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Feb 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation chapter 5 – 02/25/2024

Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good Morning RefleXion Community!             Grace and Peace to you!

This week I enjoyed a wine tasting event, which included Cabernet Sauvignons from France and California.  One comment that the Sommelier made caught my attention.  He said, because California wineries don’t have the same restrictions that French wineries do, there’s a distinctive in the philosophies of each. French wine is made under the regulations and required processes that are the French wine laws. Additives aren’t allowed; even irrigation was once forbidden–now allowed but is strictly regulated.  French vintners feel that the grapes should experience and express the natural soil, whether it be gravel or specific minerals.  The climate will also form the grapes.  That is expected and preferred. 

California wine doesn’t have those restrictions.  Here’s a quote from a Wine Spectator article June 2013:   “Today, winemakers can coax out their vision of a site and grape using a near-infinite permutation of fermentation styles, yeast regimens, rack-and-return cycles, chemical preservatives, acid enhancements, bleeding off, spinning out, reverse osmosis… artificial coloring, and the addition of sugar…”

My point: the wine expression is about the grape’s experience.  The wine can be made to taste  in various ways by tricks of the trade or simply to allow its grounded experience. 

That got me thinking about our own formation:  is it coaxed by manipulation and artificial means, or is it grounded in God, in the ground of all being?  If it’s left to the mysteries of deeply grounding, we won’t be able to know what it will overflow or express exactly; it won’t be curated, but is that preferred?  If the climate changes, and our soul absorbs suffering and joy—the rain and the sun—is that preferred to a more controlled formation?

A couple of scripture verses come to mind, because I think to experience and express the life of Christ is what we’re made for and what we really long for. John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” and 2 Cor 9: 8, “And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work.”

What does life on the vine  and a grounded experience look like for me?  What does it look like for you?

Join me to pray will you:

Father, you have made us to be dependent on you, on grace.  May we learn to let go of everything that hinders the purity of our life in you.  You are ready to nourish us in good soil, for our own well-being and for the good of the world.  Help us to establish deep connections of oneness.  May our roots grow deeply into the source of life in you, the ground of all being, Creator-God. In Jesus,  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals Revelation 5:1

Intro: Among Jeremiah’s prophecies, we find one that is different from the rest

The difference is that this one brings a positive message regarding Israel’s future
– after receiving the prophecy, Jeremiah says,
At this I awoke and looked, and my sleep was pleasant to me (Jer. 31:26)
• when I wake up from a pleasant dream, I want to go back to sleep and continue it
• that’s because some issue was resolved, finally “worked,” or I just got a lucky break
◦ dreams help our brains work through stresses, upsets, some puzzle is solved
– explaining the unconscious, some psychologists use an iceberg illustration
• our waking conscious is the small tip of the iceberg that is visible above water
◦ the great mountain of the iceberg is submerged beneath the surface
• there’s this huge repository of stored memories in our unconscious
◦ things that we never think about, yet they shape our perception of self and others, and of our behavior
◦ our brains access these hidden files and bring them into our dreams, usually by way of symbols

If there is value in paying attention to our dreams,
– it has to do with discovering our underlying “belief system”
• bringing it to light and looking at it objectively
• it’s very helpful if I discover things in my belief system that are not true
◦ negative and self-destructive beliefs about myself and engrained prejudices
– sometimes people try to rewrite their belief system with positive affirmations
• but the old beliefs have been rooted for a long time and have lots more momentum
modifying our belief system usually takes harder work at a deeper level to make a difference
◦ we don’t heal deep cuts with topical ointments
• perhaps we just need to be with the symbols–let them work
Simone Weil, “Method for understanding images, symbols, etc. Not to try to interpret them, but to look at them till the light suddenly dawns.”

If we dreamed Revelation 5, what could it mean for us?

So far, the only picture we’ve been given of God, consists of
– colors, sounds, and the qualities of holiness and timeless being
• now we see that he is holding something in his right hand
• the scroll is secured with seven seals
◦ this introduces the first in a series of seven sevens (more on this later)
– for now, I’m going to explain my thoughts regarding the scroll
• but please understand, you are free to disagree with me
• I’ll give you my “theory” – that’s all it is

I think what we are shown here is a “magic scroll”
– normally, this would not be a biblical concept
• but Revelation is not a normal book
◦ it incorporates dream images and universal symbols
• the writing on the scroll takes up both sides–front and back
◦ but we’re never told what is written in the scroll,
◦ even thought the writing is what gives the scroll is magical power
– at the end of Revelation there’s a warning to the reader regarding the entire prophetic scroll (Rev. 22:18-19)
• if anyone messes with its contents, they will suffer accordingly
• the text as it stands has a built-in safety-system
◦ the scroll in this chapter has a similar power

What will happen, is that as each seal is broken a significant event occurs
– breaking one seal doesn’t open the scroll; it isn’t a book with page s
• the scroll can’t be read until after all the seals are broken, and it is unrolled,
• so it is not the writing in the scroll, but the scroll itself
◦ (later on John will be given a scroll, not to read but to eat)
◦ and though, like I said, a magical scroll is not a normal biblical concept, it is not alone
Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll! And he said to me, “What do you see?” and I answered, “I see a flying scroll. Its length is twenty cubits and its width is ten cubits.” Then he said to me, “This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land. . . . I will send it out, declares the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name. And it shall remain in his house and consume it, both timber and stones” (Zech. 5:1-4)
– the scroll in Revelation 5 is powerful because it comes from the hand of God

Vv. 2-4, The drama of the scroll is suddenly sabotaged

To proceed, someone must be found who is worthy enough to open it
– I am reminded of the story when Jesus was pressured to say what should be done to woman caught committing adultery — he finally answered them,
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” . . . when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones (Jn. 8:7-8)
• the call in Revelation for any worthy person to open the scroll elicits a self-examination (and immediate exclusion)
• worthiness is a theme that runs through chapters 4 and 5 (Rev. 4:11; 5:2-4, 9, & 12)
◦ this moment produces a radical realization; namely, the universal unworthiness of all self-conscious beings–in heaven or on earth or the underworld
◦ (unworthy is not the same as “worthless”!)
– John is shattered by this realization
• I imagine three reasons for his intense reaction:
first: utter disappointment that no one hit the mark
second: that we would never discover the significance or power of the scroll
third: his own sense of failure, that he had not been able to become that one worthy person

Now if I put myself in John’s place, and if I were dreaming this experience,
– I would consider it to be a window into myself
• beneath any illusion of innocence, any justification or rationalizations, I would see down into the truth
• and not just myself, but the tragic failure of humankind, written in the history of our wars and atrocities
– I would be overwhelmed with hopelessness
• for a instant, that is exactly how John felt
• however, no sooner does John feel the full weight of this human tragedy, than he is shown the remedy

Vv. 5-6, The heavenly drama is quickly put back on track

One of the elders approaches John to comfort and inform him – this is what elders do: they help others
– he informs John that there is a hero, one who was destined for this moment
• his title, “Lion of the tribe of Judah”
• he is the worthy one, because he has “conquered” (the same word is also translated “overcome” or “prevail”
◦ he succeeded where we failed (I think of his temptations)
– suddenly, Jesus takes center stage, between the throne and the four living creatures
– only, when John looks, he does not see the Lion of Judah, but a Lamb
• two animals on opposite ends of the food chain
◦ and not just a Lamb, but one as though it had been slain
• we could drive ourselves crazy trying to picture description
◦ e.g., how would seven eyes be located around the face?
◦ for now: eyes represent all seeing and all insight and the horns (generally in scripture) are a symbol of exaltation and power

So the Lion conquered and the Lamb was slain

C. S. Lewis understood this scene as well as anyone
Walter Hooper tells us about a time when, “Lewis, Tolkien, and another friend . . . were up all night discussing ‘myth’ and its relation to the revelation of God in Christ. . . .” Lewis was deeply moved by the conversation and later shared his experience with another friend, writing, the “story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.’”
– in his own mythical story of the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the Lion is a Christ-type
• when Lucy hears about Aslan for the first time, she asks where he is safe
She is told, “Safe? . . . Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
• in a later adventure, Lucy and another child, Edmund, meet a Lamb on an island
◦ the scene is a replay of Jesus on the shore of Galilee, inviting his disciples to have breakfast (Jn. 21:9-12)
The Lamb tells Lucy and Edmund, “‘There is a way into my country from all the worlds,’ said the Lamb; but as he spoke his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.”
◦ one moment he was a Lamb and the next he was a Lion
(Exactly what John saw, except the order was reversed)

In the interest of time, I will print the remainder of the chapter here without comment. Read it slowly and allow the whole thing to enter you without trying to make sense of every detail. We are witnessing worship in heaven.

The Lamb went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who sits on the throne. As he did so, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. They sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to break open its seals.
For you were killed, and by your sacrificial death you bought for God
people from every tribe, language, nation, and race.
You have made them a kingdom of priests to serve our God,
and they shall rule on earth.”

Again I looked, and I heard angels, thousands and millions of them! They stood around the throne, the four living creatures, and the elders, and sang in a loud voice:
“The Lamb who was killed is worthy
to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and strength,
honor, glory, and praise!”

And I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, in the world below, and in the sea—all living beings in the universe—and they were singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb,
be praise and honor, glory and might,
forever and ever!”

The four living creatures answered, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
Revelation 5:7-14 (The Good News Bible)

Conclusion: Years ago I spent time seeing a Psychiatrist

After a few months, I said,
“Now that I understand a great deal about what has been programmed into me, how it has led to my insecurities and fear of trying, and all the other screwy things about my mood disorders, when are we going start working on all of this. What is the plan for change?”
I remember that he pointed upward and with a gentle smile, said, “Enlightenment is the first stage!”

In this chapter, John has led us to that first stage
We’ve been exposed to a unavoidable truth about ourselves
But we’ve also met our one true hope;
“the myth that really happened”

Feb 18 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation chapter 4 – 02/18/2024

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion Community!  Grace and Peace to you!

Spiritual practices – we often talk about the value of having some form of these. And they are valuable, yet we must know that they are not the Real that we’re after; but they can help us get to the Real.  I think we have all moved past measuring our Christianity by church attendance, bible memorization, and the like.  The measure of our following Christ is becoming like him, being transformed by our relationship with him.

Practices always begin with intention, don’t they?  We practice the piano because we want to be able to play well.  Spiritual practices are the same:  what’s our intention, what are we after; what do we really want?  Jesus often asked those He was about to heal, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

We begin with intention, desire, or perhaps a better word, our longing.  The rituals, the traditions, the prayer practices can all hold our longings in the contemplative life.  We can see a practice as the door, the lens, the threshold; and we can see a practice as an embrace, the arms that hold us so we can rest within them.  My husband has routines, but it’s not really the routines themselves he’s after, it’s the feeling of security and safety they hold for him.  As a married couple, we have rituals.  It’s the rituals that give space for the love relationship, and that’s what we are after.  Let’s remember our intentions today.

We can manage our practices; we can work on our healing.  We may cross the threshold by our will.  But effort and willpower are not the energies that will carry us all the way.  If transformation is our goal, remember that it is beyond our control, yet very Real in Spirit.

So, what does the contemplative life look like for you?

May I pray for our time? 

Lord, thank you for this gathering of your people.  May we hear and reflect on your words, knowing that they are living and active, able to be a mirror or a scalpel, a comfort or an awakening.  May our responses always be “Yes” to the Spirit who dwells in us.  Open to us Truth and the Treasures you have for us and lead us to unity with Christ and with each other.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what may take place after this.”
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne Revelation 4:1-2

Intro: One day, a few years ago, I was visiting my oldest daughter

Her oldest daughter, came to me and said, “I dreamed you last night”
– she had told my daughter, “I dreamed grandpa”
• Jennifer asked her, “Which grandpa?” she said, “The bald one.”
• fortunately I have another dream story
– in 1992, my life had been shattered by divorce
• that summer a nine year old boy in the church sent me a letter
◦ he had colored a picture that looked like a church, with clouds in the sky
◦ a from one giant cloud a text bubble emerged with the message, “Hi Chuck”
◦ a little stick figure on the ground was saying, “Hi God!”
• with the picture I also received the following letter:

The book of Revelation comes at us more like a dream than a story
– it certainly doesn’t read like history, textbook, or poetry
• so going through it is more like dream interpretation, than a typical, technical Bible study
• Revelation wasn’t written to appeal to our rational mind
◦ it was written to give us an experience of God’s realm
◦ it speaks to us in pictures – like dreams–or nightmares
– chapter four is the first half of a two-part story
• the first will climax in worship of God for his creation
• the second part will climax in worship of Jesus for salvation

Verses 1-2, We are swept up to heaven

Verse 1 begins and ends with, After this (or these things)
– Steve Gregg, says those that interpret Revelation “spiritually” will remind us,
Gregg, “The opening words, ‘After these things,’ do not mean ‘This is what will happen next,’ but rather, ‘This is the vision I saw next.’”
• John is looking around and tells us “behold”
a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard . . . .
(this would be Jesus from chapter 1 and verse 10)
◦ doors hide mysteries – but this door is open – we’re allowed to see behind it
Come up here and I will show you . . .
◦ John is invited to ascend and walk through the door
• Paul tells of a related experience and he teases his readers with it
◦ not that he meant to tease us, but he doesn’t tell us everything
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which [humans] may not utter” (2 Cor. 12:2-4)
– John doesn’t bother to ask questions, like “Is this in the body or out of the body?”
• he just describes where he went and what he saw

Verse 2, At once I was in the Spirit – what does this mean?
– Jesus made a promise to disciples regarding a new experience in their relationship with God
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you (Jn. 14:17)
And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high (Lk. 24:49)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (Acts 1:8)
• Paul talks about an inspiration that produces inspired “gifts” (1 Cor. 12)
◦ he gives instructions to Corinthians regarding the proper use of gifts
◦ he explains that:
a person may speak “in the Spirit” or “mysteries in the Spirit (1 Cor 12:3)
each [one] is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7)
“tongues” speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:2)
• when the Spirit comes over a person it a supernatural effect
do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit (Ep. 5:18)
– our first vision of heaven is a throne – there’s a reason for that
• this symbol doesn’t produce same effect on us that it would to a person in the first century
◦ but imagine a knock on the door, and when you open it, a sheriff is standing there
◦ or being in a courtroom and the judge calls your name
• what do you feel? typically the authority of the sheriff or judge
◦ they have a power we can’t ignore or fight off
◦ Revelation will keep bringing us back to the “throne” and “thrones”

It is important that a throne is first symbol in heaven we’re given
– the throne is a reality that moves through the entire book — it explains everything
• God’s will is absolute – he rules over heaven and earth
• John gingerly refers to one seated on the throne
– so the first thing, we come to a throne
• and we have to come to terms with this
• I have to ask myself, What rules me?
◦ my inner life–my unconscious motives, desires, fears, etc.?
◦ we have to sort this out – we have to understand our relation to the throne

John maintains his focus on the throne
And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. Revelation 4:3-4

First, John the appearance of the One sitting on the throne
– unlike his vision in chapter 1, John says nothing about his features
• instead, he sees colors – and his pallet consists of precious gems
◦ the rainbow is probably what gave rise to “halos” in Christian art
– most people dream in color
• what made these colors stand out for John?
◦ it’s possible that they had substance
◦ what is ethereal on earth is solid in heaven
Michael Herbert, who had near death experience said, “Our four-dimensional universe is like a shadow, while heaven has is the reality that casts the shadow.”
• perhaps there was an energy in the colors, and John felt their vibrations

Next, looking around, John saw twenty-four other thrones
– “elders” in Paul’s letters, were (usually older men) who watched over the churches
• have you dreamt about people who have been mentors, care-givers, coaches, or bosses?
◦ we can hear those voices for the rest of our lives
• “white garments” tell us these leaders are good — they have qualified themselves for white garments
◦ “crown” is stephanos – it was not the crown of kings, but like a laurel wreath placed on the heads of winners in athletic competition
◦ their crowns are “golden” because what they do has value

Then the throne again:
From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne was a sea of glass, like crystal Revelation 5-6
– now throne is making lots of noise – as if it were alive and communicating
(later on we’ll see that the throne can talk: from the throne came a voice (Rev. 19:5)
• in front of the throne, seven torches were burning – seven spirits of God
◦ do your have a favorite number?
◦ seven is a favorite number in Revelation
Edward Edinger says that “The number seven is being shouted at us!”
Philo, refers to seven as “the birthday of the world” (going back to the creation story)
“a sea of glass” two spaces seemed wild, unpredictable and dangerous to ancient Israel: the and the wilderness
a of glass like crystal would be awesome – do you think it would reflect colors?
• in dreams the sea, a lake, or pond is our unconscious mind
◦ but here it is transparent, allowing us to look into it and what is underneath

So far its been a magnificent spectacle–now it starts to get weird
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like and ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

– “live beings,” animal-like, are similar to beings described in Ezekiel’s and Isaiah’s visions
• Ezekiel also saw four living creatures, but they had four wings and each one had four faces
• Isaiah saw “seraphim” – we think angels, but seraphim is an odd name if you look at its root (the angels he saw also had six wings)
I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up . . . Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two they covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts
the whole earth is full of his glory (Isa. 6:1-3)
◦ the description full of eyes tells us the creatures were all seeing, the visual equivalent of all knowing
◦ nothing escapes their view
◦ but its also that the seeing within indicates enlightenment (Mt. 6:22; Ep. 1:17-18)
– the animals (lion, ox, human, and eagle) may represent “the best in their class”
• again, they are watching everything, but their eyes are especially on God

All that we’ve seen builds to a crescendo
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
Revelation 4:9-11

Their praise of God is ongoing, and like Isaiah they sing, Holy, holy, holy
– they refer to God as the one who was and is and is to come
• this has the same meaning as the Alpha and Omega
• the Greek alphabet used letters for numerals
◦ the Alpha and Omega contains all number to infinity
◦ some mathematicians and scientists experience “mystical states” moments of insight when they finally come to a breakthrough in an equation or theorem
– the worship that begins with the elders spreads throughout the heavenly vision
• the elders give up their golden crowns (in worship, God is everything)
◦ a verse is added to their previous song – note the word “worthy” — worship is “worthy-ship”
• every time the door to heaven cracks open in scripture, we hear echoes of worship
◦ every thing in heaven and earth owes its existence to God, so praise of him is that wide

Conclusion: I want to emphasize what we’re doing in Revelation

And why I’m treating the vision as a dreamlike experience
I don’t believe it is as important to study and interpret what’s here as it is to experience it
The goal isn’t to get all of this into our heads, but into our hearts
Experience enters a different part of our brains than logic and math
I affects us in ways science and reason cannot

What this means, is a world of possibilities we’ve never discovered
No eye has seen, nor ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9 NLB)

Feb 11 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation chapters 2-3

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion family!                      Grace and Peace to you!

I want to remind you that Chuck’s messages can be found in script at the website: reflexionsc.net or through our FaceBook page.  It’s always been helpful to me to read the words that I’ve heard on Sunday; I always catch something that Spirit wants to highlight.  I have a feeling that this series in Revelation will be especially important to my soul.  This phrase: “As for the mystery,” and Chuck’s concluding words from last week are ones that I want to bring as our opening today:
Revelation is difficult because it is full of mysteries. 
Those mysteries work the systems that drive our world.
Our lives are also driven by things hidden from us; we do not fully know why we are the way we are or do the things we do.
As for those mysteries, Revelation will help open our eyes as it opens to us the heavens and enable us to deal with what we see.

And then, I am reading a poem as our opening prayer this morning.  It is entitled “Every Given Light,” by Jan Richardson.  There are some copies on the counter if you’d like to pick one up after the service.

-Every Given Light-

There are days
we think
only so much is given—
a glint,
a gleam,
a light so small
we could carry it
in the palm of
our hand,
just enough
to let us see
the next step,
perhaps,
into the mystery.
There are days
grace comes
but in shadow,
days it gathers itself
into the corners,
days it seems
to turn its gaze
sidelong
as if distracted,
or pondering,
or paused.
Let it be said
this is not
that day.
This is the day
when grace
gives out
its radiance,
declaring itself
to everything
in sight.
This is the day
when every given light
bears forth
like a star,
turning its face
toward us
with the brilliance
that was there
all along,
that it had saved
just for us,
just for the joy
of seeing us
shine.

Jan Richardson
https://www.janrichardson.com/

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: Chapters 2 and 3 may be the most well known section of Revelation

At least two of our favorite quotations are found here
– what’s the theme of these chapters? Answer: “Church Repairs”
• in chapter 1 Jesus appears in a form not found in the Gospels
• in his right hand he held seven stars–which represented the angels of the seven churches
◦ in scripture, the hand represents power, control, and ownership
– so in these two chapters, Jesus acts as General Contractor has the seven churches in his hand
• he will tell each church what repairs need to be made

If you notice, reading the letters we are still on earth
– we aren’t taken to heaven until chapter 4
• but these letters build a stage on which the drama is played out
• this is a threshold we must cross to get to the heart of Revelation
– it begins with a self-examination – that’s the prerequisite for going forward

Although the seven letters are addressed to seven churches,

All the churches need to hear what is written in every letter
– but going even further, every member of each church needs to hear all seven letters
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches
– did you hear the plural, churches?
• the messages are universal – not only in space but also time
• if we wonder what Jesus has to say to American churches today
◦ (and to our “spiritual community”) it’s here in these letters
– “church” isn’t a building, it’s a collection of human persons
• Jesus is the center, and each member is committed to him
◦ Jesus built his church in the world on behalf of the world
◦ the church is supposed to represent him and spread his truth
•but it’s also meant to demonstrate his love and mercy
◦ the world discovers God through his church
– each person can add energy and cohesiveness to the whole
• and any individual can suck the energy out a church and divide it
◦ every person is called to act on their own
◦ churches that don’t allow people to choose and act on their own become cults
• this is where we begin our journey through Revelation
◦ all of us receive it as a personal message in these letters (“You’ve got mail”)
◦ so God’s strange work in us begins here

One more, very important, thought as we proceed

Most letters in the New Testament begins with the authors introducing themselves
Paul, an apostle; James, a servant; Peter, an apostle; etcetera
• the seven letters begin same way; with Jesus introduces himself
◦ after the introduction each one begins with, “The words of . . .”
• but rather than saying, “Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God,”
◦ we find about who he is or what he does
◦ six of the letters draw his description from statements made about him in chapter 1
(letter to Philadelphia uses a crucial Old Testament identification: The words of the holy one, the tre one, who has the key of David . . . .)
– here’s my question for us, and I think it’s important:
• Can we hear each letter as if Jesus addressed it to us?
• can we “take it personally”?

Though the content of the letters differ, they all share the same structure

Every letter:
• begins, “To the angel of,” and then the specific city is designated
◦ “angel” can also be translated “messenger”
Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are called to inherit salvation? (Heb. 1:14)
• begins its message with, “I know your works”
◦ with exception of Smyrna which reads, “I know your tribulation”
and Pergamum, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is”
◦ Jesus knows – our challenges, hardships, service, problems, and so on
• either contains a contrast (e.g., “But I have this against you”)or does not
◦ two of the letters don’t contain a contrast, because those church are all good
◦ two others letters lack the contrast, because those churches all bad
• in the middle section we find is Jesus’ specific message
◦ what’s right – what’s wrong – what to do about it
• makes the same two statements at the end
1. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”
◦ this is a capacity that we have to develop (see Mk. 8:18, “Having eyes do you not see?”)
2. “The one who conquers . . .” and after that a reward is promised

I’m going to paraphrase each letter (because it would take too long to explain everything in them)

Dear church in Ephesus, I know your hard work and that you have patiently endured it. It is wonderful that you don’t put up with evil people. In fact, you have looked into and fact-checked self-proclaimed apostles and exposed the ones who are imposters. Your endurance and patience are a good combination. I’m also pleased that you continue to hang in there for my sake. In all of this, you have not grown weary.
HOWEVER, not growing weary doesn’t mean that you’re zealous. Your heart is no longer in what you do, because you’ve given up the love you had at first. You must remember, because that’s what lovers do. Remember where you were before you fell. Go back to the beginning of our early romance and do those things again. If you don’t, I will withdraw my light from you and you will no longer be my church.
Then there is another thing you do that pleases me; you don’t put up with those Nicolaitans and their false teaching.
Develop your ability to hear what the Spirt is telling you. I will give to any one among you who wins this battle the privilege of eating from the “tree of life.” Doing that was forbidden before, but is possible now.

Dear church in Smyrna, I know your hardship and poverty, but the truth is, you really are rich. I know you have been slandered by people who claim to be legit, but they’re just the opposite, doing the devil’s work. It’s going to get worse for you, but don’t be afraid, not even when the devil throws some of you into prison. (You don’t have to take this literally, because there are different kinds of imprisonment.) There’s a purpose for this and it will be limited to a few days. Stay true, even if you face death, and I will reward you with a crown of victory .
Listen to the Spirit, and the one who wins this battle will escape the second death. (What that is will be explained to you later.)

Dear church in Pergamum, I know where you live, and that it’s a rough place, because Satan rules there. In spite of that, you’ve held onto my name and not turned away from your faith in me, even at the risk of martyrdom.
HOWEVER, there are a few things that are not right in your church. First, you tolerate the false teaching of Balaam, which in his case was compromise and tripping up true believers so that they did wrong. Secondly, you tolerate the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
So what you have to do is change, otherwise you will be fighting against Me–and you will lose.
Listen to the Spirit and the one who wins this battle will enjoy the “hidden manna”–the bread of life. And you will be given a white stone with you name engraved on it–a secret name.

Dear church in Thyatira, I know you are the perfect model of a Christian church or Christian individual. In love, faith, service, and patient endurance, your are doing even better now than at first.
HOWEVER, you tolerate that wicked Jezebel, whose very name is associated with evil. She acts like a queen and claims to be a prophet. Her message is seductive. She leads people into the adultery of embracing other gods. I gave her the chance to turn, but she hasn’t. Those among you who choose to follow her cult will be tossed onto a sickbed and into great tribulation, until your illness proves fatal. This is a lesson for all the churches: I search the mind and heart.
Each of you will be rewarded or punished according to your works. From those who have not bought into the Jezebel cult, I don’t require anything else from you, except to hang onto what you have, all the way until I return.
The one who wins this battle will be given authority and be able to authorize others to exercise it, even as I have received authority from the Father (as described in Psalm 2). I will also give them the morning star. Listen to the Spirit.

Dear church in Sardis, I know that you are a church with quite a reputation. People say, “That church is alive!” But you aren’t, you’re dead. WAKE UP! You have some life left in you, fan it into a flame, because it’s smoldering and about to go out. Remember what has been given to you and what you’ve been taught. Hang onto it and turn back to it. If not, I’ll come to you like a thief, when you’re not expecting me.
Nevertheless, there are a few of you whose clothes are still clean and have not been stained or disgraced. They will walk with me in white.
The one who wins this battle will be dressed in white; an honor not given to everyone. And that person’s name will remain forever in the book of life. I will acknowledge them before my Father as they have acknowledged Me.
Listen to the Spirit.

Dear church in Philadelphia, I know how well have done, and for that reason I’ve opened a door for you that no one can shut. I also know that even though you’re not a powerful church, you haven’t lost your grip on my word or who I am.
Look, here is what I’m going to do. I am going to take those posers who belong to Satan while claiming to be the true church, and bring them to you and cause them to show you respect. They are going to learn the truth, that I have loved you.
Because you have kept my word of patience and stamina, I’m going to protect you from the terrible ordeal that for a time will trouble the world and everyone in it.
I will come to you soon. Hang in there, doing what you’ve been doing, so that no one takes the victory crown that you’ve won. The one who wins this battle, will be made a pillar in the temple of my God. You will never have to leave it. I will sign you with the name of my God, the name of the city of my God, and the new Jerusalem from heaven, and my own new name.
Listen to the Spirit.

Dear church in Laodicea, I know what you’re about. First, you are tepid, neither hot nor cold, and unpalatable. In keeping with that metaphor, I’m going to spit you out. Secondly, you say you’re rich and prosperous –a materialistic boast. From my point of view, you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. I advise you to get the true wealth from me, which can not be had by money. My gold has real value, and has already been refined, and is therefore pure. Do this and you will be rich. With the blessing of my wealth, you will be able to have white clothing to cover your naked bodies; and eye salve to heal your blindness.
Now pay attention, those that I love, I also discipline. I am disciplining you now so that you will be passionate and turn back to me. Look, I am right here at your door knocking. Anyone inside may hear, and anyone can open the door. If you do, I will enter and share a meal with you.
The one who wins this battle, will be invited to my table and my throne. I also won my battle for you, and sit at my Father’s throne.
Listen to the Spirit.

Conclusion: Several words I would have liked to elaborate on

Pillar – door – thief – key – and white stone
– it is good for us to feel the depth of these metaphors

Now we have learned the purpose of Revelation
That it is meant to work in deep regions of our hearts and minds
That it is meant to prepare us for the new creation
And it does this by re-creating us

So having been here today,
and going over the messages of Jesus to his church,
something has entered us that is meant to change us
To make us more like the people we are supposed to be
Namely, agents of change in a world that is broken
A world than needs love and peace and healing
A world that needs God’s touch through God’s church

Feb 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation 1:4-20

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to RefleXion!                                         Grace and Peace to you!

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Ready, Willing, and Able”?  I’ve always thought of it as kind of a formula:  You’re Ready if you’re Willing AND Able.  In other words, we need both aspects, willingness and ability, to be ready to move forward.

I’ve been in a kind of stuck place in one area of my life, wanting to do better, asking God to give me the ability to see differently, to act differently, trying to conjure up compassion and wisdom.  This week, when I was again talking to God about it, I heard kind of a catch in my Spirit and a Voice, “You are able, just not willing.”  “What?  Of course, I’m willing, I cried;“ That’s why I keep asking You to help me!”  But something in my heart knew that the Voice spoke truth, and that’s why I couldn’t move along.  My judgmental attitude, my attempt to control, my hidden anxiety, my rules all created blocks to my full willingness.  God used MY phrase against me!  Imagine that. 

We do have a loving Heavenly Father, and we have a Holy Spirit who is relentless about our freedom.  And that’s what it was for me, a lack of freedom from some things that did not allow for the free flow of the Spirit of Wisdom and Compassion.  When a Holy God arrests us and calls us to drop our weapons, we’d be best to listen. 

When you’re arrested for carrying deadly and loaded weapons, you can’t just agree with the authorities.  They ask you to raise your hands denoting surrender AND to drop your weapons.  I knew God was asking me to drop my weapons.  Well, I didn’t have a gun. MY weapons were stored and kept in place to protect me, to control, to cover.  They are weapons of offense and defense, swords and shields, my attempt at making life work. 

The act of surrender is only the beginning, of course, and it has been the only way forward for me.  The freedom to love wisely and well from a full, free heart…yes please.  Today, if we hear his Voice, let’s not harden our hearts as in the old ways of protecting, but surrender our weapons in faith to a True and Good God.

Join me to pray, will you:

God, we can see that the more we are free from the old ways, we can move forward in the new ways of Grace and Peace, Wisdom and Compassion.  We want to be whole and holy.  We’re learning to hear your voice; we’re learning to listen; we’re learning to love.  Thank you for calling us out and calling us forward.  May your kingdom come, your will be done, in us as it is in Heaven.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before the throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen
Revelation 1:4-5a

Intro: Revelation gives us a unique picture of the inner life of our Christian experience

It is much different from Paul’s carefully structured teaching
– with his separation of the new self from the old self
• and his contrast of having the mind of the Spirit versus the mind of the “flesh”
• Revelation reaches into our inner lives through symbols and bizarre events

Therefore, I feel comforted when reading the first few words of verse 4
– they have a familiar ring–like finding a street you know when you’re lost
• we recognize this same type of greeting from many of Paul’s letters
i.e., “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus . . . . To the saints who are in Ephesus . . . . Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Ep. 1:1-2)
• but already we see a difference: this introductory letter was written to seven churches!
◦ and then John takes a sharper turn, not identifying God specifically,
◦ but according to a timeless attribute – who is and who was and who is to come
– then it gets even weirder – John adds another source of grace and peace
“and from the seven spirits who are before his throne”
• this has caused a lot of discussion among commentators
◦ many of whom opt for the sevenfold Spirit of God
• I’m going to suggest something else

Seven may be the most important number in the Bible

For instance, reading through Leviticus over the last couple of weeks,
– it took seven days to complete ordination of priests and altar (8:33)
• there were seven weeks between the Feast of First-fruits and the Feast of Weeks (23:15)
◦ during that feast, they were to offer seven lambs (23:18)
◦ another feast was celebrated in the seventh month (23:24)
half-way through that month, there was another feast for seven days (23:36)
• every seventh year they were to let the fields go fallow
◦ after every forty-nine years (specifically 7X7) was a Jubilee year
– in verses 12-16 we’ll come to seven lamp stands and seven stars
• we’re told they represent seven angels and seven churches
• there are a lot more sevens in Revelation (seals, bowls, trumpets, etc.)
◦ some commentators divide Revelation into seven sections

The most frequent explanation I’ve read on meaning of seven,
– is that seven is the number of completion
(so some commentators interpret the seven spirits to be a sevenfold Spirit)
• but that may be too obvious and too rational
• it would simply substitute a different word for “complete”
◦ a word that means the same thing
◦ that is not how symbols work
– the number seven arrives in the world from primordial time
• it was no coincidence that Revelation was placed at end of Bible
◦ it corresponds to Genesis, where everything began
◦ and Revelation is the story of where everything ends;
and then, begins again!

It’s possible, each set of sevens–as destructive as they may appear in Revelation–
– are derived from the original seven days of creation
• that sequence of events brought something new into being each day for six days
◦ the new creation was the effect of an infinite power and wisdom
• although Revelation depicts the universe in upheaval,
◦ the message to the reader is about God at work in the cataclysms and catastrophes
◦ and that work is ultimately a creative work
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, [they are] a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God (2 Cor. 5:17-18)
– seven is God’s work in the world
• this is how I see the spiritual value and numerical value of seven
• however, even if that is so, any symbol can contain multiple truths
◦ that is the nature of symbols–they are fluid

Grace and peace come to us also from “Jesus Christ”

There are three statements made about Jesus:
– he is the “faithful witness” – not just his teaching, but Jesus himself,
◦ Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God ever to enter our world (Jn. 14:9; 2 Cor. 4:6; Heb. 1:1-3)
“firstborn of the dead”; we’ll delve into this more in a moment
“the ruler of kings on earth”
• we will encounter these themes elsewhere in Revelation

John moves from greeting to doxology
(a doxology is praise that includes the Greek word doxa, “glory”)
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen Revelation 1:5b-6
(By the way, there are seven doxologies in Revelation)

Here, the glory is given to Jesus – he liberated us into God
– the purpose of our liberation was so we could become “a kingdom, priests to his God”
• this, like much of Revelation, picks up a theme from the Old Testament
“and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6)
– this was God’s covenant with Israel
• in the New Testament, the covenant finds its fulfillment in Jesus
• John gives glory to Jesus for accomplishing this

John has more to say about Jesus
(this will be a preview of what lies ahead)
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Revelation 1:7-8

John uses “Behold” to call our attention to the arrival of Jesus
– the he draws on two quotations from the Old Testament
coming with the clouds quotes Daniel 7:13 (Jesus also used this image in Mt. 24:30 and Mt. 26:64)
every eye will see him and mourn – a paraphrase of Zechariah 12:10
◦ he is telling us, this event will fulfill biblical prophecy
– suddenly, without introduction, God speaks through John
Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of Greek alphabet
◦ God is the beginning and end of everything
◦ he is the Genesis and the Revelation of the world, the promise and fulfillment of his kingdom
who is and who was ad who is to come
◦ when Moses asked God to tell him his name, God said his name is I Am
◦ this tells us something about God himself — he simply IS – everywhere, all the time

The story begins in the next three verses
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book [scroll] and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Revelation 1:9-11

By John’s time, the Romans used Patmos Island for exiled offenders
– John described his experience there as:
the tribulation and the kingdom and endurance that are in Jesus
• in other words, it was a miserable place to be, but made tolerable in Jesus
– as far as Rome was concerned, John was there because of his ministry
• but while imprisoned on Patmos, he discovered it was God, not Rome, that placed him there
• and it was on Patmos that God gave him the Revelation

I imagine John alone, perhaps on a rocky bluff overlooking the Aegean Sea
– it was the Lord’s day, which could mean Sunday
• and he was in the Spirit – he was given an awareness of the presence of God’s Spirit
• his experience began with a sound behind him
◦ I wonder why that would matter that the sound was behind him — why would he mention it?
◦ perhaps the “behind him” means that it reverberated in the hidden depths of his own heart and mind
– he probably jumped at sudden sound of a loud voice
• immediately he was given instructions
• he was to document in a scroll what he was going to be told,
◦ and then send it to seven churches, listed in order

What John describes is almost exactly what Daniel experienced
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades Revelation 1:12-19

The gold belt, the shining face, the fiery eyes, the burnished bronze (feet), and the loud sound–
– even John collapsing, but then being touched and given strength to stand,
• all of it you can find in Daniel 10:5-10
• also in Daniel’s vision in chapter 7:13, we find a rare reference to the son of man of his prophecy
– missing from Daniel’s vision but included in John’s is the observation that
from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword
• the language here is similar to the image in Hebrews, where we read,|
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul an of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12)
• it is true that Jesus cuts with his words — he inflicts an inner wound without violence

John is given another writing assignment and explanation
Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches Revelation 1:19-20

What I think needs to be understood and emphasized is the following:
First: Jesus is the first and last–not only of the history of humankind, but of each one of us
• he is the full distance of our spiritual journey
Second: Jesus is the living one. I died and behold I am alive forevermore
• this is the whole story of Revelation, and Jesus is the model
• his death and resurrection were a necessity; through them he fulfilled his mission
◦ Revelation shows us end of the world, and then what follows is a new world
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1)
◦ for a new world to come, the old has to be cleared away
– the events recorded in Revelation are to work us into a newness of creation
• to do that, we will follow Jesus through our own death and into life
• some things within us must die in order that other, better things, can come to life
◦ last night I heard a quote from Lao Tzu
Lau Tzu, “What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”

John on Patmos, cut off from the world, his friends, the normal comforts,
– suffered tribulation, witnessing all the horrors of a worldwide destruction
• but at the same time that he was dying with the old world,
◦ he was being created into a new life in Christ
• this is the journey we will take through this book
◦ God will reveal to us all the things that must Go,
reaching deep inside our hearts and minds to the place where dreams are formed
– for centuries, mystics have adopted death-like disciplines to enhance their spiritual perception
• fasting, sleep deprivation, wearing “practical” clothing for covering their bodies (neither for fashion or comfort), and so on
• John was forced into those sacrifices, and there he discovered the creative power of new life
Revelation will bring to the surface the darkness within us and force us to do something about it

Conclusion: My final thought is the first line of verse 20, “As for the mystery”

Revelation is difficult, because it is full of mysteries
Those mysteries work the systems that drive our world
Our lives are also driven by things hidden from us
we do not fully why we are the way we are or do the things we do
As for those mysteries, Revelation will help open our eyes as it opens to us the heavens,
and enable us to deal with what we see

Jan 28 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation 1:1-3

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion!           Grace and Peace to you!

I’m reading a passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and I quote.  “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 of revelation in the knowledge of him,  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”

Do you remember perhaps when your kids were little and you tucked them in bed, and then turned off the lights to leave the room.  Did they say, “Oh, it’s too dark in here!”  and you might have said, “Just wait; your eyes will adjust.”  And they do, don’t they?  If we wait long enough in the dark, our eyes do adjust, and we are able to see more than we thought.  In our lives, we, too, experience the dark and cry out for more light.  And we might go about trying to find some book or some teacher or some way of escape that might give us light.  That’s fine, and then we may find that  we are asked just to wait in the dark.  Paul talks about the eyes of our hearts being part of our rich inheritance and having the eyes of our hearts enlightened so we may know hope.  That’s the kind of light we need.

King David knew the distress of darkness; many psalms reflect his crying out to the LORD.  In Ps. 18, David said that God heard his voice and, “He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. …  He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.”  We trust that even the darkness is not dark to God and that what is concealed may be revealed.  And I love that God made darkness his covering, his canopy, his hiding place, like a cloak. 

I’ve never been a true photographer, but I know that the desired images are developed in a darkroom, and that it must be really dark.  Waiting in darkness is a contemplative practice, and contemplation doesn’t always imply quietness or withdrawal.  Instead, it is a willingness to fully enter life just as it is, to open our eyes to hope in the light of God’s Presence.  If you’ve ever been, or are now, in what feels like the darkroom, may God enlighten the eyes of your heart to his Hopeful Presence.

Let’s pray:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.  Though darkness covers the earth, you will rise, God.  Let your light rise in our hearts, let the eyes of our hearts be enabled to see the contours of your shape, the hope of your presence.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near
Revelation 1:1-3

Intro: You may wonder, Why the book of Revelation?

I admit, it is the most confusing and frustrating book in the Bible
– it’s not an easy read – some images are very strange
• they seem fairytale or mythical, except but even weirder
◦ for instance, we find, not just a beast with ten horns,
◦ but it has seven heads (?) and ten crowns on its horns
• there’s not another book in Bible exactly like this
– but it is also one of the most fascinating books in the Bible
• Revelation can work in us in ways like no other book
• if it disturbs us, it also calms us; if it frightens also reassures; if it is structured, it is also free;
and if its meaning is hidden, its overall effect is Revelation

From the start I want to warn you,
– if you’ve heard teaching on Revelation or read a commentary,
• what you will hear from me will probably be very different
◦ among Evangelical teachers, we hear four different views
◦ I am not going follow any one of those four streams
• to me, it is not a crystal ball in which we can see the future or discern current events
◦ the message is more personal – and is addressed to churches and individual believers
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7)
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20)
– Revelation begins as a letter that quickly becomes seven letters
• after that, it turns into a different type of literature
◦ this other genre is known as “apocalyptic”
◦ this is derived from the Greek word for revelation: apokalypsis
• writings that use the same fantastical style as parts of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel
◦ but with one significant difference: in Daniel, every strange image is explained
the remainder of the book a history lesson that is told, mostly, in normal language
◦ that’s one reason why I do not see Revelation as depicting literal events like other apocalyptic books,
there is little clear explanation for the symbols in Revelation

If Revelation does not provide a clear map of the future, what is the value of reading it?
– after all, we’ve already seen there’s a promised blessing in it for those who read or hear it and keep what is written in it
• we will come to six more promised blessings in Revelation, for a total of seven
1.) in Revelation we will discover God’s work within us
• the system of education with which we are most familiar usually aims for our rational minds
• Revelation works at a deeper level – the heart, yes, but also at the unconscious level
2.) most books we read and think about, but the Revelation we experience
• to fully enter Revelation, is to allow it to change us
3.) Revelation prepares and equips us to live in the world as it is
• we are shown this troubled world, and in a way that affects us
• Revelation enables us to live through the worst times in human history
4.) Revelation encourages us with an ultimate destiny in God
• it brings heaven near us today and the eventual promise of a future fullness

The introduction provides a simple background statement

First, the central message is Jesus Christ, revealed
– God communicated this to John, sending it by way of an angel
• this is not merely information like what we get from a lecture
◦ this was shown to John (a visual extravaganza) so he could show it to others
◦ the words translated make known mean to give a sign or to signify
A. T. Robertson, this “suits admirably the symbolic character of the book.”
• the “things” shown occur in our immediate future, they will soon take place
◦ as soon as we here about these upheavals, we’ll be living them
◦ this will be clearer as we move through Revelation
– John gives us a brief bio of himself (more details in v. 9)
who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ
• “witness” and “testimony” translate different forms of the same Greek word
◦ and this brings us very close to the Gospel of John
◦ in some form the word and is cognate occur once in Matthew, three times in Mark, twice in Luke, and forty-five times in John
(in all of Paul’s letters ten times and in John’s three letters, fourteen times)
• the “testimony of Jesus” appears again in verse 9
◦ this refers to Jesus’ witness regarding God, his Father
Truly, truly, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things (Jn. 3:11-12)
Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the So does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. (Jn. 5:19-20)

Here is how I plan on walking us through Revelation

I am going to treat what’s in here the way we work with dreams
– I realize this is unusual
• most commentaries take a very rational approach
◦ their aim is to decipher the meaning of every sight and sound
◦ connect every vision to an event in the physical world
• people who are locked into rational, linear thinking have difficulty interpreting symbols
◦ they look for a perfect fit between the imaginary statement and solid fact
◦ they feel obligated to connect symbols to literal events
Merrill Tenney (wrestling with seven trumpets in ch. 8) “So strange are they that there has been a grave question as to whether they should be taken literally or not. If they are understood literally, it is hard to comprehend how any life on earth could survive their terrible onslaught. If they are to be regarded as figurative, the criteria of interpretation are not clear” [italics added]
– that is precisely the struggle of hyper-rational thinkers
• how do you make sense of bizarre or impossible symbols?
• that’s also why most people don’t pay any attention to their dreams

Dreams are our own personal and private universe
– that doesn’t mean we own this strange world, because it is not under our conscious control
• we don’t control:
the setting (could be a street, the ocean, the sky)
the plot (whatever action, problem, danger, or conflict)
the characters (who enters, who exits, their power)
could be family, friends from long ago, strangers
what is possible and impossible (you fly or be unable to lift your hand)
the sudden or abrupt scene changes or shift to a different dream
– to interpret dreams requires an approach that is both:
• rational and spiritual; science and art; structured and free
• but we must also be open to experiences our minds cannot comprehend

Why would I want to read Revelation’s visions as if its symbols were dream images?

The obvious answer is because the scenes are weird, like dreams
– but I could also say, for same reason Jesus taught in parables
• our awake minds are limited to what we perceive and analyze with our five senses, our reason, and our imaginations
• but the things of God’s Spirit are beyond our ordinary perception
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14)
◦ dreams are not bound to reason or laws of nature
◦ they can bring our attention to things we could not see any other way
– dreams are not produced by our conscious minds
• they rise from what stirs deep in the unconscious
◦ when awake, we’re unaware of these subterranean influences
• studying Revelation is like studying dreams
◦ both range from the everyday to the fantastical
the everyday: court proceedings, sealed document, messengers on horseback
the fantastical: odd creatures, catastrophic events, impossible phenomena–like a city descending from the sky

In scripture, God frequently spoke to people in their dreams
– he revealed himself, gave warnings and instructions, and guided them
– Revelation will give us insight into our deeper selves
• one benefit is therapeutic
• another is our spiritual enlightenment and development

Conclusion: I believe venturing into Revelation will be eye-opening

That it will help us deal with the current insanity of our world
We will get a better understanding of
• why it’s so difficult right now to keep our balance
• what is most important right now regarding our decisions and commitments
I am certain that we can be more useful “servants” of God,
and that through Revelation God’s Spirit will point the way

God wants to share with us his dream of a glorious future

Jan 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

A Canaanite Woman – 01/21/2024

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

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

I’m reading a bit of the Tao Te Ching, which was probably written about 2500 years ago, probably by a man named Lao Tzu who may have lived about the same time as Confucius. The Tao Te Ching is roughly translated, “The Way of Integrity.” It’s a slow read.   As I read this chapter by this ancient Chinese philosopher, something connected in me.  I’m sharing “The Uses of Not.” 

THE USES OF NOT

            Thirty spokes meet in the hub.

            Where the wheel isn’t is where it’s useful.

            Hallowed out, clay makes a pot.

            Where the pot’s not is where it’s useful.

            Cut doors and windows to make a room.

            Where the room isn’t, there’s room for you.

            So the profit in what is in the use of what isn’t.

We make a bowl, but it’s the hollowed-out space that’s useful.  We build a room, but it’s the space inside the room that we enjoy.  We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and it’s the space inside the temple that’s the sanctuary of our souls.  The actual temple structure in the Bible was a place where God’s people could go to be in his presence, preparing them to become that holy presence on earth.  It played a crucial role in God’s plan to dwell with humanity.  If we identify as Holy-Spirit-filled Christians today, our role is the same.  We spend time in God’s presence and become his holy presence on earth.  Do you remember that Jesus said that he would destroy the temple (the earthly temple) made with hands and would build another, not made with hands.  He was speaking about the temple of his body.  And you’ve heard it said that we are his body. Paul says that we are the temple if God’s Spirit dwells in us. We are the spiritual temple consisting of the saints of all ages joined together by and in Christ. 

And, back to Lao Tzu’s idea.  More than being the temple, it is the space provided by the temple that matters.  How will we engage the Holy Spirit in His dwelling place in us? 

I wanted to read the entire passage from 1 Kings 8:22-53, when Solomon was dedicating the first temple: it’s beautiful, but long.  But I’ll share these verses:  Solomon asks in prayer:  Is it true that God will live upon the earth? The heavens and even the highest heaven are not big enough for You, so how will You live in the house I have raised? Please listen to the prayer and humble request of Your servant today, Eternal One my God, that Your gaze might fall upon this temple all night and day, that You might look upon the place about which You said, “My name will be there,” and hear the humble request of Your servant when he prays in the direction of this place.”   And then he prays:   Whenever a foreigner, a person who is not a part of Your community of Israel, comes from a distant land in honor of Your name (for everyone will hear about Your great reputation, mighty actions, and outstretched strength), when he prays in the direction of this temple; then You will hear in heaven where You dwell and grant the foreigner’s requests. (he is praying for us!)  This is so Your reputation will spread all throughout the earth and so all may live in awe and fear of You.” And let me make the last part of his prayer our prayer this morning.  Join me:

O Eternal One, there is no other God who compares to You in heaven or on earth. You have guarded Your covenant and revealed Your loyal love to those who serve You with all their being.   Let your gaze fall upon us night and day, that you may look upon us and say, “My name is there.”   We add our prayer, Lord Jesus, that you will fill the temple of our hearts today. Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” Matthew 15:21-28

Intro: I begin my talk this morning with a confession

I’m stalling for time . . .
– because I’m not ready for where we’re going next week
• I am referring to the scariest and most confusing book in the Bible
• WARNING: I won’t be teaching it like anything you’ve heard about it in the past
– that’s all I have to say for now – except,
• I may chicken out and not start next week, but sometime later

Today’s story is challenging and difficult to understand

It turns everything we think we know about Jesus on its head
– it involves a foreigner in a different region of the map
• the setting for the life of Jesus is mostly in Israel
◦ he passes through Samaria, and briefly sets foot in Gadara
◦ but in this story he goes north – the one and only time
• it is most likely that Jesus wanted to get away from the crowds
◦ to be someplace where he and his crew could rest
He “went away from there and withdrew”
In Mark’s telling of this story, we read, “And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know” (7:24)
◦ the last think Jesus needed during this break was one of the locals coming to him with a consuming need
And behold – ta da! – the “behold” indicates a shift in the point of view
• away from the storyteller’s perspective, to those in story
◦ and then that becomes our point of view
• we see a woman coming to where Jesus is, and making a lot of noise
Listen to her loud, desperate cry:
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon”
◦ she demonstrates great respect for who Jesus is and his destiny (Lord and Son of David)
◦ “oppressed” softens the Greek word which means demonized or possessed

What happens next is totally out of character for Jesus

He has never denied anyone’s request for help or healing
– not even a Roman centurion who came to him (Mt. 8:5)
• the centurion was also a foreigner, stationed in Capernaum
◦ but when this woman came crying for Jesus’ attention and help,
he did not answer her a wordnot a word!
• Jesus went silent, unreachable, unresponsive
– we know what this is like! What we ask of God is not given instantly
• every prayer is immediately followed by silence
◦ we may eventually come to trust the silence
– even appreciate the break from all the noise in our head (once we’ve prayed it out)
◦ still we know God is at work – he doesn’t need to tell us
• however, the Lord’s silence here is the worst
◦ when Jesus has nothing to say to a person, it can mean they’re doomed–cf. Luke 23:8-9
◦ Jesus had nothing to say to this woman, because he had nothing for her

Although Jesus could calmly ignore her, the disciples could not
– it wasn’t because they were more caring than Jesus
• after all, they did not ask Jesus to grant her request, but to send her away
Helmut Thielicke, “They can’t take the woman’s misery. But that doesn’t make them one bit more merciful. . . . the disciples are not at all merciful when they give in to her cry for help. They just have weak nerves.”
• so, first Jesus is silent – but that’s not the worst of it
◦ when he speaks, it’s to the disciples – he gives them the explanation
◦ “I’m not here for her. She’s not on our list”
– the people of Israel were like lost sheep – when Jesus sent the disciples on their first mission, he told them:
Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter now town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 10:5-6)
• there were insiders and outsiders
◦ Jesus had his eye out for his own people
When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9:36)
• let’s pause here and take a breath

It is looking hopeless for this woman – but she’s sharp!
– she knows an opening when she sees it
• though Jesus was not talking to her, she jumped in
But she came and knelt before him
• she made it past the Lord’s bodyguards – got to HIM
◦ she shortens her pray to three words, “Lord, help me”
• I pray that, a lot!
◦ Peter’s prayer in the previous chapter is also just three words, “Lord, save me” (14:30)
◦ short prayers work as well as long prayers!

Since she’s now made it to Jesus, everything should be alright

However, this is the worst moment of all – Jesus rebuffed her
– I wanted to use a different word besides rebuff, which means:
“to reject someone or refuse a request in an abrupt or ungracious manner”
• and that is a perfect description of how Jesus treated her
• what I find most distressing is his analogies!
– the people of Israel belonged to a household;
• they were family; they were children; they were lost sheep
but weren’t this desperate woman and her daughter lost sheep too?
◦ No! They were dogs
◦ a dog might be a pet and eat table scraps, but it’s not family
– she is a dog – so the door inside is closed and locked to her
• she and her daughter will never evolve into “children”
Jesus came for Israel’s sheep, not Gentile dogs

The way I see this, Jesus was playing with her

I don’t mean he was toying with her or teasing her
– that would be a cruel way to deny her request,
• like a cat playing with a mouse before killing it
◦ if so, there would be no depth or meaning to the story
◦ he was not having fun at her expense
• I read something yesterday that speaks to this:
James Brownson, “You cannot violate the honor of another [person] and also love that person.”
◦ what I believe is that Jesus was guiding her to a deeper level of interaction,
◦ as if he were inviting her to play a game of chess
– I’m convinced Jesus determined to grant her request from the moment he first saw her
• then, did he want to test her? I don’t think so
◦ I think he knew already she would fight for what she wanted
• did he want to see how creative or clever she could be?
◦ again, I don’t think so
◦ and I don’t think he was trying to see how much faith she had

What was Jesus’ purpose in this quirky story?

First, he ignored her; next, he defined the parameter of his ministry;
– then he disqualified her from receiving her help
• Jesus made it difficult for her to get what she wanted
◦ in fact, he placed obstacles in her way
◦ now I ask you, Is it ever easy?
– how often do we see immediate answers to our prayers?
• do we ever feel ignored?
• do we ever feel that God is giving us the silent treatment?
• do we ever feel rejected?
◦ in the next chapter, Jesus will call Peter “Satan” — that would make me feel like a reject
• did Jesus ever make it easy for his disciples?
◦ prayer is not sending letters to Santa Claus
• a motto of the Benedictine order is ora et labora, “work is prayer”
◦ they also teach the reverse: prayer is work
◦ we learn from this story, that this is normal; prayer is work

What Jesus put her through would make anyone want to give up
– but not her! The lesson she learned is a lesson for everyone
• give prayer all you’ve got and don’t ever give up
◦ keep working at it
And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart (Lk. 18:1)
• we can use God’s own words to wiggle our way into his presence
◦ “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs”

A few years ago, my cousin, Chuck Fromm, was playing doubles tennis with my dad. One of Chuck’s greatest interest was people. He always wanted to talk with, learn from, and bond with people he cared for or admired. During the match, Chuck was trying to continue a conversation with a man on the other side of the net. It wasn’t an involved conversation, merely light chatter. At one point Chuck missed a shot he should have had, and my dad–ever the intense competitor–growled at him,
“Get your head in the game, Fromm!”

• I think that is what we can take from this story
◦ we’ll do well in prayer if we get our head in the game Jesus wants us to play

Conclusion: Each time the woman spoke to Jesus, she called him Lord

Even in last round, when she uses his own analogy on him “Yes, Lord”
“I’m willing to be a dog, if I can eat up the scraps under your table”
She played his game, and she won!
“O woman, great is your faith” — Jesus never said this to one of his disciples
(he did tell them they had “little faith”)
“O woman, great is your faith”
And right then, the miracle occurred
The woman and her daughter became sheep,
They became family,
They became children,
and demon was gone!

Jan 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 38-39, 52

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome!  The Lord is with you!

Last week I mentioned the Father’s love and its importance in my own life.  I’d like to offer a few more thoughts about receiving the Father’s love.  I’m reading here a quote from Richard Rohr:  “This whole human project pivots around Divine Love. Because our available understanding of love is almost always conditioned on “I love you if” or “I love you when,” most people find it almost impossible—apart from real transformation—to comprehend or receive Divine Love. In fact, we cannot understand it in the least, unless we “stand under” it, like a cup beneath a waterfall. When we truly understand Divine Love, our politics, our anthropology, our economics, and our movements for justice will all change.”

We’ve been with Jeremiah and Chuck in the Old Covenant, which some people would say, “that’s when we had an ‘Angry God.’” I hope that we have seen that God does not love His people if they change, but so that they can change.  The Father’s Love is not a reward for good behavior, as we might fear.  Again, from Rohr, “It is a larger Life, an energy and movement that we can participate in—and then, almost in spite of ourselves—we behave differently.”

How can we participate in it?  I had some thoughts about that this week.  I’ll share them, and you can see what you think. 

In a love relationship, one party declares their love for the other.  Then the other declares their love in return.  This creates a possibility for relationship and intimacy.  If our Heavenly Father declares His love for us, what must we do to participate in that love relationship?  We must say “I love you too.” In a wedding ceremony, one party says, “I do,” and the other party must also say, “I do.”  Have you ever told someone “I love you” and not gotten a response?  That’s the worst, right? 

It’s not a love relationship yet if we say, “I’ll love you if” or “I’ll love you when.”  And that’s not how God loves us. As we spend time standing under God’s love, like a cup beneath a waterfall, can we feel the invitation to participate?  And what do we believe we’re participating in?  A love relationship with the Divine – what will that be like? Oh, there will be many times we’re invited to participate:  in the next moment, the next movement, the next season or stage of our relationship with God.  Our “yes (you are my God)” our “I do (love you)” will carry us across each threshold.

Will you pray with me: 
Father, thank you for your love.  We receive it, as much as we are able.  We say yes with each step where we find our willingness.  Let the Spirit carry us where we are willing but not able to move.  We lean in to your Divine Love, a love that is for us, an empowering Presence.  In this next hour, may we be receptive to your invitations to enter a deepening relationship with you.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: The stories we hear today will serve as an illustration

They illuminate a line from the prayer Jesus taught us
– you know it and you’ve prayed it–maybe many times
• it is one-third of a petition
“hallowed [revered] be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:9-10)
• it is that last line I hear in these two stories
◦ one teaches us what happens when we resist God’s will and the other when we surrender to his will
– I don’t expect you to remember the names of the characters, so I’ll give their brief biographies
• the three key figures are Jeremiah the prophet and the two kings Jehoiachin and Zedekiah

Zedekiah played a major role in the last days of Judah

He was the last king of Judah, and we’ve met him before
– for instance, last week we learned that:
• he first allowed Jeremiah to be left to die in a cistern,
• but then he allowed Ebed-melech to rescue Jeremiah
◦ Ebed-melech was a foreigner, an Ethiopian Eunuch who took seriously the word of God through Jeremiah
– we pick up the story after Jeremiah was lifted out of the pit

Immediately, Zedekiah summoned Jeremiah for an interview
– the king thought he wanted to hear from God
Zedekiah: (began the interview with a condition) “I will ask you a question; hide nothing from me. Give it to me straight”
Jeremiah: (skeptical) “Why should I? If I give you an answer, you’ll order my execution. Besides, you won’t listen to my counsel or accept my advice.”

Zedekiah: swore an oath to Jeremiah that he wouldn’t be harmed
Jeremiah: “Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live” (Jer. 38:17)
– That was the first half of God’s word to Zedekiah, but there was also a second half
• if the king did not surrender, Jerusalem would be leveled and he and his family would not escape
• Zedekiah had asked for it, and Jeremiah answered
◦ the choice was clear, and the right response was straight forward
– however, Zedekiah had a concern
• there were Jewish citizens who opposed the war
◦ especially those living outside Jerusalem and most vulnerable to the enemy’s invasion
◦ they had nothing to gain and everything to lose from the current war
• these people had already gone over and joined Babylon
◦ Zedekiah feared, if he surrendered, they would have access to him and assassinate him

This is a common reason why people resist God’s will

We’re afraid it might be something awful, afraid of what it might cost us
– that’s a valid concern – when Jesus prayed, “Not my will,” it cost him his life
• on the other hand, before Jesus taught us to pray “your will be done,” he taught us to begin with, “Our Father”
• and Jesus was constantly revealing the Father’s heart in the way he treated the lost, and broken, and possessed
– whenever I pray, “your will be done” I feel hope
• living in the world as it is, the idea of God’s will transforming it comforts me
• but I admit, sometimes I fear what his will may be for me, now
(However, I’m more afraid of my own will, because that is what will ruin me)

Jeremiah assured Zedekiah, he did not have to worry
“You shall not be given to them. Obey now the voice of the LORD in what I say and it shall be well with you and your life shall be spared. But if you refuse to surrender [here’s what will happen: defeat and disgrace]” (Jer. 38:20-23)
– from Jeremiah chapter 7 and on, at least fifteen times, God tells his people, “obey my voice”
• a voice is more personal and present that “commandments”
• to ignore his voice is different from rolling through stop signs or driving five miles an hour over the speed limit
◦ my parents would sometimes refer to my behavior as “direct disobedience”
◦ they meant that I had intentionally disregarded them
◦ that is what obeying God’s voice is about — to hear it and then disregard him is direct disobedience
– what did Zedekiah decide to do regarding God’s will?
• Zedekiah’s reign over Judah is summed up in 2 Chronicles
He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD, the God of Israel (2 Chr. 36:12-13)
• when the Babylonians breached the wall of Jerusalem,
◦ Zedekiah and some of troops escaped through a secret door through the city wall
◦ he was captured in plains of Jericho and taken to Nebuchadnezzar, who
passed sentence on him – slaughtered his son before his eyes – put out his eyes – took him to Babylon (where he was in prison until his death; Jer. 52:9-11)

Zedekiah did not have to suffer these tragic losses
– his future was not inevitable, it had not been written in stone
• there was a moment when he was given a choice
– I wonder if during his imprisonment, he ever regretted not listening to God’s voice and not surrendering to God’s will

Prior to Zedekiah, there was a lesser known king: Jehoiachin

His rule lasted for only three months – and like Zedekiah,
he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD (2 Ki. 24:9)
– there is one significant difference between him and Zedekiah
• Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem during his reign too, but,
Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials (2 Ki. 24:12)
◦ the gave himself up translates same word for ‘surrender’ in Jeremiah 38:21
• like Zedekiah, he was also taken to Babylon and imprisoned there,
◦ however, neither he nor those with him were killed
◦ and neither Jerusalem nor the temple were destroyed
– Jehoiachin spent more than three decades in prison
• it was not a pleasant or easy life and we’re not told what sort of effect it had on him
• perhaps he repented and returned to the LORD, the God of Israel

There is one other fascinating development of Jehoiachin’s story
– the last sentence of Jeremiah chapter 51 reads:
The words of Jeremiah end here (Jer. 51:64, GNB)
• that means, the last chapter–chapter 52–is a postscript
◦ and it is taken directly from Israel’s history books
◦ the end of the postscript contains a surprising footnote:
And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah . . . [the] king of Babylon, in the year he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, until the day of his death, as long as he lived (Jer. 52:31-34)
• his story ends very differently from Zedekiah’s
◦ and it is because Jehoiachin surrendered – to the king of Babylon and he surrendered to God

I’ve been reading in Genesis, and yesterday came to the story of Joseph

He also spent some time in prison – in Egypt
– in fact, a long stretch of his life could be described as being “in the pits”
• his brothers threw him into a pit hoping he would starve to death (Gen. 40:15)
• later his prison is referred as the pit (the same Hebrew word; 41:14))
– there are two other similarities:
1. in both stories there is mention of someone’s head being lifted up (in Jer. 52:31 translated “graciously freed”)
2. in both stories, when the hero leaves prison he puts off his prison garments
• from the jailhouse jump suit to clothing fit for a king
• this represents a change of status – and this is how God’s will works when we surrender to it
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me . . .
to grant to those who mourn in Zion–
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit . . . .
(Isa. 61:1-3)
– God had appeared and spoken to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob
• he revealed to them his will for their lives and the future of their descendants
◦ but God never appeared to or spoke to Joseph
• Joseph was given an ability to interpret dreams,
◦ but the interpretation of his own life was hidden from him
until by time his brothers arrived in Egypt–and then it all made sense
(see Genesis 45:5-8, where Joseph tells his brothers, “God sent me before you . . . God sent me before you . . . for it was not you who sent me here, but God”

Conclusion: Few people know God’s will for certain

Many find themselves later in life in a place where they say, “I never saw this coming”
We don’t have to worry about, or fear God’s will
We don’t have to know every moment exactly what is his will for us

God’s will finds us where we are

God’s will is finding you right now and right where you are

We discover God’s will for our lives as it unfolds
What matters most, is that we surrender to it
What matters is that even to our last breath we can pray, “Not my will, but Yours”

Jan 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jeremiah chapters 36-45 01/07/2024

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to the RefleXion Community!          The Lord is with you!

Last week, Chuck taught from the book of Haggai, a prophet who was on the scene after the Babylonian exile, when the Israelites were returning and rebuilding the Temple. Remember how Haggai saw that they were slacking off and prioritizing building their own houses instead of the house of God.  Haggai tells them “Consider your ways.”  There was more than one time in Biblical history that the temple fell into disrepair and had to be cleansed and repaired.  At one earlier time, there began a restoration under King Hezekiah.  First, there was the building of an altar and setting up the temple foundations  And then there needed to be cleansing by removing all the things the priests had stored there. I was thinking how in the New Testament, Paul tells the Corinthians that we are His temple, if the Holy Spirit is dwelling in us. We may have set up our altar and laid the foundations of our faith.  And now there’s more work to be done; we, too, must “consider our ways.”

While we prioritize our time with God, we give him all our hindrances. We notice things that need to be repaired or carried out in our temple.  We invite Him to make it His dwelling place.   Maybe it is obvious what doesn’t belong in here, we think of bad behavior, immorality, addictions; but maybe there are some big bricks that we’ve been sitting on, calling them stones of remembrance, that block and distort the Spirit’s way in us.

I brought another book today, The Father Loves You, by our friend, Ed Piorek.  Though I might not resonate with everything here, it held some gifts for me.  Many years ago, when I was in a spiritual leadership program, we were asked to sit with a scripture passage about our Father in heaven.  I recall we were given hours to ponder our earthly fathers and our Father in Heaven. Many participants returned to the group with stories about their own fathers—punitive, passive, demanding–“father issues” abounded.  When my turn came, I said, “Well, my biological father was an alcoholic and my mother left him when I was five.  She remarried my stepfather who never had a hand in my development, never spoke into my life.  I didn’t really have a father, so I don’t have father issues.”  Wow, yes, I got some serious pushback.  I had to deal with my broken lenses, how I had been protecting myself from deep pain and rejection, what unbelief and shame I had been carrying that distorted my relationships.  Reading Piorek’s book reminded me of those days when I identified  that I did, indeed, have father issues.  Maybe you do too.  Anyway, I’m passing the book along to whoever wants to pick it up. We look at what we’ve stored in our temple, not to blame but to unearth, to allow cleansing and repair.  Jesus came expressly to reveal the Father and His great love for us.  Knowing our Father’s love is critical to our spiritual progress.

Join me to pray will you:  Thank you, Father God, for your original and eternal love.  Heal us and help us to realize it.  We turn our attention to you this morning, trusting that you know what we need to hear about your love.  We welcome you; we welcome each other, and we trust in your faithful love for us.    In Jesus’ Name.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin
Jeremiah 36:1-3

Intro: I decided to continue in Jeremiah for another week

There are two stories we will consider that I’ve always enjoyed
– one reason they appeal to me is because they’re interesting
• another reason is that they are meaningful
• although the main character in each story is connected to Jeremiah,
◦ they have nothing else in common
– both stories have two parts, found in two different places
• so we will begin with the first part of each story, and then move to the second part
• I hope you enjoy them as much as I do,
◦ and that we get something worthwhile from them

Baruch’s (Jeremiah’s sidekick) story begins during the reign of King Jehoiakim

The timestamp in this verse is important for two reasons:
first, there was still hope for Judah
It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that everyone may turn from his evil way . . . (v. 3)
It may be that their plea for mercy before will come before the LORD, and that every one will turn from his evil way (v. 7)
• unfortunately, there was no change of heart
• as we’ll see, Jehoiakim rejected God’s message–defiantly
second, it was at this time that Babylon first became a threat
• when Babylonian army arrived, Judah surrendered without a fight
◦ but three years later Jehoiakim rebelled
• the nation was quickly torn to pieces
◦ troops from Babylon began to make raids on Judah,
◦ and forces from three other nations also crossed Judah’s border to attack and plunder
– eventually, Babylon’s entire army returned and took Jerusalem
• after eleven years on throne, Jehoiakim died
◦ his son’s reign lasted only 3 months
◦ the king of Babylon carried him off to Babylon,
◦ and with him, the temple treasures, many aristocrats, and many skilled workers (those they did not kill)
• at that point, Zedekiah became Judah’s last king

So here we are in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign
– Jeremiah received instructions to compose a prophetic message
• but he couldn’t read it himself
Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll all the words at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD that he had spoken to him. And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, “I am banned from going to the house of the LORD, so you are to go, and on a day of fasting in the hearing of all the people in the LORD’s house you shall read the words of the LORD from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. . . .” And Baruch the son of Neriah did all that Jeremiah the prophet ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of the LORD in the LORD’s house Jeremiah 36:4-8
(Forgive me, but I think it’s funny to hear Jeremiah say, “I’ve been banned from going to the house of the LORD.” It is as if he is saying, “Yeah, I sort of stirred things up, angered some priests, and they said I could not come back to the temple.” My new beatitude: “Blessed are the troublemakers, who do not allow us to destroy ourselves without fair warning.”)
◦ when Baruch read the scroll, it caught the attention of a court official
• he reported it to the king’s secretary and the other officers who were present
◦ they called for Baruch and had him read Jeremiah’s prophecy to them
◦ then they panicked, ordered Baruch to get Jeremiah and hide, and then carried the scroll to the king
– Jehoiakim was in his winter house, where a fire warmed room
• someone began reading from the scroll (which was either a parchment made from reeds or animal hide)
◦ after reading three or four columns, the king cut them off the scroll and threw them into the fire
• then Jehoiakim gave orders to seize Baruch and Jeremiah
◦ but they weren’t able to find them (the LORD hid them, v. 26)

That is part one of Baruch’s story

The hero of the second story is Ebed-melech

He’s an interesting character – we do not know his actual name
(Ebed-melech is a title that means “servant to the king”)
– he was an outsider – an Ethiopian and a eunuch
• in other words, he had no skin in this game — nothing to gain from getting involved
◦ and there was a potential downside
• but even still, he did get involved

Zedekiah was the last king of Judah
– when Babylon was waging its final siege on Jerusalem,
• God’s message through Jeremiah warned the people:
◦ anyone who held-out in the city would die
◦ but whoever went out of the city and surrendered to Babylon would live
• this angered the army’s officers and other leaders
◦ they went to Zedekiah and told him to have Jeremiah executed
◦ Zedekiah capitulated to their demand
So they took Jeremiah and [threw] him into a cistern . . . letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud (Jer. 38:6)
– that is when Ebed-melech stepped up
• he went to the king to argue on Jeremiah’s behalf
“My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city” (Jer. 38:9)
◦ Zedekiah commanded him to take thirty men and rescue Jeremiah
• Ebed-melech first went to a storehouse and grabbed worn-out clothes
◦ he lowered them to Jeremiah by a rope, and told him to put rope around him and the clothes under armpits
Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard . . . . until the day that Jerusalem was taken (Jer. 38:13 and 28)

So these two accounts are the first part of each story

Ebed-melech reappears in chapter 39
The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: “Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the LORD, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in m, declares the LORD” Jeremiah 39:15-18

Ebed-melech was rewarded, because he put his trust in Yahweh
– where does his trust appear in the story?
• when he rescued Jeremiah from the cistern
• trust is not only security that holds us through difficult times
◦ trust is dynamic – it is a motive that results in action
◦ trust cannot stand by in the face of injustice — trust in God drives people to intervene
– the reward Ebed-melech received was his life
• “prize of war” translates the Hebrew word for plunder or loot
◦ what we know as “the spoils of war”
• this is a precious gift when the whole world is on fire

Baruch reappears in chapter 45
The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: You said, ‘Woe is me! For the LORD has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the LORD: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the LORD. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go” Jeremiah 45
(Previously, we were not told about Baruch’s emotional state at that time)

Baruch’s whining is reminiscent of Jeremiah’s complaints
– and God responds to him in the no-nonsense way as he did Jeremiah
• there’s always something bigger than prophet’s well-being
• big enough that is does not matter if we have to take up our cross to follow Jesus
– the entire nation was on the verge of collapse
• everything God had built over hundreds of years was coming down
• every time I read this, the effect I feel is personal
◦ I find this to be a challenging question: And do you seek great things for yourself?
◦ I think it was in 1986 that I wrote this:
My meditation: “Baruch’s desire to seek greatness was not unusual. His problem was his timing. Everything he knew in the world was about to go up in smoke. Gates would be burned to the ground, buildings torn down, and the nation’s leaders disappear. To seek great things in that moment would be like trying to be the most attractive person on the Titanic.”
◦ then in 1991
My meditation: “I don’t think there is anything wrong with seeking great things. We were made for greatness. But to be running around looking for loot or seeking great things for myself, especially in a doomed society, is problematic. For us to seek great things for ourselves is placing the weight of our lives on too small a goal. We were made for God and others, not our little selves.”

As different as they were, Baruch and Ebed-melech received the same promise
“I will give you your life as a prize of war”

Conclusion: Suppose God is saying something like this to us

“You have your life–I have given it to you. It is a resource.
What are you going to do with it?”

Am I going to look for the beauty that lies in every day?
And if I can’t find beauty, will I make beauty?
Poetry and painting – music and song – kindness and generosity

Will I add goodness to the world?
Will I practice friendliness wherever I go?

Will I search for truth? Will I embrace it when I find it?
Will I speak and advocate truth?
Will I be true?

We have these choices,
these opportunities
and this one lifetime

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver, from “The Summer Day”

Jan 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

New Year 2024 – Haggai 1:13-14 (12/31/2023)

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Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

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

We’ve been celebrating Advent for the last four Sundays (and thank you so much for the beautiful opening meditations and prayers we received from Jim, Karyn, Christine, and Barbara).  Advent is often reduced to preparation for Christmas, yet it also  points toward and prepares us for Epiphany.  In many Christian traditions Epiphany is celebrated on January 6, celebrating the “wise” men who recognized the Light that had entered the world. We believe that they were witnessing the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 60:1–3  “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” The magi sought out Jesus and so they were called the wisemen. If we want to become wise, we too can seek Jesus.  And so, this day is called  the Feast of Epiphany, Theophany, or Three Kings’ Day.

The word Epiphany is defined as “a revelatory manifestation of a divine being, or a sudden insight or intuitive understanding.” And we deeply desire those personal epiphanies for ourselves and to really be impacted by them.  Epiphanies transform how we see; they are a gift of wisdom.

Did you know that Chuck wrote a book called Epiphany?  Chuck is a reliable witness of how regular Bible reading can enrich our spiritual life.  For months Chuck has been sharing his notes and journaling over years of studying and pondering scripture…remember Mark?  How rich that was.  In this book Chuck offers several ways of paying attention to gain these riches and to develop a love for the Bible.  Lectio Divina is one way we as community make space for epiphany–the appearance, or manifestation of something from God.  If you’re not yet involved in a Lectio Divina group, I encourage you to do so.  We use scripture, yet this is not Bible study but a prayerful, receptive way of listening to God through scripture (scripture as a door) with the Holy Spirit’s escort, of course.

Turning the page to a new year, many of us are discerning what God is doing in our lives, what He is inviting us to, and what practices we will include to support our journey.  Whatever practices you include in 2024, I hope you will include space for epiphanies.  Study the Word, Sit with the Word, and make Space to be changed by the Word.  May this next season be one of our realization of the Light that has come.  May we become wise. 

So, we pray:  O Jesus, let your Light shine for all to see. For the glory of the LORD God rises to shine on you. Darkness as black as night may cover all the nations of the earth, but your Glory is our doxology.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.  We praise you; we bless you; we adore you; we glorify you; we give you thanks for your great glory,  Heavenly King, may nations come to your Light and all earthly kings make way for You, the King of Kings.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr

Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke to the people with the LORD’s message, “I am with you, declares the LORD.” And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people Haggai 1:13-14

Intro: The two chapters of Haggai are about putting God first

Israel had been driven from the land of Judah for seventy years
– on returning to their homeland, one of their priorities was to rebuild the temple,
• but there was a lot of work to be done, few workers, and limited resources
◦ they also had to construct homes for themselves
• after awhile, a few setbacks, and discouragement,
◦ they began to slack off and, instead, they were making improvements to their own homes
◦ the danger of not having the temple was the possibility of losing the nation’s spiritual center
– two times in both chapters of Haggai, God challenged them to “consider”
Consider your ways (Hag. 1:5, 7; 2:15, 18)
first, they were to consider their shortages
You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes (Hag. 1:6)
◦ it must have been similar to our frustration with inflation — at the grocery store, we’re paying more, but buying less
second, they were to consider what was going to happen next, after they put God first
◦ he would turn things around
“from this day on I will bless you” (Hag. 2:19)

I also want to point out–because it’s important to me–that two times in Haggai, once in each chapter,
– God tells them, “I am with you”
Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts . . . . My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not (Hag. 2:4-5)
• this could be our reminder for the New Year
• whatever happens, God is with us
◦ the more we own and internalize this promise,
◦ the greater our confidence and security will be in difficult times
– but that is not what my talk is about – instead, I am focusing on Haggai 1:14
And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel . . . and the spirit of Joshua . . . and the spirit of the remnant of the people
• in a year that will likely be disruptive for our entire nation, I hope we will discard complacency,
◦ I hope God will be stirring up our spirits toward his will

We make a big deal about New Year’s Day, don’t we?

The crowd in Times Square, the parties and parades, the noise
– but the whole idea of a “New Year” is fake
• there’s nothing in the laws of nature that indicates a new year begins on the first day of January
◦ in many ancient cultures, the New Year began in the spring
• in Judaism, there are two New Year days
◦ the religious New Year begins in spring with Passover
◦ the civil New Year begins in the fall with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
– think about it. What really changes between December 31 and January 1?
• unless we’re traveling on January 1, we will wake up in same house,
• begin our day with the same routine, and, other than having Monday off, our week will be like any other week this past year

I think we enjoy the illusion of annually starting a New Year
– we welcome it as a fresh start – the chance to have a do-over
• wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a fresh start at the beginning of every year?
◦ if all debts were erased? – if we were caught up on all our projects?
◦ if all wars and oppression ended in last hour of 2023?

If we could drop all that has held us back, we could make resolutions that would really stick
– Jonathan Edwards is known mostly for his sermon, “Sinners In the Hand of An Angry God”
• but he had a more positive influence on Christianity in America
◦ he was one of our nation’s most insightful theologians
◦ he laid a foundation for Biblical Theology, which did not become popular until the 20th Century
◦ he was a central figure in a widespread revival known as the Great Awakening
• Edwards wrote the longest list of resolutions I’ve ever seen
◦ one of his biographers wrote:
“Mr. Edwards was too well acquainted with human weakness and frailty. He therefore looked to God for aid, who alone can afford success in the use of any means. This he places at the head of all his other important rules, that his dependence was on grace . . . .”
◦ Edwards wrote:
“Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”
Then above his list of resolutions:
“REMEMBER TO READ OVER THESE RESOLUTIONS ONCE A WEEK”
There were sixty-seven resolutions in his list!

The most typical resolutions people make today are self-improvement goals
– diet and exercise, limit or stop drinking or smoking, work at better mental health, spend more time with family; that sort of thing
• we know the changes we need to make–but life gets in the way
– I dial back to the Christmas story, where the shepherds had a radical experience
• angels appeared to them – they received the revelation regarding Jesus – they ran off to Bethlehem and found him – they told others about their experience, and those people witnessed their excitement
• and then!–they returned to their sheep and went back to work
◦ no more angels, just the same old environment
• but did they take something new with them?
◦ a new awareness of God perhaps? Or a new sense of what is possible?

Can we carry Advent into the New Year?

In the past four weeks we have focused on the Advent themes of Hope, Joy, Love and Peace
– can we continue to pursue these qualities?
• make them our normal response to life circumstances?
◦ to the mundane and routine? to the crises? to other people?
• I am not asking if we can make resolutions
◦ it’s not about what we can do,
◦ but about what kind of people can we be?
– the most natural way to make important changes is as a response to something that stirs us
• that either excites us or disturbs us
◦ or a desperate need we have, a severe physical pain, mental anguish, or a relentless desire
• we call this experience of being driven to action “motivation”

Jesus was intent on affecting the motivation of his followers
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you (Jn. 6:27)
– he urged people to question themselves regarding what was behind their words and actions
• he asks them, “Why do you?” or “Why did you?”
• he was asking, “What was your purpose and what was its motivation?”
– Jesus also exposed our wrong motivations – for instance:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before others in order to be seen by them (Mt. 6:1)
• I am usually the center of whatever motivates me
◦ I want to be healthy and fit, to be liked or admired, to be well off
• Jesus tells me to surrender those motives – if I want to see the kingdom of God
◦ when we’re no longer dominated by the motivations of the ego-self,
◦ we acquire a new perception of the world and our place in it

God stirred up the spirit of the leaders and the people

I am not going to try to stir up your spirit
– I can’t even stir up my own
• too many preachers today are trying to stir people up
◦ with fears related to Jesus’ soon return and hell-fire if they’re not ready
◦ with conspiracy theories or inflammatory political rhetoric
◦ or to enhance their self-interest, their image, or acquiring wealth
• I want to discover what God is stirring up in us
– I have an idea what that might be
• we can join protests against atrocities in our world or pending legislation
◦ we can send email to our state and national representatives
• but our one voice and participation will not end any war, act of aggression, or change any law
◦ the effect we have on the world will be closer to home

Conclusion: I’m going to suggest a place where we begin

As far as we are concerned with motivation and changing the world,
let us stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)

This is a consistent emphasis in our Reflexion community
To love God with our whole being
and to love our neighbors as ourselves
Thirty or forty people doing little things can make a large impact in the world – it’s the domino effect
◦ Working with, or supporting charitable organizations
◦ Showing mercy to people who need forgiveness rather than lectures
◦ Handing a few dollars to a homeless person
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10)
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thes. 5:15)

We can love, rejoice, hope, be at peace and bring peace . . . and we can pray

The people who disparage “thoughts and prayers” underestimate how great God is,
how responsive he is to people who have no money, power, or influence,
and how prayer really can make a miraculous difference
One of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, Karl Barth, wrote:
“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
Perhaps a small beginning at first;
nevertheless, a beginning

Dec 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Peace 12/24/2023

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Welcome and Prayer: Barbara Dahl

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Col 1:19-20).  I am very thankful that my sin is no longer a barrier preventing relationship with God, that I am reconciled with God and I have his peace in my life.  Probably like most Christians, that personal peace is what comes to mind most often when we talk about God’s peace. But that’s not what I am wanting to talk about.

This Advent, like previous years, we have received cards and greetings that include the message of “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”  It’s a beautiful scene from the Christmas story – the nighttime sky over the fields outside Bethlehem with the shepherds and a host of angles singing praises to God. I believe that, one day, when Jesus returns there will truly be peace on earth. Yet when I look around at our world now, I see war, violence, so much anger and hatred, prejudice, broken families, broken lives, a broken world. To be sure there are voices for peace and reconciliation, but the voices of conflict and division speak much louder.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young German pastor and theologian during the 1930s-40s.  He spoke out early and publicly against Hitler.  For his part in the resistance he was arrested, imprisoned and executed in 1945.  In 1934, he gave a sermon at an ecumenical conference in Denmark.  In it he said “Peace on earth is not a problem but a commandment given at Christ’s coming.”  I first read that sentence last fall and it gave me pause.  The idea that we are commanded to be agents of peace, like we’re commanded to love one another, and that it would require something of me is a thought has stayed with me. I realized I viewed God’s peace as a force that exists on its own and to share it with others, I just need to passively get out the way and let it flow to whoever it in its path.  (I no longer think of peace that way. )

Bonhoeffer gave his sermon to church leaders, advocating for a strong stance for peace in response to what was occurring in Germany.   My sphere of influence is obviously much, much smaller – my family, friends, acquaintances. I have been considering what it would look like, as an individual, to obey a commandment of peace – everyday – when we all seem to be getting along fine, not just when discord or conflict exist.  Relationships run into problems typically as a result of small fissures over time, a person feels judged, not heard, not valued. And so, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to my words, actions and attitudes – do they speak love and grace or are they conveying (even unintentionally) judgment, resentment, impatience.  When I confront someone with an issue, what are my motives – do I want peace or am I looking to feel the satisfaction of putting someone in their place? In this polarized climate, when discussing issues with someone who does not share my views, are we looking for better understanding, perspective or just venting, encouraging each other to become more intractable in our positions with the result of making it easier to write off those who don’t share our views.   

There is no playbook for how to pursue peace.  Paul in Romans 12 says, “As much as possible, be at peace with all men.”  I love that he said “As much as possible” because I am flawed and I’ll never be a perfect agent of peace.  More importantly, as much as possible because sometimes the reasons for a relationship fracturing mean reconciliation will be a tough road or maybe that its not wise to seek reconciliation. Like loving others, walking the path of peace can be hard and it requires prayer for wisdom and guidance.  Also intertwined in peace is love and hope; hope that reconciliation is always possible and joy, sharing in the joy or good pleasure God has with reconciliation.

This Advent season has been different for me.  As I’ve read Peace on Earth in a Christmas card, I’ve heard it as a personal message – to continue to allow God to transform me to someone less self-serving and someone whose will is more aligned with God’s will and purposes.  And a message to consciously, intentionally and humbly walk the path of peace.

Almighty God,  Heavenly Father,

Please pour out your peace into our hurting and broken world.  We remember those who are suffering from the result of war or violence. We pray for their healing and comfort and ask that you be their safe refuge.  Bless those individuals and organizations working to provide aid, comfort and healing to those impacted by violence. May their efforts bear much fruit, provide them with strength and encouragement in their work. We pray for our leaders, inside of government and out.  Grant them wisdom and inspire them to work towards peace. For each of us, let your love guide our words and actions so that we also are agents of your peace and reconciliation. 

Let your kingdom of peace reign on earth as it does in heaven. 
In the name of Jesus, our lord and savior and our Prince of Peace.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is well pleased”
Luke (2:8-) 14

Intro: Even in infancy, people discerned that Jesus was extraordinary

Simeon, a righteous and devout man, was led by God’s Spirit into temple
– there he encountered Mary and Joseph and their baby
• taking Jesus into his arms, he prophesied over him
– then the elderly widow, Anna–who was herself a prophet,
• she also encountered the holy family in the temple
And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of [Jesus] to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel (Lk. 2:38)
– both of these people were keen on God’s will,
• and looking for God’s revelation
• so there’s no surprise they would discern God’s timing; they were primed for this moment
– but the shepherds–were they righteous? were they devout? were they even religious?
• yet it was to them the angels came
◦ they were first to receive the news
• the shepherds were chosen and given this privilege
◦ that’s my first impression–God blessed these nobodies with a heavenly revelation
◦ in my meditation on this passage earlier this month, I noted:
My med: “We can sit in silent prayer waiting for the slightest movement of God, hoping to catch a glimmer of light or discern the sound of a gentle whisper, yet never enjoy the certainty of a divine visitation. Our hunger for God, our devotion to prayer, our desperate seeking for a vision will not make it happen. God chooses when, where, and to whom.
But we are given revelations in which God does present himself to us. What he told to the shepherds, they told to others, and they told others, and eventually it was told to us. If God continues to speak to me through the Scriptures, that is where I will draw close to him and listen. He does visit us in his word.”

My thoughts this morning, aren’t about the shepherds

I won’t ignore them, because they illustrate an important feature of the Christmas story
– note where this chapter begins – with the emperor
• Caesar Augustus issued a decree and all the world jumped
• the center of world power was far from Bethlehem
◦ but this small village could not escape its political force
– the shepherds were at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of wealth, status, and power
• they were among the poorest and least important members of society
• remember that!
◦ they had no vote, no rights, and no influence
◦ but God recruited them for his public relations team

The angels’ message of “peace on earth” is often mocked

2,000 years later, humankind has advanced in so many ways!
– in knowledge, food supply, health care, technology, and innumerable luxuries
• but we have hardly made any progress toward peace
• we wonder how that can be in societies so advanced,
◦ the Scriptures have something to say about that
What causes war and combat among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (Jas. 4:1-2)
– James tells us that our warfare is first of all personal and internal
• millions of desperate people, driven by starvation and disease
◦ and billions more driven by envy and greed
• it shouldn’t surprise us that big, powerful nations
◦ invade and exploit the resources of smaller, weaker nations
◦ it’s what happens on the playground every day

To make sense of “peace on earth,” we must listen carefully

First, the angels are not making a promise
– they’re not saying Jesus is going to bring world peace
• their announcement is more like a doxology or benediction
◦ Greek word for “glory” is doxa – doxologies usually contain this word and are praise to God
(there are several doxologies in the New Testament
◦ a benediction is the pronouncement of a blessing
• so “peace on earth” is not a promise, but a possibility

Secondly, the possibility is selective and conditional
– it is possible that the second stanza of their praise should be translated
peace among those of good will
Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that the driving force of all human behavior was what he termed,
“the will to power”
• now that is a recipe for war
• there can be another driving force for human behavior:
◦ “the will to good”
◦ it is the will to good that qualifies those on earth who receive and promote peace

When Jesus sent out teams of disciples, one of his instructions was,
Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace be to this house!” And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you (Lk. 10:5-6)
– “son of” is a Hebrew idiom that means having the character of
• it is like DNA or a family resemblance
– this is the condition for receiving peace, it being a person devoted to peace and good will

I think it makes sense, that:

If someone is not a good person, he or she should not be at peace
– the person who hates others, intentionally hurts others, who ridicules, insults, and blasts others,
• ought to be troubled about their behavior
“the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
There is no peace” says my God, “for the wicked” (Isa. 57:20-21)
– peace is a gift – and it is also a responsibility
Strive for peace with everyone (Heb. 12:14)
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Ro. 12:18)
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding (Ro. 14:19)

It seems obvious now that “peace on earth” begins in our hearts

If we can’t find peace, we can’t make peace!!!
– we need to bring our restless souls to God – you know these verses already:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Php. 4:6-7)
• Paul told the Colossians,
let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body (Col. 3:15)
• this, then, is the challenge – to let the peace of Jesus rule in our hearts!
◦ in life’s complex structure, nothing comes easy
– can we find authentic peace?
• I can do things to ease my conscience, but that’s not the peace of Christ
• I can do things that gives me temporary relief;
◦ for instance, diversions like entertainment, exercise, food–but that is not the peace of Christ
• I can do things to make me feel better about myself
◦ there are lots of ways to soothe myself (“thumb-sucking” behavior)
◦ but not the same as being at peace with God, within ourselves, with others, and with the world
Peace I leave with you; Jesus told his disciples, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (Jn. 14:27-28)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33)

I’ll share with you what works for me

When I settle into prayer – or when I sense that I’m uptight
– if I take a slow, deep breath and say to myself “here” (as I inhale) and “now” (as I exhale),
• and focus my awareness on the experience of being in this moment
◦ immediately I sense God’s Spirit around me, calm down, and I’m at peace
• after his resurrection, the first words Jesus spoke to disciples were, Peace be with you (Jn. 20:19, 21, 26)
◦ peace is not the absence of problems, it’s the presence of Jesus
– when Jesus exhaled his breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,”
• do you think maybe the disciples inhaled his Spirit? (Jn. 20:22)

Conclusion: Psalm 34 tells us to seek peace and pursue it (v. 12)

So, tonight–if that is your tradition–or tomorrow look under the Christmas tree for this gift
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts