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Mar 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark, chapter 5 03/26/2023

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!  Welcome to the RefleXion Community.  The Lord is with you.

“Why should I?”  “Why do I have to be the first to change?”, I’ve heard myself asking a few times lately (well, maybe not out loud).  Do you ever respond to what someone else is doing, or not doing, in a way that is reactive and not in keeping with your Truest nature.  It’s pretty common to use our familiar defenses and coping strategies, to hold a self-protective stance, or even to cower in fear or shame.  Well, it’s all about control, isn’t it?

The Lord answered my “why should I?” one morning recently with a passage from Ezekiel 36.  The Israelites had  defiled and polluted the land, and the Lord had scattered them in punishment.  But then other nations had taunted them, “Why couldn’t your God keep you safe?” So, the Lord responded: Then I was concerned for my holy name, on which my people brought shame among the nations. (He’s speaking to Ezekiel, the prophet here.) Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign LORD: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name.  I will show how holy my great name is.  And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD.  For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.  And I will put my Spirit in you so that you can follow my decrees. And you will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my people, and I will be your God.  Not because you deserve it, but for My Name’s sake.

The Lord not only forgave them, but brought them back to their land, washed them clean, and gave them a new heart and spirit.  Why?  Not because they deserved it, but because that is the character, the nature, of God.

So why must I forgive, bless, and provide for someone who doesn’t deserve or doesn’t want to change?  Why must I show my righteous character in the midst of unfair circumstances?  Because this is my True nature, because someone else or something else, can’t stop me from being who I am.  Our friend, Paula, says “You do you.”  Amen; your responses and your reactions belong to you, and I’ll be true to me, to my new heart and spirit.

Let’s pray:  Lord, what opportunities you give us to practice living righteously.  How stubborn and weak we are.  Thank you for giving us a new heart and a new spirit, that we don’t have to try harder or rely on willpower.  Thank you for your new covenant with us and the gifts you’ve given that we might offer love for Your Name’s sake.  Let us live with wisdom and discernment, as well as compassion.  Thank you not only for dying for us but showing us how to live in our new nature.  May Your light shine brightly through us, and may the nations know that we are Christians by our love.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes Mark 5:1

Intro: I have enjoyed this story ever since I was a child

When spending the night with cousins or friends,
– we would sit in the dark and tell ghost stories
• it surprised me to find one of the spookiest of ghost stories in Mark’s gospel
◦ and this one is true – it really happened
◦ Mark turns flashlight into his face and tells “The Legend of Legion”
• “It all began on the other side of the sea”
◦ this is like saying, “the other side of the tracks” — it was a bad neighborhood
◦ it was Gentile territory – and anything awful could happen there
– in fact there was a wild man there, tormented by demons, and who lived in the graveyard
• he lacerated his body with stones and was heard howling night and day
◦ he was like an animal, but too strong to capture and cage
for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him (v. 4)
◦ doesn’t Mark begin this story well?
• as soon as Jesus set his foot on the shore,
◦ this man came running at him, screaming

This is the first of three extraordinary stories told in this chapter

One story erupts into the middle of another story
– all three touch on our most common worries:
• conflict – illness – and death
• Jesus resolves the conflict, heals the illness,
◦ and proves to be more powerful than death
– crowds are present, but it’s these three faces that grab our attention

The demonic encounter is unlike any other in the Scriptures

Until now, Jesus has silenced the demons he encountered
– but he speaks to this one – and we’re told where the demons went once they were cast out
• we have seen in Mark that demons know who Jesus is
I know who you are—the Holy One of God (Mk. 1:24)
You are the Son of God (Mk. 3:12)
◦ here he is recognized as, Son of the Most High God
• the first time Most High God appears is when a Gentile priest blessed Abraham

Abraham had known God as El Shaddai, “God Almighty.” Later on he discovered that God was his Provider, so that title was added to Abraham’s list. That is how a record of theological revelations first developed, by the list of titles ascribed to God.

◦ it would seem that Yahweh is recognized as the God above all other gods
◦ in almost every instance that Most High God appears in the Bible, it is connected somehow with Gentiles

The news of this exorcism traveled fast into nearby villages

When the locals arrived they were shocked to see
– Mr. Legion sitting there, clothed and in his right mind
• in his right mind means he was sane, but also he was also in possession of his own mind
◦ no longer controlled by or confused by demons
• his transformation terrified the locals more than when he was wildly possessed
◦ now, it’s not demons that scare them, but Someone far more powerful than the demons
– in the previous chapter, the disciples were frightened by a storm at sea
• but after Jesus calmed the storm,
they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mk. 4:41)
• isn’t this wonderful?!
◦ this was not a fear related to a specific physical danger
◦ it was a fear of the unknown – of the supernatural

I always feel sadness when I come to the end of this story

On other occasions, when people wanted to join Jesus,
– he did not reject them outright, but he did discourage them
someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another recruit, Jesus said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And to a third, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:57-62)
• but here, the man now delivered and sane, begged Jesus to let him be with him
◦ he did not request to be made a disciple, but just to be with him
• perhaps this is first time the man ever felt safe
◦ what was he going to do with his life now? he had nothing
◦ but Jesus flatly denied his request
– this rejection is intensified, because of the number of times Jesus is begged in this chapter and he has granted their request
• people in that area begged Jesus to leave,
◦ Jairus begged for daughter to be healed
◦ even the demons begged Jesus not to send them out of the country
• but with Mr. Legend we find the only instance in this chapter that Jesus denied a request
◦ I do not doubt Jesus’ love for him
◦ or that he did what was best for him, and perhaps what was best for both of them

Anyway, the man took it well
– what Jesus did for him, is he turned him around and gave him a mission
• a mission he jumped into with enthusiasm (v. 20)
◦ Jesus gave him a new life, and a purpose
◦ he gave him a way to please Jesus – and show his gratitude
• if he could not travel with Jesus, he would travel for Jesus

The other two stories have to be told together

Jairus was a man of some importance
– he did not run to Jesus like Legion did,
• but he also fell at Jesus’ feet in desperation
◦ he begged Jesus–to heal his daughter, his little daughter!
• two times Mark tells us there was a great crowd around Jesus
◦ this would have made walking down streets difficult and very slow
– that’s when a woman made her move
• she used the crowd to sneak up behind Jesus
◦ she had a physical disorder that rendered her impure
• both Jairus and woman came to Jesus with the same thought and purpose
◦ to “be made well” (vv. 23 and 28)
◦ both faced the challenge of fear and faith
But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well . . . .
Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” (vv. 34 and 36)

When I read this chapter last year, was also reading Leviticus

Specifically, passages about the priests and their holy garments
– the priests were never allowed contact with anything unclean
• they could not even tend to the body of a deceased relative
◦ their sacred robes were worn only in the sanctuary
◦ no one else was ever allowed to touch those garments
• so Jesus’ words jumped out at me when he suddenly asked,
Who touched my garments?
– I was reminded that Jesus lived outside of designated sacred space
• he even entered Gentile territory
◦ his body and clothing were exposed to impurities
◦ the demon-possessed; a woman with a bleeding disorder; the corpse of a little girl
• when Aaron’s sons violated the purity of worship,
fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them (Lev. 10:2)
◦ but when woman touched Jesus’ garments, power went out from Jesus and healed her
◦ this was the new wine – this was Jesus changing religion
– Jesus continues to live freely in our world
• he’s not afraid to touch us or be touched by us
– the woman received something from Jesus, she received healing
• or, did she steal the healing?
◦ if so, Jesus blessed her, and the faith that gave her boldness to attempt such a theft

When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, he kept it secret

His strict warning to parents was opposite to what he told Legion
– I think that may be why he told the mourners the girl was only asleep
• so afterward they wouldn’t realize the magnitude of this miracle

Can you imagine the desperation of countless people coming to Jesus, begging, perhaps demanding that he, raise a recently deceased loved one from the dead?

– it occurred to me, he might have wanted both parents present for this miracle
• so when their daughter regained consciousness,
◦ she would see familiar faces and not be frightened
◦ but I don’t know; it’s just a thought and seemed to be something Jesus would do

Conclusion: I have spent time sitting in each of these stories

I’m not sure that I can muster up the faith of the nameless woman
– or the faith Jesus told Jairus to have
• but what I notice about each of these main characters,
◦ is that they came to Jesus
• they came and each one fell down before him
I can do that – I can collapse at Jesus’ feet
And if that’s all I can do, it is enough
Because Jesus is enough
It is enough, because Jesus is everything

Mar 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark, chapter 4 03/19/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning RefleXion Community. The Lord is with you!          The recent talk of The Jesus Movement got me thinking about movements, flow, streams and rivers.  Rivers are mentioned in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.  I especially love Psalm 46:4, There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

Some of us here and online were a part of what was called The Jesus Movement, or we have been involved in other movements—things that seemed important to us at a certain time.  And, whether these movements came and went, or grew and changed, I picture these movements as parts of the larger river.  For instance, you may see The Jesus Movement as a wave, a whirlpool, a bit of white water.  They are in themselves important things, but we can’t forget that they may come and go, and they are still all part of the larger flow of the river, and we are all held and carried by that river.  The movement of God has had its own pace and form since the beginning of time, and who knows how it was before that.  Jesus didn’t let little disturbances cause Him to doubt or sideline his movement.  He knew that He was in the Flow of the River carried forward in the time and way of the Holy Spirit, for His Father’s purposes.

“Aslan is on the move” (do you remember the Beaver’s word to the children in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?).  Aslan was a Lion and the True King of the land.  The Beaver says, “They say Aslan is on the move- perhaps has already landed.”

The story goes on.  And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand, but in the dream it feels as if it has some enormous meaning- either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in their inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.

Let me read you the first few verses from the last chapter of the book of Revelation; this is where the river is taking us. What do you feel as you hear it?  Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him.  And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there–no need for lamps or sun–for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.”  Do you feel something jump on your inside?  It might be the Spirit of God leaping with the joy of it all.

My prayer:  Thank you, Savior Jesus for making a way; You are the Way.  Let us be carried forward in Your Flow of Love.  Let the joy of being with you now and forever help us to keep our heads above water and trust that You are the True King, who has landed and will come again. Come quickly now and take us all the way Home.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them, “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow . . . .” Mark 4:1-3

Intro: I’ve enjoyed the privilege of walking the shores of the Galilee “sea”

Sometimes in the early morning, other times in the afternoon, and some evenings as well
– so once, when reading this chapter, I put myself there
• Jesus could be seen walking those shores frequently
◦ that’s what he was doing when he called his first disciples (Mk. 1:16-20)
• in the previous chapter, people found him there
◦ so many, in fact that the press of the crowd threatened to crush him (Mk. 3:8-9)
◦ what he did then, he did again this time
◦ he climbed into a boat, pushed off from shore, and taught them from there
– I imagined serene surface of the lake, heard ripples running on shore,
• and noticed that the gentle rocking of the boat was mesmerizing
◦ it is easy to sit and listen to his voice coming across the water
• he tells his simple stories and my mind watches them unfold ,
◦ filling in details with color and texture

“Listen!,” he says, “Behold, a farmer went out scattering seeds”
– I picture the “sower” walking back and forth along the furrowed rows of the field
• he scatters handfuls of grain from a large sack slung over his shoulder
◦ the wind carries the kernels in all directions
◦ to the roadside next to his field, among a pile of rocks, and into a patch of weeds
• but, as we expected only the seeds in good soil thrived
– that was it – that was his message to the crowd
• only, in conclusion he added,
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear
• I scratch my beard and wonder, “What’s the point?”

Jesus’ parables communicate truth in a rough narrative form

The purpose of a story is different from a lecture or essay
– stories are meant to create an experience for hearer or reader
• a good story gives you a sense of being there
– Jesus used parables to create a bridge
• between what we know and the unknowable
• they helps us make rational connections, but they do more than that,
◦ they produce an enlightening experience

In verse 30, Jesus asks, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like . . . .
– here is your assignment: describe yellow to a person who is color blind
• you would most likely start with “It is like,” because no visual description would be meaningful to them
• then what? “Yellow is like the feeling of sunshine on your face,” perhaps
◦ or, “Yellow is like a low note softly played on a saxophone”
◦ you have to work with what they know and have experienced

At the end of the day, Jesus met with a small group of disciples

They wanted to know what he was saying with all his parables
– he first told them why parables were necessary
• the parables were not meant for them as much as for the crowd
To you has been given the secret (mystery) of the kingdom of God
• I wondered what had been given to the disciples?
◦ was it what we call head-knowledge of the mystery of God’s kingdom?
◦ or had the kingdom itself been given to them
– is it possible disciples possessed more than they knew?
• obviously, if Jesus had to tell them the kingdom was given to them they had not known it
• at any rate, the parables were for those outside Jesus’ circle
◦ since the time of Isaiah, they were unable to grasp the straight-forward word of the prophets (vv. 11-12)

In verse 13, it sounds to me like Jesus was frustrated with them
“If you don’t get this parable, how can I take you any further? Okay, this time I’ll explain my parables to you. You have to receive the word like a seed, you have to receive the kingdom like a child” (Mk. 10:15)
– if they already had the mystery of the kingdom, they should have known what the seed is and does
• when the seed falls on a human heart, it may:
◦ never be given a chance to sink in
◦ or grow quickly, but without deep roots it dies
◦ or sprout, but have its life choked out (by distractions)
◦ or in good soil, grow, and produce grain – a lot of grain!
– I have to admit, his explanation is really helpful

One morning, the second line of verse 13 rattled my cage
How then will you understand all the parables?

Is Jesus saying that this parable is a gateway to all his parables?
– that it is the key to understanding his parables?
• in explaining this parable Jesus says, The sower sows the word
◦ that is to say, the seed is the word as Jesus delivers it–each parable is a seed
◦ Matthew refers to it not only as the word, but as the word of the kingdom
• parables are the seed that is scattered
◦ as Jesus talks about seed and soils, he is planting seeds!
– I’m convinced that Jesus’ next illustration brings further clarity to this
“Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears, let him hear (Mk. 4:21-23)
• a parable is like a lamp put under a basket
◦ the truth is there, but it’s hidden in a story
The light is revealed to those who are ready to receive it
But it is concealed from those who are not ready or who resist it
• the kingdom of God is a hidden, transcendent dimension
◦ but its light shines in Jesus and through his parables
◦ they are like portals through which the light of the kingdom of God enters our hearts

How do we receive the word so that it enlightens and grows in us?

Where did Jesus begin? In verse 3 he began with, “Listen! Behold”
– we listen and we look with focused awareness
(there is also open awareness where we are not concentrating on any particular thing, but noticing our environment with openness and no judgment)
If anyone has ear to hear, let him hear (vv. 9 and 23)
Pay attention to what you hear (v. 24)
• we choose how much attention we give to parables
◦ and the quality of that attention
◦ our attention determines how much we get from the parables
• but the principle of listening works both ways
with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added (v. 24)
– what happens next is that the more we exercise our awareness, the more it grows
For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away (v. 25)

How do the parables make these incredible things happen?
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear Mark 4:26-28

Do you hear the rhythm of these words, “sleeps and rises”“night and day”?
• it’s the rhythm of the farmer’s life
◦ farmers calibrate their lives according to the rhythm of nature
• they rise and plant, they sleep and the seed sprouts and grows
but they don’t know how! –they don’t have to know how
– we just do the work and accept our ignorance of things infinite and eternal
◦ we don’t know how the word changes us, or what kind of changes it will work in us,
◦ or how its growth occurs
• God’s Spirit makes it happen, so it is beyond knowing
◦ what we are allowed to know is the fruit of the process

God knows our limits and weaknesses, and he assists us

Many times I conclude my meditation with a prayer of confession
For instance: “I know God’s kingdom surrounds me right now and that it is in me at the same time. I also know that I do not give it all the space that it requires. Lord Jesus, I want to follow You; please help me do a better job of it.”
– I used to be frightened by the parable of the seed and four soils
• they looked like a test or trial used to cut the less talented from the team
• they are exactly the opposite
◦ Jesus gave us parables to qualify us for discipleship

Conclusion: In 2016, after meditating on this chapter, I wrote:

  1. I am not the first disciple who has been a slow-learner
  2. It’s possible that I posses more than what I know
  3. Jesus wants to give us the secret of the kingdom of God
  4. It’s okay to ask questions
  5. Faith will be enough to move forward when reason fails
  6. Jesus supports our success as his disciples
    In fact, he will guarantee it if we let him and trust him
Mar 13 / Reflexion Community

Mediations in Mark Chapter 3 – 03/12/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning and welcome to our RefleXion Community!  The Lord is with you.

As Chuck began our series in the book of Mark, I noticed—and maybe you did too– that the word “wilderness” was mentioned four times in the first 13 verses.  Before Jesus invited anyone to “Follow Me,” there was the wilderness.  John the Baptizer was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that there would be a voice calling from the wilderness, and then he was baptizing in the wilderness.  Jesus was driven into the wilderness (by the Holy Spirit, no less) and was in the wilderness for 40 days.  Since we want to “follow Jesus,” just as He was led by the Spirit, so must we be led.  And, if we’re led into the wilderness…well, what is the wilderness?  The Greek word eremos is translated:

As a type of place: solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited, and an uncultivated region, though fit for pasture.  As the state of a person: deserted by others, deprived of their aid and protection, especially of friends, acquaintances, kindred.

I imagine that we all have experienced some aspect of the desert (desert-edness) or soul-drought.  Yet the desert is never seen in scripture as an empty region.  It is a space provided for shaking off all forms of disordered desires and attachments and carrying forward only what is necessary.  It’s a place of renewal, of returning to essence.

Jesus’ temptations, it seems to me, were focused on his identity: “If you are the Son of God…” came the temptation.  I wonder if the primary temptation we all face is to doubt our identify:  that we are children of God, with a divine identity and a unique calling.

There are some great quotes by one of the 4th century Desert Mothers (those who chose to go to the Desert, by the way).  Her name was Amma Syncletica of Alexandria. She wrote, “If you find yourself in a monastery do not go to another place, for that will harm you a great deal.  Just as the bird who abandons the eggs  she was sitting on prevents them from hatching, so is the [one] who grows cold and their faith dies, when they go from place to place.”  Amma Syncletica is counseling us not to run from ourselves and is encouraging us to stay faithfully with whatever new life is being hatched in us. 

At least, these have been God’s word to me of late:  “Don’t try to control; don’t try to escape.”  We are always in the nest of God (our Provider, Comforter, Nourisher).  Yet in the wilderness?  In the wild?  Yes, we’re still in His nest, though perhaps without the feather bedding.  Maybe then we can call our wilderness the “Wilder-Nest.”  We’re still in His Nest.

Shall we pray:

Thank You, Lord, for Your covenant of love.  We are grateful for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We surrender to Your love however it may look.  Keep us safe from wild beasts and pity parties.  Encourage us by empowering grace.  Feed us with your good word this morning, for our sake and for the sake of the Kingdom.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch forth you hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Mark 3:1-6

Intro: In our current excursion through the Gospel of Mark, I am more of a tour guide than a teacher

These talks come from my personal meditations,
– and I’m inviting you to let me show you what I have seen
• to appreciate the ground we’ll cover today, I’m going to share another personal observation,
◦ because it is relevant to this chapter
– I see two Christian paths that run parallel to each other
• one path is relational – I see it as the true path
◦ on this path, trust in God is real and refreshed daily
◦ the primary characteristic of this path is love for God and love for others
• the other path is religious – it looks right, but it’s missing something
having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people (2 Tim. 31-5)
◦ on this path, trust is placed in a person’s beliefs and specific habits
◦ being “right” doctrinally is confused with being “righteous”

It seems to me, in Jesus’ day, Israel’s religion looked right
– but the devotion of believers like the Pharisees,
• was given to the forms of religion, not to the heart or spirit of the Law
◦ God sent poets and prophets to bring Israel to himself
◦ but having discovered that the forms could be controlled by people, they rejected the prophets
• Israel chose to live at a distance from God, but close to the Law and their interpretations of it
◦ in that way they could justify being greedy and unmerciful,
◦ yet, at the same time, believe they were godlier than other less religious people
– remember last week? Jesus said,
no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins (Mk. 2:22)
• his life and ministry were incompatible with the established religion
• we witness that incompatibility in this chapter

My meditation in the synagogue

The synagogue was the local headquarters of the religious institution
– I imagined myself there when Jesus entered
A man was there, who did not want to draw attention to himself, yet he could not go unnoticed. His disability made him a perfect candidate for the compassion and power of Jesus.
The Lord’s presence did not go unnoticed either. He was being watched, scrutinized. He had critics who wanted to confirm their suspicions. Would he honor the Sabbath according to their tradition? Or would he do what he had been doing everywhere else, all the time?
The Pharisees were not interested in learning whether he was sent by God. They weren’t even interested in his miracles, his compassion, or changed lives. They believed in their beliefs. Did he? Did Jesus believe in and share those beliefs? That is what they were waiting to discover.
Jesus tells the disabled man, who doesn’t want attention, to come forward. I feel nervous for him. I see him holding his arms behind his back, looking down at the ground in front of his feet. Then Jesus asks the others sitting in the Synagogue whether the Sabbath law permitted a person to do good or harm, to save life or kill. I imagine the Lord making make eye-contact with each person sitting there.
No one answered. I notice Jesus’ emotional response: anger and grief.
Why did they clam up? Why were they unwilling to answer such an easy question? I’m guessing that they did not want to yield anything to Jesus. No wonder this hardness of heart angered and grieved him. For centuries God faced the same stubbornness with his people, this same unwillingness to cooperate with him. Jesus’ sadness came not only from they way they hardened their hearts to him, but to the broken man as well.
A child complains to a parent about other kids, “They won’t play with me!” No one in the synagogue was willing to play along with Jesus. No one was interested in doing good or saving a life on the Sabbath. Later, Jesus would say,
“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
‘We played the flute for you,

and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
(Mt. 11:16-19)
Today, if Jesus asks me, “Can you come out and play?” I’m going with him.

People on the parallel path of Christianity tend to have hard hearts
– some have shorter or longer lists of who is going to hell
• but long or short, it doesn’t bother them to pronounce sentence
◦ try to get them to re-examine their beliefs and they resist
• our theology and doctrine about God is not God
◦ those are rational concepts, and God is not a concept
◦ it is not only humility, but also compassion, to allow God to correct our beliefs

My meditation by the “sea”
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed him (Mk. 3:7)

“Jesus withdrew” – he did not continue to engage his critics
– there was no way he could win them over
• however, he could do good for the crowds who followed him
– sometimes the best course of action is to withdraw
• the morning that I meditated on this passage, my prayer was:
“Lord Jesus, please share Your wisdom with me, so that I may choose the best course of action. In every instance of conflict, slander, opposition, or trouble, give me clear thoughts and guide my actions. Remind me that it is not cowardice to withdraw. That to walk away is to find the path of peace. And may it not frustrate me that I cannot convince everyone to rethink their relationship with You and others. I thank You for the revelation that trouble need not stop me, slow me down, or cause me to despair. There is always the choice to walk with You through everything, and in making that choice I can go on my way rejoicing.”

My meditation on the mountain

Jesus did not own a home or rent an apartment – he stayed in the homes of others
– so there was no room he could retreat into for privacy
• no door where he could hang a “Do not disturb” sign
• but he had mountain and desert spaces
◦ in this instance he found solitude on a mountain
◦ and the twelve that went with him were “by invitation only”
– the invitation was to a new role, to become something new
• in fact, he gave three of them new names
• and because this was special, he invited them into his private office

The first phase of their new calling was to be with him
– that would qualify them for the work they were to do
• I wonder what criteria Jesus used in choosing these particular men
◦ was it because they had left everything to follow him, and he wanted that type of devotion?
◦ or perhaps because they were not special, gifted, or trained
• what we’re told is that Jesus called those he desired
◦ I want Jesus to desire me – desire me to be with him
◦ I want him to want me

Several times I have meditated on the various reactions to Jesus
Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard of it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind”(Mk. 3:20-21)
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” Mk. 3:22)

Jesus’ family and the scribes had different opinions about him
– both concluded something extraordinary was going on,
• but both assumed he was messed up, and both were wrong
– demon possession depicted in today’s movies and books,
• is nothing but ghost stories — garish, terrifying, and overdone
◦ I wonder whether it was as spooky in Jesus’ day as we think of it today
• perhaps people reacted to the possessed as we tend to psychotic behavior when we see it in public
◦ we feel pity and concern, but keep our distance

Most everyone I know has been shocked by Jesus’ statement
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mk. 3: 28-30)
– the scribes were sincere and devoutly religious people
• and they were on a mission
◦ but they slandered Jesus and what he did for the crowds of men, women, and children
• at present, millions of people speak blasphemies every day
◦ some say hateful things about Christians and God intentionally
all of that is forgivable
– I hear words spoken that jar my soul – profanity using “God” or the name of Jesus Christ
• but it doesn’t bother God the way it bothers me
• however, people who speak in the name of God or represent God to the world offend him,
◦ when they withhold mercy and express hate in his name

Conclusion: One parting look at this chapter
And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside the sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother (Mk. 3:31-35)

The focus of this meditation is Jesus’ two families
– Jesus detached himself from the one in order to attach himself to the other
The Pharisees wanted to destroy Jesus,
The crowds wanted something from Jesus,
His mom and brothers wanted to get him home to fix him,
And the scribes wanted to discredit him

Did anyone want Jesus for Jesus?
I think those sitting around him, listening to him teach the will of God wanted him
We can be those members of his redefined family
We can be his disciples, whom he desires to be with him
We can live with open hearts, and open minds, and open hands

Mar 5 / Reflexion Community

Meditations in Mark Chapter 2 03/05/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Jim Calhoun
A prayer for this Lenten season

You laid down Your life and gave up everything for us.
Let us place our death in Yours
The death of our plans
The death of our expectations The death of our willfulness
The death of our selfish ambitions
The death of our imagined selves
Teach us to accept all afflictions
All disappointments
All regrets
So we may know our great need of you
So we may  know your loving care
Take hold of us with Your love,
Bind our wounds
Make us whole
Make all things new
To know your voice
To know your care
To know your healing presence
So we may freely
And wholly give ourselves to you

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.
[Jesus] went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them Mark 2:13

Intro: If you haven’t noticed,

There’s a pattern that many sermons and Christian books follow
– the preacher or author begin with a problem:
• what Christians or churches are doing wrong – or not doing
• then in the sermon or book they set out to solve the problem
◦ for instance, what we’re supposed to do and how to do it right
– every week people hear their preacher begin by pointing out their shortcomings
• not praying enough, giving enough, their faith isn’t strong enough, etc.
• people go to church or read books, because they hunger for God
◦ they are burdened, worn out, anxious about their family and future,
◦ some are unemployed, or perhaps a single mom, a lonely senior, a confused teen
• and in the first minutes of listening or reading, they get beaten down
– the way of Jesus is not to condemn people or place heavy yoke on them
• but he welcomes, clothes, feeds, heals, reassures, and loves them

Mark chapter 2 records four episodes of Jesus’ run-ins with the “religion police”
– they’re like a dark cloud wherever he goes
• he wasn’t looking for trouble, but he kept getting into trouble
◦ they questioned his words and actions, or his disciples’ actions
• in fact, those questions move the plot through the chapter from one episode to the next
◦ and each question that Jesus is asked begins with, “Why?”
◦ Jesus is pressured by the religion police to defend himself or his disciples
– typical of his teaching style, Jesus uses
• analogies, word pictures, and examples from the OT
• what does Mark want us to get from each of these episodes?
◦ for me, he wants to give us a glimpse of Jesus and the mystery of who he is
◦ the light of God shines through Jesus in Mark chapter 2

Jesus is the Son of ManWhy does this man speak like that?

Capernaum was a lovely, little seaside village
– Jesus returned there (cf. Mk. 1:21) and was teaching in someone’s home
• four men brought a paralyzed friend – but the house was too crowded for them to get him inside
◦ so went up on roof, dug through ceiling, lowered friend down into the room where Jesus taught
this would cause most preachers to lose their composure
– but it was exactly the kind of thing Lonnie Frisbee would have loved
• I know of specific instances when while speaking Lonnie was interrupted by some bizarre event
◦ he always seemed comfortable when that happened, as if he knew what was going on and what God’s Spirit wanted him to say and do
• that is how Jesus responded to this strange intrusion

Jesus’ first words to paralytic, “Son, you sins are forgiven”
– I think that would perturb me if I was one of the friends who brought him to Jesus
“I didn’t help carry him all the way here for that!”
• meanwhile, the religion police were offended and outraged
Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone? (v. 7)
◦ they were asking themselves two questions: why and who
◦ now if they had the answer to the Who question, they would have had the answer to the Why question
• Jesus called them out, and answered them with a demonstration of what he had authority to do
– this is the truth that was revealed: The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins
• “Son of Man” identifies him as one of us – one with us
◦ in the next chapter, he uses same expression, only plural
◦ “the sons of man” refers to all of humankind (Mk. 3:28)
“Has authority on earth to forgive sins”
on earth, because this is where we live, this is where we suffer, and this is where we sin
◦ forgiveness is a major healing and the beginning of our complete healing
◦ it goes to the deepest roots of all that is wrong in our lives

Jesus is a PhysicianWhy does he eat with tax collectors and sinners

Mark describes a shocking scene
– the first shock: Jesus calls a tax collector to follow him
• the second shock comes in verse 15
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus
• when I came to this passage in 2008, I was reading the New American Standard Bible
◦ the NASB has a note in the margin for the word “sinners”: “irreligious Jews.”
◦ when I read that, I wrote:
I’m not sure why this notation was placed here, because there is nothing in the original language to justify it. It was someone’s interpretation of the kind of guests who were present at Matthew’s dinner party. But the attempt to soften the word “sinners” is pathetic.
“Forgive us, O God, that we deny Jesus’ descent into the darkest places among the truly sinful. We try to protect the purity of his image. We tell other Christians that it is not okay to hang out with sinners. Forgive us for trying to justify our resistance to being among people who do not share our faith or are antagonistic to it. Forgive our resistance to loving them, even though that is what the Lord taught us by his example. Don’t let us forget what we were.”
– I am forever amazed and grateful for Jesus’ answer in verse 17
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
• I am one of his patients – and that means I am his problem
◦ I cannot heal myself (any more than paralytic could stand up on his own)
• Jesus moves among all the broken people
◦ caring for them, defending them, and defending his love for them

Jesus is a BridegroomWhy do . . . your disciples not fast?

I hear another unasked question:
“How come your disciples aren’t as dismal, unpleasant, and depressing as John’s disciples and the religion police?”
– the answer was, “Because my disciples are at a wedding, not a funeral”
• they had not learned to be miserable from Jesus
◦ fasting is a way of expressing grief and contrition
• they had his forgiveness, his help, his love – they had hope
◦ they were following Jesus, not religion
– Jesus went on to use analogies – a new patch on new cloth and new wine in new wine skins
• the kind of fasting they did was a duty, a routine piety
• wine sometimes has positive connotations in scripture–cf. Jdg. 9:13; Ps. 104:14-15
◦ Jesus’ first miracle mentioned in John’s gospel was when he turned water into wine at wedding
– the old religious system was not ready for this,
• it was an old wine skin that could not accommodate the new wine
• some Christians believe there’s a spiritual advantage to fasting
◦ but every spiritual need we have is fulfilled in Jesus

Jesus is like DavidWhy are they doing what is not lawful?

Years ago I learned a valuable truth from a seminary professor
Chuck Kraft, “The Scriptures are inspired–our interpretations are not inspired.”
– interpretations change as we learn more about the Bible
• they also change with cultural shifts (e.g., when women began wearing slacks in mid-20th century)
• Jesus’ disciples were not breaking any Sabbath law,
◦ but the were violating one of the interpretations of Sabbath law
– David provided a good example of the Lord’s point
– Jesus’ actions were similar to David’s, and Jesus had disciples as David had his companions
• it was a bold comparison – the Messiah would be a descendant of David
• but then Jesus makes an even bolder statement

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath
The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath(vv. 27-28)

In the Old Testament, God set strict boundaries around the Sabbath
– he was adamant about Sabbath-keeping, and required Israel to treat it seriously
• so who is this Son of Man that God would make him lord of the Sabbath?
◦ Jesus is saying that God has authorized him to make the Sabbath rules
◦ or at least to be the one who interprets the rules correctly
• this rattles the entire law and how they understood and used it
◦ we must look at it through new eyes — the Sabbath was made for men and women
◦ and we must look at Jesus with those same eyes if we want to know God’s purposes for us

Conclusion: I have one other meditation from this chapter I want to share with you

He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him (v. 13)
“Reading these words, I longed to be there. Right now, I do not want to read another book, or listen to a sermon, or learn of someone’s method of prayer. I wish I could follow Jesus down to the beach and listen to whatever is on his mind. Jesus would not concern himself with being profound or clever. I doubt he would have “three points,” or use alliteration, or acronyms, or any other “preacher gimmicks.”
If we walked together alone, I would ask him, ‘Lord, what is wrong with me? What do You want from me that I haven’t been giving You? From Your perspective, what’s the most important concern of my life? What should have my undivided attention in this stage of life?’
Two times in this chapter Jesus was either preaching or teaching (vv. 1-2 and13). Mark doesn’t give us an indication that Jesus had planned to preach or teach, and in neither instance does Mark report what Jesus taught–not one word of it. Everything was spontaneous. Jesus’ words were for that moment; they fit what was happening in that moment. That is what I want: spontaneity. To be with Jesus and hear whatever he has to say for this moment. To be free from all past and all future moments. What is Jesus doing here, now?”

What happens when we take those meaningful walks along the shore?
Jesus stretches the imagination of our faith
And deepens the reservoir of our love

Feb 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations in Mark – ch. 1 02/26/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!  Welcome to our RefleXion Community.  The Lord is with you.

We’ve been talking about our spiritual and human journeys, and I want to bring another analogy to you. Let’s suppose you went in to a large, multi-level mall and wanted to go to a particular shop—say Bed, Bath, and Beyond– but didn’t know where it was located.  What’s the first thing you would do after entering the mall?

The Directory– where is the store is located?  Then, what other information would you need?  The Red Dot “You Are Here”

Because every journey, and every step, begins where we are!  Sometimes we forget both pieces.  Lord, I want to be a helpful servant, to be patient and loving, to become a pastor, a great spouse, or whatever. It’s important to note where we are, in addition to where we want to be; because then we might realize that the Lord might need to take us on a route we may not have chosen to prepare us for that which is our heart’s desire.  Some of us are prone to focus on where we want to go, and some of us, on where we are. But it’s two walking sticks:  Here’s where I’m going, and here’s where I am.

Today is the First Sunday of Lent, and the word Confess comes to mind.  Confess is an interesting word.  In this past week’s Lectio passage there was a line, “whoever confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  We use the word “confess” (which means “to agree”) as a PROfession (like the Confession of our Faith) as well as CONfession (the admission of guilt or the state we deem unworthy).

So, we confess/profess what we believe (there IS a Bed, Bath, and Beyond—in spiritual terms, perhaps “There is Rest, Forgiveness, and Engagement with God for me,”) and we confess where we are in this moment (short-tempered, doubtful, shame-filled, lost).  I like to start my day with professing what I believe and confessing where I see myself.  And, during the day, when a tension arises, I can say, “Lord I profess that my hope is in you, and, once again, I confess that I find myself on the lower level of the mall.”  And I think that God might say, “You’re on The Way; you have arrived.”

Join me in prayer, will you:

O, God, our God, we earnestly seek You.  We profess our faith in You.  May we hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for You are with us, and You are a great and loving Father.  We know our transgressions; let us know that we can rest in You, because You know us intimately and have prepared our way.  Forgive us our many sins and restore to us the joy of our salvation.  Thank you for all the ways we encounter Your Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.  May Your Kingdom come.  May Your will be done.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God Mark 1:1
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Intro: Last week a friend asked me,

“What Bible book to read to get to know Jesus–the person?”
– my immediate answer was Mark’s gospel
• that’s the book where I meet Jesus – and feel that I’m drawn close to him
◦ this is my experience, even though Mark is most condensed of the four Gospels
• in fact, he tends to downplay some of the exciting episodes
◦ for instance, Jesus’ temptation (Mk. 1:12-13) – blink and you’ll miss it
– for forty plus years I have read and re-read this book,
• spending time in meditation on every chapter
◦ that is what I want to share with you
◦ not a Bible study, but a seeing and savoring the stories of Jesus
• perhaps if you see Jesus through my eyes,
◦ you’ll come to see him better through your own
◦ and then seeing him for yourself, you can move beyond what I hope to share with you

Vv. 1 and 14-15, A couple weeks ago, I started reading Mark again

My mind felt sluggish that morning, as if it’s engine wouldn’t start
– but when I read verse 1, and then again when I read verse 15, something changed
• I felt energy in those verses, as if the words were written in light
• a revelation was truth unfolding in me right at that moment
◦ Jesus was becoming to me the Christ, the Son of God
– I wrote in my meditation for that morning:
“Jesus was not another mortal who emerged in history for a few years and then sank back into the river of time. He is the Son of God. His kingdom is here, now.”
• I was not stating a truth, but describing my experience
◦ to feel the Lord’s sonship and the presence of his kingdom was much more than just reading the words
• a few years ago, the introduction, The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ
◦ became an invitation for me every time I opened to Mark
◦ an invitation to join him again in his journey
• it’s like having a trainer, helping me become a better runner
◦ the trainer watches me run four laps, then recommends I get a better pair of shoes
◦ then I go back to starting the line and run another four laps,
and the trainer tells me to increase the length of my stride and explains how to do that
• every reading through Mark is more insight, more training, more work on perfecting my stride

Mark streamlines John the Baptist’s story
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance of sins Mark 1:4-8

John is an interesting character regardless of how much or how little we know of him
– in one of my daily meditations I wrote:
“John’s rugged clothing and severe diet were not gimmicks meant to draw crowds. His asceticism and minimalist lifestyle was not ‘cause,’ but ‘effect.’ His complete devotion to God’s work required a focused attention that kept him isolated from distractions of cities and villages and the necessary effort to acquire normal food and clothing. He was a rare species of humankind.”

Every year, in my first reading of Mark, I am reading through the Book of Leviticus also
– one time, I felt a residue of unpleasantness from Leviticus
– it describes in detail how the priests were to cut up the animals, and handle the parts
• stomach, kidneys, liver, and so on
◦ it felt like the priest was more butcher than worshiper
• but then I realized, that what is on the inside matters to God
◦ our thoughts, emotions, motivations, dreams, and so on,
◦ are internal factors that shape our external behavior
– God want those parts too–besides the physical, all that’s mental and all that’s visceral

Like the priests, John provided a ritual service
– in Old Testament worship, there were lots of “baptisms”– ritual washing
• baptism is symbolic – it is performed on the outside of body
◦ John announced that Jesus would do something different than what he was doing
I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit
– what is the nature of that Spirit baptism?
• it’s a transcendent ritual that reaches everything, all the “parts,” the innards
• what water baptism does symbolically, Jesus does in reality
◦ John came to prepare people for what Jesus would bring

Mark uses one of his key words for the first time
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” Mark 1:9-11

The word “immediately” will appear more times than other in the other three Gospels put together
– in one meditation I described this first instance of immediately as being
“like the gunshot at the beginning of a race. The rapid pace and quick transitions will characterize Mark’s story of Jesus’ life and ministry.”
• Mark not only tells a shorter than the other Gospels, it also moves much faster
◦ Mark is finished in 16 chapters (John has 22 chapters, Luke 24, and Matthew has 28)
– besides using “immediately” to jump from one moment to the next,
• Mark rushes us through events with a multitude of “and’s”
◦ in fact, many sentences in Mark begin with the word “And” (take a quick read of verses 35-39)
• frequently, both “and” and “immediately” occur together–at least 6X in this chapter

Jesus enters the story at his baptism

In Matthew and Luke, Jesus enters the story with the announcement of his birth
– in the forth gospel, Jesus appears in the first verse at the beginning of time (!)
• Mark does not embellish the report of Jesus’ baptism
◦ in fact, he sort of crunches his baptism and temptation together
◦ nevertheless, the baptism is important: it connects the end of Jesus’ ministry with the beginning
• the careful reader notices how elements at this beginning of his ministry return at end of his ministry
◦ both Matthew and Luke tell us “the heavens were opened”
◦ Mark alone tells us, “he saw the heavens being torn open”
– this is a rare word in the New Testament
Matthew once and Luke twice (both times are connected with Jesus’ crucifixion)
• all three Synoptic Gospels use “torn” in reference to the moment Jesus died
◦ for instance,
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mk. 15:37-38)
◦ the curtain sealed off God’s presence from everyone except the high priest
• the curtain was torn apart when Jesus’ work was complete
◦ in Jesus, at his baptism and through his crucifixion, God made himself accessible,
◦ to all people for all time
– there is also this great mystery, that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry
• with a voice from heaven, God owns his beloved Son
◦ but then at the end of Jesus’ ministry, God goes silent
• this is a tragic hardship, and one that Jesus shares with us
◦ most of us here have been confused or grieved by God’s silence
◦ but that meditation is for another time

There is one more story in this chapter, and it is my favorite (vv. 40-45)

I’ll probably say that other stories are my favorite, but for now this is my favorite
– a desperate man came to Jesus – an outcast because he was a leper
• he knelt before Jesus and said, “If you will, you can make me clean”
◦ he had no doubt Jesus was capable of curing him,
◦ he just didn’t know if Jesus was willing to cleanse him
• and now the worst translation of any verse in the English Standard Version of the Bible:
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean” (v. 41)
◦ Jesus did not pity people, he felt compassion
(the Greek word is based on anatomy; namely, the spleen. It carries the thought of the Hebrew Scriptures that intense emotions are felt in the deepest, most central, and critical regions of the body)
◦ I agree with Henri Nouwen
Nouwen, “Compassion is something other than pity. Pity suggests distance, even a certain condescendence. I often act with pity. I give some money to a beggar on the streets of Toronto or New York City, but I do not look him in his eyes, sit down with him, or talk with him.”
“Compassion — which means, literally ‘to suffer with’ — is the way to the truth that we are most ourselves, not when we differ from others, but when we are the same.”
– Mark preserves these emotional expressions of our Lord
(For instance, when a wealthy young man approached Jesus to ask him what he had to do to inherit eternal life, and affirmed that he had kept the commandments as Jesus suggested, that Jesus, looking at him, loved him (Mk. 10:21). Both Matthew and Luke record this story, but neither of them point out the fact that Jesus loved the young man)
• in places like this, I make the story my own
• I am the broken, desperate person who comes to Jesus
◦ I need his compassion and his willingness to help me

There was no big build-up to the moment of the leper’s healing
– Jesus did ask any questions or give any instructions
• neither Jesus nor Mark exploit the miracles
◦ they never glamorize or sensationalize what Jesus does – there’s no drama!
• in fact, Jesus does just the opposite
◦ for instance, in this passage Jesus has more to say to the leper after healing him than before
◦ and his words afterward were specific and spoken sternly
See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them (v. 44)
– even so, the leper went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places (v. 45)

About desolate places:
– earlier, when the crowds were looking for Jesus, he went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed (v. 35)
• it’s almost always easier to find Jesus in solitude and quiet
◦ “desolate” refers to what is not there, like the distractions we experience in public places
• if you or I find ourselves in a desolate place because of some hardship or rough times
◦ at least we can be sure that Jesus is there too

Conclusion: I am going to share one large meditation with you, and then close with a prayer from another mediation

Because Mark’s story is compact, it brings greater intensity to what is here. It is unusual for Jesus to just show up from Nazareth for his baptism without any background information to explain who he is or what makes him special. We understand something about people if we know their past. Mark deprives us of that kind information about Jesus. In hiding the details of Jesus’ parents, childhood, and hometown, Mark presents him stripped of everything that under normal circumstances explains a person’s credibility and influence. Why would Mark do that?
I believe Mark wants us to discover Jesus. He tells us stories of Jesus so that through them we can discover who he is. Gradually, we learn the extraordinary truth of Jesus. For instance, he did not derive his authority from anything in his upbringing, or accomplishments, or from an institution, but carried it within himself (vv. 22 & 27). In the stories we encounter Jesus as someone who moves and wins the hearts of men and women. This is something Mark wants us to discover for ourselves, and if that happens, then we have come to know Jesus.
We learn this, even when at the start Jesus says nothing about himself. He does not introduce himself with announcements, like, “Here I am, your Messiah, God’s Son. I have come from God with a message for you.” Instead, he delivers the message of God’s kingdom without referring to himself–the Messenger. Yet for those who get to know him, it becomes as natural to see him sit in the presence of Satan, wild animals, and angels as it is with worshipers in the synagogue or crowds in the street.
In Mark’s gospel, we meet Jesus in what he does for people, who he is for people, how he heals, changes, and empowers people.
My rational mind grasps for information that explains the influence Jesus has on people, his obvious connection with God, and how it is that he works unprecedented miracles. But that is exactly what Mark denies me. As far as he is concerned, I meet Jesus as he is or not at all. Mark will not give him to me as an idea to comprehend, but as a person I must learn to love and trust.

“Good morning Jesus. Are the heavens opened? How many times have they opened and we did not see it? O Lord, if You will, you can give sight to these blind eyes. Bless our walks with You through Mark. Hold us in Your love, which is infinitely stronger than ours. Deepen our relationship. Increase our devotion. We want to be better friends to You, Jesus. Amen”

Feb 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Moses’ Last Prayer 02/19/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!  Welcome to the RefleXion Community.  The Lord is with you!

We’re all so used to relying on the Global Positioning System, or GPS, to get us where we want to go, especially when we’re in unfamiliar territory, right?

Many years ago, when this technology was new, I used a GPS for my car – a Garmin I believe, as an add-on accessory. I would program in my destination and head out; but sometimes I would get lost, take the wrong off-ramp, or ignore the directions given because I thought I knew better.  Once the GPS would see that, it would re-route me to get back on track–and then she would add, “Please drive the recommended route!”  I used to think that sounded a lot like God, “I’ll get you back to where you need to go, but just stay on course.”

The Garmin also depended on being updated with the latest maps and didn’t always know about the construction zones.  Now I use my phone’s Google Maps which are always the latest, including construction, traffic jams and alerts.  When I get off track, she always knows just where I am and gently leads me back to my planned destination, maybe on a different route, without the rude comment.  Now, this sounds more like God to me.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between Cooperation and Collaboration.  Cooperation is defined as “When a person works in support of another’s goals and is based on a division of labor to reach one person’s vision.” It’s me cooperating with my GPS–or with God.  It’s not necessarily a shared vision.  It’s being helpful in doing what is asked for.  It’s obedience. 

Collaboration refers to “a group of people working together to attain a goal that all of them share, but that they might not achieve it if they work individually. Collaboration is a coordinated, synchronous activity that is the result of a continued attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem.”

As the technology of my GPS has matured, I think maybe my relationship with God has changed too, as you might compare it to a child’s development.  Did you ever say to a toddler, “Just do what I tell you”?   At a certain age, that might be appropriate.  When the child matures, you might ask, “What do you want to do today?” or when they get older, “What are your goals?”  Then as share their vision, their goals can be yours, too in collaboration.

Of course, it depends on the situation, but I can always ask myself, “What stage do I think I am in with God here?”  There’s nothing wrong with cooperation.  Or is collaboration more my current experience?  Do I feel that God is asking me, “Will you do what I ask of you?” or “What do you want?  What seems important to you?”  Just something I’m considering.

Join me in prayer for this morning:

Heavenly Father, you know our ages and stages.  It’s a wonder that You can be with each of us, right where we are; and, You are able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.  Come close; to You be the glory. Amen.

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, “O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and might acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.”
But the LORD was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the LORD said to me, “Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan [River] Deuteronomy 3:23-27

Intro: Growing up, our family vacation was Christian summer camp

We would drive through deserts of California and Arizona to Williams
– we traveled without air-conditioning and with games that grew old fast
• three of us older children were crammed in the back seat and fought a lot defending our invisible walls
• children can make that kind of eight hour journey miserable
– imagine the agitation of that drive and multiply it times 600,000
• then, extend the travel time from eight hours to forty years!
• no wonder at the end of their journey, Moses told people of Israel,
Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. . . . You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day I knew you (De. 9:7 and 24)
◦ (I know we provoked our parents to wrath a time or two)

In Deuteronomy, Moses has come to the end of his career
– there’s no retirement – no gold watch
• all he has is one little last request before he dies
Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan
• he is suggesting that God makes a compromise for him
◦ Moses knows he will never own property or live in the land
◦ all he asks is to just go in and take a look around
– God would not budge – his answer was “No”

I think the way I hear God’s answer may be distorted

Before Moses tells us God’s reply, he explains,
But the LORD was angry with me
– for that reason I assume God’s tone of voice was sharp and gruff
• especially with his first line, Enough from you
◦ doesn’t it sound like that shout get an exclamation mark?
• was that how God spoke to Moses? Abrupt? Curt? Angry?
◦ God had been upset with Moses when the event occurred (Num. 20:2-13)
◦ but that was now long past — had God stayed angry that whole time?
– reading this passage, I felt I needed to take a closer look
Enough from you translates two Hebrew words: rav lekha
◦ the plural rav lekhem occurs two times in Deuteronomy before this incident
◦ I looked up a literal word-for-word translation of these verses
In Deuteronomy 1:6, it was time to leave Mt Sinai and head for promise land, God said,
enough to you [rav lekhem] to stay at this mountain
In Deuteronomy 2:3, at the end of the journey when it was time to enter the land, God said,
enough to you [rav lekhem]to go around this hill
• this brief phrase does not imply anger
◦ all it means is, “You’ve stayed here long enough”–spoken to Israel
◦ and “You’ve heard enough to know my answer, so drop it”–spoken to Moses

Is there another way to hear God’s tone of voice in his answer to Moses?

I am certain that God heard Moses’ deep longing
– his faithful servant was grieving an unfulfilled dream

Even though God had revealed so much to Moses, given him so much, and done so much through him, the Lord knew Moses was carrying a deep sense of futility. Having come all this way on a promise, and after all the hardship, and then not even to do so much as set foot in the land!

• despite Moses’ one moment of disobedience,
◦ can we imagine, God would have no empathy for him now?
– I think it’s possible that God’s response was loving,
• and that his tone was kind and sympathetic
• I mean, just look at what is going on in this passage!
◦ Moses was having a private and personal conversation with God!
◦ in that alone we can sense an extraordinary intimacy

Another way to hear God’s response could sound like this:
“Moses, we won’t discuss this again.
You have my answer already. You will not go into the land.
However, here is what I will do for you;
I will let you hike to the top of Mt Pisgah,
and though you will not go into the land as you’ve asked,
you will be able to see it, as you’ve asked.

Now wouldn’t you consider this a big deal?

God’s word is not compromised, but he does make a concession
– in the long story of Moses, from Exodus through Deuteronomy,
• there are two times when God makes a concession for him
– the first instance is reported in Exodus 33
• God had said that he was pleased with Moses (he had found favor in his sight)
◦ Moses then asked God for evidence of that favor
• God answered, “Tell me what you want and I’ll do it”
◦ Moses replied immediately, Show me your glory
◦ God warned him, “You cannot see my face, but I will reveal myself to you”

That was God’s first concession to Moses’ request
– the actual experience that followed was a close encounter with God
• afterward, we’re told,
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai . . . [he] did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex. 34:29)
• perhaps the most significant outcome of that encounter,
◦ he received a fundamental revelation of God
◦ and that became the heart and essence of Old Testament theology
Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands; forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (Ex. 34:6-7)

Please indulge me, I want to go over this one more time

On two occasions Moses made a request and God said “No”
– but in both instances, God made a concession
• the first request: Show me your glory
• the second request: Let me enter the land and just look at it
– Steve Mays was a CC pastor in Torrance and a dear friend
• a few years ago he called me, because he saw something in scripture he wanted to share
Mays, “I used to be upset with God, because he worked Moses for forty years, but then didn’t allow him to enter the land. But I just realized something while reading in the gospels. Moses did enter the land. When Jesus went up the mountain with Peter, James, and John, and was transfigured, Moses and Elijah also appeared with him! So his request was granted fully.”
– now, just two days ago, I was talking with another long time friend
• Dave Sweet is the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Paradise (California)
as we were signing off, he said,
“Here’s something to think about, that just came to me when reading the Scriptures. Moses asked God to show him his glory, right? But God told him that he couldn’t see his glory, because it would kill him. But then, in the New Testament, Moses did see God’s glory when Jesus was transfigured and God’s glory was revealed in him.” (See Mark 9:1-4)
• Moses made two requests that were denied, but both times concessions were made
◦ and then, centuries later, both requests were granted

As children of God, we are free to ask for the impossible

Whether or not we are granted the impossible,
– we will walk away with something!
• we’re not in heaven yet, but neither are we empty handed
In [Christ Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it . . . . (Ep. 1:13-14)
• God’s Spirit is not a “consolation prize”
◦ he is literally the down-payment of our inheritance
◦ he is the first installment of heaven in our lives here and now

Conclusion: My take-away from this meditation last Thursday morning was:

God has established boundaries we cannot trespass
His Yes and No are absolute
If we come to a border we can’t cross,
it doesn’t mean God loves us any less
or that he moves on without us and abandon us
When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to disciples, he said,
I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you (Jn. 14:18)
God doesn’t take everyone else forward and leave us behind
He stays with us, consoles us
And, if he doesn’t allow us to have anything else we request,
he lets us know that we always have him

Feb 12 / Reflexion Community

Moses’ “Staff Meeting” 02/12/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!  Welcome to RefleXion.          The Lord is with you.

Last week Chuck talked about parables and their working into our soil though we don’t even realizeit.  Then, later, we might recognize or realize something by the pattern that had been planted.  I love that idea and the idea that changing our viewpoint…well, changes our point of view!

I want to share a word with you that I’ve been playing with for a couple of years; that word is “Realize, “but I think of it as “Real Eyes,” gazing at the unseen Real.  It has to do with seeing differently, the Reál, the Royal Way, the Jesus Way.  In other words, seeing something for what it is vs. what I prefer, what I’ve been taught, or what I’ve always thought.  Maybe it’s not a complete picture, but something I didn’t see before is “Real-Eyesed,” something more Real. 

I’m referring today to two woman mystics.  First, I’m reading a quote from Evelyn Underhill (20th century) in her devotional “Light of Christ.”  Listen for how she uses the word “realize.”

“You know how sometimes one goes to see a church which one is told has magnificent windows—and seen from outside they all look alike—dull, thick, grubby. We probably say, ‘Well! It is obvious there is good glass here, but we cannot realise it.’ Then we open the door and go inside—leave the outer world, enter the inner world—and the universal light floods through the windows and bathes us in their colour and beauty and significance, shows us things of which we had never dreamed, a loveliness that lies beyond the fringe of speech. And so, in the same way we cannot realise God and His eternal Truth and Beauty, from outside. One constantly hears people commenting on Christianity from outside and missing the point every time. They are on the wrong side of the wall. How important then it is for us to be familiar with the inner vision. It is from within the place of prayer, recollection, worship, and love, where the altar is, where the sacrifice is made, where we are all bound together in a life of communion and self-giving to God, that we fully and truly receive the revelation which is made though Christ. To re-enter that Cathedral, receive a fresh gift from its inexhaustible beauty, see through those windows more and more of the light of God, that is the secret of meditation.”

That is how, I believe, we can real-eyes God’s viewpoint and be on the Real Way of Jesus, the New Way of the Spirit.

Our prayer this morning is from the thoughts of Dame Julian of the 14th century:
Lord, we remember what was revealed to your daughter Julian, her vision of Christ that was ‘Light, Life and Love’ and that everything was gathered in that.  May Your Spirit show us the Truth, quicken us to fresh vitality, and fill us with adoring devotion. May we real-eyes Your Vision for us. We come into the silence now to real-eyes more Light, Life and Love. We come to contemplate our Christian treasure from the inside, in the Real, the Way of Jesus.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each father’s house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. . . .
On the next day, Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.
Numbers 17:1-11

Intro: This is an odd story

Not only for the strange miracle that God sets up,
– but also because it seems unnecessary in the context of the larger narrative
• the people of Israel were disappointed and discouraged
◦ their situation was primed for discontent and insurrection
• four rebellions had been staged and subdued:
◦ Moses’ sister and brother (ch. 12)
◦ the whole nation turned from God at the border of Canaan (ch. 14)
◦ a clan of rebels that refused to follow Moses any further (16:1-3, 12-34)
◦ a crew of Levites, who claimed rights to the priesthood (16:4-11, 35)
– in each instance, God intervened and punished the rebels
• so God’s choice for priesthood and service in the sanctuary would seem obvious
• however, considering Israel’s state of mind, and history of complaint and stubbornness,
◦ extra evidence for God’s choice may have been required

At that time, and in desert, a staff had many uses:
– support for standing and walking, herding flocks and cattle, prying, and as a weapon
• staffs were personalized – you could identify its owner by looking at it (cf. Gen. 38:25-26)
• in two passages–I know of–a staff is coupled with a scepter (Gen. 49:10; Num. 21:17-18)
◦ the staff was a symbol of leadership
◦ that is why each staff here was one that belonged to the head of a community
– so if we give this story a title, it could be “Moses’ Staff Meeting”

There is something else in this story I find strange

The test will be to see which staff will “sprout”
– what would it take to qualify one staff as the winner?
• a fresh, green twig? a short twig with one small leaf?
◦ what Moses found the next morning was that Aaron’s staff
had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds (v. 8)
• doesn’t that sound excessive?
Robert Alter, “. . . this fast-forwarding of a slow process of growth spectacularly confirms the miraculous character of the event.”
◦ a line from Bruce Almighty comes to mind
“Okay, now you’re just showing off”
– as I was meditating on this passage, I wondered,
• “Is there more to this story than what I’m seeing?”
◦ the thought that came to me was:
◦ perhaps God is saying something here about the leader he chooses
• so I read it again, and found a possible meaning:
◦ some personal characteristics of a person God is pleased to use
◦ then I made a list

There is nothing novel or profound about my list
– as I go over these items, you’re going to think, “Of course”
• still, they were a good reminder for me
• and since God hasn’t given me a new series topic yet,
◦ I’m going to share my mediation with you
– I believe that what I have to say applies to every follower of Jesus

The miracle took place in the inner chamber of God’s sanctuary

I’ve been reading Tyler Staton’s, Pray Like Monks, Live like Fools
– he doesn’t say anything we haven’t heard or don’t know already,
• but he does well in reminding us and nudging us toward God
Staton, “. . . this book is an invitation to what cannot be taught, only discovered. . . . An invitation to be found by God in the place he’s most faithfully been found throughout history: not in a megachurch with Broadway lights and arena-rock fog machines or in the eloquent podcast of a contrarian thinker, but in the bare silence of you and the endless expanse beyond you.”
• the inner chamber is where God reveals his presence
– prayer is our conscious connection with God
• okay–my grandchildren use me, and I know it
◦ when they were small and lived with us,
◦ would come into my room and sit on my lap, just to be with me – nothing more
• for our prayer to become an encounter,
◦ we need to realize it’s more than just asking for things
◦ it’s resting in the invisible, yet real and holy Presence

So, the first characteristic of God’s chosen servant is prayer
– this is where the miracle begins – where our lives are changed

The next characteristic is LIFE

When the Hebrew Scriptures take a jab at idols, they point out the fact that idols are lifeless
. . . every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them (Jer. 10:14)
– I think now, perhaps more than ever, we need to be cautious
• we can fabricate a religious experience – a sense of “church”
• I met a young man, raised Christian and in charge of an inner city mission
◦ but he had stopped believing in God
◦ but still, he was working to create a church-like community without a god
– how much do we need God or depend on God to do church?
• it’s possible to create a lot of programs for people,
◦ so they don’t feel the emptiness of not encountering God
◦ many Christian leaders believe they must control people, and they use programs to do it
• the word “fabricate” has two meanings:
◦ to manufacture something and to make up something untrue
◦ we do both when we make something that looks like a work of God, but isn’t

God is the Giver of life – he gives new life to his people
– Jesus said that those who believe and follows his teaching
have passed from death to life (Jn. 4:24)
• this message saturates the New Testament, so I won’t press the point (especially the writings of John)
• if we live a God-given life, we don’t have to fake anything
– coupled with life, is growth – and there is no end to this

The next characteristic is FRUIT

Jesus emphasized fruit as goal of our relationship with him
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser. 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 (Jn. 15:102)
– when Jesus warned his followers of “false prophets,” he said,
You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit . . . Thus you will recognize them by their fruits (Mt. 7:15)
• I am much more at peace with myself than I used to be
• there was a time when I hated having an unproductive day
◦ and right up there with unproductive was being ineffective
◦ days are important, but what counts is my whole life
– others will produce more fruit than I have – that’s cool
• I just want to be as fruitful as God wants me to be

Another characteristic is BEAUTY

I get that from the blossom that the staff produced
– there is a beauty that is superficial and can be disappointing
• St. Peter encouraged women to adorn
the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Pe. 3:4)
• there’s no good reason not to apply that instruction to men as well
– there are times when we want to look our best,
• but it would not hurt, if every day we asked ourselves,
◦ “Am I a beautiful person?”
◦ “Do I add beauty to the world through my presence, words, and actions?”
• compassion is beautiful; generosity can be beautiful;
◦ forgiveness is beautiful; kindness is beautiful;
◦ the gift of a flower, or a smile, or a hug can be beautiful

The last characteristic I imagine is FRAGRANCE

Like beauty, I relate that to the blossom
– it has to do with the impression we make and leave on others
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Cor. 2:15-16)

Conclusion: I don’t want to leave you with impression that this is all up to you

As we read, it was God who caused the staff to sprout
God gives us life and makes us fruitful and beautiful and fragrant

My first “real” job was working at a fish and chips restaurant. The other employees and I did everything. We cut up the fish, battered and deep fried them, deep fried the chips, wrapped it all up and sold them to the customers. Because my work was close to my home, I could walk both ways. My high school was between work and home. One Friday evening, walking home I noticed there was a dance happening at the school, so I got in line to buy a ticket. But after a couple minutes, I heard a girl somewhere in the line behind me say, “I smell fish!” Quietly I exited the line and went home.
My aroma that evening was not the result of applying a new cologne (eau de poisson), but from being emerged in the atmosphere of my job.

If we spend time in the garden of prayer, we’ll come out smelling like roses

Feb 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

The Mystery of Parables 02/05/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!                   May the Lord be with you!

This week the ornamental pear trees on our campus burst into bloom.  Burst – all of them, overnight, like they heard a shout “It’s Time!!”  They always surprise me, in the middle of winter to be so glorious.  But that’s by their design.  Isn’t it amazing how all the steps of development are programmed into the seed or bulb?  I’m sure that you can picture a pear seed (there are about eight seeds in every pear)—they are tiny.   Each seed is programmed to replicate everything after its kind.  It got me thinking about what is in us, yet to be developed but already programmed in, humans, children of God, after our kind—and I don’t think it’s just physical. 

The book of 2 Peter says that God has granted us by His divine power great and precious promises, so that we may become partakers of the divine nature, having everything we need for life and godliness.

I see that there is power (programming that has been granted us), promises (all things needed for life and godliness), and that we may be partakers of the divine nature.   Also, like trees and flowers in their nature, their “all things” come to be in particular seasons.  The pear seed has the programming for roots, foliage, and flowers, for survival in cold and heat, for how to propagate, for how to be dormant.   And everything doesn’t come all at once; their promises come during their developmental stage and the environment when it’s needed.

Don’t you think that’s how it works for us?  If we have been given everything we need for life and godliness, my question would be: “What is developing now?”  If you feel brokenness, maybe that’s a shell falling away.  If you feel fragile, perhaps it’s a sign of new growth. Perhaps something sprouting is working its way up through a lot of mud.

I love this quote from Ellen Bass: There’s a part of every living thing that wants to become itself: the tadpole into the frog, the chrysalis into the butterfly, a damaged human being into a whole one.  That is spirituality.”

Join me in prayer, will you:

Creator God, you have formed us in a particular fashion, with a design to grow into your likeness.  There’s nothing we want more.  May it be that each day we receive glimpses of your ongoing work and care.  May we be encouraged by knowing that is the way with all your creatures.  We come with a design, after our kind.  Come and attend to your work in us today, dear Lord.  We welcome You and we welcome all of life which you have given.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites. Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. Matthew 22: 15-22

Intro: These Pharisees must have been sure their trick would work

Together they had schemed to create the perfect question
– no matter how he answered, he would offend someone
• either the Romans who occupied Judah
• or the general Jewish population who resented the tax
– it wouldn’t surprise me if the question they decided on,
• was one they hoped they would never be asked
• anyway, even if Jesus refused to answer,
◦ he would still be discredited and lose face with the people

Like the Pharisees, we can marvel at Jesus’ response

We can also draw lessons from this interaction–such as:
– some of our dilemmas aren’t as difficult to figure out as we imagine
• you just have to change your point of view
– or, we must discern the difference between our responsibilities to the government and to God
– or, we need to determine what takes priority in our lives:
• money, which bears the image of national leaders
• or God, whose image we bear

These are obvious potential lessons
– but there are other insights lying within this story
• that’s what I want to delve into this morning
– it is possible to find several layers of meaning in the Scriptures
• some practical and others leading to spiritual revelations
• I want to explore how God might want to enlighten us

In the Synoptics (Mt. Mk. & Lk.), Jesus’ preferred mode of teaching was with parables

In John’s gospel he used “hard sayings” (to the same purpose, but that’s for another time)
– Matthew and Mark clump a number of parables together
• at the conclusion of these parables, Mark says,
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything (Mk. 4:33-34)
– a parable contains a truth interwoven into a story
• the challenge here is that Jesus wanted people to enter the kingdom of God
◦ but it exists in the transcendent realm of spirit
◦ we can’t enter physically or with our rational minds
• the parable’s tool is analogy – comparing what we do know with what we do not know
◦ Jesus often began a parable with, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . . .”
◦ the use of analogy doesn’t mean everyone would understand each parable, but
He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Mk. 4:9)

One way to interpret a parable is to work it like a riddle

We use logic to rationally dissect and interpret all the elements:
– the characters, plot, objects, events, and any dialogue
• but in dissecting the parable like this, we sometimes kill the specimen
• besides, finding a logical meaning the a parable may or may not work
◦ the human mind is very inventive and can produce a surplus of possible associations
◦ there are a number of books on the parables, each offering a different meaning for each one
• how can we know which interpretation Jesus intended?

Another way to read a parable, is to hear it like any other story

How do we read fairytales or any work of fiction?
– we suspend judgment – we enter the world the writer creates
• we don’t argue the logic of fire-breathing dragons
◦ we accept whatever fits in a particular story world
– we experience the story – we allow ourselves to feel it
• this is one of the pleasures we derive from stories
– as we read stories, we are exposed to a design or pattern
• pattern recognition doesn’t always happen at a conscious level
◦ years ago, I read The Bourne Identity — I enjoyed it and immediately wanted to read Ludlum’s next book
c the pattern of the first book was repeated in the second — and the third
• writers discover a “formula” that is compelling for readers
• then they will continue to use it for as long as it proves successful

When we read Jesus’ parables as stories,
– whether or not we get the meaning of parable immediately, it plants something within us
• Jesus’ first parable in Matthew’s and Mark’s collection was about seeds and soil
◦ that’s how the parable works, by planting the word of the kingdom in the soil of our hearts (Mt. 13:19)
◦ Jesus seemed perturbed with disciples when they asked him about that parable
Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? (Mk. 4:13)
“all the parables” are used to plant seeds
– so we read the parables – each one, many times
• as we do, its design or pattern is planted in our minds
◦ then, as we make our way through the world,
◦ we come to a situation in which we recognize the pattern
• when it happens, we’re able to respond with a hidden wisdom
◦ parables can open our eyes to things we haven’t perceived
◦ but once we perceive it, we are now able to make a choice
(we cannot choose when we’re not aware of having a choice)
Eugene Peterson, “As people heard Jesus tell these stories, they saw at once that they weren’t about God, so there was nothing in them threatening their own sovereignty. They relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant, the stories lodged in their imagination. And then, like a time bomb, they would explode in their unprotected hearts. An abyss opened up at their very feet. He was talking about God; they had been invaded.
But the parable didn’t do the work—it put the listener’s imagination to work. Parables aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith.”

My concern is the spiritual enlightenment we are offered

Jesus’ purpose for parables is to open eyes
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. . . . But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Mt. 13:13 & 16)
– I believe that parables have more than one layer of meaning
• that what we get from them depends on several factors:
◦ if we open our hearts to receive their truth and live it
◦ if we are teachable – conceit is not a good listener
◦ our current level of spiritual development
But I . . . could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with solid food, for you were not ready for it (1 Cor. 3:1-2)
• the parable meets us where we are and gives us what we can digest
– Tolstoy told a parable about a “naked, hungry beggar”
• he was brought into a building and told to move a lever up and down
◦ he later learned that the lever worked a pump that sent water into a garden
◦ then he was told to tend the garden, and later on to gather its fruits
• by doing what he was told and each level, even though he did not know why,
◦ he advanced to the next stage, and there he was given more
◦ that was how he gained enlightenment — by his experience at each level
For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away (Mt. 13:12)

There’s no reason why any story in Gospels can’t work like a parable
(There’s no reason why any story in the Bible cannot work like a parable)

When meditating on Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees, I thought, “Perhaps Jesus’ answer was profound and came quickly because it went to heart of an issue that was near and dear to him, an issue about which he was never confused. For Jesus, the line between worldly nations and the kingdom of God was never blurred. That is clear from his statements in John’s gospel that delineate between heaven and earth, above and below: ‘If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?‘ (Jn. 3:12) ‘He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way’ (Jn. 3:31). It is also clear in what he said to Peter, ‘You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man‘ (Mt. 16:23). It is even possible that Jesus already had strong feelings regarding Roman coins. The Lord was aware of a pattern, a design from which he never deviated. So when the question of taxes to Caesar came up, he already had the answer.”

Conclusion: Henri Nouwen reported a conversation he had with Mother Teresa

After ten minutes of downloading his anxieties, frustrations, and heartaches, Mother Teresa told him, “Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which you know is wrong . . . you will be fine.”
Nouwen, “I realize that I had raised a question from below and that she had given an answer from above. At first her answer didn’t seem to fit my question, but then I began to see that her answer came from God’s place and not from the place of my complaints. Most of the time we respond to questions from below with answers from below.”
“Jesus answers from above to questions raised from below”

You and I have more wisdom available to us than we realize
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path
(Ps. 119:105)
It’s right here–it’s always here–and it’s alive and powerful

Feb 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Welcome and prayer 01/29/2023

Our guest speaker this week, Mike Stowell, shared some of his life’s stories, emphasizing the importance of faith and trust in God. Because he spoke without notes, we are not able to post any this week. However, we are posting Nancy Lopez’ introduction to the service.

Good morning!       May the Shalom of the Lord be with you.

I hope you know that you can go to our website ( and get the script of the messages from Sunday mornings.  Sometimes I need to see it in writing, letting the message come through my eyes, as well as my ears.   Last week’s message from Jim was like that.  He made a few points that brought an image that I got a few years ago to remembrance; and I want to offer it with you this morning.  For me, it presents a picture of living and serving in the way of love.  Picture – I might have said Pitcher, because there’s a Pitcher in the image.

Many of us would say we’ve got a lot on our plate.  Let’s imagine that a Plate might stand for all our tasks, ways we influence others, you might call it ministry, extended relationships and commitments.  Atop the Plate, sits a Saucer which stands for our personal and close relationships.  You know what a Saucer is, don’t you, the smaller plate with an inside rim that can hold the Cup and its spillover.  So, now there’s a Cup.  The image is called Pitcher-Cup-Saucer-Plate.  Picture it if you will.  The Pitcher represents God, overflowing, ever flowing, abundant love and grace to us, the fullness of His love.  When we put our Cup—the Cup of our life, under His flow, He  pours into us all He intends for us.  As we abide there, His love is pouring into us. 

And as it fills, it naturally fills the cup to overflow on to the Saucer (our relationships) and then the Plate (the places we influence).   You know this is true, right?  We see people filled with anger, resentment, or fear spilling those things on to their Saucers and Plates.  Our privilege is  not just to receive good from God to pass along, but to allow what we receive to do a work in us.  We don’t come with empty cups, but if we allow what we receive from God to heal us from the inside out, then we change the overflow.  Last week, Jim mentioned that Jesus says, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’  A lot of things have come to us unbidden and unwelcome.  We’re still responsible for our own Cup.

Jesus confronted the false religion of the Pharisees reminding them to clean the inside of the cup so the outside could be clean as well. They had replaced a spiritual life of loving with a religion of purity codes that did nothing to clean the inside of the cup. It did nothing to clean their hearts.

Pitcher-Cup-Saucer-Plate:  I hope the image helps you to see and realize love in flow.

Can we pray?

LORD God, we need Shalom – wholeness, holiness.  Let us be still and make space for You to fill us with love.  We ask that you reveal those places in our Cup that hinder and taint.  Let us realize them and ask for healing.  Continue pouring your love that we might be filled with your goodness, for our sake, and for the sake of others.  We welcome your empowering Presence to create Shalom in us and through us.  Amen

Jan 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

For Times Like This 01/22/2023



Welcome and Payer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome!     Happy Lunar New Year, if you celebrate that!            May the Lord be with you!

Last week Chuck mentioned his meditation from the Lectio Divina the previous week.  He gave us a definition of righteousness.   This was so helpful.

I understood that we’ve interpreted righteousness according to our Western presumptions, but it actually refers to a relational rightness, demanding faithfulness to the relationship that manifests as kindness, compassion, etc., and it embraces the whole of life, in every type of mutual relationship, not just an inner or ethical purity.  Is that “right,” Jim (no pun intended)?

The passage in 1 John that Chuck referred to was important for me, too.  My word was “Practice,” (that passage refers to the practice of sinfulness or the practice of righteousness.)  With my word of “Practice,” in our reflective time, I heard something in me ask, “Practice, practice, practice—when will you ever get it right?”  So, I started down the road that Chuck was talking about that leads us to attempting to master something.  In my Spirit, I heard “The practice is the thing – you’re not trying to achieve as much as living the practice, even enjoying the practice.”  Enjoy the Practice.  Now, at first, I was thinking of my spiritual disciplines, like my meditation practice or prayer; then I realized that I needed to consider this in all my relationships.  I mess up; I lose my intention; I lose my cool—”just return to the practice.”

I think I see that my practices, like yours, can encompass many ways of being more fully human; and whatever these practices are, they are not meant for achieving or performing; they are meant for living, for enjoying. 

After our Lectio time that week, Sue Duggan sent us all a recommendation to search for “What’s your practice?” on YouTube.  You’ll find it if you search “What’s your practice” and, boy, this kid is great.  He asks us that question, “What’s Your Practice?” and proceeds with “Do you practice joy?” “Do you practice peace?”  or “Do you practice complaining?”  “If you practice complaining”, he says, “you will get very, very good at it and find fault with everything!”  “Do you practice worrying?”  “If you practice worrying,” he says, “you will become an expert in it.”  Whatever you practice, you become really, really, good at.  So, practice is important; it might do us good to become aware of what we already practice, and decide to practice righteousness—in the best sense.

Let’s pray:

Jesus, you said that we should put into practice all we learned and received from You—everything we heard from You and saw You doing. You said that then the God of peace will be with us.  And so, we practice, using You as our example.  Establish peace in our hearts; establish righteousness.  Amen

Morning Talk: Jim Calhoun

We live in an anxious age. I think I begin most of my talks with this observation. But we need to remind ourselves that today has its own flavor. That today isn’t just like yesterday. We haven’t been here before.

We continue to observe a decline in civility, of decency. We continue to observe increasing aggression in words, in deeds. On the road, at the market, between friends and acquaintances. Our culture, our society is changing and it is creating pressure on people and groups. Some are leaning into the changes asking for more while others are pushing back disheartened or dislocated by the come differences.

Of course our politics are full of this, but that is only one source of troubles. What is needed is some people, communities of people who can help tamp down the restlessness and rage we see. We need folk who can help us make peace. Who can help us come to terms with our differences, refresh our sense of common ground, and rebuild our Union.

I have been a mediator and consultant in conflict resolution for two decades. I don’t think it is the professional who can make this happen, though they will be helpful along the way. I don’t believe a great leader will come and make it happen either. Though a strong leader committed to building instead of tearing down will be welcomed. The difficulty is that lots and lots of folk are committed to fighting it out. They are committed to dominating and are willing to use contempt, shame, manipulation, deception and rage to getting things done.

This is a very powerful approach. They will feel gratified in expressing their anger and they will have many success. But their success will be limited. It will become trench warfare. There will only be a victor when one side or group is destroyed. That is an enormously high price to pay. We are called to another path. We are called to neighborliness. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I believe neighborliness is more important and more transformative than politics and that the greatest contribution we can make to society is to become a person proficient at welcoming and loving the people we know and meet.

In addition to working in conflict resolution, for the past dozen years or so, I have been facilitating groups and meeting with individuals in what can best be described as spiritual direction. In this time, I have become convinced of the notion that it is what comes from the inside of a person that matters.

Jesus in Mark says, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.”

I believe neighborliness requires great spiritual depth, practice and ongoing formation and that the habits of conflict reveal spiritual character.

The greatest challenge to becoming makers of peace is our own unresolved souls. Our disordered loves, our fears, our inclination to self-protection are the beginnings of the conflicts that surround us and that we find ourselves mired in. Simple conflict resolution techniques of protocols will not resolve this. They are good at resolving this dispute then that dispute, but they don’t seem to have a culminative effect. As important as they are, we need to go deeper. We need healing, restoration. We need to be made whole. We need shalom.

Loving our neighbor is no easy thing. It will, when we are transparent and honest with ourselves, show all of the things in our soul that are ‘unclean.’ To stay on the path will take a commitment and courage and a certain kind of grit.

This is a big topic with many elements that deserve our consideration. Today we will just get a start. But it will be a good start, meaningful, joyous and transforming.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays we have been going through I John. The passage today is the passage we worked on last week.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1 John 3:11-15

I. Love is the path

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

Please don’t let yourself grow tired of this concept. This is not, “Love another yada , yada, yada. Now let’s get to the good stuff.” My friends this is the good stuff.

I know we have become sensitive to the word should. On one hand we have had others, parents, teachers, pastors and other church people, friends and everyone else try to shame us and control us for their own benefit with shoulds. There are trivial examples like you shouldn’t wear white after summer or you shouldn’t wear black and brown together. When someone tells you this you are on notice that you have broken social conventions and depending on the circumstance you may be embarrassed, shamed, and then make sure you never breach that bit of etiquette again.

Each of us likely have more serious examples that still cause us pain and maybe humiliation as we remember the incident. It is often effective, and draining. Worse, we often incorporate this sort of shaming when we deal with ourselves. We internalize the weapons that others use against us and use them on ourselves. And we may not even notice.

Make note: this is an important part of our talk today. The “should” in our passage is different. This should, and the next one, are expressions of the natural order of things. They express normal outcomes and normal expectations. For example, when I flip the light switch, the light should turn on. That’s the normal way. It is the natural expectation. If it doesn’t go that way then something is up. There is a problem. An electrician will be called to make repairs.

That we should love one another is the natural outcome of our life in Christ. It isn’t to be viewed as a moral category that is imposed upon us from the outside or something we have to gin ourselves up for. It is a natural response. If it isn’t happening, we need to attend to it, like the lights that won’t turn on. Remember the arc of Christian spiritual experience: God loves us. We learn to receive that love and it begins it’s healing and nurturing work. We return God’s love full of gratitude and reverence. We worship. We grow to love the things God loves. Our worship move beyond the sanctuary into our every moment and into our bodies. We begin to love our brothers and sisters in faith, our neighbors, those we have never met or known and eventually even our enemies.

This is not easy. Often it is ugly. But it is our path. This is how we become whole. We need the Holy Spirit abiding within us. We need our brothers and sister in faith to support us and guide us on the way. We need ways, habits, exercises to keep this fresh, alive and compelling. If we are in Christ, then naturally we will love one another.

II. Cain and false teachers

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.

Likewise, if we are in Christ, we will not be like Cain. It just follows.

The story of Cain and Abel is in Genesis 4. It is interesting. Cain and Abel both make an offering to God. God approves Abel and God corrects Cain. We want to know why Cain was corrected, but we don’t. All we know is God told Cain if he made the necessary correction his offering would be accepted.

But Cain was unclean from the inside. Cain knew God. He had everything he needed to get it right. But he chose another path. He chose to close his heart toward Abel, and to resolve remedy the situation and resolve his feelings by taking his brother’s life. If we are in Christ, it is just natural that we will not be like Cain.

This passage, maybe “surprisingly,” fits right in the middle of the New Testament tradition about false teachers. We know for sure from verse 7 where the author says with marked gentleness, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” It isn’t what you say that matters, what what and how you do that matters. We are easily deceived by words, but when we watch we will know.

All through the New Testament there are warnings about false teachers. It was a problem and it continues to be so. Jesus confronted the false religion of the Pharisees reminding them to clean the inside of the cup so the outside could be clean as well. They had replaced a spiritual life of living their neighbor and living in righteousness, right relationships with an intense, complicated, endlessly demanding system of appeasing God. This religion did nothing to clean the inside of the cup. It did nothing to clean their hearts.

Jesus sought to return the people to the path of righteousness, right relationship, and away from the false teaching of religion which is to appease God. There is no end to appeasing a god. It just makes you insecure. Maybe a little crazy in the head. You try to justify every move, every thought. You try to control the thoughts and actions of others. You know you are never good enough, pure enough, because you can’t always control the mess inside of you.

During the early church when most of the New Testament was being written, the great bulk of false teaching was from those we now call the Judaizers. They insisted that gentiles be circumcised to be accepted in the family of God. Jude tells us that false teachers walk in the way of Cain meaning they live from their unclean passions, from a dirty cup.

I’m trying to get to this point:
False teachers substitute religion for spirituality.
False teachers make us anxious about our lives.
False teachers give us a rule to follow that diminishes our call, our desire to love one another.
False teachers can be people in podiums. They can “should” us right out of God’s absolute love for us.
False teachers can be family, friends, teachers.

We can be our own false teachers. We can “should” ourselves right out of God’s absolute love for us and that is what is most important for me to communicate to you today.

III. Abel and innocence

And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.

Abel is referenced in the New Testament as an example of the innocent treated unjustly. There was no justification for Cain’s attack.

We need to make note that when we go forward. Seeking to craft and live in right relationships we may be misunderstood, rejected and attacked. I’m sorry for this and can attest that it is a terrible experience that can linger for years. It hurts and gnaws. It allows me to practice forgiveness, though, so it doesn’t eat a hole in my faith.

7 times
7 time 77 times
7 times 7 times 77 times
7 times 7 times 77 times to the 77th power. (Maybe—I’ll let you know.)

Hurt and betrayal and abandonment will happen on the road of righteousness. It just will. It is strange to say that sometimes we play both of these roles. Some time we are Cain to our Abel. We shame ourselves, attack ourselves, abandon ourselves and even betray ourselves. The world inside of us still has us in its sites.

IV. What we know: We know love

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.

The first thing we know is our life in Christ is vibrant because we love each other. At it’s most basic it is like a math formula that can be read from rather direction. 3×4=12 And 12=4×3 So “we have passed out of death into life” equals “we love our brothers,” and we love our brothers because we have passed out of death into life.

Both parts of the equation have equal weight.
Because this, that;
and because that, this.
And this is where we started with the biblical “should.”
Natural outcomes.

The Writers of the New Testament seemed to have a real concern for realism and practicality. Even when they were discussing difficult and abstract concepts, they eventually turn to the deeply practical.

First there is the quality of the love we are talking about. The love we are talking about isn’t just air kisses.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

So we know love by sacrifice. Or, at least the love talked about here and in other portions of the New Testament, necessitate sacrifice. Not every moment or encounter requires sacrifice, but it seems clear that we don’t want to avoid that possibility when it calls.

There is an “ought” here. We tend to use “should” and “ought” as interchangeable in English. In this passage they are two different words with some what different meanings. Ought in this case means something like owe, but not like a debt and not like an external obligation placed upon us. It means loving others sacrificially is the goodwill due our given situation. It is “freely you have received, now freely give.” Given all that I have received from God, it is only right that I would give just as freely.

This will be hard to understand, hard to feel, if God’s great love doesn’t resonate in you. And it may not for any number of reasons. You may have been shamed. You may have been wounded. We want to hold this tenderly as we go forward.

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

This echoes back to Cain. The closing of the heart.

How does God’s love abide? This question feels so hard right? We are so given to black and white answers. We are so given to condemn ourselves. The answer is this: God’s love abides incompletely. It abides without its fullness.

This is an opportunity for us. When we see that we change course. The natural sequence of events has fallen apart. We aren’t loving as intended, as is natural given our situation. It is an indicator. It is a red light on your dash board. We may not be experiencing the fullness of God’s love.

We know what is true Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.

Sometimes we are our own false teachers. We tell ourselves that God’s love is for other people but not ourselves. Lies. When we tell ourselves that God’s love is limited for us we tell lies. It isn’t true. For our sake and for the sake of others and for the whole wide world we need to learn to stop this and embrace the truth of God’s great love.

An Exercise In Receiving God’s Love:

Relax, close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths. Let’s reassure our hearts and know that God loves us more and more assuredly than our hearts can condemn us.

We sit together safe on the edge of infinity.
We sit together in the presence of God’s great love.
This love surrounds each of us, enveloping us in comfort and affection.
There is no condemnation for those with Jesus.

God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure.
It is permanent.
Let that soak in for a moment.

Perhaps you are experiencing objections now to this understanding of God’s love.
Feelings of shame
Old memories
The hard words of others
Mistakes and flaws and failures.
Maybe these leaked out.
Maybe they came in a flood.
However, take a couple of deep breaths and remember we are safe in God’s loving presence.

Return then to this as we sit with God together
God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure.
It is permanent.

Now ask God to clear away every false idea, every false teacher, every perspective that try’s to keep you from God’s perfect love.

Take a couple of deep breaths
God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure. It is permanent.

Know this: every thought that tells you that God’s love is limited for you is a place that God wants to bring healing.

I say that again: every thought that tells you that God’s love is limited for you is a place that God wants to bring healing.
Maybe it is an old memory of shame, God wants to bring healing to that.
Maybe it is a current flaw that you are acting out, God wants to bring healing to that.
Maybe it indicates a needed correction, that is God’s intervention for healing.
Every thought that tells you that God’s love is limited for you is a place that God wants to bring healing.

Take a couple of deep breaths God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure.
It is permanent.

Say a prayer of thanks for this love and let it surround you.

This exercise isn’t about feeling something, though you may feel loved, freedom, peace, release or something else. You may feel nothing. You may feel disoriented or a little off. This is okay. It isn’t about building your self-esteem. It isn’t a replacement for mental health care.

The hope of this exercise is that we learn to accept the love of God as given. We stop fighting it. We embrace it so God’s great love can further its transformation on us. Heal us. Make us lovers. Make us whole.

Neighborliness starts here I think. At least being the type of neighbor Jesus spoke of. And I think, the great need of our day, making peace, begins here too. It isn’t the whole of it, but it is a beginning.