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Sep 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 14, 2014 – Ephesians 1:3-6

A List of Spiritual Blessings

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to His pleasure, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:4-6

Intro: The first two words of verse 4, “just as,” indicate a link with the previous verseT

There we learned we have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”
- so we can read verse 4 as the first example of our spiritual blessings

This week I’ve been trying to grasp what it means to be blessed in heavenly places in Christ
- it occurred to me that Jesus joins us in our earthly places to lift us up to heavenly places
• in fact, he joins us in our hellish places, our toughest situations and deepest griefs (Ep. 4:9-10)
• but, of course, that is just scratching the surface of what he is saying
- what is the experiential reality of being in Christ in “heavenly places”? (cf. Ep. 2:6)
• about 3:00 this morning it dawned on me that I’d never find the answer with my rational mind
◦ it is something God’s Spirit communicates to our spirit (Ro. 8:16)
• when the truth of it enters us, it takes us by surprise because it doesn’t enter through our intellect or feelings
- somehow we already belong to the heavenly realm (Col. 3:1-2)
• we straddle two realms, living in one with our heart and soul in the other (Mt. 6:19-21)
• “spiritual” blessings may not show up in our circumstances
◦ think of how the Lord’s “blessings” look more like disadvantages or disabilities (Mt. 5:3-11)
◦ nevertheless, spiritual blessings eventually show up in us as they yield the fruit of  love, joy, peace, etc. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Another important factor to keep in mind regarding spiritual blessings:
- what Paul describes is the view from within – he produced this list from inside the experience
• it doesn’t look the same from the outside (or if examined with the mind alone, cf. v. 17)
- we want to get inside the experience too (or discover or be with the blessings from inside the experience)
• otherwise we are only Christian because of our beliefs, behavior, and membership in a church
- as far as Paul is concerned, we already have these spiritual blessings
• he isn’t telling us what we must acquire, but what we already have

The first example of a spiritual blessing: “He chose us”

We don’t want to get drawn away from the central point
- but the words “chose” and “predestined” (vv. 5 & 11) raise two difficulties”

read more…

Sep 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 7, 2014 – Ephesians 1:1-3

An Exploration of Christian Spirituality

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ . . . Ephesians 1:1-3

Intro: Before dipping into Ephesians, let’s remember why we’re sitting here this morning

Why we chose Reflexion
- you probably drove past a number of churches to get here
• but you did not come for the excellent and enthusiastic singing
◦ as Jim said a few weeks ago, there’s nothing entertaining here
• it has nothing to do with the typical features that churches offer their members
- the only reason (other than if you were dragged here or walked in by mistake) is that you have a hunger for God
• this hunger is a unique desire; it cannot be satisfied by:
◦ Bible studies or busying ourselves with good deeds
◦ administrating or participating in religious programs
◦ theology or supernatural miracles
• these things may meet some of our human needs, but not our deepest spiritual longing, which is for God himself

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God . . . Ps. 42:1-2

We want God in the ways he presented himself to people in scripture
- we expect God’s self-revelation to become a layer of our own lived experience
• this does not mean we all hunger for the same sort of encounter with God
◦ some people want a spectacular experience–God manifest in visions or his other-worldly glory
◦ others desire a non-spectacular encounter–nothing more than eyes to  see and ears to hear
◦ they desire greater sensitivity to what is already here and to discern the “still small voice”
• but we all share the desire for something real
◦ not imaginary, purely cerebral, or manufactured and controlled by other humans
- plain and simple, we want the Christian experience of God
• the core experience of Jesus Christ around which New Testament churches were formed
• the promise of the Scriptures

You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

There’s no question Paul’s letters contain theology

But it’s important to be clear that his was an experiential theology
- we do not only test experience by theology, but we must test theology by experience

read more…

Sep 3 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 31, 2014 – Luke 23:26-47

Wandering Into Paradise

When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. And following Him was a large crowd of people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him. 
Luke 23:26-32

Intro: Today we meet Jesus through eyes of a thief

At first this may sound dubious – after all, what can we learn from a crook?
- but an experienced thief develops a special kind of skill; namely, street-smarts
• a combination of survival skills and the ability to make quick psychological assessments
- they are frequently the first to spot a phony (they may have played that con themselves)

What did the thief first see at a glance?

He saw two other presumed criminals who were also being led to their execution
- one beaten so badly that a bystander had to be conscripted to carry his cross
• a large crowd was following the battered man
• and in the crowd, women were grieving over him
○ to see the women there was unusual, but not especially strange
○ some bandits and outlaws were popular heroes
- the beaten criminal spoke to women as he stumbled forward
• he told them not to weep for him, but for themselves
• this made no sense, so the thief turned and looked ahead to the hill where he would die

Vv. 33-38, “Skull”–death hovers over the place, even its name

“there they crucified Him” – Luke doesn’t drag this out in gruesome detail
- nevertheless, it wasn’t a storybook ending to Jesus’ life — he felt everything

read more…

Aug 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 24, 2014 – John 18:28-19:16

An Encounter with Mystery

Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. John 18:28-32

Intro: We have learned something about Iraq in the last eight years

(something we probably should have known before dismantling its government)
The stability of the nation has always been threatened by divisive and explosive factions
- previously, political activists and religious radicals had been held in check
• Saddam Hussein’s “reign of terror” preempted independent acts of political violence
○ Iraq’s new, US-backed replacement government has already failed
○ now they are finding it extremely difficult to form another new government
• internal divisions have left them vulnerable to outside invasion

The current situation in Iraq can help us make sense of Pontius Pilate
- Pilate was at once an effective administrator of Rome and brutal oppressor of Israel
• this region was well-known for its unrest and rebellious past
• so Pilate decisively and mercilessly suppressed potential uprisings – for example:
○  a protest erupted after Pilate expropriated “sacred money” to finance an aqueduct
○ Pilate had soldiers dress in street clothes and disperse themselves in the crowd
○ on cue, the soldiers began to club the protestors, beating many of them to death
- eventually Pilate went too far and was summoned back to Rome

Religious history has a way of rehabilitating scoundrels
- the Coptic Orthodox Church (Egyptian Christians) – eventually regarded Pilate as a saint
- but this completely misses point of his role in gospels
• not only because it is based in pure fiction
• but the story is not about Pilate; it’s about the Galilean in his custody facing execution

Jesus was thrown in front of Pilate

It’s unlikely Pilate would have ever met Jesus otherwise

read more…

Aug 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 17, 2014 – Matthew 26:6-15

Jesus Leaves the Door Open

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”
But Jesus said, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
 Matthew 26:6-10

Intro: We’ve spent the last five months with people who met Jesus

Today’s person of interest is Judas Iscariot
- until now, everyone else had been a stranger to Jesus prior to their encounter with him
• not Judas, he was “one of the twelve” (v. 14–i.e., one of the apostles, 10:1-4)
• Jesus let him in close

If I could, I would begin this morning with a recorded interview with Judas
- I imagine it going like this:

[Camera on Judas] “I really didn’t ‘get’ Jesus at first. None of us did. Good grief! His behavior had John the Baptist asking pointed questions.
“He was powerful; he healed the sick. He was charismatic and could control a crowd. But he did not fit any of our conceptions of the Messiah.”

We tend to think of Judas as a “stock” character — as one-dimensional
- “the one who betrayed Him” (Mt. 10:4)
• we’re familiar with the label, but we don’t know the person
○ he is a complex character – capable of change
○ the truth is, we have not been able to figure him out

William Barclay explored the possible motives Judas may have had for handing Jesus over
(by the way, “hand over” may be a better translation that our loaded English word “betray”)
- Barclay suggests that Judas was trying to force Jesus’ hand
• that he fully believed Jesus was the Messiah, but he was moving too slowly
• he thought that engineering a show down with religious authorities would force Jesus’ hand
- remember, the disciples imagined a revolution that would bring a new empire
• the world would be turned right-side up
• all of them would be placed in positions of power and wealth (Mark 10:35-40)
○ it’s possible Judas wanted to hurry it on
○ this is certainly a different picture of him than the typical image of him as a scoundrel

We learn something from the context around the story

read more…

Aug 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 10, 2014 – Mark 10:46-52

Does Anyone Care?

Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David have mercy on me!”
And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.” Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus.
And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road. Mark 10:46-52

Intro: I cannot imagine being blind in Jericho

When it got hot–and in Jericho everyday was hot–how would a blind person find a cup of water
- or suitable shade where they were not in the way or on someone’s private property?
• without people looking after him, the blind man had slim chance of survival
○ and survival was as much as one could hope
○ on a good day, blind beggars might be able to scrounge up one meal
- it’s one thing to leisurely sit on a corner and watch people go by
• it’s another to be fixed in place and helpless
○ travelers pass on the road going this way and that, doing important things
○ meanwhile the blind sit by, begging for a bit of their life, of their happiness

This is where we meet Bartimaeus
- Neither Matthew or Luke mentions his name, but Mark makes a point of explaining it
bar is the Aramaic word for “son” — “son of Timaeus”
• in biblical cultures we don’t see the individualism of our own culture
○ people are identified by their relation to others or place of origin
○ “Simon son of Jonas” (relation), “Joseph of Arimathea” (place)
- the “of” that was added to a person’s name told who he was, where he was “connected”

Jesus was leaving Jericho “with His disciples and a large crowd”
- hearing the commotion, Bartimaeus asked what was going on
• someone told him it was “Jesus of Nazareth,” identifying Jesus by place
• when Bartimaeus cried out, “Son of David,” he identified Jesus by relation
○ “Son of David” is a Messianic reference (cf. Mk. 12:25)
- now it’s clear why Mark emphasized Bartimaeus’ name
• he drew our attention to Bartimaeus’ name to stir thoughts regarding Jesus’ title
○ he sets this up as an encounter between “the son of Timaeus” and “the Son of David”
• this was important to Mark – in fact, it is the big point of his whole book

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mk. 1:1)

• Mark is moving through the layers of Jesus’ identity, bringing us to the truth of God in Jesus (cf. Mk. 14:61 & 15:39-40)

Bartimaeus asked others for money; from Jesus he requested mercy

read more…

Aug 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 3, 2014 – Luke 19:1-10

The Soul In Search of Jesus

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. Luke 19:1-4

Intro: When young, I had a simplistic concept of the Bible

I thought it was this monolithic religious document
- a sacred text that explained Judaism and Christianity
• I assumed it was written in a uniform style, like an encyclopedia
• so a person could look up information regarding beliefs, rituals, and rules
- it was only later in reading through it that I discovered the truth
• the Bible is a compilation in which we hear the voices of many authors
○ it consists of several different types of literature
• even in the New Testament we can distinguish narrative, letter, essay, and prophetic genre

Nevertheless, every New Testament author shared the same goal
- to communicate their experience of Jesus Christ
• it was their conviction, we could experience him too

. . . and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory … (1 Pe. 1:8)
. . . but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pe. 3:18)

- whether or not this happens for us is another matter
• it depends a lot on how we come to the New Testament
○ whether we’re looking for information or for Jesus
- this vignette of Zaccheus suggests a way of coming to scripture to see Jesus

This is a unique incident in the life of Jesus

Even for Luke, who stresses Jesus’ interaction with tax-collectors and their crowd
- this is the only time Jesus invited himself into someone’s home
• and the only time someone was so eager to see Jesus for who he is

read more…

Jul 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 27, 2014 – Mark 10:17-31

The Simplicity of Christ

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor you father and mother.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Mark 10:17-20

Intro: In a way, the history of Christian monasticism begins with this passage

Many scholars look to St. Antony as the prototype of all monks and hermits. Born around 251 AD, he grew up to become an Egyptian peasant farmer until sometime in his twenties he heard a sermon preached on this story we are reading today. When Jesus’ words were read, “go and sell all you possess and give to the poor,” he interpreted them literally. Leaving all he owned behind, he moved from the city into the outlying necropolis. But as his reputation grew for being a wise and spiritual person, so many people came to see him that he moved further and further into the desert until he secluded himself in complete isolation for twenty years. It was this passage that inspired him to leave his former world behind to devote himself entirely to God.

Before we jump into this episode, we will take a brief look at its background
- in the previous verses, people had brought their children to Jesus for his touch
• when he defended the children against his disciples, he made two statements about children:

  1. The kingdom of God belongs to them (and the childlike)
  2. “Whoever” enters the kingdom must receive it like a child

- once inside our story, Jesus will use two terms interchangeably
• “eternal life” and “the kingdom of God”
○ “eternal life brackets” this section (vv. 17 & 30)
• for Jesus, the kingdom of God is our introduction to eternal life

What we see immediately in this man who comes to Jesus is an attractive character

Our first impression of him is formed by verbs
- “ran” and “knelt,” which indicate either eagerness or desperation
- “asked” – not for healing, miracle, justice, or to resolve a theological controversy
• he wanted life with God and he was read ready to “do” something to have it

read more…

Jul 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 20, 2014 – Luke 13:10-17

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like . . .

And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up a all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.
But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”
But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by him.
 Luke 13:10-17

What we can learn about Jesus depends on the questions we ask and our goal in asking

If we ask, How was Jesus perceived in his time and culture?
- we find answers such as Rabbi, prophet, miracle-worker, and Messiah
If we ask, How is Jesus perceived today in reference to his own time and culture
- answers include sage (wisdom teacher), mystic, apocalyptic messenger, and revolutionary
• taking these paths, we collect interesting answers
○ but when we reach to the end of them, we do not know Jesus
• the historical approach and the scientific approach do not help us come to know Jesus
○ instead, the objectivity of our inquiry keeps the person of Christ at a distance

If we ask, How can I know this person?
- the answer is, You have to meet him
• that has been the experience of millions of people, both today and in past centuries
• martyrs did not die for an idea or a doctrine
○ and they did not go to sword, lions or flames alone
○ having met and lived with Jesus, they knew he held their hands in death
If we ask, How do I meet Jesus?
• the answer is, you must begin by dropping your objectivity – close the distance
• come to his story with your heart rather than just your head and you will meet him

Luke begins today’s episode with the setting

He doesn’t give us a detailed description, but the general picture
- the synagogue was designed to serve as sacred space
• the Sabbath was structured to be sacred time
• Jesus entered this setting, this sacred environment, and taught
○ later on we’ll get an idea of what he taught

read more…

Jul 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 13, 2014 – Luke 10:38-42

Learning to Listen

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”
But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:38-42

Intro: Over the last four months we have spent time with people who met Jesus

We have observed both the kind of persons they were and the kind of problems they brought to him
- in this way, we have been able to see Jesus through their eyes
• discovering how he treated them informs us as to what we can expect when we bring our issues to him
- but our primary intention from the start has been to know Jesus
• St. Paul met Jesus in a blinding vision and continued to encounter him throughout his life (Acts 9:3-7; 22:17-22; 23:11)
○ nevertheless, his enduring passion was, in his own words,  “that I may know Him” (Php. 3:10)
• this was the goal for which he was willing to sacrifice everything (Php 3:7-9)
○ this is the passion that drives our spiritual lives, the heart of Christianity: to know God in Jesus Christ
○ there is always more

The insight contained in today’s story may be the most import we’ve discovered so far
- this has been recognized from the earliest centuries of church history

John Cassian (360-436) interviewed monks who lived alone in the Egyptian desert. One interview was with an old hermit, Abba Moses who explained to him the difference between the contemplative Christian life and the active Christian life in this way:
“Martha was performing a service that was certainly a sacred one, since she was ministering to the Lord and His disciples . . . You see then that the Lord makes the chief good consist in meditation, i.e., in divine contemplation: whence we see that all other virtues should be put in the second place, even though we admit they are necessary, and useful, and excellent, because they are all performed for the sake of this one thing.”

• it was typical of monks and devout scholars to rate the contemplative life over the active life
- we hear the same thing from St. Augustine and, nine centuries later, Thomas Aquinas

The character traits of these two sisters are instantly highlighted

They practically personify frenetic activity, on the one hand, and leisurely contemplation, on the other
- later on, we again find “Martha was serving,” true to form (Jn. 12:3)
• Martha could be direct with Jesus — her directness came out of who she was as a person
○ the Lord could be just as direct with Martha (cf. Jn. 11:21-26)
○ I would imagine that they appreciated this freedom they enjoyed in their interactions

read more…

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