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Nov 27 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Advent Sunday 11/27/2022–Hope

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome Friends!              May the Hope of the Lord be with you!

We begin our Advent journey today; Advent is traditionally a time of preparation for Christmas.  It is remembered on the four Sundays preceding Christmas; and—if you didn’t realize it yet—Christmas falls on a Sunday this year.  We will not be having a service on that day.

Preparing for Christmas – what comes to your mind?  It probably does include garland, cards, and presents; but most especially, we want to allow a time of preparing the Way for the Christ.  Today we will be entering Advent with the theme of Hope.  What other way would we enter?  Those who were waiting for Jesus’ birth had been waiting in Hope for a very long time. Matthew gives us the timeline of about 700 years when he points to the prophesy of Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel.”  Immanuel means “God is with us,” and that’s what they were waiting for.  It wasn’t just waiting, but waiting in Hope. We still wait for the fulfillment of all the prophecies, but let’s be pre-occupied with waiting in Hope.

Another prophet, Zechariah, calls us to be “prisoners of hope.”  Let’s long to be that, unable to quit hoping in Jesus and His Kingdom come.

Remember how Mary visited Elizabeth who was still carrying John the Baptist, and how John, still in the womb, leapt in anticipation and recognition of the coming of the Lord Jesus.  We hope for the Second Coming of Christ, and also a visitation, a revelation, an engagement with Christ along the way, ones that will make our hearts leap.

Pray with me:

Lord, as we will light the candle of Hope today, may we realize the significance of the Hope that does not disappoint, poured out into our heart by the Holy Spirit.  This is the candle that will remain lit in the coming weeks, just as Hope must sustain us and carry us forward.  May our Hope be as a feather, drawn upward by the breath of the Spirit.  Thank you for this beautiful day to remember our Hope in Jesus, the Christ.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” Acts 17:1-3

Intro: When St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he told them,

He was impressed by three qualities that they demonstrated:
your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 1:3)
– faith, love, and hope – essential building blocks of a Christian life
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13)
• Paul may have looked for evidence of these traits in the churches he visited
• do they walk by faith, hang onto hope, and do everything in love?
– “Hope” is the Advent theme for this Sunday

I’m going to begin with three observations regarding hope

First, hope is an attitude that is oriented to the future
– it may be the near future or a distant future
• but it looks forward to an ultimate outcome that is good
• that outcome is not yet within our grasp, but its believable
I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me (2 Tim. 1:12)
we wait eagerly for…the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Ro. 8:23-25)
Second, hope anchors the soul (Heb. 6:19)
– the soul in scripture is our natural self – our needy self
• it is both mind and emotions; drives and desires; physical and psychological needs
• the soul needs to be anchored, otherwise, it will drift with every current moving through culture
Third, the Christian hope for the future rests in Jesus Christ our Lord
if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (Jn. 14:3)
– the birth of Jesus brought an eternal hope into our world — that is in the past
• Paul refers to the return of Jesus as the blessed hope (Titus 2:13) — that is in our future
– Advent is the celebration of both arrivals of Jesus
• when he first came to us in Bethlehem and when he will revisit the world in glory

In Acts 17, Paul is introducing a Jewish community to Jesus

He makes an argument that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy
– it amazes me, how quickly the disciples found Jesus in the Hebrew Scriptures
• in Acts chapter 8, Philip was led to a man who was an official in the court of the Ethiopian Queen
◦ Philip found the official sitting in his chariot, reading Isaiah 53
◦ the official asked Philip,
“About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:34-35)
◦ Isaiah 53 may be the most explicit message prefiguring the gospel in entire Old Testament
• when Paul presented his argument regarding the Messiah, his closing statement was:
“This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (Messiah)

Israel had held onto a hope for centuries
– that the dynasty of King David would rise from the ashes
• that a descendant of David’s would become Israel’s ultimate king
• that God would anoint him to rule Israel
◦ and through Israel, God would rule the world
(“anointed one” is the meaning of the Hebrew word Messiah and the Greek word Christ)
◦ Isaiah prophesied that in the golden age
[The LORD] shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more (Isa. 2:4)
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them. . . .
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:6-9)
– Paul was telling them, We now know who that king is:
This Jesus [who went through Judah and Galilee, healing the sick, casting out demons, and proclaiming the kingdom of God] is the Messiah

Now we’re going to move backwards in the book of Acts

In chapter 2, we find the first sermon preached by an apostle after Jesus’ resurrection
– Peter presented the same argument as Paul (only Peter’s message was longer and included more scripture)
• when he gets to the end, he says,
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36)
– wouldn’t you assume that the crucifixion of its leader would end a movement?
• that was, in fact, the objective
Caiaphas . . . said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” “So from that day on the made plans to put him to death (Jn. 11:50 and 53)
◦ but despite what he had in mind, Jesus’ death did not end the movement
◦ instead, it fulfilled a criteria that qualified Jesus as the Messiah
He [Caiaphas] did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who were scattered abroad (Jn. 11:51-52)
• with another small step backwards, we come to this verse:
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses (Acts 2:32)
◦ so in “this Jesus” there rests a hope that even death cannot extinguish

One more time we’re going to move backwards in Acts

Jesus had spent his very last moments on earth with the disciples
– they asked their most pressing question and he answered them
• he also told them what would happen in their immediate future
◦ and while they were watching,
he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight
• no telling how long they would have stood there gawking skyward
◦ but we’re told,
two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11)
– now we have an idea of Advent hope
this Jesus who was sent from God into the world is the Messiah
this Jesus suffered as we suffer – he died and was buried
this Jesus broke the chains of death, freeing himself and us
this Jesus will return, and bring heaven to earth
• Christmas is anticipation, expectation, and celebration
◦ it ties together past, present, and future
◦ and during Advent, it is possible to experience moments of the eternal now, if during this season we make time for quiet reflection
– after all, there is no Christmas apart from this Jesus

Listen to a couple lines of a prayer Paul prayed for believers

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you . . . . (Ep. 1:16-18)
– this inspires me as much as anything in the Scriptures
• it is the reason I take time to read, reflect, and sit in silence
• it is not as if I receive a revelation every day,
◦ but if God’s Spirit has something to say to me, I want to be there to hear it
– today God has something to say to us about
this Jesus who looked at the crowds and felt compassion for them
this Jesus who touched blind eyes and deaf ears and healed them
this Jesus who lifted children into his arms and blessed them
this Jesus who rebuked hypocrites and forgave sinners
this Jesus who loved the unlovable and forgave the unforgivable
this Jesus whose birth is Christmas and resurrection is Easter
• and through these he procured our new birth and eternal life

Conclusion: One more word about Advent

It is not four weeks of Sunday celebrations
– Advent is a season
So with everything else that goes on during this hectic time of year,
let’s try to remember that this is a season of HOPE
No matter what,
let’s hang onto the hope that hangs on to us

Nov 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 20, 2022

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And when [Jesus] came to the place, he said to [his disciples], “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, it you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation Luke 22:40-46

Intro: “Jesus was only thirty-three”

William Barclay made that observation
Barclay, “Jesus was only thirty-three, and no one wants to die at thirty-three.”
– for some reason, that simple statement caught me off guard
• I was reading a familiar story–that’s all
◦ I wasn’t thinking about the whole story,
◦ or connecting with Jesus in his real-life context
• being reminded of his age, stirred up in me empathy for him,
◦ and I felt myself being pulled closer to him
◦ my youngest child is older than Jesus was that night
– we have followed Jesus for seventeen weeks,
• watching him pray, listening to his prayers and to his teaching and parables on prayer
◦ an underlying tension that has been running through the story, at this point explodes
• the conflict isn’t between Jesus and the scribes, Pharisees, or chief priests
◦ it is with everything that is wrong in the world, that ruins people and opposes God
◦ it is the ultimate battle of good versus evil

For a moment, Jesus behaves in a way we’ve not seen before

He pours his heart out in words we’ve never heard him say before
– for a moment, it looks like he is losing his footing
• but then he regains his composure, gets up, and goes to cross
– during all this, we hear his final instruction to the disciples about prayer
• and also his own last words of prayer (according to Luke)

Given the circumstances of chapters 22 and 23,
– I could title this talk, “Prayer In Times of Crisis”
• or simply, “Crisis Prayer”
• but that doesn’t mean that these passages will give us another scripted prayer like the Lord’s Prayer
◦ or that we’ll learn a method for how to pray in crisis
◦ in fact, both of those ideas are absurd
– the nature of crisis, is that it’s not something you plan,
• and we don’t know in advance what emergency will arise or what it will look like
◦ we don’t know how we will react: will we panic? collapse? come out fighting?
• a method or prayer composed in peace, may not work in calamity,
◦ when intense trouble rolls over us or sudden danger looms before us
◦ we may not be able to muster more than a cry for help
“Lord, save me!” “I believe; help my unbelief!” “What must I do to be saved?”

I think it’s best if we look for general thoughts about prayer
– if we develop right habits of prayer,
• we will pray right prayers when needed
– most important, is that we secure our connection with God
• constantly returning to his presence in the here and now
• as long as our souls can find rest in God,
◦ our prayers will be acceptable – with or without words

Jesus gave the disciples a reason to pray in that moment

“Pray that you may not enter into temptation”
– this was the last line of the prayer he taught them in chapter 11
“and lead us not into temptation”
• this word has a dual meaning: enticement and test
• many things must be put through trials to see if they work
◦ how much stress can a metal take before giving out?
(this matters to me when I step into an airplane and wonder about the wings)
◦ fire is used to refine gold
– even though we have said the Lord’s Prayer many times, it is still a surprise:
• that we can pray our way around, away from, or through temptation
• we are asking God to not give us more than we can take
◦ and through prayer we can enlist his help and strength

Jesus prayed for what he wanted

He did not begin, “Forgive me for asking something for myself,” but
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me”
– I hear an echo in these words – it’s the voice of a leper
when he saw Jesus, he fell on hi face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Lk. 5:12)
• when Mark tells story, he says Jesus was moved with compassion
And he stretched out his hand and touched him saying, “I will; be clean”
• now, in Gethsemane, the Son kneels on the ground and uses the same appeal
“Father, if you are willing
◦ it is as if he wants his Father to be moved with compassion as he was for the leper
◦ it is a tender and tragic moment

In prayer, Jesus surrendered to his Father’s will
Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done

We also come to a point of surrender, eventually
– but it makes all the difference if we surrender through prayer
• it is important to surrender face-to-face with God
• otherwise, it won’t be a real surrender, but just a giving up
◦ we may do nor more than resign ourselves to fate or bad luck
Catherine Marshall introduced the idea of “The Prayer of Relinquishment” in an article for Guidepost Magazine. In it she explains, “The Prayer of Relinquishment must not be interpreted negatively. It does not let us lie down in the dust of a godless universe and steel ourselves just for the worst. Rather it says, ‘This is my situation at the moment. I’ll face the reality of it. But I’ll also accept willingly whatever a loving Father sends.’ Acceptance, therefore, never slams the door on hope.”
• I don’t think we can jump to this point of surrender from square one
• we first have to learn, from experience, that God is a loving Father

Agony increased the intensity of Jesus’ prayer
And being in agony he prayed more earnestly

It may be embarrassing to discover that it takes an intense pain or grief to improve our prayer life
– last week I was asked to pray for man who had thrown his back out and was in a lot of pain
• walking Kona near his neighborhood, I remembered to pray for him, but only that one time
◦ then on Friday morning, I threw my back out, and I’ve prayed for him every day since–earnestly

Jesus woke his disciples to pray

I’m convinced that for our prayers to be meaningful, to be worthwhile,
– requires our most aware state of mind
– I’ve talked about this enough to not go over it again now

Jesus prayed the most generous prayer imaginable
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” Luke 23:32-34

I would never tell someone in crisis, “Pray that your tormentor will be shown mercy”
or
“Pray God will forgive the person who murdered your child”
“Pray God will forgive your rapist”
“Pray God will forgive the accountant that swindled you”
my first thought: This is Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior, who prayed for those who were nailing him to the cross
• he worked miracles – he was, in himself, a miracle
• I don’t expect us to be capable of this infinite generosity of grace
◦ but I do admire and reverence him for his compassion and grace
my second thought: But there are believers who have done this
• every year we have seen them in courtrooms,
◦ telling the convicted felon that because they are followers of Jesus, they forgive the convict
• it is not that they were able to do this instantly or at the time of the violation
◦ but they were led by God and by his love to forgive; to let mercy triumph over hatred
◦ witnessing this always takes my breath away

Then, at the end, there was Jesus’ dying prayer
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And having said this, he breathed his last Luke 23:46

This is his second quotation of a psalm from the cross
(the first was from Psa. 22:1, this quote is from Psa. 31:5)
– for me, personally, I feel a cushion of comfort in his last breath
• he is not succumbing to the torture of the cross,
• he’s giving his life, releasing his spirit, putting himself into the hands of his Father
– my oldest daughter, Jennifer, has five children–each of their births was assisted by a midwife
• a midwife is sometimes referred to as a “doula” (Grk. female servant/slave)
◦ did you know there are end-of-life midwives? Death doulas?
◦ they assist the dying (and the person’s family) with emotional and spiritual support through the transition
• it’s natural to fear crossing this threshold
◦ but I hope that we all will breathe our last with this prayer on our lips,
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit

Conclusion: We have now finished this wonderful prayer journey

Luke, as our tour guide, has shown us in Jesus’ example what he had taught others;
that is, that “we ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Lk. 18:1);
that we can pray in all situations;
that in our darkest hours we cannot give up on prayer or on God
Every thought can be turned into a prayer
Nothing is too trivial, awful, or juvenile
If something is of concern to you, it is of concern to God;
casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7)
The sooner we know and trust God’s unconditional love for us,
the sooner we will realize the safest place for us to be is in prayer

Nov 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 13, 2022

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning and welcome to RefleXion!     May the Lord be with you                                               Steve, John, and Spencer, we especially welcome you; thank you for being with us. 

Today, if you don’t know, is World Kindness Day.  It was started in Japan in 1997 by a coalition of non-governmental organizations “to promote expressing kindness in our communities and around the world.”  Now observed on November 13 each year, it’s a chance to remember kindness’s power to bring humankind together across political, social, racial, and economic boundaries.

Kindness, as we know, is an attribute of God, and its quality desirable, but not consistently found, in humans.  It has connection with other English words, such as goodness, mercy, pity, love, grace, favor, compassion, gentleness, tenderness, etc. And we’ve experienced God’s kindness in these ways, haven’t we, as deliverance from fear, trouble, or consequences, as open doors, as comfort and support.  It seems like a gentle word.  Some Mindfulness teachers are even replacing that word with the term Kindfulness, to remind us that it’s not just being present; it is being present with compassion and kindness, even to ourselves.  It IS gentle, it is a virtue. 

And I think Kindness is much more powerful than we might first think about it.  From Romans 2:4, we’re asked:  Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God is what led you to repentance?  Kindness led us to repentance; kindness was a member of our rescue team. It has transformative power.  It heals.  The Good Samaritan was kind, and this kindness was expressed in actions that rescued, helped, and healed.

And moreover, I believe that we can say that kindness is spiritual warfare.  It is a weapon against disconnectedness. It pierces through our own armor of Ego and judgement, our prejudices, and when released, can pierce through another’s armor too.  Kindness can pierce the darkness.  Kindness is an act of resistance, reconciliation, and restoration.  Kindness says no to evil deeds.  It is a breath of fresh air, a proclamation of shared humanity.  It is a gift of good news. That’s what I think. What do you think?

Let’s pray:

Our Father, may Your Kingdom come in truth and power.  As we are glad recipients of Your kindness, may we honor You by offering that kindness that has been shown to us, knowing that it is good news for us all.  Thank you for each person listening here and all the ways they have shown kindness.  May Your kindness be the blessing we give and receive today.  Amen

Morning Talk: Steve Gumaer

Steve’s talk was personal and unscripted, so we do not have notes to share with you. However, you can watch it by clicking the “Watch Live” button in the sidebar, or listen to the podcast of his talk.

Personally, I found Steve’s message to reach deeper and have more impact than anything that I have heard in a long time. —chuck

Nov 6 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 6, 2022

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome RefleXion friends!                   May the Lord be with you!

The gifts of the season.   Have you already begun to see ads that offer the “gifts of the season”?   A recent email informed me that I needed a new phone to “spark joy”.  Another told me that a pillowcase is becoming the must-have holiday gift of 2022.  I looked back at what the must-have gifts were a few years ago.  Do you remember the chocolate fountain (did anybody ever use theirs more than once?), the razor scooter (every kid had to have one), the virtual pocket pets, or the cabbage patch dolls (parents stood in line for hours to get them).  Advertisers love to remind us that we’re in a new season and that we should consider getting the must-have gifts.  Well, I think most of us realize that we’re all in a new season, and it’s not just called Autumn.

This has got me to pondering about my season: What season am I in?  What would I name it?  What are its gifts?  These contemplations have helped me be with what is, not necessarily what I might prefer and to look a little closer.  What is most important to me?  What is God offering me now that He couldn’t do at any other time in my life?  If I believe (which I do) that the Holy Spirit’s mission is to develop Christlikeness in me, then I can look in this direction.

If you think this exercise might benefit you, then take some time to describe and name your current life season.  Use the prompts we use in Lectio Divina–a sacred Reading of your life.  Is there a word or phrase or image that comes to you?  Spend some time in quiet Reflection, letting God speak to you about this season and the gifts He intends for you.  Respond by acknowledging what you heard and how it makes you feel.  Maybe you will put words or an image to paper.  Rest in knowing that God is with you and for you.  Always.

All this, of course, sent me to a familiar passage in Ecclesiastes, and we’ll make this our prayer:

Lord, like Solomon, we realize this truth, that “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.  A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up.  A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.  A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away.  A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away.  A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.  A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.”  Let us be mindful of this time, this season; we ask that you fill it with Your Presence and Your intentions, and fill our hearts with the Beauty of it all.  In this, may we learn to love, for Your sake, for our own sake, and for the sake of others.  Amen 

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man Luke 21:34-36

Intro: I feel like we’ve taken an intensive course – on prayer

Luke provides lessons Jesus taught on prayer that are not not found in the other gospels
– he has also reported times Jesus prayed than no one else recorded
• so it has taken us a long time to get this far
• Luke is a rich source information and it is helpful to learn what he has to tell us
– the prayers we’ll look at today are pretty basic
• there’s no new form of prayer and nothing exotic
• nevertheless, the situation of each prayer is exceptional
◦ and some of the material is extraordinary

Jesus’ sermon in this chapter is well known: it is his “Olivet Discourse”

The same message can be found in Matthew 24 and Mark13
– it is very popular among students of biblical prophecy
• in it, Jesus tells his disciples how to survive end of the world
watch yourselvesstay awake at all timespraying
• stay awake translates one word that means “not asleep” – is used literally and figuratively
you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (Ro. 13:11)
• Jesus is saying is telling his disciples, “Stay alert, be aware” — and he adds, “at all times”

I am not by nature a person who is especially aware
– a friend, when we meet up, often asks me something like,
“On the way here, did you notice the jacaranda trees in bloom? Isn’t God’s creation beautiful?!”
I usually respond, “No, I only noticed all the bad drivers and red lights”
• I’m not always even aware of my motivation
◦ an opportunity to act occurs, and I jump on it
◦ it is as if I was unconsciously waiting for it, so when it comes, I react before I think
• perhaps I might share dirt about someone else – but why would I do that?
◦ maybe I assumed I was doing something useful
◦ maybe I don’t know the reason
◦ perhaps it comes from a dislike, or grudge, or jealousy hidden in the recesses of my brain
– why say something I will regret later?
• because when I said it, I was talking in my sleep
◦ if I had been awake, and aware of what swims in my brain,
◦ I would have kept my mouth shut
• when I sit in silent prayer and listen for God,
◦ a negative thought, or feeling, or attitude may come into my mind
◦ and if I listen, God will show me its hidden roots
– awareness is something that enlarges and deepens with practice
Thich Nhat Hahn, “Meditation is not passive sitting in silence. It is sitting in awareness, free from distraction, and realizing the clear understanding that arises from concentration.”

Jesus told his disciples to be aware and to pray they would,
“have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place”
– we can escape a lot of bad stuff if we practice awareness
– awareness prayer is holding focused attention on God, here and now

Next is a lesson in “giving thanks”
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise with the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” Luke 22:19-20

I want to include the dark words that followed Jesus’ prayer of thanks
“But behold, the hand of him who betrays me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed” Luke 21-22
– did Jesus have a good reason for giving thanks?
• it was his broken body, his poured out blood that he blessed
◦ one friend at the table would betray him and the others were going to abandon him
◦ he was only hours away from his arrest, beatings, and crucifixion
• was Jesus giving thanks for everything that was going against him?
◦ and does that me we’re supposed to give thanks for illness and injuries? if we’re mugged or abused?
◦ I cannot imagine telling a parent who’s lost a child to give thanks for that loss
– Paul tags a list of Christian duties onto the end of his letter to Thessalonians:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Th. 5:16)
and to the Ephesians: giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ep. 5:20)
• perhaps giving thanks for hardship and tragedy is a way of seeing God in all things
◦ or connecting all things to him
Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts wrote, “The act of sacrificing thank offerings to God—even for the bread and cup of cost, for cancer and crucifixion—this prepares the way for God to show us His fullest salvation from bitter, angry, resentful lives and from all sin that estranges us from Him.” “Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace.” “To learn how to be grateful and happy, whether hands full or hands empty. That is a secret worth spending a life on learning.”
• this is a high-flying spirituality – an exercise for saints
◦ but can I do this? Does God expect it or even want it?

When I woke up yesterday morning, my room was spinning
– I tried to get up–twice–but the vertigo was too intense
• it occurred to me, I could give thanks for my misery
◦ I’m a preacher, so I suppose I could always pray,
“Lord God, I thank you for this sermon illustration!”
◦ but I didn’t – I wasn’t feeling grateful
◦ to give thanks for my nausea would have been a lie
• No, I do not believe God wants us to give thanks for:
◦ anything that was not his doing
◦ anything that displeases him or grieves him
– the apostle James, ever practical and wise, points us in right direction
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him . . . (Jas. 5:13-14)
• if we follow Jesus that night, he did not give thanks for his coming crucifixion
• in the upper room, he gave thanks for the cup — with it he sealed the new covenant with us
◦ but a short while later in the garden he prayed,
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me . . . . And being in agony he prayed more earnestly” (Lk. 22:42-44)
• it’s okay for us to follow his example
Abbot John Chapman wrote, “It is not an imperfection to find it painful to submit to God’s will. Our Lord showed us that, by His Agony in the garden.”

So the lesson is not that we must give thanks for pain and sorrow
– what else can we learn about giving thanks?
• I am going to let Henri Nouwen tell us what he learned
◦ this from his published journal while living in South America, Gracias!
• it’s a lesson we desperately need to learn here in the States
Nouwen, “The word that I kept hearing was: Gracias! . . . I saw thousands of poor and hungry children, met many young men and women without money, a job, or a decent place to live. I spent long hours with sick, elderly people, and I witnessed more misery and pain than ever before in my life. But in the midst of it all, that word lifted me again and again to a new realm of seeing and hearing: ‘Gracias!’ Thanks!’
“Whatever is given—money, food, work, a handshake, a smile, a good word, or an embrace—is a reason to rejoice and say gracias! What I claim as a right, my friends in Bolivia and Peru received as a gift . . . . ¶ I learned that everything that is, is freely given by the God of love. All is grace.”
– I know it’s a long quote – I would to read to you the whole book (so be thankful for long quotes)
Nouwen, “Not only are the poor grateful for life, but they also celebrate life constantly. A visit, a reunion, a simple meeting are always like little celebrations. . . . for them all of life is a long fiesta with God.
• that line reminded me of a song I learned in Costa Rica
Hay una fiesta, fiesta, fiesta|
Continuamente en mi,
Continuamente en mi.
Hay una fiesta, fiesta, fiesta
Desde que a Cristo yo conocí

(There’s a festival, festival, festival, continually in me, since I knew Christ)
Nouwen, “I am . . . convinced that gratitude is one of the most sublime human emotions. It is an emotion that reaches out far beyond our own self to God, to all of creation, to the people who gave us life, love, and care.”

And then, the most beautiful lesson on intercession, ever
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers Luke 22:31-32

Jesus is talking to Peter as a close friend
– he lets him know that Satan has demanded access to all twelve disciples
• but Jesus got out ahead of Satan – he has prayed for Peter
• I think this reassurance carried Peter the rest of his life
– some of Bible’s heroes were great intercessors–e.g., Moses and Samuel
• but anyone can perform this service for others
Epaphras, who is one of you . . . greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God (Col. 4:12)
• prayers of intercession make a difference in the lives of others
◦ not only because God hears them and responds,
◦ but also because they’re a way of letting others know we’re there for them

Conclusion: I believe, making these three prayers a daily practice,

Will solidify and enhance our spiritual development
– sit in silence with God – give thanks – pray for others
• I’m encouraged by Jesus’ confidence in prayer
◦ and he encourages his disciples to pray with confidence

This is our daily turning toward God
Transcending our world of confusion and hostility

Do you have enough imagination to look at Jesus face to face,
and hear him say, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”?

Oct 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 30, 2022

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to RefleXion.                 May the Beauty of the Lord be with you!

“Beauty will save the world.” This phrase appeared in a novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1868. I heard it from Pastor Brian Zahnd.   The True, the Good, and the Beautiful are sometimes called the three transcendentals, or the human ideals. Today, I’m hearing a lot of folks talking about Truth— “We stand for the truth.”  I had a mentor years ago and whenever we said something like “This happened to me, or people act badly, or I’m disappointed or angry,” he’d often say, “Well, that’s true, but not True enough.”  He meant that there was always more to it, more to see.  I think about this sometimes when people are sworn in to court with “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  How can any of us have the “whole truth”?

The Good?  Well, I think it’s clear that most times helping someone with a compassionate heart is good; but discernment is needed, right?  And how often do we label what comes to us as “good” or “bad.”  I mean, how can we judge if something (even something very difficult or disappointing) is bad, or good in the sense that God is in it?  I understand that my perception is only one perspective and that the thing that has come hasn’t reached its fulfillment yet. 

Perhaps we could say that it’s not yet Beautiful. Beauty is more than a visual.  We know when words or actions are also beautiful, don’t we? Can we ever separate truth from goodness and beauty.  Adding Beauty brings Light to Truth.  Adding Beauty to Goodness is a greater Good.  What happens when we develop Beauty, when we look for it and nourish it, when we create it or sensitize our hearts to long for it?  Dostoyevsky wrote, “The infinity of the human soul–having been revealed in Christ and capable of fitting into itself all the boundlessness of divinity–is at one and the same time both the greatest good, the highest truth, and the most perfect beauty.”  Will beauty save the world?  Perhaps it will, at least, save us.

Our prayer this morning is from an old hymn, perhaps you will remember it:                   
For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
Pleasures pure and undefiled,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.
We welcome You today, Lord, as we welcome each other,
in Truth and Goodness and Beauty.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: I try not to say much about prayers that go wrong

There is no good reason to feel nervous about praying
– we’re children coming to a good, loving Father to ask for bread
• in fact, Jesus taught us to use prayer to rid ourselves of anxiety
◦ we can ease into prayer and find rest in God’s presence
• you will pray right, if your heart is right
– so we pray with confidence, but we also know that prayer can malfunction
• that’s what we’ll learn from Jesus in our two passages from Luke’s Gospel

The place of prayer can be spoiled
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” Luke 19:45-46

Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with disciples
– he is “home for the holidays” – but when he gets to temple,
• he finds out there is some spring cleaning that needs to be done
• preparing for Passover, many Jewish families play a game
◦ either leaven (yeast) or something containing leaven is hidden around the house
◦ children go around searching for it to get rid of it
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel (Ex. 12:15)
– when Jesus entered the temple precinct,
• it looked more like a marketplace than a holy place
•so he began to clear out the leaven

Every Jewish family would try to be in Jerusalem for Passover
(the final words of the Seder meal are, “Next year in Jerusalem”)
– some worshipers came from far away – others arrived from different countries
• an annual temple tax could be paid during Passover, but foreign currency was not acceptable
• booths were set up in the colonnade around the temple’s outer court
◦ visitors were charged for any money they exchanged
◦ if they didn’t have exact amount, the were charged extra for the change they received
– every family had to bring a lamb to the temple for the Passover sacrifice
• if they had traveled a considerable distance, a lamb could purchased the marketplace
◦ but they would run the risk of it not being accepted by the inspectors
◦ the cost was hiked up for lambs purchased in the temple that had been preapproved
• so there was a profitable business going on in the temple
William Barclay, “It was not simply that the buying and selling interfered with the dignity and the solemnity of worship. It was that the very worship of the house of God was being used to exploit the worshipers.”

I am guessing, that given commotion going one, Jesus would have had to shout
– he explains the scene he’s created with two Old Testament quotes
• the first was based on an ancient tradition, in which God defined the purpose of the temple
. . . let them make me a make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst (Ex. 25:8)
◦ God has never abandoned this dream
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:2-3)
• God assured Israel everyone is accepted in his house
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people . . . .”
[both foreigners and eunuchs would be welcomed]
“these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar
for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isa. 56:3-8)
◦ what Jesus was doing when driving traders out,
◦ was recovering God’s central purpose for the temple
– in the book of Jeremiah, chapter 7 is my favorite
• God sent Jeremiah to the temple gate to proclaim a message
◦ they were not to put their trust in the temple, as if it were magic
◦ God would abandon it unless they cleaned up their act
if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice . . . if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow . . . then I will let you dwell in this place . . . . Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? (Jer. 7:5-11)
• the priests and other religious authorities,
◦ had reverted to their old behavior
◦ they blinded themselves to what they risked losing (see Luke 19:41-44)

I suppose we can benefit from applying this to churches

In the New Testament, the community of Christians becomes God’s temple
(the house where he dwells on earth; 1 Peter 2:5)
– together, we become the space where God lives
• anyone can join us without jumping through any hoops
• no purchases have to be made – nothing here is for sale
For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word (2 Cor. 2:17)
[Or, as it reads in the Good News Bible] We are not like so many others, who handle God’s message is if it were cheap merchandise.
Karl Barth, [Paul says] “the word of God cannot be handled in such a way. . . . there is something where bargaining is out of the question. The word of God is not for sale; and therefore it has no need of shrewd salesmen . . . . therefore it refuses price cutting and bargaining; therefore it has no need of middlemen. The word of God does not compare with other commodities which are being offered [people] on the bargain counter of life. It does not care to be sold at any price.”

So much for church life then – but what about our personal lives?
– I find it isn’t difficult to get myself out of the world to pray
• but my biggest challenge is to get world out of my head
The Message Bible paraphrases Jeremiah 17:21-22 like this: Be careful, if you care about your lives, not to desecrate the Sabbath by turning it into just another workday, lugging stuff here and there. Don’t use the Sabbath to do business as usual. Keep the Sabbath day holy . . . .
• it occurred to me that I lug a bunch of stuff into my prayers
– now when I pray, I relax, breathe slowly, and purge my mind of that outside stuff
• when temple was first built, gatekeepers were assigned to it monitor what was brought into it
• part of my focus in prayer now includes monitoring what gets in
◦ I cannot allow my mind to lug worldly stuff into God’s the place or prayer, or else I ruin it

The way that we use prayer can spoil it
And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive greater condemnation Luke 20:45-47

The scribes were experts in the law of Moses – teachers
– people would consult them for the correct interpretation and application of the law
– but Jesus pointed out things they were doing outside the classroom
• what they liked and what they loved, what they devoured, and what they made
• where they could be found enjoying and doing these things:
the marketplaces, the synagogues, and at feasts (or banquets)
– people who pray “long prayers” create a perception of sincere devotion
• but Jesus saw through their pretense
◦ they were like stage actors, making a show of their piety
• in Matthew, Jesus taught his disciples,
. . . when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others (Mt. 6:5)

Jesus was warning the disciples, but he intended others to hear what he had to say
– he does not tell his disciples, “Don’t be like them,” but “Beware of them”
• that they shouldn’t be like them was implicit in his warning
• the danger wasn’t with their example only, but with the scribes themselves
◦ they worked at creating a pious image, but Jesus said, “Don’t trust them”
– right before this warning, some scribes had congratulated Jesus for a wise answer he gave the Sadducees
• at that point, I was tempted to see the scribes on Jesus’ side, but they weren’t!
◦ they had not changed their opinion about him
• Jesus didn’t want his disciples–or anyone else– to mistake that moment as a friendly alliance between them
◦ it wasn’t! – they were dangerous

A long time ago, the Lord made it clear to me
– I was to proclaim the gospel, but never promote myself
• a lot of my colleagues were having their sermons broadcast on Christian radio
◦ some of my friends urged me to do the same with my sermons
◦ but after thinking about it, I had to question my purpose for doing that
• why would I need to add my voice to a medium glutted with voices already
◦ what would my motivation be to get my name out there?
– I get that — we are not supposed to promote ourselves; it’s wrong
• but what surprises me is that Jesus tells us, “Watch out for those who do promote themselves!”
• they aren’t safe and they can’t be trusted

Conclusion: To summarize all this, here’s another quote from the Message Bible:

The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply (Mt. 6:7-13)

Okay, it’s time to end on a positive note
when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Mt. 6:6)
God is present, but his presence is secret
it is hidden from us, because he transcends all that we can know or experience

So maybe try this when you pray; begin by asking:
What am I thinking? Then remind yourself, I am not this thought
What does my heart feel? Then remind yourself, I am not this emotion
What does my body feel? Then remind yourself, I am not this sensation
Perhaps observing and recognizing these things we will transcend them,
and enter that secret place of God’s presence and commune with him there
After all, we are his temple (1 Cor. 3:16-17)

Oct 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 23, 2022

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community.            May the Goodness and Mercy of God be with you!

This past week, I had an encounter with Mercy! Really, it just came and overwhelmed me—God’s mercy.  You know that verse in Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life….”  Well, maybe I just slowed down enough for mercy to catch up with me.  Sometimes the goodness and mercy of God can catch us off guard—and I mean that literally.  If our Ego-defenses are down, there’s a crack where the light can get in (hats off to Leonard Cohen here).  James Finley says that the crack is realized when our brokenness is deeply accepted.  That often happens in prayer.  It did for me.

Then this week I heard a quote by Julian of Norwich that “Mercy is God befriending our suffering,” so I followed the trail of Julian. Some of you know her writings quite well; but, if not, Julian was a celebrated mystic who documented her experiences with God in her book “Revelations of Divine Love.”  She was born in 1342 and lived through turbulent years for the Church and for the life of the people who were suffering the consequences of a long-drawn-out war and the Black Death, which was the most fatal pandemic in human history.  Julian came to understand that the central message for spiritual life is this: “God is love and it is only if one opens oneself to this love, totally and with total trust, and lets it become one’s sole guide in life, that all things are transfigured, true peace and true joy found, and one is able to radiate it.”

She taught that prayer is the deliberate and persevering action of the soul. “Prayer fastens the soul to God,” she says, and that “God is honored and truly delighted if we faithfully pray for His goodness, because His goodness is full and complete, and in it there is nothing lacking.  Goodness comes to meet our humblest needs.”

Goodness comes to meet our humblest needs; Mercy befriends our suffering;  Goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives.

I’d like to begin our opening prayer with her words before I add mine.

“Lord, let not our souls be busy inns that have no room for thee or thine, but quiet homes of prayer and praise, where thou mayest find fit company, where the needful cares of life are wisely ordered and put away, and wide, sweet spaces kept for thee; where holy thoughts pass up and down.”  Yes, Lord, may mercy and goodness overtake us and help us to keep the pace of grace and give us the light and life our souls seek.  May we also be blessed with revelations of divine love.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Luke 18:9-14

Intro: Before we jump into these verses, take a breath

Remember who is telling the story – he is not a stranger
– we know this person – this storyteller
• we met him when as children we were dragged to church
◦ or when a friend first introduced us
◦ or when we picked up the Bible and read one of the Gospels
• we know Jesus, we trust him with our lives, and we love him
– it’s good for us to occasionally clear our calendar,
• perhaps go on retreat or find our own place of quiet solitude
◦ and there, renew the intimacy of our relationship with Jesus
• God sent Jesus into our world to reveal himself through him
◦ in Jesus we have discovered the depth of God’s love for us
◦ I will always want to know Jesus better than I do now

In this story, Jesus shows us a way to fix our broken prayers

Prayer is not the main point or purpose of the parable
– verses 9 and 14 provide Jesus’ specific purpose and lesson for telling it
• but in this series of talks, we’ve been culling through Luke,
◦ paying attention to each time Jesus prayed and everything he said about prayer
• prayer is at the heart of this story–it’s the central action
◦ and there’s some really good stuff in the parable on prayer

Luke provides an introduction to the parable
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt Luke 19:9

Luke tells us the type of people Jesus had in mind
– two words describe the behavior of those people: trusted and treated
• these are the essence of Christian spirituality
• they specify how we keep the two greatest commandments (Mt. 22:37-40)
◦ we love God by trusting him and love our neighbor by the way we treat them
– immediately we can see the problem that troubled Jesus
• the people he had in mind trusted in themselves
◦ specifically, that they were righteous
• and they treated others with contempt

The people Jesus is describing couldn’t see the problem with that
– they worked hard at obeying the commandments, at being righteous
• at least as far as they understood the Scriptures
◦ they were doing what they learned to do from the Torah
• as far as they were concerned,
◦ other people who did not obey the law and keep the commandments,
◦ belonged to the camp of the wicked, and deserved to be treated with disgust (e.g., Ps. 139:19-22)
– the key theme of the parable is the word “righteous”
• two men pray, but only one of them will be “justified” (to be declared righteous)
◦ righteous is a relational term – in love, do what’s right
◦ two verses worth committing to memory:
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Ro. 13:9-10)
• the tendency of religion is to forget the relational nature of righteousness,
◦ and substitute it with moral or legal righteousness
◦ the law may be hard to keep, but it’s a lot easier than to love as Jesus loves and calls us to love

The two main characters are like the two we met last week
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector Luke 18:10

What I mean, is that they are both standard stereotypes
– in the New Testament, Pharisees are the epitome of rigid legalism and hypocrisy
Tax collectors are classed with sinners
And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at [Jesus’]disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Lk. 5:30)
– for most people listening to Jesus,
• the Pharisee would be the good guy (devoted to obeying God’s law in every detail)
• tax collector would be the bad guy (a defiled person, perhaps even a traitor to Israel)

First, Jesus lets us eavesdrop on the Pharisee’s prayer
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Luke 18:11-12

He begins, “God, I thank you” – he is offering a prayer of gratitude,
– and for what? “That I am not like other men”
• do you hear what Jesus puts into his mouth–it’s classic!
• it’s like a Saturday Night Live parody
◦ Jesus definitely has a sense of humor
◦ except this is not as funny as it is sad
– there’s a difficulty translators have with the Greek text
• the Pharisee was either standing by himself or praying to himself–i.e., silently
◦ scholars debate which phrase is correct, but preachers prefers the secone
• people who trust in themselves, tend to pray to themselves
◦ but it may be, he kept his distance from the other worshipers to maintain his purity
◦ Pharisee means “separated one”

The Pharisee offers a short list of what he didn’t do and another list of what he did
– one of these words he uses deserves attention: “unjust”
• we came across the same word last week, “unrighteous”(v. 6)
– justice and righteousness are related,
• and appear together frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures
righteousness: doing what’s right given the circumstances
◦ it applies to our personal lives and all our interactions with others
justice: is also doing what’s right given the circumstances, but on a broader scale
◦ justice is how a society practices what is right rather than individuals
◦ if in a Christian context we were to make America great again, it would have to be based on this verse:
Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people (Pr. 14:34)

Now we listen in on the tax collector’s prayer
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Luke 18:13

Like the Pharisee, the tax collector stands off from the others, but for a different reason
– his body language reveals what he feels about himself
• when Jesus prayed, he often looked up to heaven (Lk. 9:16)
◦ this man cannot do that
• thumping on his chest was a sign of grief and remorse,
◦ he was punishing himself, as it were
– his prayer is brief and to the point,
God, be merciful to me, a sinner! – or “the sinner”
• as if he were the worst

I have not said anything about various types of prayer
– it did not seem necessary, because lots of people have done this for us already
• or we have figured them out for ourselves
• typically we use the following:
◦ petition is prayer we pray for ourselves
◦ intercession and supplication are generally prayers for others
◦ communion is resting in our closeness with Jesus and the Father
◦ confession is admitting our sin and seeking forgiveness
◦ praise and thanksgiving (speak for themselves)
– the tax collector offers a prayer of confession
• but notice, he does not mention any specific sin
◦ the Psalms contain many confessions of sin (see especially Psalms 51 & 32)
◦ but never confess anything specific
• that leaves the confession open-ended, so that we can pray them too
◦ it also eliminates the need to comb through minutia to seek forgiveness

Jesus illustrates how these men themselves in prayer

Not intentionally, perhaps – they may not even realize they’re doing this
– nevertheless, coming to God in prayer exposes us to what he sees
• in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul wrote:
I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted [justified]. It is the Lord who judges me (1 Cor. 4:4)
Jean Mouroux observed, “These words mean that he recognizes that the Christian has such a partial awareness of his actions, that his seeing himself as justified does not by any means mean that he is justified, and that the final judgment on the value of his acts can only be made by God; it means that the ‘heart’s intentions’ are absolutely dark secrets,’ to oneself as well as to others . . . .”
• this would explain why the Pharisee could trust in himself and treat others with contempt, even while he was praying
Gerald May, “I think most people have trouble with prayer because prayer is really an act of love, and therefore demands vulnerability. As with love, the more we try to control prayer, the less prayer can happen. Yet the desire to defend and protect oneself is understandable. Prayer is where we most directly face the truth of ourselves and of the world: it is risky business indeed.
[Prayer] should be the most honest, loving enterprise of the human heart [but] sometimes becomes one of the most dishonest.”
– our prayer–even if dishonest– reveals us
• that is what happens in the parable
◦ and it’s what explains the surprising reversal
“I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other” Luke 18:14a
• Jesus wants us coming to God in honesty and humility
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” Luke 18:14b
◦ we do not have to hide anything from God!
◦ we just need to be honest, humble, and to trust God to be loving and merciful

Conclusion: It is not necessary for us to identify with the Pharisee or tax collector

We are probably both
I get upset with Pharisee-type Christians
– their unholy zeal for right (their) doctrine,
• their certainty they know what’s right and the precise ways that everyone else is wrong
• I am upset by their misrepresentation of God and Jesus
◦ and, consequently, how they turn many others away from God and Christianity
– but then Jesus tells me, “Yes, but you must love them too”
• and then I have to pray, “Be merciful to me the sinner”

What have I learned from this parable?
That when I pray, I need to know myself as honestly as I can
I must present that self, with all its strengths and weaknesses to God
And from him I must receive the love that will warm my heart to others
For prayer moves along a vertical and horizontal axis
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Mt. 5:23-24)

Trust God and treat others as you would have them treat you,
for this is the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 7:12)

Oct 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 16, 2022

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to the RefleXion Community!          May the Lord be with you!

We’ve been talking about the being and doing modes the last couple of weeks, and I’ve been thinking more about this.  Do you think that we can be doing something and still be in the being mode?  I think I do.  In Acts 17:28 Paul says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”

The being mode is not a special state in which all activity has to stop. I may have made it sound like that when I was talking about my contemplative practices last week.  I recognize a doing mode in myself that is quite goal-oriented, motivated to reduce the gap between how things are and how I think they should be, and to get things done.  And, so, when I might think I’m in the being mode, in meditation for example, I can actually be in the doing mode if I’m oriented toward a goal of accomplishing relaxation, pleasing God, or improving myself; then,  I’m after the future, the outcome. The being mode can be characterized as a direct, immediate, intimate experience of the Holy, the Presence of God.  We can call it Abiding, in Flow, or the experience of being In Christ; it is quite a powerful and dynamic state of being.

And, since we are creatures who overflow what’s in us to the circumstances and relationships outside of us, whatever we’ve spent time being with (it could be anger, fear or shame), that can overflow into my activity.  Even in activity though, if I relax into a deeper awareness of the Presence of God, with Him whom I’ve spent time being with, I can continue to be in His Presence.  So, it’s not about activity, it’s about Presence and about being in relationship with God, I think.  Could this also be called prayer?

No matter if I’m meditating or accomplishing a task, worshipping or serving, if the orientation of my heart and my mind are toward God, can I say I’m in a state of prayerfulness?  If prayer is dialog with God, then in all circumstances, I can be in conversation with Him. Prayer is engagement with God in whatever approach I take.  That’s what I’m thinking, and praying for.

Our Father, in You we live and move and having our being.  You are the source of life – real life– where we breathe and enjoy the true and the worthy. Your Spirit offers to move us in the flow of Living Water, having vital power to exert your empowering presence upon our souls and upon our world.  We have our being in you:  fresh, strong, powerful, efficacious.  Set us in motion to do good by being in you, In Christ.  Thank you for your Presence.  Amen

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart Luke 18:1-8

Intro: A friend once told me, I had changed his thoughts about Jesus

This man was a few years older than I, and a deep thinker
– he had an unusual perspective on things that I found interesting
• what he said was that the way I talked about Jesus had bugged him
• he had a very manly, tough and unflinching image of Jesus
◦ but I emphasized his tenderness, kindness, and compassion
◦ he equated those qualities with weakness and vulnerability, not masculinity
– what happened for him is, he began to see Jesus in a new light
• he discovered the “beauty” of the person of Jesus
◦ a word he would not have used to describe him previously
• as a result of this change, he felt closer to the Lord and a deeper love for him

I remembered that conversation while reflecting on these verses,
– because what I see Jesus doing here as being “lovely”
• I realize it isn’t typical to admire a man for his lovely deeds,
• but Jesus was looking out for his disciples – and for us
– Jesus knew what could happen when we feel:
1. our prayers have gone unheard
2. God’s answer to our prayers is always, “No”
3. we simply do not know how to pray to get God to listen
• he knew we could decide that prayer just doesn’t work
• and as a result, we would “lose heart” and give up praying

Jesus knows this about us

How does he know?
– could you imagine he was ever tempted to “lose heart”?
• were all of his prayers answered?
◦ we know he did not get what he asked at least one time
• but isn’t it possible there were other unanswered prayers?
“Father, would you please open the blind eyes of these Pharisees?”
“Speed up your work with my disciples, because they aren’t getting it”
“There are so many poor families–please ease the oppression they’re under”
– this is mere speculation, but the fact is Jesus knows us–and cares
• he does not want us to lose heart, but to stay with prayer

Luke uses a word that creates anxiety for some of us

Jesus tells us what “ought” to do
– now, Greek word means no more than “a necessary situation,”
• in fact, it also translated “must” (Jn. 3:30)
• an act must be performed to achieve a goal
– but some of us were beaten down by people who have told us,
• what we ought to do and not do, or what we should do and not do
◦ abusing others this way is a trait of pious and self-righteous people
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger (Mt. 23:4)
• the problem is that it’s easy to internalize these voices, and then do this to ourselves
• and this too can cause us to “lose heart”
– Jesus is not putting a chain on our necks with a moral “ought”
• he is preparing us to survive inevitable hardships
• he is securing our connection with him and the Father

The parable Jesus creates is brief, yet compelling
He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary’” Luke 18:2-3

The two opponents are common characters in scripture
– their symbolic value is important to the story Jesus tells
• the judge and the widow are on opposite ends of the social spectrum
◦ the judge wields ultimate power in their world – a god-like power
[the king of Judah] said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD. He is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God (2 Chr. 19:6-7)
How long will you [judges] judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless
maintaining the right of the afflicted and the destitute. . . .
I said, “Your are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince (Ps. 82:2-3, 6-7)
◦ the widow was powerless – she among weakest and most helpless members of the community
• the last time Steve Gumaer was here,
◦ he went through the Scriptures pointing out a consistent concern from beginning to end
◦ his repeated refrain was: “The widow, the orphan, and the stranger”
Prof. Snodgrass, “The trilogy of widow, orphans, and strangers is a standard description of those who are vulnerable.”
– I would only add, widows held a special place in our Lord’s heart
• some scholars believe that Jesus’ step-father, Joseph, died while he was still young, leaving Mary a widow
• one time Jesus approached a city as a funeral procession was coming out of it
◦ the deceased was the only son of a widow
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep” (Lk. 7:13)

The judge was corrupt and the widow was desperate

“For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming’” Luke 18:4-5

It is easy for us to identify with this situation
– in the normal course of litigation,
• if the judge is corrupt, and against you, your case is hopeless
◦ justice is irrelevant – right and wrong have no influence
• Jesus said the judge had neither reverence for nor respect for other people
◦ he was going to do whatever pleased himself
• he did not even have to hear the widow’s case
◦ she had no power, no leverage, no representation
– as rotten as he was, what made him change his mind?
she kept coming
she bothered him (troubled)
he became afraid the she would beat him down
• the Greek word refers to a literal physical attack
◦ though here is was probably more of a psychological concern
• she was more than annoying – she was wearing him out

Jesus begins to make his point with the word “Hear”
And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.” Luke 18:6-8a

He is telling his audience to pay attention
– what is the judge is saying? What is his reasoning? His motivation?
• this judge is “unrighteous,” his reasoning is self-centered,
◦ yet he comes to the right decision, “I will give her justice”
• once again we see how Jesus’ logic works in our favor
◦ that is, in favor of those who put their trust in God
– the contrast between the unjust judge and our righteous God
• is not only about justice and responding to a request, or corruption versus integrity
◦ but it is a contrast of an unrighteous, finite man and the wholly righteous and infinite God
• we can expect God to respond to our prayers with infinite concern
– two words deserve attention, because both can be misleading
delay – the Greek literally translated is “having patience”
◦ the idea is that God patiently listens to and responds to his people
◦ too often, as parents we do not have time to listen to our child; God always has time
speedily – the Greek word can also mean “to happen quickly” or “suddenly”
◦ I was first introduced to this word when reading a commentary on Revelation 1:1
◦ I think that may have significance to what Jesus means

Immediately prior to this parable, Jesus described events surrounding his return
– God has placed us in two time zones at once
• we live in what Paul referred to as this present evil age
◦ but we are given promises about the age to come
◦ in some way, our lives today are conditioned by the future
• our lives in the present are incomplete – we’re missing pieces
◦ our knowledge is limited, our vision isn’t clear
◦ but our future will the fullness of all we lack now
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. . . . For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Cor. 13:9-10, 12)
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that wen he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 Jn. 3:2)
– Jesus teaches us to lean into future, where completeness awaits us
• to let the future shape who we are now in preparation for its arrival
• read closely the way God spoke about the vision he had received:
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay (Hab. 2:3)

Conclusion: Jesus had a parting word before moving on
Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? Luke 18:8b

Jesus gives us a reason to be optimistic about prayer
But the he inserts this “Nevertheless”
“Although the Father is good and loving, responsive to your prayers;
and though he is working out a future that is worth the wait;
and though I have nothing but encouragement for you regarding prayer,
will this parable do you any good?
When I return, will there be anyone left who still prays faithfully?
Who still trusts in the Father?
Will there I find faith on earth?”
The Father will do his part, but we may give out–and this was Jesus’ concern
It is true, that we find it difficult to maintain our grip on the invisible,
when the visible closes in on us
Jesus looks at us through hopeful eyes and says,
“Don’t give up. Don’t stop praying. Don’t lose heart.”

I hope you’re at least beginning to see
that prayer is not about getting things;
it’s about our connection with God
A good example of not giving up on this connection
comes at the end of this chapter
A blind man hears a commotion, asks what’s going on,
and is told Jesus of Nazareth was near
And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent
(the blind had no more value or influence than the widow)
But he cred out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus heard him, called for him, asked him what he wanted,
and then healed him
The blind man refused to lose heart when he learned Jesus was near,
even when others around Jesus tried to discourage and silence him
Let’s be that guy

Oct 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 9, 2022

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Morning Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Hello everyone…. welcome to RefleXion         May the Joy of the Lord be with you!

Last week when Chuck was teaching from the scripture passage “Ask, Seek, and Knock,” he talked about being in the active state, where the mind is hunting, grabbing, and trying to take control, for example, the tension we might feel before a big test and the state of worry, anxiety, or stress.  He compared the active state to the receptive state, where the mind is allowing a gift to arrive.  He called these two modes the Doing and the Being mode.  As I was observing the states of my mind this week, I thought of an analogy that helped me; perhaps you will find it useful—or simply amusing.

I’ve likened my time in Contemplative Prayer as my party.  For a party, I do have a pre-party mode, where I’m totally in the active state.  You know that scripture in Matthew:  Do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” That’s my pre-party mode.  It is my Doing mode.

Now, when I’m having the Party, that’s when I want to be in the Being mode.  When I’ve done all the preparation and planning, then I want to enjoy the food and drink and guests.  I want to switch to the receptive mode where I am allowing the gifts to arrive, which is to say I am allowing my guests to arrive.  I don’t want to open the door for someone selling something, or for the chatty neighbor, or to meet up with Mr. “I would like your opinion about something.”  I want to be in the Being mode, but I’m not always present there.

In Contemplative Prayer, the invited guests will let themselves in, and they probably won’t be seen.  They’ll most likely come in through the back door, through the kitchen, dropping off some food or drink for me to enjoy.  The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation might take the stairs to my mind, The Spirit of Compassion might make space for herself in my heart and settle there, The Spirit of Peace will flow through my muscles and organs and work with Sovereign Healing, unknown to my consciousness.  They are my invited guests. 

Oh, others will show up and ring the bell.  Those guests will ask us to entertain them.  We, because of our curiosity or compassion, might be tempted to say, “Hello there, oh sure–come on in, pull up a chair, what can I get for you?  Would you like to meet someone else?

All these distractions are in our mind; the interruptions are self-initiated.  Our God-given attention span isn’t permanently damaged, but we are a bit out of practice.  They say our attention span these days is the same as a goldfish, but I don’t really think that is true.  I just remind myself, “This is my party, and I can decide who’s invited.”

Pray with me: We desire to encounter you in the Silence, Lord, so we can hear you in the noise.  Let each moment be filled with your Presence.  We welcome you this morning, Sovereign God; we welcome your wisdom, your compassion, your peace.  We welcome our own deep desires.  We come in praise and thanksgiving.    Be revealed; be manifested here,  be our guest, we pray.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Luke 11:11-13

Intro: Jesus asked a question, and immediately we see that it is rhetorical

He wasn’t looking for an answer – he was making a point
– when we went through the previous parable, we learned,
• when Jesus began a question with, “Who among you?”
◦ the answer is already known and always negative
◦ “None of us would act this way” or “No one would do such a thing”
– Jesus poses this question in a story-like setting
• there’s a father and there’s his son
◦ Jesus invites his listeners into this story world
• in fact, he tells them to identify with one character: the father
◦ as soon as he tells the story, his question answers itself

I don’t need to do this, but . . .

I want to address the apparent sexism of Jesus’ story
– can women relate to this script he invents?
• Jesus could have asked, “What parent, whose child asks for a fish . . . .”
◦ some of the more recent versions of the Bible make this accommodation
• I appreciate their sensitivity to a centuries-old subordination
◦ however, it wasn’t necessary for Jesus to be that cautious
◦ anyone could place herself in the story and get the point of the example
– unfortunately, sons were favored in that ancient culture
• and we’ll circle around back to that topic
• at any rate, Jesus does widen the scope of his vocabulary,
◦ in verse 13 he refers to children

My next thought may or may not be important, but . . .

Jesus began this entire discussion with the Father, When you pray, say: Father
– there may be a subtle connection with the prayer he gave them
• as if he’s saying,
“I want you to pray to God as your Father–and–there’s something you should know about your Father; something that is crucial to prayer.”
• Jesus’ question is designed to help us discover what that crucial element is
– God asks that in our prayer, we come to him as his children
• he doesn’t need mature adults, intellectuals, or celebrities
◦ what he looks for is the heart of his child
• growing up, I often felt my parents treated me unfairly
◦ I’d say to myself, “I will never do that to my children”
◦ this is, sort of, what Jesus’ question encourages us to do:
imagine what a good, loving parent would do for their child

By the way, we have to use our imagination to locate ourselves in the story
– our imagination is often a better tool for theological reflection than our rational mind
• both are useful
• reading scripture I find myself switching back and forth

The answer Jesus anticipated was obvious

And it was obvious because the alternatives were silly
– there is a verse in Deuteronomy where Moses reminds Israel of journey
through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground (De. 8:15)
• these were dangerous images of poison, pain, and death
◦ I would never have given my children a snake or scorpion,
◦ not even for a pet
• a fish or egg, on the other hand, are nutritious images

Various ideas occur to me, that Jesus did not have in mind regarding his story
– a fish was one of the first symbols to represent the Christian faith
• the Greek word for fish is ichthus – the five letters in this word were used as acronym:
◦ Jesus – Christ – God – Son – Savior
• this is not a profound thought,
◦ but I do see Jesus as the answer to my most fervent prayer
– an egg can be a symbol of new life
• on a visit to the hermitage, God gave me a promise:
◦ that he would birth something new in me
◦ what I did not know at the time was that meant something else in me had to die
• this is the spiritual journey – old things die, new things are born
◦ this is taking up our cross to follow Jesus
◦ but because God is behind this transaction, we are always trading up

Jesus used a logical argument to teach his lesson

I wish everyone could see Jesus’ logic, and apply it to others and for themselves
– for example, to justify healing a man on the Sabbath, Jesus asked,
Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Mt. 12:11-12)
• when a religious leader told people not to come for healing on Sabbath, Jesus said to him,
You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day? (Lk. 13:15-16)
• then, on another occasion:
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows (Lk. 12:6-7)
– the Lord’s logic always works to defend mercy and compassion
• it is an indication of how pathetic religion had become, that Jesus had to argue the case for mercy,
◦ that he had to prove how valuable every person is to God
◦ and stress the importance of being merciful

What did Jesus mean when he said, “If you then, who are evil”?
– in English, “evil” always refers to a moral quality: something sinful or wicked
• but the Greek word refers first to labor, toil, a burden
◦ it is the hardship of poverty or illness
• every human person is compromised in some way
◦ we are broken (in some ways), misguided (at times)
◦ we are all imperfect, lacking something
– we may be prone to wrong thinking, lose sight of what’s right
• but there are some things we know for certain
◦ we know goodness – what it promotes and what it rejects
• the logic of Jesus’ argument is based on this fact
◦ if, imperfect as we are, we know how to give good gifts,
◦ so how much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts!

I can teach on this passage and explain it,

But I believe that for it to do you any good, you have to feel it
– some things we know are true, because they make sense or can be proven scientifically
• other things we know are true because we’ve experienced them
• to reach the depth of prayer that Jesus urges,
◦ we have to know in our hearts the infinite goodness of God
◦ that he is our Father, that he loves us, and that he enjoys giving us good gifts

I mentioned earlier that sons were privileged in Roman and Hebrew cultures
– they held a special status in the family
• that status included specific responsibilities and expectations
• sons alone were qualified to be legal heirs of the father’s estate
– many Christians approach God with a slave mentality
• “I shouldn’t bother God with my trivial problems”
◦ we must never become too spiritual or too afraid to ask God for what we need
• anyway, the message of the New Testament is that we all share this privileged status before God
God sent forth his Son . . . so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Gal. 4:4-7)
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Ro. 8:14-15)
◦ Paul is specific regarding God’s motive for adopting us:
In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ (Ep. 1:4-5)
– do you remember when Jesus took Peter aside after his resurrection? (Jn. 21:15-19)
• he did not ask Peter, “Simon, did you deny me?” but Do you love me?
• this is what matters – not our failures, but our hearts
◦ God can forgive our sins – what he wants is our love

Conclusion: Matthew reports another time Jesus told this same story

On that occasion Jesus said
how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him? (Mt. 7:9-11)
– this time, recorded in Luke, he says,
how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?
– this is the Spirit of adoption – the best gift of all

If we think of prayer as hitting God up for eggs, fish, and “things,”
we need to think bigger
He wants to share with us his own life–
life in his Spirit
He wants us to know him and experience him Spirit to spirit

So now we return to where we started,
When you pray, say: Father

Oct 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 2, 2022

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning!       Welcome to RefleXion!    Peace be with you.

I was reading the book of Habakkuk this week. Habakkuk was a prophet who lived and prophesied and prayed around 600 BC.  He watched in horror as the people of Judah become more and more unrighteous, and he was even more horrified when God used Babylon, an even more unrighteous nation, to judge them.  He cannot deduce how any of this will communicate God’s character to a watching world. Habakkuk carries on a dialog with God in the three chapters of the book.  He models honest, righteous prayer that asks the hard questions.  He prays: “How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen! ‘Violence is everywhere!’ I cry, but you do not come to save.  Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.”  Oh, can we relate to Habakkuk’s words and world, and this was about 2600 years ago, mind you. Do we remember to pray to God, or do we just love to fight and argue? 

So, Habakkuk prays, and the LORD responds.  He said that Habakkuk should go ahead and look around at the nations–but to look and be amazed! “For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.” Habakkuk says, “OK, I’ll take my stand at my watchpost, and I’ll continue to pray. 

There’s a lot more that God says about why he’s angry in Ch. 2; you can read it for yourself; you will weep.  After hearing God’s voice, Habakkuk prays again, “I have heard all about you, LORD. I am filled with awe by your amazing works.  In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by. And in your anger, remember your mercy.”  And he ends the book with this familiar passage: “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!  The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.”

God says, “Today, if you want to hear my voice, do not harden your heart.”  I can choose to harden my heart, but instead, I’ll pour out my heart, and continue to pray and to wait in hope. 

Join me, will you:  Lord, our joy is found in you. You are our salvation and strength. Whatever our circumstances, whatever fears or anxieties we have, whatever darkness lurks on the horizon, whatever is happening in the world around us, we pray that you would fill us with incredible hope in your goodness, grace and sovereignty over all things.  We have heard all about you, LORD.  We are filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by.  And in your anger, remember your mercy. Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened Luke 11:9-10

Intro: Jesus has just used a parable to encourage his disciples to pray

He is about to illustrate a condition of prayer with another parable
– but between the two parables, he does something unusual
• Jesus tells them how to respond to these parables
And I tell you could be translated So I tell you or Likewise, I tell you
◦ Jesus connects the statement in verses 9-10 to the parable that came before
• most of the time, he lets the parables speak for themselves
◦ he would teased their minds with a mystery and then send them home
◦ in this instance, however, he solves the riddle for them
– there are two lessons to learn from this passage (vv. 5-13); one is about God (his reliable goodness)
• the other lesson is about doing things with prayer
• there are ways we can use prayer to move closer to God

Think about the words ask, seek, knock; what do they suggest?

To me, they suggest a quest – as if we’re trying to get somewhere
– there’s a destination we have not yet reached,
• and we’re not able to get there on our own
• we don’t have God figured out – we don’t have our own lives sorted out
◦ we haven’t been given a map (if we did, we would depend on that and not go to God every day)
◦ but we do have the sacred writings and God’s Spirit to guide us
• Jesus instructs us to ask, to search, and to knock (on God’s door)
– I recently finished reading the major prophets–I’m now reading the minor prophets
• if there is one clear prophetic message, it’s that God wants his people to come to him
◦ to turn to him – or return to him
• Jesus does not say it is “okay” for us to ask for help
◦ he tells us it is required

We do not need to spend much time over each key word

ASK: the Greek word is not used for asking a question
– it’s used to ask someone for something or to do something
• we see it at work in the next parable
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will . . . give him a serpent?
• we already know it is alright to ask for our daily bread
◦ in fact, Jesus assures us we don’t have do a lot of begging
when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Mt. 6:8)
And
do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all (Mt. 6:32)
– we are to ask God to give us what we need for the journey
• I would stress the intangibles – the things that are most our of our reach
◦ the spirit of wisdom and revelation to know God, to open the eyes of our hearts, to love our enemy

SEEK: 1. to search for someone or something
2. to search for answers or insight
3. to attempt to accomplish a task
4. to require something (like proof)
– I cannot say what Jesus had in mind, I will only ask you:
• what do you need for the next leg of the journey?
◦ go looking for that — that is what you need to seek
• in the Old Testament, Israel’s priority was to seek God
For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel:
Seek me and live (Amos 5:4)
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD . . . (Jer. 29:13-14)
– what Jesus does tell us in Matthew 6:33 is this:
seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness
• I do not know of any more rewarding search
◦ even though at times it can be the most frustrating

KNOCK: in the previous parable we read, “the door is now shut”
– going through life moves us through a series of transitions
• birth, the first day of school, our graduation/s, our first job, and so on
◦ each one is a threshold – once we cross it, life is never the same
• the same is true of our spiritual journey
◦ sometimes we can feel like the next door is shut and locked
◦ there is much we can learn, waiting at God’s door
– Jesus is telling us,
“You are never stuck.
As long as you can breathe you can pray.
As long as you can pray, a door will open.”

What I’m going to share now is personal

In other words, here is what moves me in this passage:
– Jesus gives us two parts of a process
• one part is active and the other part is receptive
◦ ask/receive – seek/find – knock/a door is opened
• prayer is a dialogue with God — and that means both parts are necessary
– in my experience, what Christians find most difficult is the second part
• I’ve been in churches where prayer is aggressive and desperate
◦ are they rewarded for their begging, pleading, shouting?
William James observed religious people who were hypervigilant and always uptight, and concluded that “the persons I speak of find that all this conscious effort leads to nothing but failure and vexation in their hands, and only makes them twofold more the children of hell they were before. The tense and voluntary attitude becomes in them an impossible fever and torment. Their machinery refuses to run at all when the bearings are made so hot and the belts so tight.”
◦ he says the solution is “surrender”
“Passivity, not activity; relaxation, not intentness should be now the rule.”
• we do not move God’s hand by ramping up our energy
◦ our prayers can be fervent and must be sincere,
◦ but there will always be a sense of surrender in true prayer
Thy will be done

If I’ve had a busy, exhausting day and fought traffic on my way home
– then sit down with my Bible and try to get something from it,
• I probably won’t
– If I get up in the morning, refreshed, open my Bible and read.
• but feel pressured to find a meaningful idea or insight,
◦ I probably won’t
• why not?

To hear the Scriptures speak, requires a certain state of mind
. . . receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls (Jas. 1:21)
– two important words to remember: receive and meekness
• in the active state, the mind is hunting, grabbing, and trying to take control
◦ the active state creates the tension we feel before taking a big test
◦ it is also the state that is prone to worry, anxiety, and stress
• in the receptive state, the mind is allowing a gift to arrive
◦ the hand is open, not grasping for something
◦ the language Jon Kabat-Zinn uses is the Doing Mode and the Being Mode
Arthur Deikman, illustrates importance of switching from the active mode to the receptive mode when visiting a museum: “People usually enter museums in the [active] mode of consciousness and stroll quickly past the paintings and statues, giving only five to ten seconds of attention to each. . . . The experience is disappointing because one can only receive what art has to give when one is in the receptive mode. . . . If the museum goer were to settle down in front of one particular painting, relinquish active thinking, and simply allow the painting to express itself to him or her, the experience would become quite different. . . . The ‘presence’ of the painting would go out to the viewer, rather than the viewer attacking the painting with his or her stare.”
– this is the most difficult part of prayer,
• and the one that needs the most attention
• we know well enough how to ask, to seek, and to knock
◦ what we do not know (and our busy brains do not allow us to know) is how to receive, to wait, to rest

I hear Jesus telling me,
“What you’re asking has already been given”
“What you’re seeking is already here”
“The door you’re knocking on is already opening”
– in one place Jesus says, Seek first the kingdom of God
• and in another place he says, behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you
• we actively seek and confidently receive what is already hear
Jesus tells me, “You’re supposed to knock, not kick down the door”

Conclusion: The next time we pray, what will it be?

Will we be asking God for directions in the next stage of our spiritual journey?
Will we seek his kingdom first? Seek to discern his presence here, now?
Will we knock on the next door before us? Will we cross that threshold?

There is something I feel could help us be more receptive: Expectation
– expectation generates excitement – and it focuses our attention

When I’ve ordered something for my granddaughters, from the day it is supposed to arrive, they go to mailbox every day to see if it’s there
If that is how we anticipate receiving what we asked, finding what we sought, and see the door we knocked on open, we will be more alert, attentive, and aware of what God is already doing all around us
More aware of his presence here, now
With expectation, we will know when we have received, or found, or the door that has opened

Sep 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 25, 2022

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning and welcome to the RefleXion Community.  Peace be with you!

Tonight at sunset begins Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish new year 5783 in their High Holy Days, and the beginning of what is called the 10 days of Awe, which ends on Yom Kippur.  These are often delivered as days of repentance, to be seeking reconciliation with people you have wronged, and we could all take this under advisement.  And here is another layer of the meaning and purpose of Rosh Hashanah. 

During this time, Jews commemorate the creation of the world; and the Jewish nation recalls its responsibilities as God’s chosen people.  We’ve all heard that phrase “the chosen people,” haven’t we?  Have you thought about what that means?  What were they chosen for?  Not as much chosen for salvation; but chosen to be in a special covenant with God.  They were chosen to receive the Torah, the Law, to learn to rely on His provision (remember the wilderness years), to be led by the Shekinah Glory, to be a kingdom of priests, and of course the privilege of bearing Jesus, the Messiah.  The Jews had a particular purpose with obligations and duties which flowed from a willingness to accept their status and God’s purposes for them.

What about Christianity?  You know, so often, we think about our calling as individuals—and that’s good: “What has God called me to do?”  And isn’t it also critical to ask what we as His people in the new covenant are called to be?  Do we know what our covenant is?  This week I have enjoyed remembering the great privilege we have and the wonder and mystery of the Church Age.  Jesus said that He chose us; we didn’t choose Him.  Peter says we are a chosen people; again, I’m not talking about chosen for salvation, but chosen for a particular purpose.  As the Jews had a particular purpose, what is our purpose?  And how are we ministers of the new covenant and the glory of it?  We have special privileges and spiritual blessings meant to be used for the world. As the Jews, we, too, have a particular purpose with obligations and duties which flow from a willingness to accept our status and God’s purposes for us.  Let’s remind ourselves of that as we enter this new season.  Be blessed!  Let’s pray:

Thank you, Lord God, for calling us a people under the Name of Jesus.  We want to lean into that calling with a willing mind, a whole heart, and a free spirit.  Thank you for Your mysterious ways – ways far above our ways – and ways we can trust.  Lead us Spirit in the Way everlasting, for Your Kingdom, by Your Power, and for Your Glory.  Amen  

Morning Talk: Jim Calhoun

In the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians Paul spills the beans. He tells a secret. He reveals a mystery.
In chapter three he tells us there is a mystery of the Gospel and then spills the beans.
And this is the mystery: that Gentiles were included in the plan all along, from the beginning.
“Fellow heirs”
“Members of the same body”
“Partakers of the promise”
(Eph 3:6)
This was a surprise. This was a surprise even if it shouldn’t have been.
The history of the Jews and the stories of the Scriptures showed this over and over.
From time to time, maybe most of the time, the Jews lost this thread of the story.
From the chosen people to the best people.
The Jews were chosen to worship God and to be a light to the nations.
They had a special work to do for the benefit of the whole world,
but often this degenerated into thinking they were special.
A move away from God. A retreat into pride.

So the notion that God loved the whole world just the same as he loved the Jews seemed silly, impossible, wrong.

The story of Jonah
There are a lot of people who still think that God loving others in the way God loves them is silly, impossible and wrong.
The sin of empathy.
So Paul discovered, or rediscovered, the mystery and spilled the beans:
The Gentiles, including most of us,
including most of the people on Earth through all of history,
are loved and wanted and pursued and rescued and held up and held together by God.
Just as it was always intended, just as it should be.

Let’s just pause and take a scope of who this includes: Everyone.

Please take note:
Jesus didn’t call us because we are better than other people.
And we aren’t better than other people because Jesus has called us.
There is no essential difference between us and anyone we meet.
This requires a little care in handling.
It is true that some people perform admirably while other perform poorly through life.
Some wander from the path of righteousness this way while others that way.
We can and ought discern better ways from lesser ways.
We can and ought promote better ways and discourage lesser ways.
All of this is well.

When we go wrong is thinking another human is less worthy of a human
because they are not on my team, holding my particular
theology, or culture, or appearance.
Sometimes we want to be merely the arbiters of truth.
But it isn’t enough.
Other times we want to be the guardians of justice.
But it isn’t enough.
We can’t fall into the trap of baptizing our resentments, our anger, our hatreds.
We can’t fall into the trap of some form of Christian Supremacy.
It is so ugly.
So depraved.
So lost.
It is a betrayal of everything Jesus has been for us.
In truth we are stewards of Grace. We gather up and distribute God’s grace.
We gather it up so we have a sufficient amount, but we don’t keep it to ourselves.
We don’t hoard it. We don’t withhold it. We distribute it to a world in need.
We distribute it to our neighbors.
To the people we rub shoulders on the daily.
To our enemies even we share grace.

This brings us to a sad a difficult truth.

There has been a great turning away from Jesus.
It is on two fronts.
We often think of the reality that fewer and fewer people go to church and identify as
Christians.
This I think is the result of a more painful, far more dispiriting reality.
Many still in the Church have replaced a vibrant, experiential life of living with God
with the defense of Christendom and the battles of the culture wars.
They focus on issues of truth and justice and have left aside the greater concerns of grace and mercy.
Somehow, and for reasons of their own, some of our brothers and sisters
have lost the thread of the story.
This matters.
There is an odd phenomenon that comes when people are fixated on truth and justice.
Not every time, nor with every person, but often enough that we need to take note.
We need to understand that often winning becomes paramount.
And the need to win will justify any tactic.
So some people lie to defend the truth.
They manipulate facts, make false claims, muddy the waters, deceive, promote unfounded
conspiracies, refuse to use the best evidence, all to “defend the truth.”
And they will cheat to defend justice.
Make false accusations, commit fraud, hide essential information, plan attacks, create
divisions and factions, stir up envy and resentments to defend justice.
When you hear Christians calling for change in our society, in our communities, in our politics, make sure it looks like Jesus.
Make sure it seems like they are full of the Holy Spirt.
That they are kind and gentle.
That they love their enemies in meaningful and tangible ways.
That they are patient and under control. That they tell the truth.
That their words and actions embody the joy of being Christ’s own.
That their ways of doing things match up with what they want to accomplish.
That their plans and dreams exclude manipulations, shows of power, coercion, violence and force.
In short, when someone claims to be acting in the name of Jesus watch them and
ask yourself if they lead and end with love and they are filled with grace.

Chuck has been teaching from Luke about prayer.
I wanted to offer this talk as a side bar to his work.
So all of this so far is the necessary preliminary.
Martin Thornton on prayer:
A Faithful Remnant
Proficient Christians

Paul’s prayer
(based on the fact that in Christ there “is neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal. 3:28)

Paul prays for the Ephesians knowing they too are stewards of grace.
“that you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being”
“Christ may dwell in your hearts”
“rooted and grounded in love”
“to know the love of Christ” in all fullness
And “be filled with all the fullness of God”

This is what it will take to be stewards of grace in the days that are ahead of us.
This is the grace we will need to refresh us, to encourage us and to motivate us.
If I am going to be honest, I have given this talk once already here in Reflexion.
It was a shorter form to be sure.
A few weeks ago when I filled in for Nancy I prayed the prayer printed out.
The thinking I shared today, and more, was welling up in me as I prepared the prayer.
The prayer:
Heavenly Father
In this age and in this land
Where we have tried to bring your kingdom by power and force
Where we have abandoned your path of loving others
Where we exchange truth for lies.
Renew our experience of your good great love,
Compel us to love each person we encounter,
In our private lives and
In our public lives,
With the very love you pour into us
Grant us a compassion that is robust,
Remembering those it would be easy for us to forget:
The dismissed, the outcast, the rejected, the troubled, the unlovely
Those without homes,
The destitute,
Those born in other lands,
Those born in other neighborhoods,
The stranger,
The refugees whose homes are torn apart by war and violence,
Those held prisoners,
The old and the sick,
The orphaned and abandoned,
The misused and abused,
The fearful and angry,
The addicts,
The mentally ill,
And all who have none to care for them.
Help us to bring healing those who are broken in body or spirit,
Even the resistant, the belligerent, the arrogant, the ignorant
And to turn their sorrow into joy.
Move the hearts of every man and woman,
Who claims your name,
So the barriers which divide us may crumble,
Suspicions disappear,
And hatreds cease;
That our divisions may be healed,
And we may live in justice and peace;
Grant all this, Father,
for the love of your Son,
who for our sake became poor,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen