What I Saw – December 4, 2018

A few pastors came over on Tuesday, December 4 for devotions.  Our text was John 21:1-14.

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This was a familiar text, the story of the resurrected Jesus meeting the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and giving them a second “miraculous catch of fish”.

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Familiar texts are difficult for me to receive a word from as they are too familiar; I think I know what they say and so I don’t look as hard.  Reading in a group often helps overcome this familiarity.  One thing that helped overcome it this time was the devotions leader, who said, “No detail seems unimportant to John.”  What he meant was that John records a lot of detail that seems superfluous to the “theological” content of the passage.  Here those details were Peter’s putting on his clothes and jumping overboard, the disciples struggling to get the catch of fish to the shore, Peter’s rushing back to help them, the number of fish caught (153), etc.  After the leader said this, I started looking at these details and realized that the disciples were acting chaotic.  Peter was jumping overboard and running around; I imagine the others were criticizing him for abandoning them and he was criticizing them for not being as devoted to Jesus as he was (imagination, to be sure, but not a huge leap based on what we know about the disciples); there was a huge catch of fish and a boat to take care of.

What I really noticed, though, was that Jesus was unaffected by this chaos.  The disciples weren’t.  They were in the middle of the chaos.  They were creating the chaos.  They were driven by the chaos.  But Jesus was unaffected by that chaos.  He stood apart from and above it.  He even had His own fish, which He was quietly cooking, and some bread as well (where did those come from?  I don’t know; maybe He created them, maybe He got them from some person not recording in Scripture; either way, I bet it is an interesting story).  He was moving slowly, calmly, confidently, and was just waiting for the disciples to drop down to His speed so He could speak with them.

What I see in this are three related things: 1) My Lord doesn’t need whatever it is I’m trying to bring Him (again, He had his own fish), 2) My Lord isn’t affected by chaos as I so often am, 3) My Lord is waiting for me to escape the chaos, slow down, and sit with Him.  This was a great comfort to me.  The truth that my Lord is not as “double-minded” and “tossed back and forth by the waves” (James 1) as I am encourages me with both the understanding of His power and the opportunities His power gives me.

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And that’s what I saw on December 4, 2018.

It’s Not That Important

This post is a point from a recent sermon which I thought was A) important and B) open to some elaboration.  I have taken it and elaborated on it here.

A fifth/final way to escape fear/live apart from anxiety is to see that some of the things we fear are not as important as we think they are. These fears aren’t as great as we make them out to be.

For example, I’m afraid of not being a good preacher and I have been for some time.  It was established very early in Bible college that I was a “good preacher”.  I’ve been called that or told I am that more times than I know.  And that was very pleasing to me when I preached my first few sermons at 14 & 15 years old.  Now, though, some thirty years later, it isn’t so great.  Once you get a title like that, you then have to live up to it.  Like the old gunfighter who has to defend his reputation against every young buck who wants to make a name for himself, I have to defend my reputation.

(When I preached this, I said I thought there was some movie about an old gunfighter defending his reputation.  Somebody shouted out The Shootist.  I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know if that’s it or not.  I do know that I’ve seen this idea in a slightly comic form in this Far Side cartoon.)

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After 25 years, I’ve gotten tired of defending that reputation.  I’ve gotten tired and discouraged of having to prove every Sunday that I am a “good preacher”.  I’ve gotten really tired of having to live up to that label, or, to put it differently and perhaps more poignantly, of having to earn that identity.

Fortunately, the Lord has shown me recently that I don’t have to do this anymore.  He has shown me that “good preacher” is not my identity.  He has shown me that “son of God” is my identity, and He has further shown me that this identity doesn’t have to be proven or earned.  He has, in other words, shown me that being a good preacher is not that important.  What’s far more important than being a good preacher is bringing His word, that is, bringing people a true message from Him.  That’s not the same as being a “good preacher” as that title is culturally understood.  It sounds the same but it is not.  Bring a word from God is far more noble and profound than being a good preacher.  It s also a  lot easier to do and a whole lot less stressful.

Let me give you another example of a fear I have which isn’t as important as it first seems to be.  I’ve always been afraid of visitors not being impressed with my church.  To that end, I’ve obsessed over how clean the carpet is, how good the worship is, whether or not there are any misspellings in the bulletin or the slides, if church members are friendly to the visitors, and any number of similar issues.  It suddenly occurred to me, though, that these worries are completely unfounded.  They are not unfounded in the sense that they don’t happen; they do happen.  But they are unfounded in the sense that they don’t mean much.  If someone rejects my church because there is a misspelling on a worship slide, they would leave my church for any reason.  Keeping such people pleased with everything today merely means they will become displeased about something tomorrow.  There is always the chance they will become displeased about something tomorrow, anyway.  It means such people aren’t and probably never will be in a real relationship with me.  And it is rather silly to worry about losing something that is not a real relationship.

I’m willing to bet there are some things in your life that aren’t that important as you think they are.  I’m willing to bet you are afraid of things that really aren’t as significant as they seem, which really won’t do the damage or aren’t the damage they portend to be.  I don’t know what these are exactly.  They may be like mine.  They may have to do with your reputation or identity in some way, with how people see you or think of you; whether or not they love you/you are loved.  But they could be something else completely.  I don’t know.  I just know we are frightened by things that aren’t really that frightening, and I further know that we won’t be frightened by them anymore if we realize they aren’t as frightening.

If you’d like to hear the entire message this post was taken from, you can find it here.  Enjoy, and may God deliver you from your fears!

I Can Make It

This post contains a short point from a recent message.  I left a part out of this point, a small but critical part which came to me after the message was completed.  I hated that, so I decided to rectify it here.

Another technique I’ve discovered to escape fear/live apart from anxiety is to realize that I have more resources than I think.  Resources (or the lack of resources; that scarcity/poverty lying under the harvest, the threat of not having enough) is a major source of anxiety for me.  That’s what introverts worry about (I don’t know what extroverts worry about, but lack of resources is what introverts worry about ). What I’ve realized lately, though, is that I have far more resources than I give myself credit for.  I have inexhaustible resources, actually, or at the very least i have access to inexhaustible resources.  I am a child of God.  The Father has given me full access to His household; He has put on my hand the signet ring, allowing me to do family business or spend family capital.

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My favorite description of the access I have to the Father’s resources. All He has He counts as mine. I’m allowed to touch and use everything in His estate.

When I have need, then, I can supply it not just from whatever meager resources I have scrapped together (how much money I’ve managed to save, how much sleep I managed to get, etc.) but also and even more so from the Father’s resources.  I can go into the Father’s barn.  I can withdraw from the Father’s bank account.  I’ve always had the ability to do this, I suppose, but I’ve only recently learned to actually do it.  I haven’t been looking at last night’s sleep to get me through the day as  have all my life, but I’ve been looking at God to get me through the day .  When I feel tired, I say, “God, I need something here.”  I say that and I usually seems like I get it.  Energy is usually given to meet my need.

I’m not the only one to discover these resources or the ability to use these resources.  Santa Clause discovered this as well.  I started reading a book about Santa Claus (aka St. Nicholas) yesterday.

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In that book, I discovered this statement about young Nicholas’ growth in the faith:

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Nicholas found he could ask God for strength and receive it.  He found he had access to more resources than his own.  I’ve found the same thing, and it has had a profound affect on me.  I was in a difficult situation the other night.  I was struggling with the same difficulty my wife and I have been struggling with for some time.  As I struggled with that, I looked up to heaven and said to God, “I just can’t make it.”  And immediately I heard God say back, “Yes you can.”  I don’t know if God said that to me directly or said it through the Holy Spirit or said it through my own conscience which He has taught to think as He thinks (any of those ways gets you to the same place), but He said it.  It was said.  “Yes you can make it.”  And that statement was based on this idea.  I could make it through this difficulty because I had his resources to get me through it.  My own resources weren’t sufficient; I rightly realized that.  But I had (and have) more resources than my own.  Those resources are sufficient to get me through this difficulty and any other which comes my way.  That gives me a lot of confidence.  It gives me the same confidence I had when I learned I could run 10 miles.  Before I knew I could do that, I was afraid of running, afraid of my energy giving out when I was far from home.  Once I knew I could do that, I no longer feared running.  I looked forward to it, actually.  I laughed at the distance that once frightened me because I knew I could cover it.

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And that takes away fear.  Understanding that I have these other, better resources which enable me to get through whatever I need to get through disarms my fear.

So that is one point of my message.  If you’d like to listen to the rest, you can find it here.  Enjoy, and may God lead you out of anxiety!

Some Thanksgiving Thoughts

 

I really hope you’re not reading this on Thanksgiving Day.  I hope you are far too busy with friends and family and food to be looking at blogs.  But just in case you are, let me give you a few Thanksgiving thoughts.

The first comes from a book about Thanksgiving by Melanie Kirkpatrick.

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In that book, she describes how some pastors disliked the scheduling of football games on Thanksgiving Day.  These pastors believed the games took away from the church services being held that day.  A rabbi chimed into this debate, saying this:

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Yeah, I’m a football fan, too, and I will be watching portions of all three games being played, so I definitely see things the way the rabbi does (and I agree with his portrayal of God and what a good God enjoys).

But I will be giving thanks on the day as well.  That is nothing new for me; I thank God every day for dozens of blessings.  But I do give special thanks on this day.  There are many Scriptures which fuel this thanks, of course, but there are several songs that do so as well.  I wanted to share a few of those with you:

 

There are a dozen or so others, all of them special to me at this time of year.  I hope you enjoy a few of those if you have the time.  I also hope you eat well, as I said earlier, and that you are well-loved and love well.  I hope you look up to heaven at some time between the gridiron and the table.  And I really do hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Thankful For Intercessors

I pray the Ransomed Heart daily prayer about four times a week.  I pray it four times a week instead of daily because there are other prayer forms I like to use.  But there are some elements of the daily pray I do pray every day, elements I bring into those other prayer forms.  One of them is this one:

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I guess there are a lot of elements there, but the one I want you to notice is two or three lines from the bottom.  It is the “I ask you to send forth your Spirit to raise up prayer and intercession for me.”  I have expanded this in my version of the daily prayer.  I have it like this:

I ask You to send forth Your Spirit to raise up intercessors for me.  I ask that people will love and pray for me, and will further let me know of their love and prayers for me.

This element of this prayer became very important to me during a very difficult time I endured a few months ago.  I prayed this often during this difficult time and was answered.  People did contact me by phone, text, email, Facebook, etc. to let me know they were praying for me.  Many even said they loved me.

I thought about this as I prayed this part of the daily prayer today, one of my all-time favorite days, the day before Thanksgiving.  As I prayed this part of the prayer, I thought about that difficult time and all the people who prayed for and loved me.  And I became thankful for them.  I became greatly thankful for them and expressed that thankfulness is a great way to God.

I thought I ought to also express it here, though, so that’s what I’m doing now.  Here is a list of the people who contacted me during this time and the weeks after to tell me they were praying for and loving me:

Annie, Brandon, Sarah, Mary Ann, Randy, Keith, Robert, other Robert, Steve, the other other Robert, Art, Dale & Jo, Melrose, Melia, Carrie, Mom and Dad and Eli

I think that’s all, but it is probably not; my memory seems to be failing me as I write this, but I’m pretty sure I got them all as I prayed earlier.  To any of you reading this, please know that you were an answer to pray (as I told some of you).  Please know that God used you to help me in the darkest moment of my life and I greatly, greatly appreciate it.  Please know that I am praying for and loving you as well.

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I am so very thankful for these intercessors.  And I am ready and willing to be such an intercessor myself.

Fore-giving

I was reading Anger Anonymous last week.  It is basically Alcoholics Anonymous for people addicted to anger.

Paperback Anger Anonymous : The Big Book on Anger Addiction Book

The book said many things that really blessed me.  One of the strangest, though, was the one at the bottom of this page:

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As you see in the last few lines, the author defines forgiveness as “to fore-give or give ahead of time”.  I resisted that definition at first.  Being the doctrinaire that I was trained to be, I said to myself, “That’s not what forgiveness is!  Forgiveness is pardoning someone from the consequences of their sins on the basis of Jesus’ blood propitiation.”

And that is indeed what forgiveness is from a technical stance.  The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that forgiveness can be this fore-giveness as well.  The propitiation-based pardon is what can be given ahead of time.  In fact, the more I thought about this, the more I saw it as related to what John Eldredge calls “your story told rightly”.  This, Eldredge says in his book All Things New, is what will happen at the return of Jesus.  He says that at the present our story is often told wrongly or understood wrongly; people don’t perceive us as we really are; they perceive us as something less than we really are.  At the future return of Jesus, though, the “renewal of all things”, our story will be told rightly.   We will have public indisputable vindication/validation as God tells the universe that we are His servants who have done well.

(This isn’t John Eldredge but he seems to be saying the same thing.)

I don’t think this idea of our story being told rightly is simply “correct”.  I think it is extremely important.  I think it is important that our story be told rightly in this way, that we get this public indisputable vindication/validation.  I think, in fact, that this is the reason I have such difficulty forgiving people (and, behind that, the reason I get so angry): I feel I can’t allow people to think less of me than I am, that I must make them see me as the good person I am and must punish them if they refuse to see me as the good person I am.

And I think this notion of fore-giveness relates to that.  I think fore-giving as the author describes here is related to the idea of our story being told rightly.  I think to fore-give is to react to people as you would if your story already had been told rightly.  It is treating them as you would if the public indisputable vindication/validation had already taken place.

Maybe fore-giveness is not technically accurate.  Maybe it is.  I don’t know such things (and I don’t worry about them too much anymore).  But I think there is a truth here.  My story will be told rightly one day; I will get the public indisputable vindication/validation I have desired for so long.  That being the case, I can (and should) treat people as if I had already gotten it.  I can operate on that Kingdom idea of “already but not yet” and thus “fore-give”.

What I Saw – November 10, 2018

On Saturday, November 18th, I saw two things which worked in conjunction to bring me a great word from the Lord.

The first occurred at a men’s devotional I held early that morning.  We watched a video during this devotional.  In the video, John Eldredge talks about God not only being our father but always intended to be our father.  He says God is not a “consolation prize” for those of us who didn’t have fathers but the father every man has whether he had a decent human father or not.

I was such a guy.  I had a great stepdad who did a ton for me, but I didn’t know my biological father (still don’t), so I always had that “ache” Eldredge talks about and always felt “God as my father” was such a consolation prize.  Hearing what Eldredge says here about God always intending to be my father was a great encouragement to me.

I took that idea into my nighttime prayer.  I always start that prayer with what Tim Keller calls “approaching” in his book Prayer; I tell God I’m coming and hope to be with/hear from Him.  On this night, I said this during that approaching time: “I’m ready and willing to be fathered by you.”  I then opened the Moravian Text (which I always use for my nighttime prayers) and found this:

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Everything here spoke to me.  God lifting up the downcast (which I am) and God loving the righteous (which I also am; I’m not perfectly righteous like Him, of course, but I am “relatively righteous” as I have chosen to pursue Him; thus this verse applies to imperfect me) spoke to me; I certainly need both those things.  God bringing His people out of Egypt and Paul & Silas out of prison spoke to me even more.  I saw that He is indeed a “liberating God” as the prayer calls Him.

This is important to me because I have always feared imprisonment.  Indeed, I have always felt imprisoned one way or another.  I have always felt what John Parr says in his song “St. Elmo’s Fire”:

That’s me and that’s always been me: a prisoner trying to break free (and if you make fun of me for the cheesy 80s music/movie reference, you’re imprisoning me even more!).

But what God told me through His living and active Word and the Spirit He put inside me is that I won’t always be a prisoner.  I might be a prisoner to some degree now (and I am), but I won’t be a prisoner forever.  Not only so, but He also told me I wouldn’t have to “break free”; He would break me free Himself; I wouldn’t have to do it, wasn’t responsible for it.

It was a great word for me, one that greatly encouraged me.  And that’s what I saw on November 10, 2018.