What I Saw – December 7, 2019

My plan was to do my evening prayer/devotion time (which I erroneously call “compline”; I typically do it a couple hours after the tradition compline hour) during halftime of the Big 10 championship.  I couldn’t do it before the Big 10 championship because I was leading our church’s new members orientation until too close to kickoff.  So I planned to do it at halftime.  And that plan would have worked had my wife not put her legs over me as I sat on the couch and then fell asleep.  I didn’t want to wake her up, but I couldn’t get to the remote to turn off the TV nor get to the patio door where I like to sit and pray.  For a moment I thought I wouldn’t get to do my prayers.  Fortunately, I didn’t give up at the first obstacle.  Deciding I still wanted to see what the evening’s Scriptures were even if I couldn’t pray in silence as I usually did, I opened my Moravian Daily Text app and found this:

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At first I didn’t receive anything from this this text.  Maybe it was the background football noise distracting me; maybe some words from God just take longer.  But I decided to give it a few minutes of thought, concentrating (as much as I could; man, I prefer silence!) and asking God what was in this Scripture for me.  And then, just like that, I saw it.  I realized that this was the answer to the question I had been thinking about all day and all week, the question of how to overcome temptation.

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I had been struggling with the temptation to do or say or think a few different ungodly things that afternoon (and as my home church preacher would say, what those things were is none of your business!).  It was what I call a “low level” temptation.  It wasn’t enough to make me actually do these things.  It was just enough to make me miserable.  I went for a walk by the river that afternoon to think about this temptation, about why it was and what I could do about it.  I realized that it was because I, like Eve, had listened to the tempter; I had heard him give his (false) pitch in favor of these things and had agreed with him that they were good and desirable.  This was not a new realization.  I have long known that “agreeing with the enemy” is one way temptation gets its power.

What I saw as I read this verse, though, was the way to stop agreeing with the enemy like this.  What God was saying is that His light and truth can reveal the falseness of the tempter’s pitch; they can not only expose it but defuse it.  The image I get is that they can actually wash it away like a rushing river.

And once they are washed away, I can see clearly; once God’s light and truth deliver me from the enemy’s lies and darkness, I can enter His dwelling, coming into His Temple, be comfortably in His presence.

I’m not sure this was new knowledge.  But it certainly was an encouragement.  This was the answer to the question I had asked earlier.  This was the solution to my struggle.  This was the thing not only that I needed to do (I need to seek out and submit to His light and truth) but the thing He is already doing (He is continuing to reveal this light and truth to me).  And with that answer and encouragement, I was able to stay right there, trapped under my sleeping wife’s legs, and watch the rest of the halftime show knowing that my hope of living apart from and above of temptation is becoming a reality.

That’s what I saw December 7, 2019.

What I Saw – Thanksgiving Day 2019

First of all, let me say:

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I did not expect to write a post on Thanksgiving Day.  I did not want to write a post on Thanksgiving Day (as those of you who know me know, doing anything on Thanksgiving Day is a serious violation in my book; I believe you should do nothing on Thanksgiving Day but eat, watch football, and be thankful).

But despite my unwritten rules about this most precious of days, I still did my daily interactions with God.  Thanksgiving Day doesn’t eliminate the need to do that; it increases it, in fact.  So I did it.  I read the Moravian Daily Text and I listened to Robert Clancy‘s prophetic utterance.

It was during the utterance that something “caught my attention” (which, as you know, is how I believe God most commonly interacts with me; His Spirit makes something in the Scriptures or other Scripture-based media catch my attention).  In this utterance, Clancy quoted Hebrews 11:6.

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I am very familiar with this verse.  I’ve had it memorized for around 20 years and I quote it at least once a month when I do my memory work.  But God has a way of bringing a “fresh word” out of His “sure word”; He has a way of making me see things I’ve missed, of applying His truths in ways I need them applied.  That happened today.

What I saw in this verse today is that it is faith and the faith-based seeking of God that God rewards or accepts (cares enough to respond to is The Message translation; I think the idea of accept is certainly a part of that).  This was very important for me; it was certainly encouraging and it was potentially revolutionary.  You see, even though I could quote these words and intellectually believed this truth, I emotionally believed something else.  I emotionally believed that the ones God rewards and accepts are those who do right or don’t do wrong, or maybe even those who just are right and are not wrong.  I’m not sure where I developed this emotional belief.  It could have been from my home church, which was more performance-oriented and less grace-oriented than it should have been.  It could have been my Bible college for the same reason.  But it could also have been my middle school circle of friends who were even worse on these accounts.  In any case, I have it.  In fact, what I realized this morning is that the “cancel culture” that is so prevalent in our society is nothing new to me.  I have been living in a cancel culture all my life (or a “disqualified” culture, which is the term my home church would have used).  I have been living under the understanding that I can be canceled at any time for any sin of commission or omission.  I have been living under the understanding that I can (and will) be cancelled like this by society, friends, church, and God.

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What the Lord revealed to me today, though, is that this is not true.  This is at least not true when it comes to Him.  While society, friends, and church may cancel me for my sins, He will not.  He is not a canceler.  He is not a disqualifier.  He is not evaluating me based on my behavior or even myself (though He does encourage me to be holy, a truth I saw in last night’s Moravian Text) but on my pursuit of Him, my desire to be with Him, my valuing of Him and His things (Son, Bible, Church), my faith in Him which continues even though shaken by the legitimate sins I commit/wrongs I do or am and my illegitimate understanding of how I am evaluated by Him based on those things.  He will reward me and accept me because of my faith despite my failures (sins) and flaws (character).  I can be rewarded with Him (which is the only reward I really want) despite my failures and flaws.  I have not been canceled or disqualified.  I am still in the running.  And I will get what I am running after.

This was a great encouragement (and like all grace-based, God-based encouragements, it doesn’t entice me to sin more but makes me want to sin less).  This was a great liberation.  This was “daily bread” (some interactions with God change me forever, like a Thankgsiving meal, while others just sustain me for a short time, like a Happy Meal, but even those latter ones are valuable).  And this is something I am thankful for.  My seeing of this encouraging, liberating truth and the encouraging, liberating truth itself is something to really be thankful for.

That’s what I saw on Thanksgiving Day 2019.

What I Saw – November 21, 2019

I usually slip away sometime in the afternoon to listen to the day’s Pray As You Go entry; that is my afternoon devotion.  Each Pray As You Go entry has a song, a passage of Scripture (read twice), and some questions.  The entry for November 22, 2019 had Luke 19:41-48 as its passage.

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My mentor taught me to look for “what catches my attention” when I read or listen to a passage devotionally; the idea is that the Spirit will cause what I need in that moment to catch my attention.  On this occasion, what caught my attention was the phrase “the things that make for peace” in the first verse.  I was already very familiar with this passage; I remember studying it in Bible college and reading it many times since.  I knew Jesus was accusing the people of Jerusalem of rejecting Him.  What I noticed immediately during this reading, though, was that Jesus didn’t say the people had rejected Him.  He does, in a sense; that is what they did and somewhat what He was talking about.  But that’s not how He describes it.  He describes it as them not recognizing the things that make for peace.  He describes them as not appreciating or accepting (or perhaps even being able to accept) the way of peace He demonstrated for them.

That’s what I saw in that passage on that day.  Is saw that Jesus was not only offering these people a doctrinal truth or a salvation or a relationship with God.  He was offering them a way of life that resulting in peace (presumably shalom, the wide-wellbeing of God), and they would not take it/could not see it.  Now I know it could be argued that this translation (and I’m not sure which it is) is not the best translation.  Indeed, other translation seem to translate it slightly different, and I’ve not looked up the Greek so I don’t know for sure.

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But even if this isn’t the best translation, the idea is valid.  Jesus did bring truth, including important doctrinal truths such as His being the promised Messiah; He said He did, so I know He did.  He did bring salvation, and praises belong to His great name for that.  He did bring a relationship with God; again, He said He did.  But in addition to all those things He also brought things that make for peace.  He brought a way of thinking and valuing and living that will, if follow, result in peace.  He was the premier disciple and as such He demonstrated premier discipleship.  He was the greatest citizen of the Kingdom and as such revealed Kingdom citizenship.  He “came from Heaven to earth to show the way”, and did show that way quite excellently.

And this was something I truly needed to be brought to my attention.  I need to know that there is a way of peace, that this way of peace was the way established by Jesus, and that this way will turn out well for me and all those in relationship with me.  I need to know that as a husband and father.  I need to know that as a minister on a staff of ministers.  I need to know that as a follower of God.  I needed to be reminded of the truth that this way exists and that the way to bless myself and everyone else I know is to walk it.  I needed to be reminded of that truth, and I was so grateful when the Spirit and the Son of God did so.

And that is what I saw on November 21, 2019.

What I Saw – November 23, 2019

 

As usual, I started my day with biblegateway.com‘s “verse of the day” (hitting up a random verse chosen by someone other than myself is one of my devotional practices; it is how I try to hear from God).  Today, that verse was this one:

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This is a verse I’ve heard many times before.  This time, though, I heard it slightly differently.  I always thought the phrases “enter his gates with thanksgiving” and “[enter] his courts with praise” were commands; I always thought they were telling (even ordering) us to do something; I always thought they were saying, “You better give thanks and praise when you enter his gates and courts”.  When I read them this morning, though, I wondered if they could be conditions instead; I wondered if they were actual telling us how to do something; I wondered if they were saying, “You enter his gates and courts via thanksgiving and praise; thanksgiving and praise are the keys to entering his gates and courts”.

This fits with the sermon series Pastor Doyle just finished at The Church Next Door.  That series was called “The Current”, and in it Pastor Doyle repeatedly told us that there is a “current” to the live/walk with God, that there is a way living/walking with God goes.

This idea is absolutely true.  There is a current to the life/walk with God.  There is a “way” to God Himself, a way/direction/flow that God just goes, a way revealed to us by Jesus the Christ.  If you can’t take Pastor Doyle’s word on it, then consider this word from John Eldredge’s book Moving Mountains:

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And I believe thanksgiving and praise are a part of that way.  I believe that when I give thanks and praise rather than grumbling, complaining, boasting, etc., I am going in the way of God, flowing with the current of God.  Whether this is actually what Psalm 100 is saying or not (and I imagine that is debatable; I also know I’m not at all interested in debating it), it is nonetheless true that thanksgiving and praise are how to enter the gates and courts of God if not the how.

This is something I have discovered in my evening prayer.  I used to follow Tim Keller’s five-fold prayer plan during my evening prayers.

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But I’ve recently been modifying this a bit.  When I come to the “free prayer” part, I don’t offer petitions for myself anymore.  Instead, I offer thanksgiving.  I do what I call “a deep dive on my day”; I look at the day and consider everything I have to be thankful for.  There is always a lot, always far more than I thought.  I give thanks for those things, and when I do I find that anxiety, anger, grief, and every other negative emotion that haunts my heart is forced out.  I find a great power for drawing nearer to God and representing God to others when I am thankful.

Psalm 100, whether command or condition, reminded me of that source of power today.  It was a beautiful reminder, one that not only fit the season but that encouraged me to keep on this path I, by God’s grace, stumbled upon.

And that’s what I saw on November 23, 2019.

What I Saw – November 6, 2019

I almost didn’t go for an evening walk this Wednesday night.  I’ve been doing nightly walks in the country on the outskirts of Columbus all autumn.  The fact that it has been an unusually warm and bright autumn has been encouraging that.  With the change of the temperature on Halloween, though, I wasn’t sure I could keep up the habit.  Add to that the fact that I forgot my jacket when I left for church Wednesday, and you can understand why I almost went home instead of to the trails that afternoon.

However, as I drove to the fateful intersection where I would have to choose one or the other, I for some reason choose “park”.  I turned instead of going straight and 15 minutes later was at the same remote country park my dad took me to when I was a kid.  I found a trail north of that park, parked my car, and started walking.

As I walked, I listened to some Upper Room songs.

I was hoping to receive a word from God from these songs.  Unfortunately I did not.  I was encouraged by them; they are wonderful songs.  But I didn’t receive the word I thought I would.

Now I’ve learned not to be completely disappointed when I don’t receive a word from God, but as I headed for the car I was nonetheless still somewhat disappointed.  And then, just before I got in the car to drive off, I saw this:

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This is a property across the street from the trail, and it took my breath away.  I saw a lot of beauty on that walk that day, a lot of natural, wild beauty.  But this was a cultivated beauty.  As you can see, the grass is manicured, the trees were clearly planted in an organized fashion, and the entire place is surrounded by fence.  So it was a cultivated beauty.  It was a beauty man had touched.  And yet to my eye it was still as beautiful as the natural beauty I had been admiring for the past hour.  As beautiful if not more beautiful.

And that got me thinking.  It got me thinking about beauty in general and about my purpose in beauty in particular.  You see, I’ve always understood that nature is beautiful because God made it so.  I suppose the definitive verse on this idea is Psalm 19:1.

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And I have many times heard people describe the beauty of God’s handiwork in untouched, wild, natural places.  For example, I once stood next to a guy at a mountain lookout in West Virginia.  As we stood there, this guy admired the wooded mountains and valleys before us and then asked, “How can people say there is no God?”

From encounters and statements like these, I’ve always assumed that the greatest beauty in God’s economy was His beauty, His natural, untouched-by-man beauty.  But as I looked at this property by the trail, I started to question that assumption.  I started to wonder if the beauty that results from the collaborations of God and man might not be even more beautiful.

A collaboration was indeed what I was seeing on this property; a human artist arranged that property but they did so with God’s materials; the organization and manicuring were man’s contribution, but the light and color and texture came from the Lord.  That’s what this beauty was.

And I began to wonder not only if such collaborations are more beautiful than God’s solo work, but I also began to wonder if these collaborations are not what God always intended.  Again, I think there has been an assumption to my previous thinking, an assumption I no doubt received from my elders: the assumption that God’s solo work is the best of all work.  But as I looked at this property, I began questioning that assumption as well.

And I believe that I began questioning it on good grounds.  Scripture is clear that God is quite adept at doing things on His own.  But it is also clear that God wants to do things with others.  This is apparently why He created the angels (I don’t know much about angels and have no concern for angelology, but it seems that He created these angels to do certain things for Him or in His stead; that is, He created them to assert His will over the world).  This is also apparently at least part of why He created us.  Before He created us, He said:

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That is, He said His intention was that we would rule the world.  Certainly we would not be usurping His authority in that ruling, so He must have meant that we were ruling with Him.  We see a similar idea in Psalm 8:

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And we see it in 2 Timothy 2:

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The fact of the matter is that we humans were made to be rulers, co-rulers with God, under-rulers beneath God.  The fact of the matter is that there is something wonderful about our God that makes Him want to share rule, power, authority, and dominion even with those who, as Psalm 8 says, really aren’t worthy of it.

That being the case, it stands to reason that untouched beauty/solo work isn’t necessarily the best.  It stands to reason that manicured beauty/collaborations might be equal if not better.  And I know that doesn’t apply across the board; I know everything man does is not beautiful; I could do without the phone poles and lines in the above picture.  But I think it does apply in some limited way (everything that involves fallen man will by necessity be limited and have exceptions, but that doesn’t eliminate the general idea).  I think God has called me and all His other children to collaborate with Him, to create beauty with Him.  I think the beauty our collaborations can generate is every bit as worthy as the beauty His solo works have generated.  I think creating beauty with Him is our purpose, and I further think that is a great purpose and a great privilege.

And that’s what I saw on November 6, 2019.

What I Saw – October 31, 2019

Today’s memory work had me in 1 Timothy.  It is a book I learned almost 20 years ago and have been reciting every since.  As I recited it this morning, I stopped at this statement in 1:12:

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I suppose the reason this caught my attention is I was still thinking about yesterday’s revelation.  I was still contemplating the fact that ministry inevitably brings rejection, that painful rejection is the cost of doing ministry.  It is a fact I’ve come to terms with (as I described yesterday) but not one I’ve come to enjoy; I can deal with this but I don’t think I can embrace it.

Yet here was Paul saying he thanked Jesus for appointing him into His service.  Here was Paul saying He was grateful God brought him into ministry.  Paul was rejected because of the ministry he did; his authority was questioned and his teaching ability was criticized and his sincerity was challenged by those both inside and outside the church (see Acts 17:18 and 2 Corinthians 10:10 for just two of many examples of this).  Not only so, but Paul was beaten and imprisoned and subjected to all sorts of sufferings because of the ministry he did (see 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 and 11:23-33 for a partial record of Paul’s sufferings).  Paul was ultimately martyred because of his ministry (see 2 Timothy 4:6, or watch the following clip which I was shown as a child and which has always inspired me.)

Paul experienced some of the unpleasant things I have experienced in ministry, albeit to a greatly enhanced degree, and he experienced other, even more unpleasant things in ministry that I hope to never experience.  Yet he was thankful to be involved in that ministry.  I’m not sure he was thankful for the unpleasant things themselves;  I wouldn’t be offended if he wasn’t as not appreciating such things/wanting to avoid such things is normal but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was as he saw life and the Kingdom economy so much better than I did.  But he was thankful for the ministry which included these things.  He was thankful that he had been included in the ministry whose price was these things.

And I can likewise be thankful for being included in that ministry as well.  I am, in fact.  I wasn’t hating ministry as I read these Scriptures this morning.  I’m not sure I’ve ever hated ministry or even seriously considered leaving it.  Nonetheless, I was challenged by Pauls’ good attitude toward ministry, sufferings and all.  I was encouraged to be even more thankful for being included in ministry than I already am and to be more willing to accept the negative costs of doing that ministry in a better spirit.

And that’s what I saw on October 31, 2019.

Worth The Rejection

This Sunday I told our church that I have a “nearly paralyzing fear of rejection” (or something to that extent.  You can hear me say that in this clip below:

This is true.  I am truly afraid of being rejected by people.  I’m not sure where that fear comes from, but I have it.  I even thought our lead pastor had detected that fear.  He came up to me while I was working the other day and asked me to look at this book:

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I thought he was showing me this book because he had become aware of my fear of rejection.  It turns out he was just showing it to me because he thought it would be a good small group study.  But in the moment I thought my fear of rejection had been discovered and I immediately feared I would be rejected because it had been discovered (in other words, I was afraid I would be rejected because I am afraid of being rejected).

And this fear of rejection is not only there but it also hinders my work at times.  It at the very least makes my work much harder than it needs to be.  One of the things I do for the church is invite people to our various activities via text.  This was incredibly hard for me to do at first because the majority of these people were strangers to me (I guess I think strangers are more likely to reject me than people who know me; and now that I think about that, I realize it is completely illogical; I realize that people who know me might have even more cause to reject me than strangers do!).  It is still incredibly hard for me to do because a lot of these people are still strangers to me; I have become familiar with many of them and so it has become significantly easier, but there are still some strangers in the mix and it is still hard.

I experienced this just today, in fact.  Today I needed to text invitations to our Next Steps class to 130 or so folks who have come to our services in the past couple of months.  I did not know most of those 130 folks and I did not know how they would respond to my invitation.  I did know that they might respond negatively.  I also knew that they had my text number and would be able to respond negatively to me directly.  There was a risk involved.  It might be a risk that is minuscule to some, but it is major to me, and I was afraid.

Now I have learned to deal with that fear to a good degree in a couple of ways, the primary one being my knowledge that Jesus has promised to be with me as I do the evangelistic work of His Kingdom (Matthew 28:20).

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After I had done it, though, I realized there was another way to deal with this fear, another truth to keep in mind as I struggle with the threat of rejection.  That truth is that quite a few of the 130 people responded positively to me.  Quite a few of the 130 strangers I texted told me they planned to come to our Next Steps class.  Quite a few people who possibly, even probably, wouldn’t have been to that class will be there and perhaps will grow in or even enter the Kingdom because I risked the rejection.

And I believe that possibility/probability makes this work worth the risk.  Will I be rejected as I do this work?  Yes.  I already was, in fact.  One person told me to stop texting them.  That was precisely the kind of reaction I feared.  But other people will not just accept me but they will accept Jesus through me; they will be eternally blessed by my work; these valuable souls will be saved.  So the risk is worth taking (in fact, not taking this risk in light of this truth is unthinkable; I can’t stand the thought that someone could accuse me or not sharing God’s truth with them because I was afraid of being rejected by someone else).  This price is worth paying.  This hard thing is worth doing.  It is still hard to some degree, but it is worth doing.   And that encourages me to keep doing this hard thing.