Who’s Gonna Laugh With Me?

Punch line

The world may not.

And a dissonant heart is enough to make you want to cry. Especially when you’re already miserable.

Paul says something very interesting in Romans (12:5). He says to “rejoice (laugh) with them that do rejoice and weep with them that do weep”. Do I understand what he’s saying here? I think this is a poignant reminder that we need to have our hearts attuned to our brother and sister in the Lord. Paul says in the next verse to “be of the same mind”. I’m referencing this from the King James version so I’m sure there might be other ways of looking at this from other translations. Either way, the kernel of truth that Paul is expressing to the Christians in Rome is that we need to make sure our hearts are open and resonant with one another’s.

The church atmosphere is interesting when looked at from an objective (not humanist) perspective: Here you have a bunch of people from all different backgrounds. A melting pot of race, age, gender, creed (denomination) and opinion. And what unites us is we believe on and in and love Jesus. We’re also human beings, each and every one. And within the Bible is this understanding that we are loved by God. As we live, week-in and week-out within this atmosphere, our needs and dilemmas and issues (we all have them) may be brought to light. And we certainly want someone with whom to celebrate our victories. And this is what Paul is referring to. What happens if my brother or sister confides in me but doesn’t find receptive ground within my heart? “Laugh with those who laugh, weep with those who weep.” This isn’t about being a chameleon and pretending to care when really you feel nothing. We need to validate our brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen. Jesus lived and interacted with every strata of society. He was open to everyone and met their needs as if they were the only person on earth. I’m sure that’s how they felt. And this is the bridge: God wants us to know that if we were the only person in the world, He would have sent His Son to die for us. When Jesus touched someone He looked in their eyes and they just knew…

When we know Him and how he cares for us, we can show this to others. We can validate their feelings and struggles and help them through. And in honestly reflecting back to them what they need, it will in turn inspire them to continue on in their journey.

The world also needs this.

Are we in on it?

Guileless Nathanael (The Way of Lying part 3)

When Jesus called His disciples, culling them from the most unlikely corners of Jewish society, He fulfilled rabbinic tradition but did it in a most unconventional way. The twelve men that He chose would have been considered outcasts by the rest of society and certainly not fit for the esteemed position of pharisaic disciple. But again, Jesus looks on the heart. He sees past façade to what is really going on in a person. Keep this in mind as we analyze His choice in Nathanael as disciple.

By the way, Nathanael is a name with Hebrew origins meaning “given of God”.

The first chapter of John’s Gospel jumps right in to the mission of Jesus. Laying a brief but universal background, it opens on John the Baptist and then proceeds to profile Peter. Toward the end, it introduces a man named Nathanael. Jesus exclaims immediately upon seeing Him, “here is an israelite indeed in whom is no guile” (John 1:47). What a remarkable statement! Made even more so, in my opinion, because of the response of Nathanael to Philip’s news that they had found the Messiah. He tells Nathanael that the Messiah is from Nazareth. Nathanael responds to this life-changing, world shattering news with what looks like sarcasm tinged with resignation and cynicism: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip simply responds “come and see.”

Jesus tells Nathanael that He “saw him under the fig tree”. Nathanael was waiting for the Messiah. Sure, he might look resigned and bored, his statement certainly points to that. But notice what Jesus said: “an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile.” Nathanael hadn’t succumbed to the prevalent national attitude of complacency and apathy that I’m reading between these lines. And this is why so remarkable a statement would have been the first thing to come out of Jesus’ mouth upon seeing him. Jesus wanted to encourage and cultivate the honesty of Nathanael’s heart by calling attention to it for others to see and hopefully emulate. When Nathanael saw Jesus, he knew who He was: “The Son of God, the King of Israel” (John 1:49). The transparency of his heart enabled him to see Jesus as He was and is. Jesus said that “the pure in heart shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). This is the secret. Remain open, honest, transparent before the Lord. Not opaque. Nothing less than complete honesty with the depths of our selves that God has revealed to us. And after that, He’ll show you how to interact with those who don’t see to the depth of you as does He.

“Nathanael saith unto Him, Whence knowest Thou me? Jesus answered and said unto Him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou was under the fig tree, I saw thee.”  (John 1:48)

See, Jesus knew Nathanael. “The Lord knows them that are His” (2 Timothy 2:19), says Paul. The state of his heart was such that God could look in. He was pleased with what He saw.

An Israelite indeed in whom is no guile? May the same be said for Christians.

A Process of Illumination

The sunrise happens slowly. Sure we can watch it happen and soon it’ll be too bright to keep looking. Where do we go from there? We go about our business but life shouldn’t then be business as usual.

Jesus, when speaking to His disciples about God’s kingdom, used corn as an illustration (Mark 4:28). First, the “blade”, or leaf, then the ear, then the corn within. A long process in which thousands, millions of tiny, yet essential actions are taking place. All of these micro-actions are required to bring about the small miracle of an ear of corn. Delicious!

This is how any worthwhile desire or dream is achieved. And if it is to last, you’ll need that patience and discipline to maintain the miracle that God wants to give you. Because after the miracle–despite the marked difference in your life–things could recede back into boredom and sameness. It’s the nature of the beast, but we’re a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Don’t let apathy and complacency happen! Remain grateful. “In everything give thanks.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, emphasis mine) for the beauty that God has given you and He will keep the miracle sustained with His life.

Deuteronomy 7:22 talks about claiming the land “little by little”. He tells the children of Israel not to take it all at once “lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee”. This means that pride could set in and as it says later in Deuteronomy (8:17), I might think that “my power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth”. Anyone who gains victory in an area of their life where they were struggling is bound to encounter this attitude of pride. The writer of Psalm 98 says that “His (God’s) right hand, and His holy arm hath gotten Him the victory.” (verse 1, emphasis mine) It’s a personal thing with Him. As His children, He takes great care in seeing that our needs are met (see Galatians 4:19). If we don’t acknowledge His provision, He may not hang around for us to do so. What I mean is, if we don’t give credit where credit is due, we’ll “grieve” the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). And we may not feel His presence as we did before. It’s interesting, Samson “wist (knew) not that the Lord was departed from him.” (Judges 16:20) He repented but paid dearly.

Whatever territory of your life that you’re called to conquer needs to be buttressed, fortified with gratitude and worship for the One who brought you out “into a large room” (Psalm 31:8) in the first place. It’s the correct (and commensurate) response.

Knowing All the Words (How to Know part 1)

How much of the Bible have you memorized? I’m just asking. I’m curious. If you don’t know, fine. I couldn’t tell you either.

When I was in my early teens, my dad bought me the King James New Testament on cassette read by British stage actor Alexander Scourby. It is an absolutely brilliant performance. He passed away some time ago but considered the reading and recording of God’s word the crowning achievement of His life (he read both testaments). He elevated (if that’s possible) the spoken word to an art form that, to this day, has not been duplicated in any recorded version of the Bible regardless of narrator—in my opinion. I listened to it many times as I delivered newspapers in the morning. A lot of the time it was background noise but a lot of it sank in too. I would say that the majority of my New Testament scripture memorization came from the months and years I spent listening to God’s word as read by Alexander Scourby. Don’t worry, I also listened to music. Who knows how many songs I could sing along with. But that’s not the point.

Scripture memorization by rote does not necessarily mean that it’s living in me. The Bible is out there in the world for everyone to read. Take ten people off the street and have them read a passage. You’re likely to get ten different responses. Kind of like the ten lepers that Jesus healed (see Luke 17:12-19)? Only one of them came back to thank Him. The correct response, the correct interpretation. Only as I acknowledge God (see Proverbs 3:5-6) does His word live in me. Joshua 1:8 says to “meditate in His word day and night”. Some aspect of God’s word should be living in me—on my mind and heart—all the time.

James 1:22 says to “be a doer of the word, and not a hearer only, deceiving your own self”. It’s more than knowing the Ten Commandments (see Exodus ch. 20), more than knowing the Beatitudes (see Matthew ch. 5) and more than even knowing all the things that the Bible tells us to “do”. “Thou shalt…” (references too numerous to mention).

It’s about knowing Jesus as the Living Word (John 1:14). Jesus, when He was berating the Pharisees for their dullness and pride, spoke of the Old Testament as scriptures that “testify of me” (John 5:39). The word of God—66 different books in one—is the script that Jesus lived. He fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17) and gave us the Holy Spirit to “teach us all things” and “bring all things to our remembrance” (John 14:26-27). Scripture memorization is important, it’s vital. But without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, it’s just a dry tome. Paul spoke of “handling the word of God deceitfully” (2 Corinthians 4:2). Shakespeare said that “the devil can cite scripture for his purpose”. These things he did when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, trying to get Him to disobey His Father. We need to make sure that were not deceived ourselves and in turn deceiving others by not doing what the Bible says from a motive of love and honesty. God will help us if we ask. He can bring truth and illumination to our situations and circumstances.

History? Yes. Literature? Yes. Poetry? You bet.
Alive and life changing? Only if you know the author.

Walking In the Spirit (Proverbs 3:5-6 part 4)

“…and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6b)

And we’re off!

Psalms (37:23) says that “the steps of a good man (or woman) are ordered by the Lord”

I used to wonder (worry) about this. Knowing that God was real and wanting to walk in His plan for my life, I fretted over the minutiae of my life, because I knew that “he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much” and vice-versa (Luke 16:10). But divorced from love and grace—the two things that God uses to enable us to live as Jesus did—life can be a drag. Boring and dry and loveless. We think that, in order to get God to give us stuff (material or immaterial), there needs to be a transaction (an economic arrangement, as it were). Tit for tat. I do this, You do that. This thinking, because of what Jesus already did and does for us (life, death, resurrection, intercession), is now obsolete. But this doesn’t mean that the Old Testament is outmoded. Jesus came and “fulfilled” the law (Matthew 5:17-18). Everything is now in Him. Going back to the verse from Psalm 37, the definition for “good”-ness is now defined as commitment to a person: Jesus . And not just a set of beliefs or ideals. As in actively knowing Him in the here and now.

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1)

As Christians, our walk, “our conversation” (Philippians 3:20), is still defined by the principles laid out by Solomon in Proverbs 3:5-6—as followed in love. The difference is that we now have the indwelling Holy Spirit who performs the promise of Proverbs 3:6: “He shall direct thy paths”. This promise, of being “led of His Spirit” (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:16-18), silences any worry and wonder (the negative kind) and frees us to live in the liberty, grace and love that Jesus paid for with His life.

Looking back, I guess it does cost something after all: our attention. Our inward sight and adoration fixed on God. There is a sacrifice but it’s so worth it.

As we live out Proverbs 3:5-6, in the long run, we fulfill God’s call for our life—all while our attention’s on Him. One moment, one acknowledgement at a time.

In closing, a story.

My dad accepted the Lord in the Winter of 1968. He was home from college on Christmas break–miserable. One of the last things that happened in his dorm prior to leaving for home was a conversation with a couple guys about Jesus. The only reason, he says, that he even deigned talk to them was because he didn’t feel like working on an overdue biology assignment. The door to his dorm was open and while there was still work to be done, he couldn’t help but hear in the halls the carousing and commotion brought about by the impending vacation. He heard a knock on the open door and let in the two men (they had purposed only to speak to those whose doors were open) and talked with them for a few minutes. They even used his Bible (from his Methodist ubringing, which he had on a bookshelf but never read) to point out truths regarding God and Jesus. He thanked them and they left him with a pamphlet and a phone number. At home (he lived in Virginia), he wrestled with the issues that were presented to him a few days before. After a brief chat with a next-door neighbor (who happened to be a pastor) that still didn’t silence the conviction of the Holy Spirit, he made his way back to his old room on the second floor of his house. The Bible from which the men introduced the promise of something new lay at the foot of his bed. He knelt down by the side of the bed and prayed the prayer of salvation as found at the end of the pamphlet. He made it halfway and then made a mistake in the recitation. So he started over—and again failed to get it right. The third time he prayed to God, thinking that he had to say things just so, God answered him with a flood of peace and the knowledge that he’d been born again. After he got up off his knees, with newfound confidence (and also something as-yet undefinable), he asked quite the pointed question of His (now, new) Heavenly Father. “You got anything in this book I can use?” He walked around to the end of his bed, picked up the Bible and opened it up to the book of Proverbs, third chapter. He put his finger, very inconspicuously, on verses five and six.

And the rest is history.

Ways and Means (Proverbs 3:5-6 part 3)

Moving forward (by the way, forward progress is only achieved by following God, without Him we wander… see Psalm 119:10), the way that the first two commands are…”achieved”, is by following the third: “In all Thy ways, acknowledge Him…” (Proverbs 3:6a)

Wait. How many ways? It says all of them. The idea, or ideal, is echoed in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (10:5): “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Also in his first letter to the early Christians in Thessalonica, he says to “rejoice evermore”, to “pray without ceasing” and “in everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 respectively). All of these actions—sharing your thoughts, rejoicing, praising, thanking—are directed upward, to God. And the first part of the sixth verse of the third proverb encapsulates it perfectly when it says to “acknowledge Him” in all our ways.

Asaph the psalmist makes an interesting point in Psalm 50. He closes it out by writing from God’s perspective. The last verse (23) says “whoso offereth praise, glorifieth me”. I see this to mean that, in God’s “liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17), and with the freedom of choice that He gives us, He will accept any means of fellowship and interaction that we, in love, want to show to Him. In other words, as long as we are staying connected to God by any of these inward activities—praise, prayer, worship, gratitude, thanksgiving, or even just talking to Him—then we are walking as Jesus walked toward the Father.

“for I do always those things that please Him.” (John 8:29b)

When Jesus died and rose again, He made it possible for us to be reconnected back to God the Father. Sure, the umbilical may have been cut upon (our physical) birth, but with the Lord, we are ever connected to Him in the Spirit when we believe and receive Jesus. It’s something that you can always look back on and sense and trust. The ideal though, is to actively realize the connection in the here and now.

“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8)

Now we’re ready to go!

Whose Understanding? (Proverbs 3:5-6 pt. 2)

The second part of Proverbs 3:5 says:

“and lean not unto thine own understanding.”

The New King James version calls it “insight”.

I suppose the way to follow this second part of the passage (Proverbs 3:5-6) is to follow the first, first. Another word for “lean” is “trust”. And if we’re trusting in God (with all of our heart/life), then we’ll inevitably run up against a clash where the Christ-like response that we know we should have, either from having read the Bible, or having received an intimation of His character directly, seems to contradict the situation at hand and the “correct” response it calls for.

“Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)

I’ll give you an example: say you have a friend who is clueless to something that you see, and in your opinion “everyone sees”. First of all, God sees everything. And if you really are seeing one layer deeper about a subject, then it’s God who has allowed you to see it in the first place (this is His insight). But put this into practicality. You, in and of yourself, are unable to open their eyes—to remove the scales, as it were—on your own. This would be an example of your own insight clashing with God’s. When I think that I can, just by informing my friend of this deficiency in his outlook, open his eyes and make him see what I think he needs to see, I’m relying on my own insight. And if I continue on, I could block the hand of the Lord from revealing to my friend what he needs to see and I could even end up hindering the Lord from healing the breach in his heart that caused the blindness in the first place. The danger in revealing things to people that they themselves are blind to is that they could end up trusting you and not turning to God for themselves. The correct response in any situation and especially those involving people—friends, family—is to trust God and not rely on your own insight. Hold them up in prayer. “Bear the burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)

Love builds up, it “edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Forgiveness and compassion are aspects of love that, when lived out towards God, ourselves and others, circumnavigate the harsh, ineffective and ultimately detrimental insight that (I believe) Solomon is referring to in this verse. The same idea is expressed by Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians (8:2) when he says “and if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” He continues in the next verse: “but if any man love God, the same (that person who loves God) is known of Him.” and again, same book (10:12), “let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall”.

One of the best ways to see our own insight in action is to observe people, faults and all (knowing we ourselves are the same—again, Galatians 6:1), and consciously make a decision to see past our old, own insight and see them as God does. Forgive them. Love them. Believe the best of them. “Love is ever ready to believe the best of every person.” (1 Corinthians 13:7 AMP)

God bless you!

The Center of Gravity (Proverbs 3:5-6 part 1)

Our world revolves around Jesus. He’s the one that we’re living towards—the one “with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 5:14)—and He’s really the only one who cares about the minutest detail of our life. Moreso than do we.

How does this look when lived out? Surely you’ve heard of the way the sunflower lives? They track the sun with their heads, following its course as it crosses the sky. Consequently, they hang their heads at night. This is cool, sure. But I’m a human being. A living spirit in a body with thoughts, perceptions and impulses. And each one is a gift to experience. Any one of these, when not brought into subjection—dealt with God’s way—will lead me astray. That might sound blunt but it’s true. A little more complex than a sunflower.

Isn’t it strange that when you look at the stars in the night sky, there are galaxies that seem brighter in your peripheral vision than when you look at them directly? Whole galaxies vying for your attention. Don’t let yourself get distracted. Keep your face to the sun.

One of my favorite passages—a hand-me-down from my dad—is the fifth and sixth verse of the third Proverb. Let’s look at the first part of verse 5 today:

“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart.”

What is trust? Who is God? What is my heart and how do I bring it in its entirety to God? The answer: one moment, one thought at a time.

Relax. Each moment we live is a gift from God. If you need to slow down to realize this, by all means do so. God’s not going anywhere (at least nowhere that He’s not taking you), so ask Him to help you slow down and realize this. Any instance of interaction with God creates trust. You talk to God—and you trust that He’ll respond. You pray—and trust that He’ll answer. This is mountain shattering, world changing faith—lived out moment by moment, ladies and gentlemen. The more we do this from a motive of love and gratitude, the more of our heart (read: life) will be brought to trust God.

Manicheanism Is Unnecessary!

When “sin was found within him” (Ezekiel 28:15), did Lucifer get a slap on the wrist and evicted (“like lightning” Luke 10:18) from heaven? I think it was worse than that.

Wrap your mind around this: light reveals darkness (“in Thy light shall we see light” Psalm 36:9) but darkness doesn’t necessarily reveal light. In other words, God’s light is the only way to know what darkness truly is. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Light casts a shadow. And the only way—while walking through the valley of the shadow—that you won’t be afraid, is to realize God is right there with you. Bigger than the darkness and the fear. Realize that He’s leading you through it. Contrast this: Jesus says that “men (people) love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19). Those people are blind to the light—the better way. Their darkness is not revealing God’s light. Else they would choose His way rather than their own (would they really?).

Manicheanism (after Manes, 3rd c. founder) teaches that dark and light are both integral to the world and a balance between the two is necessary. Harmonious. The same principle underlies the yin and yang of Chinese philosophy.

Prior to Lucifer’s unmasking and fall, there was only light. Darkness has not always been and there will come a time when darkness will be no more (see Revelation 22:5). Here in the middle, however, we must deal with it: Psalm 119:130 says “the entrance of Thy word gives light, it gives understanding to the simple”. God’s word, the truth therein, will show us the light we need.

The only way to see light—true light, God’s light—is to seek His face. Psalms says that “God is a sun” (Psalm 84:11), and that “His face doth behold the upright” (Psalm 11:7). It also says that “light is sewn for the righteous” (Psalm 97:11), meaning it’ll be there when you need it.

Think about the universe. Without the light from the sun and the stars (the moon simply reflects the light from the sun onto the night), everything’s black. This is stark. But spiritually, it’s different. The Holy Spirit is always shining through the spiritual. Always joyful. And aligning ourselves with Him through obedience, worship and interaction (see Proverbs 3:5-6)—anything done in love—will cause His light to diffuse through the membrane separating the spiritual from the natural.

In closing, some Bible commentaries say that Lucifer (satan) was “the Prince of Persia” (Daniel 10:20). Manicheanism was heavily influenced by Ancient Zoroastrianism which originated from Persia.

“For You will light my candle: the Lord God will enlighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:28).

Do truth. Come to the light. (see John 3:21)

Add Infinitum

A friend of mine once asked me a question: “If you knew everything, how would you know?” I was speechless. It took my younger brother to answer it so succinctly after I later posed the same question to him. He answered: “If you knew everything, then that would include the knowledge that you knew everything.” How simple. Looking back, it’s funny. I didn’t know. Out of the mouth of babes. But he’s a grown man now.

It’s called omniscience and only one person I know has it. His name is God. He’s numbered the stars (see Psalm 147:4) as well as the hairs on our head (see Matthew 10:30). And the fact that He knows all of this stuff isn’t even the most important aspect of who He is. He loves. And He loves you.

Think of the insatiability of your curiosity in whatever endeavor you find that thrills your heart. But heart and brain are two different things. The infinite capacity of our spirit is not meant to be filled with information. Paul spoke of those who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7) This is the end of our quest for knowledge: The truth that Jesus loves me. This is what truly fills the void in our heart and renders knowledge superfluous. And Paul says “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8)

“And King Solomon passed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom, that God had put in his heart.” (2 Chronicles 9:22-23)

Solomon, in his quest for knowledge, wrote that “[God] hath set the world in their heart so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The Hebrew word translated “world” (owlam) connotes infinity and eternity. It refers to a distant horizon we’re reaching towards but never fully able to grasp, to wrap our minds around. And this is good. God designed it this way. But the vastness of time and space was never meant to draw our attention away from the Creator–of us, and it. He designed that we never be separated from Him as He taught us about the world at large. Think about walking down the sidewalk, holding your parent’s hand. They’re leading and all you’re doing is craning your neck, taking it all in. But life doesn’t stay this way for long. Sin happens. And Jesus had to deal with it, which He did, restoring us again to God the Father. And now that we have accepted Jesus and we have a kernel of “the knowledge of the truth”, it’s important that we learn from Him (see Matthew 11:28-30), and make it our top priority to learn the “knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10), rather than the “knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17).

We know what happens then.