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Oct 21 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 19, 2014 – Ephesians 1:18-19a

HIP Spirituality

 I pray that the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. Ephesians 1:18-19a

Intro: This is the second part of Paul’s prayer for his readers

There are several “eye-opening” stories in the Scriptures (from Baalam in Numbers 22:31 to Paul in Acts 9:17-18)
- there is one in particular that has some resemblance to Paul’s prayer
• the prophet Elisha was staying in a small village (2 Kings 6)
◦ upset that Elisha kept spoiling his plans, the king of Aram sent troops to capture him
• one morning, Elisha’s attendant rose early and seeing a massive army surrounding the village, he panicked
◦ reassuring him, Elisha said, “Don’t worry, there are more on our side than on theirs”
◦ then he prayed “O LORD, open his eyes that he may see” — suddenly the attendant saw a much greater army “of fire”
- that is what Paul does for us
• if our eyes were opened, we would be amazed to see what we have going for us

Paul is praying them into something deeper
- last week he prayed that they would be equipped to know God – epignosei
gnosis is “to know,” acquired, personal knowledge — the prefix epi enlarges knowing
• what we knew from distance we now know up close — it is an intimate knowing
- this week Paul prays that we would perceive what God has for us 
• in essence his prayer is that we would know God and then through him come to know ourselves
• or what is ours in God

Paul uses an unusual phrase – “the eyes of your heart”

Even if we never heard it, we immediately understand what he means
- the “heart” represents a persons inner life
• our devotions and commitments (Mt. 6:21)
• our belief system – what we take for “reality”
• our passions and aspirations
- the heart determines the direction a person’s outer life moves
• words and actions – (Pr. 4:23)

read more…

Oct 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 12, 2014 – Ephesians 1:15-17

A Spiritual Person Who Knows God

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. Ephesians 1:15-17

Intro: If people tell you, “I’m praying for you,” is it important to you to know the content of their prayers?

I once spoke with a monk about a mutual friend who lived for awhile in his monastery
- the brother said, “We’re praying for him, that God will bring him pain”
• he noticed my shocked expression, smiled and explained:
◦ “He’s been running from it, but sometimes going through pain is the only way forward”
- so if someone says, “I’m praying for you,” you might ask, “And what is your prayer?”

Two times in this letter, Paul shares with his readers the content of his prayers for them
- in essence, he prayed that they would experience the fullness of Christian spirituality
• that is, all that life with God can be to a person
- in the prayer we look at today, Paul makes two requests but then shifts from prayer to theology
• it is as if he cannot talk about Jesus without getting carried away
• but it’s precisely what he knows about Jesus that justifies the richness of his requests

Verses 15-16 form an introduction to his prayer

He begins his prayer the same way in chapter 3, but gets carried away again (for twelve verses!)
- “For this reason” – Paul heard about these believers
• he wanted to contribute something to their faith — this was his calling

For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established (Ro. 1:11)

- prayer is one way we can promote God’s work in the lives of other people

Paul had heard about their faith “in the Lord Jesus”
- faith in Jesus is how a person becomes a Christian and the essence of being a Christian
• we go through life with Jesus, trusting him
• he will have more to say about Jesus a few verses down
- Paul had also heard about their “love for all the saints”
• faith is not our only Christian trait and commitment
◦ when it comes to other people, faith is not the most import trait or commitment

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:3)

• a person can have and believe all the right doctrines yet not be a Christian

read more…

Oct 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 5, 2014 – Ephesians 1:13-14

The Spirit of Christian “Spirituality”

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His Glory. Ephesians 1:13-14

Intro: I’m not sure why I just noticed it this week, but there is a pattern in this passage I had missed

It is almost a rhythm that emerges in verses 4-14
- it moves back and forth between what God has done and what we have been given
• he chose and predestined us – now we have redemption
• he made known to us the mystery of his will – now we have an inheritance
- block by block, Paul has been building a model of Christian spirituality
• the the climax of this pattern comes in the two verses of our meditation this morning: “you also”
• there were those who knew God before us–e.g., v. 12
◦ but now it’s our turn – we get to know God too

The Last spiritual blessing on Paul’s list – (our inclusion)

It has to do with our inclusion in God and Christian spirituality that is our experience of God

These verses are straight forward and easier to understand than what came before
- the only challenge may be for those who are unfamiliar with Paul’s vocabulary and concepts
- his point: How did it happen? (that we are included) and, What does it mean?

How did it happen? From our side there were two important “moments”

  1. “after listening” or “having heard”
    - hearing Christian messages has come too easy for us
    • we’re not so desperate for its truth that we memorize every word of it
    • there is a responsive way to hear
    ◦ it is both receptive and prepared to act on what is heard
    Do you ever feel like telling someone, “I know you were listening to my words, but you didn’t hear me!”?
    ◦ Jesus ran into this with his disciples — “Having ears, do you know hear?” (Mk. 8:18)
    • the brain is like a radio – lots of stations are blaring in it all the time
    ◦ we want to learn how to tune into God’s frequency, shutting out the other voices
    - what we heard was “the message of truth”
    • the Greek word for truth can mean nothing is hidden or corresponding to reality
    ◦ a person who is true is reliable, faithful
    ◦ there’s no tension between the message of salvation and reality
    • the “message of truth” is also “the good news of your salvation”
    ◦ the good news that things can be different
    ◦ we can be different – we can have a different life and a different destiny
  2. “having also believed” – a second stage
    - this is not simply acknowledgment or education
    • I was told oxygen is two parts H…& believed it
    - it is to put faith in something – to trust or rely
    • Paul: it is hearing it and saying Yes to it

Our faith was met by God’s response

“Sealed” – was used in various contexts in the Greek and Roman social worlds
- could be a sack of grain purchased in the marketplace then the opening of it was tied and sealed
• or it may be a letter that was sealed when an impression was made in soft clay or wax
• it signified ownership–that is, a seal identified the owner

read more…

Sep 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 28, 2014 – Ephesians 1:11-12

Maturing Into Childhood

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:11-12

Intro: The theme we’re exploring in Ephesians is Christian spirituality

What I have in mind is not something extraordinary
- a special or rare form of Christian experience
• it is not a way of being with God that is unique to saints
• Paul assumes that God meets all of his people in this way
◦ it doesn’t require a special temperament or talent
- we are not given options from which to choose
• “I think I’ll be an ethical Christian,” or a theological Christian, or a sociological Christian
◦ we are all of this, our faith built on a theological foundation, our will undergoes ethical formation, etc.
• it is simple–we all share a life with God through Jesus Christ
◦ spirituality is one dimension of its experience
◦ and all that matters is whether or not we wake up to it

Historically, Christian mystics worked out a discipline to develop ones spiritual life
- the classic pattern has been:

  1. purgation (purifying oneself from worldliness and sin)
  2. illumination (one is still far from perfect, but God’s presence and will begins to come into focus)
    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8)
  3. unification (union with God, an intimate and unbreakable bond is formed)

• as far as Paul’s teaching goes, this process is the reverse of the one God uses
• the outline in these verses: we are not working our way to God, but he has been and is working his way into us

So we come to . . .

The next spiritual blessing in Paul’s list

We have “obtained an inheritance”
- something has been allotted to us (the way the twelve tribes of Israel were alloted an inheritance (Jos. 18:1-6)
• notice the past tense – God has already done this
◦ we already have our inheritance “in Him”–i.e., Jesus Christ
• Paul then quickly links this with the word “predestined”
◦ we live in a present that is shaped by the future (our inheritance) and the past (what God predestined long ago)

read more…

Sep 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 21, 2014 – Ephesians 1:7-10

Two More Spiritual Blessings

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. Ephesians 1:7-10

Intro: Ephesians is an unusual letter

As a rule, Paul wrote to churches to address specific problems or concerns
- however, Paul’s primary purpose in Ephesians seems to be to enlighten his readers
• they’ve become Christians, but what does that mean? how does it happen?
• what has transpired between them and God?
- all of this makes Ephesians an excellent document for tracing Paul’s outline of Christian spirituality

What do I mean by “Christian spirituality”?
- God’s intent is that we not only believe in him, but experience him
• it is vital that his activity in our lives is made real to us
◦ that we awaken to his presence more frequently and in more places

Paul began a list of several spiritual blessings
- it so happens that the two we will go over today are extremely critical
• there is no Christian spirituality apart these key blessings
• the core concepts represented here are redemption and revelation
- in the last two weeks, I feel like I’ve been slapped in face with the importance of these
• I suppose I’m tempted to take them for granted
• however, they must be taken seriously!

What was Jesus’ primary mission?

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
(Mk. 10:45)

“Ransom” is the Greek root of the word for redemption in Ephesians 1:7
- in the Greek world a payment could be made to release slaves, prisoners of war, and criminals (in some cases)
• payment was made to secure someone’s freedom
- in the Hebrew Scriptures redeem (redemption, redeemer) had several meanings
• we’ll look at two:

read more…

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…

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