What I Saw – August 18,2019

 

A wave of anxiety hit me early Sunday evening.  I’m not sure why; there didn’t seem to be any concrete trigger for it.  But it did.  Because of that anxiety, I went to my evening prayer earlier than usual.  I also changed my routine for that evening prayer.  I usually end my evening prayer with a hymn from a playlist I’ve compiled on YouTube.  Tonight, though, I decided to start with a hymn.  I felt I needed something to move me through the anxiety before I began praying, and I thought a hymn was just the thing.  As it turned out, I was right.

The hymn I choose to listen to was “Holy, Holy, Holy”, a hymn I’ve been singing since I was 12.  I listened to this version by Audrey Assad.

As I listened, something in these lyrics I have known almost all my life “caught my attention”.  It was the final line in the second verse, the line “perfect in power, in love, and purity”.

As I heard that line, I was reminded of a truth about God I’ve been thinking of recently, the truth of God’s perfection.  By that term perfection, I mean that God is everything He ought to be, everything He needs to be, everything it is good to be.  I think that’s what the author of that hymn meant as well.  And I was thankful that God is perfect like that; I was thankful that my God (the only God, the one true God who has revealed Himself to me and to the world) is perfect.

I also realized, though, that I don’t regard God as perfect.  I don’t consistently regard Him as perfect.  I don’t regard Him as perfect all the time, perfect in every way.  I regard Him as being perfect in power, as the hymn says; I have no problem with that.  I regard Him as being perfect in purity as well; I have no problem with that, either.  But I don’t always regard Him as perfect in love.  I don’t always regard Him as perfect in goodness.  I don’t always regard Him as having the perfect will, that is, of always and only willing and thus accomplishing what is good for me.  Oh, I believe He is perfect that way in my head; if you would ask my if I have a “theology of God’s perfect goodness”, I would say, “Of course!”  But I don’t always believe He is perfect that way in my heart.  My emotions don’t match my intellect here.  In fact, I tend to see God less as one who is perfect in goodness as the YHWH God, the Father of Jesus, is presented in the Bible and more like Odin as he is presented in the movie Eric the Viking (which I saw on cable as a kid).

Yes, though my head knows otherwise, my heart still tends to suspect that God is mostly unconcerned about me, that God has to be convinced to be concerned about me, to be cajoled into doing what is best for me.  That’s why I pray as poorly as I do, why my prayers are mostly me begging God to do what I want Him to do.  That’s also why I get seized by anxieties both triggered and non-triggered.

But this song told me this evening that this suspicion is untrue.  It told me that God is not unconcerned for me as Odin is unconcerned about people, that God’s perfection includes His will and goodness and love.  And just like that, the anxiety went away.  It was dispersed by a confrontation with this truth, the truth of the complete perfection of my God and what that complete perfection means for me.

That’s what I saw on August 18, 2019.

 

What I Saw – June 29th

I sat down in the bay window of my parent’s rural Ohio home to do my evening prayers.

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The view from the window

In the evening, I follow Tim Keller’s five-step pattern for prayer: evocation (inviting God to be present), meditation (reading Scripture), word prayer, free prayer, and contemplation.  After the evocation, I turned to the Scripture for the evening, which I took from the Moravian Daily Text’s “watchword” (Old Testament Scripture) and “doctrinal text” (New Testament Scripture).  For June 29th, those passages were these:

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I have to admit that this was not what I hoped to receive from the Lord that evening.  I was hoping for a word of encouragement, for something speaking of God’s love for me and His promises to me.  Instead, I got this word about being punished for my sins.  It was not only disappointing but intimidating.  I started wondering what I had done to make God say this to me and what it meant for me.  I started worrying and I wanted to turn away from my prayers.

But I didn’t.  I forged on, meditating on this passage as I have been taught to do.  As I did, I somehow stumbled across the word justice.  I always try to pull a truth about God from the Scripture I read.  In this case, the statement about punishment brought me to the truth that God is just (punishment comes from His justice; He punishes sin because He is just).  When I realized this, I realized that this statement which I found so threatening and disagreeable in the moment, this statement which seemed to be dropping me back into the “God is Zeus who can’t wait to hit you with a lightning bolt for the slightest transgression” territory, was actually a statement about God’s love.  It was a statement about the wideness of God’s love, the universality of God’s love, the fact that God loves everyone.

You see, all sin is a transgression not just of God but of another person.  I have thought long and hard about this.  I have run through the catalog of all the sins I know, and I can’t find one that is not in some way an insult or offense against another of my fellow human beings (my fellow human beings who are created in the image of God just as I am and who are just as valuable in the grand design as me).  Murder is obviously an offense against others, as is theft and lying.  But so is all forms of sexual immorality, even lust; Paul says that sexual sins are “taking advantage” of other people (1 Thessalonians 4:6) and Jesus seems to suggest that even looking at others is using them in an untoward way (Matthew 5:28).  That being the case, what God is saying here in Jeremiah 21:14 when He promises to punish us for our sins is that He is not going to allow us to get away with insulting, offending, taking advantage of, and using others.  That is exactly what would happen if He didn’t punish sin; He would be allowing one person to get away with doing such things to another; He would be favoring one person at the expense of another.  And He doesn’t do that.  He doesn’t operate that way.  He loves all, so He punishes all.  His justice is an expression of His love for all.

Now I don’t know exactly how this will all play out.  Is this punishment in this life or the next?  Is this punishment some sort of physical affliction or is it simply a word of rebuke (much as He verbally rebuked Sarah for laughing but did not physically do anything to her)?  Is this punishment all covered by the sacrificial death of Christ (a strong possibility).  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I saw the strength and immensity of the love of God in this verse.  I saw that God not only loves me but loves everyone to the point that He will punish me for offending anyone and will conversely punish anyone for offending me.  This is not Zeus, who as far as I can tell was cruel and arbitrary in his punishments.  This is the ever-loving Yahweh, the Yahweh who shows His ever-lovingness and fairness and concern for all by punishing in some way all sin, by allowing no sin to go unaddressed.

And that’s what I saw on June 29th.

What I Saw – May 29th

On the spur of the moment I decided to bike uphill to a nearby park for my afternoon devotions.  I had done devotions there a couple Sundays ago and had a good time, so I thought I might try replicating the experience.  Once there, I went to the Pray As You Go app and listened to the Tuesday, May 28th entry.  The text was Acts 16:23-34.

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The Pray As You Go devotions always read the text twice, giving you the chance to give it a first pass and then a second, deeper listen.  On both occasions, I realized there was an interesting chain of events here.  I was even tempted to call it a “spiritual” chain of events, meaning it was a chain of events that resulted from and illustrated several spiritual truths.

The first spiritual truth is that God’s workers often suffer.  Paul was flogged and put into prison.  I was taught in Bible college that suffering in ministry was a result of some mistake the suffering minister was making.  I see here, though (as well as hundreds of other places in Scripture), that suffering in ministry is par for the course.  It is not a result of a mistake made by the minister or ministry team; it is just the way things go.  It is not something to be ashamed of, in other words, but something that just happens.

The second is that God’s workers often suffer because of other people.  Here, Paul is flogged and put in prison by Gentiles.  Other times, he is flogged and put in prison by Jews.  (In fact, I saw in the previous day’s reading, John 15:26-16:4, that some religious people considering the persecution of God’s workers as the right thing to do).  So the suffering isn’t just an accident; it was an intentional attack.

The third is that Paul and Silas were witnesses even in their suffering.  They responded to their situation with praying and singing (I don’t know what they were singing; I’ve always been taught they were worshiping, and I think there is a strong case for believing that, but it is possible they could have been appealing), and they were heard by their fellow prisoners.

The fourth is that only Jesus can rescue us from our suffering.  Paul did not get himself out of this predicament; he was pulled out of it by a divinely-sent earthquake.

And the fifth is that Paul did the right thing after he was rescued.  He did not only do the right thing; he did the above and beyond thing.  While most people would have fled without concern for what happened to the jailer (especially if the jailer had been harsh to them during the jailing process, which I think is a good bet), Paul did not.  He stayed, knowing what would happen to the jailer if he fled.  As a result, the jailer was not only saved physically but spiritually.

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This chain of events really touched me as I listened to it twice in the park.  I’m not sure why.  It might be the idea of being thrown in prison by others, which is something that happens to us all more than we would like (anytime anyone does something harsh to you which continues to make you angry or afraid, you have been “thrown into prison” in a sense).  It might be the idea of Jesus divinely getting me out of that prison with an earthquake (which of all the ways to get out of prison is a pretty great one).  It might be the idea of Paul doing what was above and beyond right for his captor, as that is something I’m not so great at doing (I always like to twist the knife on my captors a little bit).  Whatever it was, it hit me.  I realized that I will be thrown in prison from time to time due to no fault of my own, that Jesus will get me out, and that I need to do what is right once I’m let out.

That is what I saw on May 28th, 2019.

Start Forgiving Today

I watch a lot of YouTube videos about woodturning, knife restoration, and other such crafting projects.  Hey, some guys watch videos about women folding towels, so I think I’m doing okay.  Yesterday, YouTube recommended I watch this video.

As I gave this video a quick glance, I misread it.  I thought it said “Start Forgiving Today” rather that “Start Forging Today”.  It is an easy mistake, I suppose; when I took a closer look of the video to double-check what I thought I saw, I realized there are only two letters’ difference between forging and forgiving.

It was also an easy mistake, though, because I’ve been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately.  Forgiveness is mentioned many times in the Scriptures, of course, including the teachings of Jesus and the writings of Paul.  I also encountered forgiveness in the Freedom Session 12-step program I walked through.  And my wife and I recently attended a seminar on forgiveness put on by Forgiveness Ministries.

I’ve noticed, though, that I still have difficulty forgiving some people for some things.  While I talk a lot about forgiveness, I still fail to forgive some people for the things they have done to me.  Not only so, but I’ve noticed that other people not only fail to forgive but seemingly refuse to forgive.  I have suggested forgiveness to quite a few people recently only for them to tell me that the people who have hurt them don’t deserve to be forgiven.

It was these realities that popped into my mind when I saw that video and misread it as “Start Forgiving Today”.  Following those realities, a few truths about forgiveness also came to mind.  I don’t know that there is any structure or cohesion to these truths; they may be rather scattered.  But I want to share them with you anyway.

Forgiveness is for you, not for the person who sinned against you.  I understand when people tell me that the ones who sinned against them don’t deserve to be forgiven (or haven’t repented or are dead or whatever).  There is certainly some truths to that caveat.  However, the greater truth is that forgiveness as Jesus and Paul command it is not intended so much to be a blessing to the other person (though it can be that) but a blessing for you.  When you forgive, you heal.  When you forgive, you stop hurting.  When you forgive, you stop replaying that moment which caused you/is still causing you so much pain.  So don’t do it for the other person.  Do it for you.

Forgiveness of others allows us to understand God’s forgiveness of us.  One of Jesus’ most notable teaching on forgiveness comes during the Model Prayer of Matthew 6.  As you know, one of the petitions Jesus makes in this prayer is “Forgive us our trespasses (or debts) as we forgive those who trespass against us (or our debtors).”  Jesus even takes this petition further in the verses following the Model Prayer:

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I can’t say I understand everything Jesus is saying here (will God literally not forgive us/condemn us for not forgiving?).  But I do wonder if one of the things Jesus might be saying is that forgiveness is the way or flow of God and we will thus never understand God/never fully appreciate our relationship with or how we relate to God if we don’t have that same way/flow, if we don’t forgive others as easily as He forgives us.  It is that small word as that makes me think this (forgive as we forgive), and I think there is something to us.

Forgiveness is a practice.  It is not something you feel as much as something you do.  Sometimes it is something you must do over and over, every time you feel the anger of a transgression committed against you.  One of the ways to do this practice is what I call “the forgiveness prayers”.  I learned a prayer for forgiving others from Freedom Session and I learned another from Forgiveness Ministries.  I combined them together, following the basic structure of the Forgiveness Ministries prayer but adding in some of the Freedom Session ideas.

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The Forgiveness Ministries prayer.

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The Freedom Session prayer.

In other words, I go through the six steps of the Forgiveness Ministries prayer but add in the Freedom Session ideas of releasing bitterness and thoughts of revenge and asking God to lead me away from my old ways of trying to protect my heart through anger. Sometimes this prayer works first time; I never feel any animosity toward others for their sins again.  Other times this prayer must be prayed over and over, every time that animosity resurfaces.  Whether it is one time or many, though, it is a disciple/practice with works.

That’s not a comprehensive discussion of forgiveness; I don’t think I’m qualified to give you that.  But it is a few thoughts about forgiveness, and those thoughts are valid.  These are reasons why we all need to start forgiving today.

 

Worshiping With A House Church

My wife and I had an unusual and wonderful experience this Sunday (May 12).  We worshiped that morning with a local house church.  We had been invited by the minister and his wife.  Both of them have been walking with both of us through the transition we are making (ending our current ministry and returning to our home state of Ohio to begin a new ministry; a far emotionally-tougher transition than I imagined it to be) and they invited us to be with their house church on Mother’s Day.  Although neither of us have been to a house church before, we accepted, and I’m glad we did.

This is the name of the house church and a link to their site.

We were a little late getting to the church.  We got to the house about 10 minutes late.  I wasn’t sure, then, what we would find.  I imagined we would be let in by the homeowners had we been on time, but I didn’t know what would happen once we were late.  Would the door be opened?  Would we have to knock?  Would we just go inside on our own (which, to a a-man’s-home-is-his-castle-and-should-not-be-violated guy like me would be very difficult to do)?  As it turned out, there was a sign on the door telling us that services would start soon and to let ourselves in, which we did.  As we went inside, we discovered worship was already in full swing and the living room was already full.  Our minister friends saw us and welcomed us, offering us a space on the couch, but we chose to let others take that space and stand in the adjoining kitchen.

As worship went on, I was very surprised and delighted to discover both how large and how diverse the group was.  There were about 35 of us there (and the minister told me there are sometimes 50).  There were men and women and children.  There were young and old adults.  There were Caucasians, African-Americans, and Latinos.

Overall, the service was far more vibrant than what I expected.  The minister told me they made some mistakes in the worship and the service.  I caught a few of those (I saw the guitarist look at the lead singer one time, obviously not sure what she was doing and how he needed to react), but they were not a big deal.  What was a big deal was the level of fellowship and worship.  We truly connected with God during this time and we connected with each other as well.  That, I believe, is what a church needs to be.  As I see it, church (both the group and the service) is intended by God to do two things: 1) lead people into a transformative interaction with Him, and 2) enable believers to strengthen and be strengthened by each other.  We have made church do many other things today, and maybe some of those things aren’t bad, but if we are doing these two things, we aren’t succeeding as a church.  I thought this house church succeeded in doing that despite its relative small size and whatever mistakes may or may not have been made.  That makes it a success in my eyes, and I believe it makes it a success in God’s eyes, too.

 

What I Saw – May 6, 2019

One of the many sources I use everyday to get input from God (or hear God, as some might say) is Biblegateway.com’s verse of the day.  I always give a quick look at that verse to see what God might say to me through it.  Today, that verse was James 5:16.

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I memorized this verse almost two decades ago and have recited it more times than I remember.  When I read it this morning, though, I saw something in it I never saw before.

(The Living and Active Word of God works that way, you know.  The Word is always communicating just one truth; as the old timers used to zealously tell it, “It says what it means and it means what it says.”  This is correct.  No Scripture can mean one thing to me and an entirely different thing to you.  It means what it means.  However, there are always multiple applications of that one truth, just as there as one jewel has multiple facets.  At any time, the Spirit may reveal to you an application or facet of that truth you never noticed before and really need.  This is why daily devotions, the rereading of texts you have read over and over, are so valuable.)

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A new and completely legitimate facet of this verse was revealed to me this morning.  While the one truth is the need to pray for other people in the church, the facet I saw was that this needs to be done so these people are healed.  I saw that the healing of these people, that is, us, is what God desires and why He commands us to pray for these people/each other.

And I also saw that this is radically different from what I usually want.  For some reason, church conflict came to my mind as I read this verse.  I’m not sure why.  It doesn’t mention church conflict.  It does mention sins, though, and church conflict certainly comes from that.  So maybe that was it, or maybe it was that James seems to be suggesting that the illnesses we are praying for are sin-based (which makes them less like common colds and more like personality or character problems), or maybe it was something else.  In any case, it is what came to mind.  I thought James was telling me not just to pray for anyone who might have some sort of sickness but specifically to pray for those who might be opposing me out of some sinful defect in their character.  I thought God through James was telling me I should desire what He desires: the healing of this sinful defect in their character and thus the healing of the conflict.

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And that, again, is not what I usually want in these situations.  What I usually want is victory over those opposing me.  What I usually want is for those who are opposing me to be defeated.  I care very little why they are opposing me; I care very little if they are opposing me from a sin-based personality illness (in fact, one of my common sayings is, “I don’t care why you stabbed me in the back.  Once you stab me in the back, motives don’t matter anymore.  All that matters is I have been stabbed in the back.”).  All I care about is that they get beaten.

God today was teaching me to take a different path in these situations, to see these situations differently and feel about them differently and respond to them differently.  God was teaching me to have more compassion on those who oppose me than I have historically had.  God was teaching me that there opposition to me/their stabbing me in the back isn’t based on me as much as I tend to think it is but is really based on them.  It is a reflection of their sickness.  That being the case, I should desire and pray for their healing, not just so that the conflict will be resolved but so that they will be whole even if it isn’t, so that they will be whole even if they are never defeated or beaten, even if I never get the victory that I want.  God was teaching me that the healing of the back-stabbing sick is more important than victory.  It was a humbling lesson, but a very good one.

And that’s what I saw in James 5:16.

The Two Ways To Use The Cross

My favorite messages are those which come from the things God shows me during my own devotional time.  This message, which I got to deliver at the recently merged Sun Valley/Christ’s Church of All Nations, is one of those.  I think it went pretty well considering I was exhausted from a week at Disneyland and had very little time to prepare.

The Two Ways To Use The Cross