What I Saw – February 13, 2020

I went down to the room we call “The Chapel” this afternoon to listen to my Pray As You Go app.  It is something I do often in the early afternoon.  In fact, I do it often enough that I consider it to be my “noon” prayer (see Psalm 55:17).  The Pray As You go devotion for today started with a version of The Kyrie by the University of Johannesburg choir.  As the choir started The Kyrie, the devotion leader for the day (the same lady who leads the anxiety devotion I listen to so often) said this: “As I listen, I might think for a moment about my need for that forgiveness [the forgiveness described in The Kyrie] and the need, too, for me to show that same forgiveness to others.”

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I started to do just that.  I started to do that by emphasizing that first part, my need for forgiveness, that is, my need to be forgiven.  I always tend to emphasize that part.  I’m not sure if it is my upbringing or my nature or human nature, but anytime these two ideas are expressed together (as they often are; see Matthew 6:12), I nearly always focus on the first one.

This time, though, I somehow slipped off the first one to the second one.  Maybe it was the way the lady said what she said.  Maybe it was the Spirit.  I don’t know.  All I know is that I suddenly heard “need” and “forgiving others” together.  And as I did, I said, “Yes.”  As I did, I realized, “Yes, I do need to forgive others.  Forgiving others (or “showing mercy,” which is the word that was actually in my mind, probably because the devotion was titled “Lord, Have Mercy” and because The Kyrie says, “Christ have mercy”) is a need I have.  Not just something I need to do (that is, am supposed to do, morally obligated to do).  Something I personally need to do, something that personally benefits me.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought of forgiveness or mercy as a need like this.  I’m fairly sure I haven’t.  I am well-acquainted with the idea of forgiving others; I know the many New Testament Scriptures which flat-out command this forgiveness.  But I also thought of it as a sacrifice of a sort, as a denying of my needs.  If you asked me, I would have said that what I really need when I am offended is vengeance or justice, and that when I forgive I am choosing to go without that vengeance or justice.  In other words, I thought forgiveness was costing me.

What I realized as I walked around the chapel listening to The Kyrie and thinking about the devotion leader’s words is that this is not the case at all (not entirely the case, anyway).  I realized that I need to forgive if I want to be free of the burden of anger and bitterness that I carry over past offenses (some decades old).  I realized that I need to forgive if I want to understand God; forgiveness, after all, seems to be His native language, far more native than vengeance if Hosea is to be believed, and I’ll never learn to speak that language or think in the mindset behind it if I never actually forgive.  I realized that I need to forgive to become the person I want to be.  I mentioned in a former post (the one about the song “My Lord’s Gonna Come In The Morning”, which for some reason is by far the most popular post I ever wrote) a time when a fellow who was angry with me publicly showered me with hatred at a local restaurant.  What I didn’t mention in that post but have realized in the ensuing years is that this act of hatred was actually a blessing.  This fellow blessed me by showing me how ugly hatred is.  Anytime I am tempted to express hatred like he did, I remember how ugly he was.  The memory calms me down a little bit.  But forgiveness will calm me down completely.  Forgiveness will keep me from behaving and being ugly like that, which is a gift indeed.

So I do need to forgive.  I need to be merciful, abundantly merciful, as merciful as our Lord.  I need to do that not just because it is commanded.  I need to do that not just because it is right.  I need to do that not just because it is (somewhat) lauded by society.  I need to do that for me.  I have a personal need to forgive others.  I benefit personally from being merciful.

And that’s what I saw on February 13, 2020.

What I Saw – January 4, 2020

I sat down in my prayer spot during halftime of the Patriots-Titans wild card game to do my evening prayers/devotions. I needed a word from God and asked for a word from God. When I opened the Moravian app, I found this:

This was quite a disappointment. I believed I needed an encouragement from the Lord, and instead I got a command. Not only so, but I got a command that I wasn’t likely to violate. I’ve never killed anyone in cold blood or otherwise. I’ve never come close to killing anyone. I’m fairly sure I’ve never even thought of killing anyone. Was this a word from God? Sure. But it definitely wasn’t the word from God I wanted. It didn’t even seem like the word from God I needed.

But I didn’t give up. I have learned that hearing from God (and further understanding what He is saying) sometimes takes effort, and despite my emotion-depleted state, I was willing to make that effort. I wondered why God would say this to me, wondered if not in a critical way but a genuine one. When I added in the accompanying New Testament verse, a teaching of Jesus, I suddenly knew. No, I never have killed anyone and probably never will kill anyone. But I also have not loved and prayed for and done good to and blessed my enemies, either. I haven’t violated the one command, but I have violated the others. And, like it or not, that is a kind of murder. Jesus famously states this in the Sermon on the Mount.

And if I were honest, I would admit that I was being tempted to commit this kind of murder. There are some people in my orbit who are close to becoming enemies (they may not be full-fledged enemies yet, but they are guilty of enemy-like behavior). And though I was only barely aware of it, I was beginning to entertain thoughts of treating them like enemies: of giving them the cold shoulder, of recruiting allied against them, if conspiring against them in some way. I certainly wasn’t thinking of praying for it doing good to them. I was, in short, developing a heart of murder; to put it in other words, I was beginning to think like the evil one and so would soon be using the weapons of the evil one, soon be behaving like the evil one. And now God was calling me on it. I believe this was a timely, intentional word from God telling me not to develop this heart of spiritual murder, tempting though it was and reasonable though it seemed.

The truth here is that there is more to God’s commandments (of which “Thou shalt not murder” is one of the greatest) than the letter of those commandments. There is a spirit of way or heart to them. I have always kept the letter. Now God is inviting me to the harder but far more glorious spirit/way/heart. And it is diffe, but it is also wonderful.

That’s what I saw on January 4, 2020.

What I Saw – December 14, 2019

I don’t typically read a Scripture passage on Sunday, but since I missed Saturday’s reading (due to sleeping late), I decided to go back and pick it up.  That reading was Revelation 14:1-5.

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Now I wasn’t really thrilled about reading Revelation.  This is probably more the fault of modern interpretations and presuppositions about Revelation than it is the fault of Revelation itself.  The Revelation (which is the proper title of the book, the title John gives it at the beginning; not Revelations plural, not even Revelation, but THE Revelation, one single message from God) is actually a great book and even refers to itself as a book that ought to be read and treasured.  But so much baggage has been imported onto the book by (bad) theologies in our day that I find it difficult to find a clear word from God in it.

Nonetheless, I asked the Spirit to show me what I needed to see and sat down to read.  At first I didn’t catch anything, but then I noticed that line They (the 144,000) follow the Lamb wherever he goes.  And in that was my word.

There were two things I saw in this line.  The first was what my mentor called “a covenant word”, that is, a word about God.  What I saw about God or Jesus, here portrayed as the Lamb, is that He is on the move.  He is heading for a destination.  The 144,000 follow Him wherever He goes, which indicates that He is indeed going somewhere.  Though it isn’t stated directly in the text, I believe the implication is that He is going to a good place by a good route.  He is God, after all, and if God goes, that’s undoubtedly where and how He does it.  So that was the first word.  It was a very picturesque word full of inviting imagery and poetry.  God is heading somewhere, that somewhere is a good place, and the way He goes to that somewhere is a good way.

The second thing I saw was what my mentor called “a Kingdom word”, that is, a word about me, a word about how I respond to what I have just seen about God.  The Kingdom word I saw here is that I must follow the Lamb wherever He goes.  That is what the 144,000 (which I believe to be a symbolic number representing all believers in Jesus, a number which is not an elimination (as I would have seen it as a teenager) but an invitation) were doing.  That is what all believers in Jesus do.  And that is what I must do.  I must follow Jesus to the place He is going.  I must follow Jesus along the way He is going.  Again, there is a great deal of imagery and poetry here which is perhaps hinted more than directly stated (or perhaps not; if God is doing the hinting then it is no hinting at all), and that imagery/poetry is very enticing to me.  Following the Lamb wherever He goes seems like such a good thing to me.  Following the Lamb wherever He goes seems not just right but wonderful.

As I thought about these words, I realized they should not be such a surprise to me.  We disciples of Jesus are called “followers”, after all.  Not only so, but the logo of the Moravian Church, a logo I see every time I open my Moravian Daily text app, says this:

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But this still took me by surprise for some reason.  It still took me by wonderful, beautiful, happy surprise.  The truth that Jesus is going somewhere good in a good way and is inviting me to following Him to that place in that way is a wonderful, beautiful, and happy truth.

And that’s the truth I saw on December 14, 2019.

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.