacation
– a family parks a moving in front of your home
• they break into, and unload used, worthless furnishings inside
• then they redecorate your home with their junk
◦ and to make matters worse, they glue or nail everything in place
– ridiculous, right?
• but all of us have allowed others to do that with our brains
• by words, actions, and attitudes, others have dumped their junk on us
◦ tainting our sense of self and outlook on life

Psalm 37 tells us not to allow what others do get inside us

The poet provides a primer on the ABCs of self-regulation

Remember the books we read to teach us the alphabet? “A is for apple…”
– this psalm was written that way
• the English Standard Version has tried to mimic that structure
◦ by formatting the printing of the poem in couplets
• every two verses feature the letters of the Hebrew alphabet consecutively
– the message of the psalm is Don’t let the bad things people do get to you
• it begins by teaching how to dial down our frustration (1-9)
• the rest of poem relates a variety of scenarios to reinforce the lesson
◦ bad people may plot against the good, and for awhile succeed,
◦ but in the end, God brings down the bad and promotes the good

First, the general instruction, Fret not

The recent earthquakes reminded me of the uniqueness of that experience
– life is unpredictable – there are lots of ups and downs,
• but I take for granted that the ground beneath me is stable
• when it moves, I lose my reliable frame of reference
◦ an earthquake instantly robs me of my illusion of control
– we cannot control everything that comes at us
• neither can I control my reaction to what comes at me–if
◦ it is instant, unconscious, spontaneous, and automatic
• but if I could bring that unconscious process into awareness,
◦ it would reveal something new
◦ namely, that I have a freedom–freedom to choose my response

Robert Alter says “fret” comes from a root word “that means to ‘heat up’”
– to be emotionally charged–for instance, with anger, frustration, indignation
• Barb and I have been receiving phone calls telling us,
“Your Social Security number will be suspended if you don’t act now”
◦ someone is trying to swindle me – and I want justice
◦ no, I want revenge!
• it’s easy to get fixated on these aggravations
– Fret not yourself – fretting is something I do to myself!
• evil doers are out there–and they’re doing their evil
◦ but whatever my reaction to their evil, it is all mine
• what they do is their business, and God will deal with them
◦ how I react is my business–and can harm me more than they can
◦ their action may last a minute, a day, months
▫ but I could carry it for the rest of my life

This week I read a similar verse in Book of Proverbs

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the LORD see it and be displeased
and turn away his anger from him.
Fret not yourself because of evildoers,
and be not envious of the wicked,
for the evil man has no future;
the lamp of the wicked will be put out
(Pr. 24:17-20)

– does the word “enemy” bring to mind a specific person?
• someone may have hurt or insulted you, but not an enemy
◦ but you don’t consider them an enemy, but merely an annoyance
◦ there have been others, more aggressive, spiteful and abusive
• is it possible for you to move that person out of the enemy category?
◦ if not, can you think of them as the enemy Jesus told us to love?
(not that you have to be best friends or trust them)
– another thought, if any enemy of yours “stumbled,”
• suffered loss or humiliation, would it improve your life?
◦ would their fall add anything good to your circumstances?
• if one of them prospered, won the Lottery,
◦ would that in any way diminish your life with Jesus?
◦ if not, then don’t fret yourself over them
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil (v. 8)

Soul meds – to relieve fretting: the first one, Trust in the LORD

The poet adds, and do good – that is one way to activate trust
– don’t give into the temptation to “get even” (or even think about it)
• turn yourself in a different direction
– sometimes it’s irritating when God tells me, “Don’t think that thought”
• that is when I realize I’ve been relishing my revenge fantasy
◦ I call it a thumb-sucking activity
◦ if it consoles me, it also keeps me fixated on the offense
• trust means I have to let it go – I cannot dwell on it
◦ but I don’t just “let it go into the air” — I hand it over to God

The second soul med, Delight yourself in the LORD

There are two kinds of delight (different words are used in v. 4 and 23)
– one word means “to be pampered,” spoil yourself, enjoy yourself
• the other means to “to take pleasure in”
– what gets in the way of change? Fear
• of not being safe, or in control, or fear of an unpredictable future
◦ fear that I won’t be able to meet my needs, fulfill my desires
◦ or that I won’t be able to see the change through to the end
• if we can eliminate fear,
◦ it helps change to proceed smoothly and at a comfortable pace
– what promotes change? Passion (or, in scripture, zeal)
• what do I delight in? At what do I get outraged?
◦ what am I passionate about?
◦ use this energy to motivate change when the process gets difficult

Choice is a human freedom that we need
Change is a human possibility we must want

The third soul med, Commit your way to the LORD

Jon Kabat-Zinn says, here you are, in this unpleasant situation, so now “The important question is, how are you going to handle it?” His recommendation is that we “pause in our experience . . . to hold it in awareness and thereby come to know and understand it better.”
– apart from taking this time-out
• I am most likely to be driven by autopilot
◦ the habit written in my brain’s old owner’s manual
• my response will affect my mood, attitude, and perspective
◦ not only for the time being, but also for whatever comes next
– knowing there are options is God’s gift to us in each present moment

The fourth and fifth soul meds, Be still before the LORD… and wait

Holding the body still is relatively easy
– holding the mind still is the tricky part
• the rational brain wants to analyze, ask questions, interrupt
– also, if we try too hard to make something, we sabotage the moment
• we will be activating the wrong neural circuits
• that’s why the first thing we do in prayer is relax the body
◦ to wait is a spiritual exercise!
◦ learn to experience waiting as a pleasant experience
◦ explore the present moment

If I can take a moment in the doorway and re-collect myself,
– be aware that I’m standing in this spot for this moment,
• then a choice will come to me
◦ and that choice can determine the quality of my life
◦ the quality of my life in that day and in the days to come
• whether I live a long life is not up to me
◦ whether I live a full live is on me
◦ if I’m not conscious of these choices,
I may be losing some of my life’s richness

Conclusion: I’m old enough to say, “In my day . . .”

So, “In my day the taught typing classes in high school”
– our practice assignments were repetitive and boring
• but do you know what?
◦ my fingers now find the keys on their own
• I can type without thinking about typing

I receive God with my breath
because my mind is too small a portal
to receive all that he is
With my breath,
I don’t have to understand
how he enters me
or what he does in me;
I am able to simply trust that he is
and that is all I need

Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
(Psalm 46:10)

Jul 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 14, 2019

Podcast

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

Podcast

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.

Preparation
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.

Begin
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,
“Peace”
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

Podcast

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

Podcast

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