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.

What I Saw – October 6, 2019

Ministry can be depressing at times.  My home church minister told me that when I was a kid.  My home church held a “career day” for the youth group one Sunday night.  Several of the adults stood before the group and told us what their jobs were like.  One of those adults was the minister himself.  When it was his turn to present, the minister said this: “When you’re a minister, your job is to ring the gospel bell, and some Sundays you go home thinking you didn’t ring it very well.

I came home thinking that very thing this Sunday night.  I’m not exactly sure why.  This Sunday was a good Sunday.  It was a very good Sunday.  Lots of great things are happening at our church, things that can only be engineered and empowered by God Himself and things that are thus evidence that God is working among in.  In fact, I’d say I’ve never had a time in my ministry that was as filled with opportunity and optimism as the time I’m in right now.   Yet I still came home depressed.  I still came home feeling like I wasn’t doing my job very well, like I was a failure and was failing and didn’t have much of a future, like I hadn’t rung the bell that well and was going to lose out because I hadn’t rung the bell that well.

Now the way I’ve previously dealt with these “Sunday evening blues” is to “retreat into fantasy” (a phrase I believe I’ve picked up from Pastor Robert Clancy).  I’ve drowned my sorrows in TV or Pepsi or video games or those sorts of things.  But I dealt with them in a much different way this Sunday.  I dealt with them through prayer.  After putting my daughter to bed, I sat down on the floor in front of my back sliding door (my new place of prayer in my new house) and began to pray.  As I usually do during evening prayer time, I followed Tim Keller’s five step prayer plan.  First, I asked God to be with me and speak to me.  I also told Him that I was in great need this time (something I don’t usually do).  Second, I turned to the Scriptures.  I always use the Daily Watchword and Doctrinal Texts of the Moravian Daily Text when I do my evening prayers, and that evening those texts said this:

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As soon as I read these Scriptures, my prayer was answered.  I received a word from the Lord via the “living and active” Bible.  God spoke to me as I asked Him to.  The first thing I saw in both these passages is that God is the God of peace, that is, God wants peace and creates peace (which in both these passages is less like “the absence of conflict” and more like “happy ever after”).  The Haggai passage talks about Him giving peace, and the Philippians passage calls Him “the God of peace” explicitly, so this truth about God (what my mentor calls “a Covenant word” and what he trained me to look for first in any Scripture passage) was easy to see.  That was encouraging enough, but what was even more encouraging was the “Kingdom word” (the way God wanted me to respond to the truth I was seeing about Him).  That Kingdom word was as explicit in the Philippians passage as the Covenant word.  It was “keep on doing the things…”.  Now I was familiar with this passage; I’ve had it memorized for years and have recited it many times.  But the version I know (the NIV ’84) has the phrase “keep on doing the things” as “put in practice”, and it has it much later in the verse.  For that reason, it has never resonated with me that much.  When I saw this translation, though (and I still don’t know what translation it is), I was moved tremendously.  I could see God telling me not to give into my depression, telling me 1) not to despair at all and 2) certainly not to give into despair.  I could see God telling me that there was going to a positive result for me, a result that He (not I) would achieve, a result that I would receive if I would simply keep on doing what I was doing no matter how effective those things seemed at the time.  In a very short span of time, I had gone around the “Kairos” circle: I had heard God say something, I had discerned both the Covenant and Kingdom truths of that something, and I had a plan of action.

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And with that quick trip around the circle, my Sunday night ministerial blues were dispelled.  I still didn’t think I had rung the bell all that way that day, but I realized it didn’t matter that much.  I realized there was a stronger force at work than how well or poorly I rang the bell, a stronger force guaranteeing peace and asking me to do nothing more than just not quit.

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

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.

 

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!

Never Have To Beg

“Remember, Daddy: you promised me a Freeze!”

That was what my daughter said to me this afternoon.  We were pulling into Taco Bell, our traditional Saturday lunch spot.  She had missed out on a chance to get a Yoo-Hoo earlier, so I compensated by promising her a Freeze at the Bell.

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A couple hours later, we were there and she was reminding me of my earlier promise.  And reminding me.  And reminding me.

After the third reminder, which came less than 30 seconds after the first, I realized that I was experiencing one of those proverbial “teaching moments”, and I determined to seize it.

“Listen to me, hun,” I said as we stood in the Bell parking lot, taking both her hands in mine and keeping my voice as even as possible so she would understand I was intense but not angry, “I do remember my promise to you.  And even if I didn’t, I would only need a small reminder.  You don’t ever have to beg me for anything.  I am happy to give you anything you need.”

That (more or less; I think I was a little more eloquent at the time) was what I said to her in that instant.  And I did so not because I wanted her to know something about me.  I did so because I wanted her to know something about God.  I wanted her to realize that she doesn’t have to beg God for anything, doesn’t have to plead with God for anything, doesn’t have to beseech God for anything, doesn’t need to bang on the door of Heaven for anything, doesn’t need to be anxious for anything or afraid she won’t get something.  She doesn’t need to do that because God, like me but to an infinitely greater degree, is happy to give her what she needs.

This is something I have recently begun to realize.  I’ve been routinely praying to God for twenty-five years, a quarter of a century.  I’ve been sporadically praying to God longer than that.  And for most of those years, my prayers have had a desperation to them.  I have pleaded with God, tried to bargain with God, persuade God, reason with God, make my point, etc. ad infinitum.  It suddenly dawned on my sometime this year, though, that all this is unnecessary.  If God is good (which the Bible repeatedly says His is and which nature strongly suggests), He will simply supply these things.  He will supply them not because I have successfully begged them out of Him.  No, He will supply them because He is a supplier.

Now I know you might question this a little.  After all, doesn’t the Scripture talk about “wrestling in prayer”?  Yes, it certainly does.  Paul uses that phrase in Colossians 4, and Jacob demonstrates the idea in Genesis 32.

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Paul doesn’t say what Epaphras was wrestling in his prayers, though.  It may well be that he wasn’t wrestling with God (which is how I imagine many interpret this verse) but rather with those spiritual forces who oppose the will of God.  And, yes, Jacob wrestled with God until he was blessed, but I’m not sure the Scripture says that his wrestling was what really got him blessed.

No, I think God gives because God is a giver.  I think God gives apart from begging and desperation.  I think God is exactly like the father in Luke 15 who told his eldest son:

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That son didn’t need to beg.  He did need to ask (which is how families work but apparently not what he was doing).  But he didn’t need to beg.  He didn’t need to get desperate or fear.  My daughter doesn’t, either.  Nor do we.