Knowing Our Audience (How to Know part 5)

“But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge…” (2 Corinthians 11:6)

Try this sometime: before you say what’s on your mind, think through your list of synonyms for whatever big word your about to use—the one that’s both going to prove your point and also make you look smarter—and use a smaller one. It would seem that’s exactly what Paul is talking about here. That word “rude” in the King James doesn’t mean “rude” as in “impolite”. It’s referring to a simpler, less pretentious and more direct way of speaking. While the Greek word translated “rude” is idiotes (obviously giving rise to idiot), it actually means “uneducated” and “ignorant” (nescient even, but we won’t go there). It’s the “rude” of rudimentary. Paul is basically saying that he’s a whole lot smarter than he lets on. And while he was a cultured Hellenistic Jew, conversant in Hebrew as well as Greek, he was also a simple tentmaker from Tarsus (see Acts 22:2-3). He played both sides of the superfluous intellectual field.

How rude?

It means a lot to God that you take the time to make yourselves available to any type of person out there. And if you make a conscious decision to be used of God to reach the widest possible audience, you will find yourselves interacting with scores of personality types who would each hear the gospel of Jesus Christ (if they haven’t already) in your own words. Just make sure it comes through in your behavior. Really, one of the ways to prepare the soil, so to speak, is to actually listen to yourself speak. Know how you come across. If you can say the same thing with a few simple, spare and choice words rather than hunt for the obscure adjective that you think will enthrall the person with which you’re conversing, please do. The language of the Gospels were written in everyday layman’s Greek. Nothing fancy, nothing flowery, yet imbued with all the power of Heaven.

“And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5) Yes, you don’t want someone latching on to you through your charisma and intelligence. You genuinely want to hook people up to God.

Words like love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness. People know what these words mean (or they think they do). It’s the qualifiers and packing material with which they’re delivered that cause confusion. That, and a little thing called hypocrisy. See, many people nowadays have “heard it all before”. What they haven’t seen, however, is true love, lived out. Each individual running this way and that, spouting off a half-realized message of redemption and forgiveness is not what Jesus had in mind when He said “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) Jesus’ message of Heaven doesn’t need our intellectual underpinnings to cause it to bear fruit. It needs our commitment and our simplicity lived out. And when Paul says he was “rude in speech, but not in knowledge“, part of that knowledge was knowing how to get his point across to whomever he was speaking in a way that was intelligible to them. God is the one who validates us on the inside. Knowing this, we are able to lay aside any ways of thinking and talking that will only end in alienating those who are less than inclined to listen to hyperbole.

“Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.”

-William Penn

Knowing It By Heart (How to Know part 4)

As if we needed any more reminding that we’re human, imperfect. They say, the older you get, the less you remember. There seems to come a time in life where the mental acquisition (more than wool-gathering, now you’re knitting) sort-of crescendos and then slowly declines. Or, maybe it plateaus and maybe it even increases with age? All I know is that while I’m growing older (just like everyone else I know), I have moments where I don’t even remember a simple thing that I just did and it makes me wonder. The conclusion which I’ve drawn is that I simply experience a temporary lapse in memory. I’m still just as acute as ever. It’s just that I got distracted from my inner focus. A centeredness from which I seek to live, day in and day out.

It all started when my parents divorced, dontcha know. My mental processes became so scrambled that any trace of inner cognition was so clouded by bleak-midwinter depression that the slightest glimmer of peaceful cognition was something to covet, to retain and begin living anew from. Does this make sense? In other words, things became so black on the inside that I forgot what it was like to live as I’d previously been living. Time went on and I forgot who I used to be in light of circumstances and situations. And when the misery began to clear up and light began to slowly diffuse (it took its time, light isn’t always fast), I found in myself a whole new way of thinking and remembering. And forgetting. I’m not sure I can say that I’d recommend it to everyone only that I recommend that everyone seek to substantiate their life and mind with God’s word and His thoughts, come what may. And write. Writing helps immensely. The blocks you feel, should you even desire to pick up the pen, are the very blocks that need to be whittled away in order to develop the muscle needed to express yourself as a writer—whatever you write. I digress.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy word.” (Psalm 119:67)

We all go through life and acquire notions and subsequent feelings as to what certain words are. What they mean to us. If I say the word “affliction” what do you think of? Certainly nothing pleasant, I hope. Notice how the psalmist in the above verse references affliction. He says that it was the thing that separated him from his old life lived as a lie and a new life that is based on God’s word. By the way, the linguistic term for the intangible thought-tag attached to a word—that which crops up in your mind upon hearing it—is logogen. How interesting that there’s even a word for that. And affliction is never pleasant. But the thing about the affliction is that sometimes that’s the very thing it takes to separate us from the lie (to cause us to forget it) and to birth us into a new life of beauty and blessing. And obedience.

“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” (John 16:21) And the “afterbirth”? That’s not a time, that’s a thing, a noun. It’s the placenta when it’s expelled after the baby. Though I’m inclined to want to use that term as the time after we go through the (potentially required) misery of actually realizing Jesus for ourselves. He isn’t some idea, He isn’t some force of nature or fictitious character. He’s a person. How else can I say this? We may be unable to comprehend God the Father with our limited faculties. But Jesus is the perfect representation of God for us. He lived as a human and taught us how to do the same. With reference to God.

And that’s the thing. Once you meet Jesus, the misery you felt becomes something beautiful. Sure, you cease feeling the pain, and remember what it was like before life. There are things you now know and also things you forget. There are things you remember, like every time God touched you in your past before you knew He was there or even who He was. I wholeheartedly recommend it if you haven’t tried it for yourself. And He certainly remembers: “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” (Jeremiah 2:2)

This is spoken of Jesus: “the Lord hath anointed me…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isaiah 61:1,3) He’ll do that for you. Take Him at His word.

Sure, there might be some mental overhaul required but then again, what endeavor is worth more?

The Christian’s Horizon of Expectations

What do you expect?

More specifically, what do you expect of God? When Jesus says to Martha “if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God” (John 11:40), He’s talking about the bottom line. The least common denominator in interaction with God: Belief. And from belief, we learn to love and respect and obey Him out of gratitude. But it starts with faith. And God fills that faith and love with His presence.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he (and she) that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

But after that, what?

Many Christians suffer from a failure of imagination. A failure to believe that God is everything the Bible says He is. Creator/re-Creator. Lover of our soul. Abundant supplier of our every need.

But I’d hate to impose…

The term “Horizon of Expectations” comes to us from Literary Theory and was coined by German literary critic Hans Robert Jauss. It refers to the preconceived notions that a reader or audience has when approaching a work. When we read exclusively a certain genre or a certain style of writer, our reading proclivities become attuned to that style and our opinions naturally begin to flow from that set of (now) preconceived notions. As such, the reader becomes less and less inclined to read anything out of their literary comfort zone, staying only within their preferred genre or sub-genre and not straying into other types of literature. So if you find yourself stagnant in your reading and tired of the same-old, same-old, then seek out a new genre or style or writer and begin afresh. Like everything in life, variety’s spicyness will prove invigorating. Just don’t stop reading. Broaden your “horizon of expectations”. Take in new information but never lose sight of the truth.

The same goes for God. And it applies to more than the Bible as a book. Exercising our faith may well slow and stagnate if we don’t seek out ways of service and worship that challenge and inspire us to continue moving forward in our relationship with Him. There’s always a better way to do something. Jesus said as much:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)

The word ‘believe’ appears in John’s Gospel more than twice as many times as the other Gospels combined. As I’ve mentioned before, belief is a continual process. Belief is something that grows and flourishes with each new endeavor that you and God encounter together. As Christians, our horizon of expectations should be ever-expanding. Subsequently, we will find ourselves becoming sweeter, more patient and loving and compassionate. The fragrance of Jesus will only increase.

“For we are unto God a sweet savour (fragrance) of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:15-17) Which brings me to my next point. Paul, in the above passage, speaks of those who “corrupt the word of God”. And while I’m not going to implicate any one denomination, I will say that anytime we don’t see God as sufficient in power and strength and patience and courage and any other quality that we need for our life—and then begin living from that malformed opinion—we “corrupt the word of God”. That’s a dangerous place to be. It’s one thing, because of doubt and unbelief, to limit God from working in our own lives. But quite another to drag people down with us. And don’t forget! The devil’s real too. More crafty and cunning and subversive that we’d ever imagine. And if he can stunt or thwart our understanding of God as He’s revealed in His word then our horizon of expectations will slowly vanish.

“But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3, emphasis mine)

That’s the thing. Anytime we impose a tradition or a pet doctrine or anything that we think is worth focusing on to the neglect of Jesus Himself, we are limiting ourselves and the more we do that, the more we limit God from affecting and blessing others.

Broaden your horizon of expectation. Believe the best of God.

Minds Made Up

“Therefore judge nothing before the time. Until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” (1 Corinthians 4:5-6)

What Paul is saying here–one of the things anyway–is that we should remain humble in our outlook. You will run across things throughout your day and your life that seem weird, only slightly off. And it would seem that there was only one way of looking at that input or that incident or that person. Okay. But when he refers to himself and Apollos, he’s saying that they’re living for others as an example of how things should be done, and looked at. That they, themselves, are going to live as examples of proper conduct in this most obscure thing known as the “life of the mind”. The previous verse reads: “For I know nothing by myself…” Here, he’s saying (in my opinion) that there’s nothing that he knows on his insides that hasn’t been substantiated by the truth of the Holy Spirit (“the Spirit of truth”, John 15:26).

Too often, we go through life having made up our minds about things using information that is only half- or even just slightly true at best. And when you take a half truth and run with it, at the end of the race, you may not even be at the proper finish line. Does this make sense? In relation to others, a code of conduct toward a person with whom you perceive something off–if you don’t direct that perception to God–may well be wrong. But you won’t know it until it’s too late. Until after you’ve dealt with them based on a lie. I’ve made this mistake many a time and I hate it. Because I end up looking like a fool. Love believes the best of everyone, whether they deserve it or not. I certainly don’t deserve it. And there have been days when I’m not my usual gregarious, outgoing self, and those who’ve never met me think that I’m like this all the time. Moody, withdrawn, pensive. Please! I shouldn’t have to wear a sign listing all of my inherent character qualities and subsequently the best way to interact with me on this given day. There have been those who might’ve benefitted from such a clear and obvious instruction, or they could have just walked in “love and the spirit of meekness” (1 Corinthians 4:21) and things wouldn’t have been so awkward. Same goes for me towards them. Make up your mind.

The next verse reads as follows: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (verse 7) That verse is pretty dense with meaning, but Paul is essentially indicting those who walk around and misrepresent themselves to the world at large. Understand this: no one is entirely self-made. At the very least, the rest of society has an influence (for good or ill) that helps to mold and shape us into what we are. But everyone you meet, young, old, male, female, has a family. A spouse or parents at home. A school or a job or a vocation from which they came or to which they’re going. And I’m just as guilty of this as the next person, but everyone has an image, an idealized way with which they present themselves. “That ye might learn in us not to think of men (or women) above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another”. In other words, don’t go around acting like you’re someone you’re not. At the very least, act humble, neutral. This will put those to whom you’re representing yourself at ease and the interaction will be one of peace and normalcy. Sadly, many people have their minds made up. No, it’s not that they’re inflexible, it’s that the mindset with which they comport themselves is one that is not based in facts and substance and not the mind with which they interact with friends and family and loved ones. This might sound obvious, but I’m talking about a facade. I’m talking about someone who becomes a different person when they step out their front door. Paul asks “what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst not receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” Any attribute we lead with is a gift. And that gift was bestowed upon us by God and developed with the encouragement and support and sponsorship of family, friends, teachers, etc. And not something with which we can use to simply make ourselves look better for looking better’s own sake. Any gift we possess is intended to bless others, not to cause us to become more arrogant than we already are. Not that we already are, but you get the idea.

“To the weak became I as weak that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)

The reason Jesus was well received by so many different people (and is to this day) is because He was simply Himself. A loaded statement if there ever was one, but understand. He wasn’t pretentious. He didn’t pretend to be something He wasn’t. We should make up our minds to do and be the same.

Speaking UP (Things Looking Up part 2)

Misprision

If I know something about someone or some situation and at the very least, neglect to pray to God about it, God has every right to hold me responsible. That problem, that incident, whatever it is you saw was actually God showing you. And in a court of law, things need to be stated by those who know them. Pertinent things that could ensure justice is accurately served. How much more so in the Kingdom of God? The word also refers to dereliction of duty. When someone entrusts to you the performance of tasks that require an exclusive or rare skill set, and you somehow neglect to do them, it goes without saying that…they simply won’t get done. In some places, it’s grounds for dismissal. Others still, it’s punishable with imprisonment. And misprision could simply connote a mistake. Any way you look at it, God will help you do the right thing when the time comes.

And don’t worry, God’s been training you whether you realize it or not. He wastes nothing.

“Take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” (Mark 13:11b) This is Jesus talking.

“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid (referring to the Pharisees’ accusations against Him); And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus whence art Thou? (where are You from?) But Jesus gave Him no answer.” (John 19:7-8) This is Jesus not talking.

“Fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites” (Isaiah 33:14)

Here’s the thing though. If you have some overarching or underlying notion that you’re called to do something that hasn’t yet been revealed, then keep going. Keep reading, keep studying, keep worshipping. When God sees you’re ready, He’ll unveil you to those you’re intended to influence. And if we’re afraid, could there be, as the above verse identifies, some vestige of hypocrisy in our hearts that is keeping us from manifesting this destiny? Because unless we learn and live the lessons of our own lives, God can’t use us to heal that segment of the Body of Christ, of humanity. He wants to. Use us, that is.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10)

Think about all the major players in the Old Testament. Each had their mistakes, their foibles and follies and failings. Yet look! Jesus came. He did what He had to do and those who came after got the job done as well. We have a church, a worldwide body of believers comprising the family of God. Even after all of the mistakes and mishaps and mess ups. Really, some horrible stuff has conspired to derail the great plan of God, yet nothing ultimately can. The question is, where do we fit in all of this?

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Don’t worry about failing. God’s love and mercy and timing are big enough to encapsulate all our hopes and fears and failings. And if you’ve failed to act or speak when the occasion called for it, know that God has your second chance in His hands. He will give you as many second chances as He gives you the grace to ask for them. This, however, isn’t something to run roughshod over. It should inspire a moment of sobriety and calm. And know that the more we look to and walk with God in worship and praise, the more we’ll find that everything He has for us will come in the everyday, ordinary ways. You’ll achieve that calling yet!

“Being confident of this very thing, that He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Undercurrents

“He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” (Proverbs 13:20)

It can be hard to resist the call to lower one’s standards and…associate with those whose only aim is to bring you down. No, you may not realize it at the moment, but there are those whom you might consider your friends but are really only leading and shining you on. The sooner one realizes this, the chance for heartache later on is lessened. Better yet, it’s good to know yourself and therefore other people before launching out on a new friendship that’s bound to run aground.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

Jesus was (and is) a master at interpersonal relationships. He’d have to have a keen insight into human nature too, right? He kept company with numerous character types, the kind your mother might have warned you about growing up. I don’t mean to be flippant, but the Pharisees chided Him for allowing Himself to be “a friend of publicans and sinners” (Luke 7:34) This is where wisdom comes in. Are you sure enough in your faith and love for the Lord to not only see people as they are, but to keep yourself from being unduly influenced by those who couldn’t care less about, not only your peace of mind, but also your faith and purity before the Lord? Because it’s one thing to just go with the flow, it’s quite another thing to be carried about against your will by an undercurrent in which you have no control.

“But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25)

Everything means something. Every minute piece of interaction between you and anyone else means something. Essentially, it’s all a matter of representing Jesus to those you meet. But people aren’t just  tabula rasa (a blank slate). They bring with them their combined experience and the choices they’ve made that have conspired to turn them in to the person with whom you’re interacting. This can be a good thing or a bad thing.

“Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.” (Proverbs 5:5)

This is Solomon referring to a “strange woman” (5:3) What’s the difference between the woman to which he’s referring (essentially a prostitute) and the “publicans and sinners” with whom Jesus associated? Who knows. Kind of a broad generalization, I know, but Jesus was so intense that He was able to see through the facade of those who lived a life of sin and validate them at their core. But He also used wisdom. If the Holy Spirit kept Him back from interaction with unsavory character types, it was for good reason. This being said, Jesus, even at His most intense, was also totally approachable by anyone with a pure and honest motive of heart. Were we to see Him today, any vestige of dishonesty would come to the surface and we’d need to deal with that. One does not simply walk up to the one who is truth personified and expect to win Him over with their charm and charisma. I feel that many people have this notion and it’s simply incorrect.

Taken to its logical conclusion, a friendship (really, any relationship) that wasn’t begun under the auspices of truth and honesty is not likely to last. This is stark but pray about it. If there are those in your life who don’t buoy you with their presence and support, then pray for them but don’t let them blunt your faith.

Old Wounds Telling

Forgiveness, much like mercy, is something that is necessary. Like mercy, grace, peace and every other quality that God bestows, it’s something that’s ours for the asking. He takes delight in meeting our each and every need. And everyone needs forgiveness.

Jesus asks us to forgive. It’s a command, really. And He says that we won’t receive forgiveness for ourselves and our sins unless we give it to others. If you can’t think of anyone or anything to forgive, that’s okay. But if you direct that query to God and see what He thinks, you just might be surprised the things you’ll find. No, I’m not saying that God needs forgiveness—we may well be harboring some notions toward Him that need refocus or tweaking, though—I’m saying that there’s always someone in our past that we can consider, and then bestow the gift of forgiveness for any slight. This is something done in the secret depth of our heart. A place that’s seen by you and God alone. There are places in everyone (myself included) that His love and forgiveness has yet to illuminate.

There are people you encounter as you live out your life, that you’re totally justified in ignoring, and even shunning. As everyone is growing, ourselves included, we must take the necessary steps to ensure that our growth process isn’t stunted by those who don’t have consideration for us in our weakened state. This is wisdom. And shun them we may, but we still need to forgive them, keeping them at arms length. And when God brings you back around and you find yourself possessing the strength needed to effectively deal with, either that personality type, or that person in particular, the forgiveness with which you led will enable the relationship to begin anew and continue. But only up to a certain point. Some types are bound to clash. Question: “For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14) Answer: not much. None, really, and unless we forgive them, it’s not likely that we’ll ever have any.

Forgiveness stories are some of the most encouraging and heartwarming you’ll ever hear or read. They instill hope and inspire us to forgive in turn. The victim who forgives their attacker or their oppressor. The prisoner of war who is, after all the years of horror and captivity, enabled to turn to the offender and say “I forgive you”. The books and the scales are balanced and God breathes a sigh of relife, er, relief (a typo, yes, but it makes sense). Made possible because of the blood of Jesus.

“For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” (Hebrews 12:3-4) No, but Jesus did. He resisted the sin but gave His blood to ensure full forgiveness, as bestowed by God, became an actuality.

Spring is fully upon us. If there are places in you that haven’t received the fresh life that Jesus provided through His atoning death and resurrection, know that because of what He did, universal forgiveness is offered for all. Humans that is. And while Jesus cites the one sin that can’t be forgiven, i.e. the “blasphemy of the Holy Ghost” (Mark 12:31), and that the word “forgiveness” appears a mere seven times throughout the King James Version, and He tells us (however metaphorically) to forgive four-hundred and ninety times a day if need be (Matthew 18:22), “charity (love) shall cover the multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) That means every last one.

Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Complete the circuit and let God restore you.