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 – 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.

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.

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 – 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!