God’s Grace; February 21, 2018

Jeremiah 31:14 “I will satisfy the priests with abundance,
and my people will be filled with my bounty,”
declares the Lord.

Sometimes the more literal Japanese translation is interesting. In this case, it says, “I will satisfy the souls of the priests with marrow, and my people will be filled with my grace.” We don’t currently have the association of cracking bones open to eat the marrow with luxury, but many cultures have considered it that way. The Japanese word for grace also carries the general meaning of blessing, so it’s not so surprising when reading this in Japanese, but when put back over into English it is somewhat striking. The message of salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) is actually found throughout the Bible, but isn’t so explicit until the New Testament. Again, the Japanese phrase is literally, “be filled and have enough.” That is one of the amazing things about God’s grace: there’s always enough. I have long loved the hymn, Grace Greater than our Sin. Because I couldn’t find a Japanese translation I did my own, and we sing it fairly frequently in this church. God’s grace isn’t about giving permission for sin, but rather providing redemption when we confess and repent of our sin. “Hyper grace” does violence to God’s holiness, but if we repent of our sin, God’s grace is always enough.

I am certainly as much in need of God’s grace as anyone, and I rejoice to proclaim that grace to others. My life, though not that of a millionaire, would certainly be considered luxurious by much of the world’s population today. I have no complaints about God! Like Paul, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13) I haven’t had much experience in being hungry because food wasn’t available, and I have long said that given the quality of Cathy’s cooking, it’s a miracle I’m not the size of a sumo wrestler! I have found that God’s unmerited blessings are indeed amazing and always enough, and I’m deeply grateful.

Father, thank You for your grace. Words fail me to express either its magnificence or my gratitude. It’s pretty unusual for me to be at a loss for words! Help me respond to Your grace more and more fully, being the obedient son that You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Drawing Close to God; February 20, 2018

Jeremiah 30:21 “‘Who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.”

This verse is talking about leaders, but to me this line is a challenge to every believer. Where the NIV says “devote himself,” the Japanese says, “bet his life.” That is the sort of attitude that says, “I’m going to draw close to God even if it kills me.” Another way to say it would be, “You can kill me if you like, but I’m going to draw close to God.” God honors that sort of attitude! Too much of the time we act as though God were incidental to our lives, rather than being the foundation and the reason for our existence. I forget who it was who said, “The world has not yet seen what God can do with someone who is totally devoted to Him.” If we are honest, we have to admit that our devotion tends to be on-again-off-again. That’s part of the human condition, but we need the foundational commitment to Jesus as Lord or the rest of life becomes largely meaningless.

I have certainly had ups and downs in the level of my commitment. There was a period of several years when we didn’t have regular prayer support for our ministry in Omura, and frankly, my focus went completely off. It was like the church was a hobby I had, rather than being the real reason I was here. The Lord used a stern word of correction through a brother in Christ, and then a temporary change of circumstances, to bring me back into focus. I am very grateful. I am very aware of my own weaknesses, and know that apart from the grace of God I am capable of being the most despicable of men. That’s one of many reasons I start each day before the Lord, seeking to hear Him through His Word and giving Him my thanks and praise. In a sense I suppose that is “betting my life,” because we measure life in terms of time, and it takes time to do this. These days the devil does all he can to keep us as busy as possible so that we won’t feel we can make time for God. He wants us to forget that our every moment is a gift from God! At this point in my life it is easier to remember that, because I’ve already outlived my father by more than five years. However, it’s true for every human being, and I need to help others realize it as well. We lose so much when we place God somewhere down the list of our priorities. I need to speak on this from the pulpit, but I also need to model it in daily living and walk alongside people in working it out in their lives.

Father, thank You for this message! Help me lay it out as You intend so that it will come through clearly, getting past and through all the barriers the enemy throws up, setting my hearers free from the lies of the enemy to live as Your intend, for their great blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Punishment; February 19, 2018

Jeremiah 30:11 “I will discipline you but only with justice;
I will not let you go entirely unpunished.”

God is too good a father not to punish when it is needed. He doesn’t punish any of us as severely as we deserve, but a lack of punishment leads to exactly the sort of societal breakdown we see today. Failure to punish is a major part of the “father wound” so many people bear today. (Father wound is generally defined as the emotional scars that come from fathers being absent, either physically or emotionally.) A totally indulgent father does not have happy, emotionally balanced children. This is a truth too many parents fail to grasp. They may not have been disciplined in their own childhood, and/or they may have been deceived by pop psychology that claims physical punishment, particularly, “damages” children. Much of that got going with the writing of Dr. Benjamin Spock, now a generation or more ago. Not long before he died Dr. Spock himself retracted much of what he had written, saying that he had done a great disservice to society, but by then it was too late. It is interesting, and often tragic, that a failure to understand appropriate discipline/punishment can lead to abuse of various sorts. Ideally, we need to punish but not in anger, helping people, adults as well as children, recognize the just consequences of their actions.

My parents were no more perfect than I was as a parent, but I don’t think they did too bad a job, with me at any rate. I do remember a few spankings, but perhaps not quite as many as I deserved! I touch on this subject regularly in marriage counseling, because parenting is often a source of friction between couples. I point out that boundaries are essential for our emotional stability, and that a child who fails to be sure of their boundaries is also going to be unsure they are loved. I generally use one of my grandsons as an example, because his mother has used a lot of wisdom in raising him. Children don’t understand logic, but they do understand pain! Certainly not excessive pain, or anything to the point of physical damage, but Proverbs is very true: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24) Physical affection is also called for, but a failure to discipline in childhood bears disastrous consequences later. My heart often aches for families I see struggling with this issue, but all I can do is speak the truth in love as the Lord gives me opportunity.

Father, as I see my physical and spiritual children and grandchildren I am often reminded of Your grace and patience toward me. Thank You for the punishment You have given me, as well as the comfort. Help me not complain at Your discipline, but know that it is an expression of Your love. Thank You. Praise God!

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Close to God; February 18, 2018

Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

God’s timing is very interesting, and perfect. I had no idea what I would be preaching on today when I made up this Scripture list, and I wasn’t thinking about what today’s passage was when I was preparing the sermon notes, but I’m preaching on Intimacy with God, and the song I chose for after the message is based on this verse. The thing is, God knows everything about us in advance, not that He’s micromanaging, but simply that He knows. Paul used the term “predestined” to apply to that, (Romans 8:29-30 and elsewhere) but that seems to be in contradiction to human free will. If we are totally predestined to do this, that, or the other, then we logically have no responsibility or guilt for doing it. The problem is one of human language and human intellect. Quantum physics deals with this sort of difficulty, but not too many people understand that either! We tend to over-think God, not because He’s simple, but because He’s beyond our intellect in the first place. That’s why Jesus said that we have to be like little children, accepting that there are things we can’t explain and being at peace with that. (Matthew 18:3) I’m not sure which theologian it was, perhaps Barth, but one of the great theologians of the 20th Century was asked what was the greatest truth he had found. He replied, “Jesus loves me. This I know for the Bible tells me so.” He had realized that Jesus’ words were true, and he had to accept God’s love as a little child. And all of that brings us back to this verse. If we as little children seek our Father, He’s going to let us find Him, to our mutual delight. As long as we think God is unknowable or impossibly distant, we aren’t going to seek Him. The Bible is full of the message that God is always right there, if we we will simply turn to Him.

I have had times in my life when God has seemed distant, but they have mercifully been few and brief. I actually have little empathy for those who are experiencing a “dark night of the soul,” though I do feel sorry for them. I do know believers who have come through such times greatly strengthened, but I’m very grateful not to have been taken down such a path myself. As a pastor and simply as a believer, I want everyone to realize how close God is to them, and turn and acknowledge Him as Lord, for their salvation and His glory. However, amazingly few really do that. Why that is, remains one of the most painful elements of my life. I want people to know the truth of God’s love and grace and so be set free from the devil’s traps, but if they refuse, I can’t force them.

Father, this is the struggle of my ministry, and my life. You have told me to rest, relax, and rejoice, but sometimes that gets difficult! Help me indeed yield each individual, along with myself, to You, and simply choose obedience to You as my own path, praying for others but leaving them in Your omnipotent hands. I ask Your grace and mercy on us all, so that as many as will may be saved, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Knowing God; February 17, 2018

Jeremiah 24:7 “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”

Here we have a statement of God’s provision that is predicated on a change of heart. God provides a heart to know Him to those who repent and turn to Him. Recently a US TV personality, who claims to be a Christian, said that claiming Jesus speaks to you is a sign of mental illness. That proves she doesn’t have a relationship with Him based on repentance. The people described here included such notables as Daniel, who is a shining example of someone who indeed knew God on a very personal level. As a group, they experienced considerable hardship and shame, being hauled off to Babylon as prisoners, but God knew the experience would have the very desirable result of causing them to turn fully to Him. It has been said, very accurately I feel, that God is far more interested in our character than our comfort. Many people, secular as well as religious, have pointed out that everyone goes through difficulties, so the defining issue is not what we experience, but how we respond to it. This batch of exiles responded rightly, and God rewarded them.

I have said quite a few times that I don’t feel like my road has been as rough as those some people have to travel, but looking back, I see that outside observers might have been thankful they didn’t have to go through what I was experiencing! However, for most of my life I have had a rock-solid assurance that God loves me, and that has enabled me to get through it all, probably with a good bit more peace and joy than the average person. When knowing God and responding rightly to Him is my highest priority, I know I’ve got no worries about anything else. (Matthew 6:33) There are many unknowns in my life even today, but the hymn based on 2 Timothy 1:12 expresses my life very well. At this point the fourth verse of this hymn is particularly applicable: “I know not when my Lord may come, at night or noonday fair, nor if I’ll walk the vale with Him, or meet Him in the air.” Knowing God personally, as Paul told Timothy and as the Lord said to Jeremiah, makes all the other questions secondary. As a pastor, I want everyone in my care to have that assurance. As a child of God, I want everyone on earth to have the relationship with Him that I do.

Father, thank You for Your grace toward me. Help me share Your love and grace effectively, so that more and more people may indeed seek and find You, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Stubbornness; February 16, 2018

Jeremiah 18:12 “But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.'”

Human stubbornness can be really remarkable. Occasionally we find it exercised in admirable ways, such as when people overcome obstacles to achieve good goals, but more often the very word has negative connotations. Here, God is telling Jeremiah how to warn the people of Judah and Jerusalem, but He is letting Jeremiah know in advance how the people will respond. Thinking about it, this scenario has been repeated countless times down through the centuries. Just telling people what is right gets the desired results all too seldom. We know from the Biblical record that this breaks God’s heart, but we bring our own judgment on ourselves. The light in all this darkness is that repentance is possible, and does bring forgiveness. That’s what the Lord stressed in verse eight of this chapter. The point, for everyone who cares about pleasing God and their own eternal destination, is to allow the Holy Spirit to shine in our hearts to reveal what needs to be repented of, and act accordingly. Stubbornly doing evil, as the people did here, carries no benefits at all.

I can think of times I have been stubborn about the wrong things, and the results have never been good. Conversely, I can think of times I have failed to hang in there and work through something that needed to be done. I am aware that even stubbornness isn’t all bad, but rather must be applied to good and not evil ends. I need to be willing to apply myself diligently, stubbornly refusing to give up without God saying to do so, but I must not refuse to follow any path God lays out for me. As a pastor I deal with stubbornness in others all the time. Occasionally it takes the form of diligence, but far more often it reflects the attitudes of those Jeremiah had to deal with. I am not to condemn with words, but I am to warn, and hold out the possibility of repentance. Any time we hang onto our own ideas and plans in contradiction to what God is saying, the results are not good. I am not to assume that I’ve got the only “hotline to heaven,” (which is the human tendency) but rather seek God in all humility, even in relation to things I feel He’s already shown me. As He told Isaiah, His ways and thoughts are always higher and better than mine. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all the training in this issue You continue to take us through. I pray that I would in no way stand against You and what You are doing, but rather be a willing, joyful participant in Your plans, so that Your name may be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, in and through me for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Who We Trust; February 15, 2018

Jeremiah 17:5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

This is certainly a follow-up on yesterday’s message! This is a concise description of the worship of man that is so prevalent in the world today. It’s interesting that during the day yesterday I read that 80% of scientific reports are proven to be wrong. We take ourselves too seriously! God is the only one who is totally reliable, but even our perception of Him is suspect. That’s why our lives need to be a continuous process of drawing closer to Him, to hear and obey Him more accurately. We will never do it perfectly on this earth, which is why we need to emulate Paul. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14) If we live like that, then verse eight of this chapter will describe us indeed. Jeremiah himself made his choice abundantly clear in verse 14: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved, for you are the one I praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14)

I have been tempted to trust in man, and I have yielded to that temptation more than I like to remember. The results have never been good, and I’ve largely learned my lesson. However, as a pastor I constantly deal with people who haven’t learned it yet. That can take the form of people who are brash and conceited, but it can also take the form of people who don’t think they can do anything right. That too is proof that they are trusting in man rather than God. They have learned that their flesh will fail them, but they haven’t learned that God can never fail. When such a person is a professed Christian, that can be heartbreaking. I deal with so many who can’t believe that God can and will do things that are beyond their abilities and resources, and so they won’t step out in obedience to Him. That’s tragic! I am not to condemn them, but neither am I to be held back by them. I am to remember that “one plus God is a majority,” and not be shackled by political correctness. That’s not at all to say that I am to ride over people, ignoring what they say or feel, but it is to say that my primary focus must be on God and what He says and desires. Otherwise, I will find myself trusting in man and depending on the flesh for strength.

Father, thank You for this clear reminder. Thank You for the events of the past few days. They have helped put things into clearer focus. As the song says, I pray that You would help me “See You more clearly, love You more dearly, follow You more nearly, day by day.” Thank You. Praise God!

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