Knowing What We Don’t Know (How to Know part 6)

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26, emphasis mine)

I find that whenever God does something in my life, the memory of the event stands out like an open flame in the distance on a dark night. Like it’s ingrained forever on the slate of my mind. As an aside, who knows what corresponds neurologically with those memories (because sometimes I’m loathe to resort to physiological reasons only for the inherent weirdness of life)? It doesn’t take long, when dwelling on God’s goodness in our lives, to return to the state in which we found ourselves at the time. No matter how far out you get in your life from the way things were when you touched God and He touched you, only dwell on the beauty that God gave you in the past and it will flow into your now. It’s the (super)natural order of things. How much time and energy we are willing to invest in dredging these things up (for lack of a better term) will tell in how much we want God to change any less-than-pleasant, present circumstances, should need be.

Déjà Vu

From the French and literally meaning “already seen”. I’m sure there’s a good reason why it happens. And when it does happen, while I’m generally more interested in ferreting out a substantive memory to fill that void, I always emerge from its moment with a sense of rational peace knowing that “I’ve been through this before”. Were I to ever find in my memory the actual instance to which the déjà vu corresponded, would that prove the reality of the feeling? Because if God’s real, who’s to say the feeling wasn’t? But… Oh my. It’s already gone.

“Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established” (Proverbs 16:3, emphasis mine)

Presque Vu

That one means “almost seen”. The tip of your tongue. There’s a name for that one, too. I find it amusing that there would be a name for that which we’re unable to name. That just-the-right-word for the context but you forgot. That person’s name. What was it again? The thing you were gonna say before you got derailed or sidelined. Presque vu. I believe the Holy Spirit keeps everything that bubbles up from our heart and mind and sometimes, if I don’t remember what I need to say, I just lay back and rest in that knowledge, that feeling of knowing. He won’t let you forget if it’s something that really needs to be said. Trust.

“The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:1)

Jamais Vu

If you want to experience this, (it’s like the opposite of déjà vu) take a word, any word that you can think of—the shorter the better—and just start writing it over and over until it just becomes a sequence of black marks (or blue, whatever color ink or graphite or lead) on a page. That feeling? When your mind strays into seeing that word as something foreign and unfamiliar, is called jamais vu. It’s not recognizing the familiar for what you know it is. And it’s just as weird as the other two.

There’s a name for it, you know. They’re called feelings of knowing and while everyone has them and experiences them at one time or another, I think the level to which we trust them necessarily corresponds with the love we have for ourselves—and God, ultimately. The mind is an amazing thing but it’s not who we are. Who we are, as weird and semantically off as this might sound, is: loved by God. That’s it. We will never get over and beyond that definition. We are loved. It doesn’t matter how much you attain in this world, the station which you leave behind, or the structure in your mind. If you don’t realize this primal fact, you’ll always be on the outside of life looking in.

“…whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8b-10)

“When the solution is simple, God is answering.” Albert Einstein

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?

Held in Abeyance (How to Know part 3)

Where are you right now? Geographically? Spatially? How ’bout spiritually, emotionally, mentally? Our imagination (read: faith) is not limited by physics, time or body. Or anything else for that matter. Anything, that is, except unbelief and doubt.

The latter can be good, necessary even. The former, well, the quantity of our unbelief tells just how long we’ll be in abeyance while God slowly lets the pride inherent therein, slough off.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge:” (Hosea 4:6)

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18)

No vision, eh? No knowledge? Who’s fault is that? It’s not God’s, that’s for sure. He’s the one who invented the concepts.

God called Samuel when he was but a child. It says in 1 Samuel, third chapter, first verse: “And the word of the Lord was precious (valuable, scarce, rare) in those days; there was no open vision.” No open vision. When we neglect to bask in the light of God’s face and leave off the study of His word coupled with fellowship with Him, as author, things come to a halt. When one makes their way through the desert, the heat evaporates the water in their body and they slow. Way. Down. And their blood becomes thick as a means of moisture conservation. It’s the natural order of things.

There are times in our lives where we encounter long periods of spiritual torpor. At least that’s what we’d call it. Inactivity. There’s always something going on though. You have to know where to look, start with up. Maybe we’re waiting out the consequences of something that “seemed like a good idea at the time”. Maybe we’re recovering from the wounds of a failed relationship. Numbness takes time to come back around. But this is good news. Think about the gestation period of the pregnant mother. Any and all of these things take time. And in the rush of our modern society, when we are served instantly, and more than likely, without emotion, we forget that any thing worth obtaining is worth waiting for and holding out and pressing on. This is where the battle between doubt and unbelief, and faith comes in to focus.

As an aside, some species of lizards will grow their tail back should it become separated from their body for whatever reason. Starfish, too. It just takes time.

“Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” (John 6:29)

Did you catch that? Jesus said it was work. And work is the last thing I feel like doing. But what about when God gives you a vision, be it through your imagination (faith) or through the life of another, of some better thing? What if it’s a breakthrough in your church? If you’re dissatisfied where you are, but the thought of uprooting yourself from your home church is too much, then start the process where you are. Right there in the pew. Look around. So many faces. Eyes glazed, expressions inattentive. And the preaching’s mediocre. Look up. Because you are God’s “secret agent” (to borrow a phrase from a friend) in that situation. No sense in breaking off and starting your own church or making waves by leaving out of God’s timing. The thing is, torpor is overcome by soaking in the sun. Lizards do it, as should we from time to time.

Keep moving. The heat rises from the pavement like prayers to Heaven. It’s not a mirage, but you’re not sure. It’s an oasis, but it does you no good where it is. You keep moving toward it. Don’t stop for anything.

Our prayers mean more than we know. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous [person] availeth much.” (James 5:16) And if you’re observant enough to notice a problem, then I hate to say it (actually, I don’t) but you’re the one that God’s gonna look to, to see it remedied. What else were you doing? We’re only held in abeyance for good reasons. The first thing to do is to jettison the notion that we’re of no use where we are. God takes great care in engineering our circumstances with all the key players in place. One word, one touch from God is all it takes to restore relationships, silence gossip, strengthen faith and restore lost limbs.

So climb up on the rock and get sunbathing. Cold-bloodedness notwithstanding.

And if you’re not sure whether you should be standing still or moving forward, check this: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

In Motion/At Rest (How to Know part 2)

You’ve heard the phrase “Don’t just stand there, do something”? So oft repeated is this idiomatic expression that there’s even a Christianized version of it. The kind of thing you’d see on a church marquee: “Don’t just do something, stand there”. What do I do? What do I do?

The latter phrase in question is referring to the potential dichotomy of action versus inaction with reference to seeking after and following God’s will. And I would like to say that the phrase God helps those who help themselves is nowhere to be found in the Bible. It should read God helps the helpless who know they’re helpless and want His help.

What does the Bible say about such things? Well, first of all, someone who wants to know God’s will for their life is already headed in the right direction. That desire doesn’t come from anywhere but Him.

“Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, Thou stillest them.” (Psalm 89:9)

Any activity–or inactivity for that matter–that arises out of torment, worry or pressure is more than likely going to lead you away from the path on which God wants you. And it will end up being just that: mere activity. This, I think would be one of the main reasons that God calls us to wait upon Him. The devil is notorious at pressuring people to act in accordance with some fear, real or imagined. If there is uncertainty regarding any decision, large or small, that you have to make, you gotta know that there is spiritual warfare going on regarding the outcome. Moses told the Israelites to “fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will shew to you to day” (Exodus 14:13 emphasis mine). The next verse says “The Lord shall fight for you”.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

This verse has its own dichotomy. Or so it would seem. While the first part says to wait, the second part talks about walking and running. Alright! Now we’re getting somewhere. But what about the fear and indecision? May I suggest 1 John 4:18? “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He (or she) that fears is not made perfect in love.” God is a stickler for pure motives. I would venture to say, that if we don’t realize, fully realize the strong fact that God loves us and are able to grasp hold of this reality, then we probably shouldn’t do anything. Because anything we do is not based on the most stable reality of existence: God loves me. Matthew 9, verse 23: “All things are possible to [them] that believe” this fact.

This is why Paul could say that he “pressed toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). The next verse reads “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded”. Paul had been made “perfect in love”, as it says in the previous paragraph. God can do something with the man, the woman who knows God loves them. This is spiritual perfection.

Now, moving forward, consider this statement of Paul’s: “All things are lawful (possible) unto me, but all things are not expedient” (1 Corinthians 6:12) What I think he’s saying here is, while he may feel this extraordinary liberty to go and do whatever he thought he should because he knew the love of God, he tempered that liberty by realizing that not all activity will lead to what God wanted to do in his life with reference to the world at large. This is another reason for waiting. When you know that God loves you, you’re more sensitive to His will and consequently, you don’t want to displease Him by doing your own thing. Even though you know that God loves you in spite of any disobedience.

This truly is the happy medium. When one realizes that God loves them, they end up walking in the will of God naturally, easily. “The steps of a good man (or woman) are ordered by the Lord: and He delighteth in [their] way.” (Psalm 37:23) And then, I suppose that this would be the answer to both statements. Don’t just stand there do something! Don’t just do something, stand there! How ’bout we not do anything (standing, sitting, running, jumping, waiting, whatever, etc.), anything at all, until we realize that God loves us?

In closing, a quick caveat: “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16)

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.