Application Pathfinder: Nail it to the Cross

“Each soul that would enter into real life. . . must go out through the Gate of the Cross.”
 ~Parables of the Cross by Lilias Trotter

  • First ask the Lord to reveal what is in your heart.
    1. Honestly answer: Who or what in my life that if I lost it, my life would be meaningless?
      • Wait for the Lord to reveal something to you anything or anyone big or small.
      • If you decide you want God to be most important in your life, follow these steps.
    2. How to “Nail it to the cross”
      1. Nail it. (Choose one which feels that can be done most genuinely from the heart.)
        • Verbal processor—Tell God out loud what it is, and verbally give it to Him.
        • Writing processor—Write out to God what it is, committing it to Him.
        • Art processor—draw or paint it on paper, write poetry, craft something.
        • Eidetic processor—Imagine your hand nailing it to the Cross.
        • Kinesthetic processor—Get a hammer and nail and take something representing it and nail it to a block of wood, or just swing your hand.
        • Actors: Take an indefinite break from it.
        • Other: Decide to nail it with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and do something to represent that.
      2. Thank God for it, and worship Him (Choose one which makes sense for you)
        • Verbal—Sing a song like, “I Surrender All” or “Take My Life and Let it Be.”
        • Writing—Write a psalm or praise poem for God, or a Love letter to God.
        • Art—Create a work of Art that Arises from Scripture.
        • Eidetic—Elevate God in the loftiest place He can be.
        • Kinesthetic—Dance for/with God.
        • Actors: Do something that is exclusively for God.
        • Other: Do something else to glorify and enjoy God as He leads you.
      3. Bring it before God again and wait for God to lead you in what to do with it. (Yes, He does still speak today, if you believe it and are humble and want Him to.)
        • Voice—God speaks inaudibly inside the heart, or externally outside the body
        • A Word—God can give a “word” in your mind. Give every word back to him to see if it’s from Him.
        • Impressions—A general sense, or an artistic form can come to mind that makes sense in the heart
        • Dreams/Visions—Separate the actual dream/vision from its interpretation, ask God to show you what He wants you to know.
        • Situations/Signs—God works in the world around us, see what He’s doing.
        • Guided Actions—He can give you peace, motivation, or a slight nudge in the direction of a decision.
        • Other: He chooses how He wants to speak.
      4. Check: You will know it is nailed to the cross when your heart feels brighter for God than that thing.
    3. Nurture that bright heart for God by doing this with your whole life regularly.
  • Scriptures on this theme for personal Bible Study
  • Matthew 10:32-39
  • Mark 8:34-38
  • John 12:23-25
  • 1 Corinthians 1:17-31
  • Galatians 6:12-16
  • Ephesians 2:14-16
  • Philippians 2:5-11
  • Colossians 2:9-19

I have seen Enough–Part 3

Suddenly, countless gleaming jewels of all different colors covered the surface of the earth. Each one in turn told the Story in a different way. Their multi-colored glow grows brighter and brighter.

The one who stood to the East said:

-I see the tree a bounty of seeds has born.
-The fruit is sweet yet hemmed about with thorns.
-Broken o’er creation again is the new light of day.
-Brightening more brilliantly, chasing night away.
-The Man also, he is reborn
-With joy he bears suffering and scorn.
-His re-creation has made him play and sing
-To his Creator for all things new making.
I . . .

The one who stood to the South said:

-I see the world still fallen down so steep.
-Injustice’s wounds have run so deep.
-Still there is something which smacks of injustice
-To self, so that others may become rich.
-The Man also, is failing and broken.
-He toils to heal deep wounds unspoken.
-He chooses to make himself nothing
-That through his poverty others might have life abounding.
I have . . .

The one who stood to the West said:

-I see death here still takes its toll.
-Like a great tide it’s waters still roll.
-And yet each death like a crushed leaf.
-Bears the promise of life that spells death’s defeat.
-The Man also, his days are few.
-His death is like to the Man who knew.
-Yet, in his end, he bears witness
-Of the life beyond which he meets with bliss.
I have seen . . .

The one who stood to the North said:

-I see the powers of the world are crumbling
-They thrash and clamber to scramble out from tumbling
-Into the chasm opening beneath to finish him off
-As a new kingdom eternally takes its place built on solid rock.
-The Man also, rejects power as futile.
-He takes his stand while the earth sinks around him.
-He opens his arms to receive the penitent
-And the power and riches of the new Kingdom, he shares
. . . enough!

And The Voice came from the throne above:

“Have you seen enough?”

I Have Seen Enough Part 2.

Then all four looked and recognized something in their midst and each in
turn said:

I see a tree sprung up from the ground.
I see lifeless limbs bear the grief for those standing around.
I see lightning split death’s silent sky at the ninth hour.
I see on display the prize and ends of all wealth and power.
The Man also, is bringing new life by dying.
The Man is weak yet showing enormous strength
The Man is finished, yet eternal in his impact
The Man is powerful, yet makes himself nothing.
This doesn’t make sense.

Then it went deep into the center of it all, and the four saw the transformation:

Can it be? It is as it was from the beginning
Can it be? The poor are clothed in raiment of splendor
Can it be? The dead are raised to life everlasting
Can it be? The wealthy and powerful on earth are defeated
See the Man also! He makes all things new.
The Man in his weakness is made strong
The Man has died once, now lives forever.
The Man is worthy of all honor and power.
We have seen enough.

Then the Man rose up to the One who was above them, and sat at His right hand and said:

“There is still more.”

The Great Exchange

“I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading me shame
I’m laying them down for the ____________________”
I’m trading my sickness, I’m trading my pain
I’m laying them down for the ____________________”

Joy of the Lord

We each carry burdens, cares and pains: family responsibilities, money struggles, health worries, global fear, job stresses, marriage anxieties, and more, and somehow in the song we “lay them down for the joy of the Lord.” That sounds nice, but to me it smacks with fantasy. It sounds like, “I’m going to ignore these “tangible” things in my life so I can be happy thinking about God for a while.” That doesn’t really help, because SOMEONE has to carry these burdens! They’re important to me! If I don’t who will?

But what if we could trade our sorrows with God. Not like “I’m trading my sorrows for the joy of the Lord.” or maybe a little. I’m talking about trading sorrows the way true friends do.

Example: Person A has a relative who has passed away, and he really misses her. He pours out his heart to his friend, Person B. Person B Listens and receives the care of Person A, and Person A feels much better. Then Person A asks Person B “How are you doing?” Person B tells his Person A that his marriage is on the rocks and spends time pouring out his heart to his friend. Person A receives and empathizes with his friend. Both friends are encouraged and comforted not only that they have been heard, but that their friend the other Person counted them worthy of their trust. Is this not the essence of true friendship?

What if we could have that kind of relationship with God? A relationship where we share our cares and concerns with God, and God shares His cares and concerns with us?

Objection: Now you might say, “Whoa, hang on. God doesn’t feel cares and concerns the way I do. God is all powerful and all-knowing. He doesn’t feel worry or fear the way I do.” I understand this objection, because it seems like I am saying that our feelings of fear and worry about our cares and concerns are just like God’s feelings about His cares and concerns. It is true, God isn’t as powerless or clueless as we are, and in his perfect character does not feel fear or worry, but He does have feelings of care and concern. And believe it or not, He cares more and is more concerned about the things in your life that are alarming you than you do. Please bear with me, while I unpack this idea.

Biblical Friendship with God

First of all, it is Biblical to have a friendship with God where we share our concerns with God, and we take on God’s burdens.

1 Peter 5:7–“Cast all your cares upon God, for He cares for you.” God cares.

Also, look at the life of Moses, He joined God in His work to bring Israel into the promised land. He did this through a sharing of his burdens with God, (saying the work was too much, and God raised up 70 to help him.) and God sharing His burdens with him (Numbers 14:21 “As I live all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD.”) The exchange between Moses and Yahweh on Mount Sinai is an evidence of this give and take friendship, and as a result the people of Israel were saved.

There came a point in Israel’s History where God was looking for this dynamic again in the time of the Exile in Babylon, God spoke to Ezekiel saying, ” The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy and unlawfully exploited the foreign resident. I searched for a man among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land so that I might not destroy it, but I found no one. So I have poured out My indignation on them and consumed them with the fire of My fury. I have brought their actions down on their own heads.” This is the declaration of the Lord God.

Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

in John 15:13-15 Jesus says Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

Ananias who visited with Saul saw a vision of Jesus, and God spoke to him and shared a mission with him, and Ananias shared his concern with God, and God replied with further explanation. A sharing of care and concern both ways. Paul and John the author of Revelation had stories like this in their lives.

This relationship is Biblical. But what does it look like?

It does not look like simply reading your Bible. In the Bible we learn the thoughts of God, but we don’t experience the emotions of God. We can imagine them, but we don’t really experience them without something more intimate than reading the pages of the Living Word of God.

It DOES looks like prayer: Committing your cares to the carrying of an all powerful God, and then being totally freed up, waiting to receive His care upon you.

Now, for those of you who objected earlier, you might be further thinking, “Why would God do that? He doesn’t need us.” And it’s true He doesn’t need us to carry his burdens for his own sake, but he does need us to carry his cares for the world’s sake. Let me share with you two little-known principles about why this is the case with God that I hope will make sense: The Smell of God, and the Method of God.

The Smell of God

This idea comes from the verse, in 2 Corinthians 2:14 “But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”

Have you ever had a person talk about God who the words didn’t really feel right? Like there was something off in their manner, motive, or ministry that just didn’t “smell” right?

Whatever is in your heart “scents” your speech. As Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart _____________” (The mouth speaks) Your heart will always smell like what is in your heart. If it is your own cares, your words will smell like those worries and cares. But if you have given your cares to God and have received God’s cares, then your words will “smell” like Him. As I said earlier, You cannot receive God’s cares from God Himself thru the Bible. Only Prayer lets you do this. If you know your Bible from the first to the last verse, and don’t spend time sharing your heart with the Author, and letting the author share his heart with you, you will just smell like a dusty bookshelf. And if you have hearts carried by your own worries, your words will be “scented” with those worries which will overpower God’s aroma, and people won’t be able to smell God on you.

The Method of God

God is out to reconcile the World to Himself. To do that He chose a creature of Heaven and Earth to be the bridge between Him and the World: Human. And not just any human, the Human: Jesus Christ. Who is the body of Jesus Christ? The New Humanity: Believers in Jesus Christ. So God’s method is to draw the world which sins and rebels against Him back to himself, using people to represent Him to them. This is God’s Method. And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then God seeks to reconcile the world to Himself through you. You are God’s method.

Now, if God is out to reconcile the world to Himself, and he uses his people to do it, then He needs to fill those people up with His love and truth.

To sum up, God wants you to cast your cares on him, so that He can carry the weight of your concerns and cares so you don’t need to be burdened by worry, fear, anxiety, and doubt. But God wants you then to receive His cares, His heart, and His concerns from Him so that through you, God can reconcile the world to Himself.

Aren’t God’s Burden’s too Hard to Carry?

And just like Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” By Burden, he’s saying my cares and concerns, the things I have a heart for, it is easy to carry.

Really? You’d think the opposite. People have taken up what they know are things God has said He’s concerned about, and they are so over-burdened and grumpy! Have you noticed? Someone says say, “We need to go and feed the homeless; there aren’t enough people feeding the homeless, I’m going to feed the homeless. Ugh, this feeding the homeless isn’t much fun, but it’s okay because this is what God wants, and God will help me do it.” And then they go and talk to somebody and either say “You should feed the homeless!” and try to guilt people into joining, or announce, “I feed the homeless!” for some saintly reason of “Oh people look at my example” But they are self-righteous. Do either of those things smell like God?

If this is you, and you’re wondering why you don’t have joy in it, or if you know somebody who comes across as guilting and self-righteous, the reason probably is, that you or that person haven’t REALLY given up your cares and concerns. You or they’ve just found the cares and concerns that you can carry that God has authorized.

This is one of the reasons why as sinful human beings, we have this need to worry and fret and not give up control. I think that we are afraid that if we give our cares to the Lord, then we’ll discover that He doesn’t really love us. We’re afraid that if we stop trying to do the “necessary” thing, then we won’t be able to earn the love that we are trying to deserve. This is why we get so weary and heavy laden, because as soon as we give up our concerns and cares to God, then we don’t have anything left to show how important and valuable we are. All we have left is God to show us how important and valuable we are.

Reading Matthew 6, you can hear that You are valuable and important, but you’ll never really know that until you give up all your cares and concerns to God, and wait to see how He responds. That’s the risk. Because then He will finally have a chance to tell you the truth, and He will show you His heart for you, and if you wait long enough, He will also show you His heart for the world. And with the showing of that Heart for the World, will come the sweet secret of those who know Intimacy with Him. This is also the badge that proves people are carrying God’s burdens rather than their own.

Joy.

This is the gentle, patient, persistent flame that can finally breathe when the burdens of life are cleared from off the wick of our heart. This Joy is based in so many things: it’s because you know you are loved and accepted and God has just shared His eternal love and truth with you that is so good it cannot be beaten! Through this great exchange of your cares for God’s, you will be entrusted with the heart of God. That example at the beginning of two friends. That is a hint of what it is like. And through this great exchange, the World will come to experience God’s love and power through you.

Now, just a warning, because some people may not want this. Doing this will result in one of two things: bringing the world closer to salvation, or bringing yourself closer to your own crucifixion. Likely both. For Jesus it was both, so why not for us? The more God is truly known in the world, the more people will have the chance to totally accept him, or totally reject him.

Some Practical Considerations for Doing this Great Exchange.

  • First of all, in American culture we are so good at self-soothing. You already can think of the things you depend on for your comfort and recuperation. Deny yourself those self-soothings you do whenever you are burdened and worried and anxious about your cares and concerns, and give them to God instead. Turn the TV off, put the snack down, put the Phone down, and go to God.
  • Second, set aside some time in the day to pray and talk with God regularly. Our First ministry isn’t to our family or ourselves. It’s to the Lord. I recommend before anyone else wakes up or after everyone else is asleep.
  • Third, “Go aside.” Moses saw the burning bush and turned aside to see the great sight, and when God saw Moses had turned aside, then he called out to him. There’s something about relating with God where He needs to see you. Maybe He wishes to know that you are seeking Him for His own sake, or maybe it’s just a lot easier to talk with someone when they leave the business of where they are, and stop long enough to fully receive what they say. Don’t go to God in between things. Literally stop whatever you’re doing, go somewhere private, and pour out your heart to God, then wait to hear His response.
  • And Fourth. Give your burdens over to Him. There are probably countless ways to do this, and some of them are well known: say them out loud, think about them and remember a Promise from God’s word, write them down methodically, write them down crazy fast.
    • For me, I have found it helpful to do it with a physical action or a visualization. A physical action is important because any doctor will tell you that worry and stress is a physical thing. If your shoulders are slumping because a heavy weight is on them, go to God, and shrug that burden off your shoulders, and pick it up and hand it to God. Where is he? right in front of you? Up above you. You can say, “God, can you please get that?” This is NOT as crazy as Harvey the Rabbit. God is really there right? Then talk to Him like He is really there!
    • The other way I mentioned is Visualization. Picture your worry and then in your imagination give it over to Jesus. Let it take whatever natural shape it takes in your imagination. it can be a big glob of poop, it can be anything, and then the conscience can help your imagination rightly understand what Jesus does in response to that. These are just methods I have tried, but there are many others.
  • Fifth consideration: It’s probably going to take longer than you think depending on how much time you have already spent casting your cares on God, Each one will need to be sorted and dealt with. If you feel like you’ve given all your concerns over to God, and one keeps popping up, you probably missed one. Keep going til your mind and heart are ready to stare your friend in the face with boldness because he has stayed with you the whole time you’ve unloaded on him.
  • Sixth when He shares with you keep His Confidence.

The Situation

The world today is a mess. And the sin of humanity is the problem. Romans 3:11–“There is no one who understands. There is no one who seeks for God.” As it was in Paul’s day, so it still is today. But if the sin of humanity is the problem, the salvation of humanity is at least part of the solution. It doesn’t sound very different from Ezekiel’s day. The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy and unlawfully exploited the foreign resident. I searched for a man among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land so that I might not destroy it, but I found no one.”

First, I address the church as a whole: without the heat of prayer, the Church will be lukewarm and ineffective. Unless you pray in this way, the world will not know Jesus through you.

Come on! Rise! Go! Find Him! Seek the Lord while he may be found!

A Quiet Voice

I speak. Will you hear?

The governing bodies of America are shifting
Like tectonic plates underground.
One presses from New York city skyscrapers
The other presses from the Appalachian Mountains
The molten center is in our capital.

One rises with Nature and Nature’s God
The other builds a tower to the Heavens
One rules by Constitution
One rules by Progress
They clash over one man.

His feet trample the mountain grass
He’s empowered by the wheels of progress
Yet the mountain people praise him
And the city-dwellers raze him.
Why?

He accepts the boundaries of stone
And breaks the bands of silicon.
He pushes back on man’s frailty
Establishes natural rights fruitfully.
A volcano is not self-centered.

Betwixt these moving forces mold
A new way through the new and old
One must accept God’s quiet voice.
As we are led to the defining choice.
A choice that may not be either or.

New growth must retain the life of the old.
What is that life, and where is it hidden?
Ask the quiet voice.
It will tell.
Listen.

To the President: from your boss

Dear President Trump,

 – – Hi, I’m Luke Ferguson. I’m your boss. My boss has some thoughts that he’s given me, and I want to pass them on to you.

 – – The Truth is being suppressed. Your power is limited, but you can help. The Freedom of the Press and the Freedom of Speech apply to you just as much as it does to every American. Find a window where the Truth can be spoken that no media outlet can touch. Offer verifiable information, and so win the trust of your people. Call the nation, government, people, and culture to Justice. And let yourself be the first casualty of the movement. You know of whom I speak, when I reference this.

 – – I hope and pray that our boss will be glad that He hired you. Show the world His love and power, the way Jesus did.

Your servant,

Luke Ferguson

God’s Rules Interpreted for Kids (A GOSPEL!)

God is the One who made everything, and he loves everyone. He needs us to do the right thing and stop doing bad things. These are His rules.

  1. There is only One God: Him. No other gods are allowed.
  2. Don’t make statues of God or worship them. God is represented by living humans, not nonliving stone or wood or metal.
  3. Treat God’s name respectfully.
  4. Make sure to take a day to rest to remember what God is really like.
  5. Respect your parents, so you’ll have a long life.
  6. Don’t kill someone, or want to kill someone, value other people’s lives.
  7. (This one is *mainly* for grownups) Don’t share your deepest heart or body with someone other than the person you’re married to.
  8. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, but respect other people’s stuff.
  9. Don’t try to get people to believe things that aren’t true; instead help people believe the truth.
  10. Don’t wish you had what other people had, but be thankful for what you have.

Above all the two most important rules which sum these up are: Love God with your entire being, thinking, and doing, and Love the person next to you as much as you love yourself.

And for the most advanced rule followers: As Jesus Christ has loved you, love other people in the same way! (This one requires a bit of study and experience to follow, because that’s how you learn all the ways that Jesus Christ has loved you.)

Why this is important

The reason why all of this is important is because all of us have done wrongs things, and the older we get the more wrong things we will do. Remember that God has to punish people who do wrong things in order to be fair. He will judge everyone in the whole world unless they are willing to ask God to forgive them, to say they’re sorry, and to stop doing those bad things. The punishment for sin is death and God’s standard for who gets punished is if they match up with Jesus’ perfect obedience. I can’t obey God perfectly like Jesus did, and neither can you.

Now, He is fair, but He is also merciful. God sent Jesus not only to set the standard, but also to give his life on the cross to take the place of anyone who wishes for God to forgive them. That way God gets to be both fair and merciful. Those who ask Him to forgive them, He forgives. Not only that, but He also gives his Holy Spirit to those who ask for him, to help them do what is right. Only those who have the Holy Spirit living in them are able to obey God perfectly.

God has a plan for all of this. God wants people to be filled with his Spirit so that He can bring people everywhere back into a good relationship with Him. Then once he’s got all the people who will stop sinning, and start obeying on board, He will burn up this old earth and sky and make a new one where there are no bad things and no people who do bad things anymore. If you ask God to forgive you and give you his Holy Spirit to help you do the right thing, you too will be allowed to be in that New Earth and Sky. And God will build his house on earth with them, and they will all live and reign in the new Earth like Kings and Queens forever and ever. If you don’t, there is an fire that never dies that will burn up all who do not ask God to forgive them, and receive his Holy Spirit. But if you do this, you will be called a Christian.

Now, the life of a Christian is hard, because the rest of the world is sinning against God and doesn’t want to serve God, but if we do what Jesus did, we will show the rest of the people in the world how God really loves them and wants them to repent so they can have a good relationship with Him again.

Rapacity and Repentance

Rapacity is such a striking concept, according to Dictionary.com

  1. given to seizing for plunder or the satisfaction of greed.
  2. Inordinately greedy; predatory; extortionate:

This word is closely akin to “rape,” and yet it is the very thing Jesus accuses the leaders of the Jewish religion, the Pharisees of being.

In Luke’s Gospel, after the disciples ask Jesus why his disciples don’t ceremonially wash their hands. the Lord said to him,

“Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of [rapacity] and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?

Luke 11:39-40 (NASB brackets mine)

The indictment is not on the external world but doubly about their internal world. The two things mentioned: Rapacity (the craving for more to satisfy the self) and wickedness (lack of ethical moral character) are things I myself as a sinful human being can identify with. In fear, I crave the acquisition of my own entertainment so I don’t get listless, my own food so I don’t get hunger pains, my own acceptability in crowds so I don’t feel ostracized, my own money so I can avoid being forced to do anything. I crave the satisfaction of the self. I know what it is to serve God in a skin-deep way, only inside to leave the more precious, secret and important things for myself. The result of my own Rapacity has led me to situations where I am less than ethically or socially or morally care-filled, loving, and true.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. This is because the rapacity and wickedness of man has, does, and will destroy God’s messengers.

How do I know? Because of what Jesus says when he switches from talking to the Pharisees to the Law-experts. The Pharisees and the Law-experts were of the same sin. He tells them:

“Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs.

Luke 11:47-48 (NASB)

They are the offspring of those who killed the prophets, the rapacious and the wicked. It was this rapacity and wickedness that God recognized and said in His wisdom:

“I will send to them prophets and messengers and from out of them they will kill and persecute.”

Jesus quoting the Wisdom of God (Luke 11:49, translation mine)

Anyone who thinks that the days of persecution of God’s people are finished is shortsighted and foolish. It is the one who recognizes the wisdom of God that see the rapacity and wickedness of man, including the rapacity and wickedness of their own heart are the real villains in this world. The craving to serve the self and the lack of character has rendered the very object of God’s desire–the heart of His beloved creatures– the very weapon of the enemy used against God to wound Him.

The rapacity of man makes war against God and His people.

The call now to you, if He gives you the conviction of this rapacity and evil in yourself, is: repent! If you are like the Pharisees and your outer world is good while your inner world is rotting away with greed, and all the dark treasures you hold close for your own self-service and self-glory, then Jesus’ words to you are these:

“Charitably give what is within you, then behold everything is clean about you.”

Luke 11:41 (NASB)

The way to repent of this selfish desire to attain for self, is to give those things that are most special to you to the Lord and to the poor by extension. Then you will be like your Father who gives the deepest truest treasures He loves to show the World how much He loves them.

One final warning–do not leave your rapacity unrepentant: it makes you an enemy of God.

Rejoice

An imagined quote of a Pastor friend: Preach to me from the Greek: from the Book of Philippians.

Here the words of Paul to a people who understood them: 4 Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε·  πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε.[1] Paul talked to people who were giving constantly—giving, giving, giving, expecting nothing in return. And he called them to “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say rejoice.”

This call to rejoice is a command to find joy in every circumstance in which they find themselves. And he relayed this command because they found themselves in a position to rejoice in the Lord, because they gave, gave, and gave constantly.

Another thing about Joy to consider is that in the Old Testament, the Psalmist described the restoration of the fortunes of Zion (Psalm 126) and he said “Rejoice!” This was a testimony to the nations that God had done a marvelous work, and it was so that the nations would be drawn to this joy. The hands of the people of God had been emptied and then filled, and all the people could do was rejoice in God who had given them all these things.

My charge to you, dear friend, is not to seek to follow this command at first, but first to find yourself in a place where you could be commanded to do thus. This is a joy that is only known by those who know what it is to be emptied, and used up, and depleted of all that one has, except the Lord. And once a person has given up all of this for the Joy of selflessly giving, he discovers the treasure that awaits him to sustain him in his giving: “Rejoice in the Lord Always.”

This is the secret that the Psalmist knew when he spoke “There is fullness of Joy in the Presence of the Lord.” (Psalm 16) Rejoice In the Lord always. This promise of “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) This promise of “I am with you always even unto the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Is the priceless treasure of every believer. Ravi Zacharias quoted G. K. Chesterton when he said “Joy is the central feature of life for the Christian, but sorrow is peripheral; because the fundamental questions of life are answered by his faith. But for the unbeliever, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, because only the peripheral questions are answered and the central ones remain unanswered.”

While Chesterton expresses the intellectual side of Joy, I add that this centrality of Joy is because at the believer’s heart is a priceless treasure of the presence of God which is the source of rejoicing as he gives up everything else he has. This is the Pearl of Great price which Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to in Matthew 13:45-46.

Now, how do I know that this is what Paul meant? By looking at the next verse. 5 τὸ ἐπιεικὲς ὑμῶν γνωσθήτω πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις.  ὁ κύριος ἐγγύς.[2] “Let your gentleness be known to all men; the Lord is near.” What I see here, is just as God bore witness to the nations of His goodness when he restored the fortunes of Zion, so He has sought that the joy of a Christian’s heart might be a light that would bless the joy-less, sorrow-full people of the world in darkness. This is why the command is to “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice!” This is why Jesus said, “No one lights and a lamp and puts it under a basket, but does so to give light to all others who are in the house.” (Luke 8:16)

But you may ask, “What does this look like for me? Does this mean I have to walk around with a big smile plastered on my face all the time?” No. We know that when Jesus, our Joy, walked among us, he did not selfishly show off his joy. He carried his joy into people’s situations as he bore with their griefs and carried their sorrows. He was so deeply confirmed in his Joy that to weep with those who wept He did gladly. And His gentleness was demonstrated to all men “for the joy that was set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) And we too, are to self-lessly rejoice in God, glorifying Him as the true source of life and joy, and to do so meekly, gently, mercifully because “the Lord is near.” And He “is near to the brokenhearted.” (Psalms 34:18)

The heart of the matter, according to St. Ignatius of Loyola, “Sin is unwillingness to trust that what God wants is our deepest happiness.” We have come to disbelieve God wants our true Joy because we are unwilling to find our true Joy in Him. It is convenient to ignore His presence and seek after whatever can offer us significance, satisfaction, or contentment on our own terms. This is the problem of our pride and the false spring, dry of living water resulting in our lack of joy. The answer is much more simple. The application of the matter is,

  1. Make sure you are in a position that you can find joy in the Lord. How? By examining your life for anything you would be unwilling to give up for the Lord, to the Lord in a moment. If you hold onto anything with greater force than you hold onto Him, your joy will never be full until you relinquish it. If you are bound in any circumstance you have bound yourself chasing after Joy on your own terms, get free: addiction, ambition are a couple. This is the imitation of Christ that Paul called believers to make of himself. Consider 1 Corinthians 4:8-16. And again in this letter to the Philippians, in 3:17. Consider Philippians 3:8-18.
  2. “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Find Joy in Him by spending time with Him. By understanding Him, by Obeying Him, and following Him. By listening to His voice, by cultivating a life that is lived by the truth that His loving eyes are on you and He is very, very near to you at all times.
  3. “Again I say rejoice!” Even in the midst of the greatest tragedy, stress, unfortunate circumstance, even blessing, and enjoyment, you will turn to Him who is near you, and thank Him as the source of your Joy. Remember to stop and remember His presence with you, and cast your cares upon Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
  4. “Let your gentleness be known to all, because God is near.” Do not let your rejoicing be the cause of greater sorrow to others. Instead, do as Christ did, and love people with your Joy by even laying it down to grieve with others, and show people love by sitting with them, embracing them, empathizing with them. And discover the joy that comes through giving more of yourself to others, this joy which God finds in doing the same with us. After all Jesus said, “It is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
  5. Finally, let this joy in your heart be bright so that those around you can see the God who is real, and who is indeed the truest source of all joy, and then be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15) As Piper said, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” (Desiring God)

Launching Questions:

  1. What has been the common attitude about Joy in the Christian churches in which you’ve been? Explain your feelings about that attitude.
  2. How have you felt pressured to put on a brave face for other people even when things aren’t going so well?
  3. Paul talked to the Philippians about rejoicing as they gave. What is something you gave that brought you great joy to give it? Or what was something you were given that you could see it was a joy to them to give it, even if it was given sacrificially?

Interpretation Questions:

  1. What do you think it means to rejoice in the Lord? What are some ways you have done this or seen this done around you?
  2. Have you ever considered that there might be certain commands in Scripture that must be followed before others can be followed?Example: “First give sacrificially of yourself, then Rejoice!” What are some of the commands that are the first steps for a believer to take before they can move on to fulfilling the next commands?
  3. Why does the presence of the Lord bring Joy?
  4. Why does the presence of the Lord cause a person to be gentle and humble?
  5. How did Jesus navigate Joy in God’s presence, and sorrow in the presence of so many hurting and suffering?
  6. What is the difference between selfless Joy and selfish Joy?
  7. Why is it important for us to rejoice in the Lord?

Application Questions:

  1. In life, there are many things that can take a place of importance next to God, and oftentimes they become more important than our relationship with Him. What are some things (even good things) that have held great importance of your life and prevented you from being fully satisfied with Just Jesus?
  2. What are some things you need to give sacrificially to others?
  3. What are some practical ways you can rejoice in the Lord?
  4. What are some ways you can let your joy help when reaching out to people who are in pain, suffering, or sorrow?

[1] NA27 Php 4:4. [2] NA27 Php 4:5.

To the Laughing Son of God’s Grace

Dearest fellow Christ seeker!
– – In my search for Christ, I discovered some clues to the significance in his life in a deeper study of Luke’s Gospel, which I thought I’d share with you, “O most excellent Theophilus.”

Mary (Mariam) was a virgin in Nazareth, and Gabriel is sent from God to her. Suddenly this one who has stood before the face of Yahweh is speaking to her!

  • Gabriel’s first word is a very common greeting in those times, “Hey! May your days be well! Great to see you! Rejoice!” all summed up in “Greetings” My that english word can be a bit of a let-down, but in the original it’s a joyful salutation. It’s like “Heyyyyyyy!!!” with a big smile.
  • Then he calls her “highly favored.” It’s like In The Matrix, Dozer greets Neo with great excitement and anticipation for what is about to take place. The common solemnity of this occasion is enough to excite some people to fear, but here, this first word from Gabriel to Mary is very a version of: “Hey, you super-special person!”
  • The Lord is with you. He is not trying to calm her down yet. He is pointing out what David recognized is the source of the fullness of Joy. “The Presence of the Lord.”

These three parts of his salutation are awesome. It’s about to be some very good news. And earlier in the chapter we got an example of what happens when people don’t believe when an angel is telling them good news. Cousin Zacharias has been silenced now for over 6 months rather inexplicably, because this same angel delivered some super special news, and he didn’t believe him. Mary’s response however is very human and humble. She is doing two things. She is deeply perplexed through and through, and she’s also pondering what kind of visit this is.

Then Gabriel unloads on her a super-duper bombshell of a lifestory.

Now, just to reveal: as I studied each verse, I wondered “What it would mean if he had just stopped there?” What was the significance of everything Gabriel told Mary. Since it was divine communication, kept treasured forever in the heart of a human concerning the salvation of all humanity and the world, I figured it be worth looking into.

  • Don’t be afraid.–Mary needed to be calm enough to hear this.
  • You have found favor with God–It always starts with God’s grace!
  • Behold you will conceive in womb–Life will start
  • And you will bill bear a son–Life will be born
  • And you will call his name Jesus–The child shall be named.
  • He will be great–this will be his quality
  • And He will be called the son of the Most High–The child shall be named again.
  • And the Lord will give him the throne of his father David.–He will inherit David’s Kingdom
  • And he will rule over the house of Israel forever–He will rule in this kingdom forever
  • And of his Kingdom there will be no end.–And there won’t be a time when he stops ruling, or when his kingdom falls apart.

These insights stand out to me from these poetic lines from Gabriel’s word.

  1. The Lord is compassionate of our frailty. He knows we can’t hear or remember anything He said if we are afraid.
  2. God’s Grace is what shone on Noah before it described him as righteous. It is His way to begin with the face of God’s gracious favor being turned in the direction of an individual through whom he would bring about His salvation. In these moments we glimpse the mirth of God who is glad at the beauty and effectiveness of His plan.
  3. Jesus’ life is outlined here from “Conceived, born, named . . . to given a throne, ruling, and never-ending. Each piece is important, and each piece speaks to something special that God is doing.
  4. The middle section is “He will be great and be called son of the Highest One.” There any many high ones, but this child will be son of the “Highest One.” Also, He is called twice, did you notice? First his name is called “Jesus” then he will be called “Son of the Most High.” A mystery, but is this just common parallelistic repeating in the scriptures or is there an intentional pattern here?

In any case, dear Laughing Son of God’s Grace, there is a lot of joy packed into these verses which overuse and traditional limelight can really make hard for our eyes to see.

Merry celebration of Jesus’ Birth! Which probably happened right around this time of year btw!

😀