Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice

I’ve been around church(es) for a long time now, so I’ve heard my fair share of references and reflections on Romans 12:15.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

The vast majority, if not all, of the references/reflections/sermons I’ve heard on this verse have to do with the second part, the mourning part.

Usually when something bad happens we like to say this as a reminder of our duty.

Mourning with people is extremely important.

Mourning with people exemplifies empathy, sympathy, and emotional intelligence, not to mention spiritual maturity and the sacrificial love of Jesus.

But, why haven’t I heard as many (if any) references/reflections/sermons on “rejoice with those who rejoice?”

And what does it even mean to rejoice with someone? Does that mean giving them a high-five, or a pat on the back when they are pumped about something good in their life? Or is it something deeper than that?

I think it is easier for us to mourn with those mourn.

Positively, pain binds us all together, so I think it can be easier to access those emotions and connect with someone experiencing pain.

Negatively, I think we get a sort of “hit” from coming alongside someone and walking with them through their pain. This is not necessarily bad, but I think mourning with someone puts us in a helping role, and we tend to feel good about ourselves when we help someone.

Sharing someone’s joy doesn’t give us quite the same sort of ego hit that mourning does.

I’ve found rejoicing with others to be really hard to do personally, and I’ve felt its absence, in my own experiences, in some pretty profound ways.

In a competitive world it can be hard when someone else achieves something, or reaches a new stage of life, or is just simply celebrating a level of success that we haven’t reached yet. Seeing someone else succeed might make us insecure about our state of life, or disappointed in what we haven’t accomplished.

In other words, rejoicing with others seems like a bigger test of character than mourning.

Rejoicing with others requires a true sense of humility. To truly share in someone else’s joy means that we are totally focused on the other. So focused that their joy becomes our joy.

And that’s hard to do.

But, this is one of my new life goals. To revel in their success and fun and excitement as much as I would my own.

I want to be great at rejoicing with those who rejoice.

Reality, Grace, Obedience [part 2]

I have a friend who has a daughter a few months older than Marina. He told me recently that they have started spanking. I know this day is coming for us, and so I asked how it was going.

My friend told me spanking is hard, but, in a strange way, his daughter draws closer to him afterwards. It might take a few moments, but post-spanking there is more affection, hugs, and snuggling than before.



Our community group spent some time in conversation around the story in I Samuel 15 where King Saul blows it and essentially loses his Kingdom (which will eventually be turned over to David).

Saul is supposed to defeat an enemy and keep nothing (no slaves, no cattle, no good stuff). Saul does go on a rampage but he decides to take the enemy king alive and bring back all that is good (cattle and sheep and whatever else he liked).

The prophet Samuel shows up after this and asks Saul how it went. Saul tells Samuel everything went really well. And Samuel, brilliantly, asks “What is this bleating of sheep in my ears?”

I love this question. It is a reminder to me that I need Samuel’s in my life to ask the obvious question.

Sometimes we need people around us to just say: “Hey, I know you keep saying everything is fine and you are handling it, but I see this and this (I hear sheep bleating) and it doesn’t add up to ‘doing great.’ What’s the real story?”


Grace is fundamental to the Christian worldview. Without God’s grace the world ceases to exist.

But, I find that many, many people misunderstand grace. Grace is not opposed to making wise decisions, maturity, or doing hard, unpleasant things.

Grace is actually what makes wisdom and maturity possible.

Back to Saul. After he realizes he screws up, he begs Samuel to come with him, make a sacrifice for him, and essentially bail him out of his trouble.

Samuel says, “No.”

God says, through Samuel: Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

My very human interpretation of this is: “Hey dude, if you had just done the right thing, the first time, we wouldn’t need to do all this work to make up for it.”

Grace is the fundamental reality that we don’t need to live in anxiety. That our identity and destiny are set.

But grace is not opposed to saying: “There is something better. You can do better.”


Reality, obedience, grace.

I understand these words so much more as a parent. I don’t want to punish my daughter. But she has to learn, grow, and mature. It’s vital to her survival, and, more importantly, to her ability to thrive and excel at life.

So, is climbing the bookshelf the biggest deal in the world? Not really at one level (although if she continues to climb, she will fall and she will get hurt).

On another level, though, this is part of the process: learning what is in bounds and out-of-bounds, and, here’s the main point, learning the importance of obedience. Learning to trust.

When she screws up I want her to know that she is forgiven, and nothing about my love for her or her identity is ever in question.

But, I also don’t want her stuck in an endless cycle of “sacrifice.” I want her to mature and make decisions that are wise.

Because there are consequences to the choices we make. Grace certainly covers our sin, but it doesn’t eliminate the consequences of our decisions.

Grace calls us to be better, to grow, to mature.

So, a couple of questions:

  1. Are you stuck in a cycle of sacrifice?
  2. Who is your Samuel?
  3. Are you living in reality?

In Defense of LeBron James

According to my totally scientific poll, the two most hated professional athletes in the US are Alex Rodriguez and LeBron James.

ARod I get. He cheated. He makes way too much money. He’s the personification of everything that’s wrong with American sports today.

But what about LeBron? Most people would say all the same things about him, with the exception of cheating (although some would argue that the creation of this Heat team was a form of cheating. PS: it wasn’t).

Now, I am not really an NBA fan. It’s probably 5th or 6th on my list of sports that I follow and enjoy. I’m not a LeBron/Heat fan. I rooted against him in this series because Tim Duncan is my favorite.

But, I don’t get the hate for LeBron. His sins, as far as I can tell, are:

  1. He is really good
  2. Some people call him the greatest (presumably before he has earned it)
  3. He makes a lot of money
  4. The “decision” thing where he went on ESPN and told the world he would “take his talents to South Beach” and left the city of Cleveland heartbroken

I get it. There are always some athletes and team we just love to hate and root against (for me this is Tom Brady and the Patriots).

But I actually think we should be celebrating LeBron James. NBA excellence has been expected of him since he was in middle school. His high school games were on ESPN. He has always been expected to be the next “great one”. He brought even more expectations on himself by going to Miami.

That’s a lot for a young person to take on. Dude’s only 28. He’s been carrying that weight around for over half his life.

As a college minister, I know a lot of great 20-year-old kids. I know a lot of hard-working kids. I know a lot of kids with good character and healthy ambitions.

I don’t know how many of these kids could handle millions of dollars, huge expectations, constant pressure and scrutiny, and come out of it in a good place.

How in the world we, as a culture, expected LeBron James to turn out a semi-decent human being is beyond me.

But it seems like he’s exactly that: a good dude. Mature. Grateful. Again, he’s only 28. I know people twice his age who are far less mature and have had far more normal life experiences.

LeBron’s post-game speech last night went like this:

“Listen, for me I can’t worry about what everybody say about me. I’m LeBron James. From Akron, Ohio. From the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here…That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room I see a No. 6 with ‘James’ on the back. I’m blessed.”

We live in an age of extended adolescence and so why is it weird that a 20 or 22 or 25-year-old LeBron James acted immaturely (and even that is debatable).

I would argue, again, that LeBron is grown up now and he seems (I don’t know him) to get it…to understand who he is and how he’s been gifted…and to be grateful for it.

I wish more people could see that, could see his growth, and celebrate it, because we need to celebrate people who grow and mature.

There’s a chance that LeBron skips town and joins another team in a year. There’s a chance that this all goes to his head and this post looks pretty silly in a couple of years.

But right now, in this moment, forget about his two championships…LeBron James has matured and grown and is gracious about it, and that is something that is far too often left uncelebrated in this day and age.

Acts, Church, Tension, Beauty, etc

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Acts recently (see yesterday’s post). A common reaction to Acts is to look at all the exciting and crazy things that happen (3000 people joining the movement, healings in Jesus’ name, angels letting people out of jail) and to ask: “Why doesn’t the church look more like this today?”

I can sympathize with that a bit. But, I also am overwhelmed with how little has changed. People fight, disagree over little things, lie, criticize, and quit. The mission is always in danger of getting derailed by something that, in the grand scheme of things, is not all that important.

When I look around today and hear some of the criticisms about the church, I hear, at times, the “We just need to go back to Acts” sentiment. To people who say that, I ask: “Have you been involved in a church lately?”

When you are deeply involved in a community, and when you are a healthy person, you should see both sides of the Acts coin…the good and the bad…the beautiful and the ugly. Churches can be amazing: people finding their way back to God, great stories of transformation, miracles, serving the community, and on and on. But church can also be agonizing: fights, losing the mission, distractions, criticisms, and on and on.

Acts makes it clear that both of these realities are true of the church in a broken world. The challenge for me, as Acts has reminded me, is not to let idealism or cynicism win the day. The beauty is in holding the tension of these two realities. Church is where the miraculous happens and it can break your heart. God help me to live in to that truth.

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah

This past week, in Joplin, our students spent some time with Jeremiah…hearing about his life: his struggles and triumphs and what makes a great life.

Stephen Lutz says that Jeremiah 29:11 is the most quoted/most popular verse among college students. It goes like this:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Good stuff. Encouraging. But, too often we forget about 29:10

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.”

Exile. Dislocation. (Long) Suffering.

These always go together, and the mature person can hold them in tension. The exile and the return home. The seventy long years and the promise of rescue. The suffering and the hope.

Jeremiah lived a great life, but it is was only great because of the tremendous challenges he faced, and the faithfulness to God he demonstrated over a lifetime.

And may that be true of us as well.