What I Saw – November 6, 2019

I almost didn’t go for an evening walk this Wednesday night.  I’ve been doing nightly walks in the country on the outskirts of Columbus all autumn.  The fact that it has been an unusually warm and bright autumn has been encouraging that.  With the change of the temperature on Halloween, though, I wasn’t sure I could keep up the habit.  Add to that the fact that I forgot my jacket when I left for church Wednesday, and you can understand why I almost went home instead of to the trails that afternoon.

However, as I drove to the fateful intersection where I would have to choose one or the other, I for some reason choose “park”.  I turned instead of going straight and 15 minutes later was at the same remote country park my dad took me to when I was a kid.  I found a trail north of that park, parked my car, and started walking.

As I walked, I listened to some Upper Room songs.

I was hoping to receive a word from God from these songs.  Unfortunately I did not.  I was encouraged by them; they are wonderful songs.  But I didn’t receive the word I thought I would.

Now I’ve learned not to be completely disappointed when I don’t receive a word from God, but as I headed for the car I was nonetheless still somewhat disappointed.  And then, just before I got in the car to drive off, I saw this:

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This is a property across the street from the trail, and it took my breath away.  I saw a lot of beauty on that walk that day, a lot of natural, wild beauty.  But this was a cultivated beauty.  As you can see, the grass is manicured, the trees were clearly planted in an organized fashion, and the entire place is surrounded by fence.  So it was a cultivated beauty.  It was a beauty man had touched.  And yet to my eye it was still as beautiful as the natural beauty I had been admiring for the past hour.  As beautiful if not more beautiful.

And that got me thinking.  It got me thinking about beauty in general and about my purpose in beauty in particular.  You see, I’ve always understood that nature is beautiful because God made it so.  I suppose the definitive verse on this idea is Psalm 19:1.

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And I have many times heard people describe the beauty of God’s handiwork in untouched, wild, natural places.  For example, I once stood next to a guy at a mountain lookout in West Virginia.  As we stood there, this guy admired the wooded mountains and valleys before us and then asked, “How can people say there is no God?”

From encounters and statements like these, I’ve always assumed that the greatest beauty in God’s economy was His beauty, His natural, untouched-by-man beauty.  But as I looked at this property by the trail, I started to question that assumption.  I started to wonder if the beauty that results from the collaborations of God and man might not be even more beautiful.

A collaboration was indeed what I was seeing on this property; a human artist arranged that property but they did so with God’s materials; the organization and manicuring were man’s contribution, but the light and color and texture came from the Lord.  That’s what this beauty was.

And I began to wonder not only if such collaborations are more beautiful than God’s solo work, but I also began to wonder if these collaborations are not what God always intended.  Again, I think there has been an assumption to my previous thinking, an assumption I no doubt received from my elders: the assumption that God’s solo work is the best of all work.  But as I looked at this property, I began questioning that assumption as well.

And I believe that I began questioning it on good grounds.  Scripture is clear that God is quite adept at doing things on His own.  But it is also clear that God wants to do things with others.  This is apparently why He created the angels (I don’t know much about angels and have no concern for angelology, but it seems that He created these angels to do certain things for Him or in His stead; that is, He created them to assert His will over the world).  This is also apparently at least part of why He created us.  Before He created us, He said:

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That is, He said His intention was that we would rule the world.  Certainly we would not be usurping His authority in that ruling, so He must have meant that we were ruling with Him.  We see a similar idea in Psalm 8:

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And we see it in 2 Timothy 2:

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The fact of the matter is that we humans were made to be rulers, co-rulers with God, under-rulers beneath God.  The fact of the matter is that there is something wonderful about our God that makes Him want to share rule, power, authority, and dominion even with those who, as Psalm 8 says, really aren’t worthy of it.

That being the case, it stands to reason that untouched beauty/solo work isn’t necessarily the best.  It stands to reason that manicured beauty/collaborations might be equal if not better.  And I know that doesn’t apply across the board; I know everything man does is not beautiful; I could do without the phone poles and lines in the above picture.  But I think it does apply in some limited way (everything that involves fallen man will by necessity be limited and have exceptions, but that doesn’t eliminate the general idea).  I think God has called me and all His other children to collaborate with Him, to create beauty with Him.  I think the beauty our collaborations can generate is every bit as worthy as the beauty His solo works have generated.  I think creating beauty with Him is our purpose, and I further think that is a great purpose and a great privilege.

And that’s what I saw on November 6, 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.

 

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 not 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.