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Jan 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 24, 2021

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:21-27

Intro: Even if you grew up in church, bet your experience wasn’t as weird as mine. From the time I could read, I competed in “sword drills.” I will explain. We sat in our “Sunday school” class with Bibles on our laps. The adult leading the sword drill would tell us a book in the Bible, a chapter of that book, and a the number of a specific verse, such as Matthew 5:8. Then our leader would say, “Ready. Present arms (which meant we would hold up our Bibles in one hand, with the binding toward us). Charge!” We would then furiously hunt for the verse, and the first person to find it would jump up and read it aloud. Points were awarded to those who were the quickest in locating the verses.

Of course the swords we drew were our Bibles, because
the word of God is living and and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, and
take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Heb. 4:12; Ep. 6:17)
– although the meaning of scripture being a weapon is spiritual,
• in our religious subculture, it also meant being armed to win arguments
◦ perhaps that’s one reason why fundamentalists like such big Bibles
Joel Green describes preachers and teachers who spruce up the Bible,
for whom “the Bible serves, for example, as a book of quotations from which to draw authoritative support for one’s words, as a collection of proverbs for backing up moral convictions, or perhaps a treasure chest of discussion starters for group interaction . . . Interest in this sort of application is often articulated in terms of a baseline assumption that the Bible is a resource book for life in this world—a kind of ‘owner’s manual,’ indexed for troubleshooting when life goes wrong. In these churchly contexts, the words of the Bible may be visible, but it cannot be said that these are churches where the Bible is engaged as Christian Scripture.”
– modern metaphors for the bible include:
A Road Map
A Handbook for Living
A Love Story
A Survival Guide for the End Times
• biblical metaphors for God’s word include:
A sword
A lamp (Psa. 119:105)
Fire (Jer. 23:29)
Food (Job 23:12; Jer.15:16)
A hammer (Jer. 23:29)
A Seed (Mk. 4:14; 1 Pet. 1:22).

James uses the metaphor of a mirror for God’s word

The one who looks into it intently and perseveres, lives it, and is blessed
– in verses 26-27 James gives us an example
• this person doesn’t benefit from looking into the mirror of God’s word
If anyone thinks he is religious
◦ but he is not changed by what he sees, so he
deceives his heart, and this person’s religion is worthless
• James also tells us what pure and undefiled religion looks like
to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world
Hans von Balthasar, “It may be, indeed it is bound to follow, that as man reflects on what God says to him, the human being, the ‘I’, the self becomes visible, attains reality. Not, however, through reflecting on himself, but by listening to God’s word. For it is in the mirror of God’s word that man sees who he is.”
– the primary purpose of the Scriptures is to reveal God to us
• but they also reveal to us who and what we are
• what does Jesus’ Sermon On the Mount do? or his parables?
◦ they open our eyes to ourselves
◦ what is right and what is wrong; what we have and what is lacking

It is popular today to talk about “transformational leadership”

Or to refer to a ministry as “transformative”
– transformation is a big word – it refers to deep change
• we make superficial changes, and think it’s a big deal
◦ we stop cussing, stop watching R-rated movies, start going to church
◦ but still we stop short of being transformed
• perhaps it would help to paint picture of what I mean

One day a woman tells here husband that she’s done. She has filed for divorce. He immediately reacts as he has done in every previous crisis. He promises that he will change. He will leave love notes for her, call her from work to tell her how much she means to him, bring flowers on his way home, plan special “date nights,” and all of the other things he can think of that she has ever mentioned to him “would be nice.” For years she has tried to get him to see that that she needs to know she is important to him.
In spite of his promising, begging, threatening, and best efforts to persuade her not to leave him, she refuses to listen. She tells him she doesn’t want flowers and phone calls. If from now on he did everything for her that she had ever asked, it would no difference. It is no longer his ongoing behavior she does not want–it is him.
When they married, she thought he was something else, or that he would one day become something else. Now she realizes he will never be that person, and she no longer wants to be with the person he is. And all of his superficial changes cannot make him the person she wished for when she married him.

This is what I mean by “deep change” — changing who I am
– deep change affects the very things that define us
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17)
• listen to what Jesus says,
On that many will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt. 7:22-23)
◦ as spiritually mighty as these deeds may sound,
◦ they do not describe the kind of persons Jesus knows
• or listen to Paul,
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
◦ external behavior, even good habits or significant sacrifices,
◦ cannot substitute for a transformed heart and mind
– OKAY, please do not feel overwhelmed or defeated
• it’s just that we need to think about transformation honestly
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Ro. 12:2–the word translated testing appears in 2 Cor. 13:5, where Paul says, examine yourselves)
◦ we have heard this many times,
◦ but we’ve dodged how tough it really is to accept
• the transformation needs to occur in areas entrenched deep within us
◦ it’s in these areas we discover how hard-hearted and stiff-necked we are
◦ we have to let the sacred writings reach into these deep areas
Jonathan Pennington, “. . . when we move from talking about just any text to dealing with the Holy Scripture, the stakes are raised because ultimately to read the Bible is to hear the Word of God, to discern what God is saying to us. Bible reading is not just informative, but it must be transformative; otherwise its meaning is not truly understood.”

What are those deep areas that need to change?

God offers us a new heart and new spirit (Ezek. 36:26)
– so transformation occurs in what we hold in these areas of ourselves
• Paul says we’re transformed by the renewal of our minds
• do you suppose that covers only our conscious thoughts?
◦ or does it include what lies in our unconscious?
– we need to begin somewhere
Kathleen McAlpin, in her book, Ministry that Transforms, says, “For adults to grow they need to interpret their personal experiences and life situation in new ways and to become free to engage in a process of transformation. Expectations gained from past experiences govern how adults comprehend new realities. Adults develop habits around expectations that strongly influence their perceptions. From these expectations they maintain certain perspectives that give meaning to their reality. It is necessary to be aware of these expectations and to be able to appreciate and to comprehend new experiences from fresh perspectives to learn.”
“Critically examining our interpretations, particularly emotional reactions of shock or surprise, and the perspectives they express is the major imperative of modern adulthood.”
• there are many things I take for granted,
◦ things I accept exactly as they are–without question
◦ the poverty of other people and my own affluence
◦ that because I’m a Christian I’m going to heaven
and because others who are not Christians are not going to heaven

So what else are we talking about?
– if my prejudicial judgments are not changed, I am not transformed
• we have to be open to questioning our cherished beliefs and dogmatic convictions
◦ Peter was so sure of his beliefs that he rebuked Jesus (Mt. 16:22)
◦ John the Baptist was so certain that he knew what the Messiah would do, he doubted Jesus (Mt. 11:2-6)
• we must examine our unconscious assumptions, likes and dislikes, values
◦ our perspective, passions, and paradigms
◦ our loyalties, what we have loved and what we have hated
– it’s not that we have to get rid of everything,
• but all of it has to pass through the fire

Sacred writings require us to read with self-reflection

Barb and I have mirrors in our bathroom and a mirror in our bedroom
– when I want to feel good about myself, I look at the mirror in our bedroom
• the light is dim and the mirror is across the room, so I look okay
– when I want to see the truth about myself, I look at the other mirror
• the light is bright and the mirror is close up
◦ suddenly I’m in a Stephen King movie and there’s a monster in my mirror

We need to engage in scripture in a way that results in transformation
– this means to come to the Bible with complete openness
• we bring our deep issues to the surface
◦ out doubts, but also everything we think we know for certain
• then we allow God to speak to us about those things
◦ that is the role that our sacred writings play in our transformation
– we let them speak to what we know needs changing, but also what we don’t know needs changing
• in the book of Hebrews we learned the word of God is living and active–
and it discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart – it cuts into us
◦ so as you read, notice what gets to you, upsets your or forces you to think
◦ it may be that is the word you need to hear for deep change to occur
Joel Green, “[We] bring with us always and everywhere ourselves—our presuppositions and histories, our stories. And these presuppositions enable our understanding, as well as disable it.”
“Self consciously bringing ourselves with us to the work of reading Scripture comes with its advantages. It helps us come clean with our commitments and concerns, the interests that shape our reading of these texts, helping us approach our interpretive work more honestly.”
“We come to Scripture again and again, in humility, not only with our questions but with an openness to its questions—open to the possibility that this text will speak a word over against us . . . .”
• I have experienced this many times
◦ God has revealed to me my blind spots – he calls me out
◦ he confronts and exhorts us, but also comforts and encourages us
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Ro. 15:4)
• sacred writings enable us stop lying to ourselves
◦ and that is often the breakthrough that leads to transformation

Conclusion: We do not need to be afraid of being examined by scripture

Our sacred writings know us better than we know ourselves
– our reading is self-reflective we we can confidently pray,
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psa. 139:23-24)
– all the same, we don’t have to pretend transformation is easy or painless
• but we must realize there are powerful resources to assist us
◦ we will see in coming weeks that we have lots of help!
• and we need to remember this is a process; it doesn’t happen in a flash

Helmut Thielicke, “Since my present state no longer stands between God and me, since the Mediator has filled the gap, I can know myself quite freely . . . Self-knowledge is no longer dangerous; I need not repress it. I do not have to fall into illusions about myself. I no longer need the darkness. Hence the gospel gives me knowledge of myself with a final depth that the law could never achieve. From the safety of the shore of deliverance on which I am set by grace, I can observe the elements which still rage in me but which can no longer drag me back under, and whose power over me is broken.”

What the sacred writings transform in us, Jesus has already redeemed
For all eternity we will be grateful for his work in us,
because what he works in us,
enables us to achieve exactly what we want,
and that is,
for each one of us to become a good person

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