Proverbs 2:1-5 – Have Common Sense

My child, you must follow
and treasure my teachings
    and my instructions.
Keep in tune with wisdom
and think what it means
    to have common sense.
Beg as loud as you can
    for good common sense.
Search for wisdom
as you would search for silver
    or hidden treasure.
Then you will understand
what it means to respect
    and to know the Lord God. (Contemporary English Version)

“Common sense is not so common.”

Voltaire

Sometimes it seems as if common-sense has taken a vacation or gone into quarantine.

We may even be in some sort of common-sense crisis or pandemic.

Perhaps we are emoting when we should be thinking. Maybe we’re thinking when we ought to be feeling. It could be we’re doing both or neither. Whatever the heck is going on, it’s a bunch of gobbledygook that isn’t getting us anywhere.

Much to my sadness, many Christians brazenly splash their ignorance across large swaths of social media. It’s not surprising that more and more people want nothing to do with the Church nor Christianity. 

Common sense does not necessarily imply any great quality of mind or intelligence; it’s common, not extraordinary.

We need some sound practical discernment for common everyday matters.

What shall we do?

I propose we liberally inhale the biblical proverbs – because suspicion, gullibility, extreme vitriol, and downright stupidity now characterize vast sections of our world, especially in the so-called intellectual West. In the wise sayings of the Proverbs, we shall find that:

Humility and reverence are the beginning of wisdom.

A teachable spirit is of more value than any amount of money or physical resources.

Developing the life of the mind is of critical importance.

Every good thing in life comes through blood, sweat, and tears – and doesn’t just fall into your lap.

Prayer matters.

Ultimate control belongs to God.

There is peace in being comfortable with mystery.

Knowing God helps us pursue the right questions, rather than always trying to have the right answers.

Becoming more self-aware creates greater awareness of God and others.

Smart choices come from both mental learning and practical action.

The mind can be clouded and untrustworthy, and the heart can be desperately wicked; the gut, however, is always right.

Mentally overthinking and researching things to death can disconnect us from a good old fashioned sage response.

Our own personal view is just that; it isn’t necessarily the best or right perspective.

Feedback, advice, consultation, and collaboration are necessary, not optional.

Perfection isn’t the goal.

Proverbs aren’t ironclad promises; they’re short pithy statements of experiential truth.

Observation and listening are valued by God as the primary means of gaining understanding.

Most things in life are both/and, not either/or.

We all have two ears and one mouth. There needs to be twice as much listening as talking.

We must go hard after wisdom.

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having experience makes all the difference.

Action and reflection go hand-in-hand.

It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not okay to let fear stop us from action.

Simplicity and complexity are not necessarily antithetical.

Complete control is the glory of God. Self-control is the glory of humans.

“Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be done.”

C. E. Stowe

If we are going to raise our voices about something, then let us shout loudly in prayer for some basic wisdom and common sense from God. Any common fool can be won over by a podcast rant or get sucked into some blogger who vehemently damns everyone opposing his views. 

The wise believer, however, will humbly cry out to God for the wisdom to live well and make good decisions with both mind and mouth.

May it be so to the glory of God.

All-wise and everlasting God:

You know the number our of hairs and determine our days.

You hang the stars and feed the sparrows.

You open doors no one can shut and shut doors no one can open.

Surely, we can trust you when the time comes for making big decisions, or for that matter, any decision. We need your sagacity and discernment for all things. We will trust you for generous wisdom, straight paths, and peaceful hearts.

Blessed God:

We plan, seeking you to order our steps.

We pray, asking you to bend our prayers toward your benevolent purposes.

We seek counsel, counting on you to direct our words and actions more than trying to please someone else.

We search the Scriptures, looking to know Christ better.

It’s not our decisions, but yours that make all the difference. 

Gracious God:

Free us from the paralysis of analysis. We confess we are often more concerned with the perfect decision that impresses everybody, rather than being a righteous person.

Free us from idolatry. We confess we are often more concerned for our reputation than saying and doing what is right, just, and fair.

Free us from living in fear of disapproval. We confess we are often people-pleasers, rather than God-pleasers.

Free us from cheap and easy solutions to complex problems. We confess we often want speedy outcomes to our difficulties, rather than seeking to learn everything we can from the circumstances you give us.

Free us from continually second guessing ourselves and not trusting our gut. We confess that we often ignore the still small voice of wisdom within.

Sovereign God:

No matter the situation or the relationship, we affirm that your will and way for us is supreme.

Give us the desire and means of acquiring your will for all things.

Make us more and more like Jesus, even as we trust you for the opening and closing of doors that are in front of us.

May we live to your glory – Father, Son, and Spirit – the Holy Trinity we serve. Amen.

Psalm 100 – Know That the Lord is God

Shout for Joy by Lucy Adams

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations. (New International Version)

The worship of God cannot be contained with one dimension of a person – their spirit. Worshiping God requires the body, mind, and emotions, as well. Anything less, is withholding praise. We are to worship with our entire being.

The original use of today’s psalm was for the ancient Israelites approaching the temple to worship God.  Before worshipers ever came into the presence of the Lord, they were preparing themselves to encounter God through giving thanks, using this very psalm.

When King David and other Hebrew writers penned their poetic songs, they centered what they most wanted to draw attention to in the middle, so that what came before it and after it pointed to that central message. The center of the psalm is:

Know that the Lord is God. Knowing God is to experience the divine through a close relationship. It means we have a place and a purpose. It is a knowing and belonging which exists deep down in our gut.

We get to know God by how he has worked in people’s lives, as well as our own. So, gatherings of believers (whether physical or virtual) are an opportunity to reinforce collective values, strengthen faith, and encourage the discouraged.

Faithful worshipers deeply desire to focus on who God is and what God has done, remembering and rehearsing divine qualities and deeds. Through this activity, we help one another know the Lord. And knowing God is what real life is all about. The Lord is worthy of all the praise, adoration, and worship we can give.

There are three imperatives (commands) that come before the middle phrase to know that the Lord is God; and three imperatives coming after it.  All six imperatives are meant to help us know God better, to give our proper praise to the Lord.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Declaring loudly of God’s gracious and loving character, expressed through right, just, and fair actions.

Worship the Lord with gladness. Kneeling and prostrating before God in humble reverence, awe, and adoration.

Come before the Lord with joyful songs. Approaching God’s throne with confidence and boldness.

Those are the three imperatives which lead us to know the Lord. 

The following three imperatives point back to know that the Lord is God:

Enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving. Immersing oneself in the presence of God.

Give thanks to the Lord. Giving voice in gratitude to God

Praise the name of the Lord. Declaring God’s holy name with heartfelt expression.

We belong to God. God’s people celebrate this tremendous experience of belonging with deliberate actions that put us in a position to know God better.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17, NIV)

One of my all-time favorite verses in the Bible has to do with knowing God:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

Philippians 3:10, NIV

Everything in our lives, whether good or bad, is designed to help us know God better. Shared experiences with each other encourage Christians to keep living for Jesus. All of life, from a Christian perspective, points us to the mid-point of history, Jesus Christ, and him crucified, risen, and coming again.

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3, NRSV)

So, let us express gratitude today for all the gracious ways of God’s self-revealing and reaching out to save such ones as us.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:16-21, NIV)

Gracious and almighty God, the One who works on my behalf, give me grace to put away the rootless existence of someone who has no place; and help me to experientially know your radical acceptance and inclusion into the dance of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – one God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2, NIV)

Amen. Soli Deo Gloria.

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 – Do You Know?

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
    so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ. (New International Version)

Knowledge can be a tricky thing. There is so much to the topic of knowing that we have an entire branch of philosophy, epistemology, which theorizes on how we know ourselves and our world.

The Enlightenment era (18th-century) focused on empirical data, that is, what can be known becomes knowable through the verification of our senses and a scientific process of systematic observation, measurement, and experimentation. In other words, knowledge has to do with the natural, not supernatural, because knowing involves our five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

The Enlightenment project, I believe, severely truncated our personhood. It left us as mere brains on a stick – valuing dispassionate empiricism to the point of devaluing the heart and the gut. For, when all is said and done, there is an immaterial way of knowing, a kind of sixth sense, which can discern truth and reality in a manner that sheer natural evidence cannot.

If we are unaware of this other sense, the spirit, then there is an entire dimension of ourselves and our world that we are unable to discern and know. Grounding our ideas and theories in evidence-based practices is quite important. We need rigorous processes of going beyond opinions and hypotheses to actual tangible evidence. Our world has benefited immensely from the scientific process. And yet, all this is insufficient.

Without a focus on the spiritual, we limit our knowledge and our perceptions of others and the world. And if we ignore our internal epistemic assumptions which are coming from other places than our brain, we can talk and act without knowing why we say and do some things. We can be unsure why we react in particular ways or cannot quite make sense of why we keep overeating or drinking too much or avoiding certain people and places.

In many ways, a major task our earthly life is to keep knowing ourselves better and better. There is a vast inner world that needs exploration, just as much as we need to explore the vastness of our earth and the immense space of the universe.

In science fiction, Star Trek has a way of knowing the seemingly unknowable within us. Vulcans (ironically the most empirical and dispassionate beings in the universe) have a unique ability to perform a “mind meld” which is a technique for the psychic fusion of two minds, permitting unrestricted communication or deep understanding. It is a way of accessing and sharing thoughts and feelings which are obscured or hidden. It is an epistemology that, in actuality, isn’t far from reality.

Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ. All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. I want to suffer and die as he did, so that somehow I also may be raised to life.

Philippians 3:8-11, CEV

That’s because the people of God, believers and followers of Jesus, have been given the Spirit of God. An unusual, unscientific, and mystical union has taken place in which God’s Spirit joins with our spirit and opens a whole new world to us.

There are some things which can only be known, understood, and verified by the spiritual. Incredibly, Christians are given the very mind of Christ. We enjoy an amazing melding, enabling us to become the people we were always meant to be – forgiving, loving, encouraging people who live and love just like Christ – who is in both our hearts and our heads. This supernatural epistemic way of knowing allows us to see beyond the five senses to a multiverse of senses within ourselves and others.

We can only know what God has freely given us if we have God’s Spirit within us and the mind of Jesus Christ testifying what is good, just, and true. This is a knowing beyond language and explanation. It is knowledge requiring a mind meld between the individual and Christ.

Rather than crucifying and putting to death things (and, God forbid, people) we don’t understand, there is a better way. Explore a different way of knowing. Discover the spirit within. Seek to understand the invisible God. Experience a fuller and richer way of life in Jesus Christ through the enlightening of the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria

John 1:43-51 – Follow Me

“Follow Me” by Greg Dampier. Jesus calls Peter and Andrew.

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’the Son of Man.” (New International Version)

I am a follower of Jesus. I have been for decades. I found, and continue to find, in Jesus Christ a compelling person full of grace, truth, and love.

But my early life was not characterized with knowing Christ. I certainly learned about Jesus, that this ancient guy lived an altruistic life, got tortured and killed on a cross, and that Christians believe in his resurrection from death. However, back then it was more like some strange history lesson. That information made no difference to me.

That is, until I heard a voice – not an audible one that others could hear. Yet, it was just a real as any daily conversation with another person. I heard the call of Jesus. The Ancient of Days showed up. I know with every epistemic fiber in my being that it wasn’t an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. I am sure beyond sure that there was more of an empty grave than gravy about my experience of the risen Christ.

I experienced the call of Jesus to “follow me.” And that is really, at its simplest, the call which continually goes out to all humanity. It is a gracious and merciful call. It isn’t a summons to experience a cataclysmic event of total belief in one fell swoop. Rather, it’s a call to belief that is much more an unfolding awareness of the deep spirituality and connection with the divine within.

“I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

Jesus (John 8:12, NLT)

Important to that faith process is another call to “come and see.” Whereas there are some Christian traditions which focus solely on a singular one-time experience of saving faith in Christ, the Gospel of John displays a drama of faith with multiple layers which people move through.

There is no egalitarian zap in which God grants total and immediate understanding. Instead, faith is an ever-increasing process. It is appropriate and biblical to say that our salvation has happened, is happening, and will happen. We follow, we come and see, and we keep following, keep coming, keep seeing more and more.

Like a muscle, our faith grows, develops, stretches, and strengthens over time. To use another metaphor, we ascend a stairway to heaven, one step at a time, day after day, following Jesus.

Methinks this is likely part of what Jesus was getting at with Nathaniel in today’s Gospel lesson. Nathaniel would have quickly picked up on the reference Jesus was making, way back to the first book of Genesis. The Jewish patriarch, Jacob, had an experience of seeing the angels of God on some celestial stairway, ascending and descending. It was an encounter of God’s presence with Jacob, assuring him of divine intervention into the muck of humanity. (Genesis 28:10-17)

Jesus connected that ancient portrait to himself so that Nathaniel would understand, would believe, that God has again broken into this world with a special divine presence. To look at Jesus and follow him, is to see and follow God.

Christ Jesus is the ultimate example and embodiment of God with us. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus presents himself as:

  • Living water – connecting to Jacob’s well (John 4:5-14)
  • The Temple of God – the place where the Lord dwells in all divine fullness (John 2:18-22)
  • Bread from heaven – linking the giving of manna to the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 16:4-7; John 6:1-59)
  • The good shepherd – fulfilling divine Old Testament imperatives of caring for people (Ezekiel 34:11-16; John 10:1-30)

In all these ways, and more, Jesus intentionally connects himself as fulfilling God’s ancient promises to people.

In whichever way we need to hear the call to follow, Jesus accommodates to us. For some, Christ comes knocking on the front door. For others, he enters the side door, or slips into the backdoor of our lives.

And, if we will come and see, Jesus will also accommodate us by being the authority over us, the teacher to us, or the friend beside us. The Lord Jesus shall shepherd us and woo us to the flock for guidance and protection.

However, Jesus comes to you, it most likely will be in ways we aren’t expecting. Surely, nothing good can come from Nazareth! Yet, it did. Can anything good come from Calcutta, India, or Juarez, Mexico, or Hoboken, New Jersey, or Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or even from a small rural area that doesn’t show up on a map? Yes, it can. Because with Jesus, God has entered this world, and, as it turns out, the Lord’s presence is everywhere.

Follow me. Come and see. Two of the simplest exhortations ever uttered. Yet, two of the most gracious phrases ever said, with profound implications for us beyond what we can fathom or imagine.

Guide us waking O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace. May the shape of each day be formed by the pedantic following of my Lord; and may I come and see the wonders you have done, are doing, and will do. Almighty and merciful God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – bless us and keep us. Amen.