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Jan 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 15, 2017 – Jonah 1:4-6

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep.

So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.” Jonah 1:4-6

Intro: Let’s take a quick look at the previous episode

God gave Jonah an assignment, and Jonah ran away
– he found and boarded a ship that was going across the sea
• we were told that Jonah paid the fare and went with them
• two important words: with them
– like a person who joins a group going backstage, “I’m with them
• his plan: hide in crowd, lose himself among Gentiles

Why did Jonah choose the sea?
– in Israel’s mind, their God was about land–the land
• the land promised to Abraham and his descendants
• and especially soil suitable for cultivation
◦ the wilderness, mountains and the sea were associated with chaos
◦ wild, disorganized and unpredictable spaces that threated human life
– Jonah sailed for a distant land, one for which God had no concern
• in doing so, he made a fundamental mistake
◦ he confused his small world for God’s real world
• in today’s episode, the sea becomes God’s agent for thwarting Jonah

Meanwhile, Jonah was not talking to God–he just took off
• and God was no longer talking with Jonah
• but they were communicating
◦ through his actions, Jonah was saying, “I’m not going to Nineveh”
◦ and through his actions, God was saying, “Sure you are. You’re just doing it hard way”

V. 4, God responds and the gloves are off

God did not send a breeze as a mild warning
– it was a great wind that whipped up a great storm
• and God did not just send it, but he hurled it

Phillip Cary, “. . . he hurls it as if it were a weapon, a spear or a stone to smash the little human vessel to bits.”

• the repeated usage of a key word in the story (great) reveals God’s seriousness
– the ship’s planks were stretched and strained and about to come apart–death was near

I love and deeply appreciate God’s patient pursuit of the person he’s chosen
– patient, and also relentless
• he would not let Moses off the hook – nor Paul, but chased down both of them
• God does not give up – he will have the one he wants
◦ by brute force if necessary, though he prefers our cooperation
– you and I are not interchangeable stage actors
• in a play, if one actor cannot perform a standby will fill in and the show goes on
◦ but only you can do what God has made you and prepared you to do
• you matter to him — so much that he will come after you

V. 5, The scene on deck is a riot of frenzied activity

read more…

Jan 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 8, 2017 – Jonah 1:1-3

Once Upon A Time

The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. Jonah 1:1-3

Intro: The Book of Jonah is a story, and it is a wild one

Yet facets of the storyline sound very familiar
– a person trying to escape his or her destiny,
• a ship caught in a storm at sea,
• a large fish that shows up at exactly right moment
– these are elements found in the world’s most beloved folktales
• the story does not require much background information to understand it
◦ everything we need to know is in the text
• the only troubling questions are the big ones:
◦ What is this story? and, Why is it in the Bible?

Was Jonah meant to be read as a record of historical events?

If so, why isn’t it included in the historical books?
– for example, in the one place Jonah is mentioned (2 Ki. 14:25)
• the Elijah and Elisha stories are told in the places they appear in 1 and 2 Kings
– Jonah was not recognized as being primarily historical, but as prophetic
• note that prophecy does not mean “prediction”
◦ it was an inspired event in which one received and delivered God’s word
• even still, the Book of Jonah is not like any other prophetic writing

  1. The other books of prophecy are exactly that–mostly prophecies
    They have little or no narration
    Jonah, however, is all narration with one short prophetic sentence (3:4)
  2. Jonah’s unparalleled success–an entire populace turned to God
    Not even one of the big name prophets experienced this response
  3. Jonah did something no other prophet did; he ran away

Sometimes prophets told parables (Hebrew, mashal)
– Nathan’s rich man, poor (2 Sam. 12:1-8); Isaiah’s vineyard (Is. 5:1-7); Ezekiel’s many parables (notably Ezekiel 16:1-42)
• but it is like the whole book of Jonah is a parable
• it is the story itself that conveys God’s prophetic word

What is the message of Jonah?

It has to do with a man’s struggle with God over justice
– it’s like the Book of Job in this way; he too struggled with justice
• but Jonah’s concern had a very different twist
◦ Job: Why do bad things happen to good people?
◦ Jonah: Why don’t bad things happen to bad people?
Why don’t they get what they deserve?
• but this struggle isn’t the main point of the story, it just sets it up
◦ spoiler alert!

read more…

Jan 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

A Brief Introduction to Jonah

The Book of Jonah

(This overview was printed and handed out as a supplement to the Bible study)

More than anything else, the book of Jonah is a story and the narrative becomes more fascinating the deeper we go into it. A few characteristics of this story include the following:

  • The protagonist (main character) is Jonah, but he is not necessarily a “hero”.
  • The antagonist (typically the bad guy or villain) is also Jonah. In other words, Jonah is his own worst enemy. There would have been no storm, no “great fish,” no worm or scorching east wind if not for his stubborn resistance to God’s will.
  • The plot in a story usually involves some kind of conflict. In this instance, the tension that moves the story forward is between God’s will for Jonah and Jonah’s will for God. Jonah was convinced that he knew what God should do, but was afraid of what he would do.

The Book of Jonah is a carefully constructed story

  • The story ends where it began, with “Nineveh, the great city.” This creates an envelope around the whole book, that lets us know the circle is complete even though it leaves us hanging at the end (1:2 & 4:11).
  • The story divides into two narratives that run parallel to each other 
    Part One (chapters 1-2): Jonah runs from God to avoid Nineveh 
    A great wind, a great storm and a great fish
    The sailors “called on their gods” and on Yahweh (1:5, 14)
    The concern of the captain and his crew, “not perish” (1:6)
    Jonah learned his lesson (2:8)
    Part Two (chapters 3-4): Jonah goes to Nineveh and argues with God
    The people of Nineveh “call on Yahweh” (3:8)
    The concern of the king and his people, “not perish” (3:9)
    A scorching wind and a dead plant (4:8)
    The lesson Jonah was supposed to learn (4:10-11)
  • Key words and phrases. We recognize key words in the way that they are emphasized in the text. The emphasis comes through repetition, being doubled (e.g., “feared a great fear,” being new or unusual expression, or in some way by drawing attention to their usage.
    Great, greatly
    Cast, throw, hurl
    Cry out (call)

We will discover more elements of the story’s structure as we go through it.

Questions regarding the point or purpose of this story 

Is it:

  • God’s sovereign power over elements and nations? (This seems to be taken for granted rather than appear as a theme)
  • The miracles–e.g., the great fish and Jonah’s survival?
  • The revelation that no one can run from God or dodge his will?
  • The eternal reliability of God’s self-revelation to Moses? (4:2)
  • God’s justice?
  • God’s compassion for all people?

What kind of story (genre) is the best fit for Jonah?

  • Historical?
  • Wisdom writing?
  • Prophetic?
  • Comedy? (The story certainly contains comic elements)
  • Ironic tale? (We will encounter irony in some of the scenes)
  • Satire?
  • Mashal or parable?
    The word mashal appears in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and is translated by a number of different words into English. The one idea that connects to these various meanings is that a comparison is being made. When mashal is a parable, its purpose was to illuminate or illustrate a truth, be thought provoking, or provide an insight. Some Rabbis’ taught that “before parables no one understood the Torah, but when Solomon and others created parables, then people understood” (quoted in Stories with Intent, Klyne Snodgrass, p. 8).
    We cannot say the book of Jonah is a mashal, and one reason is because no other Old Testament book is entirely a parable. But neither is there any other book in the Bible quite like Jonah.

The book of Jonah is a prophetic message, delivered in narrative form. It is more concerned with the message God communicates through the story than with the details of a specific historical situation.

Jan 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 1, 2017 – John 16:5-7

Our “Advantage” In 2017

But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, “Where are You going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. John 16:5-7

Intro: A married couple in one of our Wednesday night meetings, happened to mention that I performed their wedding

Another couple said the same, then another, and another
• turns out, I had officiated the weddings of more than half those present
• more than one of those marriages are thirty-plus years old
– some of the engaged couples requested to observe Communion during their wedding
• so at that point of the service I would make it a point to say,
“[her name] and [his name] have asked that their first act as husband and wife is to observe the Lord’s Supper”
◦ what a great way to enter marriage!
◦ begin by receiving Jesus into the union of the new life they will share
• today, Reflexion’s first act in the new year will be to observe Communion together
◦ we begin 2017, receiving Jesus once again into our hearts and our community

How could it be to disciples’ advantage for Jesus to leave them?

Stories of Jesus reveal the inestimable value of his physical presence
– most of all, he brings God near to men, women and children
– when he sees suffering, he feels it
– when people confide secrets, he forgives
– he is loyal; he never betrays a trust
– his counsel is the best wisdom
• he always gives the perfect answer
– he meets the very real need for human touch
– he calms fears, heals wounds, resolves doubts, and restores hope
– besides all this, disciples could point to him and say,
“There he is! Go to him and see for yourself” (cf. Jn. 1:45-46)

So how could it be to our advantage to not have this Person always here?

read more…

Dec 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 18, 2016 – Luke 2:25-35

A Seasoned Christmas

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

“Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A light of revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed–and a sword will pierce even your own soul–to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:25-35

Intro: Christmas is not only a day, it is a season

It is the most important season for America’s economy
– but we’re already well aware of that
• it starts too soon and is crammed with too much
– for Mary, Christmas season was kicked off when the angel approached her
• in both Hebrew and Greek “angel” and “messenger” are the same word
• angel messengers arrive straight from the presence of God

Normally, when encountering humans, the angel’s first word is, Do not be afraid
– how Gabriel began with Zacharias who was troubled by his presence (Lk. 1:13)
• and the same with the angel who appeared to the shepherds when they were terribly frightened (Lk. 2:10)
◦ it seems that with Mary, Gabriel forgot to deliver his opening line
• I don’t think it is a misreading to sense Gabriel’s excitement
◦ Gabriel blurted out what he knew about Mary when he saw her:
favored one – she was chosen for something great
the Lord is with you – she would not fail; could not fail
(in scripture, this second statement means everything will be okay)
– perhaps, when he saw her reaction to him, he remembered the “Don’t be afraid” part
Do not be afraid – and for second time he said her name
◦ Mary was known to the angels in heaven
• what he did not say was, “Be terrified, for your destiny is upon you”
◦ the plans she had for coming years had been scrapped
◦ all she can do now was to wake up each morning and discover where God’s plan would take her

That one Christmas changed everything for Mary

The beginning of Joseph’s Christmas season was more complicated
– he did not first learn about Mary’s destiny from angels
• I think we sometimes read Bible in fairytale mode
◦ we don’t stop to think about its real-life impact on these people
• Joseph did not instantly think, “It’s a miracle!”
◦ he assumed the worst – still, he was a good man
◦ he planned a secret divorce rather than expose her to public shame
– the Scriptures do not explore whatever inner anguish he felt
• while considering this course, angel came
◦ he too was told not to be afraid – and specifically, to take Mary as his wife
◦ an angel explained to Joseph that the Child in her was of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:20)
• Matthew adds that this was a fulfillment of prophecy: Emmanuel, “God with us” (Mt. 1:22-23)
◦ so, whereas Mary was told, the Lord is with you
◦ we learn from Matthew that in Jesus, the Lord is with us all

The way Jesus enters any human life works the same for us as Mary and Joseph

read more…

Dec 15 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 11, 2016 – Luke 1:26-38

Holiday Food for Thought

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. Luke 1:26-29

Intro: Mary was one of a kind

Never has anyone else been asked to become what she became
– the surrogate mother of the Messiah, the Son of God
• nevertheless, her uniqueness illustrates something:
◦ a response to God that is necessary universal
• the response is a way of holding the gifts of Spirit that bears the fruit of the Spirit
◦ a way to receive life so that it gives birth to more life
◦ Mary signified her acceptance of God’s will when she said:

May it be done to me according to your word (Lk. 1:38)

– Mary received God’s word into her whole self; heart, mind, soul and body
• the baby within her was infinitely more than her body,
◦ nevertheless, he was sheltered and nourished by her body
◦ in this way he became a human person in our world
• when we give our consent to God’s word to live and work within us, it reproduces life

Mary’s initial response wasn’t enthusiastic joy

In verse 29 she was perplexed and kept pondering the angelic greeting
– perplexed sounds like “confused,” but the Greek word hints at “disturbed”
• the word translated pondering means “to turn over in the mind”
• she was trying to penetrate the meaning of this unusual greeting
ponder is one of four words Luke uses regarding Mary’s thought process
• I do not think Luke’s use of these words was incidental
• they reveal something about Mary’s inner life
◦ the way Mary moved along in God’s will

read more…

Dec 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 3, 2016 – Luke 1:67079

Gateway to God’s Heart

And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of David His servant–
As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old–
Salvation from our enemies,
And from the hand of all who hate us;
To show mercy toward our fathers,
And to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to Abraham our father,
To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear all of our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.” 
Luke 1:67-79

Intro: John the Baptist occupied a unique turning point in biblical history

The transition from the Old Testament era to the New Testament times
– more specifically, John was the end of the prophetic tradition associated with Elijah
• a tradition that reached its climax in John (Lk. 7:28)
• in fact, there was a strong link between John and Elijah
◦ he came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk. 1:17)
◦ in some way John was a prophetic fulfillment regarding Elijah (Mal. 4:5-6; Mt. 17:10-13)

For all the prophets and all the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Mt. 11:13-15)

– it is clear that Zacharias and Elizabeth still stood very much in the Old Testament
• for example, their connection to Aaron and their description, “righteous…and walked blamelessly” (Lk. 1:5-6)
• in fact, their situation echoed that of Abraham and Sarah
◦ the old couple who could not produce a child, yet miraculously gave birth to Israel
– my point is: the more you know about the Old Testament, the easier it is to interpret Zacharias’ poem

When it came time to name Zacharias’ son, certain uncanny events occurred
– such that neighbors were astonished and even fearful
• the were wondering, What then will this child be(come)?
– the poem is God’s answer to that question
• that is why Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit
◦ so he could deliver this inspired poem

There are two parts to Zacharais’ poem

The two parts are delivered in two long sentences
– the first part is history, the second was the present and future
• first, the poem travels backward through time to David, the prophets, then Abraham
• then it turns around and addresses his child’s future and One whose way he would prepare
– the first part is praise, the second is prophecy

read more…

Dec 1 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 27, 2016 – Mark 1:1

Reconcilable Differences

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mark 1:1

Intro: I want to carry our current theme of prayer through Christmas

Mark is an odd place to start, because he does not tell the Christmas story
– instead, he tells us who Jesus is and goes straight to his story
gospel: good spell (old English, a story or speech) a good message
◦ it is like hearing a relative who was in a car accident survived and is well
• we need good news, because something is wrong with the world
◦ something is wrong with us
– we live in a world of lost spiritual intimacy — not only with God
• but with the world of nature, human society, family, ourselves
◦ our world is fragmented – the pieces don’t go together
• the anger, hostility, violence and cruelty in our nation is staggering
◦ we have become strangers in a strange land

Daniel Siegel has pointed out that every relationship has instances of rupture
– we know this – we have felt rejection, insecurity, cut off from a friend or lover
• Siegel says that the answer to rupture is repair
◦ the repair he recommends requires education, retraining, courage, humility
(and probably therapy)
• people who experience too many fractures tend to give up
◦ in relationships they adopt defense strategies rather than intimacy strategies
– we need good news, we need hope, we need help — we need Jesus

. . . if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself . . . . (2 Cor. 5:17-19)

So Mark says, The beginning of the gospel, which refers to a specific moment in history
– but, for us, the good news begins when we pick up the book and read
• the beginning is now – something new is entering our lives
• we can put up with a lot–trouble, imperfection, setbacks–if we have hope

Reading through Mark this week, I noticed something

There are themes or events or unusual phenomena that appear at
the beginning of Jesus’ story and reappear at the end
– of course, this is not surprising if we clearly understand his story
• Christmas and crucifixion are inseparable

More than once, Helmut Thielicke wrote, “The manger and the cross are made from the same wood.”

• the angel who appeared to Joseph told him,

. . . you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21)

◦ “Savior” is one of the words that defines his life
◦ it was in his dying that he delivered life to us

Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, “Father, save Me from this hour?” But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.  (Jn. 12:27-28)

– I have four examples of themes that tie the beginning and end of the gospels together

First, angels appear at the beginning of his story

Both Matthew and Luke report a flurry of angelic activity
– they make announcements and give people encouragement and assistance
• then they return at the end of all four gospels to announce Jesus’ resurrection
– only two other times during Jesus’ ministry do they emerge from their invisible realm

  1. The first is close to the beginning
    – right after Jesus’ temptation (Mk. 1:13), angels ministered to him
  2. The second is close to the end
    – the night prior to his crucifixion (Lk. 22:43) an angel strengthen him
    – so these other two visitations occurred at times of severe crisis

read more…

Nov 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 20, 2016 – 1 Corinthians 2:12-3:3

Passive Prayer

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 1 Corinthians 2:12-3:3

Intro: The church in Corinth was being ripped apart (see 1 Cor. 1:10-2:11)

Torn by conflict, Christians had formed separate camps
– for Paul, this was a serious threat to God’s work in Corinth
• he asked them, Has Christ been divided?
• if not, how could they justify their division?
– the two primary weapons in their arsenal were: reason and rhetoric
• whichever group had the strongest intellectual argument
◦ Paul uses the word “wisdom,” in Greek: sophia
◦ Greece was the birth place of Western philosophy (“love of wisdom”)
• which ever group had the best presentation – speeches
– Paul reminded the Corinthians that these were worldly weapons
• Greek culture demanded philosophical verification
• Jewish culture demanded presentation – signs
◦ God ignored both and gave us Jesus, his Son, the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24)

Next, Paul reminded them of the message he brought
– it wasn’t bolstered by superior wisdom or speech
• in fact, he arrived in weakness, fear and much trembling
• in his message, he simply stuck to the story of Jesus and his crucifixion
◦ because this is the key factor in God’s salvation for humankind
◦ Paul’s words were energized by God’s Spirit and power (not human wisdom or communication skills)
– but they were not to think there’s no logic to faith
• there is, only it is a hidden wisdom, a mystery
• the only access we have to it is by God’s Spirit

This was his argument up to the verses quoted above

The conflict in Corinth was rooted in a deeper, personal conflict
– a primal tension that affects every believer
– to clarify his point, Paul describes three conditions:
“a natural man”psychikos; psyche is the soul
◦ a soulish person, having no hope and without God in the world (Ep. 2:11)
“he who is spiritual”pneumatikos (the Greek word for spirit is pneuma)
◦ the believer, in whom the Spirit of God lives
“men of flesh”sarkikois (the Greek word for flesh is sarx)
◦ “flesh” is a metaphor that represents a life controlled by physical appetites and soulish passions
◦ this condition is revealed in a person’s behavior
For since there is jealousy and strive among you, are you not fleshly . . . ?

Not only the Corinthians, but all Christians face the same conflict
– the spiritual self is frequently tripped up by the “carnal” (fleshly) self
• I refer to these two selves as pneumatic and sarchotic

read more…

Nov 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 13, 2016 – Jeremiah 1:11-14

What Do You See?

The word of the LORD came to me saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it.”
The word of the LORD came to me a second time saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north the evil will break forth on all the inhabitants of the land.”
 Jeremiah 1:11-14

Intro: To me it’s a privilege to observe Jeremiah’s apprenticeship

Our verses record his first training exercises, which appear simple
– the prophets’ work was not complicated
• they received a message from God that they delivered his people
◦ the critical factors were to get the message, get it right, and tell it straight
• so, Jeremiah’s training began with a question, “What do you see?”
– the spiritual vision of the prophet gave rise to a possibility
• a human person could have eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to perceive
◦ they could have a vision that penetrated to the heart of things
◦ and they could see the glory of God
• there were two classic expressions of this possibility
◦ Moses’ request, I pray You, show me Your glory (Ex. 33:18)
◦ Isaiah’s vision:

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,
Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts,
The whole earth is full of his glory. 
(Isa. 6:1-3)

There is an intriguing irony in the message Isaiah received
– Isaiah was given a awe-inspiring vision of God
• he heard angels praising God, whose glory filled the earth
• yet it was Isaiah’s job to prevent God’s people from seeing or hearing

Go and tell this people:
Keep on listening, but do not perceive;

Keep on looking, but do not understand.
Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed. (Isa. 6:9-10)

– Their spiritual dullness was a divine discipline
• otherwise, we would expect everyone to witness God’s glory (cf. Psa. 19:1-3)
• and that brings us to our theme . . .

Prayerful Awareness is seeing what God wants to show us

Jesus wanted disciples to see his and his Father’s glory (e.g., Jn.  17:17:1-5, 24)
– I’m using “see” as a metaphor for all of our perceptions and the ways we perceive
• including: notice, observe, explore, discover, respond
– our eyes need to be trained to see God’s glory
• the big vision of God’s glory is in face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6)
• but normal vision of God’s glory is in ordinary objects and routine actions
◦ for example, a dandelion’s parachute seeds or train’s whistle in the night
◦ it is to see all of Christian theology in a slender ray of light

How did Jesus enlighten his followers to kingdom of God?
– “Watch the farmer planting seed,” he said
• “Follow life-cycle of mustard seed”
• “Spend time in the kitchen watching grandma make bread”
– when he told us to seek first God’s kingdom,
• how did he tell them to escape the distraction of anxiety?
◦ “Look at birds of the air” and “Observe how wild lilies grow in the field”
• he turned our attention to the sights and sounds of our everyday world

My favorite prayer in the gospels is that of blind Bartimaeus
– when Jesus asked what he wanted, he said, “Lord, that I might see”
• I have made that my prayer–alongside Moses’ prayer, “Show me Your glory”
– before Jesus took his leave of the disciples, he gave them an invaluable gift:

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (24:45)

• so the goal we have for the time we spend with God in prayer is this:
to see and to be transformed by what we see

What makes this seeing and hearing so difficult?

  1. We aren’t looking (the biblical word is seek – we’re not searching) or listening
    – one time youturned your head at right moment and saw something unique
    • the zigzag branches of a lightning bolt or a whale spouting
    • you have also turned your head just in time to miss something extraordinary
    – we want to sit in prayer, holding our gaze steady so we do not miss God’s glory
  2. We tend to lose sight of what is always in front of us
    – I notice gate needs painting, but walking past it ever day I no longer see it
    • eventually it fades into the background
  3. We do not watch patiently – like an astronomer or a bird-watcher
    For the vision is yet for the appointed time;
    It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail.
    Though it tarries, wait for it;
    For it will certainly come, it will not delay. (Hab. 2:3)
  4. We do not see clearly, but through frosted glass as it were
    – our mental habit is to connect perceptions with words
    • with labels, prejudices, judgments, opinions
    ◦ “It’s just a tree” or “Just a crow”
    • we also connect perceptions with feelings and emotions
    ◦ “I don’t like that color,” “This music scares me”
    – we do now know how to enjoy the pure experience of what is before us
  5. Sometimes God shows us something we do not want to see
  6. We do not ponder or reflect or move in for a closer look
    – we are like a mother humoring her child, “Oh yes dear, that’s lovely. Now let’s get moving”
    • I wonder how much of my life I’ve lost by not allowing a child to lead me
  7. We are not look for God’s grace specifically — or his glory, specifically
    – too many times, I don’t look past my problems
    • tears are not the only way that emotions can distort our vision

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