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Jan 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 12, 2020

Podcast

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6:5-8
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. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:25-33
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

Intro: Can we take moment to think about why we’re here?

What does it mean to say we are Christians?
– we believe that “all this”–oceans, mountains, planets, nebula–
• all of it came from somewhere – from Someone
◦ a Creator infinitely intelligent and infinitely powerful
• yet the Creator is not in the universe like any other created object
– Jesus drops a line here that gives me the chills:
your Father who is in secret (v. 6)
• this Greek word also means “hidden” or “concealed”
As John said, No one has ever seen God (Jn. 1:18)
◦ my frustration is that he is hidden so well,
at times I’m not even sure he even exists
◦ our eyes are only good for seeing in four dimensions
• does that mean God exists in a different universe?
◦ it may only mean he’s in a fuller dimension of the universe we know
◦ and the only way we can know him is if he reveals himself to us

This presents a significant challenge
– if you know the sixties movie, Cool Hand Luke, you might remember the
prison warden’s famous line:
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”
• communicate: the movement of information between 2 points
◦ there is transmission and reception – a speaker and a hearer
• between those two points is a gap
◦ the goal is to move the message through space so it’s received
◦ success depends on a number of factors:
such as language, culture, education, personal interests, etc.
– if I wanted, I could watch the 6:00 news on a Korean channel
• it wouldn’t do me any good, because I don’t speak Korean
◦ the news is broadcast to me, but it’s not received
◦ the message doesn’t reach across the communication gap
(Christians are in many instances poor communicators, because they use jargon they assume others can understand, but it is like they are speaking a different language)
• if a message isn’t received, there’s no communication
◦ “failure to communicate” occurs when the intended audience does
not receive the message, understand it, or pay attention to it
◦ successful communication is like a bridge across the gap between
sender and receiver

Every bridge requires a solid foundation on both sides of gap
– those sending message must be clear regarding their content
• the message must be adapted to the audience
◦ like when explaining something to a child

Years ago, a friend asked me how he could become more solid in his faith. One of my recommendations was that he read Bible. Then he told me, “Well, that’s a problem; I’m dyslexic.” He wanted to know what God had to say to him in the Scriptures, but he did not have direct access to them. To help bridge that gap, I gave him a recording of the entire Bible that he could listen to while at home or on the road.
Until fairly recent history, the majority of world’s population could not read. If the gospel came to them in print, they could not read it. If it were broadcast to them in a foreign language, they could not understand it.

– cross-cultural communication is a huge challenge
• not only because of language,
◦ but because of the wide range of unfamiliar experiences
• the most effective communication occurs between
people who share same language, culture, background

How does God communicate across the infinite/finite gap?

I’ll explain, but this is why I’m enthralled with the Incarnation
– Job knew he had been treated unfairly,
• but when he thought of arguing his case with God, he said,
For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him,
that we should come to trial together.
There is no arbiter between us,
who might lay his hand on us both
(Job 9:33)
• I cannot cross the chasm between human and divine
• I cannot be more than what I am – I cannot reach that high
– for centuries, God spoke through nature and inspired prophets
• neither of which gave us the complete message,
◦ or told us everything he wants us to know about himself

So God brought his message to us himself
– he accommodated himself to what we are capable of comprehending
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14)
Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be [held on to], but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant (Php. 2:5-7)
• Job complained that there was no arbiter between him and God
◦ someone who could stand between both at the same time
◦ but Paul said,
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, that man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5)
• Jesus makes the perfect communication bridge,
◦ because he is both human and divine
◦ he knows God and he knows us
– Incarnation means God comes to us in the person of Jesus
• having the nature of God, he brings to us the fullness of God (Col. 2:9)
• having our nature, he knows our situation (Heb. 2:14-18)
◦ he knows us so well, that he can empathize with us
◦ knows us so well, he can communicate with us perfectly

So, what it means to be a Christian is this:
– we believe in God, and
• we believe God has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ
• so we believe the teaching of Jesus
◦ and we trust the person of Jesus

I’ve dragged you through all this for one reason

Jesus says, . . . your heavenly Father knows (vv. 8 & 32)
– God knows us and our situation — in Jesus, he has lived it
• he takes an interest in us, because we are valuable to him
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows (Mt. 10:29-31)
– for Jesus, God’s existence and concern for us are so sure,
• that his care for birds in the sky and weeds in the fields
are guarantees that he will feed and clothe us as well

Jesus does not flatter us – he does not say,
“You are such awesome disciples!
You’re so discerning and wise!
You have such great faith.”
– no, he says,
O you of little faith – and,
Are you also still without understanding? (Mt. 15:16)
– these were his twelve closest disciples
• but their progress seems painfully slow
◦ and to me, my progress seems even slower
• Jesus is telling them that their Father knows their needs
◦ that they are of great value to him

Conclusion: That is what I am telling you – now

God’s love and concern are not like something you have to earn
– they are not awards you get at graduation
• this is where you begin with God
– you have been loved since before you were born
• you were loved before your first prayer,
◦ before your baptism, before your first Communion
• you were loved before–and after–the worst deed you’ve ever done
◦ you are loved in your brokenness, loneliness, and failures

Your heavenly Father knows
– he is our heavenly Father – not like our earthly “dads”
• we don’t have to bring home a good report card
◦ your Father knows and he cares
• I complain, “God, do You see what’s happening here?
I’m overwhelmed.”
◦ Jesus says, “Your Father knows”
– I don’t even have to pray right
• I don’t have to say the right words or pray for the right things
• I can just pray my heart
◦ pray my fears and anxieties
◦ pray my hopes and desires
Helmut Thielicke says that Jesus did not “indulge in a little romantic nature study by contemplating the birds of the air and their obviously happier existence.”
“. . . the very purpose of this Word is to get down into our cares and our fears; its very intent is to encourage and cheer us by telling us that he who said these words about the lilies and the birds bore in his own body all the pains and fears, all the torments and mortal struggles, not because he wanted to soar above them for a while, but rather because he wanted to be in them as our brother and therefore suffer them with us.”
“. . . I think we must stop and listen when this man, whose life on earth was anything but birdlike and lilylike, points us the carefreeness of the birds and lilies. Were not the somber shadows of the Cross already looming over this hour of the Sermon on the Mount?”

Jesus came to tell us we’re not alone
To tell us, Your heavenly Father knows
He knows you, he knows your needs,
he knows your sadness,
and he knows your soul
Don’t let fear keep you from being person you were meant to be
Look at the birds in the sky,
Consider the blossoms in a field of weeds
You are more valuable and more beautiful to God
than all the birds and blossoms in the world

Jan 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 5, 2020

Podcast

And God spoke all these words, saying,
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 20:1-6

Intro: Anyone who knows anything about the Bible, has heard of the
Ten Commandments

Israel had been a slave people before God rescued them
– now they were just beginning to know their God
• they needed to know how to order their lives in his sight
• at their work, in their families, in society, and in the world
– above all, they had to know how to live in relationship with God
• so it is this comes first on the list of commandments

To some Jewish and Christian believers,
– it looks like God prohibits any religious art–paintings or sculptures
You shall not make for yourself . . . any likeness of anything that is in heaven . . . earth . . . or water
• that seems to cover every sphere of their known world
• so there are churches with blank walls,
◦ and homes with plaques and platitudes, but no visual art
(words and actions are the only approved forms of communication)
– notice, this second commandment is tagged onto the first
• in fact, for Jewish interprets they are one commandment
◦ Israel’s exclusive devotion to God eliminated idolatry
• the prohibition is twofold:
◦ any material representation of the invisible God
◦ creating any material object of worship
– now this is an important point
they were not to produce a piece of art as an object of worship
You shall not bow down to them or serve them

The Bible does not exclude sacred art

God instructed Israel to produce specific items of religious art
Sculpture: You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. (Ex. 25:17-20)
Visual art: Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them. (Ex. 26:1)
(The cherubim were a class of angels whose specific role was to act as guardians of the presence of God—cf. Gen. 3:24. Their representation on what curtained walls of the sanctuary, the entrance to the most holy place, and above the ark of the covenant would be a reminder of their invisible presence. These figures sculpted and woven into the fabric of the sanctuary would certainly qualify as anything that is in heaven above, yet they were not objects of worship.)
Clothing design: And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother for glory and for beauty (Ex. 28:2)
– this artwork would never be seen by most of the people
• and only one person would ever see the sculptured cherubim
• it was made expressly for God, and that tells us:
◦ first, the direction that worship moves is toward God
◦ second, in worship, art is of the essence (it’s not mere decoration)

One other important idea to note in Exodus
– God gifted specific artisans with specific talents—e.g., Ex. 31:1-5
– I believe that art enhances our spiritual development
• enlarging our narrow concepts of faith, hope and love,
• inspiring us to greater faith, hope and love,
• and giving us means to express our faith, hope and love

Our days are filled with repetitive actions

We make up our beds, do the dishes, take out the trash,
drive to work, make calls, walk the dog, and so on
• and because we did it today, doesn’t mean we don’t have to do it all over again tomorrow
• our days pass by without any new or unique experience
Gary Snyder, “. . . don’t let yourself think these things are distracting you from you more serious pursuits. Such a round of chores is not a set of difficulties we hope to escape from so that we may do our [spiritual] ‘practice’ which will put us on a ‘path’—it is our path.”
– even so, there is a danger we will lose sight of this truth
• that boredom will overtake us and we’ll lose each moment
• that the repetition will become so familiar, so habitual,
◦ that we no longer experience what we do
◦ and that means we will not experience ninety percent of our lives

Most of us find ways to break the monotony
– we take vacations — and we have our weekends
• although we can fall into habitual routines with weekends too
– some people give themselves mini-vacations
• they punctuate their day with refreshing diversions
◦ this requires a certain amount of creativity
• this is an impulse we should nurture

A move toward art can become a mini-vacation

The artist notices something in our normal daily experience,
– something worth observing and studying
• then by reproducing what they’ve seen or felt in the moment,
◦ they help us to see and feel what we had missed

In 1860s Jean-Fracois Millet produced sketches of peasants engaged in the normal activities of life. In his work entitled First Steps, he shows us a small home. Next to it is a fenced garden where we can see vegetables growing low to the ground. A father is there on one knee, but he is not working the soil. His wheel barrow is off to one side and shovel lies next to him. He is stretching out both arms toward his wife. The young mother is bent over, holding up her toddler, who is about to take her first step toward the father.

• what Millet (and later, Van Gogh) remind us of is a lived experience
◦ when for a moment the world stops
◦ and we celebrate our child’s early development
– paintings like this cause us to see our lives differently
• to see our world differently
• the emphasis they place on special or even mundane moments in life,
◦ teach us to recognize and appreciate their hidden depths

Fantasy art—e.g., surrealism—helps us imagine other worlds
– or see what our world would look like if the laws of physics were altered
– art feeds our creative impulse
• “inspired art, inspires art”
• when I see a captivating painting, I want to paint it
◦ when I read a meaningful poem, I want to write a poem
◦ I have a friend who is a musician,
and when he hears a tune he enjoys, he learns to play it
– my scribbles are never as good as what inspired them
• and my poetry rarely rises above, “Roses are red . . .”
◦ but that’s not the point
◦ it’s that I spent time engaging my mind and body
in something different, something good, beautiful and true
• the effect is exhilarating and restful at the same time

The original inspiration of all art is the universe

We refer to it as “all creation”
– not only because it was created
• but because we’re made in image of its Creator,
• and in his image, we feel the urge to create

In 1994, three French cave-explorers discovered an underground vault where paintings of extinct animals were drawn on the walls. Archaeologists estimate the paintings to be 30,000 years old. Now my question is “Why?” Given all the challenges for survival—weather, powerful predators, scarcity of food, and so on—why would these ancient people take the trouble to paint animals? Was the cave a sacred place? A museum? Someone’s living room? The question has to do with humankind’s artistic impulse. What trigger motivates a painter when she sees something and says, “I want to paint that”? Or a poet who says, “I want to describe that”? Or a storyteller who says, “I want to communicate that”? Or a musician who says, “I want to play or sing that”?

– I know that Jesus was an artist
• only an artist could tell a short story as rich and revealing as the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32)
◦ his parables are an art form
◦ and the way his repartee with Pharisees reveals his creativity

Conclusion: In the Bible, art and worship are bound together

Art in the literature of storytelling
Art in the poetry of prayer in the Psalms
Art in the music that accompanied Israel’s rituals
– and in the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” of the early church

These artistic expressions bring the breath of God close to us
– they call us to look with eyes that see and hear with ears that hear
– they challenge us to take up brushes and begin to paint
• or a pen and begin writing
• or an instrument and begin playing
• or knitting needles, or kitchen utensils, or hammer and saw

Art is food for the spirit

How about this?
– sometime this week, find a painting
or a piece of music
or a poem
Take a moment to be engrossed by it
◦ feel it — taste it — breathe it
And then share it
Beautify your corner of the world

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ep. 2:10)

Dec 31 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 29, 2019

Podcast

Intro: One of our neighbors has several fruit trees in their backyard

They also have a grapevine that is not trellised and grows in all directions
– several times a year I have to trim the branches that encroach into our yard
• I cut the small branch pictured above from our neighbor’s vine
• in cutting the branch from the vine, I killed it
– it still has some life in it, but that won’t last long,
• because there is no new life is flowing into it to nourish it
• cut off from the vine it can’t survive and will never produce grapes
Jesus said:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
John 15:1-12, 16

This passage seemed fitting at this time
– there are only a couple of days left in this year, and then, 2020
• no one can say what will happen in the next twelve months,
• but we can be sure it will not be boring
– we spent the past four weeks of Advent preparing for Jesus
• now that Christmas has come, and Jesus is here,
◦ let’s use this year to deepen our relationship with him
◦ to love him more, trust him more, and render better service to him and others

I have heard all kinds of stories of how people came to faith in Jesus

No two stories are the same
– you could not build an evangelism strategy that fits the stories
• God has led us each by our own winding road to Jesus
◦ he has given us life – a specific kind of life
◦ that life is constantly flowing into us
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 Jn. 5:11-12)
– if I were to cut myself off from Jesus,
• that life would no longer be flowing into me
◦ that part of me would wither and eventually die
• would I know that it had died?
◦ our would I be religious enough to think to think I was still alive?

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it (Heb. 2:1)

This is the most common way that people disconnect
– it’s a gradual process that goes undetected at first
• we don’t notice the distance slowly growing between us and the Lord
• busyness gets in the way and we get caught up in other things
– the gradual drift works the way Jesus described a seed planted among thorns
They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful (Mk. 4:18-19)
• so, like the branch cut from the vine, that life is choked out of us
• we either abide in him or live apart from him
◦ and apart from him, we can do nothing

On occasion, Jesus said things that were mean to wake people up

For example:
The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him (Jn. 4:23)
– “here” can be a location in time and in geographical space
• now/here — time/space — this moment/this place
◦ these words locate his presence with us in this moment
• when we sleep, we are not conscious of time
Anthony de Mellow said, “Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence. . . . most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep.” “Waking up is unpleasant, you know. You are nice and comfortable in bed. It’s irritating to be woken up.”
– listen again to Jesus’ message to the church of Sardis,
I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you (Rev. 3:2-3)
• to be not only alive, but also awake, is to be aware of this present moment
• what is this moment? What does it look like? sound like? feel like?
◦ you have to be alive and awake to know
◦ and you have to abide in Jesus to be alive

We do not want to come to the hour of our death
and only then realize that we have never lived

Death is not the destiny of Jesus’ followers

Life is our destiny
– abundant life – a fruitful life
• Jesus chose and appointed us for this kind of life
• and because this kind of life glorifies and pleases God,
◦ Jesus sponsors us
– what do you need to stay connected to Jesus this year?
• what do you need to be awake, alive and productive?
◦ if you know, ask the Father and he will supply it
◦ if you don’t know, ask the Father and he will show you

To prepare ourselves for the new year

We are going to renew our connection with Jesus – here, now
– Communion is a ritual of re-connection
• it is a worshipful moment of receiving new life
• the life that flows into us from Jesus

Conclusion: Earlier I said most common way people disconnect is gradual

But sometimes people turn and stomp away from God
– years ago I was speaking at a church in Sacramento
• I mentioned a realtor I met while living in Yuba City
◦ he had a grown son who loved God and was in Christian service
• his son was diagnosed with cancer, and many people were praying for his healing
◦ but after several hard months, he lost the battle
◦ the father, angry at God turned his back on religion
he rejected church, prayer, the Bible–anything to do with God
– he lived with this resentment for years
• but one day he bumped into a preacher to whom he told his story
◦ the preacher said,
“You know, God lost a son too. His was also a painful death. And for what? For people like you and me”
• the realtor told me, it was like he woke up in that moment
◦ he let go of his anger and allowed God to share his grief
◦ by the time I met him, he was a devoted man of God

Like I said, I told his story in Sacramento
– afterward a few people wanted to talk with me
• one old man approached me and with a firm grip took my hand
• and for awhile looked down and did not speak
◦ tears puddled in his eyes
◦ then he said,
“I lost my son. He was the Campus Crusade director for this district. Hundreds of people loved him and prayed for him, but he died. Since then, I have hated God–until today.”

It is time for us to come home
from darkness to light
from death to life
It is time to wake up and be here — now
Where Jesus again and again
pours himself into us

Dec 23 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 22, 2019

Podcast

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:26-33

Intro: It seems to me that the traditional Advent themes are jumbled

The first Sunday is hope, then the second, third, and fourth are faith, joy and peace
– if I had lived in the 4th century–and anyone had asked me
• I would have suggested that we put faith first
◦ faith is what enables us to hope
◦ so hope would be the theme of the second Sunday
• then, feeling secure about the future, we would be at peace
◦ and that, I think, is when we are most likely to feel joy
– one other Advent theme that integrates and completes the others
love–and we save that for Christmas Eve
• but since we are following the ancient tradition,
◦ the arrival of Jesus into our world is God’s gift of peace

The angel, before visiting Mary, had another appointment

Zechariah was already an old priest when assigned to his service
– there were hundreds of priests – he belonged to one division
• when they drew names to see who would enter the sanctuary,
◦ Zechariah’s name was drawn
◦ this is where we meet him – lighting incense in the temple
• this was done every morning and evening
◦ incense symbolized Israel’s prayers and praise
◦ the people praying outside waited to receive his blessing
– this moment had to be meaningful–Zechariah did not do this often
(this may have been the only time he had ever had this honor)
• he’s in the dark, sacred space and every object around him is holy
◦ suddenly, in his peripheral vision he glimpses someone else
◦ he turns, and standing beside the altar is the angel Gabriel
Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard
• I won’t go through the rest of story, except this:
• coming out of the holy place, Zechariah could not speak,
◦ he was unable to pronounce God’s blessing on the worshipers
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace
(Num. 6:24)

Sometime after Mary’s angelic encounter, Joseph got the news

I imagine him coming to his parents’ home after a long day
– he’s surprised to see his mother at the gate
• she takes him by the arm and leads him to side of house
◦ “Mother what is it?” “Mary,” she answers
◦ she has trouble getting the words out – “She’s pregnant”
• “That’s impossible! We never even . . .”
◦ “I know, I know, but it’s true”
– Joseph did not immediately assume, “Well, it must be a miracle”
• he was immediately contemplating divorce
◦ they were not merely “engaged,” but “betrothed”
◦ the first stage of an arranged marriage — legal and binding
• because Joseph is a good man, he wants to do the right thing
◦ the divorce will be private for her sake and for both families
◦ but the angel of the Lord appeared to him – in a dream
Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife

The angel had one more Christmas errand

This visit came after the birth of Jesus
– last week we read the story of the shepherds
• the angel of the Lord appeared to them also
◦ his first words were,
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy

So here we have four stories and one message
Do not be afraid
• for Zechariah and the shepherds,
◦ the fear was triggered by presence of other-worldly beings
• but it was different for Mary and Joseph
◦ Mary was “greatly troubled” by the angel’s greeting
◦ Joseph’s fear was the prospect of going forward with marriage
taking on the responsibility of the whole mess
– the idea I’m chasing, is that in each instance,
• fear was triggered, then addressed, and then calmed

In calming the fear, the theme of peace is implied

One of the statements made to Mary was a partial quote (v. 33)
– we read the full quote the first Sunday of Advent
. . . and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end
(Isa. 9:6-7)
• worshipers at the temple would have received a blessing of peace,
• if Zechariah had been able to speak
– in the announcement to the shepherds, the promise is explicit
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased
(Lk. 2:14)
• this wasn’t a promise of universal peace
• it was a promise to everyone who received heaven’s gift

Stephen Porges, a professor of psychiatry and research scientist
– he has focused his research on the vagus nerve
• it plays a vital role in preparing the body for action or rest
◦ it also functions in personal relationships and social interaction
• he says the human body and brain function best when we feel safe
Porges, “If our nervous system detects safety, then it’s no longer defensive. When it’s no longer defensive, then the [functions of] the nervous system support health, growth, and restoration.”
◦ socially we’re better adjusted
◦ we are more present, creative, and positive
– he says, safety is not defined by the absence of threat or risk
• but by the feeling of being safe
◦ in other words, my situation may not be safe,
◦ but we can still think and respond well if we feel safe
(for example, a car’s safety features allow us to feel safe while driving)

Perhaps the best way to understand promise of peace is Shalom

This Hebrew word signifies a state of complete well-being
– a quiet, secure and productive life,
• with good physical health and close relationships
– last week, when joy was our subject, I quoted Jesus,
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in your, and that your joy may be full (Jn. 15:11)
• he made a similar statement regarding peace
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33)
• he also said,
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (Jn. 14:27)

Here’s what I believe we need to understand

The Christmas promise is that we will find peace in Jesus
– this is not easy for us
• our minds are materialistically conditioned
◦ how can Jesus become real enough to us, to rest in him?
• by getting to know him in scripture,
◦ then by practicing spending time with him in silent prayer
– in the New Testament, we hear Paul say repeatedly that we are
IN CHRIST
• with relaxed, deep breaths we can learn what that feels like
◦ quiet our souls in him – to trust – and to rest
• no matter what our circumstances throw at us,
◦ if we can find our way back to Jesus, we can return to peace
◦ he is always a safe, loving, calming presence

Conclusion: One last thought about the angel and his messages

Each time he appeared to a person, he spoke to them by name
Do not be afraid, Zechariah
Do not be afraid, Mary
Joseph, son of David, do not fear
– as soon as the angel spoke, they discovered they were known
• they were not anonymous digits, lost in the mass of humanity
– God knew them by name – and he had a message for them
• as he knows each of us by name, and has a message for us
• are we listening?

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, his saints
(Ps. 85:8)

Dec 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 15, 2019

Podcast

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke 2:8-20

Intro: I’m going to begin by asking you two questions

First, What makes you feel happy?
– take a moment and give this some thought

Second, What makes you feel joy?
– again, take a moment with this question

I don’t think it’s possible to separate joy from happiness
– but I do believe it’s helpful to make the distinction
• we could spend a lifetime in the pursuit of happiness,
◦ pile up a lot of good times,
◦ but never experience joy
– so, how do they differ?
happiness depends on external factors–what “happens”
joy depends on internal processes–response and reflection
happiness is temporary
joy has a long shelf-life
happiness fluctuates
joy is stable
happiness is loud
joy is quiet
happiness feels good
joy feels content and grateful
happiness expresses itself with enthusiasm
joy expresses itself with a smile, a hug
happiness is at home with entertainment
joy is at home with deep thought

This third Sunday of Advent we celebrate joy

The angel’s presence evoked great fear; their message was of great joy

In first century Israel, a shepherd’s life was not enviable
Bruce Malina provides some cultural background to the story:
“Although shepherds could be romanticized (as was king David [sic]), they were usually ranked with . . . tanners, sailors, butchers, camel drivers, and other despised occupations. Being away from home at night they were unable to protect their women and therefore were considered dishonorable. In addition, they often were considered thieves because they grazed their flocks on other people’s property.”
– shepherding was a bottom-rung occupation
• some jobs today are treated with a noticeable lack of respect
◦ we don’t even mention them by name, but activity
◦ “flipping burgers,” “scrubbing toilets,” “washing dishes”
“bagging groceries,” and so on
• in Luke’s gospel, Jesus gravitated towards these people
◦ more than once, he is criticized for socializing with them
– the world of these shepherds was hard and unpleasant
• authoritarian governments create a culture of oppression
◦ that is, people who are oppressed by “higher-ups”
◦ typically oppress others who are “lower-downs”
• shepherds were fair game for everyone’s contempt

WARNING: This will be a brief tangent. To me, a sad example of ugly religion is when people who claim to be Christians treat with contempt or condescension waiters in restaurants, clerks in stores, fast-food servers, gardeners, janitors, and people other similar professions. And some ugly religion people do this just because they can. In the reconstructed world of Jesus, no person is above or below anyone else.
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all (Mk. 10:43-44)

The angel promised a joy that will be for all the people
– as if giving proof this was true, the announcement came to shepherds
• those dirty outcasts became the first messengers of the good news

In scripture, God is the source of all human joys

Israel celebrated annual feasts in which they worshiped with rejoicing
(see Deut. 16:11, 14, 15; 26:11; 27:11)
– they rejoiced at harvest time, sheep-shearing, weddings, etc.
• in all joyful occasions, they lifted their eyes to heaven
◦ every good thing that comes from the natural world is God’s gift
◦ and every gift is cause for joy and rejoicing with thanksgiving
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wind abound
(Ps. 4:6-7)
• in that same psalm, the poet celebrates other gifts of God
◦ relief from distress – peace, and safety
– after returning from exile, Israel renewed their covenant with God
• when they gathered to hear the reading from the Scriptures,
◦ the people wept over their past sins and what that cost them
• but Nehemiah and the Levites told them not to grieve
Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength (Neh. 8:10)

Israel also rejoiced in God for their liberation from slavery and exile
– after fleeing Egypt and crossing the Red Sea,
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying,
I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him
(Ex. 15:1-21)
• looking forward to the time they would return from captivity,
◦ Isaiah sang,
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away
(Isa. 51:11)
– but most frequently in scripture, especially in the New Testament,
• joy comes from relationships with other people
◦ so Paul could say to the believers in Thessalonica,
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thes. 1:19)

The Book of Joy was one of my favorite reads in the past two years

In it, Douglas Abrams reports a week-long conversation between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
– both men have suffered extreme hardships
• yet both men are fountains of joy
– through their conversation they discerned eight pillars of joy:
Perspective – “There are many different angles”
Abrams, “A healthy perspective really is the foundation of joy and happiness, because the way we see the world is the way we experience the world. Changing the way we see the world in turn changes the way we feel and the way we act, which changes the world itself.”
Humility
– we are not as big as we think
• and, we are not as small as we think
Desmond Tutu, “God uses each of us in our own way, and even if you are not the best one, you may be the one who is needed or the one who is there.”
Humor – “Laughter, joking is much better”
Abrams, “Humor is one of the best ways to end conflict, especially when you are able to make fun of yourself or admit that you are overreacting or being silly.”
Acceptance – “The only place where change can begin”
Forgiveness
Tutu, “Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and to be free from the past.” “Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us.”
Gratitude
Compassion
Generosity
– in his instructions to the leaders of the church of Ephesus, Paul said,
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)

Conclusion: And that brings us back to where we began

The good news of great joy had to do specifically with Jesus
– Peter said that in him we rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Pet. 1:8)
• something Jesus said to his disciples their last night has stuck with me
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in your, and that your joy may be full (Jn. 15:11)

When the shepherds got over their fear,
– and their rational minds kicked in,
• they decided, “If this is true, we better go check it out”

This is all I really have to say today
– we can find our way to Jesus if we sincerely want to
• we can open our hearts fully to him
• allow him to pour his joy into us – and then begin to live it

What I know for sure,
is that there is more in Jesus to lift us up
than there is in this world to bring us down

Dec 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 8, 2019

Podcast

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophets:
‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.'”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:1-11

Intro: I was young and foolish the first time I visited Bethlehem

I was not prepared for the Church of the Nativity
– an ancient cathedral built over a cave
• the guide told us this was the shelter where Jesus was born
– a large icon screen stood behind the altar reaching almost to the top of the vaulted ceiling
• brass candle-holders and incense censers hung between the pillars
• an assortment of meaningful symbols dangled from the ceiling,
◦ including bulbs that looked like gigantic Christmas tree ornaments
– you see, this is what we do
• we decorate Christmas with symbols that are meaningful to us
• for instance, we have painted the magi into a warm and cozy scene
◦ in reality, the mood Matthew describes was tense and dangerous
◦ and in spite of the danger, the magi found Jesus and worshiped him

This is the second Sunday of Advent
– and this morning we light the “Bethlehem candle”
• different meanings have been attached to it
• you and I might as well attach our own meanings
– for me, this year, the candle represents the light that led the magi to Jesus,
• and the faith that enabled them to persevere until they found him

In the movie, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Peter Ustinov played Herod the Great

He was an excellent choice! I remember him fuming,
“King of the Jews? King of the Jews? I am the king of the Jews!”
– we know from history that “When Herod ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”
• Matthew handles this rather delicately,
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him
• Herod consulted the biblical experts
◦ where did the prophets say the Messiah was to be born?
◦ they answered, “Bethlehem,” and supplied a quote from Micah
– so at this point in the story, who all knows where to look for Messiah?
• the chief priests and scribes, King Herod, and now the magi
◦ but of the three, only the magi go off to find him
• this is the first lesson I learn about the faith of the magi:

It belongs not to the person who knows,
but to the person that goes

Many books have been written on what Christians believe
– and arguments over our beliefs have raged for 2,000 years
• but beliefs do not necessarily bring us to faith
– beliefs are static–that is, they do not live, change, or evolve
• we can pick up new beliefs or throw out old beliefs, but they stay the same
◦ they can be discussed, analyzed, defined, and repeated
◦ they can branch out, but they don’t reproduce
• James points out the limits of belief with a measure of sarcasm,
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! (Jas. 2:19)

Faith, on the other hand, is dynamic – it moves, grows, and changes
Helmut Thielicke, “. . . faith does not consist in ‘believing something is true’ . . . . It consists in a struggle, a conversation with God.”
– I am convinced that you have to struggle with faith to make it your own
• beliefs that have been handed down to us belonged to someone else
• faith, however, can only belong to us

Faith is a journey or quest – like that of the magi

Faith moves toward what it believes
– and once faith begins to move, it sets other things in motion
• faith makes other things happen
• the magi’s journey of faith was not an easy one
T. S. Eliot imagined their journey in poetry
One of the magi narrates:

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelter,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
(T. S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi” — first stanza)

– but I do not believe our journey is much easier
• for them, Bethlehem was hundreds of miles
◦ for us it is thousands of miles
◦ and even more, it’s thousands of years away
• we have to travel the distance of credibility
Helmut Thielicke, “Are we to entrust ourselves and our questions about life to a man who road a donkey in a legendary far-off time in a [distant] corner of the world?”
◦ of course, the answer is yes
◦ only Jesus did much more than just ride a donkey

On Wednesday night, our Lexio Divina meditation was John the Baptist’s question to Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? John had struggles of his own when it came to placing his faith in Jesus. Perhaps he expected a Messiah who would drive Rome out of Israel, restore the ancient dynasty of David, and establish Jerusalem as the super power and political center of the world, bringing peace to God’s people and all the nations.
Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples was, “Just go back and tell him what you’ve seen”
– then he added a caption to the picture they would paint for John
And blessed is the one who is not offended by me (Lk. 7:23)
• to be offended is to be “stumbled,” “put off,” or “disappointed”
– Jesus was saying,
“This is who I am. These are the things I do. The blessing I bring is for the one who will accept me without disappoint me, but take me for who I am”
– this is the struggle of faith — we are at times struggling with Jesus

Faith is what links us to God

There is a verse of Hebrew Scripture at heart of Paul’s theology
– it is a statement about Abraham
And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6)
• again, righteousness means right-in-relation to the other person
• faith in God is what makes a person right with God
◦ all through the Scriptures, God is saying, “Trust Me”
– some students are good at taking tests
• but there’s one test no one enjoys taking
◦ it’s what James called the testing of your faith (Ugh!)
. . . for you know that the testing of you faith produces steadfastness (Jas. 1:3)
◦ Peter says the genuineness of our faith is tested because it’s
more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire (1 Pe. 1:7)

Jesus tested the faith of his disciples more than once
– and when it broke down, he called them on it
• when he calmed a storm at sea,
Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? (Mk. 4:40)
• when they asked why there were unable to cast out a demon
Because of your little faith (Mt. 17:20)
– God doesn’t test our faith in order to break us
• to show us that we’re hypocrites, that we didn’t make the cut
• if school tests merely reveal what students don’t know,
◦ they’re worthless
◦ if they’re tools to help us learn, they’re invaluable
God’s purpose is to deepen, strengthen, and increase our faith

Conclusion: In our list of Christmas preparations,

Do we need to include a trip to Bethlehem?
– Can’t we just say,
“I have all these other things to get done.
And I still have presents to buy,
cards to address, dinners to attend.
And I know all that stuff about Bethlehem already.
Is it all that important that I think about it–again? ”
– Yes, it is, because there is where our faith was born

Faith can come to people in different ways
– sometimes it comes spontaneously, as in crisis when people cry out for God
• or it comes naturally, in times of desperation
◦ as when parents will try anything to save the life of their child
– sometimes it comes as the last or only solution to a problem
• many people have to be talked into surgery
◦ or driven to it by pain
◦ “I don’t trust doctors” or “I don’t trust hospitals”
• but one day they have to go, because there is no other hope

Our day to day faith in Jesus, the faith we live by, Paul says
comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ (Ro. 10:17)
• hearing again, we create a path for faith in our brains
Andrew Newberg and Mark Walden, in How God Changes Your Brain, tell us, “When you intensely meditate on a specific goal over an extended period of time, your brain begins to relate to your idea as if it were an actual object in the world by increasing activity in the thalamus, part of the reality-making process of the brain. The concept begins to feel more obtainable and real.”
• what is the goal we’re stretching for here?
◦ to build ourselves up in our faith
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God (Jude 20)

This week there will be plenty of reminders of Jesus’ birth
– slow down, press the pause button on your day, and think
• not your typical busy brain thoughts
• but quiet reflective thoughts

The sort of thought that is rooted in awareness
and gives you new eyes to see,
and opens you up to the touch of Jesus
Be with Jesus in that present moment
in such a way that you allow yourself to be changed

Dec 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 1, 2019

Podcast

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphatali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them the light has shown.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forever more.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this
Isaiah 9:1-7

Intro: Should we celebrate Christmas?
– irritable Christians who write blogs or post on social media,
• remind us that it’s not likely Jesus was born in December
◦ that the “church” took over a pagan holiday,
◦ and to this day much of the Christmas celebration is still pagan (1)
• if that’s so, should we not celebrate the birth of Jesus?
◦ not return to the old, old narrative of announcements, angels, stable, shepherds, star and magi?
◦ should we, like the Gospels of Mark and John skip over all that?
– God entered our world – that is an event worth celebrating
• we don’t want to forget what our lives were like without him
◦ or that Israel spent long years waiting, looking, hoping
• and what better time to celebrate his first coming
◦ than in the cold, dark days of winter?
◦ at Christmas we reconnect with a sacred moment in time

Advent season is four weeks of preparation
– our attention is focused on the first and second coming of Jesus
• but it’s more than remembering he came once and will come again
• we prepare ourselves for Jesus,
◦ as if he were to return at any time – next week. tomorrow, tonight
◦ or in this present moment

Isaiah 9 is one of the standard texts for first Sunday of Advent

The first word in chapter 9 is a conjunction, “but”
– it joins two ideas, but indicates a difference – a turn
• so what came before this turn?
– at that time, Ahaz was the king of Judah–he was not a good man
• two other nations had allied themselves to invade Judah
• everything Ahaz did to prepare for the invasion was wrong
◦ instead of turning to Israel’s God,
◦ he turned to another nation and its gods
In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the LORD—this same King Ahaz. For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel (2 Chr. 28:22-23)

God sent Isaiah to the people of Judah with a message of doom
And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness (Isa. 8:23)
– hearing this, Isaiah’s audience would feel,
• the utter hopelessness of their situation
– this is the point where Isaiah’s message turns
• the gloom does not spread everywhere
◦ and it’s not for all time
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish

Are you familiar with the lands named, Zebulun and Naphtali?

It’s okay if you aren’t–in fact, this is the only place in Isaiah where they are mentioned
– they were two of Israel’s tribes who settled on the northeast border
• we are more familiar with “the Jordan” and “Galilee”
◦ here, Galilee is associated with “the nations”–i.e., Gentiles
• the point is, this region was considered compromised
– these territories were far from the capital city of Samaria
• they were the least likely places to find God at work
• so it is shocking that Isaiah would point to them and say,
◦ “This is where God’s salvation will be revealed first”

If we jump to the New Testament, Zechariah, father of John the Baptist,
– prophesied that John’s mission would be to
go before the Lord to prepare his ways and
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (Lk 1:76-79)
• and in Matthew, when Jesus began his ministry, he began in Galilee

And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoke by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned
(Mt. 4:12-16)

◦ Jesus began his ministry in these most unlikeliest of places
– Isaiah said God was going to turn the fate of his people around
• and he was going to do in their darkest moment and darkest places
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light

In the Hebrew Scriptures, light is associated with glory

A brilliant radiance appeared on Mt. Sinai, over the sacred tent and in the temple
– if you want a visual image, think back to a brilliant sunrise
• this light was how God revealed his immediate presence to them
As soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud (Ex. 16:10)
• this is what Isaiah announced was on its way,
◦ the glory of God’s presence
– it is as if Isaiah could see it happening already
• already he could feel the joy of it – hear the rejoicing (v. 3)
• to be set free is a wonderful feeling
◦ whether we’re liberated from an oppressive situation or from our own small selves — our bad habits and addictions
◦ the joy of salvation is the kind of joy that celebrates

The heart of this hope is verse 6 (we’ll come back to it)

There is a key statement at the end of verse 7
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this
– Israel’s salvation would not result from human ambition or be a human achievement
• God is not neutral when it comes to his people
◦ to talk about his zeal or his jealousy, is to say that he is passionate
• of course, in a unique way, because he is God
◦ but, still, we can understand – he cares – and deeply
◦ and God’s passion is a powerful force
– God makes things happen – the things he wants to happen

Now verse 6, and I want to read this with Jesus in mind

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given
– my dad liked to stress that a child was born, but the Son was given
• the Son, who had been with the Father from eternity, was given to us
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16)
in the previous chapter, a name was given to the child
• in a previous chapter, a name was give to the child born of a virgin
Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), which Matthew translates for us, “God with us” (Mt. 1:22-23)
and the government will rest on his shoulders
• this was Isaiah’s vision and Israel’s hope
• a new government in which God’s will would be done on earth as in heaven

And then, that blessed list of titles:
Wonderful Counselor – no more wrong turns for the nation
– no more guessing, no more mistakes, or foolish decisions

Mighty God – the power Israel’s Savior wields is unlimited
– this is the might that liberated Israel from Egypt

Everlasting Father – before King Ahaz, Israel had a good king
– Ahaz was not good, but after him King Hezekiah was good
• but after Hezekiah, his son, Manasseh was Judah’s worst king ever
• there was no consistency in the succession of kings from one generation to the next
◦ but with God’s Savior, there would no longer be a a succession of unreliable rulers
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed (Dan. 7:14)
– when we are given the Son, we have the Father also
Jesus said, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (Jn. 14:9)

Prince of peace – history tells the story of this war-torn planet
– political candidates can promise peace and try to pursue peace,
• but none of them can deliver peace
– Jesus is the “prince” of peace
• he makes the promise and he delivers

Verse 7 combines the last two themes, “everlasting” and “peace”
– his government of peace will continue to spread, expand, and never end
• again, this is something God is passionate about
• his zeal will make it happen
– do not forget, God begins his work in the unlikeliest of places

When Jesus’ ministry got underway, one of his first followers ran to tell his friend Nathanael that he had found the One, whom Moses and the prophets had written about, Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael answered, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46). He was expressing the common opinion that northern Israel was less devout and further from the spiritual heart of the nation.
When the Pharisees first tried to arrest Jesus, Nicodemus spoke up in his defense, that they should not condemn him without a fair trial. Their response was, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee” (Jn. 7:52).
God is pleased to shine his light into these dark corners. God’s work begins where his light is most needed and can do the most good–places like my own dark heart.

Conclusion: What is it that shines in the darkness?

In a word: Hope – even a wire-thin ray of hope can keep a life going
– in recent years a lot of people have written books and essays on hope
• most of it is common-sense wisdom
◦ they offer a number of things we can do to ignite hope and keep it alive
◦ they all say the same thing: hope is something we have to crank out for ourselves
• but Christmas is about gift — we are given a hope
◦ or better, we are given a hope
◦ it’s like a life preserver that has been tossed to us
– we do not create hope for ourselves
• what we do is hold on to the hope that is given to us (Heb. 3:6)

The Christmas promise is as lovely and life-changing as ever
But it won’t do us any good unless we personalize it
It is a matter of getting beyond our thoughts,
whether intensely rational or devotional,
and going down deeper than our emotions
It is about being there
in that dark place where the baby is born,
and the strangers adore,
and the light now shines.
For Jesus has shown us a Father who cares
and who has dropped us a ray of hope,
hope that is ours,
hope that can anchor itself in God,
a hope that holds onto us and will never pass away

__________________
(1) Frequently, the Roman Catholic Church is blamed for setting the date for the annual celebration of Christmas. However, in the fourth century, there was no distinction between Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant church (the later two did not yet exist)–there was only one Church and all Christians belonged to it.

Nov 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 24, 2019

Podcast

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:17-21

Intro: When I was twenty years old, I moved to 29 Palms

A group of young married couples wanted a Calvary Chapel there
– so I drove out there to speak at a Christian concert,
• and the next day when the bands went home,
• I stayed behind and we had our first Sunday morning service

While living there, I would drive to a church in Palm Springs on occasion for their Wednesday night Bible study. Sometimes I would also hang out at a Christian coffee shop–The Ark–, where Brother Harold spent a lot of time. Brother Harold was a wonderful, little old man with white hair and a long white beard. He was something of a Christian guru to the young Christians who frequented The Ark. People referred to him as a “walking concordance,” because he knew the Bible so well that he had almost all of it memorized.

Brother Harold sometimes visited the same Bible study I enjoyed. After the night’s teaching, the preacher would take questions. One night a question came up regarding 1 Thessalonians 5:18, . . . in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. The preacher explained, “Notice that it says in all things, not for all things.” Suddenly, Brother Harold blurted out, “In Ephesians 5:20 it does!” Taken back the preacher paused, then, with embarrassed smile, said, “Yes, Brother Harold, but right now I’m talking about 1 Thessalonians. Stay out of Ephesians!”

We have made November “Thanksgiving Month”
– and today we come up against an impossible challenge

Does the Bible say we must give thanks to God for bad things?

There are Christians whose interpretation of this is rigidly literal
– they will tell parents who have lost a child,
• even if it feels wrong or is difficult to do, they must give thanks
• “It’s what the Bible says, so that’s what you must do”
– since this is their belief,
• they have to somehow justify this practice
◦ the authoritarians might say, “God moves in mysterious ways”
◦ the rationalists might say, “Giving thanks changes your perspective”

It is true that, eventually, we have to accept everything that comes
– but do we have to give thanks for everything

There is an upside-down facet to Jesus’ worldview

Blessed are you poor . . . hunger now . . . weep now (Lk. 6:20-23)
You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Mk. 10:42-43)
– we do have to learn new attitudes about some things
• Christians are not guaranteed immunity from pain
◦ our trust in God does not exempt us from suffering
◦ but it does teach us to respond to it in a new way
• if we give thanks for things we do not understand,
◦ it creates in our minds room for mystery
◦ mystery is the paper in which gifts are wrapped
when the wrapper is removed, we have the gift
David Steindl-Rast, “Once out of a hundred times we will be challenged to respond fully and gratefully to something which we cannot enjoy. This, too, is given reality; it, too, is gift. Although I cannot enjoy it, will I still be grateful? It all depends on whether or not I have learned to unwrap the gift-within-the gift: opportunity — the real gift — is always opportunity to grow.”
– when Martin Laird addresses hindrances to contemplation,
• he argues that they turn out to be helpful
• like resistance exercises for the spirit,
◦ handling hindrances properly strengthens our contemplation
Distractions: if we meet them “with stillness and not commentary,” they contribute to our training in . . . awareness and stillness”
Boredom: reveals that “our prayer is going deeper than where our thoughts and feelings reach”
Negative emotions: when they come up in contemplation, we can follow them to their roots, where they can be weeded out. “The inner calm that is slowly cultivated by the practice of contemplation encourages and enables us to see right into the mind.”
Intellectual struggles: bring us to mystery – freedom does not come when all our questions are answered, but when we stop allowing our intellect to filter and control what God wants to pour into us
– I was reminded of this last week reading Mark 6:1-6
• when Jesus visited his hometown, his old neighbors asked,
Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. . . . And he could do no might work there . . . . And he marveled at their unbelief
• relying on what they knew about him,
◦ they never guessed there was much that they did not know
• what Jesus could do for them was limited by their unbelief
◦ unfortunately, our rational mind can sometimes get in the way

So, okay, God uses hardship and suffering to work good in us

But does that mean we thank him for everything?
– No! And why not?

First, we draw the line at absurdity
– if our interpretation of scripture suggests a ridiculous response,
• we look for a more accurate interpretation
• otherwise, a lot of Christians would be going around,
◦ with one hand or foot cut off and one eye gouged out (Mk. 9:43-48)
– true, God’s prophets were sometimes told to do some strange thing
• but those actions were meant to grab attention
◦ and to emphasize their message
◦ the fact that their action was strange is what made it work
• but even then, there were limits
◦ Ezekiel told not to grieve the death of his wife
◦ but he was not told to give thanks for it (Eze. 24:16)

Second, if we’re not even to mention certain evil actions,
• how much less are we to give thanks for them in prayer?
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving (not for these things, but instead of them, vv. 3-4)
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret (vv. 11-12)

Third, Because God isn’t responsible for everything that happens
– I imagine thanking God for something terrible,
• and him saying, “Don’t thank Me! I didn’t do this.”
• in Job, Satan challenged God,
Stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face
But God’s answer was, Behold, all that he has is in your hand
(Job 1:11-12)
◦ God did not have a hand in the evil that fell on Job
◦ we also learn from Job it is okay to be silent
okay to grieve, okay to be angry, and okay to complain
– are we supposed to give thanks for:
• the sex-slave trade? drug trafficking? child abuse?
• God is not pleased with humans spreading violence on earth (Gen. 6:13)
◦ through Jeremiah, God addressed child-sacrifice
[They offered as sacrifice] their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination (Jer. 32:35)

Fourth, because God’s gifts are good
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (Jas. 1:17)

Conclusion: In Job’s first round of trials, he did not give thanks

However, he did bless God – and that’s different
Fr. Romuald, “Bless God for everything that comes, even painful things”
– it is a way to rise above what comes at us
• we forget that everything matters to God
• our sorrows and suffering, our fears and anxieties
◦ so we are told,
casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Pe. 5:7)
– you see, we need to connect everything to God
• I have been with parents who have lost children
◦ you don’t say, “This isn’t bad,” or “This isn’t wrong,” or “This doesn’t hurt”
◦ Jesus’ prayer from cross was not thanksgiving,
My God, my God, why have your forsaken me? (Mt. 27:46)
• Job grieved: he tore clothes, shaved his head, fell on the ground
◦ but he blessed God
◦ because by blessing God we connect the bad thing to him
– we experience a tragedy and we say,
• “O God, I hate this loss. I can’t live with this pain”
◦ but you are connecting it with God
◦ we do this even with our sin
Romuald, “If you cannot connect something with God, then you’re lost”
• you’re stuck with having to deal with it on your own

There is a great irony here
Because we do give thanks for the suffering and death of God’s Son
We give thanks because:
the cross was not a dead end, but an open door
it is the mystery of good defeating evil,
of love love prevailing over hate,
and the ultimate victory of life over death

God does not expect us to give thanks for bad things
but we can always give thanks,
because God is good
even if everything else is not
And if we find it possible
to give thanks through our tears,
it will be for this reason,
that because God is good,
our story doesn’t end in sorrow and pain,
but in never ending joy and life

Nov 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 17, 2019

Podcast

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1:18-23

Intro: Growing up, in my hope, we gave thanks for every meal

My parents had us bow our heads and close our eyes
– if my brother tried to rat me out–“Chuck didn’t close his eyes!”
• Mom would ask him, “How do you know?”
– a prayer of thanks before eating is not a bad habit,
• so long as it is heartfelt

One year we were at my grandparents’ home for Thanksgiving. A football game played on their old black and white TV, but the volume was turned down when the time came for Dad’s prayer before dinner. Suddenly, in the middle of Dad’s prayer, Uncle Bill shouted, “Touchdown!” After the “Amen,” Grandpa told Bill, rather sternly, “Never interrupt a prayer!” Then he added, “Besides, there was a penalty on the play and the touchdown was called back.”

Last week I suggested November would be “Thanksgiving month”

Paul has a lot to say about giving thanks in his letters
– in fact, he sums up God’s will for us with these basic practices:
. . . always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thes. 5:15-18)
• in our passage, Paul says something about not giving thanks
• he sees ingratitude as the beginning of a downward slide
◦ in fact, a sign of the last days is that people will be ungrateful (2 Tim. 3:2)
– the problem wasn’t that unbelievers did not know about God
• the universe reveals him–even his invisible attributes
◦ the problem was that knowing about God,
they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him
• for Paul, this is a serious spiritual malfunction
◦ one that sent society in the wrong direction
◦ he illustrates its downward spiral in a list of worldly vices that includes envy, murder, strife, deceit and maliciousness
◦ these are symptoms of the wrong turn taken by society

There may be a variety of reasons people are not thankful

Years ago, watching the Italian Westerns,
– it bothered me that Clint Eastwood never said ‘Thanks’
• not even when someone saved his life or shared food with him
– he was too cool, or tough, or independent for that
• he wasn’t a polite cowboy–he was a hired gun

Us ordinary people have different reasons for lacking gratitude
– there are some people who seem to feel entitled
• they deserve what is given them or done for them
• they don’t think to say “thank you” to people who get paid to wait on them or check their groceries
– then there are those who take credit for all they have
• why should they be grateful?
◦ didn’t they work hard for the comforts they enjoy?
• it doesn’t occur to them that no one who comes into this world
◦ is guaranteed health, strength, and energy
– other people don’t think they have any reason to be grateful
• they have experienced so much abuse,
◦ or so many losses, or so many illnesses, or failures,
◦ that being thankful doesn’t enter their minds
– I suppose there are people who have been left in the dark
• who never learned the social rhythm of “please” and “thank you”

Giving thanks is not just a courtesy–a proper and polite habit

Most of us learned to be polite when we were still small children
– but polite does not touch the heart of gratitude

It has been suggested, there are two movements to giving thanks
– in first movement we acknowledge God and what he’s done
• we thank him for ordinary blessings:
◦ food, shelter, good health, family
• and we thank him for extraordinary blessings:
◦ kindness and compassion, mercy, comfort in our sorrows
– the second movement is deeper and comes through reflection
• what kind of God is this,
◦ that shows me such kindness, compassion, and mercy?
• or, in the words of C. S. Lewis,
“One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”

People who have spent much time thinking about gratitude tell us
– giving thanks wakes us up to our world and its many joys
(Ann Voskamp demonstrates this well in her book, One Thousand Gifts)
David Steindl-Rast who wrote, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer
• in his introduction tells us this is a book about waking up
Rast, “We run the risk of sleeping through life, of never waking up at all. Or else we wakefully rise to the risk of life, facing the challenge of life, of love.”
C. S. Lewis, says that to praise and give thanks “is simply to be awake, to have entered the real world; not to appreciate [the Object admired] is to have lost the greatest experience, and in the end to have lost all.”
• when he first thought about praise as it appears in the Psalms,
he had thought “of it in terms of compliment, approval or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise . . . . I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least.”
– what do we hear Paul saying about this?
• either you wake up and give thanks, and then wake up some more
• or you do not give thanks and you go blind
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (vv. 21-22)

I am going to run through this again
– the first movement of gratitude is noticing and saying thank you
• For instance, I’m walk the dog and hear a bird-song
◦ thoughts immediately come to mind:
◦ what kind of bird is that? where is it perched?
• there’s something more comes to me – not thought, but a feeling
◦ the pleasure of that song, or the sound of a wind chime or a wave breaking on the shore
◦ it is the pleasure I feel that prompts me to give thanks
– the second movement is turning my attention to the Source of that pleasure
• this is what the Psalms of nature are constantly doing
◦ looking from creation and creatures to their Creator
– I could miss all of this
• I have a busy day and I’m rushing to be on time
◦ I don’t notice beauty, so I don’t feel its joy, and I don’t give thanks
◦ I don’t wake up, because, “I’m too busy for that right now”
• if anything, I just put a label on every site and sound
◦ “Oh, a tree,” “a child,” “a sunset–that’s nice” — and I hurry on
◦ a heart not filled with thanks is frequently filled with anxiety

We can wake ourselves up by practice
– for instance, we can start giving thanks for little things
• even if the small grace is not a miracle or direct act of God
• merely a natural event – clear traffic on a busy morning
◦ Mom would give thanks for parking spaces near the entrance of a store

Conclusion: Jesus was once traveling between Samaria and Jerusalem

Entering one village, he heard voices shouting from a distance. Ten men, who because of their leprosy were not allowed to go near other people, where shouting to get his attention. When he looked in their direction, they begged him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” All Jesus did was speak a single sentence to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

According to the Law of Moses, if people with contagious skin conditions that had healed, they had to be examined by a priest to verify that they were “clean” and could re-enter society.

As the ten men hurried away, they sat that their skin had become clear. One of them came to a dead stop. He held out his arms and examined both of them. He looked back at Jesus, then looked at his arms again (okay, I’m embellishing this part of the story a little). He turned around and ran back to Jesus, “praising God” with that same loud voice he had used earlier to get Jesus’ attention. Falling on his face at Jesus’ feet, he began giving him thanks. (Lk. 17:11-19)
– Luke makes a point to tell us the one who gave thanks was a Samaritan
• Jesus remarked on this fact too
◦ and he wondered why he was the only one to give thanks
• then Jesus told the leper, your faith has made you well
– I believe the one who gave thanks received more from Jesus than the others
• all of them were cleansed and received their certificate or whatever
• but this one man was made well–translating the word that means saved
◦ it also means healthy, sound, or whole

Giving thanks takes us to a fuller spiritual experience of life,
of God’s love and grace
This does not mean we receive more love or grace,
but we perceive more
and perceiving more, we have a richer, fuller experience of it
Giving thanks is a pivot point in our daily relationship with God
In giving thanks,
we make a sharp turn in our day,
and find our way back to Jesus
We wake ourselves up to his presence
again and again

Nov 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 10, 2019

Podcast

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

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

Intro: My grandchildren have invented a birthday tradition

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

Psalm 118 opens with a chorus that has a long history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: If we learn anything from the Psalms,

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

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

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

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