February 26, 2017

Exodus 12:26-27 “And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them.”

A recurring theme throughout the period of the exodus is this matter of communicating faith to the next generation. We have trouble grasping the reality that these people had no Bible at all; they were limited to oral tradition. That made the transmission of these stories a matter of spiritual life or death. Particularly in countries like America we tend to leave the transmission of faith to the professionals, or at least to the Church as an institution. That is a terrible mistake. Many people have a Bible, or even multiple Bibles, that they never read. That does no one any good at all. Recently the matter of what is being taught to our children in public schools has come under scrutiny, with many parents being horrified at what is coming out. We should be at least as concerned with what is being taught our children in church! Many Sunday Schools are fine, I am sure, but the very concept of a Sunday School is nowhere to be found in the Bible. The Biblical pattern is without exception for parents or parent figures to teach children on a personal basis. When that happens, the children turn out well. When it doesn’t, they don’t. The biggest hindrance, in my observation, is the simple matter of time. We get so busy with all our various activities that transmission of faith gets left out in the cold. Of course, the parents themselves need to make their relationship with their Creator a high priority, with consistent devotions and the like, but even then they too often fail to teach their children intentionally, and spiritual growth in the next generation becomes entirely hit-or-miss.

This is a somewhat painful theme on which to write. My parents were some of the finest Christians you could find, but I don’t remember their ever sitting me down to tell me Bible stories. We did have regular family worship, which was excellent on many levels, but they were mired in the institutional model of religion. Since language barriers kept me from active participation in Sunday School at church (in Japanese) my spiritual growth was largely neglected. Even though the Lord brought me into alignment with Him before our second daughter was born, I had only my parents’ example to follow, and I did no better with my children than they had done with us. Now I look at my grandchildren, and because of physical distance, all I can do is pray. As a pastor I am involved in the transmission of faith and spiritual growth for many, but I am acutely aware that the home should be the basis for all of that. Sadly, even Christian parents tend to resent being told that, and blame their children’s lack of spirituality on the church. We are all greatly in need of God’s mercy and grace!

Father, thank You for Your grace that is indeed sufficient for us. Help me operate in and transmit that grace effectively, so that I and those to whom I minister may grow as You intend, escaping the traps of the devil and walking in all that You intend for us, generation to generation, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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February 25, 2917

Exodus 6:9 Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and cruel bondage.

As Jesus recognized, people have to be emotionally and spiritually prepared in order to take in what their physical ears are hearing. (Mark 4:9 and many more) Context can be almost everything at times. The same words spoken in one situation will be received as meaning something entirely different in another situation. This is something practically everyone has experienced, but we often fail to think about it and grasp what is happening. Even such nuances as inflection can have a drastic impact on meaning for the hearer, whether the speaker intended it or not. The classic illustration is the sentence, “I didn’t see him shoot her.” Depending on which word is stressed, the meaning can be all over the place. (That’s why mechanical recordings are far more reliable than court stenographers in recording testimony.) This certainly applies in communicating the Gospel. If the person to whom we are speaking has no framework in which to place the words they are hearing, they might as well be in a different language. God’s truth is absolute, but it needs to be expressed in ways that can be grasped and received for it to be effective.

This is of course of utmost importance to me, since I minister in Japan. Having been born and raised here, words per se wouldn’t seem to be a problem, but the issue is what those words mean beyond what the dictionary might say. Even the word that is used for God, kami, has very different meanings depending on cultural context. (I’ve just finished reading a book devoted to that very issue.) Yesterday I saw the movie, Silence. Quite apart from what the original author, Endo, intended to convey, or what the director, Scorsese, intended to portray, one thing that came across to me was that the Gospel must be incarnated, made flesh, in those who proclaim it. The saddest thing about the book and the movie is that some of those who actually were living out the Gospel failed to recognize they were doing so, and they gave up, having a distorted understanding of what salvation is all about. From the time I came to Omura I have been telling people I didn’t come to teach them a religion, I came to introduce them to a Savior. That is as true today as it was 35 years ago. I need to let the Lord open my eyes to how the Gospel is being received, or not, through me, and let Him give me the words and actions that will be most effective in communicating the love of the Father to those who haven’t acknowledged it.

Father, Endo and Scorsese were very negative about Christianity in Japan, but You are far greater. Thank You for those who have received and believed Your Gospel. Thank You for raising up through me others who are likewise committed to communicating the Gospel. They have a greater likelihood of success than I do, since they have the same cultural context as those to whom they speak. Help me be faithful to live out as well as speak the Gospel, so that as many as will may repent, believe, and be saved, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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February 24, 2017

Exodus 4:2 Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A staff,” he replied.

God’s provision is abundant, but all too often we fail to recognize it. It had probably never occurred to Moses that God had provided the staff in his hand, and he had certainly never thought of it as a miraculous tool, but in God’s economy, that’s exactly what it was, being used for some notable miracles over the years. In verse 11 the Lord points out that even the parts of our body are gifts from Him, though we hardly ever think of them that way. Would we not make better use of all we have if we recognized that it comes from God? We are experts at taking things for granted, and that deprives us of so much. One of the delights of having babies is watching them discover things, including their own fingers and toes. I think that’s part of what Jesus was talking about when He said we must become as little children. (Matthew 18:3) Ingratitude was a major problem for the Israelites down through the centuries, and Paul said it is a hallmark of the Last Days as well. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) We certainly see it in the “entitlement mentality” that is so widespread today. As we are horrified and/or disgusted to see such things in others, we need to look at ourselves and recognize how much we have fallen into that same attitude when it comes to all that God has provided for us.

I’m definitely talking to myself here. As I have been helping someone move for the first time in their life I have been overwhelmed by all the “stuff,” much of it of no use to anyone at this point. I look at myself and realize that I too am buried in stuff, with a sadly small percentage of it in active use. I need to let the Holy Spirit help me take inventory, not simply of what I have but of what He wants me to do with it. If things are to be disposed of, sooner is better than later. If things are to be used, I need to be diligent. Accurate stewardship starts with accurate understanding and appreciation of what I have. That applies to abilities as well as material objects. As the saying goes, “Use it or lose it.” I have an abundance of things, particularly as compared to people in some other parts of the world, and I have an abundance of abilities, most of which are dormant. If I were to make full use of even a fraction of what is at my disposal, the results would be astounding. I need to let God show me what He has given me and then make the use of it that He intends, for His glory.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I’ve been familiar not only with this passage but what it meant for a long time, but I haven’t applied it consistently by any means. Help me be a better steward of Your abundant provision so that Your purposes may be accomplished in and through me, on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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February 23, 2017

Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Joseph was able to forgive because he was able to recognize God’s hand in what had happened to him. He was living in some of the greatest luxury in the world at this point, and he realized that had his brothers not sold him into slavery, none of this would have happened. Our problem with forgiveness is that we don’t trust God with the eventual outcome, but rather focus on the immediate hurt. We need to believe that God will work everything together for good, (Romans 8:28) whatever the situation looks like at the moment. We panic and start blaming people because we focus on right here right now, not recognizing that this whole world is temporary. Like Jesus, we need to look ahead in faith. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) Anything we go through here is ultimately no big deal!

We’ve been having some big-time training in this area over the past few months, but this is something we need to remember all the time. I don’t know God’s ultimate plans for anything, except that He’s going to work it all out in the end, so I’ve got to trust Him with it all. When God was able to plan for the nation of Israel the way He did, my life should certainly be no problem! My task is obedient faithfulness, whatever seems to be going on to my senses. In the spiritual realm, I’m pretty senseless! Right now there are many questions about all sorts of things. As the Lord has had me pray several times recently, there is far more that we don’t know than we do know. That’s not going to change, so my focus must be to know more of God, to press into Him and seek to be available to Him, because He’s the only one who knows what’s going on, really, and He’s working it all to a glorious conclusion.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for all that You’ve been bringing us through, and all that lies in the future. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You whatever is going on, forgiving as I have been forgiven and acting as Your agent, making the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16) so that the works of the devil may be destroyed (1 John 3:8) and many people set free to repent and believe, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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February 22, 2017

Genesis 48:15-16 Then he blessed Joseph and said,
“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
—may he bless these boys.

To me this comes across as an extremely confused image of God, because he speaks of Him first as God and then as an angel. We’re back to the reality that God relates to us where and as we are, continually drawing us closer to Himself but not rejecting us just because we aren’t there yet. In spite of what today we see as very shaky theology, here Jacob operates prophetically, saying and doing things that echo down through God’s people and His plans for centuries and longer. This is proof that the issue is not the quality of the vessel, but the quality of the contents. Paul recognized that when he said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) Jacob is proof that we don’t even have to understand that treasure very well for Him to work through us; we just need to be yielded. The more we know of God the better it is, but we need to be at peace with the reality that we will never know Him perfectly while we are in these bodies, and simply strive to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, (Ephesians 4:1) whether we understand or not.

One of my father’s signature phrases was, “Give all you know of yourself to all you know of Christ.” That applies perfectly to this truth. I am to strive for faithfulness myself, and I am not to despair as a pastor at those in my care who don’t seem to understand much. Rather, I am to urge and expect them to keep growing in their knowledge of themselves and of Christ, so that by God’s grace they may become mature believers. Also, I am to let God be the judge of their maturity, not letting my own immaturity blind me to what God has done and is doing in them. None of us grow evenly across the board. I need to let the Lord show me what is important when for each individual, myself included, so that together we may encourage and support one another in Christ.

Father, thank You for Your patience with us. Thank You for not demanding perfection before You use us. Keep me from thinking that because You do use me, I am perfect. Help me walk in humility and availability, loving You and delighting in Your love, so that Your will may be done in and through me for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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February 21, 2017

Genesis 45:5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.

Here we have another shining example of Joseph’s focus on God. Nine years of good fortune to this point had been enough to enable him to forgive his brothers and recognize God’s hand in all that he had been through. The thing is, God’s provision takes many forms. We delight in material provision but we may be slow to recognize some other forms of provision. God knows ahead of time all that is going to happen to us, so sometimes He puts us through training to toughen us up in preparation. Anyone who has never had to work and apply themselves to overcome a problem is going to be weak and helpless when bigger problems come. Luxury can at times be tragic, because we fail to recognize and appropriate what we really need, which is not material. Another lesson from this story is that God can and does use things that are bad and wrong in themselves to work good and blessing. It was certainly wrong of Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, but God used even that for great blessing. We quote Romans 8:28 very glibly, but seldom really believe it! When our focus is fully on God, as Joseph’s was, we can look forward expectantly to what God is going to bring out of anything we experience, no matter how unpleasant it might be at the moment.

This is spot-on for me! I have learned this lesson to a degree, but I certainly have room to grow in applying it consistently. I try to share this truth with others, but there is always the risk that they will feel I am taking their troubles lightly. I’ve had people leave the church over this. I am to “weep with those who weep,” (Romans 12:15) but not without pointing them to the Lord who will wipe away every tear. (Revelation 7:19; 21:4) I am not to ignore reality, for myself or for anyone else, but I must never forget our Lord, who is more real than the entire physical universe. God can and does turn things around and make use of things in ways that we can’t imagine, even apart from what we call miracles. Joseph’s life story is a shining example, but it is not unique; God is still in the business of saving people in ways we couldn’t imagine ahead of time.

Father, thank You for this reminder. There are situations all around me to which this applies directly. Help me keep my own focus on You and help others to do likewise. Help us consistently expect good things of You, whatever guise they might take when they first appear. Help me trust You enough to hear You accurately and obey You fully, so that all of Your plans may be fulfilled on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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February 20, 2017

Genesis 41:53-54 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said.

Nothing cements the authority of a prophet like having their words come true! Joseph ascended to the office of Prime Minister at 30, and obviously did an excellent job. Now at 37, with the other half of the prophecy coming to pass, he doubtless had the whole country in the palm of his hand, so to speak. It is significant to me that despite that position he obviously wasn’t greedy. We have no record of any wives but the one, much less concubines and the like, which were very common for anyone in his position. The thing is, whether he was in a prison or in a palace, his focus was on God. That is what we most need to learn from Joseph. We allow circumstances, either good or bad, to take our attention from God, and we suffer as a result, either in the short term or the long. Joseph’s faithfulness in the hard times prepared him to be faithful in the abundant times, but that isn’t always the case. It is always very sad to see people who seem very pious when poor, but when money starts coming in they act like they think they deserve it, rather than recognizing the grace of God. That shows that their “piety” when poor was ultimately self-centered, and that doesn’t impress God at all.

I’ve never “hit it big,” so to speak, but I’ve had times of comparative abundance, and I’ve had times when funds were tight indeed. God has been faithful through it all! I need to remember that my treasure is indeed in heaven, and that’s better than winning the biggest lottery on earth. Just as Joseph was given a job and the opportunity to do it, I need to be faithful at the tasks the Lord sets before me. My faithfulness is my responsibility; the results are His. I am not to look at others and resent that they seem to get a bigger slice of the pie than I do, or gloat if I seem to get more than they do. I am to focus on God, His kingdom and His righteousness, and seek to draw closer to Him in grateful obedience. Everything else is temporal, and not worth the time or energy to be concerned about it.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Every once in a while I think I’d like to be “tested with abundance,” but that’s Your business. You have certainly proved Yourself faithful in every sort of circumstance. Help me respond fully to Your faithfulness by being faithful myself, so that all of Your plans and purposes may be fulfilled, on Your schedule and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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