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.

What I Saw – April 6, 2019

I listened to the Pray As You Go App devotional for Saturday, April 6 and Sunday, April 7th during the morning of April 6th.  I usually listen to the PAYG devotion around midday, but because my wife and I were going to be at a Forgiveness Ministries seminar all day, I listened to it early.

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The reading for that devotion was John 8:1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery (which I know is considered by some to be of questionable authenticity but which I believe is genuine).

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What caught my attention as I listened to this text being read twice was that the woman did not (maybe even could not) defend herself but had to be and allowed herself to be defended by Jesus.  Conversely, I noticed that Jesus not only defended her but defender her ably and defended her in a way that did not obliterate her enemies but merely made them think.

This caught my attention because it applies to a clear need I have and have long had.  I have always been defensive.  For some reason (probably deep childhood wounding), I have felt the need to defend myself against any and every attack or slight.  I have felt the need to defend myself aggressively and with extreme prejudice.  One of my favorite (and most revealing )stories about this comes from my early high school days.  A group of us were hanging around in the cafeteria when a guy named Paul said something about me.  I can’t remember what that something was, but I do remember it was a joke rather than an actual attack and it was a small thing rather than a large thing.  I immediately attacked back; again, I can’t remember what I said but I know I said something and said it vehemently.  In reply, Paul said, “You’re too defensive, Doug,” to which I responded, “I am not!”  I realized with that ironic response that I was indeed too defensive and that I needed to stop being so defensive if I was ever to have happy and fruitful relationships with people.

Decades later, I’m still struggling with this defensiveness to some degree.  But when I heard this text read in the PAYG devotion, I realized I could escape it by allowing Jesus to be my defender.  My action step here is to remind myself that Jesus is my defender whenever I feel attacked and defensive.

Interestingly enough, my wife recently shared a song with me which teaches me this same thing.  I have been listening to this song incessantly ever since December.  It is appropriately-enough called “Defender”.

 

Jesus is my defender.  He is my great defender.  And His way of defending me is better for me and my enemies and the world than my way ever could be.  I will relinquish the drive to defend myself to Him.  I will allow Him to defend me rather than defending myself.  It truly is “so much better this way”.  It is so much better this way in every way.

That’s what I saw on April 6th, 2019.

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.

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.

What I Saw – October 9, 2018

I met with my pastors’ group for devotions yesterday.  Our text, taken from that days Moravian reading, was John 6:25-42.

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Our devotions leader grabbed the nearest bible, which was a 2011 NIV.

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I immediately saw several things in this passage.  The first was Jesus’ statement that the “work of God” is to believe in Him, the one sent by God.  This is immediately followed by a demand from the crowd for a sign which Jesus ignores.  I believed the reason Jesus ignores that demand is because He has already given them a sign.  He has given them several, in fact.  They have already been given enough to do what they are being asked to do, already been given enough to believe that God loves them.  I thought this was a call for me to “do the work” of believing that God loves me and has accepted me (something which is difficult for me).  This confused the leader at first; when I talked about “doing the work”, he thought I was talking about works or deeds (which, as we all know, are part of the Gospel system).  I explained that I was actually talking about the intellectual/emotional process of overcoming my belief that I am unaccepted/unacceptable and replacing it with the belief that I am accepted/acceptable.  This is a work in the sense that it is hard to do and requires me acting on the “signs” that Jesus has already given.  This idea was confirmed to me by Jesus’ follow-up statement that He will never drive away those God gives to Him, i.e., that I will not be driven away if I come to Him.  This was a great encouragement.

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Another great encouragement, though, was the way Jesus dealt with opposition.  I saw this as well.  I knew Jesus encountered opposition in this text; I learned that my first year of Bible college.  What I noticed this time, though, is that this opposition does not change Jesus or His message.  He does not allow Himself to get dragged into side-arguments (such as the accusation about His earthly parentage) nor does He adjust His gospel in any way.  He continues to proclaim the openness of God and the need to believe in the openness of God despite the crowd which is asking for bread and the Jews who grumbled against Him (we had some question during our time together about whether the crowd and the Jews were the same people or different people).  I take this as a model to follow.  I see that I must not get involved in the many arguments which are always erupting around me but must simply live by and present the good news that Jesus is our acceptor and savior.

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I further saw that Jesus lost by following this tactic.  The majority of the crowd abandoned Him that day, so this can legitimately be called a loss.  However, He won the war.  These people are not highly regarded today; no one is looking at them as a great example; in fact, most of us seem them as shallow and misguided.  Jesus’ truth, though, that He is the one sent by God to accept and save us, is highly regarded.  So Jesus lost the engagement but won the war. This is an encouragement to me as well.

And that’s what I saw in John 6:25-42.

What I Saw – October 3, 2018

I met with my church devotional group Wednesday night. After prayer, we got our scripture passage from the Moravian Daily Text.  It was John 5:1-15.

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Most of the folks there had the NIV (1984).  Since I believe using unfamiliar translations can help us hear God, I choose to read from The Passion Translation:

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I usually ask people what catches their attention in the text; I believe that is an indication of where the Spirit is taking them.  This time, though, I decided to do it the way I do my evening prayers (for which I use the watchword and doctrinal text from the Moravian).  I asked them to finish the statement, “I see that God is…”

One person said they saw that God is compassionate, willing to heal a crippled man.  Another said they saw that God sees and knows people.  Yet another said they saw that Jesus is a healer.  A fourth said they saw that God gives hope in hopeless situations.

This was a great start.  It gave us a “covenant truth”, that is, a truth about who God is.  It is so important to have covenant truths like the.  Covenant truths fuel or drive us for Kingdom truths (truths about what God wants us to do).  We actually see this in this John 5 passage.  Only after healing this man (a covenant action) does Jesus command this man to walk away from sin (a kingdom responsibility).

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It is the same with us.  Covenant truths result in and empower kingdom truths.  While we seem to see kingdom truths easier (most everybody looks at a Bible text and says something like, “Well, God wants me to trust more”), we can’t do them apart from covenant truths.

The way we did devotions this night made the covenant truths more obvious.  I then asked everyone what kingdom truths they thought the Spirit was leading them to via these covenant truths.  Some had immediate answers.  Others needed to think about it a little bit.  I won’t say what those truths were or weren’t either way, as that is their business.  But I will say it was good!

That’s what I (or we) saw on Wednesday, October 3.  Join us on November 7th when we will see more!

What I Saw – September 18, 2018

I met with my Tuesday morning pastors’ group for devotions today.  The Moravian Daily Text gave us John 1:1-13, which we read in the NASB.

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I find it difficult to hear God in texts that are too familiar.  I keep seeing the doctrines my Bible college professors taught me to see there.  This time, though, we all heard some significant things.

One of our group heard the term “creation” from verse 3.  That verse talks about Jesus’ participation in the creation of the world.  He understood from this that he is a creation of God, and thus must be loved by God since creators typically love their creations.

Another heard the term “testify” in verse 6.  She said that we have been called to testify to Jesus just as John did.  This idea was actually on my mind, too, as I had seen this commercial on TV while eating my breakfast:

She also connected this passage to the UP-IN-OUT triangle: verses 1-5 being UP, 7-8 being OUT, and 9-13 being IN.  She felt God was calling her to more OUT.

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At first, I just got a general vibe from this text that what God is offering me/calling me to is more than doctrines and beliefs and “going to Heaven when I die”.  I got the vibe that this is actually a story or a relationship.  As we continued to talk, though (and that’s why doing devotions in a group is so valuable), I realized that a finer point on this idea is that I am God’s child (verse 12) and that I can “rest” in being God’s child.  I don’t have to exhaust myself trying to earn some sort of status, as many people both outside and inside the church are doing.  I already have the greatest status there is, child of the Father King, and I can rest in that.  God is inviting me to rest in that, actually, inviting me to turn away from a lifestyle of competition and exertion that is destroying me.  It is an invitation I happily accept.

And that’s what I saw in our devotions today.