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 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 Fasting Experiment

”The idea had been building for some time.  Several months, actually.  But it nonetheless took me by surprise when it fully revealed itself to me on the Wednesday of Holy Week.  That idea was to fast.  That idea was to honor Jesus/participate in or at least symbolically reflect His passion by fasting from Thursday to Good Friday service.

This idea came from several sources.  One is that I had been thinking about fasting for some time.  I had been thinking about what it was for.  I knew it wasn’t just duty to perform (see Zechariah 7-8) and I knew it really wasn’t a way to manipulate God/put God in my debt so that He does what I want (this is impossible).  But I knew it was something Jesus and Moses and Daniel and a lot of other biblical figures did, something Jesus talked about us doing as if He expected us to do it or at least expected that we would do it, and I was wondering what it was for.  I got at least part of my answer to this sermon in which one of the Bible Project guys says that fasting is an appropriate response to changes in life.  He actually laments the fact that he has never fasted in the way many of the Bible characters did, and I likewise lament that I never have, either.

 

Another was a podcast I recently listened to in which a Christian teacher said that millennials are more interested in the practice of fasting than any other spiritual practice.  I am not one who thinks that Christian leaders should capitulate to anything millennials want; there are other generations out there and other generations to come, after all.  But I was interested in why they were so interested in it.

A third was Daniel 10.  I came across Daniel 10 is some podcast or another, and was really moved when I heard him say this:

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So I had been flirting with fasting for some time, having been influenced by these and a few other sources (some of which were not spiritual at all, were presenting fasting as merely a health-promoting discipline, not one to draw near to God).  And when this idea came to the forefront that Wednesday, I decided to give into it.  I decided to fast for all day Thursday and most of the day Good Friday.  I decided to participate in/at the very least reflect the passion of Jesus by denying myself not only choice food but all food.  I decided to experiment with fasting in this way.  And I did it.  I gave it my best shot, anyway.  As I did, I had the following reflections:

  1. You have to prepare for fasting.  My fast would have been easier if I had geared up for it a week in advance.  I didn’t.  Instead, I fasted on the fly.  And that made it harder.  Since I hardly ate Wednesday (only a couple bowls of cereal the entire day), I was already down several hundred calories.  That made not eating Thursday and Friday very difficult.  While I was able to do my daily workout Thursday before the fast really got going, I was not able to do so Friday; I was too weak to do so.  I also had a couple times when I almost passed out.  I eventually cheated, eating a banana and some grapes late Thursday night and ending the fast Friday at 4 rather than after the Good Friday service at 7 pm (this last one also had something to do with my schedule; I had my daughter whom I had to keep busy for a couple hours, and the playland at McDonald’s is the easiest way to do that).  If I could do it again, I would prepare better, making sure to fuel myself better the days before the fast and get my workouts in before as well.
  2. I was never as hungry as I thought I would be.  I thought I would be starving during the fast, but I wasn’t.  I felt a little empty inside and a little weak, but I didn’t feel the gnawing hunger I’ve felt at other times.  I’m not sure why this is.  But I did want to eat.  Most of that wanting to eat was psychological.  I just like snacking and wanted to snack whether I was hungry or not.  I regarded this as a weakness, the very kind of weakness I believe fasting is intended to combat.
  3. My normal diet made fasting harder.  I couldn’t believe how weak I became after just one day without food.  This was especially so considering Daniel fasted without choice food for three weeks and Jesus fasted with apparently no food at all for 40 days.  I can’t prove anything here, so my conclusion might be suspect, but I did wonder if this was due to my overall diet.  I eat lots of sugar.  I have refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup and gluten and a whole lot of things Daniel and Jesus never had period, much less never had to fast from.  I wondered if this diet, my regular, normal, everyday diet, was just such that it by itself (apart from willpower, apart from wanting to do right and not do wrong) made fasting far more difficult that it was for someone without such a diet.  I further wondered, then, if my daily spiritual diet (my TV watching, my going the mall, my consumerist, disposable, buying-and-selling, always-being-entertained) makes the “to live is Christ” lifestyle the Bible promotes equally far more difficult.  I think it does.
  4. Fasting was hard to talk about.  Jesus teaches that we are to behave no differently when we are fasting.  Because of this, I kind of feel fasting is something I need to keep to myself.  But the way I interacted with people throughout the day, and the way food is often part of such interactions, made it nearly impossible to do this.  I had to tell people I was fasting, and it felt weird.
  5. Fasting was appropriate.  It feels a little self-righteous and deluded to say that I was participating in the passion of Jesus by fasting; I’m fully aware of that.  And yet, to some small degree that is exactly what it was.  It felt right to fast from food, particularly “choice food” during that period as some small reflection of all Jesus did without and all Jesus suffered from during that exact same period.  And it was just fasting from food.  Video games was something else I fasted from; it just didn’t seem appropriate to be playing video games, particularly the bloody kind, during the latter part of Holy Week.  Sex was another; sex just didn’t seem right that weekend.  I had heard of people fasting from such things before, and I always thought it was weird, even legalistic.  I was always glad I was raised in a tradition that didn’t have such fasts.  But this time these fasts seemed not weird but right to me.

So that was my fasting experiment.  Did I do it right?  I’m not sure.  I did participate in the passion of Christ in some small way and/or respect the sacrifice that we commemorate that beautiful weekend, though.  I’m fairly convince of that.  I’m convinced fasting in the flawed way I did was a better way to observe the events of this weekend than not fasting at all (just as feasting is a better way to observe the events of the following Sunday).  Even more than that, I learned a lot from doing it.  My eyes were opened to some other important realities, particularly the reality that the way I routinely live, a way that does not seem wrong to me/seems normal to me, often prevents me from being in the flow of God.  I think that makes the experiment a success.

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.

Moravian Daily Text App

Christmas just came early for me.  I was making plans for my 2019 Bible reading plan.  I read a Bible passage every day, and I usually like to follow a plan.  I will finish my current plan on December 31st (ending with Jude, I think), so I need a new one.

I did not find what I was looking for.  I am not concerned with reading the entire Bible in a year, which is what most plans are geared for.  I’ve already read the entire Bible many times and most benefit from something that gives shorter readings than those “in a year” plans.  I wanted something like what I get from the Moravian Daily Text.

That, in turn, got me thinking about the Moravian Daily Text.  I access this text every night, using their “Watchword” and “Doctrinal Texts” for my nightly prayers.  I have always wanted an app for the text, but have so far been limited to using the website.  But I decided to check the Google Play store (I’m an Android guy), and to my great delight I found there was a new Moravian Daily Text app on it!

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The app is listed as a 2018 app.  I don’t know if that means I’ll have to buy a new one for 2019.  If so, I’ll gladly do it.  It was only $1.99, and it is something I consult every day.  To be sure, it was no great hardship to use the website, but there is just something about having it as an app that I like.  If you want to check out the app, you can find it here, and if you would like to check the website, you can find that here.  I hope you will check it out in at least one of these ways.  The Lord has brought me some great words through these texts, and I know He will do the same for you.

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!