What I Saw – December 7, 2019

My plan was to do my evening prayer/devotion time (which I erroneously call “compline”; I typically do it a couple hours after the tradition compline hour) during halftime of the Big 10 championship.  I couldn’t do it before the Big 10 championship because I was leading our church’s new members orientation until too close to kickoff.  So I planned to do it at halftime.  And that plan would have worked had my wife not put her legs over me as I sat on the couch and then fell asleep.  I didn’t want to wake her up, but I couldn’t get to the remote to turn off the TV nor get to the patio door where I like to sit and pray.  For a moment I thought I wouldn’t get to do my prayers.  Fortunately, I didn’t give up at the first obstacle.  Deciding I still wanted to see what the evening’s Scriptures were even if I couldn’t pray in silence as I usually did, I opened my Moravian Daily Text app and found this:

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At first I didn’t receive anything from this this text.  Maybe it was the background football noise distracting me; maybe some words from God just take longer.  But I decided to give it a few minutes of thought, concentrating (as much as I could; man, I prefer silence!) and asking God what was in this Scripture for me.  And then, just like that, I saw it.  I realized that this was the answer to the question I had been thinking about all day and all week, the question of how to overcome temptation.

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I had been struggling with the temptation to do or say or think a few different ungodly things that afternoon (and as my home church preacher would say, what those things were is none of your business!).  It was what I call a “low level” temptation.  It wasn’t enough to make me actually do these things.  It was just enough to make me miserable.  I went for a walk by the river that afternoon to think about this temptation, about why it was and what I could do about it.  I realized that it was because I, like Eve, had listened to the tempter; I had heard him give his (false) pitch in favor of these things and had agreed with him that they were good and desirable.  This was not a new realization.  I have long known that “agreeing with the enemy” is one way temptation gets its power.

What I saw as I read this verse, though, was the way to stop agreeing with the enemy like this.  What God was saying is that His light and truth can reveal the falseness of the tempter’s pitch; they can not only expose it but defuse it.  The image I get is that they can actually wash it away like a rushing river.

And once they are washed away, I can see clearly; once God’s light and truth deliver me from the enemy’s lies and darkness, I can enter His dwelling, coming into His Temple, be comfortably in His presence.

I’m not sure this was new knowledge.  But it certainly was an encouragement.  This was the answer to the question I had asked earlier.  This was the solution to my struggle.  This was the thing not only that I needed to do (I need to seek out and submit to His light and truth) but the thing He is already doing (He is continuing to reveal this light and truth to me).  And with that answer and encouragement, I was able to stay right there, trapped under my sleeping wife’s legs, and watch the rest of the halftime show knowing that my hope of living apart from and above of temptation is becoming a reality.

That’s what I saw December 7, 2019.

What I Saw – November 21, 2019

I usually slip away sometime in the afternoon to listen to the day’s Pray As You Go entry; that is my afternoon devotion.  Each Pray As You Go entry has a song, a passage of Scripture (read twice), and some questions.  The entry for November 22, 2019 had Luke 19:41-48 as its passage.

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My mentor taught me to look for “what catches my attention” when I read or listen to a passage devotionally; the idea is that the Spirit will cause what I need in that moment to catch my attention.  On this occasion, what caught my attention was the phrase “the things that make for peace” in the first verse.  I was already very familiar with this passage; I remember studying it in Bible college and reading it many times since.  I knew Jesus was accusing the people of Jerusalem of rejecting Him.  What I noticed immediately during this reading, though, was that Jesus didn’t say the people had rejected Him.  He does, in a sense; that is what they did and somewhat what He was talking about.  But that’s not how He describes it.  He describes it as them not recognizing the things that make for peace.  He describes them as not appreciating or accepting (or perhaps even being able to accept) the way of peace He demonstrated for them.

That’s what I saw in that passage on that day.  Is saw that Jesus was not only offering these people a doctrinal truth or a salvation or a relationship with God.  He was offering them a way of life that resulting in peace (presumably shalom, the wide-wellbeing of God), and they would not take it/could not see it.  Now I know it could be argued that this translation (and I’m not sure which it is) is not the best translation.  Indeed, other translation seem to translate it slightly different, and I’ve not looked up the Greek so I don’t know for sure.

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But even if this isn’t the best translation, the idea is valid.  Jesus did bring truth, including important doctrinal truths such as His being the promised Messiah; He said He did, so I know He did.  He did bring salvation, and praises belong to His great name for that.  He did bring a relationship with God; again, He said He did.  But in addition to all those things He also brought things that make for peace.  He brought a way of thinking and valuing and living that will, if follow, result in peace.  He was the premier disciple and as such He demonstrated premier discipleship.  He was the greatest citizen of the Kingdom and as such revealed Kingdom citizenship.  He “came from Heaven to earth to show the way”, and did show that way quite excellently.

And this was something I truly needed to be brought to my attention.  I need to know that there is a way of peace, that this way of peace was the way established by Jesus, and that this way will turn out well for me and all those in relationship with me.  I need to know that as a husband and father.  I need to know that as a minister on a staff of ministers.  I need to know that as a follower of God.  I needed to be reminded of the truth that this way exists and that the way to bless myself and everyone else I know is to walk it.  I needed to be reminded of that truth, and I was so grateful when the Spirit and the Son of God did so.

And that is what I saw on November 21, 2019.

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.

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 – 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.